Building with Ixalan's Pirates

Feature Article from Seth Manfield
Seth Manfield
9/20/2017 11:00:00 AM
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There are a few new creature types in Ixalan that have a chance to be difference makers in Standard, but perhaps the creature type that will have the most impact is Pirates. We see Pirates spread out across the Grixis colors. In Ixalan alone there are more than enough quality Pirates to create a competitive deck, in fact there are too many Pirates to be able to include all of them. Looking at potential Pirate decks in Standard, the first question is to play Grixis Pirates, or opt for a more streamlined two-color build?

By going Grixis Pirates you get to play Admiral Beckett Brass, which I believe the three-color Pirate decks will want to include some amount of as a curve-topper, though I'm not sure it is enough of an incentive to go three colors. In this case, the payoff card is a four-mana lord that has a triggered ability that is quite hard to make happen. Pirate decks want to be able to curve out by playing early creatures, and it is almost impossible to do that with a three-color mana base right now.

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A Mardu mana base has more of a potential to curve out early in the game, because there you have access to two fast lands in Concealed Courtyard and Inspiring Vantage. In Grixis Pirates, the only one you get is Spirebluff Canal. The only other land that could help Grixis Pirates is Unclaimed Territory. I do believe that three-color tribal decks will need to play this land. It is essentially a Cavern of Souls without the uncounterable clause. I expect Unclaimed Territory to see a decent amount of play in its time in Standard, though you need a tribal deck without a lot of non-creature spells to want to play it.

Even with Unclaimed Territory, early indications suggest that two-color Pirate decks will be much more consistent than the three-color versions. It is also possible to play Unclaimed Territory in the two-color builds as well. It is difficult to say which color between blue, red, and black has the best or worst Pirates, so I have been experimenting with all potential color combinations. Here is my take on straight Black-Red Pirates.

This is an aggressive version of the Black-Red Pirates deck. The curve essentially stops at three, so you need to come out of the gates strong and then backup an early start with Pirate synergy and removal for opposing threats. The one-drops we have access to here on the surface aren't the most powerful cards, but both have hidden potential. Rigging Runner is a one-drop but you don't really want to play it on the first turn, because then you have lost its potential upside.

However, playing Rigging Runner on turn one isn't the worst, as it will make some of your other cards better. It turns out that the first strike is very relevant, since once you are able to get a Fell Flagship into play, all your creatures will look that much more impressive. Of course, given the option I would always choose to play Deadeye Tracker turn one. Deadeye Tracker is a one-drop that is still going to be good later in the game, as once the opponent gets cards in their graveyard it becomes a source of card advantage.

Perhaps the single biggest payoff to go black-red is getting access to Dire Fleet Captain. Dire Fleet Captain can hit hard as long as you have other Pirates attacking, and that is essentially the goal of the deck: get a bunch of Pirates into play as quickly as possible. The two-drops are all strong, as we also have Metallic Mimic as a way to make your Pirates larger. Metallic Mimic is the biggest tribal incentive card that we are carrying over from the previous Standard format. It will definitely see more play now that there are more tribal creature decks.

Metallic Mimic is another Pirate that also makes all your other Pirates better, and it's hard to ask for much more. Rounding out the suite of Pirates we have Fathom Fleet Captain, a card that can get out of control once you are able to activate it when attacking. All you need to do to turn it on is control another Pirate, and that's not very difficult, since Pirate creatures are the backbone of this deck.

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This deck that wants to have strong plays on the first three turns of the game. At three mana, we have the signature Pirate vehicle in Fell Flagship, which will make the stats on your Pirates good enough to attack through some of the larger creatures an opponent might bring to the table. We also have Captain Lannery Storm. I'm only running two here, because while this is a very powerful creature, it's also legendary. The other reason to not play more copies of Captain Lannery Storm is this deck may not be able to take advantage of the Treasure artifact token.

