Captivating Crew | Illustration by Winona Nelson
Myths and legends, thieves, captains, and warriors. Fighting the established society of their time or just seeking glory, fun, and riches, pirates are basically adventurers in a typical fantasy RPG like D&D. But what about pirates in D&D’s cousin, Magic?
As expected, pirates also frequently go “under jolly roger” and attack other players’ ships (or life totals) and plunder their most valuable Treasures. Today I’m going to analyze the pirates of Magic to decide whether there’re worthy to be in your decks or are lame and not worth your time.
Well, what are you waiting for? Grab your hats and let’s get sailing!
Zara, Renegade Recruiter | Illustration by Chris Rallis
Pirates are a creature type in MTG. They’re present mostly in blue, but there are also some printed in red and black. The first set to ever have a pirate was Mirage with Kukemssa Pirates. The Mercadian Masques block had some pirates and merchants that would later be errata’d to pirates.
Commander Legends, Ixalan, and Rivals of Ixalan contributed the most to the pirate count. Pirates also got a mechanical identity and tribal cards starting with Ixalan, plus reasons to put a lot of creatures of the same type in a deck and reap the benefits.
There are over 100 cards printed with the pirate type. They’re usually also humans, orcs, or goblins. But which are the absolute best of them? Let’s find out!
Cards with the monarch mechanic are interesting because they create this subgame of gaining card advantage while being the monarch and everyone else’s enemy. Azure Fleet Admiral can give you monarch and be an important tool to regain it.
Crafty Cutpurse was created as an answer to infinite combos like Splinter Twin and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. And in a Standard that had a card banned (Felidar Guardian) because of infinite token combos, Cutpurse was bound to see some play. There’s value to be had by sometimes stealing a couple of tokens from a Selesnya () EDH player when playing it.
Departed Deckhand is another pirate that was played in the other tribe she’s a member of (spirits). A nearly unblockable 2/2 for 2 has its uses in tempo/flier tribal decks, and spirit tribal is usually well supported.
Mistbind Clique this is not, but Dreamcaller Siren is close for a Standard power level, and a solid pirate flier. The power level of the pirate deck relative to Dreamcaller’s Standard format didn’t do any good for it, even if it has potential.
Malcolm, Keen-Eyed Navigator is a cool card to have surrounded by fellow pirates. For maximum effect your pirates should be attacking everyone around the table, making enemies (and finding Treasure) in the pirate way.
Playable in a blue fliers/tempo deck, a 2/1 flier for two is already a good rate. The fact that Warkite Marauder can attack through reach creatures or bigger fliers by neutralizing their abilities is a good tempo play. Not to mention a good way to give your Shock more targets.
One of the few “pirate matters” and “tribal pirates” cards that deserve your attention. The +1/+1 to other pirates is what matters on Corsair Captain, and a 2/2 that makes a Treasure is certainly interesting.
A Standard staple in blue flash decks, the best thing about Brineborn Cutthroat besides being a flash threat (which these decks need) is that it’s usually flashed before playing an instant and it’s ready to attack as a 3/2 if you need to. The fun thing is using counterspells and protection on it and watching it grow.
Spectral Sailor is another card that saw play in a tempo/spirits build. A 1/1 flash flier for one is okay, but having that uncounterable card draw seals the deal. Five mana for a 1/1 flier and a card? Deal.
Hullbreacher gives EDH players nightmares. Few things are as frustrating as playing that big draw spell and spending a lot of mana just to have Hullbreacher come in and steal it while netting some Treasure. It took some time but it was eventually banned.
Deadeye Tracker saw play in explore decks and as a way to fight opponent’s graveyard synergies. The worst case is that it stays a 1/1, so play it out of the sideboard when you expect graveyard shenanigans.
Dire Fleet Poisoner says “use me on defense or offense.” Flash-deathtouch creatures are already good on defense to ambush attackers, and Poisoner’s ETB ability only works on offense so it plays well on both sides of the field.
A 4/4 menace with deathtouch means that when Dire Fleet Ravager attacks, something bad happens to your opponent. They either lose four life or lose at least two creatures. It was made to be an aggro curve topper and its ability can be very damaging in EDH.
For a while Ruin Raider was considered the next Dark Confidant. Turns out that needing to attack to have this effect is very different. But it’s a nice card advantage engine if you’re in the market for attacking with a low curve.
A 2-drop that lets you pay two when it attacks to create a 2/2 token is very good, even outside of pirate decks. Fathom Fleet Captain makes lots of reasonable-sized pirates if you have some tribal pirate going on.
Creatures with this disruptive effect when they enter the battlefield are almost always playable, and a 1/2 flier body is also good. Kitesail Freebooter’s downside is that you can’t get creatures this way.
Act of Treason effects aren’t great in the sense that it lasts only until the end of the turn. Captivating Crew offers that every turn, however, and any way to sacrifice a creature for value becomes steady removal. It gets a lot better if you have eight mana and can get two creatures or lock down one creature perpetually.
Coercive Recruiter has two good things going on. You’re bound to have a pirate entering the battlefield almost every turn in a pirate tribal deck, which means a free Act of Treason every turn. The stolen creature also becomes a pirate, which is better than usual with all the pirate synergies you may have.
Getting monarch is always nice, and it’s going to cost your opponents some life to take it back from you with Emberwilde Captain.
Daring Buccaneer can be a 2/2 for one mana in a tribal aggressive deck, which is a very good rate for an aggressive card.
Breeches, Brazen Plunderer is another source of card advantage if you’re in the market for attacking, usually with menace or flying.
