Malcolm, Keen-Eyed Navigator | Illustration by Eric Deschamps
Pirates are a fun creature type in Magic. As you might expect they excel at fighting, stealing, and creating Treasure. This makes them a very flavorful choice to build a deck around, if maybe a bit less powerful than some other creature types. Malcolm, Keen-Eyed Navigator is one of your options for a pirate commander, and it leads to some pretty fun gameplay.
Because Malcolm has partner, I wanted to pair it up with another commander that would allow me to access more pirates. Ixalan introduced a good number of Grixis () partners, so I chose Vial Smasher the Fierce as my second commander. While not a pirate, its destructive energy definitely makes it fit in with the wild crews depicted on a lot of pirate cards.
Let me walk you through my build and go over exactly how I’d play this deck to be more successful if you try it yourself. I’ll also touch on some changes you can make if you want to mix things up a bit. I admit I sacrificed going super competitive to include all the pirate cards I liked in this deck, but I’ve had a lot of fun playing this deck whether I win or lose.
Let’s get to it!
Vial Smasher the Fierce | Illustration by Deruchenko Alexander
Malcolm, Keen-Eyed Navigator
Vial Smasher the Fierce
Forerunner of the Coalition
Ramirez DePietro, Pillager
Captain Lannery Storm
Fathom Fleet Swordjack
Dire Fleet Poisoner
Azure Fleet Admiral
Admiral Beckett Brass
Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer
Breeches, Brazen Plunderer
Dargo, the Shipwrecker
Captain Ripley Vance
Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
Captain Vargus Wrath
Ghost of Ramirez DePietro
Zara, Renegade Recruiter
Revel in Riches
Goblin War Drums
Reflections of Littjara
Talisman of Dominance
Talisman of Creativity
Coat of Arms
Path of Ancestry
Shizo, Death's Storehouse
Cavern of Souls
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
As you can see, this is a pretty creature-heavy build because I wanted to include lots of fun pirates. This deck is also a little shorter on lands, but that’s because you create a good number of Treasure tokens to make up for that.
I also wanted to keep the pirate theme going even with the instants and sorceries in this deck, hence why you’ll see cards like Treasure Cruise or Brass's Bounty.
Malcolm, Keen-Eyed Navigator was the commander I chose first for this deck, which is why a big chunk of it is built around its ability. Because pirates have a lot of good attack or combat damage triggers, it’s natural that you’d already be attacking your opponents as often as you can in a pirate deck.
You’re likely going to get a good amount of Treasure off Malcolm. It’s important to note that you only get one Treasure per opponent who takes damage, so you want to spread out your attacks a bit if possible to maximize the amount of Treasure you’re producing.
I may largely have Vial Smasher the Fierce for its color identity, but it still has a very powerful ability that can do a decent amount of damage over the course of the game.
It’s somewhat hampered by its random nature, it also absolves you of some guilt over who takes damage. Your opponents are a lot less likely to take things personally when you randomly do damage to them as opposed to actively choosing it.
Most of the creatures in this deck are pirates to make the most of your commander’s ability. I also tried to include ones like Ramirez DePietro, Pillager and Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer that have combat damage triggers since your strategy revolves around attacking.
Admiral Beckett Brass has an especially powerful ability once you’ve established a wide board.
Captain Lannery Storm can make you more Treasure every time it attacks, and Grim Hireling has an effect similar to Malcom’s that can also make Treasure tokens.
You also have evasive creatures like Ghost of Ramirez DePietro, Departed Deckhand, and Azure Fleet Admiral. These creatures make it more likely that you can cash in on your combat damage triggers.
Hostage Taker and Captivating Crew are helpful for clearing the field for you to ensure you can get some attackers through.
Dargo, the Shipwrecker can be pretty cheap to cast in this deck because you’ll be sacrificing a lot of artifacts a.k.a., Treasure tokens throughout the game.
