It's been a long time.
Spirits are the first creature type to make the cut as my favorite tribe. Know what? That is a perch that they have never list!
Let's talk about where my adoration for Spirits came from, and then at the end, I'd love for you to let me know what your favorites are!
Chapter 1: The Great Creature Type War
A long time ago, there were a number of publications for Magic and similar games, such as Scrye, Inquest, and The Duelist. Each of these magazines had different takes on games, strategy, and more. That was the first place people went for learning about decks, strategy, and more. I didn't learn about the new Sligh build and deep mana curve dives until I read about it in a magazine.
One of these magazines was Inquest. For most of my history reading the big three, I considered it to be the weakest of the three, as its content wasn't something I typically gravitated toward. There were some errors in it grammatically and such, but there were a number of things it did very well. By the by, Scrye was my favorite, and that's why I reached out to them and began writing MTG and HeroClix context for them. That's also why I followed the editor (Jason Winter) when he moved to other projects. My impressions of him as the a very professional editor as a reader were confirmed from behind the scenes as a writer
Anyway, in the meantime, Inquest would often do some fun projects that they would then discuss, some of which were really crazy, outside the box. Now, to be fair, I cannot remember the name of the project that they took on. Thus, I am calling it the Great Creature Type War. What they did was this:
- They took a bunch of creature types, and using the typical rules, created 60 card decks.
- Each deck must only include the creature type in question, as well as support cards that fit that card's theme or flavor.
- Each deck was pitted against others in a giant, single elimination contest, where the best Tribe was appointed after winning it all.
This was early in the history of the game, and many creature types were not good enough to take to the edge. However, those tribes you expected to do well, did do well. I think Shapeshifters went deep and may have won it all, although my memory on that is not strong.
My playgroup loved this idea. We embraced it, and did the exact same thing. Each of us did a few decks, and of the ones I built, my favorite going in was the Spirit deck. All of these cards were in the late Urza's Destiny andMercadian Masques era. Thus, they did not have these strong, deep options for the decks.
My first round matchup for the War was Elves. Those were a powerful contender for best deck. They had Gaea's Cradle, Priest of Titania, powerful Elf enablers, and spells like Elvish Fury. The buyback of Elvish Fury twinned with Cradles was strong. I won 2-0 and it was never even close. Pretty soon, my Spirit build took home the crown, and I won with my deck!
Want to see it? Sure thing, here it is!
We've Got Spirit | Casual | Abe Sargent
- Creatures (28)
- 2 Blinking Spirit
- 2 Cloud Spirit
- 2 Guiding Spirit
- 2 Karmic Guide
- 2 Melesse Spirit
- 2 Sibilant Spirit
- 4 Angelic Page
- 4 Sky Spirit
- 4 Spirit en-Kor
- 4 Tradewind Rider
- Artifacts (2)
- 2 Spirit Shield
Do you see it?
What made this deck work? This deck beat many synergetic decks....how?
Tradewind Rider was an amazing Spirit. It was so powerful in this era that it inspired multiple nasty builds in Standard, such as Tradewind Armageddon and TradeAwake combining this with Awakening. I loved Riders, and played in Standard (I preferred the 'geddon version). This deck wants to pop out the Rider. For example, you can drop 2nd turn Angelic Page into 3rd turn Sky Spirit or Cloud Spirit, and then into a 4th Rider, and then tap and bounce the next turn. Because the bouncing takes no mana to do, you can still cast and play stuff while they cannot.
Also, note that my Spirits will almost exclusively fly. Thus, my entire team can typically fly over others. I can challenge aerial threats like Vampires, Angels, Dragons and Drakes.
My deck also had a perfect set of support. Both Afterlife and Remove Soul feel in the Spirit flavor. The Afterlife is solid creature removal of any type. Other than the Elemental deck, the Dragon, and a few other burn-related creature types, most creatures didn't have access to pure removal, as there was nothing in flavor printed at that time. However...me? I had it! I also had a counter for all of the many dorks getting played. Remove Soul is one of the best counters in this format, and I had it. Now these were the only ones I could run. Cards like Counterspell, Disenchant, Terror, Humble, or Swords to Plowshares aren't really very Spirit-ish. But these were, and they were enough to give my deck some consistency. I could bounce things I couldn't answer.
Here's how my deck tended to play out.
When I played against another flying deck, I wasn't at a disadvantage. I could block and swing on an equal level. My deck was faster than the traditional flying foes. I went up against the similarly aerial Dragons, and I was dropping dorks earlier than Shivan Dragon, Volcanic Dragon, or cheaper bodies like Dragon Whelp or Dragon Engine could come on-line. By the time they were there, I had two or three cheaper or mid-range bodies, and then I could start the bouncing or swing around the defenders. The Spirit en-Kor was amazing here, as I easily had enough defense among my compatriots to spread out the damage, and they were always one of my Spirit Shield taps when needed. My Rider could come online before Dragons got started, and I swept them too. Meanwhile, I could fly over their threats, like Elves or Goblins, and if I could Remove Soul, Afterlife, or bounce key tribal dorks, then my Sky Spirits or Melesse Spirits could win flying over their Goblins of the Flarg or Goblin Hero. Thus my build was flexible and capable of out-controlling the aggro decks and out-aggroing the control decks as needed. You might use modern nomenclature and call it Mid-Range Tradewind Spirit. But it won hard. I only dropped games to being mana screwed twice and flooded once. I didn't need tribal synergy to do that.
