Maelstrom – Cleaver Builds and Strategies

This guide seeks to provide an in-depth description of Cleaver builds, strategies, and match-ups.

Cleaver Guide


Cleaver is a rocket-powered scalpel. Quick and precise, fast and lethal, it makes for a devastating opportunist. This sloop is unparalleled in close combat, with high speed, maneuverability, and critical power. An ambush from this ship can spell death in seconds. In this guide, we’ll look at two builds, discussing their loadouts, playstyles, and matchups and strategies against each of the standard ships (Human, Orc, and Dwarf).

First, a rundown of Cleaver:

  • Cannons on fore and broadsides
  • Shrapnel: Increased critical chance, increases more the closer you are
  • Tier X Unique–Scavenger: Picking up loot repairs hull and armor (14 per pickup)
  • Pros and cons:
    + Forward boarding hooks for more angle options
    + Great speed
    + Highly maneuverable
    – Deplorable armor
    – Cannons are weak if used at range or crits aren’t capitalized on
  • Cannons: Snapjaw (I), Chomper (V; high sail/crew dmg), Sawtooth (IX; high crit chance/crit dmg)
  • Utility: Chomper Sails (II; +20% sail HP, +15% max speed), Whiplash Rudder (VI; +20% turn rate, +10% turn accel)
  • Defense: Raider Cabins (III; +30 crew, +20% crew dmg resist), Prow Armor (VII; +80% fore armor)
  • Offense: Raider Decks (IV; +45% crew strength, +1 board duration), Skullrattle Gunports (VIII; -20% reload time)
  • Unique: Scavenger (X)

The Crit Build: Overview

The Crit build for Cleaver fulfills what I think many would agree is the true purpose of the Cleaver: to fire as many crits as possible, and make them as powerful as possible. No other ship can come close to utilizing crits as effectively as the Crit build does, and this build can provide some rewarding gameplay as a result.

Crits of course come naturally to Cleavers, partially due to Orc cannons’ natural affinity for them, but mainly from its passive, Shrapnel. Cleaver gets more crits to start with, and they only increase the closer you are. This entails a greater emphasis on the up-close nature of Orc combat. Of course, the drawbacks include wide spread and poor damage at range, but with good speed and maneuverability, Cleaver can adeptly close gaps and shred through armor.

The Crit build focuses on getting the most out of crits, ensuring they happen more often and that they inflict more punishment when they do land. It also has a higher focus on armor defenses (rather than crew) so it can go head-on with other ships that use iron shot. The idea is to appear out of nowhere, plowing through armor and hull before the victim can realize their demise. Hit hard, hit fast, and always have the drop on the enemy.

The Crit Build: Loadout


Splint Depthbringer is usually the choice for this build. Amazing for ambushes, rams, chases, and getaways, the speed boost has many applications for Cleaver.

However, there are some dangerous builds that use Fade Marrowtooth. By trapping players with the tempest, you can easily circle around to their weak spot and pump crits into it. She is particularly lethal with the recent addition of captain leveling, using one of her capstone abilities, Curse of Rot. (Credit to Angery Ball for showing me this. If you want to know more you can ask him on the Discord or perhaps you’ll have the privilege of being sunk by him yourself.)


  • Cannons: Sawtooth (IX; High crit chance, High crit damage, High reload speed)
  • Utility: Chomper Sails (II; +20% sail HP, +15% max speed), Whiplash Rudder (VI; +20% turn rate, +10% turn accel)
  • Defense: Prow Armor (VII; +80% Fore armor)
  • Offense: Skullrattle Gunports (IV; -20% reload time)
  • Unique: Scavenger (X; I know you’ll already have this at 3k PR, but it’s important to list because it’s critical to Cleaver gameplay in any build)

Mates: Offense

A Powder Monkey is nigh-mandatory for this build. I recommend Hack, the Crit PM with level 1 bonus of 80% to Critical Damage.

