Mono-Blue Spirits Deck Guide
Darthjacen takes a look at Pioneer's premire tempo deck and how it fits into the format as a whole
Tired of losing to Combo decks and big-stuff decks like Mono Green Karn? Well, do I have just the deck for you! Mono-Blue Spirits has long been one of the premier tempo decks in Pioneer. While it does sometimes fly under the radar thanks to its synergy-based ways and underpowered individual cards, skilled pilots will find their way into the top tables with these little blue ghosts.
With a handful of cheap threats backed up by interaction, namely counterspells, you’re able to keep chipping away at opponents until they run out of ways to kill your creatures and they themselves die. There’s lots of room for optimal play and means to pressure your opponent into dead-end play patterns with this deck and it can lead to incredibly one-sided matches. While it can be tricky to fight back from behind, especially against Rakdos Midrange and other Rending Volley decks, if you are on the front foot, few decks close the door as well or as quickly as Mono-Blue Spirits.
So, let’s dive right into Mono-Blue Spirits and see how this version of the little flying ghosts stack up in Pioneer!
Slip Out the Back
For Mono-Blue Spirits to get off the ground, you need a handful of cheap creatures that can apply pressure so your tempo counterspells and interaction can be effective. We start with twelve one-drop creatures, similar in quality to various other Aggro decks like Mono-Red Aggro or Gruul Bushwacker. We start with Mausoleum Wanderer. This 1/1 flier doesn’t look overly threatening, but it grows with each spirit you play, though only temporarily, and can counter an instant or sorcery unless that spell’s controller pays mana equal to its power. Sometimes a Mana Tithe is enough to disrupt an opponent, but as you play more creatures, especially lords, sometimes this can become a constantly threatening Mana Leak. In most matchups, leading with Mausoleum Wanderer not only protects your follow up threats, but can lead to the fastest clock early.
Next up, we have Spectral Sailor. This little ghost is arguably the least threatening one-drop in the deck, but it still pulls enough weight to merit three to four copies depending on the specific decklist. A flash flying 1/1 for one-mana isn’t overly impressive, but it can serve as a combat trick with Wanderer, gets the buff from Supreme Phantom, and wears a Curious Obsession well without exposing your more important individual threats. In the mid to late game against control or midrange, this is often the least threatening individual card, but thanks to its ability to draw extra cards, it demands an answer, or it will help you push through interaction easily.
Finally, we have Ascendant Spirit This is one of the main reasons that you run a snow-covered mana base so you can leverage the power of this Figure of Destiny style spirit. Each level up creates plenty of pressure and often you will save this spirit until later in the game when you can play it and immediately level it up once or twice, forcing an immediate response out of your opponent. If you can get this spirit to its last level, it also gets a free Curious Obsession effect, helping you ensure you don’t run out of gas. Unlike other actual level up cards, you can also level up the Spirit at instant speed, allowing you to get mid-combat blowouts or just pressure opponent’s mana at inconvenient times. Overall, Ascendant Spirittakes the most work, but it’s also one of the most threatening creatures in the deck, especially when left unanswered.
Moving onto the two-mana creatures, we have creatures that work alongside the one-drops to help continue the pressure or help ensure that opponents can’t stop you with a single threat or removal spell. Starting off with Rattlechains, we have a 2/1 flash flier that gives a target spirit hexproof. The play patten with this card is to hold onto it until your opponent tries to kill one of your other spirits and then nullify that spell. This enables you to play out other threats and leave a Rattlechains in reserve to mitigate an opponent’s must-resolve kill spell. There are few things as foreboding than knowing an opponent has Rattlechains and you have one kill spell.
In addition to protecting your other threats, Rattlechains also enables you to cast other spirits as if they had flash. This is especially effective with Supreme Phantom and Ascendant Spiritso you can surprise opponents in combat or at end-step and increase your threat exponentially right before untapping with more protection available. While not the most impressive threat on its own, Rattlechains is a major part of why the synergies of this deck stand up to the power level of the format.
Next up we have Supreme Phantom, which serves as the two-mana spirit lord of this deck, giving all your other spirits +1/+1. While it doesn’t have much to do in this deck other than buff your other threats, it does a great job of slowing down potential aggressive starts out of other decks as a natural 1/3 flier. Often, red decks will have trouble attacking through this spirit, especially if you have any interaction to prevent burn spells from finishing off Phantom after blocking.
