The Top 10 Merfolk and Pirates in Ixalan

I’m sad that this Standard format is over, but there is much to look forward to as Ixalan is out in force with a bunch of cool spoilers. I mentioned last week that I wanted to talk about Merfolk because, you know, I like Merfolk. I did scour the spoilers to find some good ones, but I soon figured out that there are only a few.

But then I thought: Pirates are technically men of the sea too, right?

First, I have to give an honorable mention to a card that’s technically neither Merfolk nor Pirate. I’m talking about Walk the Plank. I love everything about this card! It has a great picture, sweet flavor text, and it’s a very potent card. It doesn’t kill Merfolk. Taste that, control player!

Obviously, it has a big downside in being a sorcery, but you can’t have everything. There are still going to be a bunch of Vehicles in the Standard format, so that drawback is painful. On the other hand, the format might be more creature-heavy with fewer playable planeswalkers, so I reckon a solid removal spell might find its way into black decks. It’s hard to say how big of a drawback the Merfolk clause is going to be. So far, there are only a few good Merfolk cards spoiled, but more on that later.

#10: Deadeye Tracker

This is an innocuous looking Pirate that I think will find its way into the sideboard of black decks. Its power level isn’t super high—you get a 1/1 for 1 that will slowly create value over time, and it’s going to be quite useful against graveyard decks. The God-Pharaoh’s Gift deck doesn’t have that many cards rotating, and this is a good answer. Good luck with getting your Gate to the Afterlife online while losing two creatures per turn. It’s awkward that you can’t activate the ability if there aren’t at least two cards in the opponent’s graveyard, but I’m still a fan. Wizards has had some trouble with printing hosers lately, and I think this is the way to go. This won’t completely shut down graveyard decks like Rest in Peace does, but it’s still going to cause a headache for them. I also love the explore mechanic from both a competitive and flavor stance. I can’t wait for Ixalan Drafts.

#9: Fathom Fleet Captain

At #9 I have another Pirate, Fathom Fleet Captain. A solid, aggressive 2-drop with a useful ability. Menace has proven useful in combat, and this card has utility against control as it adds to the board without spending resources, thus playing around sweepers. It might be a bit weak on power level as it’s not going to win you the game by itself. You do need another Pirate to get it going. On the other hand, I like having these mana sinks in my aggressive decks as it gives you something to do with your mana if you’re flooding. I’m not sure yet if this is going to make it into the Pirate deck, but I wouldn’t be surprised either way.

#8: Ruin Raider

Number 8 is another Pirate that I’m not quite sold on. It looks like it’s going to be a poor man’s Dark Confidant. Confidant is still in the debate for the best creature ever printed and this card bears striking resemblance to it. 3/2 for 3 isn’t an exciting stat line, but the fact that it triggers on the end step is. You can swing with your team, then play this post-combat and immediately draw a card for free (or for a couple life points). This card is sweet and I think it’s going to fit right into most of Pirates. I am worried that the drawback might be too great against decks like Mono-Red. If you’re not actually attacking, it’s pretty embarrassing. I have to say kudos to WotC for printing these cards, as it’s hard to evaluate this on first sight. My gut tells me that this card is going to be good, but only time will tell.

#7: Merfolk Branchwalker

My first Merfolk is at number 7: Merfolk Branchwalker. Merfolk are branching out into green, which leaves confused. I admit that I sometimes look back at the times I played Tarmogoyf in Legacy Merfolk, but to be playing actual green Merfolk is a head-scratcher. It’s just weird—Merfolk are men of the sea and they have no business hanging out in the Forest.

Rant over—let’s talk about the card. This is the second card with explore on my list. This card’s obvious comparison is with Silvergill Adept. If you hit a land of top it’s basically its exact copy, and if you get a nonland you can at least scry to get a 3/2. Quite solid. The problem with Merfolk is that there isn’t much space for upgrades. You can only have a limited number of 2-drops and you can’t touch the lords. I think Silvergill is better than this, and Spreading Seas is pretty good. I can, however, see a world where this replaces Harbinger of the Tides as an extra 2-drop. Having green in Merfolk is potentially interesting as you can play Collected Company. There is also another card you could play, which is number 6 on my list.

#6: Kumena’s Speaker

First, I don’t think this card is better than Cursecatcher. That card provides too much value at such a low cost that even though it has worse numbers, it’s no big deal. Still, I think this might be a viable option for Merfolk. Let’s take a look at a potential deck list.


