Neon Dynasty Commander Upgrade Guide: Buckle Up

Scott CullenCommander

Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty is here, and it’s looking like the start of a bright new future for Magic. Kamigawa is now much more advanced than when we last left it; we’re introduced to dazzling future tech like High-Speed Hoverbikes, but there’s still a sense of tradition with the more reserved Jukai Naturalists. This balance between tradition and modernity gives this set a unique aesthetic, which feels analogous to the ever-changing nature of the game itself.

Today, I’ll be taking a look at the Buckle Up preconstructed deck, which looks to play Vehicles and artifacts, eke out value through synergies, and overwhelm your opponents with aggression and resiliency!

New Commander Cards

There are 15 new cards in the Buckle Up precon, which is roughly on par with previous offerings. Most of these new cards are focused on artifacts, and will fit well into Vehicle or artifact decks. They likely won’t see much play outside of these strategies (with a few exceptions), but their focused nature allows them to be more powerful for those specific archetypes. Here’s a breakdown of the most important new cards in this deck:

Kotori is one of the first dedicated Vehicle commanders, and they certainly carry the “Pilot Prodigy” title proudly. Their ability to reduce crew costs to just two means there’s a significantly lower creature dependency compared to other popular Vehicle commanders, like Depala, Pilot Exemplar. Their second ability gives one artifact creature lifelink and vigilance, which can help buffer your life total while you go on the offensive.

Shorikai, Genesis Engine is one of the biggest Vehicles ever printed, and it’s the only one that can currently be used as your commander (The Omenkeel notwithstanding). Its crew cost might seem quite high, but the Pilots it can create greatly reduce its reliance on other creatures. Its looting function can also be used in the early game to set up reanimation targets; it’s perfect to add an additional angle to your deck, or if you’d like to approach this commander from a more off-the-wall direction.

Katsumasa, the Animator is the newest mono-blue legendary creature, and it’s one for the more hipster brewers. Their abilities work with any noncreature artifact, but they’re best used on Vehicles. They can helm a more straightforward Vehicles deck, or you can go wild and make a control deck that uses mana rocks as win conditions! They’re also great in the 99 of any artifact deck that likes to commit to the board, as they give you incremental advantage each turn.

Drumbellower is arguably the most intriguing and impactful new card from these preconstructed decks. Its “not quite Seedborn Muse, not quite Murkfiend Liege” effect is the most efficient form of this effect, at just three mana. This obviously works well when it comes to crewing Vehicles, but this will be sought after by many decks that utilize mana dorks, or even Persistent Petitioners decks!

We have many Clone effects in Magic, and each one is slightly different to suit different strategies. Imposter Mech is the vehicular equivalent from this deck, but it could end up breaking out of the archetype. Two mana is a very good rate for this effect, though the downside is the crew cost. But its ability to survive board wipes and sorcery-speed removal is very valuable, and that allow it to see play in quite a few decks.

Organic Extinction is just what artifact decks needed. Symmetrical board wipes often delay games and lead to lower enjoyment levels overall, so an asymmetrical effect like this that can also be discounted by tapping your creatures is a fantastic addition to the format.

If you’re looking for blue’s equivalent to Craterhoof Behemoth, Cyberdrive Awakener may be it. Six mana to turn every mana rock and Treasure token into an evasive threat is exactly the kind of combat-focused win condition that these decks need. It’s obviously not the same as Hoof, but it’s the closest we’re likely to get in this color, and it’s still very good indeed.

Buckle Up Deck Review

Buckle Up is based around artifacts, and the synergies between them and the creatures in the deck. It’s the third preconstructed deck in Azorius colors (Spirit Squadron and Phantom Premonition being the other two), and it’s the first one that doesn’t have a Spirit subtheme. The deck is relatively lean, with only four cards costing more than five mana to cast; the average mana value is 3.32, and more than half of the nonland permanents cost three mana or less. The deck is fairly “on-theme”; many preconstructed decks have a subtheme that doesn’t always fit with the main game plan, but this one feels focused on the main artifact and Vehicle strategy.

As always, the classic reprints come with the deck. Sol Ring, Arcane Signet, Swords to Plowshares, and Generous Gift are just some of the many format staples you’ll find in the box, all of which are between $1 and $3. Many people have already noted that this would have been a great place to reprint Talisman of Progress and Adarkar Wastes, both of which are over $10 now, but unfortunately we’ll have to wait a bit longer to see them again.

At the time of writing, the deck’s value as singles is around $87, which is a bit on the low side. However, that’s nearly twice the price of the preconstructed deck alone, so it’s still good value for your money. The majority of the value of the deck comes from the newer cards, like Swift Reconfiguration ($15), Drumbellower ($8), and Imposter Mech ($4), so that price could fluctuate based on how much demand we see for these cards. 

As for performance, Buckle Up plays brilliantly out of the box. Thanks to the low curve and high amount of synergies between all of the cards, it feels much closer to a mid-level deck than a preconstructed one. In terms of power level, I’d put it below the Forgotten Realms decks, roughly around the same as the Midnight Hunt and Crimson Vow offerings. It feels great to play, and I’d have no qualms with bringing this to a mid-level pod, thanks to its decent interaction suite.

