Commander Focus: A Pirate’s Life for Me, Part 1 – Malcolm and Breeches

Credit: Ferris, Jean Leon GEROME/Private Collection/BRIDGEMAN IMAGES

The distribution of power throughout the tribes of Magic: the Gathering is – at best – uneven. For most of Magic’s history Elves have probably been the strongest, with the combination of cheap ramping creatures and green’s propensity for Overrun type effects or the ability to channel that mana into an X-powered kill spell keeping them on top. And the wealth of options is relevant – Back in the “good old days” there were only a few tribes – Goblins, Merfolk, Orcs, Thrulls, Saprolings and so on, but the only three that mattered were Goblins, Merfolk, and Zombies, because those were the factions that had the original “lords,” specifically:

Each of these creatures gave abilities based on card type, a mechanic that would be repeatedly revisited and still is today, where some of the game’s tribes frequently cross the bridge from casual theme into competitive territory.

As a creature type, pirates have kind of been around since the beginning, in the form of Pirate Ship. I say “kind of” because Pirate Ship was technically originally a “Summon Ship” card and became a Human Pirate when Time Spiral was released and creature types were updated (Editor’s Note: I think the first actual “Summon Pirates” spell was Kukemssa Pirates in Mirage), but that’s not so important. Most Pirates and related creatures were “Summon Ship/s” spells early on and they tended to be part of a common card archetype that does direct damage when tapped, often referred to as a “Tim” after the sorcerer from the movie Monty Python and the Holy grail. Back in the mid 90s Monty Python references were pretty common. “Tims” had the ability to tap to deal 1 damage to any target, though properly the only true Tim is the original prodigal sorcerer.

Credit: Monty Python

Pirates in Commander

Pirates have come a long way in playability since then cards like and Malcolm, Keen-Eyed Navigator and Breeches, Brazen Plunderer represent a shift away from minimally interactive combo-based cEDH Pirates decks towards more interactive, often combat-based decks. WotC seems intent on trying to slowly nudge the format by introducing cards like Hullbreacher and Opposition agent and are also experimenting with the notion of playing off your opponent’s deck, with cards like Haldan, Avid Arcanist and Pako, Arcane Retriever. These represent a similar archetype, but are far less competitive then Malcom and Breeches (though offering Temur rather than Izzet color identity does have some benefits).

Rather than targeting a very specific combo today’s deck is intended to aggressively damage opponents, ramping via treasures and card draw from dealing damage and taking cards from the opponent’s deck for further ramp. Coastal Piracy and the new and improved coastal piracy, Reconnaissance Mission (now with cycling! tm), mean you can effectively try to draw through your deck looking for a way to end the game.

Having a lot of instants (something that Izzet is typically good at), means that you have a strong measure of control, but a certain vulnerability – to enchantments in particular, and also artifacts to a lesser degree – means that tapping out can be dangerous. Thankfully you can depend on having a decent supply of treasure tokens generated by Malcom, assuming he survives. Though not a stax deck, sticking to two colors means you can afford to stick to basics (the inclusion of a Volcanic Island can be substituted for a Steam Vents for price or even just discarded for an island) and run Back to Basics, Blood Moon, and Magus of the Moon. These are incredibly powerful stax pieces in and of themselves, and can frequently lock down enemy decks entirely.

Nobody really knows what the new meta is, but you should expect Opposition Agent to be everywhere. Given this deck’s minimal searching capability it may be tempting to allow an agent to hit the board and stay, but allowing one player to blatantly steal another player’s resources is fairly dangerous. Allowing a Demonic Tutor – or even worse – a Scheming Symmetry to resolve if a different opponent drops an agent is probably a losing strategy.

You real win cons are resolving a Curiosity effect on top of a Glint-Horn Buccaneer or Lightning-Rig Crew, or getting either Niv-Mizzet on the board. This is a bit of a risky win condition; you may want to include an Eldrazi titan that reshuffles like Kozilek, Butcher of Truth. If one player has gained an arbitrarily large amount of life you can lose the game due to drawing before you kill all your opponents (or even if no-one has really lost much life yet). Glint-Horn Buccaneer + curiosity also mean if you go to your end step with more than 7 cards in hand you’ll get endless clean up steps, as the dealing of damage will cause you to draw forcing you to discard, making you draw, forcing another cleanup step.

If you want to make the deck even more combo-y then substituting in more wheel effects is probably the best way to go. In that case you’ll want to discard most of the aggressive card draw / resource grabbing via your pirates and just lean very hard into searching and dumping cards into your graveyard. The deck will have some spectacular wins but also probably forced losses, and it will also lead to fairly quick games. Resolving a wheel + hullbreacher should end most games.

The Mizzets may seem very expensive, and they are at 6cmc, but Malcom and all your treasure generators should make it not too difficult to get up to 6 colored mana.

Personally I’m really glad that Wizards is pushing elder dragon highlander back into the realms of damage and out of the rut of decking opponents (forcing them to draw a card with none in their libraries) with “exile your library” effects at incredibly low cmcs. One thing I’d love to see would be a card draw based on cards going into or leaving exile. This would help counter Demonic Consultation and Tainted Pact, and certainly wouldn’t be out line with the power level of Hullbreacher and Opposition Agent, and would additionally punish combo decks as well as effects like flashback.

On a more thematic note, magic pirates is kind of a weird and dumb theme. I mean yes, I saw Pirates of the Caribbean, and yes, I too have pondered, Why is the Rum Gone?  If you’re going to play such magical sneak pirates, I highly suggest and condone the use of excessive pirate banter and jargon (almost all of which is probably not historically accurate). Never stop saying “shiver me timbers” and “arrr” whenever a spell of yours get’s countered, because, why not?

So without further ado, I present A Pirate’s Life for Me, part 1:

Next week – A pirate’s life for me part 2: Admiral Becket Bass, the not entirely OG but more OG than this newcomer Malcom.

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