This is the most aggressive variant of Merfolk I’ve seen yet and definitely something I’ll be trying the next time I’m playing Modern. It’s hard to say if this is going to make Merfolk better, since it doesn’t really solve Merfolk’s problem of being a one-dimensional deck. But it might be more consistently aggressive and your nut draw will get much better. It pains me to cut Master of Waves as I’ve grown fond of that guy, but Collected Company seems decent now that you have a reason to play green.

#5: Hostage Taker

Hostage Taker takes me back to Pirates and another sweet, flavorful card. This one is obviously similar to Sower of Temptation. That card was pretty broken and while a little worse, I think this Pirate is going to see some play. Your opponent is going to be forced to remove this creature as soon as it hits the battlefield, otherwise, you will use their best threat against them. The card is on the expensive side, so as with Sower, I don’t think you’ll see people running 4 copies, but I think all of the Pirates decks will start with this as a 2-of and will probably move up to 3 if it proves to be great. How good this card will be depends a lot on the speed of the format and the quality of removal. It kind of sucks that it lines up poorly against Glorybringer, which will definitely be an all-star of the new format with Grasp of Darkness rotating.

#4: Lookout’s Dispersal

The next card is technically not a Pirate, but it will fit into most Pirate decks anyway. Lookout’s Dispersal is basically the new Mana Leak. I don’t think it will see play outside of the Pirates shell, as Disallow is a much better card in control decks. In Pirates, however, this card will shine. It being so cheap means that you usually will be able to play a creature and keep up 2 mana up to disrupt your opponent. It has an awkward interaction with Fathom Fleet Captain as it’s going to be obvious what you’re up to if you attack without activating it. But this card is still nothing short of great and if there’s a good Pirate deck, this will be part of it.

#3: Captain Lannery Storm

At number 3 I have my one and only red card. I’ve been talking about U/B Pirates, but this card might be the reason Pirates want to branch out into different colors. I still doubt it, but I think this card might find a place in Mono-Red. It kind of fights for the spot with Pia, which I’ve seen being maindecked lately. Getting extra mana is actually huge when Hazoret comes into the picture. You can always use the left over mana to discard a card, while playing other spells or activating your Ramunap Ruins. Overall, I’m excited to try this card out as 1-of or 2-of in Red. Or maybe there is a Grixis Pirate deck with Admiral Beckett Brass, but that’s probably a stretch.

#2: Kopala, Warden of Waves

The last Merfolk on my list is one that was sent to me by many people as soon as it was spoiled. This is the new Kira, and she will fight for her spot in Modern Merfolk main decks or sideboards. Without playing with it, it’s hard for me to judge which card is better. I think Kopala is a better main deck card as it’s going to be much better against decks with fewer removal spells, because it’s still going to be bigger thanks to your lords. On the other hand, against dedicated control decks, I think Kira is better. In those matchups, you want to trade cards and eventually win because you have more 2-for-1s and fewer lands. In those games, Kira shines whereas they would just pay 2 more mana for that Lightning Bolt on Kopala. Overall, my feeling is that Kira is here to stay because the 2 extra mana is so easy to pay with all the cheap removal in Modern.

#1: Kitesail Freebooter

The final card is the Pirate I’m most excited about. To be fair, I was a bit more excited about it before I found out that it could only take noncreature cards. I still think it’s quite good as all the decks in Standard will play some amount of spells, although you will whiff quite regularly. This is yet another card that’s quite good against control. It looks like Wizards actually likes this state of the game where control is unplayable and they don’t want to change it. In current Standard this still takes Vehicles, which is pretty big. If you go first you can take your opponent’s Heart of Kiran. The same goes for planeswalkers as this might snipe Chandra, Torch of Defiance from time to time.

Overall, I think the Pirates deck still needs some more push in Ixalan, but I like the cards that have been spoiled so far. Many of them force you to carefully evaluate whether they’ll be good or not. In the recent past, there have been a bunch of sets where the best cards have been so obviously overpowered that you could just build around them. In Ixalan and in Hour of Devastation there have been cards that are less obviously powerful, and I hope this is the direction Magic will take in the future.

As for the Merfolk cards, I’m excited to try green. It will be a fresh change from mono-blue and I’m happy Wizards is printing new Merfolk.

That’s it for me. What about you? Are you excited about Ixalan? Are there any Pirates or Merfolk that are great that I missed? Let me know in the comments!

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