It’s turn 4 and your opponent has four lands in play. Coastline Marauders attacks as a 4/3 trample. That’s fine. Sometimes it attacks as a 6/3, maybe. Then comes the encore.
It won’t be rare to see a few Marauders attacking as 10/3 tramplers in Commander, and that’s a lot of damage.
A take on pirate Snapcaster Mage. It’s on your opponents’ spells and it doesn’t flash, which hurts Dire Fleet Daredevil’s playability. Either way, opponents almost have something good to cast with this.
Play Rowdy Crew if you have discard or graveyard synergies. A 3/3 for four is played for the ETB ability in the hope that your hand is better after the exchange or you have some madness or flashback cards in your deck.
The rulings here are odd but bear with me. Dargo, the Shipwrecker is a 7/5 trample that costs seven mana. This cost can be reduced by two for each creature/artifact sacrificed while casting the spell. But other sacrificed permanents in that turn are valid too. So if you sacrifice a Treasure to generate one mana, it’s equivalent to three mana for Dargo. A 7/5 trampler for two to four mana is a good pirate and deserves to be on this list, even if it requires some work.
A 1/1 haste for one is almost always playable in red aggressive decks and the fact that Fanatical Firebrand is also a goblin helps. This pirate can also deal damage to any target once it’s not useful anymore.
A Standard playable for a while, Captain Lannery Storm is a 2/2 haste for three that can attack as a 3/2 by sacrificing a Treasure each turn. The Captain is a solid haste threat in a deck that can produce Treasure.
A 1/1 for two mana that makes a Treasure has its value in ramp decks or decks that aim to play a 4-drop on turn 3, on top of fixing mana.
Cards that make two bodies are very valuable in red aggressive decks because it’s harder to block and the damage adds. Kari Zev, Skyship Raider was an aggressive staple in its Standard format and, hey, it makes the legendary Ragavan.
A card that a lot of Commander players come to love or hate, Dockside Extortionist can generate a lot of Treasure when it comes into play, becoming a red Commander staple. This is mana fixing and ramp in the same card, and it can be blinked for value in Jeskai () decks.
Probably the most sought-after card in the Modern Horizons 2 collection, Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer altered the face of competitive MTG in Modern, Legacy, and even Vintage. Ragavan exiles your opponent’s top card when it hits. And once you cast Ponder, Brainstorm, or Lightning Bolt from the top of your opponent’s library for free you know you’re doing something nice.
Ragavan would be bad if it exiled expensive cards when you don’t have the mana to cast, but it’s usually not the case. Other good drops include Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek and yep, even Black Lotus or Ancestral Recall in Vintage.
Another aggressive pirate incentive, +2/+0 for your attacking pirates is no joke. Considering that a lot of pirates have menace this makes them harder to block. Dire Fleet Neckbreaker is a nice curve topper for aggro Rakdos () pirate decks.
Dire Fleet Warmonger is basically the pirate you’re looking for in aggro Rakdos decks. 3/3 for three mana is fine but it adds a sacrifice effect and becomes a 5/5 trampler.
Considering that one key element of red pirates is stealing a creature until the end of turn, Warmonger can be a removal spell every turn if it’s needed.
Captain Vargus Wrath is a pirate tribal commander focused on aggression. It’s just a 1/1 but at least it gives +1/+1 to all your attacking pirates. The cool part is that since it’s weak it’s probably going to die. But then it returns to the game and gives +2/+2 to all your pirates.
Zara, Renegade Recruiter is a 4/3 flier for five that takes the concept of stealing a creature from your opponent to another level. It actually takes the creature straight from their hand.
Admiral Beckett Brass is a pirate that uses your pirates to loot stuff from the other players. Sounds like a cool design. The nice thing is that there’s no shortage of pirates to play if this is your commander, and it’s also a pirate lord.
The best pirate payoffs depend on the style of pirate deck you’re playing. Since most pirate decks are tribal with a theme, Rakdos pirate decks are usually aggressive with sacrifice outlets and some Treasure/artifact synergies. Dimir () or Grixis () decks often value the Treasure generation and the saboteur aspect (deal damage to the opponent and get the reward).
Generic tribal cards always help if you need to up your pirate count. Either way, there are lots of cards that benefit a pirate tribal deck.
Angrath, the Flame-Chained is a pirate planeswalker that favors this style of deck.
There are lots of good and competitive creatures with the pirate type, no matter which color you choose. Pirates are one of the most played creatures in almost every format they’re legal.
As for pirate tribal decks, these lack a density of playable cards or synergy to dethrone more powerful tribes. But it’s certainly possible to make a good pirate-themed Commander deck, and a tier 1.5 to 2 pirate deck in formats like Pioneer or Historic.
Pirates in MTG are blue, red, and black.
Blue shows the neutral alignment and intelligent aspect of pirates and the fact that they’re tied to the water. Pirates are usually drawn to artifacts like Treasures and equipment, which are in the blue part of the color pie. Black represents the selfish and ruthless aspects of pirates while red shows the aggressive and fighting side of pirates.
Kari Zev, Skyship Raider | Illustration by Brad Rigney
Pirates are a type of card that recently started to get more attention with the 2017 Ixalan block, even though they were in the game for a long time before that. Pirates were also the theme for Commander Legends where the pirate tribe got more attention, especially for multiplayer games and Commander.
Despite not being the most powerful tribe, there are bound to be some strong pirate designs here and there. Pirate designs have a medium power level overall, so it’s hard to rank the cards on power level alone. But what do you think about my ranks? Did your favorite pirate miss out on the fun? Be sure to leave a comment down below or head over to Draftsim’s Discord.
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