Primer: Mono Blue Spirits in Pioneer
How to Build Mono Blue Spirits in Pioneer
Consulting the Spirits of Pioneer
Author: Zen Takahashi
I recently came second at a local Regional Championships Qualifier with Mono Blue Spirits, conceding to a friend in the finals so that he could get the invite (I am already qualified). Leading up to the event, I had played the deck quite a lot on Magic Online to decent success, and I felt good about most of my matchups against the top decks outside Black-Red Midrange and Mono Red Aggro. Most importantly, I really enjoyed playing the deck, and it reminded me a lot of playing Blue-White Delver in Standard back in the day.
In today’s article, I will be going through the archetype in depth. As most Mono Blue Spirts lists look very similar, I won’t give much attention to the decklist, but instead I want to focus on how to make mulligan decisions with this deck and how to sequence out the first few turns, as I think that is much more important with this deck than most others. I’ll then round it off with some important tips and tricks to be aware of, as well as a sideboard guide for the most played decks!
Mono Blue Spirits
Bad Cards, Good Combinations
When I initially picked up the deck, I constantly felt like I was getting unlucky and/or my cards were much weaker than my opponent’s. While the latter was in fact true, the former was mostly because I was keeping bad hands.
Compared to most decks in the format, your cards are weaker than your opponent’s on a one-to-one basis. However, what makes this deck competitive is that certain combinations of your cards work really well together. Spectral Sailor is a bad card in a vacuum, but when combined with Curious Obsession and backed up by Geistlight Snare, it’s just about the most powerful turn-two play in the format. Supreme Phantom isn’t good on its own, but if you have a bunch of one-drop Spirits and a Rattlechains to protect it, it’ll win you the game.
Therefore, you need to keep a hand that can put together some kind of powerful draw on the first few turns of the game.
This would usually involve a combination of Curious Obsession and/or Supreme Phantom, but also a hand with two creatures backed by Rattlechains and counterspells will also be good enough. On the flip side, a hand like double Spectral Sailor, double Shacklegeist and three lands isn’t going to cut it.
Another important factor to note is that I seldom keep hands with four lands in it. This deck cannot afford to flood out – yes, it has some flood insurance in the form of Ascendant Spirit and Faceless Haven, but ultimately your cards are weaker than your opponent’s on average, so you need to draw more non-land spells than your opponents to win.
This deck can operate off two lands, and comfortably with three, and you seldom need more than four lands. Having four lands in your opening hand means hoping not to draw another land for the rest of the game, which is obviously a stretch.
I seldom keep a four-land hand unless it has Curious Obsession or Supreme Phantom in it, or I know the matchup and the hand is well suited for it. For example, I would not keep a hand like Spectral Sailor, Rattlechains, Geistlight Snare and four Snow-Covered Islands.
Finally, you really want to have a one-drop creature on turn-one, especially in pre-board games. The whole deck’s game plan is to commit to the board in the first few turns, then play the flash game. If you don’t commit to the board early, you just fall behind quickly as your cards get outclassed by your opponent’s more expensive cards. I almost never keep a seven-card hand without a one-drop in pre-board games unless I know the matchup and my hand is well-equipped for it.
All of this makes it sound like the deck mulligans a lot, which I believe should be the case.
I lost a lot of games by not being disciplined with how I mulligan, but once I treated the deck more like a combo deck where I wanted to try to sequence a broken combination of cards, I started to win a lot more.
The good news, though, is that this deck mulligans well! You don’t need many lands so you can always just put lands to the bottom, you can often get away with keeping one-land hands on the draw, and Curious Obsession easily recoups the card disadvantage!
With this deck, more important than mulligan decisions, is how you sequence out your turns. When I first picked up the deck, I felt like I kept running into my opponent’s cards, and it felt polar opposite to the experience I had playing against the deck where I’d get blown out by Rattlechains, as instead it felt like I was the one constantly getting exploited. That’s when I realised it was because I wasn’t playing the deck properly.
To figure out how to play the deck, I went back and watched videos of Autumn Burchett playing Mono Blue Tempo in Standard at Mythic Championship Cleveland back in 2019. I remember watching her play the finals against Yoshihiko Ikawa and putting on an absolute masterclass, and though the deck is different, I learned a lot from watching the replays of her matches from that tournament. If you want to learn more about how to play these blue-based tempo decks, I highly recommend watching the finals of the event.
Sequencing Spirits: Turn By Turn
Tips and Tricks
- You can activate Ascendant Spirit’s last ability multiple times, which will give you more +1+1 counters and the draw triggers add-up i.e. if you activate it three times, you’ll have six +1+1 counters and you’ll draw three cards if you hit your opponent with it.
