Ixalan is a set where tribal synergies matter and the creature types in focus are Merfolk, Pirates, Dinosaurs and Vampires. There is no shortage of tribal support in Magic’s history for Merfolk and Vampires, but my initial hunch was we wouldn’t have enough Dinosaurs and Pirates in the Commander card pool before Rivals of Ixalan released to build decent Commander decks around them.
A couple of weeks back, my theory was debunked as I searched through all the Dinosaurs and tribal support cards and crunched the numbers. Before I knew it, had a solid Gishath, Sun’s Avatar deck on my hands. So when it came time to sketch out a Pirate deck built around our new Pirate lord, Admiral Beckett Brass, I was certain we could get there.
After going through all the Pirates and working out potential lists, I’m here to tell you: yes, there are plenty of Pirates to assemble a worthy crew to terrorize the Seven Seas with! In fact, there are so many Pirates worth playing I had to make some seriously difficult cuts just to squeeze in all the other spells I felt we needed to have. Here are the ones I ended up keeping in the deck.
At one mana, Siren Stormtamer is a slam-dunk powerhouse card that everyone is sure is already going to do great work in several Constructed formats. I think it’ll also be great for protecting your Commander from pinpoint removal spells as well as any haymaker spells that target you directly. It’s a cheap flier that can also do good work getting your raid triggers satisfied.
I was a little dubious about Deadeye Tracker when I first saw it previewed. I compared it to Deathrite Shaman and it was obviously not a fair comparison. However, the more I thought about Explore, the more I really liked it, so my estimation of Deadeye Tracker had improved…and then I played against it in the Prerelease and the card did some good work against me. Just having the Explore ability on demand is worth the slot. I’m sold.
There are a host of great two-mana Pirates, and first on the list is carryover from Aether Revolt Kari Zev, Skyship Raider and her attack monkey Ragavan! Her one power appreciates all the ways we have to boost Pirate stats. I also really love Fathom Fleet Captain. If you keep an eye out in Commander, there is usually at least one person who has only one or no creatures out, so its menace ability is going to help it get through, and you’ve got to appreciate the ability to churn out Pirate tokens, giving you battlefield presence without having to invest too many actual cards. Kitesail Freebooter is a great card that’s going to see play in Standard, but it can do great work here. Having flying again helps with Raid triggers, and if you snag someone’s Counterspell, if it dies, they likely get the spell back at a time they can’t really use it.
At three mana, you have fewer great options. Captain Lannery Storm is quite small if she hits too much later than Turn 3, though if you can get some tribal boosts, that will certainly help. I see her mostly as a way to create some mana fixing and ramp, something this deck is a bit lacking in outside of Treasure.
There are two cards I ended up cutting that may surprise some people. Ruin Raider is a potent Constructed card, but in a 100-card format like Commander, you could easily chain together a couple of five- or six-mana hits that could lose you the game. I may be wrong not to include it – my mana curve ended up pretty low – but I gave in to The Fear.
I was also sad to cut Rishadan Cutpurse, a Pirate that made some splashes way back in the earlier days of “Standard” (previously called Type 2). There was a tempo deck that often forced you to keep using up all your mana and then Rishadan Cutpurse’s enters-the-battlefield trigger would force you to sacrifice a permanent. Two other Pirates do the same thing, are higher up the mana curve, and demand a bigger mana payment, scaling for multiplayer nicely. I kept the two others but ended up cutting this one, since the body and mana tax are so small.
Four mana is where we get to the gravy! Captivating Crew has a respectable body and an activated ability that can turn combat around and helps enable menace. Dreamcaller Siren helps menace too. I love Deadeye Quartermaster fetching up Equipment or Vehicles, especially the Pirate-themed ones. Kukemssa Pirates is kicking it old school, and I like its ability to steal artifacts permanently if you can get through unblocked.
Of course, the real hero at four mana is the amazing Hostage Taker. I saw it doing some serious work at SCG Dallas on Twitch this weekend, and I expect great things from it in Commander where the potential targets for the taking are bigger, badder, and sweeter.
At five mana we get the iconic Pirate Ship. It’s not really a powerhouse or anything, but the flavor win in the deck is huge. Pinging someone for one never felt so right. Rishadan Brigand is big game, if you can time it correctly, you can nail every opponent for a permanent. I’m very curious how Dire Fleet Ravager is going to work out; having everyone lose a third of their life including you could be quite dangerous, but no one ever claimed the Pirate life was easy!
At six we get Magic’s first Pirate, Ramirez dePietro! As was often the case from Legends, the stats-to-mana ratio is a bit on the weak side, but the flavor win is huge here. And first strike isn’t nothing with plenty of ways to boost that up. I was a little worried that the price on Ramirez DePietro would spike with the release of Ixalan and so many tribal Pirate cards, but you can still get a relatively inexpensive copy out there, so if you’re interested in building a Commander Pirate deck, I suggest snapping up your copy for mad style points.
At seven, there’s Angrath’s Marauders. It gives pseudo-double strike to your Pirate gang. Considering how quickly most Pirates are going to be outclassed on a typical Commander battlefield, it’ll be quite welcome to have them punch up in class.
Yo-Ho-Ho and a Bottle of Rum
Not only do we have many great Pirate cards, we have many good Pirate-themed cards we can put in! There are cards like March of the Drowned and Fell Flagship that call out Pirates directly, but even more fun was digging a little deeper for Pirate flavor! There are obvious ones from Ixalan like Treasure Map and Walk the Plank, and ones with Pirate right in the name like Piracy Charm and Coaster Piracy. I also made ones that called out the sea like Thassa, God of the Sea and Sea Gate Wreckage.
A quick word on Revel in Riches—this card is crazy good all its own in Commander!