There are some options when it comes to the rest, as the balance between defense and offense is subjective to an extent. If you want to boost crits further, you can opt for a Crit Lookout (K’illian) or Crit Cook (Vae’siv), which will further increase critical chance. A Helmsman will serve well for extra ramming damage or making your maneuverability even more lethal.

Mates: Defense

Cleaver has deplorable armor, so a Bosun is very important to keep up. If you have Scavenger, you can opt for Bulk or Resist; otherwise it might be wise to run Regen. One of the important parts of gameplay with this build is to be fresh (perhaps even better) after every kill, so some sort of regeneration is important.

The other options you have for defense are Shipwright (any; opt for Regen if you don’t have Scavenger), Surgeon (Strength; Koc’iub), and Sail Master (Regen; Gnoth).

A Shipwright will make you last even longer, so if encounters take longer than expected or more ships get involved, you won’t get stepped on and die immediately.

A Surgeon will give high damage resist and strength to your already decent crew. This will surprise boarding builds who readily underestimate you. An awesome feature of having this Surgeon is that it also opens up boarding as a backup combat tactic with this same build. If a target has too much armor in the endgame, you can crew them and board with good results, combining iron shot and boarding once crew is down–just try not to switch strategies mid-encounter.
A Sail Master will increase your speed and make it so you can always run from a situation if you need to. This makes you more adept as an opportunist.

Mates: Legendary

Rutt Nailchewer: Unfortunately, there are two different legendary shipwrights both named Rutt Nailchewer. Pick the one with the increase in critical chance. This allows you to be more deadly with your crits (you’ll probably have a 25% base crit chance) while simultaneously making yourself harder to kill. If you see this one, grab it immediately.

Mad Mord’ham: This variation on the bulk Bosun provides 1.5x the armor to all quadrants than a standard bulk bosun does, along with more than twice the critical damage resistance and a buff to current navigation. However, armor damage resist has been removed, and there is a penalty to sail health. This mate may not be your first choice based on what stats you prioritize as important, but the large armor boost in tandem with Scavenger and critical damage resistance combine for a lethal amount of survivability and an upper hand in the Cleaver vs. Cleaver Matchup. Hence, even if the description turns you off, try out the mate and see what it does for you.

Mates: Level 5 Traits

Thrill of Victory (+25% crit chance for 30s on kill): This ability is AMAZING for a Crit Cleaver. Upon kill, you get nearly full health with Scavenger, then have an added 25% crit chance for 30 seconds. Priceless for multi-ship brawls, and allows you to chain kills by running to the next guy and activating it again. One tactic I like to use is activating Splint Depthbringer’s ability right after a kill; it acts as a 30 second timer and I get to the next enemy quickly, shredding them with the high crit chance.

Getaway (5s of invisibility on kill): If you need to run after a kill (even on a boon ship), this is good for a quick dash. Think Dead Ringer in TF2.

Stealthy (+25% turn rate/accel in fog or while stealthed): This allows you to maneuver even better in fog banks, allowing you to get the angles and cannon quadrants you want faster and better. By outmaneuvering your opponent, you can take minimal damage while destroying their weak sides.

Dead Water Sprint (+25% movement speed in Dead Waters): This allows you to take advantage of paths that other ships can’t, especially in the endgame and especially against battleships.

Sneaky (+10% Crit chance while in fog or stealthed): Anything that gives you more crits is of high value for this build. Allows you to take better advantage of the environment.


I’ve condensed a lot of the strategies and playstyle tips into the following sections. You’ll see some common denominators involving ambushing, boarding, and the like–these are standard Cleaver gameplay, which are important to get a handle on. Hopefully, you can get a feel for those as you level up your ship.

The Crit Build: Matchups (Humans)


Cleaver is the main counter for Cinder. Cinders en masse are faster than Cleavers, but Cleavers have a variety of options at their disposal for catching them. I decided to list a number of aspects to this matchup so you can be thoroughly aware of all of these options and strategies.