Finally, we have Shacklegeist. This spirit is one of the pieces of this deck that can most steal games, especially against decks that want to put up one large blocker to shut down your offense or has one big creature to threaten your life total. Being able to control the board with two spirits by tapping down an opposing creature is a huge advantage and often helps keep Mono Green from ever stabilizing behind an early Cavalier of Thorns. While not the most impressive card on its own, once you pair it up with your earlier threats, you can easily win the tempo fight with any opposing deck. Shacklegeist is one of the most subtly powerful cards in this deck and easily helps you fight through choked board states to find wins.
Have you ever heard that adding in one Brazen Borrower just fixes all your bad matchups? Well, sometimes that meme makes its way into Pioneer. This powerful three-drop isn’t going to fix any of your major issues but having access to Petty Theft can help save you in cases where you might otherwise lose to a single card like Parhelion II. It’s a great flash threat and adventure cards are great additions to any decks that can afford to play them.
The spells in this deck are all tempo plays that help you fight through potential removal or stop your opponent from resolving key kill spells or threats. We start with Fading Hope and Slip Out the Back, which both can save your creatures or potentially get rid of a blocker for a single turn. While Slip is the better tool to use on your own creatures, having your protection spell bounce your own creatures and always scry since you only play small creatures means that having a split with Fading Hope gives you options and this deck loves giving you optionality.
Next up we have Curious Obsession, and this is a long-time staple in these style of tempo Aggro decks. This enchantment buffs the creature it is on and allows you to draw a card each time it deals combat damage to a player. There are few cards as scary in Mono Blue Spirits than a Curious Obsession on turn two buffing up your one-drop and threatening to make your Geistlight Snare cost one-mana.
Geistlight Snare is your main deck counterspell and it often costs one-mana in this deck. While it will start at three mana and cost one less if you have a spirit and one further less if you have an enchantment, often you can afford for this to be two-mana Mana Leak. For those that have played with or against Delver decks in Standard past, you know how hard it is to beat a low to the ground Aggro tempo deck that can deploy threats and then sit back with Mana Leak and other interaction ready to go. Game one, there’s little as disheartening as seeing one-drop into Curious Obsession and knowing your opponent likely has one-mana Mana Leak ready to end the game when you try to interact.
A creature land so powerful it was banned in Standard. Much like Mutavault before it, creature lands that work within a specific creature-type are special since they can get the added benefits of these synergy decks. A 4/3 vigilant land is already powerful, but when it gets +1/+1 or can attack and then tap down a blocker with Shacklegeist before blocks, you see firsthand how powerful of a threat Haven is in this deck.
Faceless Haven does require that you play all Snow-Covered lands in your deck to ensure you can always activate your creature land, but that’s a small price to pay as there aren’t many ways to punish that in Pioneer right now.
We play 19 Snow-Covered Islands specifically to help Faceless Haven and Ascendant Spiritfit into this deck. While Reidane, God of the Worthy does exist and can be punishing, this is still the best mana base configuration for the deck.
The deck also doesn’t run any Otawara, Soaring City either – though it could support the extra spell land, to ensure there is never a time where you can’t support Faceless Haven or Ascendant Spiritregardless of what lands you draw.
|+1 Shore Up||-1 Shacklegeist|
Matchup Feel: Unfavorable
Matchup Approach: Imagine a matchup where your opponent has four Fatal Push, up to four Rending Volley, several pieces of additional removal, and can also put down a reasonably aggressive clock that isn’t overly high cost to deploy. That’s Rakdos. You are going to have tons of pressure put on your creatures and you’ll constantly be trying to dance around their removal with your Rattlechains and interactive spells.
Overall, the play patterns of this matchup are like that of Arclight Phoenix which is another difficult matchup. If your opponent can answer your threats at a mana advantage – IE you pay two mana for a threat and they kill it for one mana, you are going to struggle in that matchup. This is a major part of Mono-Blue Spirit’s decent in the past few months as Rakdos became the most popular deck in Pioneer, so too did a matchup you’d rather dodge if you can help it as Mono Blue Spirits.
|+1 Shore Up||-4 Geistlight Snare|
|+1 Witness Protection|
|+2 Aether Gust|
Matchup Feel: Close, but favorable
Matchup Approach: You are in a race from the word go, but they have access to protection spells, Reckless Rage, and their creatures get way bigger than yours almost instantly. It is very difficult for you to win this matchup game one, unless they have a slow hand, or you find a Shacklegeist and can protect it. Shacklegeist , Fading Hope, and Slip Out the Back do a great job of buying time for you to try and race Heroic, but it is especially tough when they find their God’s Willing effects to survive your interaction.
