Let’s Brew: Vam-Pirates!

Aaron DurbinCommander

As I mentioned in last week’s article, Ixalan has done a lot to change the way Magic players approach creature tribes. This week, we’re going to explore not only the power of our new Pirates, but the possibilities of combining them with additional tribal support as we look at the emergence of an up-and-coming Commander archetype, “Creature Type Matters.”


I use the term “Creature Type Matters” instead of “Tribal” because this week’s deck features creatures of varying types and subtypes, all of which play a role here. The idea came from a friend’s “Tribal Anything” Reaper King deck. Based around the Changeling creature type, the deck focused on flickering the multi-typed Shapeshifters to trigger Reaper King, and featured various lords like Knight Exemplar and Lord of the Unreal to establish defense and create difficult combat situations.

While the Reaper King deck was successful, I wanted to see what would happen if we narrowed the focus. Having all five colors and every tribe at his disposal made the deck powerful, but it could also be awkward in terms of mana, and a little too linear in game strategy; Reaper King was so central to the deck’s strategy that he almost becomes a liability.

The huge influx of Pirates with the release of Ixalan gave me an excuse to try out this concept without relying on Xenograft or Conspiracy. This is where I’d wanted to go initially, using Admiral Beckett Brass, and turning a handful of random, Grixis-colored evildoers into Pirates via Arcane Adaptation and type-changing Enchantments.

Vampires weren’t my first choice to combine with my Pirates, but taking Blue out of the equation really helped me to think more directly about my idea, and I couldn’t resist the temptation of giving a tried-and-true tribal deck a fresh coat of paint. I called on Olivia Voldaren to be my Commander, but chose her newer, less popular incarnation: Olivia, Mobilized for War.


Using Olivia as a hinge for tempo and power-ups, the Vam-Pirate deck is an all-out aggro deck. We want to get our low-curve Pirates out and attacking early, particularly with support from Drana, Liberator of Malakir and Stensia Masquerade. Necropolis Regent and Mephidross Vampire can help in the late game, providing additional +1/+1 counter triggers and growing our Vam-Pirates into powerful game-enders!


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As is often the case with tribal decks, my initial draft of Olivia contained over 120 cards. (The reason for the logjam was all the Pirates, which was more of a pleasant surprise than a problem.) Obviously, our plan makes it much more difficult to cut creatures; even our least powerful creatures can be pitched to Olivia to power up our better ones. Additionally, figuring out how many Pirates we needed and which Vampires were most important was more challenging than expected.

Both Trove of Temptation and Revel in Riches were among the last cuts I made. I built this deck to be casual, and I was hoping to use it as an excuse to test these brilliant, weird enchantments. With all the Treasure producers I wanted to include in my initial build, Revel in Riches felt like a nice backdoor win condition. While not a great card for an aggro deck, Trove of Temptation supported our Revel in Riches plan, gave us mana when we needed it, and had potential to mess with opponents who choose to leave up blockers.

While I had to leave several exciting cards on the cutting room floor, I’m still quite pleased with the final product. Obviously, there are a ton of Pirates in this deck, my favorites being Dire Fleet Ravager and Captivating Crew. Dire Fleet Ravager is an especially good fit for Commander, and in this deck, I imagine it will be one of the best ways to deal damage. As such, I expect it to be the primary target for our Pirate-themed utility cards: Grim Discovery, Fortuitous Find, and Grim Captain’s Call.

On the other hand, Captivating Crew is very cheeky and fun. In the design process, I cut Mark of Mutiny, Act of Aggression, and a handful of similar cards, because I decided I wanted to win with Vam-Pirates, not just cast Pirate-themed cards. Still, Captivating Crew’s ability to steal creatures — in conjunction with his scintillating, bloodsucking counterpart, Captivating Vampire — was a great justification in design that this deck was on the right track.

Like last week’s Mavren Fein deck, Vam-Pirates relies on some sneaky ships. Smuggler’s Copter and Conqueror’s Galleon both felt right to include – they fit our flavor because stealing is what Pirates do, even if the cards you’re “stealing” come from your own library. And because we have so many Pirates, we need a bigger fleet. Shadowed Caravel joins Deadeye Tracker, Brazen Buccaneers, and Dire Fleet Interloper in providing exploring support, while Fell Flagship provides Pirate pumps and a nifty discard effect.


Unlike the Mavren deck, our Vam-Pirates have more firepower than utility, and are going to be more successful when they can attack across multiple turns. This could be troublesome for players that like flexible, adaptable decks that can be played in a lot of different match-ups. Our Vam-Pirates, most certainly, are for casual and budget formats that favor the goofy more than the efficient.


Header design: Justin Treadway
Header image: “Olivia, Mobilized for War” by Eric Deschamps