Speed: Cleaver is arguably the second fastest ship in the game, and Splint Depthbringer allows for bursts of speed that let you catch them in a chase. Chain shot paired with Cleaver’s crits can quickly make ribbons out of sails. They may have regeneration though, so ensure you don’t waste time in catching them after doing so. If you’ve picked Fade Marrowtooth, a well-placed tornado can hold them there long enough for you to shred the rest of the sails and blast them with crits.

Boarding: Cleaver has several significant boarding advantages against Cinder. First, it can board from fore as well as broadsides, so you have increased options for catching them (such as when you’re tailing them from behind). Second, Cleaver has much greater crew than Cinder. Third, at the close range a boarding encounter entails, critical hit chance is at a maximum, which lets you shred through armor, especially with varying boarding angles unique to Cleaver. Fourth, Cinder only has cannons on broadsides, so it has more vulnerabilities with these awkward boarding angles. Sum this up with Cinder’s weak armor, with the proper boarding angle you can take out a Cinder in seconds.

Armor: Cleaver has bad armor, but in the Cinder matchup it matters more the location of the armor. Prow armor is great for this reason. If you’re weak on the broadsides, you can still board from fore with as much armor as a battleship’s broadside. This also allows you to be much more lethal in ramming.

Maneuverability: Generally, Cleaver is more maneuverable than a Cinder, but good Cinders are likely to spec into turning. This is an area where you need to be careful; they’re already faster than you, so if they can also dodge whatever tactic you employ to catch up to them, you may be in trouble. Keep in mind you are much better in closer spaces, and when you have the element of surprise.

Cleaver can usually take on a Cinder at any point, but it is overall a better midgame player. At the end, when stocked up on boons, a Cinder may have too much speed; pair this with its likely armor regen and many boons, and the endgame may prove difficult. However, as stated earlier, Cinder’s main counter is the Cleaver; from one opportunist to another, they’ll likely prioritize killing you first.


Think of Ashborne as a slower and larger Cinder, which hurts 3 times as much. Two broadsides can and will finish you if you’re not careful. Ashborne also has a tendency to set you on fire, which is devastating to your hull. You can outrun, and in some cases outmaneuver, most Ashbornes, so always keep in mind running as an option. If you are to be most successful, it is critical that you surprise them, rushing in to their weak fore or aft with a ram, plowing through the armor, and boarding for several quick volleys of crits. If they’re in the middle of fighting someone else, it might be worthwhile to do a volley of chain shot to ensure they can’t circle you as well, and then grapple them and destroy. Don’t get involved with their concurrent combatant unless you are sure they are more dangerous or that it will be a quick kill; chances are your aft will be exposed from boarding or the like and the Ashborne will punish you for it. If an Ashborne is fighting you and another player arrives, you can take that as an opportunity to sprint away and circle back. The Ashborne is slower and will likely find it easier to kill this new opponent than chase you. You can then return to the battle and take both their bounties while they’re weak.

In the early game, your armor may be too flimsy to successfully take on an Ashborne. In the late game, Ashborne’s broadsides are nigh-impenetrable, and given their tendency to ensure a broadside is facing their opponent, you may end up thrasher chum. Furthermore, if you engage a late game Ashborne and find yourself having to run, there’s not a lot of places you can go. Generally, you only want to engage them if (a) they’re already crippled, fresh off a fight, or otherwise injured/disadvantaged, (b) you have a significant advantage (many more boons or the element of surprise), or (c) if you have no choice (they’re the last one left or you can’t run). The midgame is optimal because they’re more likely to have taken some hits from several fights, whereas you’re likely to be at full health after each with a decent amount of boons. These fights don’t tend to take much time; they usually are over in less than a minute, with a landslide to one of the parties. Be cautious and calculating in these fights, and you can emerge unsunk.

