A Pirate’s Life For Me

Yo ho ho! Bennie “Blackbeard” Smith is giving up his Magic life! He’s taking to the high seas! Or high skies, whatever Kaladesh has going on. And yes, this is a Commander article about the lady with the monkey. … … YAR!

Before I get to the main part of today’s column, just wanted to give everyone a heads-up that I’ll be playing the #SCGRICH right here in my hometown of Richmond this weekend and I’m super-stoked! I have a mono-green Standard deck (#CreepingMold) that’s given me quite a bit of success at local small tournaments so I can’t wait to see how it does in the big grinder of a Standard Open.

I have done some playtesting with updates from Aether Revolt, made tweaks here and there and kept my eyes peeled for all the Week One developments from last weekend’s Open in #SCGCOL. I feel good about the deck’s chances in the new metagame. For one thing, I added Walking Ballista early on and it has been performing great, and since the card made a big splash in Columbus, I think I am on the right track there. The greedy manabases I am seeing in the new Standard make my copies of Creeping Mold even happier.

If you’re playing at the Open, please track me down and say hi! I’d love to hear how you’re doing and what you’re playing. If you’ve got any questions about #CreepingMold, feel free to reach out on my Facebook page or Twitter and I’ll get right back to you. If you won’t be here in Richmond, I’ll do my best to post updates through Twitter and Facebook as to how I’m doing so follow and cheer me on!

Okay, on to our regularly scheduled Commander content…

Yo ho, yo ho, a Pirate’s life for me

We pillage, plunder, we rifle and loot

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho

We kidnap and ravage and don’t give a hoot

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho

When the preview came out for Kari Zev, Skyship Raider – along with the token card for her legendary Monkey Ragavan – it immediately brought a grin to my face, along with faces of Magic fans the world over. Something about a scrappy woman Pirate with an attack monkey was just downright cool. I knew immediately that I would have to build a deck with Kari Zev as Commander… er, rather Captain. Yeah, Pirate Captain of her 99-card ship of cutthroats and ne’er-do-wells! Sailing the seas of multiplayer games looking for plunder and good times.

So what should we load into our Pirate ship cargo? I had a few ideas, but first I did some searching and found a few surprising things.

1. Kari Zev, Skyship Raider is the only red Pirate. Given color identity restrictions, that makes populating our ship with Pirates… problematic. And that’s okay. We don’t need any hard and fast tribal organization—we’re a mono-red deck after all!

2. There are no other red or colorless cards that have Kari Zev quoted in the flavor text. We have Kari Zev’s Expertise, and Kari herself, and that’s it.

So as far as going deep into flavor when building a Kari Zev deck, we don’t have a whole lot to work with. So to start out, I focused on Kari Zev’s Expertise, which was all about (temporarily) recruiting someone to attack for you. There are a lot of those effects in red, but since we’re Pirates, we’re not about giving back things we take…

Professor, What’s Another Name for Pirate Treasure?

I’ve included a fair number of red’s “temporarily gain control of” cards, including big daddy Insurrection. However, since Pirates are not very good at giving things back I have also included ways to… not give them back at the end of the turn. I have many sacrifice effects including Trading Post and Bloodshot Cyclops—particularly great at “chucking” something really big you’ve stolen right at someone’s life totals. Grafted Exoskeleton can somewhat backdoor the sacrifice by equipping it to something else. Fatal Frenzy can make a large creature quite scary with the downside of losing the creature at the end of the turn… so that’s why we’ll use it on something big and scary we’ve plundered from someone else. Arrrr!

Aladdin looks a little odd, but I stumbled across it while looking for red Rogues (when I realized there were no red Pirates). He steals artifacts, which includes artifact creatures, so I thought he made a worthy addition to the crew.

Okay, so I’ve got the piracy covered the best I can in monor-ed. Now what? Now what indeed! I think what we want – nay, what we all need – is to see Ragavan in action!

What good is having an attack Monkey if we never get to see it? So let’s make sure Kari Zev is attacking early and often.


