What’s good, Spirit Squad! Today we’re gonna celebrate the rise of Spirits within the Pioneer metagame, and of course talk some about what that means for pilots.

It’s probably no surprise that I’ve been playing Spirits the entire time Pioneer’s been a format, but the tools we have access to have changed so much that it doesn’t even look like the same deck from the pre-COVID times!

When the format began, Kaldheim hadn’t been printed yet. So there was no such thing as Mono-Blue Spirits. Instead, we had to choose between playing Azorius, an aggro deck that played Lofty Denial as its best option and had terrible mana, or Bant, which hasn’t really changed in all this time but had even worse mana! The Creature shell has always been a good response to what the Pioneer meta has been doing, but both the tools we have today and the meta itself have changed enough to the point where Azorius Spirits is a legitimate Tier-1 option!

Ehhhh, idk about that one Dre.

We previously got to enjoy a spot as a fringe deck that has always had great matchups against the slower decks in the format, and a phenomenal matchup against the Green Devotion decks. This is important because Mono-Green was powerful enough to the point where Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, Oath of Nissa, AND Leyline of Abundance were all banned at one point (Leyline, of course, still is). We also had the countermagic to at least compete against Winota, which was easily the best deck in Pioneer for a long time.

Being a fringe deck meant that pretty much nobody entertained the idea of making a Sideboard plan against Spirits. So we got to tune our deck to the top of the meta, while largely being ignored by it. Those of us who played the deck week in and week out enjoyed this to some extent, but a lot of matchups were an uphill battle because we just weren’t the most powerful thing to be doing.

Fast forward a few years, and we have both a great set of tools that we didn’t have before, and an overall slower metagame that is pretty well-suited to our needs.

We’ve got things like stable mana (I’ve spoken enough on this), good one-mana options for either countering spells like Geistlight Snare or protecting our Creatures like Slip Out the back, and great sideboard options like Portable Hole, Wedding Announcement, and Invasion of Gobakhan, none of which existed in 2020!

OK, fine. The deck is good. So?

Since we’ve never been one of the best decks in Pioneer, we have a bit of a new experience: there’s a target on our foreheads! That’s never happened before, so let’s talk about what that means.

Make no mistake: Pioneer is a format that allows people to fine-tune decks to beat just about anything, even though the available card pool isn’t close to what exists in Modern. Here are the biggest pieces of specific hate we should be on the lookout for:

  • Rending Volley. Spirits and Mono-White Humans are some of the best decks in Pioneer, so there are a lot of Rending Volleys in the format right now. Decks like Rakdos (Sacrifice and Midrange), Gruul Vehicles, Boros Pia, Izzet Creativity, and Izzet Phoenix all play Rending Volley in their sideboard, and all of these are currently relevant decks in the metagame!
  • Skylasher is an option that’s been used by Mono-Green pilots on and off (mostly off), but it’s something I always like to be on the lookout for. The card isn’t good against anyone but Spirits, but Mono-Green is more scared of Spirits than any other deck in Pioneer, so now that we’re a relevant part of the meta these may make a comeback.
  • Mystical Dispute is the last big option against us, since it basically reads as “counter anything in this person’s deck for U”. This is an option we can play for the mirror match, and that’s where you should expect Disputes the most. Decks like either version of Azorius Control and basically any combo deck will have at least 2 Mystical Disputes in their board a good portion of the time, since we’re the deck they hate the most. Izzet decks usually have 1-2 Disputes in their boards as well, but they already play Rending Volley so that’s a whole other talk.

That’s a lot of stuff people bring for us. What do I DO about it?

If you’ve ever had an office job in America, you’ve probably seen a video that describes what to do if you have someone shooting a gun in the workplace. The video gives the viewer three options to take when this happens (for y’all non-Americans, yes… it does happen often enough to the point where a video was necessary): you can run, hide, or fight. There’s even a whole movie with this title!

The same concept applies to approaching your games of Magic, and how one can fine-tune their deck towards what the meta is doing. Or, in this case, what the meta is trying to do to us.

  • Run: sideboarding out the most powerful part of your deck, that your opponent is aiming to disrupt, in favor of a different plan to approach this matchup with. This is the approach I take when sideboarding vs. Rakdos Sacrifice, as they’re great at removing our smaller Creatures from play and making Curious Obsession incredibly hard to “get online”. So I get rid of Curious Obsession and Spectral Sailor altogether, and instead play cards like Wedding Announcement for a more entrenched long game.
  • Hide: your sideboard only has 15 spots, and there are enough decks in Pioneer to negate the idea of being able to prepare for everything. Sometimes you just gotta hope you don’t run into a certain deck, so don’t even bother making a plan for it. Instead, you just make your deck stronger against the other decks. I do this in both the positive and negative direction: against a deck like Abzan Greasefang, the matchup as Spirits is so incredibly good that I don’t even bother making a Sideboard plan against it. But I also don’t have a single card dedicated to the Izzet Phoenix matchup, which is so bad for Spirits that playing cards like Unlicensed Hearse out of the graveyard isn’t even good enough to salvage it. So I don’t bother, and instead hope I just don’t face the matchup in a tournament.
  • Fight: this is where you’d make a dedicated plan against the cards you expect to be coming in against you. A good example of this is the Azorius Control matchup. I expect them to board into additional copies of Supreme Verdict and Mystical Dispute, so I’m a huge fan of Invasion of Gobakhan in that matchup. It’s a White card that can’t be countered by Mystical Dispute unless they pay all 3 mana, its triggered ability removes a Shark Typhoon from the hand and negates the ability to cycle, AND the Lightshield Array makes Supreme Verdict useless.

The “Run, Hide, Fight” approach to tuning your 75 against a format that’s aiming at you isn’t a new concept by any means. As long as there’s a “best deck”, there will always be a group of other decks that are aiming to dislodge it from that top spot. Hopefully today’s read provides some insight on what to do about it, and maybe this helps build better sideboards in the future. Until then, I’ll see y’all on the next one!

About The Author

SpiritSquadMTG, or just Dre, has been playing games at a high level for 25 years, 13 of that within the Magic: the Gathering space. You can find him talking about Magic, especially Spirits, on YouTube or occasionally playing in Upstate New York.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.