There Be Pirates on Ixalan!

Frank Chafe Magic Story

The world of Magic: the Gathering is finally getting its full share of pirates and piracy on the high seas, with the introduction of Ixalan. It will finally possible to play a tribal Pirates deck in Standard, Commander, or the format of your choice. Before we set sail for this new plane, let’s go on a voyage of discovery and adventure as we learn about the pirates of Magic’s past!

The Past
“Dead men tell no tales.”

The first pirate card to sail the seas of Magic was Pirate Ship, first printed all the way back in Alpha. With its meager stats and restrictions on attacking, it wasn’t much, but it foretold a future filled with pirates! The first was Ramirez DePietro, the boy pirate of Legends. Ramirez had the same stats as the Pirate Ship and was one of the bigger creatures in the game with first strike; a playable Pirates deck was slowly becoming a possibility.

In Homelands, we were introduced to Reef Pirates, a pirate ship that, left unchecked, could slowly mill your deck away. Then, in Mirage, we met the Kukemssa Pirates, who lost a fight with a djinn and learned his secret. These creatures were the first to capture the feeling of playing with pirates – they could steal opponents’ shiny artifacts, or even steal the game.

Mercadian Masques introduced us to the Rishadans, and we were blessed with four more pirate cards. The Rishadan Airship was a clumsy flying machine, but it carried three of the best pirates in the game: Rishadan Brigand, Rishadan Cutpurse, and Rishadan Footpad. All three had enter the battlefield abilities that required opponents to sacrifice permanents. The Rishadans were a huge flavor win, and they were powerful if you could use their abilities several times in a game.

In Portal and Portal Second Age, we found our way to Talas, a country full of merchants and pirates where the best thing to be gained is often information. Talas Air Ship, Talas Explorer, Talas Merchant, Talas Researcher, Steam Frigate, Armored Galleon, and Cloud Pirates have all been updated to have the “pirate” creature type, joining their crewmates Talas Scout and Talas Warrior.

The late 90’s were a golden age for pirates in Magic, but it would be nearly two decades before we met again.


The Present
“There’s nothing that warms the heart like plunder.”

Just before the release of Ixalan, pirates began to stage a comeback. The appearance of Smuggler Captain in Conspiracy: Take the Crown and Kari Zev and her sidekick Ragavan in Aether Revolt indicated that more pirates might be on their way and, in Kari Zev‘s case, opened up an entirely new color for the tribe. Sure enough, Ixalan delivered with scalliwags aplenty, fleets of pirate ships, and enough treasure to make any landlubber sign up to sail the seas.

With 39 total pirate creature cards and a fearless leader in Admiral Beckett Brass, pirate fans like me can build decks they’ve been dreaming about for years. Ixalan features pirates with all sorts of flavorful abilities: they hold hostages, plunder for treasure, and help you loot through your library to find the perfect spell. Some of my favorite pirates in this set include Angrath’s Marauders, which deals extra damage; Captivating Crew, which can steal an opponent’s creatures; and Deadeye Quartermaster, which can grab a cutlass or a ship to crew.

Let’s take a look at some of the ships these pirates sailed in on. Dusk Legion Dreadnought has the firepower to go toe to toe with anything on land or sea and needs a minimal crew to make her one the most dangerous things on the seas of Ixalan. Shadowed Caravel is a 2/2 for two mana that gets +1/+1 every time a creature you control explores, which can get out of control pretty quickly. Sleek Schooner is an efficient 4/3 for three mana that only requires a one-power creature to crew it, and Fell Flagship can power up your pirate crew while inflicting large chunks of damage on its own. While any of these would be worthy vessels, my favorite is Conqueror’s Galleon, a 2/10 Vehicle that transforms into a land called Conqueror’s Foothold. Double-sided cards are huge flavor wins in Ixalan, as they capture the exhilaration of discovery.

Of course, there are plenty of other flavorful pirate cards in this set. Walk the Plank is on-theme as can be, and its ability to destroy any non-merfolk creature for just two mana makes it a good fit for any Pirate deck. March of the Drowned is a great way to keep your pirates coming back for more, and for just one black mana, it’s the most efficient Regrowth effect we’ve ever seen. And Skulduggery, a new black combat trick, shows that pirates never play fair and only negotiate on their own terms. All these cards shift the advantage from the adversary to the pirates and are likely to catch them off-guard.

Pirates also wouldn’t be pirates without some swords, and Pirate’s Cutlass should suit your crew nicely. When it comes into play, you may attach it to a pirate you control – again, likely catching your opponent off-guard. With a low equip cost and reasonable stats, your pirates should never be caught without a weapon at their sides.

Finally, treasure is essential to any pirate narrative, and there’s plenty to be found on Ixalan. The enchantment Revel in Riches is a potential win condition for pirates or anyone wanting to bask in the bounty of Ixalan’s troves. If you can amass a small fortune or ten treasures, you win the game, and no pirate worth his salt should have any problems doing that.

Are you ready to plunder Ixalan’s lost city of Orazca? Hoist up your sail and join me!