Rakdos Pirates updated for War of the Spark Standard. This is a budget deck, costing around $100 USD. Shortcuts can easily be taken with this list’s mana base to help keep it within a tighter budget (replacing the Blood Crypts with basic lands). This will not seriously reduce its performance.

This is a RB aggro shell that wants to exploit the fact that we're running a low-curve, all-Pirate creature base. We do that by being able to play four copies of Fiery Cannonade in our 75 without worrying about killing our own creatures. The prevalence mono-red aggro, tokens, weenies, and decks running mana dorks means that this will often be a powerful weapon. It’s poor against certain decks, though, like control decks.

My own local meta has a great deal of control. As a response to this, and also as a response to the prevalence of both burn decks and other decks playing important targets like Rhythm of the Wild and Wilderness Reclamation, I have chosen to mainboard four copies of Duress instead of Fiery Cannonade. This new removal and planeswalker-rich meta is a bit unfriendly to aggro in general. Thus, a mainboard Duress package offers us a serious advantage — especially when supplemented with Kitesail Freebooter. The full playset of Fiery Cannonade is still on the sideboard, of course, serving as a very important one-sided board sweep against relevant matchups. When approaching the question of whether you should be mainboarding Duress versus Fiery Cannonade, carefully consider the meta that you’re likely to encounter, and then make your decision from there. For my meta, and in my opinion, the current general meta, I believe it is more often correct to play Duress.

In summation, this is a straightforward aggro list. However, we have a fair amount of interaction to hamper our opponents’ plans, too.


  • Daring Buccaneer: Pretty good imitation of Goblin Guide. No haste, but she doesn't draw our opponents any cards either.

  • Rigging Runner: Aggro pirate. Decent without raid, very good with raid. We want to be attacking virtually every turn from Turn 2 on, so getting the +1/+1 counter shouldn't be a problem. We usually side this out against most midrange and control decks, since it is a very poor topdeck if the board is stalled, and feels even worse if it is the next card we play after a sweeper. It’s a fairly good blocker against weenies decks, though, and against aggro in general, due to its first strike keyword.

  • Dire Fleet Daredevil: Decent body that can interact with our opponent's graveyard. Taking away their spells with jump start (such as mono-red's Risk Factor) or things they'd like to hit with a Mission Briefing, is one use. If we have have extra mana, though, we can also cast one of them. Reusing our opponents’ spent draw or removal spells, or turning a red deck’s Shock or Lightning Strike against it, are really good ways to gain or recover tempo. Thus, in many middle and late game situations, this Pirate offers a sort of card advantage akin to Snapcaster Mage. However, in certain matchups, its ability will seldom have relevant targets (especially against heavily creature-based decks like Green/Gruul Stompy, etc.). In these situations, we usually side Dire Fleet Daredevil out in favor of hard removal. It is worthwhile to note that if we are pursuing an aggressive line, we are often happy to play this as a simple 2/1 body with first strike, with no extra value. Not the flashiest play, but sometimes this is correct. Finally, it’s worth noting, too, that Dire Fleet Daredevil has some synergy with Duress — i.e. forcing the opponent to discard an instant or sorcery so that we can cast it later with a Daredevil (sometimes even in the same turn, if we have enough mana). Since its triggered ability is fairly narrow, and not normally usable until the middle to late game, we only play three of these instead of the full playset. Even so, this is one of the best red Pirates ever printed.

  • Dire Fleet Poisoner: Flash is good against control, and she can pump a Pirate for extra damage. Most importantly, she can offer a surprise trade for something dangerous that blocks us when we're attacking. Paired with first strike Pirates like Rigging Runner and Dire Fleet Daredevil, we can straight up kill a lot of big blockers without losing our own creature, or even trade with a Lyra Dawnbringer, which is usually a must-answer threat. It's important to note that we can only do this on offense, though, not on defense. Still, we can always flash her in by herself as a deathtouch blocker if we need to, so there is a defensive side to this card. Note though, that she can't block Steel Leaf Champion or Lyra Dawnbringer. Think of this card as a strategically deep threat that doubles as mainboard removal. She is one of the only ways we can get rid of opponents’ creatures exceeding 4 toughness, at least when it comes to our mainboard.

  • Fathom Fleet Captain: Evasive body that lets us spend excess mana to put in more evasive bodies, which are also Pirates. He's really fragile, so don't be afraid to get agressive with him. You want to get value out of him before he dies. This card can run away with the game if left unchecked for too long. If your opponent double blocks him in an effort to get rid of him, give him deathtouch with Dire Fleet Poisoner. This will usually result in a 2-for-1.

