While it might not seem so at first, Magic has had many creature types hiding in plain sight. The first cards with the Pirate type were originally printed in Mirage, but Ramierez DePetro from Legends retroactively gained the creature type. Still, that’s not even the oldest Pirate.
Yes, originally printed in Alpha, Pirate Ship was also retroactively changed from a Ship into a Pirate. Certainly, then, Pirates have a longstanding history in Magic. Ahoy Mateys takes most of the best Pirates from original Ixalan and jams them into a deck with brand new scallywags from The Lost Caverns of Ixalan. But it ignores pretty much anything older than that and doesn’t include either of the two best Pirates ever printed, one being originally from a Commander product. The result? Mild, not wild.
Keep reading to see where Wizards went wrong and how you can improve your fun playing and upgrading Ahoy Mateys.
A Basic but non-Piratey Game Plan
The deck has a plan. Step one, play some low cost Pirates. Two, get out Admiral Brass, Unsinkable. Three, attack! Step four? Attack some more! It’s a very simple game plan and one that is relatively inadequate as far as modern Commander pre-cons go. So many new decks go both wider and taller and feature better win cons that it is puzzling to think of how this deck passed muster. It feels like it’s missing many, many cards.
If you told an A.I. to build a Pirate deck, this feels like what you might be offered. “40 Pirate.dek” could be how many players start off their Pirate Kindred build, but Ahoy Mateys seems like a worse version of that very idea. Let’s start with the default Commander.
First, is there anything inherently “Pirate-y” about Admiral Brass? Pirates and milling and re-animating isn’t exactly an established archetype. Sure, we can look back to a classic card like Reef Pirates which mills the opponent, but not yourself. Also, that card is a Zombie Pirate, and there are tons of Zombie decks with milling. We’re already not really winning on the flavor angle. There’s also a pretty good amount of Treasure generators which Brass only sort of helps with. But alright how about how it plays? Surely the mechanics makes sense.
Is This a Pirate?Sauron, Lord of the Rings is essentially Admiral Brass, but better. Let’s see if you agree with me here.
There’s really very little point to playing Brass early because milling four is unlikely to put a premium Pirate into the yard. Sure, it could happen, but if it does your opponents can remove Brass before combat and then you get nothing. Otherwise, you do put a premium Pirate into play too early, with a Finality counter on it, and when it gets removed, it’s gone, this time for good, and you haven’t won the game.
The deck also has almost zero interaction. Nor does it have much in the way of control elements. There’s very little you get to say about Swords to Plowshares or Beast Within, you just get removed. Therefore, you should wait a few extra turns until you dig into a powerful Pirate like Angrath’s Marauders or a Port Razer and then Brass, along with an established board, so you can swing for a lot more effect. That’s why Sauron is a more fair comparison.
The problem is The Hosts of Mordor has a bunch of control elements and board wipes to stall the early turns, and then slaps down three huge monsters all at once when the coast is clear. Ahoy Mateys? Well, it makes Pirates and not too much else, except Treasure but we’ll talk about that a bit later.
As is, you are rewarded more for passive play, building a board full of 2/2s, 3/3s and Treasure, waiting until the shields are down with a good Pirate is in the yard and only then slapping down Brass. This form of passive play is as good as you’re going to do most of the time and it is underwhelming in terms of power and completely minimizes fun. With the right cards in play, you can sometimes force the issue and we’ll talk about that later, but first, are there other, better options?
What About Using a Different Commander?
One of two alternate commanders, Don Andres, the Renegade has a sufficiently Piratey theme based on stealing and Treasure. Wow, this was an idea I could have gotten behind. The issue? The stock deck does not have nearly enough theft effects to make Don a legitimate choice. Of course, there is the other option in the original Admiral Beckett Brass that is also theft based. But, unfortunately, this is not what Ahoy Mateys does. Without the added recursion element from Brass Unsinkable, you are really, really behind versus a board wipe. Admiral Beckett Brass folds in half to any form of removal because you need your commander and at least two other Pirates and open attacks to get any value whatsoever. You’re really not better off with either other commander. Modding the deck forward, you definitely could build for either option. There are a ton of one and two mana Pirates, many with Flying, that could make Admiral Becket Brass significantly more functional. Meanwhile, there are plenty of theft effects that would improve a Don Andres based version. Gee, there is one card that would work well in each version of the deck that isn’t included…
Pro-reprint but Anti-piracy
Wizards is always jamming a high dollar card into Commander pre-cons in order to make them a more attractive buy. That’s fine, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. So why isn’t Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer included?
