**Publisher’s Note:** In this series, CasualJake dives into a low-tier or off-meta deck, brings it to an PioneerFNM, and reports on how it did and some of the matchups.
As the Pioneer community is growing and paper events are ramping up, certain cards and archetypes are being more critically refined and explored. This has caused what used to be a budget deck such as Mono Blue Spirits (about $90 when I purchased the cards) to rise to approximately $215 at the time of this article’s publishing. This archetype has seen many iterations and has climbed the tier list from obscurity to prominence in the format over time.
As such, this week’s report will technically feature an on-meta deck, but I still felt it a relevant one as I know there are many people who have had this deck since before its rise. This week, I took Mono-Blue Spirits to my LGS to see if the deck has earned its new price tag.
This deck’s playstyle is highly evocative of the “Mono-Blue Tempo” decks from the early days of Pioneer. Leveraging card advantage by placing Curious Obsession on flying threats to draw into counter magic. The advantage of this deck is that those flying threats are also spirits, and they come with their own creature type synergies and unique effects. Every creature we play has an ability akin to a spell, combining utility with a body. We also play at flash speed most games – as many of our spirits inherently have flash, plus Rattlechains allows us to play all spirits at flash speed. I find that I always have a decision to make when I play this deck, and it rewards people who know when and how to react.
We got spirits, yes we do!
Mausoleum Wanderer is by far one of the most powerful one-drops in the Pioneer format, as not only does it get bigger each time a spirit enters the battlefield, but it in-and-of-itself is a counterspell. Spectral Sailor and Ascendent Spirit round out our heavy one-drop slots with Sailor able to be cast at flash speed and Ascendant leveling up as you pay snow mana into its abilities.
In many builds, the rest of the creatures are two-drops, meaning this deck sits very low-to-the-ground. Rattlechains can be flashed out to give one of our creatures hexproof for the turn, not only growing our board presence but acting as a Dive Down effect as well. Shacklegeist can have two spirits tap to tap down an opponent’s creature, either preventing our opponent from attacking or clearing the way for our own attacks. Lastly, Supreme Phantom is our lord effect that pumps all other spirits by +1/+1, and with a 1/3 power and toughness, this spirit dodges the shock-style removal prevalent in the meta.
As previously mentioned, this deck always has something to do, and utilizing the spirits’ flash speed and counterspells means the deck will always have something to do on the opponent’s turn. Geistlight Snare is a counterspell that costs one less if we control a spirit and one less if we control an enchantment (Curious Obsession or Witness Protection). Seeing as our spirits are one or two mana, we easily have access to this card as a two-mana counterspell as early as turn two.
Lofty Denial is another two-mana counterspell, but becomes more powerful if we control a creature with flying. Both of these spells allow the opponent to pay mana to nullify our counters, but using them early allows us to gain the upperhand and overwhelm our opponent with our spirits before they have access to enough mana to actually pay for them.
Recent iterations, including this deck list, have included Slip Out the Back to protect our spirits and grow them with a +1/+1 counter. Seeing as the deck’s counterspells are more effective when a spirit is on the battlefield, it is worth protecting them to bolster the deck’s counter magic and keep the pressure on the opponent.
This week, I decided to keep the stock sideboard, as I am beginning to see more meta decks at my local events. I’ve seen a Mono-Green Karn and a few Greasefang decks, but overall my local meta is still quite diverse.
Aether Gust is, of course, powerful against any deck running green (including Karn and Lotus decks) but it is always perfect for the Mono-red matchup, which is usually an unfavored match for spirits. Being able to put a stop to a red player’s card advantage spell such as Light Up The Stage and set them back by putting it on the top or bottom of their library is brutal for their gameplan. Disdainful Stroke is also brought in against any deck looking to cast large spells.
Witness Protection turns value creatures such as Thing in the Ice, Ledger Shredder and Elder Gargoroth into grounded 1/1s, nullifying their abilities. Brazen Borrower can bounce nonland permanents to throw off the opponents tempo and Mystical Dispute comes in versus any blue deck. Lastly, Unlicensed Hearse has become the premiere graveyard hate in many decks, as not only does it allow its controller to choose which two cards in graveyards to exile, but it can also be leveraged as a substantial beater as the game progresses.
The FNM Report
Location: The Game Closet, Waco TX
Date: July 8th, 2022
Result: 3rd Place out of 11, 3-1
This was an interesting week, as I played two meta decks and two off-meta decks. I had come prepared to face more green decks, but ended up facing two Mono-Red decks (which is considered a weak matchup for spirits) and two fringe brews. That being said, this gave me the opportunity to practice against one of my weaker matchups as well as experiment with sideboarding against less-established lists.