If you are on the play and can find a Shacklegeist, this matchup becomes much more manageable, but once you must start putting multiple conditions onto a matchup, that says enough about who is favored in the average game. This is much more winnable than say Rakdos, but only when they find their Prowess creatures instead of their Heroic creatures, as those will kill you incredibly quickly and often through interaction.
|+1 Shore Up||-4 Shacklegeist|
|+2 Disdainful Stroke||-2 Fading Hope|
|+4 Mystical Dispute||-1 Curious Obsession|
Matchup Feel: Favorable
Matchup Approach: In this matchup, you want to get out one to two creatures and then protect them as best you can. Ensure that you have a flash threat or two for after a wrath and try to keep interaction up on key turns of the game. You’re heavily favored in this matchup if you can get any level of early presence onto the board and then start countering their key spells or removal. This is a matchup where Rattlechains can really help since it blanks a removal spell and allows you to play your threats at instant speed.
Supreme Verdict is a real concern as you can’t counter it, but otherwise, most of their important spells are easy to interact with. If you can apply pressure without fully over-extending into supreme verdict, it can allow your Faceless Havens to take over and finish the game, even post wrath. Also, some lists are now playing 5 mana lifelink fliers like Baneslayer Angel Do not let these resolve since you don’t have Shacklegeist to get them out of the way easily.
|+3 Unlicensed Hearse||Geistlight Snare|
|+1 Shore Up|
Matchup Feel: Close, but slightly unfavorable
Matchup Approach: This is a matchup where you need to find your graveyard hate to be able to ensure you don’t get beaten by a quick combo hand backed up by discard. Given that they will board up to eight discard spells post board, it can be tough to land your Hearse or protect it from Tear Asunder. The big advantage that you have here is that they can’t block your threats and that you have cards like Fading Hope, Slip Out the Back, and Shacklegeistthat can all stop their Parhelion II gameplay easily.
The biggest issue you’ll run into is not finding one of these cards in your opening hand or having it stripped with a discard spell. When that happens, you are somewhat at the mercy of your opponent and as an Aggro tempo deck, that’s never what you want. Overall, the matchup can be tough, but it’s easily to play out from the Greasefang side as they only need one turn where you don’t have interaction to lock up the air and stop your ability to attack through.
|+1 Shore Up||-4 Shacklegeist|
|+1 Witness Protection||-4 Curious Obsession|
|+2 Cerulean Drake||-3 Ascendant Spirit|
|+4 Mystical Dispute|
|+3 Unlicensed Hearse|
Matchup Feel: Unfavorable
Matchup Approach: This matchup is really tough. Mono Blue doesn’t have removal, so Ledger Shredder can really destroy your ability to attack along with the glut of red removal Arclight plays. You need to find a balance between dealing with their threats, countering their card advantage spells, and not losing your board to removal. It is a very difficult tightrope to walk, especially if they board in extra removal spells in Rending Volley.
Overall, this is one of the main reasons that Mono-Blue Spirits tends to struggle overall in Pioneer, if Arclight Phoenixis a top deck – which it is right now, that’s a real concern for spirit’s ability to survive at the top tables. If you happen to avoid Arclight Phoenixthough, there are plenty of strong matchups for you to find in Pioneer right now.
|+1 Shore Up||-1 Brazen Borrower|
|+2 Cerulean Drake||-4 Spectral Sailor|
|+2 Aether Gust|
Matchup Feel: Unfavorable
Matchup Approach: This matchup is tricky for a similar reason as Arclight Phoenixin that they have a glut of cheap red removal that can trade up in mana efficiency against your threats. While this is a better matchup that Phoenix thanks to the lack of Ledger Shredder and card advantage engines, they can still easily amass plenty of threats alongside shooting down your various spirits.
Luckily, Mono-Red isn’t seeing a ton of play right now and the various Gruul decks are still tough matchups, but you can generally do a little better into Gruul Vehicles than into Atarka Red or Mono-Red, as they are lower to the ground. If you can assemble and protect a lord or two though, you can steal this matchup, since they can’t block any of your threats.
|+2 Aether Gust||-1 Brazen Borrower|
|+2 Disdainful Stroke||-4 Spectral Sailor|
|+4 Mystical Dispute||-3 Slip Out the Back|
Matchup Feel: Favorable
Matchup Approach: This matchup is one of the main reasons to play Spirits in Pioneer. You can get under Mono-Green effortlessly and you can keep their key spells from resolving. The rise of Mono-Blue Spirits in Pioneer went hand in hand with Mono-Green Karn picking up more spots in the metagame since you can afford to let most things resolve and counter their key combo pieces or ways to catch up. Shacklegeist also pulls double-duty here by tapping down Cavalier of Thornes or early elves that stop them from accelerating.
