I’ve been playing Pirate Warrior to legend for the past two seasons and would like to share my success with it. From its conception, I was fascinated by the aggressive, yet often quite complicated playstyle of the deck. I initially netdecked a list that ran many suboptimal cards and gradually refined it as I learned the workings of the deck, eventually settling on my current decklist,
which I’ve used exclusively during my climb from rank 16 to legend throughout the July season with an overall winrate of 63,4%
and a 72,4% winrate over the last 3 days
where I pushed from rank 5 to legend.
I played the same deck to legend about halfway through the June season and landed at about rank 900, but didn’t have enough time or the drive to push further into legend than that. This season I went on vacation for 10 days, but unexpectedly had a lot of time when I came home, which, combined with a high winrate, allowed me to reach legend on the last day of season.
In many ways Pirate Warrior plays similarly to how mech mage used to play. You play high-statted almost vanilla-like synergistic minions and use them to go face or make high-value trades while using spells, weapons and Leeroy to either burn your opponent or protect your minions. The deck features no draw outside of Finley-> Life Tap, making resource management and knowing the odds of drawing into what you need highly important.
You should always keep in mind how much damage you need your minions to deal. A common mistake when playing the deck is thinking that you need to be going face more than you do. Most of the time you’ll be hitting enemy minions with your weapon, Heroic Strike or Mortal Strike to protect your own minions, unless you’re setting up lethal. On the other hand, you need to be able to recognise when to start pushing face. This is typically when Zoo or Shaman start to win the board (which is hard to win back), or when midrange decks start dropping their mid-to-late game bombs which you can’t answer without losing too many resources.
When playing you’ll be looking to make the highest tempo plays possible – playing a Frothing Berserker and trading to make it massively overstatted for its mana cost or playing a similarly overstatted Bloodsail Raider are just some examples – but also keep in mind that its typically correct not to play something like a turn 3 Deckhand or Corsair just to fit your curve if you can get a guaranteed combo with Bloodsail Cultist next turn anyway to avoid it being removed before you can get the Cultist value. That being said, you shouldn’t be greedy with playing Bloodsail Cultist at all. It has very strong stats for its mana cost and you should play it over Frothing Berserker into 3-health creatures almost every time, since it’s very important to contest board early on with this deck.
The upgrade effects in the deck are very flexible and you can use them somewhat liberally. Upgrading a N’zoth’s First Mate in the early game to kill a 2-drop is perfectly fine, and even using a standalone Upgrade for the 1/3 weapon is useful for killing 1/2-drops in the early game. For example going 2nd against a Warlock I wouldn’t mind playing Upgrade to kill an Argent Squire over two turns if I don’t have a 2-drop to contest the board, and I wouldn’t mind playing it along with a Flame Juggler or Mad Bomber to kill off another 2-drop.
Playing Dread Corsair on turn 5 with Arcanite Reaper and killing a big minion or pushing face is also a good way to get your big weapon out while simultaneously keeping up on board.
Notable inclusions and exclusions
- Mad Bomber: Often considered a gimmick and troll card, Mad Bomber truly shines in a deck like this and helps to grab the board early against decks that can toss out multiple minions in the early game, serving as a 3rd, more situational Flame Juggler. Use it when a warlock has an Argent Squire and Possessed Villager on board etc., or to bring down a minions health into your weapon range. Example, turn 1 coin FWA to kill a Tunnel Trogg and Mad Bomber ping to kill Totem Golem and develop a 3/2 body. Comparable to Ravaging Ghoul, but comes out earlier making it better for the early game and has better stat distribution for mana. Still the most flexible card in the deck, if you want to swap it for tech reasons or because you’ve been hit in the face for 3 damage too many times.
- Captain Greenskin: Serves as your only “late” game minion, and is great when you can land it on an Arcanite Reaper when you’re looking to close the game while still having a decent body and keeping up the Pirate count for Bloodsail Cultist. The 2nd most flexible card in the deck after Mad Bomber, and not at all core to the deck, though I actually don’t feel that any other card in the game fits well.