The thing about Kari Zev, Skyship Raider is that she quickly gets outclassed by creatures typically played in Commander. Solutions to that dilemma include boosting her battlefield presence with things like Hero’s Blade and Tenza, Godo’s Maul to discouraging opponents from blocking her. Deathtouch is a great way to do that, especially with her first strike ability, and the premier way to do that in a nongreen, nonblack deck is Basilisk Collar. I also like Vial of Poison because the threat of using it – on either Kari or Ragavan – may mean that you never actually need to pop it off.

Dolmen Gate means you can pretty much attack with impunity and your attackers will rarely suffer for it. Umezawa’s Jitte is a crazy, overpowered Equipment card that works miracles when you have an attacker with first strike. Equip to Kari, resolve first strike damage, and then you’ve got two charge counters you can use to make blocking Ragavan problematic by throwing around -1/-1 or +2/+2 effects.

Speaking of Ragavan, how cool is it that when Ragavan appears, if Hero’s Blade is on the battlefield, it can attach to Ragavan? Like, you could have it equipped to Kari and when Ragavan appears, she can in effect toss the Blade to her attack Monkey and it would become a 5/3!

When it comes to our favorite legendary Monkey creature token, I have one question:

What’s Better than One Ragavan?

As cool as Ragavan is, it rather bums me out that it only exists during your attack step. The Monkey appears attacking and then goes away at the end of the attack. Luckily for us, this is Magic, and Magic has ways to bend the rule!

Sundial of the Infinite is a weird little card that sometimes does cool things that should be able to happen. In this case, we will put Ragavan’s exile trigger on the stack… and then activate Sundial of the Infinite to end the turn. This clears the exile trigger, and we get to keep Ragavan around!

But why stop there? With Mirror Gallery added to the mix, we get to start creating an army of Ragavans! If we can also get Striotic Resonator on the battlefield, we can copy Kari’s attack trigger and make two Ragavans each attack step.

Even without all this sweet crazy stuff, at a minimum we will have Ragavan entering and leaving the battlefield quite a bit, so I’m including Purphoros, God of the Forge and Outpost Siege to needle our opponents.

Let’s Go Nuts!

So I have cards that allow me to do silly things like generate armies of legendary Monkeys. Sometimes those cards are going to sit around and not do much, so we’ll want to put them to work. I noticed that they are all artifacts. Inspiring Statuary puts them to work generating mana for our nonartifact spells, but that’s thinking small. Instead, I really want to put them to work doing something nuts!

And what’s more nuts than playing Bludgeon Brawl and Armory Automaton and turning all of them into Equipment that Armory Automaton can pick up and beat down with? In fact, you can pick up artifacts your opponents control, because Bludgeon Brawl does not discriminate.

But why stop there? Mycosynth Lattice incoming! Why don’t we equip Armory Automaton with all noncreature permanents and beat our opponents to death with them?

Now that is some epic stuff right there. The stuff of legends. People will talk about that game for years!

Okay, so if we are turning our opponents’ nonartifact permanents into artifacts, we can start to do silly stuff with Vandalblast and Shattering Pulse… and Hellkite Tyrant. A Dragon on your Pirate crew? Now that is what I’m talking about!

Yo ho indeed, me hearties. Let us see what the complete deck looks like:

Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
Bennie Smith
Test deck on 01-26-2017

When it comes to red, Wizards has delivered some really cool Commander cards in recent years and I have to say this deck looks like a crazy good time. I am curious to hear what you think. Did I miss anything obvious? How would you go about building around Kari Zev, Skyship Raider?

New to Commander?

If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:

Commander write-ups I’ve done
(and links to decklists):

Zurgo Bellstriker (Bellstriking Like a Boss)

Dragonlord Ojutai (Troll Shroud)

Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund (Dragons, Megamorphs, and Dragons)

Dromoka, the Eternal (One Flying Bolster Basket)

Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest (Tempests and Teapots)

Tasigur, the Golden Fang (Hatching Evil Sultai Plots)

Scion of the Ur-Dragon (Dragon Triggers for Everyone)

• Nahiri, The Lithomancer (Lithomancing for Fun and Profit)

Titania, Protector of Argoth (Titania’s Land and Elemental Exchange)

Reaper King (All About VILLAINOUS WEALTH)

Feldon of the Third Path (She Will Come Back to Me)

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant (Calling Up Ghouls with Sidisi)

