Occasionally I’ll get obsessed about a certain topic. When that happens, I’ll read about it on every website I can find until I run out…. And this week, I’ve been experiencing one of my obsessions.
I always knew a little about Zheng He, a Chinese admiral who led the largest pre-20th century fleet in history back in the early 1400s. However, when I read an article about him in this month’s National Geographic, I became entranced. A few websites later, and I was still quite interested, so I ordered a book about him.
He really is an interesting character Â— and if you have the spare time, you should look him up. In case you care, here is the Wikipedia entry for Zheng He.
Why mention this? After all, I haven’t mentioned my previous readings; I found Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, but I didn’t write about it here. I can’t even build a deck around Zheng He, because I’ve already built a fleet deck.
One of the interesting things about Zheng He’s fleet is the specialization of ships. There were ships with gardens, growing plants for the fleet to eat. There were ships carrying water for the fleet to drink. There were merchant ships, scouting ships, transport ships, warships, and more. Hundreds and hundreds of ships sailed, many with highly-specific purposes.
Do you know what Zheng He’s fleet reminds me of?
A spirit deck.
I recently built a casual Five-Color spirit deck. It’s become my favorite casual deck. I have built all sorts of Spirit-Arcane decks. Each one finds various tools and specializations, but each has a singular purpose — to defeat your opponent.
I love spirits. I just love them. In my previous articles, I’ve outlined ideas for spirit decks and detailed various strategies Â— I’ve built a lot of spirit decks, too.
With Saviors, we have our last influx of cards. What spirits and arcane spells are worth playing? I have ranked the best spirits and arcane spells below, in order to give you an idea of what to consider.
Before we get to that, however, let’s take a look at where we stand:
There are enough spirits and arcane spells now that you’ll rarely want to run cards that are neither. Gone are the days when you’d run Remove Soul in your deck because of its flavor. You no longer need to try out cards like Spirit Shield in your decks. The world of the Kamigawa block is replete with cards that are available for use.
Typically, the only exception that I have for this rule is Long-Forgotten Gohei, one of the best cards for this type of deck. Other than that, all non-lands meet the criteria. If I can do it in a three hundred-card deck, then surely a sixty-card deck should prove no problem.
Some of the best creatures include Lifespinner, Iname, Life Aspect, Thief of Hope, Hana Kami, and Kokusho, the Broken Star. Some of the best arcane spells include Rend Flesh, Glacial Ray, and Kodama’s Reach. There’s an obvious Green/Black bias in the card pool, and you can try and flesh that out with ease.
I’ve found that I want every single spirit in my deck to do one of three things:
Having a lot of creatures with soulshift will significantly increase the life expectancy of your deck at a multiplayer table.
Wizards has started referring to the “Whenever a spirit or arcane spell is played do X” ability as spiritcraft, but I prefer one of their test names better. Tatari is a curse from the spirit world, and I really like that flavor.
A Great Ability:
Some spirits have such great abilities that you have to include them.
With that, let’s take a look at the best Spirit/Arcane cards from Saviors, in ranked order:
The Top 25 Spirits and Arcane Spells from Saviors, In Order
1. Elder Pine of Jukai
There are a lot of interesting cards in Saviors, so you may wonder why I chose the Elder Pine as my pick for best of the best. The next few cards on this list are going to do things that we already could do: Kill creatures, pop enchantments, return creatures from the graveyard and draw cards. These abilities already existed.
However, getting lands is not a common ability. We’ve Kodama’s Reach, and that was about it. Now? We have the Elder Pine.
Mana is very useful in most builds of a Spirit/Arcane deck (let’s just call it an Arcane deck for the rest of the article, shall we?). You need tons of mana for certain cards and effects. More mana can help with splice costs, abilities, and more.
In addition, the Elder Pine has the highly useful soulshift 2. This can bring back any number of useful, cheap sacrificial Kami like Hana Kami, Kami of Ancient Law, and so forth. Simply put, the well-rounded Elder Pine of Jukai is quite useful in every situation.
2. Kagemaro, First to Suffer
I was debating between this card and the next card on the list heavily. I ultimately settled on Kagemaro at the two-spot because it doesn’t rely on any specific cards to work.
There were few sweep effects available to Arcane decks previously. (Don’t ask me why Final Judgment isn’t arcane; given that it’s cast by the kami, I have no idea.) Saviors has added several sweepers, and key among them is the powerful Kagemaro. This guy can destroy an awful lot of creatures, and his cheap casting cost enables him to occasionally be soulshifted back.
3. Celestial Kirin
The Celestial Kirin ended up third because you need cards of specific casting costs in order to really abuse it. The second Saviors spirit card to provide a sweep effect, the Celestial Kirin can surgically remove annoying permanents while keeping others untouched. The fact that the Kirin also is a decently-sized beater that flies is a plus.
It is, however, fighting for a spot in the glutted four-mana spot, but I’m sure you can find room for it as long as you are playing White.
