Almost There: Pirates

Posted in How to Build on October 13, 2017

By Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa

Paulo has been playing Magic since he was eight years old. At fifteen, he ventured outside of Brazil for his first international tournament, and he's been globetrotting as a professional player ever since.


My name is Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, and from today on I'll be writing Almost There on DailyMTG. In this column, I'm going to talk about decks that did well, but didn't quite get there—lists you might have missed because they were just outside the Top 8 of an event, or perhaps that had multiple 4-1 records on Magic Online but were never shown as one of the 5-0s. My goal is to analyze those decks and see what changes they might need to take that next step.

In this first article, I'll start with my favorite tribe from Ixalan: Pirates. They haven't had any outstanding finishes yet, but here are two 4-1 lists from Magic Online:

sheeps42's Blue-Black Pirates

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Doves's Blue-Black Pirates

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Both those lists are aggro-control decks, but they both lean more toward the aggro side than the control side. They have a lot of creatures, and not that much removal or countermagic. Most of the creatures in those decks are Pirates (all of them in the case of the first list), and the decks profit from that fact with cards like Lookout's Dispersal, Fell Flagship, and Fathom Fleet Captain.

I believe there are two main ways those lists can be improved. The first is that I would try to focus a little less on the tribal aspect, because the rewards for being tribal don't scale with the investment. Cards like Lookout's Dispersal and Fathom Fleet Captain need you to have one Pirate in play, but they do not get any better if you have five—unlike cards such as Spellstutter Sprite, Goblin Ringleader, or Cryptbreaker, they don't demand that you max out on their creature type. As such, there's no reason for all the cards in the deck to be Pirates, like in sheeps42's list. In Doves's, we already see a slight preference for power over synergy, since it's playing Glint-Sleeve Siphoner over Daring Saboteur, and I think that's the right approach. Once you hit a good threshold for your tribal cards, you can start ignoring the creature types and just play whichever card is better.

The second change I'd make is to lead those decks more toward the control side of the spectrum. Right now, both lists will be good at playing if they're ahead, but they will struggle a lot if playing from behind, as they have no defensive cards; 2/1 menace creatures don't block very well, and Ruin Raider can be a liability if your life total is low. With Ramunap Red and Temur Energy as two strong contenders for most popular deck in the field, this all-aggro approach can be dangerous.

What I would do to those decks is add some defensive components, so that you have a fighting chance even if you fall behind. Some people like playing Gifted Aetherborn, and I think that's a perfectly valid addition, but I think the best card for the job is actually Aethersphere Harvester. Doves's list already has a minor energy component in Aether Hubs and Glint-Sleeve Siphoners, so it should fit right in. The Vehicle offers you a great way to use small bodies like Kitesail Freebooter that might be unable to safely enter combat, while at the same time mitigating the life loss from Glint-Sleeve Siphoner.

I'd also move the Ruin Raiders to the sideboard. In some matchups, like against Blue-Black Control, they're great, but I want to increase the overall casting cost of the deck a little, and so far I don't think the metagame is slanted enough toward control to warrant main-decking a card as one-dimensional as this. If your particular metagame doesn't have a lot of Temur Energy or Ramunap Red, however, I think the Ruin Raiders can be moved back to the main.

Since we're cutting some card draw and prolonging the game with life gain, I think we need some more late-game power, and there's basically nothing in Standard with more power than The Scarab God. Doves is already main-decking one, but I think we can up that number, since it goes very well with the disruptive nature of the deck. It'll win the game if unchecked, and this deck is great at protecting its threats with counterspells and discard. As a bonus, you'll now have a better route to victory even if all your early plays are dealt with, since you have a powerful component that doesn't rely on synergy.

Here is how I would build Blue-Black Pirates. It has fewer Pirates than before, but I think that's okay. The added power makes up the difference, and you should still have enough Pirate components to play the Pirate synergies and to make sure Lookout's Dispersal and Fathom Fleet Captain are on most of the time.

PVDDR's Blue-Black Pirates

Download Arena Decklist

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