Fury’s Hold

Humans cannonballs are one of the primary banes of a Cleaver’s playthrough. Fury’s Hold has a lot of them, and comes with decent armor too. One of the biggest strategies you’ll have to employ in this matchup is the fact that Fury’s Hold is one of the least maneuverable ships in the game, while Cleaver is one of the most maneuverable. This means you are better able to stick to a weak side and concentrate fire on it. However, stay on your toes; if the Fury does manage to turn their other broadside to you, you’ll likely get boarded, followed by a facefull of cannonballs that will quickly change the outlook of the battle. You also have the option, if you’re quick enough, to circle them, causing all the cannonballs to fly over your head. Reload speed and firing delay are constant struggles for Fury’s Hold players, so make sure they feel it. Zoom in with a ram, board at a diagonal (or on fore/aft), and start pumping crits. If you need to run, you usually can shred sails rather quickly and sprint away, out of sight and out of range. That said, Fury’s Hold has quite large range, and open waters are a problem for Orcs. If you don’t close the distance fast enough, you can be at a major disadvantage by the time you get into your lethal range.

At the early game, you’ll have to keep in mind your weak armor and be careful with Fury’s Holds. However, it may work if you can capitalize on their low maneuverability/number of boons quickly enough. Midgame is of course optimal, because you can catch them with their pants down and with the right boons in the right places, you’ll have a great advantage. An endgame Fury is one of the worst enemies you can find yourself facing as a Cleaver, so you want to take them out earlier if possible. If you must face them, take advantage of aft boarding as much as possible, and if you get caught on a broadside, either ensure it’s at a diagonal so you can use two cannon quadrants during the board, or ensure it’s on the fore so your prow armor (comparable to a battleship broadside) can tank it. These tips apply to Fury’s Hold fights in general, but in the endgame it’s critical you heed them religiously.

The Crit Build: Matchups (Orcs)


Cleaver v. Cleaver fights are blindingly fast. Many times they can be over in a few seconds, given a proper sprint and board. As a result, it depends highly on the nature of the engagement.

If the enemy surprises you, that is the worst possible case. This is most likely to happen while you’re busy nuzzle-shredding another ship, and the enemy Cleaver sprints in from behind. Provided you survive, you’ll likely have dropped an armor quadrant or two, along with half your hull. You have a couple options at that point. One is to run, ensuring the enemy ships don’t hit your weak spots. If you get lucky and your original adversary engages the other Cleaver, you may be able to swoop in for the kill and repair. If this isn’t going to work, or you simply know you have to run, fire a volley of chain shot and sprint away, focusing on running away until you can gank another ship, gather enough gold, sink boon ships, or whatever else it takes to repair for the next engagement.

If you both come head on, be mindful that they’re likely opting for the same tactics you are. You want to get there first, either by timing your captain ability or superior speed/mobility. Aft is always optimal, but if you can diagonally board the broadside, chances are you can kill them before the board is over. Fire fore and broadside cannons as soon as you’re close enough to make it count, then let them reload during boarding for the coup de grâce. Depending on what captains you and your adversary are using, this can vary. Chomper’s Charge can be used to muscle through Tempest, Tempest can catch you while the enemy shreds your weak spot, and Chow Time is dealing with a boarding build. Boarding takes a bit longer, so make sure boarding builds feel the pressure with your high crew and quick reloads before they can cripple you.

Finally, if you have the advantage on the enemy Cleaver, let ’em have it. Come in out of nowhere and blast them with cannons. This can take hardly any time at all, but if they dodge, or if you end up in a bad board to the aft (by them or whoever they were fighting), you’re now at the disadvantage. Cleavers are light on the hull and armor, so chances are you can more easily manage to sink them first and grab the loot, regenerating to full health and taking on whoever’s next.