4. Arashi, the Sky Asunder
I have really enjoyed Arashi so far. Being able to play a 5/5 for five mana is nice. Arashi is a great follow up when your opponent has taken out several key spirits; now you’ve got a creature that can swing, along with being able to systematically strike down flyers.
You can also use Arashi to hit all of the flyers in one go. This has great synergy with other cards, like Iname, Life Aspect, soulshift, and the next card on our list. A surprise Hurricane that doesn’t hit players can be quite devastating to the board position once you’ve planned for it.
5. Death Denied
The highest charting arcane spell from Saviors is quite a house. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the arcane spell we needed (1UU, counter target spell, Arcane), or even a bad version of it (2UU, counter target spell, Arcane). Instead, our best arcane spell from the set is Death Denied… and so we’ll just have to live with the lack of a hard counter.
Death Denied Â— while assuredly not a Counterspell Â— can easily and instantly return a bunch of creatures to your hand. If your opponent has worked overtime to keep your soulshifting creatures down, then this will break him. Otherwise, it is a great card drawer, getting you exactly what you need.
Allow me to share a basic multiplayer truth: you will always have targets to burn artifact removal on, but enchantment removal is what you’ll really need. Enchantments are nasty, while artifacts are merely…. okay. Sure, you’ll want to take out the occasional Mind’s Eye or whatnot, but normally the artifacts that see play are Fellwar Stones, Feldon’s Canes, and Jayemdae Tomes. None of those are too bad.
Enchantments, on the other hand, see less play Â— but you’ll be seeing gamebreakers like Future Sight, Mirari’s Wake, and other nasty enchantments. I find that enchantment removal is less useful, but more important.
That’s where Nikko-Onna comes in. As an Uktabi Orangutan in White for enchantments, she’ll destroy a highly powerful enchantment. The worst card you get is usually a Sylvan Library, and even that is pretty potent. Then, anytime you need to take out more enchantments, you can bounce the Nikko-Onna back and replay her.
Being able to shut down all enchantments you dislike on a semi-permanent basis is quite enticing. You can also bounce her using an instant arcane spell in order to save her from creature kill.
7. Ghost-Lit Warder
With so few options available in the realm of countermagic to an Arcane deck, Ghost-Lit Warder rises in power significantly. Whether played as an annoying super Vodalian Mage or saved and used as a Mana Leak Plus, the Warder can counter things as a surprise. After using its Channel ability, its cheap casting cost allows it to be soulcrafted by an awful lot of creatures.
8. Cloudhoof Kirin
Against decks of traditional size, the Cloudhoof Kirin can easily enable enough milling to win a game. In addition, it’s a moderately-sized 4/4 flyer, which allows it to be a serious threat. However, in multiplayer matches and against super-sized decks, the Cloudhoof Kirin becomes a spirit Air Elemental.
In fact, in that situation, you may want to mill yourself. Hana Kami will give you more choices of arcane spells to retrieve. Death Denied and Iname, Life Aspect become more powerful. Soulshift can work better. Ire of Kaminari becomes lethal. You might want to give serious consideration to using Cloudhoof Kirin in your own oversized deck and slowly adding to your resources in the graveyard.
9. Ideas Unbound
An Arcane deck cannot take advantage of an Ideas Unbound the way other decks can. However, Ideas Unbound is still a great card. When you discard, you can choose cards that are too expensive, have no particular ability right now, or you can discard with an eye towards recursion with Soulshift and other common Spirit returners.
10. Infernal Kirin
Forcing an opponent to discard cards is probably better in duels in tournaments than in casual games. In multiplayer, you’ll tick off the player that you targeted and scare the rest. Nevertheless, having Infernal Kirin available to thoroughly screw with a player’s hand is a nice play. Even if you get no cards, you can still check what countermagic or removal they have available.
The beauty of Evermind is that although it cannot be played by itself, you can splice it on anything; Shoals, Rend Flesh, Kodama’s Might and Kodama’s Reach, Glacial Ray, Otherworldly Journey, and much, much more. Evermind will fit on any spell in your deck.
If pressed for mana, it makes a great discard to Ideas Unbound.
12. Jiwari, the Earth Aflame
The final sweeper card in Saviors is the expensive Jiwari. Normally, you’d want to play a 3/3 creature that can tap to Blaze any ground creature. However, you really want Jiwari for the Channel ability.
Arashi’s ability is murky, at best, since it only hits fliers; it’s certainly unreliable. Jiwari should hit most creatures in play, making him a nice, instant Earthquake. Unfortunately, the triple-Red in the channel cost is prohibitive, which relegates him to merely good in any deck but a mono-red.
As I mentioned above, artifact removal is more common but enchantment removal is more important. That’s not always the case, however. Yuki-Onna is worse then Nikko-Onna because of the higher casting cost…. but it still has the ability to establish table dominance when it comes to artifacts.
With the higher power, you are also tempted to do combat tricks to save Yuki-Onna after damage goes on the stack, by casting an instant arcane spell and returning Yuki-Onna to your hand. This is the second-best Onna Â— but really, only the Nikko one is worth playing in most decks.