Zurgo Helmsmasher (Two Times the Smashing)

Anafenza, the Foremost (Anafenza and Your Restless Dead)

Narset, Enlightened Master (The New Voltron Overlord)

Surrak Dragonclaw (The Art of Punching Bears)

Avacyn, Guardian Angel; Ob Nixilis, Unshackled; Sliver Hivelord (Commander Catchup, Part 3)

Keranos, God of Storms; Marchesa, the Black Rose; Muzzio, Visionary Architect (Commander Catchup, Part 2)

Athreos, God of Passage; Kruphix, God of Horizons; Iroas, God of Victory (Commander Catchup, Journey into Nyx Edition)

Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient (Ghost in the Machines)

Jalira, Master Polymorphist (JaliraPOW!)

Mishra, Artificer Prodigy (Possibility Storm Shenanigans)

Yisan, the Wanderer Bard (All-in Yisan)

Selvala, Explorer Returned (Everyone Draws Lots!)

Grenzo, Dungeon Warden (Cleaning Out the Cellar)

Karona, False God (God Pack)

Child of Alara (Land Ho!)

Doran, the Siege Tower (All My Faves in One Deck!)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (my Magic Online deck)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (Shadowborn Apostles & Demons)

King Macar, the Gold-Cursed (GREED!)

Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind ( Chuck’s somewhat vicious deck)

Roon of the Hidden Realm (Mean Roon)

Skeleton Ship (Fun with -1/-1 counters)

Vorel of the Hull Clade (Never Trust the Simic)

Anax and Cymede (Heroic Co-Commanders)

Aurelia, the Warleader ( plus Hellkite Tyrant shenanigans)

Borborygmos Enraged (69 land deck)

Bruna, Light of Alabaster (Aura-centric Voltron)

Damia, Sage of Stone ( Ice Cauldron shenanigans)

Derevi, Empyrial Tactician (Tribal Birds)

Emmara Tandris (No Damage Tokens)

Gahiji, Honored One (Enchantment Ga-hijinks)

Geist of Saint Traft (Voltron-ish)

Ghave, Guru of Spores ( Melira Combo)

Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)

Glissa, the Traitor ( undying artifacts!)

Grimgrin, Corpse-Born (Necrotic Ooze Combo)

Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord (drain you big time)

Jeleva, Nephalia’s Scourge ( Suspension of Disbelief)

Johan (Cat Breath of the Infinite)

Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo’ Myrs)

Karona, False God (Vows of the False God)

Konda, Lord of Eiganjo ( The Indestructibles)

Lord of Tresserhorn (ZOMBIES!)

Marath, Will of the Wild ( Wild About +1/+1 Counters)

Melira, Sylvok Outcast ( combo killa)

Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker ( Outside My Comfort Zone with Milling

Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis (evil and Spike-ish)

Nicol Bolas (Kicking it Old School)

Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius ( new player-friendly)

Nylea, God of the Hunt ( Devoted to Green)

Oloro, Ageless Ascetic (Life Gain)

Oona, Queen of the Fae (by reader request)

Phage the Untouchable ( actually casting Phage from Command Zone!)

Phelddagrif (Mean Hippo)

Polukranos, World Eater (Monstrous!)

Progenitus (

Fist of Suns and Bringers


Reaper King (Taking Advantage of the new Legend Rules)

Riku of Two Reflections (

steal all permanents with
Deadeye Navigator + Zealous Conscripts


Roon of the Hidden Realm ( Strolling Through Value Town)

Ruhan of the Fomori (lots of equipment and infinite attack steps)

Savra, Queen of the Golgari ( Demons)

Shattergang Brothers (Breaking Boards)

Sigarda, Host of Herons ( Equipment-centric Voltron)

Skullbriar, the Walking Grave ( how big can it get?)

Sliver Overlord (Featuring the new M14 Slivers!)

Thelon of Havenwood ( Campfire Spores)

Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice ( new player-friendly)

Uril, the Miststalker (my “more competitive” deck)

Varolz, the Scar-Striped (scavenging goodness)

Vorosh, the Hunter ( proliferaTION)

Xenagos, God of Revels (Huge Beatings)

Yeva, Nature’s Herald (living at instant speed)