Ramming. Ow. Bloodfin will pack a devastating ram that will one-shot your armor (excluding fore). Firing before they close the distance will activate Bear Down, which will make this hurt even more. It may also activate Vengeance, which will decrease the reload time to one comparable to yours. Pair this with their superior firepower, and your diagonal board will quickly turn into a victory for the Bloodfin. Hence, you want to avoid these by using your superior speed and maneuverability to dodge, then circle around to a weak spot. Bonus points if you hit them as you dodge, because Bear Down can send them careening into a rock. Bloodfin has a hard time slowing down, so if you manage this, you can waste their abilities on dealing with map hitboxes while you circle around to their aft or other weak side for a board. Get on there and start shredding. Bloodfin’s armor is so-so, but is especially weak in the aft. In one board you’ll likely shred through armor and get some decent hull damage in; then circle with them while they try to turn loaded cannons to you, pumping crits along the way. The encounter will be pretty quick this way.

If they drop in on you while you’re busy, however, that’s a dangerous problem. You’ll already have taken damage from a fight, so they can sprint in for a ram, knocking out one of those quadrants and spraying fore cannons, then turning for a lethal close-range broadside. If you aren’t dead after that, they might board you, killing you in the next volley. Many ships (and this doesn’t just go for Bloodfin) will find you a quick way to get a repair boon if you’re already engaged, and will prioritize you over your adversary unless said adversary is substantially weaker.

One of the main takeaways is that Bloodfin employs high-intensity burst gameplay. If you can trigger and evade one of these bursts, you can take the advantage for yourself and emerge victorious. On the initial dodge it’s sometimes a good idea to hit them with a broadside of chain shot. As they pass right by, you’ll have the high crits that can take out half or more of their sails. This quashes their ramming potential, allowing you to take the beast head-on.


Gorger has decent armor and a substantial boarding advantage. If you’re fighting a ram/cannon damage build, treat them like a heavier Bloodfin with much better armor. But chances are you’re fighting a boarding build, so we’ll focus on that.

Chances are they’ll have Chomper cannons which will plow through both crew and sails. You have a few things going for you however. First, Orcs all have great crew, and yours is better than any Dwarf, Human, or Undead with a good number, health, and low minimum effective crew. This means you have to move quickly before they do get you down to that point; if they board you, ensure it’s diagonal, or board them yourself. Shred armor and pump crits into their hull before your reload speed can go down. Be wary of them turning an armored side to you after you’ve done all that work on one; they’ll be able to tank on that side and then punch into your hull with a lethal board.
Gorgers may have specced into damage resist for crew or sails. Hence, you may make little progress on this front. I suggest you stick to the build, getting as many cannonballs in as possible. This matchup tends to favor the Gorger, but given the right situations you can pull it off. Move quick, kill fast, and don’t be ashamed of running or stealing kills.

The Crit Build: Matchups (Dwarves)


Tidebreaker is the most heavily armored sloop in the game, with the ability to move forward and backward, using all its cannons. While the armor won’t be a terrible problem for your crits, watch out for bowbreaker cannons and Captain’s Tricks. Ultimately, the Tidebreaker matchup is determined by what captain they’re using, as that is central to Tidebreaker gameplay. All of them pose a serious threat, but in different ways.

A Tidebreaker with torpedoes (Anvil Barhollow) is likely going to be on the attack, looking to sneak up from behind or out of a fog bank with a blast of torpedoes, fore cannons, and a hefty ram. This can leave you quickly scrambling for cover as you may have received a sizable amount of damage. There is video footage of a Tidebreaker with this build killing a full-health endgame Ashborne in one second; pair the ram with bowbreaker cannons and torpedoes, and you have a serious problem. If you can manage to circumvent their surprise attack, you’ll be in much less danger in the resulting encounter. Sprint forward, diagonally board, and spray crits. Avoid the fore, because they’ll happily launch torpedoes into you. Cooldown for these can go as low as 14 seconds, so take them quickly. If the battle is to take a little longer, try to blast the fore armor with a broadside of crits. An open fore makes a torpedo player nervous.