- Ravaging Ghoul: I’m currently trying to fit this card into the deck, but so far I don’t think I’d replace Mad Bomber with this card. Mad Bomber comes out a turn earlier, which can kill Tunnel Trogg with a N’zoth’s First Mate trade and hit, a Totem Golem along with FWA and allows you to kill Zoo’s 1-drops sooner so you can start grabbing the board. Mad Bomber is also more aggressive which is good against slower decks.
- Argent Horserider: I choose not to play the Horserider because it doesn’t have enough of a threatening body to warrant it’s cost. Argent Horseriders ability to 2-for-1 is great, but in a deck where you typically want to use weapons to keep the enemy board clean, you want your minions to be as big as possible. Still, it’s a close call and a prime candidate for subbing if you want to try it, but I don’t feel it does enough to warrant its spot as a 3-drop.
- Arathi Weaponsmith: I find that the weapon count is high enough as it is, and that increasing it would only hurt your winrate by creating unplayable hands full of weapons and not enough turns to use them. Also, a 2-attack weapon doesn’t kill what you’ll typically want to kill by turn 4 anyway, like Kor’kron Elite or Spirit Wolves. I would consider playing this if the weapon was a 3/2 or even a 3/1, but as it is I consider it submediocre. You can still play it if you want, but Argent Horserider is probably stronger than this.
- The Black Knight: I initially ran this card in place of Mad Bomber as a response to the sudden popularity of C’thun and Ramp Druid, but quickly realised that even in those matchups the card was rarely playable. The cost is simply too high, meaning that by the time you can play it the 4/5 body most likely won’t do anything in the matchups where its effect doesn’t trigger, and in those where it does you’d probably rather have a card that removes the big taunt for a lower mana cost anyway, like BGH or Execute. I’d run a 3-mana BGH any day in this deck, but a 5-mana one is too late and Execute has too much potential to be dead in this deck.
- Skycap’n Kragg: This card simply costs too much on average for what it does. I’d say that a 4/6 Charge minion should cost around 5 mana to be worth playing, and consistently having 2 or more pirates on the board with this deck is not going to happen. I’d guess the average cost of playing this card would be slightly over 6, since your pirate count typically goes down a lot as you begin to lose board control around turns 5-6-7. The card essentially does what Argent Commander does, except Argent Commander would probably cost less or the same most of the time. Argent Commander also trades up better, which is what you’re looking to do later in the game (killing a mid-sized/big taunt and still leaving a body + harder to execute) rather than Kragg’s 4/6 body which is better for trading down.
- Bash: A horrible card that was used in some early iterations of Pirate Warrior as additional burst. You pay way too much for the completely useless 3 armor, and I would never play this in Pirate Warrior.
If you don’t want to craft Greenskin or don’t like Mad Bomber you could try Amani Berserker as another 2-drop or Argent Horserider/Fierce Monkey as another 3-drop. You could also try Argent Commander, though I’m worried the mana cost might be too high. Spiteful Smith would actually be fun to try out, but again the mana cost makes it a problem. You could also test Ravaging Ghoul, but I think it would sit in your hand or not get value from it’s battlecry too often.
Of these I would go for Argent Commander as a replacement for high-cost cards, Ravaging Ghoul or Argent Horserider for mid-cost cards and Amani Berserker as a replacement for the low-cost cards.
Notes on using Finley
Literally any other Hero Power in the game would be better for Pirate Warrior than Armor Up, but choosing the right one is situational. The two best Hero Powers are Hunter and Warlock, with Hunter typically being the better one. Choosing between the two depends mostly on your hand and opponents Hero Power. If your opponent has Warlock Hero Power, always pick Hunter. If you’re still in the early game and your hand is bad, you’ll want to go with Warlock, because you’ll need plays for the following turns. If however you have a decent hand, you’ll want to take Hunter to help close out the game when you go into the higher turns where you’ll start to float mana or run out of cards entirely. After these two I would go with either Mage/Druid or Shaman, depending on the situation. Mage/Druid gives you a ping which is very useful in this deck (hence the double Flame Juggler and Mad Bomber) for when you need your FWA to deal 4 damage etc., while Shaman is good in the later game for protecting your minions with taunt, healing chip damage or spell power for Mortal Strike. Priest is also good for when you need to heal a minion out of trade or ping range. I would almost never take Rogue or Paladin hero power. These are by far the worst hero powers. Rogue hero power might seem useful, as the deck is very weapon-oriented, but it becomes useless when you draw one of your other weapons, of which you run 6. I can remember picking Rogue only once during my 2 seasons of playing the deck. Paladin is also really bad because the 1/1s do nothing until later in the game, where you’ll already have won or lost.