  • Kitesail Freebooter: Good against nearly everybody. Evasive, provides information and tempo advantage. Essentially doubles as a flying Pirate as well as Duress copies 5-8. It's a Modern staple, so why not play it here?

  • Ruin Raider: This Pirate helps make sure we don't run out of gas. Its Dark Confidant-like effect usually won't hurt us too badly, given the richness of our 1- and 2-drop slots. We will side this card out against aggro and burn decks almost every time, though. We really can’t afford to lose a bunch of life in those matchups.

  • Dire Fleet Neckbreaker: Our lone 4-drop and curve-topper. Don’t expect it to stick around long, but while it remains on the board, it presents a very fast clock. It also sees itself with its ability, so it can attack alone for 5 if it comes to that. We play the full set because it is so important as a finisher. Once we play Dire Fleet Neckbreaker, assuming we have a few creatures, we are going to attack and either kill our opponent or most of their creatures, since they almost certainly will have to block some of them.

  • Duress: Spell-based removal is popular right now (as it usually is) — including sweepers that absolutely trounce our deck. So are planeswalkers. So are dangerous, proactive enchantments like Rhythm of the Wild and Wilderness Reclamation. Burn decks abound. Control decks are prevalent. Duress is excellent against all of these. With Kitesail Freebooter complimenting it, we have a nasty package of preemptive disruption against all of these types of cards and strategies. We have a fairly linear aggro plan, and using Duress allows us to push that plan through our opponents’ attempts to disrupt it in a very consistent manner. This card gives us legs, when often the presence of a sweeper in our opponent’s hand would otherwise mean we simply lose the game. The importance of Duress cannot be understated. Without Duress, we almost just auto-lose in Game 1 against control decks.

  • Lava Coil: Best red removal spell in Standard. It gets rid of so many important threats that it shouldn't wait to be sideboarded in.

  • Unclaimed Territory: Because we are tribal, we have access to another untapped dual land. We only have 8 noncreature, non-Pirate spells in the mainboard, so we aren't too penalized by its ability to only add colorless mana to cast those (it can’t help cast Duress at all, admittedly). This land is almost all upside in our deck, with negligible downside.

  • Dragonskull Summit: Ideally, this is a dual land which almost always comes in untapped. If you have an opening hand with just these as your lands, it will be very slow (and you probably want to mulligan). But usually this won’t happen. More often, this is simply another source of untapped mana fixing.

  • Blood Crypt: We are happy to run as many untapped dual lands as possible. This is easily the best one available to us. Please note that while Blood Crypt does help the deck’s mana consistency, it isn’t required. Each copy costs roughly $8 USD. If this is out-of-budget for you, don’t worry. The deck runs just fine with basic lands alongside Dragonskull Summit and Unclaimed Territory (both of which are quite cheap). That being said, if you have the Blood Crypts, put them in, because they do help.


  • Sorcerous Spyglass: Usually this is anti-planeswalker tech for midrange or control matchups. It's not totally useless against other decks, though. Bring it in against any opponent relying on cards with activated abilities. With the advent of War of the Spark, expect to bring this in more often. It might even be correct to play two of them.

  • Fiery Cannonade: One of the very best payoffs for playing this deck. Hoses tokens, white weenies, most mono-red aggro creatures, and even some midrange lists, at instant speed, while leaving our entire board intact. It is also tremendously good against format staples Arclight Phoenix and History of Benalia. Great for killing stuff during the opponent’s turn, but we can also cast it on our turn to clear the way for a big attack. We can also hold it up as a combat trick (it works particularly well with first strike). This is an absolute blowout when used properly, in the right matchup.

  • Bedevil: This new card hits all kinds of dangerous permanents for just three mana. Its restrictive mana cost makes it a bit tricky to cast (especially since we have four Unclaimed Territory in our mana base, which doesn’t help us cast it at all), but it is worth a slot nonetheless. We want to bring this in against control decks because it hits their planeswalkers as well as finishers like Lyra Dawnbringer. We usually want to bring it in against aggro decks as extra removal, too. It’s also a very solid include against big-body midrange decks that are complimented by planeswalkers. Despite its strict casting cost, Bedevil is a solid piece of general removal since it hits such a wide diversity of targets. It isn’t exactly budget-friendly at the moment, though, so if it isn’t within your spending envelope, it is perfectly viable to play an extra copy of Cast Down or Price of Fame instead.