Because of that, Spirits became my go-to favorite tribe. When in doubt, Spirit it Up!
But then everything changed.
Champions of Kamagawa was released...
Chapter 2: The Arrival of the Kami
After I won the giant Tribal Challenge with my Spirit deck, I kept my deck together. (I thought I had taken it apart, but I found it about two years ago, so I know the full decklist now, rather than a loose approximation). I wanted to keep it as a trophy of my victory. Over the years, Spirits were only released intermittently, just as they were before. We had a few creatures, such as Eternal Dragon or Windborn Muse, both of which were strong additions to the Azorius Spirit Canon.
The initial block the Modern era certainly didn't have any more Spirits hitting the streets either. An artifact block on Mirrodin was the wrong place for Spirits of any kind. However, the first next set changed Spirits forever.
Enter Champions of Kamigawa, and the rest of the Kamigawa Block.
I don't really know why the block has as little love as it does. The first set was awesome, and the middle by-the-numbers of but good, and the third was a weak exit point. But the set was strong, and the first set was amazing in draft - triple Champions of Kamigawa draft was incredibly strong. It's was a good time to be a Spirit Fan.
I immediately set out to build a kitchen table Spirit Deck in the at-the-time popular Five Color format, clocking in at 250 cards, and 20 cards of each color. The Spirits added in this one set were incredible!
You had the iconic Dragon Spirit cycle in here that had strong game.
You also had the Iname twins who gave you strong and powerful in-set synergies.
You also had utility options out there for throwing at people's stuff or their face, such as Kami of Ancient Law.
You had cast triggers that would give you some strong options when you merely cast a Spirit (or arcane spell).
And then finally you had soulshift triggers for when your dorks died, and they could Raise Dead one with a casting cost one fewer than their own. The combination of this massive synergies led me to adore the Kamigawa take on Spirits, especially since I really liked the Arcane love that they had as well. You could sacrifice stuff like Hama Kami and then recur it with soulshift and sacrifice again, while recurring arcane spells like Kodama's Reach or Rend Flesh to your hand.
I loved this stuff, and I embraced it. Then we got two more sets of these cards, and cards like Long-Forgotten Gohei became must-finds for me very quickly. This was awesome!
We had some strong dorks printed for your builds as well, like Kira, Great Glass-Spinner, protector of your things. Arashi, the Sky Asunder would devastate many board positions by taking out dopey flyers. And they weren't all:
It was a high-water mark for Spirits everywhere!
Chapter 3: The Modern Spirit
In the very next block, we had our first visit to Ravnica. As a part of this, we ran into the Orzhov Guild, where they were ruled by Spirits. As a fan thereof, this seemed like a wise path to me! Thus, the Orzhov Guild featured some Spirits here and there as a part of this design, including more Spirit Tokens!
But then something sad happened. Spirits moved to the back row. They went from feature to faded. Again, only the occasional Spirit here and there was printed that warranted consideration. We had Sovereigns of Lost Alara, or Simian Spirit Guide meeting Scorched Rusalka and Midnight Banshee.
That was fine!
Then, we finally found another plane where, like Ravnica and Kamigawa, Spirits mattered
The original Innistrad set saw a few horror-based tropes arrive to kitchen tables and local gaming stores everywhere. This was a mostly tribal set that leaned hard intro horror tribes- Werewolves, Zombies, Vampires, as well as the Humans who fight against them.
One of the Human's allies in their fight are Spirits (the others are the Angels), and you'll see folks like Dearly Departed or Geist-Honored Monk that show them helping out the still-living. Much like my build from before, we also have Spirits in Blue and White, with many a Spirit in the colors ready to be drafted as well as Spirit token making dorks in White.
Well, that's been it. The only other times we've had Spirits in any number in sets since then, is when we've gone back to Innistrad or Ravnica.
The 2nd return to Innistrad had a strong Spirit theme, whereas the others may have had a larger number of spirits, but with a weaker mechanical connection.
The afterlife concept of making Spirit tokens from Orzhov still evokes the Orzhov led by Obzedat, Ghost Council.
However, did you notice Core Set 2019? Nope? You may not have. It wasn't in any of the ten archetypes. When you draft a set, there is an uncommon at each color combination that is trying to show to you what you should be drafting in that color. It's a draft archetype signal. Satyr Enchanter tells you to look out for enchantments. Regal Bloodlord shouts that you want to run effects that gain you some life. There are no obvious draft paths. But there are Spirit-Matters cards they snuck into the set:
Both have strong pro-Spirit feels. The first cannot be blocked save by Spirits and can give that ability to others. The other is a typical Lord, save that it costs two mana instead of three. Spirits for the win!
You can still see my love of Spirits everywhere. I've written a Top Ten Article on them!
Spirits are fun! They have had strong flavor in many planes, and have been key parts of some of the most beloved sets and planes of all time (Ravnica and Innistrad). However, I think their Kamigawa appearances are the best, as that is where their theme and concept is very different than your typical tribal lords and themes.
And that's why Spirits are still my favorite tribe of all time! What's yours; and more importantly, why? I'd love to talk with you about it! Thanks for reading!