Matchups and mulligans
You always keep FWA and generally mulligan everything that’s not 2-drops, Finley or N’zoth’s First Mate (only keep if you don’t already have FWA). If you already have a decent amount of 2-drops you can keep a 3-drop. If you already have FWA you should keep Dread Corsairs. Whatever you do, just keep in mind that Hero Powering on turn 2 or 3 is really, really bad in this deck, since Hero Power is essentially equivalent to a pass so you’ll always want something to do on those turns.
These stats are from July 2016 season, but I also base some of my opinions off of my games from June 2016, which I didn’t include because Track-o-Bot changed their deck detection and I didn’t want to manually assign decks to games from an entire season.
- Dragon/Tempo Warrior (24-8 / 75% / heavily favoured): This matchup is all about the weapons. Whoever can get the most value from weapons will get to develop their minions in the early-to-mid game and thus have a higher chance to snowball the game. Try to play around Alexstrasza’s Champion and Blackwing Corruptor when you can and be mindful of the 3/6 taunt if you decide to go all-out face.
- Midrange Hunter (23-9 / 72% / heavily favoured): If your hand is really good you can keep Kor’kron in this matchup, since it puts a lot of pressure on the opponent, which is something you’ll look to do in this matchup. Sometimes you can also keep a Deckhand and play it as a 1-drop to counter their 2-drops if you don’t have a weapon. Midrange Hunter doesn’t do much in the early turns and your weapons allow you to kill their minions evenly while playing your own, allowing you to get way ahead on board. Your goal is to kill your opponent before Call of the Wild, which is usually game over or close to it. Most of the time you can ignore Infested Wolf or Highmane and not play around Houndmaster since you’ll be in the commanding position. Most common way to lose is if they get enough removal to stall for Call of the Wild.
- Aggro/Midrange Shaman (21-18 / 54% / even): Even if you have no way to deal with Tunnel Trogg and Totem Golem I still wouldn’t keep Heroic Strike, even though its a godly t2 play against Totem Golem. You really need to maximize your chance to draw weapons in this matchup, since it’s your only chance to keep up with the massively overstatted Shaman early game. 4 mana 7/7 is almost impossible to deal with comfortably, so if it’s played turn 4 I recommend ignoring it and forcing your opponent to trade it in, unless you can get a really good trade yourself. Watch out for Lightning Storm, which both Shaman archetypes play these days. I think Midrange Shaman is a slightly better matchup than Aggro, since you don’t have many good Hex targets and the Aggro Shaman’s Abusive Sergeant and Argent Horserider are problematic to deal with.
- Zoo Warlock (12-11 / 52% / even): I did really well against this deck during my last 3 days, but I still think the matchup is almost completely even. N’zoth’s First Mate, Flame Juggler and Mad Bomber are the MVPs of this matchup so always keep those along with FWA. You’ll want to fight for the board and keep it as clean as possible to give your opponent as little chance as possible to use cards like Abusive, PO and Argus. Sometimes you can lose the board, at which point it’s almost impossible to take back. If this happens, you should just go face as hard as possible and see if he has Argus or not.