You may be able to make a lot of Treasure with Malcolm’s ability, but it doesn’t do a lot if you don’t have cards to cast with it. Consistent forms of card draw are very useful, and luckily there are good cards that synergize well with your strategy of attacking.
Curiosity can be used to enchant one of your evasive creatures and draw you an extra card each combat. Reconnaissance Mission essentially gives all your creatures this benefit, which can be very helpful once you’ve gone wide.
Phyrexian Arena is a good way to get some extra cards each turn, as is Mystic Remora, though its cumulative upkeep may get too pricey after a turn or two.
You also have a few single-draw spells like Unexpected Windfall. This one has the added benefit of giving you some additional Treasures.
Removal is helpful in any deck, but it can be especially handy here in allowing you to attack without worrying about blockers.
Targeted removal like Terminate can be handy at instant speed if you want to protect one of your creatures from a deadly blocker.
Rapid Hybridization is nice since it’s very cheap and easy to keep mana open for.
Chaos Warp is perhaps your strongest bit of targeted removal because it can hit any type of permanent. The only real downside is that your opponent could top deck something better than you removed.
Cyclonic Rift can be especially powerful in this deck because you can clear the field while keeping your board state. This allows you to swing out at all your opponents at once, which is great for Malcolm’s ability. It’s also great to play if you can get extra combat with a card like Aggravated Assault.
In addition to the Treasure that your commander makes you, there are a few other ways to make it in this deck. Perhaps one of the best ways is Dockside Extortionist, which can make you a lot of Treasure for very little mana.
Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer is another good way to make some Treasure, and you also get some cards from your opponents that you might be able to play.
Goldspan Dragon is a good way to consistently generate Treasure tokens. It also makes all your Treasure doubly effective, making it an especially powerful card in this deck. It’ll likely be targeted for removal, but you’ll at least get one last Treasure from it as it dies.
Revel in Riches can make you a good amount of Treasure in Commander because your opponents’ creatures will likely be dying pretty regularly, even without your help. This card can also act as an alternate win condition for you if you’re able to accrue enough Treasure and keep it on the board long enough.
Spell Swindle is a great counterspell thanks to the Treasure it generates. If you hold onto it and play it when your opponent tries to play a very expensive card, you can even make back more mana than it takes to cast this spell.
There are some good cards to include in any deck that runs a lot of the same creature type. For example, Reflections of Littjara allows you to make copies of any pirate creature you cast. This gives you lots of extra value out of each cast.
Kindred Discovery is an especially good bit of tribal support in a deck where you want to be attacking frequently. You’ll be drawing lots of cards off this, ensuring that you always have access to answers in your hand.
Coat of Arms can give you a huge buff to all your pirates, but you need to be careful with it. This effect also works on creatures your opponents control, so if you’re playing against a token deck that goes very wide or another tribal deck you may end up helping that player more than yourself.
The Mana Base
When it came to picking lands for this deck, I wanted to make it easy to get all three of your colors quickly.
I included all the shock lands that can go in a Grixis deck, so Watery Grave, Blood Crypt, and Steam Vents.
I also included Xander's Lounge. Any time you get a fetch land like Polluted Delta, you can grab a dual or tri-land instead of just getting access to a single color.
I also included other dual lands that usually enter untapped, like the bond lands Training Center and Luxury Suite as well as Dragonskull Summit.
I also have a Command Tower in this deck, as I would any deck that’s more than one color.
This deck mostly runs pirates for its creatures, so I included Cavern of Souls and Path of Ancestry. These not only give you any color you need to cast pirates, they also have some added benefits like scrying or making your creature uncounterable.
Rogue's Passage and Shizo, Death's Storehouse can give you some evasion, which is nice for making sure you get an activation from Malcolm’s combat damage trigger.
I also included both Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and Cabal Coffers. Urborg is always good for mana fixing in decks that include black, and if you’re going to run it you might as well also run Cabal Coffers if you have a copy since they work so well together.