14. Soramaro, First to Dream
Soramaro serves as a powerful flier. The problem is that an Arcane deck already suffers from a glut of expensive, good fliers, what with the Dragons, Kirin, and more. From Oyobi, Who Split the Heavens to Patron of the Moon, there are a lot of big flying spirits seeing play. That makes Soramaro more of a backseat card, especially when you consider that Soramaro’s other ability to draw cards is quite expensive and counter-productive.
15. Spiraling Embers
Spiraling Embers falls low on this chart because of the number of burn spells that are also Arcane. We have Spiraling Embers, Barrel-Down Sokenzan, Glacial Ray, Ire of Kaminari, and more. There’s also removal like Rend Flesh, Pull Under, Horobi’s Whisper, Sickening Shoal, and more. Simply put, burn like the Embers gets pushed aside in the midst of that quality.
The Embers can hit for a lot of damage. If you find that your deck regularly holds a lot of cards in hand, then please use this. However, I find that Ire of Kaminari is more reliable.
16. Ghost-Lit Raider
Right behind Spiraling Embers is another burn spell…er…creature. Ghost-Lit Raider can be more useful because of its ability to be soulshifted and played as a normal creature. You can swing with it and win the game, or play him and keep away all small creatures.
17. Shape Stealer
With a cheap casting cost, Shape Stealer has the ability to block any ground creature. You will always trade or have neither die, barring any additional abilities. It’s also a decent attacker, because your opponent will be loathe to trade a 4/3 for your 1/1. However, it never hits your opponent for more than one, it has an awkward casting cost, and it’s never more than a good blocker.
I’ve decided that I don’t really care for Haru-Onna that much. A 2/1 for four mana should have a more powerful ability. It competes at the four spot with creatures like Lifespinner and Kodama of the South Tree. Still, for all of that, Haru-Onna is the creature that will win you the game in long, drawn-out contests.
You’ll play Haru-Onna, drawing your card. Then play Otherworldly Journey on something and replay her, continuing to draw cards. You’ll keep drawing cards, which will allow you to continue to trigger useful Tatari abilities like Oyobi, Sire of the Storm, Teller of Tales, or Thief of Hope.
The extra cards and the triggered abilities that Haru-Onna gives you will allow you to break open a stalemate. You’ll find that Kami of the Waning Moon and break open a board and kill one or more players. That’s a pretty good deal from one creature.
19. Murmurs from Beyond
Playing Murmurs will give you a pair of cards while denying you a third. Since the one card goes to the graveyard, it can be retrieved. What does your opponent pick when your three cards are Hana Kami, Death Denied, and Kokusho, the Broken Star? Of course, they’ll usually be Swamp, Something Good, Something Average. That’s why Murmurs is low on my list.
20. Skyfire Kirin
Obviously, the Skyfire Kirin is not as good as you would like because the creatures that you steal do not gain haste. That means that Skyfire Kirin can pretty much only be used to gather blockers or remove blockers, unless you play with haste-granting cards. If the Kirin was able to take any target creature, instead of one with the same casting cost, it would be much better. As it is, it is much weaker than most of its Kirin brethren.
21. Spiritual Visit
The good thing about Spiritual Visit is its cheap cost. You can splice it onto anything for one mana, and get a bunch of extra spirits. When combined with Kodama of the South Tree, these little spirits can go places. You can also sacrifice them to Lifespinner or use them with the next card on the list. For the most part, these little guys will be harassers. They’ll be used to block some creatures or to maybe get in a few points of damage — but nothing special.
22. Sekki, Season’s Guide
If you like the idea of a big creature that makes a lot of little creatures as it dies, then the Guide is for you. As for me, I’d rather play big creatures with evasive abilities. I’d also rather play creatures with better abilities.
23. Kataki, War’s Wage
Since your deck will be playing so few artifacts, it might be worth experimenting with War’s Wage. As I mentioned before, artifacts are more common but not always worth taking out. Kataki will force your opponent to make tough choices, while bringing a 2/1 body. If your opponent Shocks him, he is easy to bring back with his cheap casting cost. In metagames with a lot of artifacts running around, I’d definitely try him out.
Kemuri-Onna has a bigger body than most of the other Onnas… but his ability is much weaker. Additionally, once you get to five mana, you want something with a bigger impact on the board to see play. Nevertheless, Kemuri-Onna can pop every card from every opponents’ hand, while providing a decent body and some protection.
Our last entry! Glitterfang is useful in Johnny-crafted Arcane decks as a way to regularly trigger Tatari abilities. As a 1/1, it will never have any major impact on the board. However, if you can get one extra trigger of various Tatari effects every turn, then Glitterfang might just be your boy.
Although I am happy to see a lot more cards to consider for my various spirit decks, it is a bittersweet joy. This is the last injection of arcane spells and spirits I’ll ever receive. Although some mechanics are slated for return some day, these are too flavorful. We’ll not see arcane subtypes, soulshift, or Tatari effects for a long time…. if ever. Spirits will probably get dialed down, too. Enjoy them now, while you can, for tomorrow will bring new challenges.