  • Ob Nixilis's Cruelty: The sideboard removal spell we’ve been waiting for. Splashable? Check. Affordable? Check. Instant? Check. Deals with Lyra Dawnbringer and indestructible creatures? Check and check. Exiles? Check! Honestly, if this cost less than three mana, we’d be playing this in the main board. Functionally, it’s better than Lava Coil in nearly every respect apart from its mana cost.

  • Drill Bit: This is even more hand disruption that we can bring in against control. We can also replace our copies of Duress with this against creature-heavy midrange decks and even aggro decks — but only if we are on the play (it is pretty weak against aggro if we are on the draw). It is a good piece of tech against decks that play cards that we have issues answering once they resolve, like Mardu Control’s Theater of Horrors and Dawn of Hope. There are lots of good targets for this, so if we are on the play, it is often a good idea to bring this card in. Just remember that Duress outperforms it in matchups where we want to cast hand-strippers in our precombat main phase (namely against control decks running Settle the Wreckage).

  • Angrath's Rampage: I am anticipating that the War of the Spark meta will feature numerous planeswalkers, so this card will probably be an answer for those most of the time. However, in a pinch, it’s an extra creature removal spell. It can also handle a lone Carnage Tyrant, which we’ve heretofore been unable to deal with outside of Dire Fleet Poisoner’s deathtouch. In a developing meta that is likely to contain a wide variety of deck archetypes, it seems like a good idea to pack a modal removal spell in one’s sideboard.

  • March of the Drowned: Recursion for disposable Pirates such as Dire Fleet Poisoner can be really powerful in matchups where we expect to be trading a lot in combat — namely Aristocrats decks and Green/Gruul Stompy lists. However, this card is primarily for recovering from mass removal in control matchups. Kaya's Wrath, Ritual of Soot, Deafening Clarion, Golden Demise (now mostly replaced by Cry of the Carnarium, which is even worse for us since it puts our creatures into exile where March of the Drowned cannot retrieve them), and Cleansing Nova are everywhere in this metagame, and they absolutely wreck all of our Pirates. March of the Drowned is a very important answer to the decks playing these cards. Because it can put our best two cards back in our hand post-board wipe, it allows us to actually remain in contention (we’ll have to rely on first main-phasing Duress and Kitesail Freebooter to beat Settle the Wreckage, though, apart from simply playing around it by making partial attacks). March of the Drowned also plays well against strategies running lots of one-for-one removal and discard effects, as it effectively grants positive tempo against these. We only play two copies because we don’t want to see this until the mid to late game. Opening hands with too many reanimation spells aren’t very aggressive, and we want to be able to come out fast against control decks.


Updates Add

I’ve fallen a bit silent on updates and tournament reports lately because there wasn’t much new to say about this deck’s performance.

The Ravnica Allegiance meta has been stable for quite a few weeks, and though I took a few weeks off from playing Showdowns and FNMs, I did play in several since my last update. I finished in the Top 8 and/or Top 4 of the last four events I played in, with my 75 set up as the list above on April 18, 2019. Here are my general observations on matchups:

  • Mono-Blue Tempo

Positive matchup. Most players aren’t expecting Dire Fleet Poisoner and it does a lot of work. We can usually race damage because we are just faster with Dire Fleet Neckbreaker. On the play, Duress and Kitesail Freebooter find excellent targets in Curious Obsession and their countermagic and/or Dive Down. From the board, we put in 4x Fiery Cannonade and take out 4x Ruin Raider, as we don’t want to lose extra life. Cannonade is remarkably good here even though it doesn’t hit Siren Stormtamer. If we are on the play, we usually also bring out 3x Duress for 3x Drill Bit, since the Bit can grab their creature threats. Most of the time, if we lose, it’s to a Tempest Djinn we failed to answer. Otherwise, our hand disruption, aggro, and sideboard sweepers make this a reasonably winnable matchup. Most Mono-Blue players aren’t prepared for Pirates.

