Pirates are here. Granted, they’ve been here but they haven’t really been a “thing”, if you know what I mean. Ixalan is finally upon us and we have all been summoned to explore the open waters to new uncharted lands. Lands filled with dinosaurs, lawful evil vampires, pirate Vraska, and half-naked Jace. Yes, it seems to be a realm of many splendor. As I set out to brew with some of the new shiny jank, I felt compelled to embark upon a voyage. I wanted to brew not a deck, but a tale. A tale that would lead all who dared to shuffle and cut on a glorious adventure. Come fair travelers, and join me as we set sail into the murky waters of jank!
What can I say about this general? It’s hard to hate a 2/2 with haste for 3 CMC, but what is going on with those abilities?! We create Treasure tokens whenever we attack, and we get a modest attack buff whenever we sacrifice said tokens. Every part of me that wants to play good Magic tells me to leave this card alone as a general until it gets more support. However, the kid in me doesn’t care that there are only 3 cards currently that will produce treasures within her color identity. So, the kid in me wins yet again as we man the helm of our next Weird Harvest.
Every good Captain needs a crew of scallywags. Unfortunately for us, there aren’t enough red pirates to make this a tribal deck. After some careful consideration, I concluded that each crew should have some noteworthy characteristic. The Quartermaster, the First Mate, the Gunner, etc. The rest should be swabbies. I can’t think of a better way to man our decks than to flood the field with tokens under the stern supervision of some key members.
Grenzo, Havoc Raiser: A good First Mate should be versatile yet focused in the heat of battle. Grenzo hits the field fast and gives us two extremely useful abilities that synergize well with a deck (pun intended) teeming with lackeys. He’s utilized in 2,451 decks, and I see that number increasing as the color gets more support.
Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs: The Quartermaster needs to assert dominance. As the Captain’s right hand, Kazuul ensures that our opponents think twice before storming our ship in search of spoils. He’s used in 4,946 decks now and is truly one of the color’s finest offerings for shaping combat choices.
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker: The Gunner needs to oversee our artillery. Kiki is the best goblin for the job as he can take any one of our threats and produce an expendable copy to throw into raid. He is used in 8,158 decks, and I hope you don’t need me to explain why.
With our crew in place it’s time to take to the Captain’s quarters and suit up for our journey. Every good pirate needs a set of tools to do janky pirate things with. Otherwise, we’re just dressed like we’re cosplaying Prince.
Blade of Selves: Every good pirate needs a sword, and this one is fantastic. It doesn’t necessarily work in the context of putting it on our general, but it works with several of the cards we have. Being able to get multiple Fanatic of Mogis or Combustible Gearhulk triggers is just insane. There are 4,232 decks using it, and trust me it’s probably broken in each one.
Thaumatic Compass: As pirates, it is in our nature to search out new lands. This compass keeps us on course as we hit our land drops consistently. As a bonus, we get to flip into a sweet Maze of Ith-type land at journey’s end. I think this card will prove to be fantastic in control archetypes where hitting our lands consistently is paramount to our success.
Treasure Map: We wouldn’t be very good at pirating if we didn’t have a clue where we were going. Not only does this give us Treasure tokens to fuel the Captain’s ability and ramp our mana, it also scrys while doing so. When we finally find where X marks the spot, we get a sweet land that allows us to turn our treasures into card draw. Talk about a flavor win.
Conqueror’s Galleon: I’m pretty sure that it says somewhere in the pirate charter that you must own a ship or be crewed on one to be legit. This behemoth of a blocker only needs to attack once before getting us home. The Conqueror’s Foothold is a brilliant utility land that gives us a loot effect, a draw effect, and a recursion effect all at reasonable costs!
We have our crew, we have our gear, and now we are legit pirates ready to plunder the high seas. If we’re going to plunder, we’ll have to do it like true pirates. Bring on the bedlam!
Total War: This is a stax card that I’ve never really understood why it doesn’t get more love. Sure, it’s a double-edged sword, but most great stax cards are. In true pirate fashion, we are going all in and risking it for the gold. Only 193 decks use this currently, and I’m wondering if we can persuade some more to give it a second look.
Goblin Charbelcher: There’s something splendidly on-theme about a goblin-manned cannon spewing fire at our opponents. Being a mono-red deck with the implements to thin the lands out mean that we have the potential to deal massive damage on our foes. There are 734 decks that run it, and it’s safe to say almost all of them are mono-red.
Vicious Shadows: Being pirates, we can’t abide by anyone else getting greedy. This card allows us to capitalize on two truths of the format: players love to draw cards, and players love to kill creatures. We get to punish them for both while getting to reap the rewards of watching them play around it. There are 2,772 decks running it, and if you haven’t you should try it. It’s a notable example of a broadcast threat for red.
Ok so let’s do some inventory. Crew: check. Gear: check. Underhanded tactics: check. What are we missing? Oh yeah, the list.
The key to this type of mild stax build is to leverage your tokens to establish your board presence while you casually force tempo loss and damage with your control pieces. This isn’t an all-in stax deck, so we’ve traded some slots that would normally be devoted to punisher cards and went for some good old-fashioned value-oriented synergy. We have plenty of token producers, as well as cards that play well with tokens like Purphoros, God of the Forge and Throne of the God-Pharaoh. We also have a sizable number of cards that yield extra attacks, this way we can always go for the brute force win if our stax strategy doesn’t seem to really yield the results we want. There are some damage doubling cards as well, which can help both our combat presence and our punisher cards. We round everything out with a few noteworthy bombs like Balefire Dragon and Steel Hellkite to give us a reset button when we need it.
I don’t normally do theme decks, but I had an absolute blast while making this one! It was especially fun to brew with the new cards from Ixalan. I think there are several gems for the format in this set, and I’m excited to see how everyone makes use of some of the quirkier cards. Which general are you excited to build with from the set? What cards are you most hyped about? Do you have any suggestions for Captain Lannery? Until next time, keep on tapping in the free world.