Ahoy! ThChEm here and I present to you KIND OF a guide to the new (old) hotness that is 'Pirates'. I put the name in quotation marks because the deck has been so thoroughly modified and refined since its inception that there are just two pirates left in it. And I say KIND of a guide because, rather than talking about mulligans and strategy in too much depth (I will, but not in excruciating detail), I will focus more on the deck structure and how it has evolved throughout its creation.
Okay, so why is Pirate aggro currently one of the best LoR decks? After all, aggro has been mediocre at best for the past 3-4 seasons – what caused the upsurge in win rate, and why is it seeing so much play both on Ladder and Tournaments?
Well, if you want a short answer, it’s Riptide Sermon. For the long answer, let’s do a deep dive and analyze why it’s so strong. I will also mention which older cards were replaced by newer ones, so that you can see how the deck has changed and become more orthogonal with time.
Let's check the deck!
LoR Best Decks: Pirates, aka Miss Fortune Twisted Fate – Card Breakdown
We run ten one-drops, as opposed to the original fourteen one-drops that old Pirates used to run.
Legion Rearguard is one of the best things to draw in round one. This card used to be considered broken when it came out, which is why it caught a nerf which made it a 3-1. But later Riot decided to un-nerf this bad boy back to his 3/2 statline, but how did they balance around it? By introducing MANY one-drops with a 2-1 statline, so that they can favorably trade into Rearguard. We will discuss why that’s important in the later sections of this article.
Legion Saboteur is a solid one-drop. Two Power, and pings the Nexus on attack. Doesn’t even feel terrible to top-deck if your opponent is at 1 health! There is a debate about running Precious Pet over Saboteur, since the Pet usually gets to deal two damage freely in the early stages of the game, but I like Saboteur better. It is completely preference-based though, and might even be correct if most other decks in the meta have two-power units.
Jagged Butcher and Shellshocker our other one-drop followers. Jagged is just a good vanilla unit, which can occasionally become over-statted. Shellshocker makes the deck feel a bit smoother to play: that one mana that it gives back can help us set up a good Riptide Sermon, which sometimes becomes the difference between victory or defeat.
Paired with the fact that we run Make it Rain, Shellshocker into MiR into another one-drop can beat two enemy one-drops, and swing the tempo immensely in your favor. We have prioritized Shellshocker over Precious Pet, since the banked mana is more effective in creating high-pressure situations in the mid-game.
I would like to end this section by saying that while we are not running Precious Pet at the moment, with the upsurge of Ionia and them not having many Fearsome blockers for the early game (their Double Trouble doesn’t summon three-Power units), I might see removing Shellshocker or Legion Saboteur for the full set of Precious Pets. That’s going to be a meta call and you can refine this section of the deck based on what you’re expecting to face. If you’re against a lot of piles, Precious Pet is probably better.
Ionian Hookmaster, one of Awakening's cards, is AMAZING for our deck. There are literally no bad options when it comes to equipment. The high-rolls consist of getting Scout and letting us flip Miss Fortune on your second attack token after Fortune hits the field. The world is our oyster with the Hookmaster, and she is a wonderful addition to this deck due to that very reason – and we like her so much that she replaced Legion Grenadier, since she gives us more flexibility, and they have similar statlines after the equipment.
Marai Warden is two units for one action. This deck is fast in the sense that it abuses the two-for-one cards to make it so that even if the opponent has appropriate responses, they do not have the sufficient actions.
Make it Rain: remember when I told you that Riot balanced Legion Rearguard by printing a bunch of 2/1 one-drops? Yeah, that doesn’t matter when you can just kill them VERY efficiently and reliably. Us having three Make it Rains should give you a basic idea that this deck is no longer just about aggro – we are a tempo deck now, which makes explosive plays to get control of the board. And when it does, it just annihilates the enemy Nexus with the onslaught of units it has prepared. We used to run cards like Imperial Demolitionist for some reach and burn, but since we’re shifting towards a board-centric gameplan, that’s a bit counterintuitive.
Miss Fortune is our bread and butter. I’m not going to lie, I think she is more important for this deck than she is for Scouts. The main value she brings to the table is that she allows your two-power units trade into the opponent's three-health units, and the one-health units on the enemy’s side might as well not exist.
Twisted Fate is the card that dethroned the pirate king, Gangplank, from his very own deck – and has done so in a spectacular fashion. The flexibility Twisted Fate provides is insane. I mostly use the Red Card, since it gets rid of opposing blockers AND pings the Nexus for one, but in a pinch, his Blue Card can be used for some extra resources. Using the Gold Card is pretty rare, but there certainly are use-cases for it. Overall, this Champ's flexibility is off the charts, and this very flexibility is the reason Twisted Fate is one of the best cards in the game at the moment.
Zap 'n' Burn
Zap Sprayfin draws our Fervors and Make it Rains. Her biggest advantage, however, is being Elusive, and… remember the hookmaster we talked about earlier? Yeah: her weapons are amazing for Zap. If you get Shepherd's Authority by any chance, it’s a free six-damage-per-round against decks with no Elusives. Zap fits our deck really well, and can sometimes get us the reach we desire (not that we lack reach with Decimate, but more of it is never bad to have).
Noxian Fervor is a staple of Noxus-based aggressive decks. Amazing against units with lifesteal, since it allows us to shadow-block (i.e. place a blocker, but kill it with Fervor, thus denying the lifesteal unit to hit and heal), plus we burn the enemy Nexus down. Don’t keep this in the mulligan, though. This is a late-game card.
Decimate. Big axe goes face. Staple card for Noxus aggro, not more to be said about this card.
The Tentacle Package
These 2 cards are the main reasons this deck took the ladder by storm, and why it’s no longer just an aggro deck, but a deck with orthogonality and range.