Upgrading Buckle Up

Buckle Up is one of the most streamlined precon decks we’ve seen in a while. As a result, the upgrades I’m recommending today will be less about focusing the deck’s plan, and more about maximizing your card quality.

The main focal points for this upgrade will be:

  • Improving the mana to increase color consistency and utility
  • Improving the pilot count and quality
  • Streamlining the overall performance of the deck

Better Handling

Arguably the weakest aspect of the deck is the mana base. There are a lot of basics, and very few ways to fix your mana. I could have easily spent the entire upgrade budget in here, but it’s certainly the least flashy and interesting part of the deck. If you have a Hallowed Fountain, Adarkar Wastes, or Sea of Clouds, feel free to add them in here, though they aren’t totally necessary.

There are a number of lands that can help fix your mana without breaking the bank. Nimbus Maze, Glacial Fortress, and Razortide Bridge are all affordable options that can dramatically improve the deck’s performance without slowing it down.

As there are a large number of colorless cards in the deck, the improved mana allows you to run a few powerful utility lands. Academy Ruins is perfect to recur any important artifacts that get removed, Inventors’ Fair has a whopping 35 tutor targets in the deck, and Scavenger Grounds ensures you don’t get surprised by a graveyard deck.

With over 30 artifacts in the deck, mana reducers will yield better mana efficiency than the stock mana dorks. Starnheim Courser reduces all artifact costs; Jhoira’s Familiar makes Kotori cost just two mana, as well as reducing a handful of legendary creatures in the 99.

Improving the Pilots

The pilots in the deck are fine, but there are better options available. Some cards can provide multiple bodies, and others come with additional benefits. These will make sure you squeeze every bit of value out of the deck!

Efficient Construction may not be able to crew Vehicles by itself, but it will give you a Thopter whenever you play a Vehicle or another artifact. These small flyers will go a long way toward crewing your boats, trains, and mechs, and can serve as a functional force by themselves.

Ghostly Pilferer may not have the correct creature type, but it’s certainly earned the title of honorary Pilot. The Pilferer’s untap trigger works beautifully with any creatures you have to tap to crew Vehicles, and they’ll draw you more cards whenever an opponent plays their commander (or a foretold or flashback card). They always give you much more value than their initial two-mana investment would have you believe.

Mirrodin Besieged is a rare kind of card that works differently depending on where you are in the game. In the early game, this will serve as an additional copy of Efficient Construction; alternatively, you can play it later and use the Phyrexian mode to defeat opponents one by one!

Improved Performance

The deck has decent utility right out of the box, but it does lack a little bit when compared to more tuned lists. To make sure you can keep up with a pod of brewed or optimized lists, I’ve included a few options for card draw, interaction, and general utility.

I was a little surprised to see that the precon didn’t include any counterspells. They’re not necessary by any means, but when you’re in blue, you’d be doing yourself a favor to ensure you can play on the stack at least once. I chose Arcane Denial as the only counterspell for the deck; it’s cheap, versatile, and it doesn’t feel too bad. It’s hard for an opponent to complain when you’re giving them two cards in exchange!

Card draw is critical in a deck like this. You need to be sure that when you start pressing the advantage, you have the fuel to get you to the finish line. Thoughtcast was already in the deck, so adding its metallic, Mulldrifter-like friend, Thought Monitor, makes perfect sense. Monitor can also crew Vehicles, which is an important consideration when adding cards to the deck.

Every deck should probably run a Clone effect of some sort, and this one is no different. Phyrexian Metamorph is a Commander classic, and it’s particularly useful here: since it’s an artifact, it synergizes with all of the payoffs in the deck, and you can tutor it up with Inventors’ Fair. You can make your own Blightsteel Colossus, or just copy a Solemn Simulacrum for value!

Additional Upgrades

There are two other cards that didn’t fit into any of the previous sections, but I feel they’re important enough to talk about individually.

I know I’ve made my love for Trinket Mage clear before, but it can have a huge impact on any deck that runs it. Not only can it fetch your Sol Ring, but it can even grab one of the three artifact lands I’ve added to help you hit your land drops. I’ve also included Consulate Dreadnought as a hefty Vehicle you can grab if needed!

Last week, I talked about Mechtitan Core as an excellent Rule 0 Commander, and I think it’s a great addition to this deck, too. When you’re running an abundance of artifacts and Vehicles, it’s trivial to create a Mechtitan. It’s also extremely flavorful, and this is the kind of deck that feels best when you fully lean into its identity. It’s a flavor win, as well as a win in the more literal sense!

The Full Upgrade

Check out the full decklist here!

The total cost of this upgrade is roughly $50-60. This is the sweet spot in Commander to me: the power-to-dollar ratio is at its highest around this price point, and can be easily tweaked to increase or decrease in power as you see fit. If you like this deck, you can buy all the upgrade singles at the same time as the preconstructed deck, saving you time as well as money.

Whether you buy the full upgrade, just the preconstructed deck, or some unique upgrades of your own, be sure to show off your awesome new cards to us on Twitter!