This Standard format has felt kind of unreal. There are so many different archetypes that feel reasonable and so many different play patterns that you can execute. My favorite play patterns in Magic come from Tempo decks. For those who are not familiar with this term - generically Tempo means “Aggro-Control”. More specifically it is a style of deck that is capable of generating aggressive draws while also containing a selection of cheap disruption.
Today, I would like to do a full breakdown of my favorite tempo deck in Standard - Pirates.
U/B Pirates | Guilds Standard | Jeff Hoogland
- Creatures (22)
- 2 Ruin Raider
- 4 Dire Fleet Poisoner
- 4 Fathom Fleet Captain
- 4 Kitesail Freebooter
- 4 Siren Stormtamer
- 4 Thief of Sanity
- Enchantments (4)
- 4 Curious Obsession
Explanation of Card Choices
The core of this deck is a fleet of evasive threats that slowly chip away at our opponent. Like Mono-Blue Tempo (that has seen some success in this format), Pirates is combining the card Curious Obsession with these threats to generate recurring card advantage. When we are drawing two cards a turn, it does not matter that our average card is a bit weaker than some other decks. We just have more cards!
There are two primary advantages this Pirates deck has compared to the Mono-Blue variations. The first is that this deck has a variety of ways to generate card advantage in addition to Curious Obsession:
Thief of Sanity is a powerhouse in general in this current Standard format. It is a must-answer threat in basically every matchup that starts drawing you two cards per turn if it sticks around. While it is not drawing your own cards, odds are there are a few good things hiding in your opponent’s deck that are going to pull you out ahead. Much like Curious Obsession, every time Sanity hits, the opponent just gets buried deeper and deeper.
Ruin Raider does not have any evasion on its own, but it is another method of helping us draw two cards every turn. We only have two copies of Ruin Raider because, in multiples, they can deal a bit too much damage to us and we also do not want to get stuck with too many three-mana spells.
Finally, while Fathom Fleet Captain does not have flying and does not directly draw cards, it still possess some evasion and generates advantage the longer it stays in play. The Menace on the Captain might not look like much at first, but making our opponents keep two creatures back means they have a much harder time racing our flying creatures. If Captain does get to start pumping out 2/2s, it is even more difficult to race, because the 2/2s can start attacking or start chump blocking larger opposing creatures.
The other appeal to playing Pirates over Mono-Blue Tempo is the ability to remove large creatures from play if they resolve:
Cast Down is just reasonable removal. While it does not kill everything in the format, it cleans up enough to be worth playing as efficient 2 mana removal. Dire Fleet Poisoner is a card that I have been thoroughly impressed with in this deck. In addition to being a 2/2 with Deathtouch and Flash, it also often acts as a combat trick to turn one of our other pirates into a removal spell.
Poisoner combines well with other cards we are playing such as Ruin Raider and Fathom Fleet Captain. In the case of the Raider, it can often look like we are making a “bad” attack simply to trigger raid, then we “get” our opponent with Poisoner. In the case of Fathom Fleet Captain (because it has menace) Poisoner turns it into a double removal spell when our opponent blocks it.
Finally we wrap up our main deck spells with a selection of cards that disrupt our opponent and protect our threats:
Kitesail Freebooter is another nice pickup for a tempo deck. It is disruption that is proactive, while also being an evasive threat. Knowing what our opponent has in hand often lets us sequence the rest of our disruption even more efficiently. Lookout's Dispersal is a very impressive card. Mana Leak is often cited as a card too strong for Standard and Dispersal is often even better than that in this deck. Siren Stormtamer is a threat when we need one and a protection spell for our better cards when we have them together. Most importantly, Stormtamer can counter the sweeper Settle the Wreckage because it targets us.
Dive Down is a card that I have been incredibly impressed with. While it is often a one-mana “counter target removal spell”, it has flexibility past this as a combat trick. Especially in conjunction with Dire Fleet Poisoner and deathtouch.
Sideboarding and Playing the Deck
The Midrange matchup feels good for Pirates on average. Our evasive threats can often get onto the board before Midrange gets set up and their removal tends to be expensive enough that our protection can prevent it easily. There is some variation in how tends to be built, though. In my experience the “bigger” builds are better for Pirates, while the more aggressive decks can sometimes race Pirates successfully.
VS Jeskai Control
The Blue based control matchups feel good for Pirates. Our disruption is often cheaper than their interaction and eventually one of our sources of card advantage will stick and run away with the game. The games we lose in this matchup often involve them sticking a threat quickly that runs away with the game. Niv-Mizzet, Parun is their best card against us, especially Game 1 when we cannot take it off the table.
VS Boros Angels
The midrange decks full of flying creatures are harder for Pirates. Their threats can block our evasive beaters and often outsize them. Fathom Fleet Captain is one of our better threats in this matchup since it utilizes a different form of evasion.
VS Izzet Drakes
This is another tough matchup for Pirates because they can block our evasive threats. We need to be as aggressive as possible because as the game goes long, their threats will eventually kill us in one shot. Dire Fleet Poisoner is useful in this matchup because they will often be blocking our smaller threats with 4 toughness creatures.
This matchup is close for Pirates. We have the tools to be successful, but if we do not draw the right mix of threats and interaction we can come up short. While we do not have a ton of 1 toughness creatures, if we draw multiple of them, we should be conscious of Goblin Chainwhilerer and play around it the best we can.
This matchup feels good for Pirates when they do not have a Curious Obsession draw, and harder when they do. Because we have so many flying creatures, we generally want to prioritize killing their unblockable threats because they are their best vehicle for Curious Obsession.
If you are interested in seeing some iterations of this Pirates deck in action you can check it out on my YouTube channel here. I’ll be heading to the Standard Grand Prix in Milwaukee later this month and Pirates is likely what I am going to play there. The deck offers a lot of interesting lines of play and feels like it can be competitive even in the matchups that are hard. If you are looking for a Tempo deck that offers different play patterns than Mono-Blue, I would highly recommend giving this one a try!