  • Esper, Grixis, and/or Jeskai Control

Positive matchup, provided you play skillfully. Don’t overcommit into sweepers unless you will win next turn and the opponent has to topdeck one (your hand disruption package should give you plenty of opportunities to know what your opponent is holding). Cry of the Carnarium is the worst of these by far, as it stuffs our March of the Drowned sideboard tech, but Kaya's Wrath and Deafening Clarion kill all of our creatures, too. Dire Fleet Neckbreaker survives Ritual of Soot, but it’s still deadly to the rest of our crew. We can play around Settle the Wreckage by casting hand disruptors during our precombat main phase. Failing that, we can bait out countermagic by casting a first-main-phase threat to try and tap the opponent out of the Settle, or by simply attacking with just one or two creatures to force them to cast the Settle for less value (or a combination of these tactics). We can trade with spot removal fairly well, especially post-board. If we lose, it’s to a succession of sweepers that we couldn’t recover from, flooding out, or an unanswered Lyra Dawnbringer or Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Our sideboard tech is usually: +1x Sorcerous Spyglass, +2x Bedevil, +3x Drill Bit, +2x March of the Drowned; -4x Lava Coil, -4x Rigging Runner. The gist of these matchups is that our hand disruption often just wins us the game. If we can sculpt our opponents’ hands to allow at least one threat plus a Dire Fleet Neckbreaker to stick, it is usually game over. Post board, we have even more hand disruption, some recursion, and a couple of ways to answer Lyra Dawnbringer, planeswalkers, and even permanents like Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin. This matchup is easy to lose if we play sloppily, but if played properly, Pirates will usually tread all over control decks in this Standard. Don’t underestimate how powerful a late game Dire Fleet Daredevil can be, either. It effectively counts as more spot removal against their late-game threats, or card draw, as we can usually cast whatever we want to from the opponent’s graveyard. This often leads to a big advantage, and the opponent is almost never prepared for it.

  • Boros, Azorius, and/or Mono-White Weenies

Even matchup. Pre-board, it’s a race. If we can Lava Coil their threats and pluck out a piece of removal, we can win fairly easily (provided we lay threats of our own at least every other turn or so). If we draw too much hand disruption, though, we will have issues in Game 1, as there aren’t too many targets for Duress effects (best targets tend to be Conclave Tribunal or History of Benalia). Post-board, things get a bit better, as we can board in the usual anti-aggro package of: +4x Fiery Cannonade, +2x Drill Bit, +2x Cast Down (or Bedevil or Price of Fame, or some combination thereof, depending on the particular threats our opponents are playing; the point is we usually bring in at least two extra pieces of spot removal); -4x Ruin Raider, -4x Duress. Post-board games are still races, but well-timed Fiery Cannonades, especially when cast early, tend to give us a big edge. If we draw poorly, though, we can get run over.

  • Mono-Red Aggro

Positive matchup. I don’t tend to see many of these anymore, but Duress and Kitesail Freebooter do a lot of work against their burn package. Goblin Chainwhirler is still a nightmare for us that we must answer, as it blanks our entire ground offense. Otherwise, we can actually race this deck fairly well, thanks to our aforementioned hand disruption (so much of this deck’s success is attributable to hand disruption, I swear). From the board, we bring in all of our spot removal and bring out the playset of Ruin Raider, as we obviously don’t want to lose more life than we need to. If they’re running small creatures (and usually are in the form of Viashino Pyromancer and Ghitu Lavarunner), we can bring in a few Fiery Cannonade, too (better when we are on the draw, though). If we are on the play, we can also dump a few copies of Duress for a few copies of Drill Bit, since these will help us answer Goblin Chainwhirler and Rekindling Phoenix before they become issues. Yes, this is a race (a fast one), and we will definitely lose if we don’t place down enough threats to present a clock. We don’t want too many Duress effects — just enough to blunt their burn plan.

  • Gruul Aggro

I don’t have much data on this...but it feels like a negative matchup, though not hugely so. Kraul Harpooner makes mincemeat of our Kitesail Freebooters, and Duress just doesn’t have many targets outside of Rhythm of the Wild and the odd removal spell (or maybe Domri, Chaos Bringer, but we don’t care too much about him — Vivien Reid is far more annoying). We have to be able to remove their early ramp, or else we will get run over by big creatures that will outgrow our Lava Coils and outrace our creatures. Our all-star here is Dire Fleet Poisoner. From the board, we bring in all of our non-conditional spot removal spells, and bring out as many Duress effects as we can, including Kitesail Freebooter. Drill Bit can come in, too. It usually looks something like: -4x Duress, -4x Kitesail Freebooter; +3x Drill Bit, +2x Bedevil, +1x Cast Down, +1x Price of Fame, and between one and three Fiery Cannonade for mana dorks. Usually we pull out Dire Fleet Daredevil to make room for those, since there’s not a whole lot for it to cast from the opponent’s graveyard in this matchup.