A Tidebreaker with mines (Brick Saltspine) focuses on controlling the water. The mines either force you to go a certain direction, or get hit by them. They pack quite a punch, especially considering Cleaver’s low armor. They will knock you around and expose your armor, and Tidebreaker can get a cooldown of 16 seconds with this. Again, you need to move fast to ensure your damage output exceeds the enemy’s. You can outrun mines with Splint Depthbringer, but it’s even better if you can get them to crash into the Tidebreaker. This is better achieved when they set down mines right next to you; circle to their aft and board, making them take the hit on the mines while you shred through the quadrant. Just remember to stay close; if you’re getting hit by mines, make sure the enemy’s getting hit by them as well.

A Tidebreaker with a shield (Ledd Gravelbarr) is obviously the most defensive of these builds. It succeeds at minimizing damage, and relies on timing to get the most out of its shield. As a result, on your end timing is also paramount. You want to get them to drop their shield so it’s on cooldown, and set yourself up during that time. Get a diagonal board in when it drops, and shred like you normally do. This may take some fanagling, but as long as you are close up and they have a shield, they can punish you with their cannons–Bowbreakers hurt with a base damage of 100. A Cleaver will only be able to take so much of that, so time properly!


Thunderhead carries the most painful firepower a Dwarf will have. Four cannons on a broadside, two each on fore and aft, knockback with each projectile, and an extra cannonball upon receiving damage. This is a dangerous foe to encounter; it may not have great speed, but can attain high acceleration and great turning with the right mates. Amazing armor for a frigate, this is a bear that you typically don’t want to poke unless you know what you’re doing.

Your crits will usually plow through armor pretty well, unless the enemy has specced into armor and critical damage resistance, which can prove quite a problem for you. Diagonal boarding is always useful, but you’ll need to time it with their volleys; if you board on a loaded quadrant, they can smack you with 5 cannonballs, smashing your armor and knocking you far enough to retard your damage output. Thunderhead will be good at rotating with combining forward and reverse, so capitalize on your speed and turning to focus fire on one quadrant. Thunderhead can dish out so much damage that if it manages to turn a fully armored quadrant toward you mid-encounter, you’re hosed. Always remember you can flee; Thunderhead is one of the easier ones to run from.

Usually it’s rather hard for Thunderhead to surprise you unless you’re being boarded with your aft exposed. Conversely, Thunderhead can do quite well with multiple attackers, and if you zoom in on another side it might be able to take on you both. You’ll want to do the standard ram and fore/broadside spray to start, but circle around and make sure you punish the unarmored quadrant. Once the armor is whittled down, Thunderhead won’t last much longer.


Stormanchor is (and for the forseeable future, will be) one of the hardest targets a Cleaver will ever encounter. It is paramount to destroy these ships in the mid or early game, because once they’re fully booned, you’ll be lucky to make a scratch on them. Stormanchor also comes with an absorb shield that activates upon taking damage, and increased repairs out of combat (which makes running more of a problem). On top of all that, many mates and hardpoints can make Stormanchor faster than sloops; however, the weakness you want to exploit is mobility.

Stormanchor has some of the worst acceleration and turning of any ship. Extremely inertial, without rocks it can take several seconds to switch directions. But when it does, watch out! Many Stormanchors can ram hard as a Bloodfin, cripple fast as a Gorger, and tank more than a Fury. Your chances are slim enough when a Thunderhead turns an armored quadrant, but when a Stormanchor does so, you’re in even more trouble. Hence, ensure they don’t. Focus tightly on a quadrant and punish it with all your cannons. Be wary of rocks and environment that they’ll use for ram acceleration or to guard armorless quadrants.

While this battleship has fewer cannons than the Dwarf frigate, it can take a lot more punishment. Depending on their choice of captain, Stormanchor players may be able to absorb more damage with a shield (usually the captain of choice), or increase damage output with mines or torpedoes. In the case of torpedoes, ensure you break the fore armor so they’re much less prone to using it. With their poor turning, it’ll be easy to dodge and you can sprint in to that quadrant with a diagonal board, destroying the hull. The big problem is getting through the armor, especially if they have high regen or resistance. Many times, by the time they’re weak enough, the Cleaver’s already dead. But if you can get through the armor fast enough, you’ll have a chance.