“Each time an opponent’s creature dies, you get a Treasure counter” is amazing all by itself, providing mana ramp and color fixing to jump you to your haymakers that much sooner. But wow, that instant-win condition is incredibly easy to satisfy, especially in a Pirate deck.
The decklist is already filling up swiftly, but there are some generic tribal support cards I wanted to make room for. Cover of Darkness help our smaller Pirates slip in and attack through blockers they wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Door of Destinies, Stoneforge Masterwork, and Shared Animosity can turn our smaller Pirates into serious threats very quickly. And I really like all three of the Kindred cycle from Commander 2017 for our deck. Kindred Discovery is just a powerhouse card with smaller creatures you want to attack with. Quite a few of our Pirates have enters-the-battlefield effects, so Kindred Charge can do good work. Kindred Dominance is just insane, and it’s costed that way – it’s certainly a great card to cash in Treasure to cast.
Deadeye Quartermaster is probably going to go search up Fell Flagship or Pirate’s Cutlass, but in case you’ve already drawn those, I wanted to include a few more search targets. These three are all premium Equipment cards that are cheap to cast and equip, and play well with smaller creatures that want to attack.
There’s not much room left, but we do want to at least have some interaction available outside of the tribal options. A little pinpoint removal and a few counterspells are certainly worth the slots. The “oops, I win” combo of Spell Swindle with a Revel in Riches on the battlefield can help you win games you otherwise had no hope of winning and can keep your opponents on their toes.
Here is the full list including the lands:
- 1 Pirate Ship
- 1 Ramirez DePietro
- 1 Kukemssa Pirates
- 1 Rishadan Footpad
- 1 Rishadan Brigand
- 1 Thassa, God of the Sea
- 1 Skyship Plunderer
- 1 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
- 1 Captain Lannery Storm
- 1 Hostage Taker
- 1 Dreamcaller Siren
- 1 Fathom Fleet Captain
- 1 Deadeye Tracker
- 1 Angrath's Marauders
- 1 Daring Saboteur
- 1 Deadeye Tormentor
- 1 Dire Fleet Captain
- 1 Deadeye Plunderers
- 1 Marauding Looter
- 1 Siren Stormtamer
- 1 Kitesail Freebooter
- 1 Storm Fleet Aerialist
- 1 Deadeye Quartermaster
- 1 Storm Fleet Spy
- 1 Captivating Crew
- 1 Dire Fleet Ravager
- 1 Ruthless Knave
- 1 Lightning-Rig Crew
- 1 Dire Fleet Hoarder
- 1 Dire Fleet Interloper
- 1 Fathom Fleet Cutthroat
- 1 Siren Lookout
- 1 Shipwreck Looter
- 1 Sailor of Means
- 1 Reflecting Pool
- 4 Swamp
- 3 Mountain
- 5 Island
- 1 Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
- 1 Watery Grave
- 1 Steam Vents
- 1 Blood Crypt
- 1 Mutavault
- 1 Crumbling Necropolis
- 1 Esper Panorama
- 1 Grixis Panorama
- 1 Jund Panorama
- 1 Exotic Orchard
- 1 Dragonskull Summit
- 1 Drowned Catacomb
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Sulfur Falls
- 1 Cavern of Souls
- 1 Thespian's Stage
- 1 Temple of Deceit
- 1 Temple of Malice
- 1 Temple of Epiphany
- 1 Sea Gate Wreckage
- 1 Crypt of the Eternals
- 1 Path of Ancestry
- 1 Unclaimed Territory
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Cover of Darkness
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Arcane Denial
- 1 Coastal Piracy
- 1 Piracy Charm
- 1 Pongify
- 1 Door of Destinies
- 1 Shared Animosity
- 1 Basilisk Collar
- 1 Tragic Slip
- 1 Swan Song
- 1 Stoneforge Masterwork
- 1 Smuggler's Copter
- 1 Vanquisher's Banner
- 1 Revel in Riches
- 1 Kindred Discovery
- 1 Kindred Charge
- 1 Herald's Horn
- 1 Heirloom Blade
- 1 Kindred Dominance
- 1 Walk the Plank
- 1 Treasure Map
- 1 Pirate's Cutlass
- 1 Fell Flagship
- 1 Spell Swindle
- 1 March of the Drowned
- 1 Siren's Ruse
- 1 Prying Blade
From the high seas of Ixalan to your Commander table, Pirates are here, baby! What do you think? Are there any cards I overlooked? How would you go about building tribal Pirates?
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 Primer Part 1
(Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
Commander Primer Part 2
(Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
Commander Primer Part 3
(Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
Commander Starter Kits 1
(kick start your allied two-color decks for $25)
Commander Starter Kits 2
(kick start your enemy two-color decks for $25)
Commander Starter Kits 3
(kick start your shard three-color decks for $25)
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)
• Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient (Ghost in the Machines)
• Jalira, Master Polymorphist (JaliraPOW!)
• 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)
• Karador, Ghost Chieftain (Shadowborn Apostles & Demons)
• Roon of the Hidden Realm (Mean Roon)
• Vorel of the Hull Clade (Never Trust the Simic)
• Borborygmos Enraged (69 land deck)
• Derevi, Empyrial Tactician (Tribal Birds)
• Gahiji, Honored One (Enchantment Ga-hijinks)
• Nicol Bolas (Kicking it Old School)
• Oloro, Ageless Ascetic (Life Gain)
• Polukranos, World Eater (Monstrous!)
• Reaper King (Taking Advantage of the new Legend Rules)
• Roon of the Hidden Realm ( Strolling Through Value Town)
• Shattergang Brothers (Breaking Boards)
• Sliver Overlord (Featuring the new M14 Slivers!)
• Varolz, the Scar-Striped (scavenging goodness)