Eye of Nagakabouros is a Burst-speed attacker that draws you two cards. In a deck that runs out of resources due to its incredibly low mana curve, this card is a godsend and gives us everything we need: Tempo and refuel. This card also makes it possible to flip Twisted Fate and, trust me, it’s not as rare as you would think.
Riptide Sermon is the last card we’ll talk about. It gives aggro decks access to something they didn’t have before, efficient, sorry, very efficient removal. Enemy paid five mana to play Heimerdinger? Cool, lemme get a 3/3, get rid of said Heimer, and also deal two damage to your face for some reason. Riptide Sermon makes this deck more midrange-y than it used to be, and does the same thing Marai Warden does but in a much better fashion. It gives us a HUGE tempo swing, and makes our next attack very scary. This card is absolutely insane value, and makes us not feel bad when we bank mana.
These Ain't a Flex
These six slots kind of used to be flex spots before where people used to experiment with all sorts of wacky cards like Lounging Lizard, more one-drops, random Double Up, Sentry for bigger swings, and even Jack, the Winner at some point. Now these six slots belong to the Tentacle package and no one can even come close to taking them (well, Riot can, with an expected nerf to Sermon)
Aggro decks almost always have the problem of running out of gas and being unable to close games out. If you want to take away ANYTHING from this guide, it’s that this deck is an aggressive deck, but it’s by no means an aggro deck. We have enough value to keep us in games that go on for long. Just be careful, though: because it’s not just an "Ooga-booga! I summon unit, I hit face!" deck, mana management is a bit more important in it than your usual aggro decks, so be mindful about each point of mana you spend.
As seen from the cards we have replaced, we see that flexibility is the name of the game here. It’s the reason this deck has a higher ceiling now, and it’s the reason this resurgence of an old strategy was possible. Because it’s not as linear as it used to be.
Before I tell you guys the matchups, I want to preface this section by saying that no matchup is heavily unfavoured for you – every match is winnable as long as you play it properly. I’m only discussing the slightly unfavoured matchups here since this deck is a stat check deck and unrefined lists/unfavoured lists are going to autofold to it as long as we’re being mindful about our plays.
Let’s analyze our matchups.
LoR Deck Pirates – Matchups
Keep Sermon IF the rest of your hand is playable/decent (if you have early units and/or Miss Fortune). ALWAYS keep one Miss Fortune (you can throw away the second one). If we have the attack token on even rounds, multiple Rearguards are BACKBREAKING.
Look for early cards. Rearguard is the best one-drop we have. Eye of Nagakabouros is also decent in this matchup, as it’s usually good into control piles. Always throw away MiR, Decimate, Noxian Fervor.
You can replace one Make it Rain with Slippery Waverider to make this a better MU. Precious pet MIGHT be slightly better in this MU over legion saboteur so consider making the switch if you’re running into this a lot.
Make it Rain is the best card for this matchup. Both your champions are keeps – Miss Fortune 100% of the time, Twisted Fate only if you have some early units or Make it Rain. Double-drawing Fate can be scary.
Every bit of Nexus health matters, so don’t go down to eight just to get a nasty Red Card. It’s not worth it.
Legion Rearguard is always a keep, Ionian Hookmaster is also good to keep (don’t take Scout if you’re dropping her on round two – a better statline is more important).
DO NOT PLAY your Sermon first. Your foe will just play theirs, and now they have the Tentacle instead of you. Be very mindful of major commitments before your opponent does.
Gangplank Sejuani, aka Plunder
This is supposed to be an unfavoured matchup, but you can go a long way by not giving them Plunder triggers – match their aggression and don't play into their Make it Rain.
Miss Fortune can be thrown away in the mulligan as they have a lot of two-health units (therefore making her less useful), but I would keep her if the rest of my hand is okay.
Riptide Sermon, for dealing with an unlevelled Gangplank, is always a plus, but don’t keep it in the opener. I also like keeping Hookmaster in this matchup, to circumvent the Make it Rain. Throw away your Marai Warden, she's not worth it in this matchup.
We can easily flip our champions in this matchup since our opponent doesn't have removal (only Heavy Metal, or Sonic Wave if I remember). Go triple one-drop and aggro them down, since that way they can’t flip Nami unless they take a lot of damage. Keep both your Champs in the mulligan – double-drawing them is not bad at all in this case.
Ionian Hookmaster is also a keep: Fearsome is amazing against Dragonlings. Riptide Sermon is usually terrible here, due to Deny, so only cast it if necessary.
As of late, these decks have been running Lee Sin too, as pseudo removal and another threat. I still prefer trying to go all-in on our Champ level-up, as making them have it is a very important part of card games. Also, if they play Lee Sin on round five, play a spell and get rid of your three- or four-mana unit, then you’re still up in tempo, so it’s all good.
General Tips and Closing Thoughts
- I can’t state this enough: if you have Miss Fortune or Make it Rain in your opener, do not trade evenly with one-Health units. You don’t need to.
- Only play Riptide Sermon against Ionia when necessary. We don’t need to gamble the game on them having Deny. You can use this to get the Deny out of their hand, but make sure you don’t play it unless you can afford to get it denied.
- Don’t keep Noxian Fervor and Decimate in hand
- Eye of Nagakabouros is a decent keep against control decks
I hope you liked my quick insight into pirates! I think it is a really fascinating case study, as I have seen this deck evolve into what it is currently, and just goes to show how advanced the game is becoming where "go face" just doesn’t work anymore.
Thank you for reading so far, and if there’s any tip I can give you about this deck, it’s this: Your deck is just better. Data says you are facing a 40% matchup? Doesn’t matter, you can win.