- C’thun/Control Warrior (12-9 / 57% / slightly favoured): I initially expected this matchup would be one of my worst, but it actually turned out to be a fairly decent matchup, and I even felt like I lost more than I should have. C’thun and Control Warrior play very similarly in the early turns, which is where the game will be decided. Most of the time they won’t do much in the early turns and you’ll be able to develop a board without much contesting from the warrior until turn 4 where Bloodhoof Brave or C’thun’s Chosen might come out. You’ll probably just want to go face unless you can do something really nice like FWA+ping on the Chosen, and the Brave just slows you down. Some C’thun warriors play Crazed Worshipper, which is sometimes slightly easier to deal with than Bloodhoof on turn 4, since you can Arcanite+Upgrade it or Leeroy it without losing damage. Shieldbearer, Vek’lor and C’thun are almost always game over, and Shield Block or Justicar can also mess with your lethal setup, but there’s nothing you can do about it. I almost never have to play around Brawl, since by the time they can Brawl they do so risking 1 or 2 turn lethal, but of course you’ll want to play around it sometimes.
- Miracle/N’zoth Rogue (12-4 / 75% / extremely favoured): Probably the best matchup for Pirate Warrior. You can keep Kor’kron in the mulligan since its great at applying pressure. Rogues struggle to answer your early game and play minion which are easily countered by FWA, upgraded FWA, FWA+ping or Heroic Strike. They also play no taunts and only minimal healing, making this matchup a breeze. I only ever lost to big early Edwins, which I think is pretty much the only way you can lose this matchup.
- Tempo Mage (8-5 / 61% / statistically favoured, but probably unfavoured): I have no idea how I won this many games because this is probably the worst matchup for Pirate Warrior I can think of. Mirror Image alone makes the matchup incredibly difficult, and if you lose the board and have to go face you lose instantly to Water Elemental. I recommend conceding to turn 2 Sorcerer’s Apprentice + Mirror Image unless you have some kind of godly answer for it. If they don’t draw those two cards you can only really lose to tons of removal and not drawing enough minions to keep up with it. Watch out for turn 7 Flamestrike since most Tempo Mages run it these days
- Ramp/C’thun Druid (8-6 / 57% / statistically even/slightly favoured, but probably unfavoured): Very similar to C’thun warrior – you kill minions if they’re easy to kill and play very aggressively. Watch out for Wrath by playing Juggler instead of Bloodsail Raider and play either of those over Bomber to play around Living Roots 2 damage snipe. Playing around Swipe is more important than Brawl though, as it can really cripple your minion development, so don’t play Deckhand into a decent Swipe to make it a great Swipe, etc. and you can sometimes play a lone Frothing Berserker to bait a panic swipe before Deckhand/Corsair + Cultist. Dark Arakkoa, Ancient of War and Vek’lor are typically autoloss unless you can get a good upgraded Arcanite Reaper or Leeroy.
- Token Druid (7-5 / 58% / statistically slightly favoured, but probably slightly unfavoured): I would approach this matchup like I approach any other Druid matchup – play around Wrath and Swipe, and maybe keep the possibility of Feral Rage in mind. The biggest question when facing this deck in particular is whether to kill Fandral or not. Not killing him allows your opponent to pull some game-winning combos with Power of the Wild, Living Roots and Nourish off, but killing him on turn 4 can sometimes mean saccing 2 minions, which might also lose you the game. Try to base the decision off of your read of the opponents hand and your own hand. I think this matchup is slightly better than the Ramp/C’thun one because they don’t get to their big taunts as fast as Ramp Druid does, and they don’t play Arakkoa/Vek’lor like C’thun Druid does.
- Reno Warlock (7-3 / 70% / favoured): You’ll want to kill minions if they’re easy to kill and play around Hellfire (sometimes even Demonwrath?) and push as aggressively as possible to threaten lethal before turn 6, which is hard since you should mulligan for zoo. If you know it’s Reno you can keep a 2-3-4 minion curve or just keep Kor’kron as long as you have something to do turn 2 and 3. The chance of having Reno by turn 6 with an aggressive mulligan is 40-something percent I think, and adding in the chance to lethal on turn 5 I think the expected winrate is something like 60%. Only once did I manage to kill through Reno, and it was very close so most of the time you can safely concede after Reno is played.