It may seem odd to board in even Mystical Dispute, but the only way for you to lose this matchup is to have a slow start and to not find any counter magic. If you find any reasonable set of threats and counterspells, you are heavily favored to win this matchup. In RCQ style events where you might expect plenty of Mono-Green Karn, Spirits is a great option to beat up the metagame.
Mono White Humans
|+1 Shore Up||-2 Geistlight Snare|
|+1 Witness Protection|
Matchup Feel: Unfavorable
Matchup Approach: Mono-White Humans gets to operate like the other Aggro decks that can be tough matchups. The cheap removal of Portable Hole paired with cheap efficient threats that can easily overwhelm the board makes it very tough to ever jostle an advantage from them. If you fall behind, the game will quickly slip out of control and there aren’t a lot of tools to help.
Cards like Adeline, Resplendent Cathar are tough, but easier to answer on curve than something like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or Luminarch Aspirant that immediately put you on the back foot and get under our theoretical counterspells. In this matchup, you will need to play to the board as fast as possible, mitigate their removal, and fly over them before they assemble a much tougher to answer army. Overall, this reminds me of old Humans versus Spirits in Modern where the flying was Spirits out, but Humans could produce so much power so quickly that you were always likely a turn or two behind lethal, especially on the draw.
|+4 Mystical Dispute||-3 Slip Out the Back|
|-1 Brazen Borrower|
Matchup Approach: Cards that scale into the mid to late game or abilities are problems. They allow you to never cast spells into potential interaction and can win the game by themselves. Shacklegeist, Ascendant Spirit and Spectral Sailor are all massive threats in this matchup alongside Supreme Phantom allowing you to win equal combats. There isn’t too much to this mirror that you can control for, so you need to maximize your mana and tempo and try to ensure your opponent is always answering your threats and never that you are the one playing reactively.
Tips and Tricks
- You can attack with Faceless Haven and then pair it with another spirit to tap down an opposing creature before blocks with Shacklegeist’s ability.
- If you want to tap down a mana producing creature with Shacklegeist, such as against Mono Green Karn, do it in the Upkeep or Draw Step, so that they cannot float the mana and use it. This is especially important going into turn two where stopping Llanowar Elf decks from playing ahead of curve means they often don’t have any strong backup plays.
- Shacklegeist can stop Greasefang from getting to attack with Parhelion II.
- Rattlechains does more than just give a creature hexproof, it allows you to play Spirits as though they had flash. This can be especially powerful if you can surprise opponents with a mid-combat Supreme Phantom or an end-step Ascendant Spirityou can then level up.
- One of your strongest starts with this deck is one-drop creature into turn two Curious Obsession with Geistlight Snare or Slip Out the Back as a defensive tool. Getting one or two cards off Curious Obsession can make most matchups feel hopeless for the opponent.
- Curious Obsessions requires you to attack with a creature, not the creature that you have enchanted. This can be important if you run into other decks with fliers where you may want to hold off on sending in with your enchanted creature for a turn.
- Your main gameplan with this deck is to play as a tempo deck game one and a full-on Aggro control deck post board. You will often play one to two threats and then counter every spell that interacts or plays to the board after that. If you have the choice between deploying a threat or protecting a threat, often you’ll want to play defensively if you have one to two threats already in play clocking your opponent.
- You are still an Aggro deck though. You do need a clock or your otherwise devastating counterspells will slowly become ineffective as your opponent develops more mana and resources to fight through your spells.
- Try to line up your interaction so that spells that otherwise might lose potency are spent first. Conditional counterspells are best early and spells like Slip Out the Back and Shore Up never lose value in the later parts of the game, so save those for the final nail in the proverbial coffin.
That’s it for Mono-Blue Spirits. This deck has been a staple of Pioneer for ages now and once we saw the rise of Mono-Green Karn and other decks that want to play four and five mana cards, it was inevitable that a deck would look to punish that, and Spirits was the deck to do just that. While we have seen Bant Spirits start to show up more frequently in the metagame, there’s always room for Mono-Blue Spirits as the more aggressive tempo deck that truly punishes non-red or black based removal decks.
My general saying with this deck is that you are favored against decks that play more four drops than they do one-mana removal spells. Decks like Lotus Field, Enigmatic Incarnation, Mono-Green Karn, Control Decks, and more all suffer at the hands of Mono-Blue Spirits and it’s no wonder why this deck has survived through so many metagame shifts.
It does take some time to get used to as the cards are underpowered individually, but like most synergy-based decks, players who master the lines and play patterns often put-up exceptional results even in larger scale events.
Thanks for reading and be sure to stay safe out there!