- If your opponent targets Mausoleum Wanderer with the Stomp side of Bonecrusher Giant, always sacrifice it so their spell fizzles and they can’t cast it from Adventure later.
- You can flash in creatures at instant-speed (Spectral Sailor, Rattlechains) to make Mausoleum Wanderer bigger to counter your opponent’s spells.
- Lofty Denial checks based on whether you have a flying creature, so it doesn’t work with a small Ascendant Spirit but it does work with a Brazen Borrower. Geistlight Snare gets discounted with Spirits, so it works with both Ascendant Spirit and Faceless Haven, but not with a Brazen Borrower. Geistlight Snare also gets discounted if you have a Curious Obsession or Witness Protection in play.
- Slip Out the Back can be used on your opponent’s creatures. This can be useful for removing a key blocker, or you can mess up your opponent’s Reflection of Kiki-Jiki by phasing out the creature they target to make a copy of.
- Faceless Haven is a Spirit, so it discounts Geistlight Snare, can be saved by a Rattlechains and becomes bigger with a Supreme Phantom in play. It also has vigilance, so you can activate it to attack or block while still having mana up to cast Rattlechains or Geistlight Snare. A common play I like to make is to activate Faceless Haven and attack, then tap it to grow Ascendant Spirit before damage.
- I try to hold Faceless Haven in hand for as long as possible. The deck just wants blue mana, and sometimes I play Haven early on turn three thinking having two blue mana is enough, but very seldom I’m activating Haven that early yet a few times I’ve been caught out for not having my third blue mana source in play.
- If you cast a Witness Protection on a creature with damage on it, it dies. Be mindful of whether you want your opponent’s creature to die though, as Witness Protection does discount your Geistlight Snares.
- Rattlechains give all your Spirits flash. This is crucial for playing around Thing in the Ice and sweepers like Anger of the Gods and Supreme Verdict.
- Against Heroic decks, you often want to tap down their key creature on their upkeep with Shacklegeist in case they draw God’s Willing.
- You can cast Curious Obsession post-combat. This may seem weird, but it often comes up in spots with Supreme Phantom, where if they had a removal spell they would likely use it in combat, so you can then play Obsession post-combat if they didn’t kill anything or spent their removal spell. The reason to play it second-main instead of wait until your next turn is to be more mana efficient and/or provide a discount for your Geistlight Snare. Just be careful though, as the Obsession will fall off if you hadn’t attacked that turn.
- I always want at least ten one-drop creatures post-board, but ideally I try to keep all twelve. Ascendant Spirit comes out if they have a lot of big ground creatures, while Spectral Sailor is bad against Ledger Shredder decks.
- I never cut Rattlechains, Supreme Phantom or Curious Obsession. These three cards are just too important.
- Shacklegeist is the worst card in the deck and can easily be cut in any matchup unless flyers are the whole game plan and/or the tapping ability is very good in the particular matchup. Mono Green Devotion, Boros Heroic and Abzan Greasefang are the matchups that come to mind.
- If you are bringing in Mystical Disputes, you can often cut some Lofty Denial. While counterspells are great, you don’t want to overload on them too much, as it usually comes at the expense of having more creatures. It’s fine to just swap out Denials for Disputes simply for the latter being the more mana efficient option.
- I often cut two lands in post-board games. Post-board games tend to be more attritional and go on for longer, so it’s less about curving out. I don’t mind stumbling on mana if I have cards like Mystical Dispute in hand. On the flip side, I really don’t want to flood out, and that obviously happens more if the games go for longer.
What to Sideboard Against What Deck
+2 Dive Down
-2 Lofty Denial
+2 Dive Down
-2 Lofty Denial
Mono Green Devotion
+2 Aether Gust
I hope you enjoyed this article, as I covered in depth one of the most popular and enjoyable decks in Pioneer right now – Mono Blue Spirits! Even if you do not plan to play the deck, I hope you could learn a thing or two, as learning how the deck makes decisions and plays out is just as important to know for the player sitting across from the Spirits deck! In my next article, I will be following up on my previous Mono Red Aggro article, which you can find here, by covering in detail the Burn version of the archetype. I can’t wait to talk about one of my new favourite cards – Chandra, Dressed to Kill!
Till next time!
@mtgzen on Twitter
About the Author
Zen Takahashi is a seasoned writer and mainstay on the Three for One Trading writing team. He is an avid Eternal player from Auckland, New Zealand and enjoys competing in local Legacy events and playing Old School over webcam with friends.
Previously, he was a Silver Pro for multiple years and his results included five Grand Prix Top 8s, a 27th place at Pro Tour Amonkhet, three consecutive online Regional PTQ wins, and he co-created the Modern Dredge deck.
Nowadays though, he primarily plays Legacy, his favorite format, but he also branches out into Pioneer and Modern.
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