  • Esper Midrange

Positive matchup. I don’t see many of these anymore, but the Hero of Precinct One builds are still out there and pop up infrequently. Pre-board, this is a race we usually win due to hand disruption and a fast clock. We lose if we stumble and get stuffed by Deputy of Detention and Basilica Bell-Haunts. Post-board, we pull out 4x Rigging Runner and 4x Duress, to bring in 4x Fiery Cannonade for their Hero and Thief of Sanity, 3x Drill Bit to grab their threats, and 1x Bedevil as extra removal. They have enough spot removal in Game 1 for Duress to function decently, but if we are on the play, or even the draw, a Thoughtseize effect is usually better. We still try to race. If we can get rid of their removal, we generally don’t care what they lay on the board. They can’t race us well without removal. I don’t think I’ve ever lost a match to this archetype.

This feels like an even matchup. I lumped these together because they feel so similar. Basically, we are playing a sub-game against these decks called “Did You Draw Enough Hand Disruption?” If we answer yes to this question, we usually win — easily. If the answer is no, we can lose — but not always. Sometimes a fast aggro hand with little hand interaction can net us a win if the opponent is light on interaction or takes a while to assemble their combo. From the board we bring in more hand disruption and take out Lava Coils, since they are relatively dead here.

  • Sultai and/or Golgari Midrange

I have not figured this matchup out yet. I think I am misplaying these and not sideboarding properly. These are traditional grindy midrange decks that pack lots of spot removal and life gain (in the form of Wildgrowth Walker and explore creatures), punctuated by powerful late-game threats. The Sultai versions’ addition of Hostage Taker further complicates matters. Still, we can win this. I bring in 4x Fiery Cannonade to deal with Llanowar Elves, Merfolk Branchwalker, Jadelight Ranger, and/or Ravenous Chupacabra, 3x Drill Bit to stop Carnage Tyrant and other big midrange threats like Hydroid Krasis, and 1 or 2 copies of March of the Drowned in anticipation of their bringing in more spot removal (they usually do). We tend to take out some combination of 4x Rigging Runner and Duress effects (they’re okay in this matchup, but we have better effects on the board). We usually want to pull in some extra spot removal, too, like Bedevil, especially if we are on the draw. It kills almost all of their creatures but also deals with annoying midrange staples like Vivien Reid. I’ll be honest, this is a tough matchup. I’ve 2-0’d them before, but I’ve also been stomped by them. I’ll admit I haven’t fully perfected a plan against these guys. At present, I’d say that we are even to slightly negative against this matchup, at least pre-board. But we certainly aren’t grossly unfavored. If we have enough hand disruption and aggression, we can win convincingly. I’ll note that being on the play seems especially important here.

  • Going Forward

War of the Spark is nearly upon us, and I am interested in Angrath's Rampage for my sideboard. I think it is easily a 2-of, if not a 3-of. It is easier to cast than Bedevil, and gets around indestructible and hexproof. Though it’s a sorcery, I think it will really round out our plan, especially against midrange decks. I’m thinking our sideboard plan will look something like the below:

Anyway, that’ll be my rough draft. Final thoughts. This deck continues to be quite viable at the FNM level. I commonly go 3-0 in five rounds of Swiss and draw into the Top 8, and more often than not, win out from there into Top 4 (where the remaining competitors usually split the prize pool). I’m not saying this to brag; please see the below updates for my tournament reports. I regularly play against top-tier meta builds and beat them. I believe this deck has the legs to perform at a competitive level in a GP or MCQ environment. I, a moderately skilled player, have beaten, with reasonable regularity, all of the tiered deck lists likely to be found in the winners’ brackets of such events. Thus, with a skilled pilot armed with deep meta knowledge, this list has a chance to place at such events — perhaps even make Top 8. Most importantly, though, this deck remains an absolute blast to play. It is, without any doubt, one of the best and funnest Standard decks I’ve brewed, ever. I hope this breakdown will be helpful for anyone wanting to tackle their local FNM with Pirates.

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78% Casual

22% Competitive

Top Ranked
Date added 1 year
Last updated 2 months

This deck is not Standard legal.

Rarity (main - side)

23 - 2 Rares

24 - 9 Uncommons

4 - 4 Commons

Cards 60
Avg. CMC 2.00
Tokens 2/2 Pirate
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