There are a few mana sinks, but we aren't ramping into anything big. We are, however, playing Ruin Raider as a way to make sure there will be plenty of gas in hand. Since the curve is so low, Ruin Raider is unlikely to cause a ton of life loss, and on the flipside Raid is pretty easy to turn on. While on the surface Ruin Raider isn't as strong as some of the other Pirates, it does good work here. When building a deck like this there are a lot of decisions to be made, and inevitably some cards end up being sidelined.

Some of the Pirates that didn't make the cut in the main deck are worthy inclusions in the sideboard. For instance, if black Pirate decks aren't playing Kitesail Freebooter main deck they will definitely want access to it after sideboard. Whether Kitesail Freebooter ends up being a good main deck card is going to depend on how many non-creature spells people are playing. Kitesail Freebooter is going to be great when it takes an important spell from the opponent, but when you miss completely and can't take anything from the opponent then it looks pretty bad.

We've seen black-red; now I want to show off my version of Blue-Red Pirates as well. Initially I thought that black was essential to any Pirate build, but it turns out that isn't the case.

The Blue-Red Pirate deck is a little less about Pirate synergy and a bit more about having interaction for what the opponent is doing. The biggest draw to going blue is Lookout's Dispersal. Most of the time you will have a Pirate in play, and this is a very solid counter. If it turns out that sweepers become popular in main decks then having access to countermagic will become even more important. By adding blue, you give yourself more room to maneuver.

We see some of the same red creatures as in the Black-Red Pirate deck, as well as some new ones. Kari Zev, Skyship Raider is a creature many players are familiar with from its use in Ramunap Red, but what you may not be aware of is that Kari Zev is actually a Pirate. I didn't include Kari Zev in the Black-Red Pirates deck because there you have a lot of good two-drops to choose from. Here there aren't as many creatures and Metallic Mimic becomes a bit worse, so Kari Zev fits quite nicely.

The other creature that may look out of place is Skyship Plunderer. This is one I'm still a little unsure on. Skyship Plunderer is also a Pirate, and you can actually use it to add loyalty to Chandra, Torch of Defiance, which can be pretty useful. While on the surface Skyship Plunderer doesn't look that impressive, it is still a solid role player.

We also have some other blue Pirates from Ixalan. Siren Stormtamer is going to be useful against any deck with a good amount of removal. This is a way to save your best creature, though you do have to have one mana available. A one-mana flyer with a useful ability is certainly good enough to see play in any blue based Pirate strategy. By playing blue you get a bunch of evasive threats, which can be very useful versus large fatties on the ground. Daring Saboteur does require a mana investment to get it through, but often you do have mana to spare later in the game. Looting is certainly a useful effect, especially in this sort of deck, as you really don't want to flood out.

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This deck does get a useful four mana threat as well, that can help finish the game off. Dreamcaller Siren is a way to shift a race in your favor, and the fact that it can be played on the opponent's turn means it works well with Lookout's Dispersal. I'm not sure yet exactly how many Dreamcaller Sirens this sort of deck will want to play, as it will depend a lot on the metagame. With lots of creature strategies running around the ability to tap two opposing threats will be useful, but they do still untap during the opponent's next untap step.

The Blue-Red Pirates deck relies more on actual burn spells, as you lose the hard removal that black provides. However, if the format does end up being small creature decks like this one, along with control decks, burn spells like Lightning Strike will end up being better than a card like Walk the Plank. Fell Flagship isn't quite as good here since there aren't as many creatures, but I think it is still good enough to play.

Having played with both decks, I believe the black cards provide more raw power, but blue adds an element of surprise. My next step is to build a Blue-Black Pirates deck, as Hostage Taker seems like it has a ton of potential. The one thing that both Pirate decks here have in common is their low curve. We aren't going above four mana for our spells, but there are mana sinks that allow you to have things to do later in the game. This means that while the curves are low, we aren't talking about decks that are hyper aggressive in the traditional sense.

Thanks for reading,
Seth Manfield




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