Outside of lands I also included some mana rocks. Arcane Signet and Commander's Sphere are good sources of fixing when you don’t have access to all your colors, as are Talisman of Creativity and Talisman of Dominance.
Though you don’t have any mana dorks in this deck, you have a good number of creatures that create Treasure tokens. You still have more ways to produce mana than lands and artifacts.
You want to attack as often as you can with this deck. This gets you Treasure from Malcolm, Keen-Eyed Navigator and also starts eating away at your opponents life. You’ll probably also want to get Vial Smasher the Fierce out early to start doing some direct damage. Between attacking and Vial Smasher’s ability, you’ll hopefully be able to get your opponents low enough to finish them off with a big attack.
You can use removal like Chaos Warp, Terminate, or Hostage Taker to make attacking easier. You also have creatures with evasion like Departed Deckhand, or cards like Rogue's Passage that can ensure you get a least one Treasure token from Malcolm. This extra mana is helpful for you to be able to establish a board state more quickly.
While combat or direct damage is how I had the most success taking out my opponents with this deck, you also have the chance to win with Revel in Riches. It may be worth holding on to some of your Treasure tokens if you have it in your hand and know you’ll be casting it soon. The longer it’s on the field the more likely it’ll be removed, so it’s probably better to drop it when you meet the victory conditions unless you just want it to generate more mana.
Combos and Interactions
While there are no infinite combos in this deck, you should be on the lookout for some good ways that your cards can interact with one another.
Remember that Reckless Fireweaver triggers when Treasure tokens are created. You’ll be able to deal out a good amount of damage if you can have it on the field before you play something like Dockside Extortionist or Spell Swindle.
Timestream Navigator works well with Revel in Riches. If you’re able to take an extra turn, it’s a lot more likely that you’ll be able to get to your upkeep while still meeting the victory conditions laid out by the enchantment if your opponents don’t have the opportunity to untap and draw.
There are some pretty expensive cards in this deck, so there are some obvious places to start if you want to make some cuts to make it more affordable. Both Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer and Dockside Extortionist are very expensive, and you could easily replace them with cheaper pirate cards if you want to save yourself about $75 each. You could also replace Dockside with a Mana Geyser if you want a one-time boost of mana.
Cavern of Souls and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth are also getting pretty expensive. Mana fixing might not be a huge priority with the amount of Treasure you make in this deck. You can probably just add a few more basic lands and save yourself another $80-90.
Polluted Delta is starting to get expensive too. You can save about $15 by swapping it for an Arid Mesa. You can still search up a dual land or Xander's Lounge with it, so it’s basically just as good for a cheaper price.
Building around pirates and Treasure tend to make up a vast majority of builds for Malcolm Keen-Eyed Navigator and Vial Smasher the Fierce.
But one minor change you could make to this build is to include more high mana value cards. This synergizes well with Vial Smasher’s ability. You could also build in more ways to do lots of damage to your opponents like Sorin Markov which can get your opponents pretty low and make it easier to take them out.
Another option for a different build is to change up which partner commander you pair with Malcolm. Another good pairing is Breeches, Brazen Plunderer. While you lose access to black mana, you still get access to a lot of the same pirates in this deck. You also get more consistent access to Breeches’s ability which synergizes better with Malcolm’s than Vial Smasher does.
Port Razer | Illustration by Craig J Spearing
Malcolm, Keen-Eyed Navigator can be a good tool for a pirate deck. While its effect isn’t super powerful, it can help with getting extra mana and access to all your colors. This can help speed up your game, which is helpful in allowing you to drop more attackers earlier in the game. I’ve enjoyed playing this game and seeing how the different pirate cards work together, so if you’re looking for a fun theme deck this is a good option for you.
Which pirate cards are your favorite? Do you run a different pirate commander? Let me know in the comments or on Draftsim’s Twitter.
Thanks for reading, and I look forward to seeing you in the next one!
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