This is clearly the best one mana Pirate, ever. It also let’s you effectively steal and works well with your other Commander choices. So it has actual deck synergy, is a high value card, is a tournament staple, and is a Pirate on top of that. But yeah, not in the Pirate deck.
Alright, what about Dockside Extortionist then? It’s the best two mana Pirate, ever. It has deck synergy and works with Treasure themes. It’s a Commander staple. Oh, and it’s a Pirate. It would have insane value bringing it back from the yard with Brass Unsinkable. Why is this not in the deck?
These are high dollar cards that are obviously missing, but what about cheap cards like Fiery Cannonade or Forerunner of the Coalition? The deck struggles against tokens and Cannonade would be a free include. Meanwhile, a Pirate tutor that adds an alternate win condition through drain is very good for three mana. Why are none in this deck?
That being said, what can we do to improve Ahoy Mateys utilizing Brass Unsinkable while keeping the deck primarily Pirate-based, and not relying on access to relatively expensive cards? It’s about maximizing how the deck gets to the win screen.
It’s a Combo Deck, Sort of
Picture this. A wipe happened. You have Timestream Navigator in your graveyard, plenty of mana because it’s turn six or seven, and you have some Treasure tokens available. Cast Brass and cheat out the Navigator and take an extra turn. You lay a land and go to combat, activating Brass. Do you have Port Razer in your graveyard? Congratulations, everyone else could be super dead after three extra combat steps with three extra Brass triggers. It doesn’t feel correct but this is what peak performance from a Pirate heavy-Brass deck looks like, so that is what we will lean into with our suggestions.
The deck certainly needs some protection, and rather than recommending the ultra staples of Swiftfoot Boots and Lightning Greaves, how about Siren’s Ruse? Not strong enough, you say. But wait, let’s really dig into what this card can do.
First off, it protects Brass from single target removal. While two mana isn’t the lowest rate, it also draws you a card and gives you another ETB trigger, which is good for the price.
Secondly, it lets you flicker a returned Pirate that has a Finality counter on it, which removes that counter so you can resurrect them again. This lets you get yet another ETB trigger on some of the devastating Pirates in the deck like Dire Fleet Ravager. Talk about finisher potential!
Stealing the two best creatures in one turn with Coercive Recruiter, or getting a surprise blocker can be game winning. All this is packaged on a synergistic and thematic card that costs pennies. For a reusable version that will cost you a bit more, you could also play Sword of Hearth and Home.
From The Lord of the Rings set, Captain of Umbar is a looting Pirate in a reanimate-friendly deck. What’s not to love here? Corsairs of Umbar also makes everyone in the deck unblockable, and makes an army while doing so. These are both simply better than some of the stock Pirates like Ramirez or Kari Zev.Strionic Resonator feels very good in the more passive, combo oriented version of the deck. Double triggers let you dump out two Pirates at once to end the game. Obviously we’re trying to maximize value on both Dire Fleet Ravager and Port Razer and the Resonator also works there.
It’s not a Pirate, but Marionette Master is certainly a good looking finisher for this deck. You have a lot of ways to make Treasure tokens, but not a lot of things to do with them besides cast more Pirates. With the Master waiting in the deck, you can stall the board with Pirate bodies, keep recurring them with Brass, and stack your Treasure in piles waiting for the Master to appear, then nuke away.
Peppered throughout the article are also other suggested cards at both high and low price points. The biggest takeaway is that, once you remove too many Pirates, there is little reason to even consider Brass, Unsinkable. Many other reanimation engines are simply better, so you are forced to keep the deck mostly intact if you’re trying to do this with the Pirate angle.
Final Word on Ahoy Mateys
The deck is weak to targeted removal, mass removal and graveyard hate. It has limited interaction and is relatively slow in most cases. By leaning into that slowness, you can overcome most of the disadvantages and sometimes have an explosive combo finish, but that happens infrequently at best. Most shockingly, the deck has neither the powerful and valuable Pirates you would want it to have, is missing a synergistic Pirate tutor, and has no classic Pirates from throughout Magic’s history.
Out of all of The Lost Caverns of Ixalan pre-cons this one missed the mark for me. With heavy modification and new, future Pirates, this could become a more interesting deck in the future, especially with Don Andres at the helm.
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