With the arrival of Ixalan comes new flavour, new themes, new mechanical things and with that comes new discussions of how Wizards shouldn’t be doing the things they’re doing, because we’re much better at it than they are. Perhaps.
One topic that’s been brought up is why are the pirates blue? Now, this is one of your classic types of arguments: An argument that doesn’t mean anything, resolves itself, but is still fun to engage with. Far be it from me to complain about fun!
Pirates have been blue in Magic’s history for a while, following an annoying pattern of ‘well we put it in blue and now it’d be just rude to not keep it there’ that defined Magic’s past. They first appeared in Mercadian Masques, a set whose whole theme was ‘uh, sorry,’ and yet despite that still had two cards in it broken enough to get banned in block constructed, because of course.
Now, back in Mercadian Masques I really disliked the pirates as presented – but there’s a lot of stuff in Mercadian Masques that’s a problem (rebels in white? c’mon). I remember reflecting on how Pirates didn’t belong in blue at the time, and, at the time, I was right. The opinion has refined a little though. Pirates don’t belong in just blue.
Still, we’re talking about now, so what are some things about pirates that do fit, wholly and squarely in blue?
One of the defining actions of the pirate in fiction is taking things that aren’t yours. It’s sort of what defines a pirate. Things like navigating into the ocean, focusing on the self, indulging in strong liquor and being willing to fight over needless nonsense, if it lacks for theft isn’t actually being a pirate – you’re just Jimmy Buffett.
Blue steals! Blue is the colour that steals the most! In fact, blue is the colour that gets the most efficient forms of long-term theft! It’s an area it overlaps with black and red, too, so, yes. Pirates steal.
Change Of Identity
There’s this old rhyme used by outlaws in America.
Oh what was your name in the states?
Was it Johnson or Jenkins or Bates?
Did you kill your wife?
Or flee for your life?
Oh what was your name in the states?
Grim, but it showed a part of the American outlaw life that was by no means unique. Without any kind of central government to control identifying information, outlaws in the wild west would change their names and in so doing, shed entire histories, letting them choose who they wanted to be. Usually, they chose poorly.
This is true for sailors and pirates, too. It wasn’t an uncommon thing for pirates to change their name, head to the docks, and head for nowhere. There’s a simplicity to a life on the sea. Once you’re out, you’re out, and there really isn’t anything else you have to worry about but what’s on the ship. It meant that whoever you were or whatever you had to say, it wasn’t like anyone was going to google it.
Now you can make a case for these sorts of things not being a result of personal choices – after all, many criminals commited crimes of desperation then fled because they knew the society they were in wouldn’t handle it fairly or reasonably. The blue mage could then argue that choices in the face of circumstance are still choices and then you’re in the larger argument about the colour pie, period.
For all that pirates have reputations as being combative and taking what they want, it’s worth remembering that most of them had fast ships rather than warships – they wanted to catch up to people and take their stuff, but they also wanted to get the heck out when they were at risk of taking on more than they could handle.
Conventionally we see speed as a red thing, or a green thing – Flash creatures leaping in as predators, or red’s hasted beasts. Blue doesn’t get speed in that way. But blue does get the thing speed is used for: Evasion.
Information As Currency
What’s the conventional thing Pirates are All About? What’s the thing most pirates go out of their way to find? What is usually the object that instigates entire piratical stories?
The nature of the pirate as someone driven by information should stand larger than it does, perhaps because the typical pirate movies we’ve seen have been well, thoughtless silliness and nobody reads books any more, apparently. In none of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies is much made of knowing things, or of discovering things as much as the treasure-map stage of things is replaced with a sort of ricochet-from-point-to-point approach.
None of this is to say that people who dislike blue pirates are wrong (though they are, sorta). It’s more that I thought about it for a little bit and realised how neat it was that many pirate things are Very Blue.