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Advanced Jumpstart: Innistrad's Spirits

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If there's one thing that I tend to find scary, it's ghosts. Now, I'm not here to say they're real or anything, I'm just freaked out by the concept of them. Something about them just pokes at a tender point in my heart and chills me to the bone. The thrill and intrigue from this fear made me deeply interested in ghosts and ghost stories when I was a kid. I would watch documentaries about reported ghost sightings on late night TV and read books about ghoulish folktales. It's hard to forget them, especially when they get coupled with the deeply disturbing art of Stephen Gammell in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

This curiosity lingered with me as an adult. With my affinity for horror growing as I got older, these tales of the supernatural began to show up much more often in film and video games. Movies like The Ring and The Grudge were some of the first to highlight the genre to me, but I eventually watched other terrifying films like Poltergeist and The Conjuring as well. And then games allowed me to experience this in other nightmarish ways through the likes of Silent Hill and Fatal Frame.

Regardless of the medium, it took me to places mentally that frightened me to my core. The terrifying thought of your mortality and the idea of lingering on afterwards in an eternal limbo was true horror. Or else, perhaps the possibility of stumbling on a ghost bringing with it a profound curse that would terrorize you until the end of your days. With things like zombies, werewolves, and vampires, it's still scary but there's something more physical and tangible than with ghosts. They're more of a concept, and an idea, that can tear you apart within the mind alone.

And that brings me to what I want to discuss today: another bit of Advanced Jumpstart talking about the spirits of Innistrad. These ghouls are all of the aforementioned concepts wrapped into one tribe. Some just exist, some are benign, some protective, while others haunt and curse the living. This gives spirits a far more interesting play pattern than the other tribes, and I look forward to discussing what it is they bring to the table when it comes to Jumpstart.

Let's dive in with the original Innistrad block!


Original Innistrad block is a lot closer to how the other tribes of the plane tend to play: very buff-centric with little strategy. Lots of aggression with the occasional spell thrown in the mix to round it out a little. We see some glimpses of the tapping down element that would eventually become a staple of Innistrad spirits, but it was never a major thing here. Spirits actually did a lot with tokens in this block. The combination of Lingering Souls, Midnight Haunting, Doomed Traveler, and Intangible Virtue was a truly dominating force in both the block's Limited format and in Block Constructed - to the point there were bannings in the latter!

Lingering Souls
Dungeon Geists
Geist of Saint Traft

Here we see fewer of these kinds of cards (Lingering Souls' flashback working still thanks to Shimmering Grotto) and more of the buff-granting cards instead. This includes cards such as Favorable Winds, Drogskol Captain, and Battleground Geist to make sure the spirits can punch through for tons of damage. Dungeon Geists, Niblis of the Urn, and the less tribal-oriented Tamiyo, the Moon Sage all keep opposing creatures tapped and Silent Departure gets them off the board. This allows you to get your powerhouse creatures like Geist of Saint Traft and Mindshrieker through for massive damage.

At the end of the day, though, the original Innistrad block is just a lot of playing creatures and turning them sideways. I feel Shadows block has far more to offer, so let's move on and talk about that now:


This is the kind of list I really love. There's a lot more going on with this pack than you'd find in the first Innistrad sets, and boy does it show. It's a lot like how werewolves improved from the first block to the second, gaining more abilities and more things to do along the way. I think with spirits, however, they managed to take things a little bit further.

There's a ton of synergy between many of the spirits in this block - so much so that they've often become powerful Constructed strategies in their own right. Many of these spirits formed the basis of the Blue-White Flash deck in the Standard they were legal in. Eventually, they would serve as the basis for the Azorius and Bant Spirits lists that often appear in both Modern and Pioneer. If you've played against any of those lists, you know cards like Selfless Spirit, Rattlechains, Nebelgast Herald, and Spell Queller all too well.

