Since the full previews of Rivals of Ixalan came out, Merfolk, Dinosaurs, and Vampires have received a lot of attention as potential Standard competitive tribal decks. One tribe has been left a little in the dark, and that tribe is Pirates. The other tribes definitely have more flashy cards that have people excited to play them, such as Merfolk Mistbinder and Legion Lieutenant. But I haven't given up hope that there is something that can push Pirates into the competitive setting as well.
There is one Pirates card in Rivals of Ixalan that has me pretty excited, and I bet it's not one you'd expect.
Remember when Temur Battle Rage was in Standard?
Playing against Atarka Red was often very difficult, as you felt forced to always leave up mana representing a removal spell so they couldn't go for their combo without risking anything. This was very beneficial for the aggressive red deck, because they often didn't have to go for any combo and could just continue with their normal beatdown plan.
This is the same theory I'm trying to use with this Pirates deck. We have enough Pirates to have a strong, fast beatdown plan with one-drop creatures, and we can back that up with pump spells and Buccaneer's Bravado.
- 4 Daring Buccaneer
- 4 Dire Fleet Poisoner
- 4 Grasping Scoundrel
- 4 Kitesail Freebooter
- 4 Rigging Runner
- 3 Hazoret the Fervent
- 3 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
I believe this deck will be very strong against any other creature-oriented strategy, as blocking will often not end well for our opponents. We have many ways of either going around blockers or punching through them with Invigorated Rampage.
Control matchups may prove to be a bit more difficult, as we have a lot of pump spells that are easy to interact with if they have a lot of removal. Because of this, the sideboard is slanted heavily against control strategies, bringing in a full playset of Duress, as well as some harder to answer threats in Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Angrath, the Flame Chained.
Angrath, the Flame-Chained was not a card I was initially impressed with, but I think he really shines against any kind of control deck. If you can resolve him, he will immediately start eating away at the cards in the opponent's hand and their life total, all while threatening to ultimate and usually end the game on the spot.
Let's go over the cards in the deck and talk about why I've decided to include them.
A crucial part of any aggressive deck is having low curve creatures that allow you to get under your opponent and start putting pressure on quickly. Luckily for us, Rivals of Ixalan gave us two new one-drop Pirates that fit cleanly into this deck: Grasping Scoundrels and Daring Buccaneer. These serve as simple two-power creatures that will come down early while also being Pirates that synergize with the rest of our deck.
Rigging Runner is not as exciting on turn 1, but it serves as an excellent curve filler on turns 2 or 3 when we are curving out with multiple one-drops.
These bodies are very important to have on the battlefield, and our combat tricks should allow us to continue attacking through blockers that would otherwise like to shut us down.
Not only is Kitesail Freebooter a Pirate that synergizes well with Daring Buccaneer and Buccaneer's Bravado, it also plays a very important role in this deck. If our opponent is wise to our plan of comboing with Buccaneer's Bravado, they are going to want to hold a removal spell up to prevent us from going for the kill. Kitesail Freebooter allows us to strip this removal spell from them, or it can simply give us the very valuable information about whether or not the coast is clear.
Kari Zev serves mainly as a general purpose curve filler, as she is the best rate two-drop Pirates have to offer. She does have a lot of good things going for her that really shine in this deck as well though. She fits in well with a go wide strategy, and can attack well through a blocker. Menace is also an interesting keyword here, because if she goes unblocked she can get in for a surprising amount of damage with our combat tricks.
Dire Fleet Poisoner is a strong enough card on its own, but it also has a lot of hidden powerful synergies with the rest of the deck. It can serve as a huge blowout if your opponent decides to block your Rigging Runner, or even better, double block your Kari Zev, as you'll be able to kill all of their blockers with the one-two punch of deathtouch and first strike. Deathtouch also works very well with the trample given by Invigorated Rampage, as you can assign a single point of damage to their blocker and assign the rest of the damage to your opponent.
Hazoret the Fervent proved to be an all-star in the late Ramunap Red deck, and she fits just as well into this deck. The deck has a very low curve with no cards aside from Hazoret being more than two mana, so you should be able to empty your hand very quickly if you want to. While Hazoret herself isn't a Pirate, she provides her own game plan that many opponents under pressure won't be able to deal with. Hazoret also works very well with Invigorated Rampage, because you will often find your opponent chump blocking Hazoret in order to stay alive.
This card is what inspired the deck, and I believe it gives the deck a lot of explosive potential. Turn 4 kills should become trivial with the combination of Buccaneer's Bravado and Invigorated Rampage dealing a whopping fourteen damage when combined with just a two-power Pirate. All of the creatures except for Hazoret in the deck are Pirates, so you should have no trouble using the second mode on this card. And let's be fair, Hazoret usually doesn't need the help.
The ideal card to combo with Buccaneer's Bravado is Invigorated Rampage, giving a Pirate four additional power and, very importantly, trample to push damage through any pesky blockers. Invigorated Rampage is also just a good card on its own, and combines very nicely with the first strike from Rigging Runner and Kari Zev, as well as the deathtouch from Dire Fleet Poisoner.
Fling typically acts as Buccaneer's Bravado numbers five and six as ways to push damage, but I also found myself using it to throw a Ragavan token from Kari Zev as a makeshift Shock. While I don't expect that to come up often, I thought it was an interesting interaction.
We're also packing a playset of Built to Smash to go along with our Buccaneer's Bravados as an additional way to pump up the power of our creatures. Because we can go wide pretty easily with our one-drops and Kari Zev, Skyship Raider, we can also use Built to Smash on any unblocked Pirate and combine that with Buccaneer's Bravado for a big chunk of damage.
There were a few more cards that I considered including, but didn't quite make the cut.
I thought about putting some Dire Fleet Daredevils in the sideboard, or even the main deck, but I'm skeptical on whether or not this card is strong enough in Standard. I could be very wrong about this card and it becomes a staple in Standard, but it's hard to see this card getting value enough of the time. In a midrange matchup, it could be useful to cast a creature and use their own Fatal Push or Harnessed Lightning against their creature, but I feel like this deck is already well-suited against midrange creature decks.
Against control, I don't see this card ever pulling its weight. Not enough of the spells that are going to be in your control opponent's graveyard are going to be useful against their own deck.
I had a couple of these in my initial build of this deck, but ended up cutting them for Hazoret the Fervent, which I consider to be a much more potent top end.
Fathom Fleet Captain seems like a very strong card in any Pirates deck, and he could well deserve a slot here, but he seems a little off plan as the deck doesn't really want to be spending mana in the middle of the game making 2/2s. Once again I could be very wrong about this card, as it is definitely a strong card on its own.
A four-power Pirate for two mana seems exactly like what the doctor ordered, but unfortunately I think the downside for this card is too great in Standard. Part of what makes aggressive decks successful is that they are able to use their mana very efficiently in the early part of the game in order to get ahead on the battlefield. If an opponent were to Fatal Push this early on and have access to two Treasure tokens, that could prove disastrous for our plan.
This is an interesting direction that I can see taking a Pirates shell, but I'm sure there are many others. Happy brewing!