Round 1 vs. Mono Red
Result: Loss, 0-2
There’s not much to say when it came to game one. I was on the draw and Mono Red simply got under me with a slew of one-drops in Monastery Swiftspear and Soul-Scar Mage. This deck also played a copy of Torbran, Thane of Red Fell, which is gaining popularity again in the “Chonky Mono Red” versions.
In game two, I sided in Aether Gust, Slip out the Back, and Witness Protection to protect my threats while neutralizing theirs. This game was a lot closer, with me being able to Witness Protection their Eidolon of Great Revel to allow me to build my board without taking extra damage. The game ended when I was at three life and my opponent was at two. I had a board of spirits ready to strike but my opponent top-decked a Lightning Strike to put the nail in my coffin.
Round 2 vs. Four-Color Elementals
Result: Win, 2-0
I really enjoyed this round, as I hadn’t seen many Omnath decks that were devoted to elemental tribal synergy. I have seen it in Niv To Light decks, but this list played both the Temur and Four-Color Omnath, as well as a slew of other elementals including Risen Reef, Cloudkin Seer, and Healer of the Glade.
In game one, I had a perfect tempo hand that saw me taking no damage the entire game. I started with a Mausoleum Wanderer turn one, a Supreme Phantom turn two and held up counter magic to counter my opponent’s turn-three Omanath. I dropped another Supreme Phantom and it was off to the races from there.
In game two, I sided in Aether Gust, Witness Protection (just in case they resolved an Omnath), and a Disdainful Stroke (again to deal with Omnath). This game went fairly similarly to the first, but this time, I played Ascendant Spiritturn one and countered their turn three Risen Reef to stop their card advantage. My opponent did resolve Four-Color Omnath and even got to swing in. My opponent made a mistake by attacking with Omnath into my Faceless Haven, which I activated and blocked with. By the end of the game, I had grown the Ascendent Spirit into a 8/8 flier that drew cards when it dealt damage to close out the game.
Round 3 vs. Gruul Ramp
Result: Win, 2-0
While I enjoyed all my matches, this was by far the most entertaining – as my opponent brought a home-brewed deck looking to ramp out a bunch of lands, utilize Aggressive Mining to draw cards and finish the game with Beanstalk Giant or Living Twister.
In game two, I sided in Aether Gust to disrupt their ramp spells as well as Witness Protection to deal with any problematic creatures. In this game, they did resolve a Beanstalk Giant, which I kept in check by tapping it down with Shacklegeist. As in game one, I was able to fly over and continue the pressure each turn while countering ramp spells and even countering Aggressive Mining.
Round 4 vs. Mono-Red
Result: Win, 2-1
In the final round, I met my nemesis again…Mono-Red!
Having played against a similar list in the first round, I mentally prepared for this game and prepared to navigate this tight matchup. In game one, I was on the draw but countered a Light Up the Stage to set my opponent back and prevent them from drawing the fuel to light their fire. I started to build my board and gained card advantage from a Mausoleum Wanderer with Curious Obsession attached to it. Eventually, my opponent was left top-decking but couldn’t seem to finish the job, so I took game one.
In game two, I sided in my Aether Gusts (for real this card is a lifesaver in this meta) and Witness Protection. I ended up making a fatal flaw by deciding to play a Supreme Phantom rather than Witness Protection my opponent’s Runaway Steamkin. This allowed them to untap and cast a barrage of spells thanks to the extra mana created by Steamkin, which ended me as quickly as I realized my mistake.
Keeping the same sideboard (with a more focused mind), I went into game three on the play, which greatly impacted the game. Turn one I started with Mausoleum Wander, protected the Mausoleum Wanderer on turn two with a Rattlechains, protected the Rattlechains with another Rattlechains on turn three, then Aether Gusted a Light Up The Stage the following turn to completely lock my opponent out from pulling ahead. My life total was protected by their attempts to remove my spirits, which ended up giving me enough time to take to the skies for the win.
With my local store championship and a local RCQ on the near horizon, I have been looking for a deck to take and Mono-Blue Spirits might well be it. It attacks a lot of decks in the current meta and can win against its bad matchups with the right sequencing. The deck does feel a little flimsy at times, and when I’m not getting card advantage off Curious Obsession, I find that sometimes the spirits aren’t enough on their own.
Overall it’s a solid deck and one I feel very comfortable piloting. The deck consistently puts up 5-0s in the MTGO leagues and has a presence in the online Challenges. Of course, it is more effective in certain metas than others, so if you do plan to play it at your local FNM make sure to consider your potential matchups and sculpt your sideboard accordingly. As for me, I think my opponents will have to hear the famous phrase “Island, go” for a little while longer.