What’s good, Spirit Squad!

Today we’re here to talk about the new direction that Azorius Spirits in Pioneer (slash Explorer) is taking, and maybe even brag a little on just how this has led us to new success as a whole! First, I suppose we should talk about just why the deck needed to change:

  • Pioneer, as a whole, is extremely hostile to our Flying friends, and playing Curious Obsession only leans into the weaknesses we have as a deck right now, rather than helping to counteract them. Izzet Phoenix and Rakdos Midrange are at the top of the format, and both of these decks play enough removal to make a Curious Obsession line embarrassing.
  • Next, Smuggler’s Copter has been unbanned! This is a pretty big deal, since Spirits is a deck that absolutely benefits from getting to play the Copter, but also a 3/3 Flying blocker that can go into pretty much any Creature-based deck makes Curious Obsession look terrible against matchups it was fantastic in previously.
  • Finally, the format has started to move away from the combo decks that make Curious Obsession + Geistlight Snare a “free win”. Karn, the Great Creator being banned from Pioneer means that Mono-Green Devotion is all but dead (yes, I’ve seen the AspiringSpike deck), and Geological Appraiser got itself banned from the format as well, taking away one of our relatively free wins (even if this is an overall healthy change).

So your deck sucks right now. Why not just play something else?


Fine. So what ended up changing?

I can’t even take credit for this one. This one was all the work of the Spirits Discord as a whole (seriously, it’s an incredible community!), but they reached the same conclusion I did: Curious Obsession isn’t a playable card in Pioneer right now. Instead, we should be playing some of the Sideboard cards that beat the top of the meta in the main deck. So we’re playing cards like Wedding Announcement and Invasion of Gobakhan in the main deck instead of the sideboard! Speaking of fantastic White cards, The Lost Caverns of Ixalan gave us access to Get Lost, one of the best removal spells we’ve seen in a long time. It’s even better than Portable Hole, a card I didn’t shut up about for months.

What I was doing was turning Spirits into a fully-midrange deck with cards like Portable Hole and Brazen Borrower in the main deck, but the Discord group wanted to keep the deck somewhat low to the ground (low-to-the-air?) and keep the Spectral Sailors that I’d cut, hoping to enact a plan more focused on Invasion of Gobakhan and Smuggler’s Copter. I agreed that this was probably a better direction than what I’d come up with, and the playtesting began. Absolutely insane results followed. In 6 Magic: the Gathering Online leagues’ worth of play, the deck boasted an unreal 28-2 record!

With a record like that, you can’t really go against the grain right? So I decided to (mostly) join the aggregate and have been really enjoying this Midrange version of Spirits. But I’m not the only one who brought the deck to the Regional Championship at Atlanta: while we didn’t have any prolific finishes at the main event, there was a $10,000 tournament on the last day and Midrange Spirits took first place!!! Not only that, a second pilot took the deck into the Top 8 of the same tournament, despite Arclight Phoenix and Rakdos Midrange decks being the most popular of the weekend!

OK, it sounds like y’all have cracked the code.

Kind of! Even though I considered the Regional Championship to be a failure, “failure” in this circumstance means a 5-4 record. That’s still positive, and if that’s our idea of a bad day then the good days are going to be unreal.

A lot of that is thanks to the way we’ve managed to change up the matchup spread that we have in Pioneer. In today’s graphics, green means go (a positive matchup), yellow means caution (a matchup that could easily go either way), and red means stop (an unfavored matchup).

This is how we approached the format with the Curious Obsession build:

As we can see here, there are plenty of good matchups in the top 10 decks. Azorius Control, Lotus Field Combo, and 5-Color Fires decks are all great-to-absurd matchups, but the very top of the meta contains decks that we have some very real problems with. Rakdos and Phoenix both have tons of Creature removal in the main deck, and then both decks have the nerve to be able to sideboard into Rending Volley to make our lives even harder. Mono-Red Aggro coming back as a relevant deck in the meta also means bad times for our flying friends, as that’s a very difficult matchup. The worst part about this spread is that Mono-Green Devotion is essentially not a deck anymore (we touched on this) and Abzan Greasefang, another of our very easy matchups, is no longer part of the top of the Pioneer meta.

Since we recognized all of this, we now get to enjoy a very different matchup spread with the 2024 version of Spirits!

As you can see here, the matchup spread for this new Midrange Spirits build is fantastic at attacking what the Pioneer format is currently doing. This is the case for a few reasons:

  • Since we’re not trying to play Curious Obsession, we’re no longer walking into games in which we keep a one-drop and an Obsession, only to get blown out by a Fatal Push or a Bonecrusher Giant’s Stomp.
  • The previous version of Spirits absolutely hates dealing with giant piles of 1-for-1 removal, but even cards like Rending Volley are absolutely embarrassing when paired up against Wedding Announcement and Invasion of Gobakhan.
  • The fact that we’re playing an extra land in the deck means we’re taking mulligans a bit less! Granted, one extra land isn’t exactly gonna bring us to Valhalla or anything, but when you have even 2 extra hands that feel good per tournament, that feels massive.

I convinced. Y’all got a list?

Of course! Here’s the 75 that brought both players success at the $10K in Atlanta, and I expect to see future success after building on it:

Azorius Spirits 2024

by the Spirits Discord

As we can see, this list has a little bit of everything that makes Spirits a nightmare for most of what Pioneer’s doing, and because we’re not trying to play the Curious Obsession + Geistlight Snare package we have a lot of room for customization. Got a lot of Convoke or Mono-Red in your local events? Cool, play some Dennick, Pious Apprentice. Worried about a bunch of control or combo players? Dovin’s Veto is perfect. The sky’s the limit (because it’s a Flying deck).

Throw your tomatoes. I’m not sorry. Hold that until the next one, and I’ll see y’all there!

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