Rattlechains
Nebelgast Herald
Spell Queller

While these and others in the pack only show up as one-ofs due to the nature of Jumpstart, they still pack an absolute wallop all the same. Each has a powerfully potent ability that can cleanly shut down what your opponent tries to do each turn. You can even get plenty of extra mileage out of them when you pair them with cards like Spectral Shepherd and Eerie Interlude to repeatedly use their abilities. In the case of Spell Queller, you can even stack the triggers in such a way that you get rid of a spell for good.

You also have the likes of Topplegeist, Sleep Paralysis, and the mighty finisher Niblis of Frost to keep your opponent's creatures tapped down more often than not. There's even lots of spells to help fuel Delirium on Topplegeist. If the spells and creatures don't do it, Warped Landscape and Vessel of Ephemera really help to turn it on a bit, all while getting you some sweet effects in the process. Lastly is the Bygone Bishop - a well-rounded creature that generates you tons of card advantage simply for casting your creatures.

If that pack seemed great, though, wait until we get into the most recent sets! Let's have a look at the pack:


Now here's where it gets really good. Midnight Hunt and Crimson Vow really feel like true extensions of what the spirit tribe has been doing on Innistrad since the beginning. The tribal buff strategies are certainly here a solid amount, as are the tapping or tap-like effects, but the cards go even further as well. I'm talking about the disturb mechanic.

Mischievous Catgeist // Catlike Curiosity
Dorothea, Vengeful Victim // Dorothea's Retribution

This mechanic is flashback but for creatures, and it gives so much more versatility and dynamic to what your cards are able to do. They mostly start out as spirits, but if they die, then you can simply reuse them as enchantments. The beauty of this is how well it works with the context of Jumpstart. Tribal strategies can often only go so far, which is in part why the first couple tribes I covered felt like great ideas in principle but ended up kind of boring on paper. You end up having to play more generic creatures and effects to play it safe with whatever your other pack might be.

With the front of many of these creatures, you get an excellent creature for a good rate. There's nothing that stands out as particularly bad here, as each is quite fine on their own. When they go to the graveyard, though, they can - with the exception of Dennick here - come back as power-ups for any of your creatures. They don't just have to be on spirits either! That means they provide a mighty one-two punch in a single card - and many cards in this pack do this exact thing!

Fading Hope
Spectral Adversary
Patrician Geist

There were many cards that similarly could've been in here that I opted not to, but with so many great effects, there's just tons of ways you could build this to your own liking. I rounded out the excellent disturb cards with some individually powerful spirits like Fleeting Spirit, Spectral Adversary, and Dreamshackle Geist. There's also Patrician Geist - a lord who also makes it easier to cast your disturb cards. Finally, a couple instants in Fading Hope and Geistlight Snare to help your plan succeed. You don't need much more with the myriad of creature effects and disturb back-sides at play here, after all!

Now, let's go ahead and mix all the sets together into a single pack:


With this last one, I wanted to do what I normally do for the "all sets" pack: boil it down to its most efficient and distilled form. As it happens, though, spirits offer a ton more than most of these other tribal archetypes have thus far, and that gives them a lot more flexibility. While I brought this down to the simplest version - efficient tribal creatures that synergize well to beat your opponents' faces - there's a lot more you could do here. You could focus on the tempo elements of tapping down opponents' creatures, lean into the tokens side of things, or more heavily utilize the disturb mechanic.

I went for the simple approach, but there's just a ton of different ways that you can approach it yourself. That's why I love messing with custom Jumpstart packs. They're like cubes: even when they all have similarities, they also have their own unique flair and twist that makes them their own. Innistrad spirits embody the best of this idea, because there's so much going on that you can do it however you want. There's no wrong way to do it, so have fun and smash some packs together with your friends when you can do so safely! Just don't let these ghoulish spirits haunt you afterwards.

Paige Smith

Twitter: @TheMaverickGal

Twitch: twitch.tv/themaverickgirl

YouTube: TheMaverickGal

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