Today, we’ll be looking at the different shells for pirates and evaluate how they fare! There are many pirates cruising through Ixalan, but they are concentrated in blue, black, and red. So how do we maximize the many opportunities available for piracy? Let’s dive in by looking at the pirates’ gold uncommons!
Dire Fleet Captain leads the most aggressive version of the archetype. By accumulating a critical mass of pirates, Dire Fleet Captain becomes virtually unblockable, and can deal considerable damage in the early game. Deadeye Plunderers, on the other hand, represents a more versatile strategy. At 5 mana, Deadeye Plunderers provides a relevant threat in the late game that also allows you to splash other colors. This provides greater flexibility during the draft, which enables you to draft the most powerful cards you see that have a single colored mana symbol. Last, Marauding Looter indicates an aggression-oriented deck, but one that can provide more card advantage than the BR can. This deck will likely be built around a mix of evasive threats and tempo. With this framework in mind, let’s take a closer look at each of these archetypes!
Black Red Pirates
Of the pirate archetypes, BR will require the highest density of early threats. Without the evasive threats afforded by blue, the deck relies on playing early threats and utilizing removal, combat tricks, and equipment to preserve your creatures. In black, you’ll want creatures like Kitesail Freebooter, Wanted Scoundrels, Dire Fleet Hoarder, and Deadeye Tormentor. Kitesail Freebooter and Deadeye Tormentor disrupt your opponent’s hand, and Wanted Scoundrels provides a large body to push through damage in the early game. Dire Fleet Hoarder will vary in its utility, but it is a reasonable threat that provides mana for you to deploy an extra threat when it dies. In red, you’ll want Storm Fleet Pyromancer, Headstrong Brute, Storm Fleet Arsonist, Lightning Rig Crew, and Rigging Runner. Rigging Runner and Headstrong Brute provide early aggressive plays, and Lightning Rig Crew will contribute considerable damage over the course of a game. Storm Fleet Pyromancer and Storm Fleet Arsonist, on the other hand, provide threats for later in the game, and disrupt your opponent’s mana and/or board state.
You also have access to premium removal, but will want to focus on the most versatile, like Unfriendly Fire and Lightning Strike. These will remove relevant blockers, but can also provide the last points of damage to defeat your opponent. Removal like Contract Killing and Vanquish the Weak will always be strong additions to the deck, however you should prioritize the more versatile red removal. In addition to the potent removal, you also have access to Swashbuckling and Mark of the Vampire to win the damage race, and combat tricks like Sure Strike and Skulduggery to preserve your creatures. Of these spells, Skulduggery and Sure Strike are the most important, as they allow you to preserve your creatures and remove threats without paying considerable mana. I would prioritize both Skulduggery and Sure Strike over Swashbuckling and Mark of the Vampire, but if you have a higher curve that latter two can pack a significant punch. Finally, Pirate’s Cutlass should be an auto-include for this deck, and I would work hard to find two for the deck. It allows you to have extremely quick starts in the early game, and can allow for attacks in the later game that you couldn’t make otherwise. When you can, pick up evasive threats like Skymarch Bloodletter; though it’s not a pirate, evasive threats provide excellent reach in the deck. In sum, prioritize 2 and 3 drop creatures, red removal and combat tricks, and Pirate’s Cutlass to ensure your deck will have the powerful starts it needs.
Blue Black Pirates
UB, on the other hand, has access to the same threats in black and the addition of Desperate Castaways (which will only be playable in BR if you have sufficient artifacts), but will end up being more focused on evasive blue threats and card advantage. Air Elemental, Tempest Caller, Storm Fleet Aerialist, One with the Wind, Siren Lookout, Wind Strider, and Storm Sculptor provide excellent means of threatening your opponent. I’ve found that Tempest Caller fits into the pirate decks more than merfolk, as its greatest impact is seen when you have fewer evasive creatures. Additionally, you have access to cards like Chart a Course, Pirate’s Prize, and Storm Fleet Spy to generate card advantage, and a plethora of bounce spells and treasure token generators to outpace your opponent and splash off-color removal. Pirate’s Cutlass is also best utilized in this build of pirates, as it is maximized by evasive threats. The one toughness boost will rarely allow your ground creatures to attack without trading, but the two-point increase in power means your Siren Lookout shifts from a 10-turn clock to a 5-turn clock!
This deck will often consist of a UB base with a red splash for cards like Unfriendly Fire, Lightning Strike, and Marauding Looter; all cards you will want to prioritize if you are in this deck. The deck’s versatility means you will have more flexibility in creature selection than you do in RB, both in terms of the removal spells you can play and for your curve. While RB requires a high density of 2 and 3 drops to be viable, UB can afford to play more 4 and 5 drops, ideally evasive threats that will help finish the game. This deck will benefit more from removal spells than bounce, as it will take longer to defeat your opponent than you would with the BR or UR versions of the deck. This deck has the most flexibility of the three, but make sure you pick up removal early and include payoff cards like Deadeye Plunderers!
Blue Red Pirates
Last, we have UR, the hybrid archetype! UR draws on the aggressive creatures in red and the evasive threats of blue, and a plethora of burn and bounce spells to push through damage. This deck will utilize bounce spells better than UB, as it has access to more aggressive creatures, so you’ll be taking bounce spells much higher than you do in UB. Early threats will be a crucial component of the deck, but your focus should be on evasion to ensure that you’ll be able to race your opponent effectively. This deck will rely on 2 and 3 mana creatures to provide early damage, but will not require as many as the BR deck. The evasive threats in blue mean you will be able to attack without offering many trades, so your reliance on combat tricks decreases compared to BR. Instead, you’ll want to pick up more bounce spells; preventing your opponent from keeping a 5/5 on the board allows you to race in the air, whereas the BR deck has to attack through the 5/5 eventually, and so is forced to rely more on combat tricks.
Your ability to splash other colors is limited compared to the UB deck, and there are fewer cards that you need access to in UR, so if you want to splash, make sure you’ve picked up enough cards to support it! Make sure you pick up enough early threats to maintain aggression, but remember to focus most on evasive threats, burn spells and bounce to win the damage race!
Ixalan has a lot of opportunities for plundering, but it’s up to you to choose which pirates’ life is for you! Make sure your picks support the archetype you’re building, particularly when it comes to curve considerations and which non-creature spells to draft. Whether you’re beating down on the ground or soaring over the top, you’ll have a blast with pirates!
What do you think, will pirates make a splash or be sent to the depths of Davy Jones’ locker? Comment below!