The Boarding Build: Overview

The Boarding build for Cleaver is a subversive way of running a sloop. Normally sloops are fitted speed and maneuverability rather than boarding encounters, but paired with the high crits and crew brought by orcs, Cleaver can become paradoxically lethal to this end. This build can sometimes even take on a Gorger, the king of boarding. Hence, while it’s not what most players consider when they think Cleaver, it’s certainly worth discussing in this guide.

This build enhances boarding encounters because of its critical affinity for close combat used in tandem with high crew and sail damage. Still up-close and personal, boarding allows Cleaver to bypass armor entirely, shredding through crew and attacking the hull directly. You’ll see many similarities to the Crit build, as crits are still vital, but some of the focuses and priorities shift in this playstyle.

Let’s take a look at the loadout.

The Boarding Build: Loadout


Grinner Blackmaw is the ideal captain for the Boarding Cleaver.


  • Cannons: Chomper (V; Optimized for Sail/Crew damage)
  • Utility: Chomper Sails (II; +20% sail HP, +15% max speed), Whiplash Rudder (VI; +20% turn rate, +10% turn accel)
  • Defense: Raider Cabins (III; +30 crew, +20% crew dmg resist)
  • Offense: Raider Decks (IV; +45% crew strength, +1 board duration)
  • Unique: Scavenger (X; I know you’ll already have this at 3k PR, but it’s important to list because it’s critical to Cleaver gameplay in any build)

Mates: Offense

A Strength Surgeon, Koc’iub, will serve you well in the boarding build. You can opt for Health (Grof’vuil) or Regen (Por’kbel) Surgeons, depending on your playstyle.

A Quartermaster is a valuable addition to any boarding build. Re-board (Knobk a c k) would be especially useful, since Cleaver has no boarding advantages by default. If you want to up your damage even more, opt for a Crippler Master Gunner (Grawler) or Crit Powder Monkey (Hack).

Mates: Defense

Cleaver has deplorable armor, so a Bosun is still important to keep up. As stated earlier, if you have Scavenger, you can opt for Bulk or Resist; otherwise it might be wise to run Regen.

The other options you have for defense are Shipwright (any; opt for Regen if you don’t have Scavenger) and Sail Master (Regen).
A Shipwright will make you last longer; boarding encounters can take longer than others before you get appreciable damage in. Also, if more ships get involved, you won’t get stepped on and die immediately.
A Sail Master will increase your speed and make it so you can always run from a situation if you need to. This also makes you more adept as an opportunist.

Mates: Legendary

Chum Decks Halftounge: This variation on the Re-board Quartermaster decreases boarding cooldown 2 seconds more than the base, along with a significant boost to grape shot damage (same as a Master Gunner). The downside is less hull/armor damage, but if you’re focusing on boarding this obviously is less of a problem.

Bloodwake Krith: A variation on the Crippler Master Gunner, Bloodwake Krith has increased sail damage and decreases boarding cooldown further, sacrificing cannon range. Orcs tend to be close up (Cleaver especially), but it does remove those extra few units for a low health target running away from you.

Rutt Nailchewer and Mad Mord’ham are still good picks, for the same reasons mentioned prior.

Mates: Level 5 Traits

Killer instinct (+10% damage against ships with less than 10% sails or crew): Crippling is inherent to the nature of boarding builds. This dishes out an astonishing amount of extra punishment as a reward for doing so. The great thing is, sails are usually quite weak and easy to take out; if you can shred them quickly, you’ll get the 10% for the rest of the encounter (provided they don’t regenerate). This applies to your cannons and boarding damage.

Thrill of Victory (+25% crit chance for 30s on kill): While not as effective as on the Crit build, this still gives you an upper hand on multi-ship brawls when you’re fresh off a kill. Cleaver’s all about crits, so this is always a good pick.

GetawayStealthy, and Dead Water Sprint are also good picks, even though they’re better suited to the crit build.

The Boarding Build: Matchups

I decided to go with a single section for the Boarding Build’s matchups because many of the matchups for the crit build apply to Cleavers in general. Hence there’s not as much to say here. There are a few things to take into consideration, however.

First, shift your focus from focusing on a quadrant with weak armor to a quadrant with unloaded cannons. Boarding bypasses armor entirely, so you’re focusing on taking little damage from cannons and rams while you spray grape shot, as opposed to dishing out damage to a particular spot. You still want to employ your speed and mobility, just for a different purpose. The main point is that there are three ways to get to a ship’s hull: through the armor, through the crew, or by fire (a Human thing). By attacking crew with a boarding build, you ignore armor.

Second, your other health bars (sail and crew) become more important to protect, because if they’re taken out not only are you in trouble like any ship, but you’re defanged. You want to ensure you have the damage resist and strength to keep up on all fronts. What’s nice about surgeons is they provide both offensive and defensive crew bonuses, allowing you to equip one mate to cover both aspects crew-wise. Sails may not be as important to you as having a master gunner, but you need to ensure you’re close enough to finish the job.

Third, boarding can take time before you get the reward out of it. You have to shoot out their crew and all the while they’re shooting you. You may not be as punchy as the Crit build, but you’re able to take on battleships more adeptly. Also keep in mind that while Cleaver’s quick, running isn’t as viable. If you’re fighting a non-dwarf you can shoot sails and turn away, but it’s not guaranteed to work. Hopefully, you’ve crippled enough crew and sails that their speed and accuracy are too low to pursue, but usually you have to finish the job.


Big difference here is you’re not as good of a counter. Cinder has weak crew, true, but you’re less likely to be able to catch it. Best bet is to stay out of open waters, lurking around until you find someone to strike.


Ashborne still hurts just as much. Its crew isn’t great, but you don’t have time to fool around with this one. Get in close, dodge a broadside if you can, and destroy their crew with a diagonal board.

Fury’s Hold

Fury’s Tier X, Marksmen towers, becomes more important with this build, as it will gradually pick off your crew and potentially hamper your boarding capability. Make sure you’re running a surgeon, and watch out for a combination of balefire blast and grape shot, as many Fury’s Holds know how to cripple boarding builds.


Generally, a Boarding Cleaver vs. a Crit Cleaver results in the latter’s victory. You need to ensure that you board them at a favorable angle, because they will quickly dispatch you if you don’t get their crew below minimum efficacy.


Bloodfin’s sails aren’t great, so if you can shred those real quick, you’ll ruin their ramming, allowing you to hit them where you want and take the effort boarding requires.


This is one of your primary enemies. They’re fighting on the same plane that you are. Overall, Gorgers are a stronger boarding build than Cleaver (simply because they’re the best in the game). But Gorger lacks your surprise, critical finesse, speed, and mobility. These are the factors you need to capitalize on in order to beat them. Circle near the aft so you can hit them but they don’t hit you. Avoid broadsides, which will one-shot your sails or take out a hefty chunk of your crew.


With the weakest crew, you can eliminate their crew quickly and board to success. Torpedoes are only a problem on the fore, and mines during boarding will hit the Tidebreaker (but watch out for knockback interrupting your boarding). The biggest problem is the shield, which will stymie boarding damage even with no crew. Since Tidebreaker can get this every 14 seconds, they may be able to interrupt each boarding encounter while they smash you with bowbreakers.


Thunderhead has quite weak crew as well. Biggest things to watch out for are damage (still packs a punch) and knockback from cannonballs; many are able to nullify boards entirely if you board from too far away, simply by firing cannons.


The only dwarf ship with decent crew, Stormanchor is still a force to be reckoned with. Watch out for Crew Culler cannons and captain’s tricks. They have good hull which may take a couple boards, but if you keep your cooldown low you should be able to quickly circumvent their armor.

Created by Lawless Cajones

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