In one of my previous articles, I detailed a variety of Champions-inspired Spirit decks. Since then, Spirits have become my pet project. I wrote a Spirit deck for Scrye Magazine, and I built a three-hundred-card Spirit deck conforming to the rules of Five-Color for casual and multiplayer.
I love Spirits. As soon as Betrayers was released, I modified my casual Five-Color Spirit deck, and have been playing with it heavily. If you are considering playing with Spirits and Arcane spells for one of your decks, then you need to read my observations. Many Betrayers cards can make the cut, but many more cannot. What Spirits and Arcane spells are the best? The absolute essentials? I have ranked the top Spirit and Arcane spells in the format below, and given you some tips on how to use them.
But allow me to present a few general principles first.
Every card in your deck should be one of three things: a Spirit, an Arcane spell, or something that works with Spirits and Arcane spells (like Long-Forgotten Gohei or Jade Idol). Not only is this choice in flavor for Spirits (who are warring against the physical world), but it creates interesting deckbuilding tension.
Some casual players may want to play other cards that are in flavor, like Spirit Mirror, Arcane Denial, Spirit Shield, or Afterlife. My recommendation is to stay away from such things, because the world of Spirits and Arcane magic is sufficiently dense that you do not need Afterlife as creature removal.
I like the idea of playing with all five colors in my Spirit deck. It feels right that Spirits of all sorts are assembling under my banner. It also gives me access to the best Arcane spells in each color.
With so many Spirits printed recently, every Spirit in your deck should have one of three things going for it. Some Spirits should have Soulshift, so that you can return Spirits. (Soulshift is especially useful with Devouring Greed.) Other Spirits should have "Tatari" effects. Wizards named effects that read "whenever a Spirit or Arcane spell is played do X" Spiritcraft, but only after dismissing the term "Tatari" as being too Japanese. I like the name Tatari, so I call all of those effects Tatari… And you want a lot of Tatari effects on your Spirits, so that every spell you cast gives you some benefit.
Lastly, you want a few Spirits that have such great abilities that you simply have to include them.
You’ll note that I did not list “a good power-to-mana ratio” among the things you should considered. The problem with many Spirits is that they are woefully undercosted, while others are very overcosted. You do not want to get bogged down with effective beaters when you have so much other stuff to focus on.
Without further ado, allow me to present the actual list of the best Spirits and Arcane spells in Betrayers. Add them to your existing Spirit decks (or build one, if you haven’t already!).
The Best Spirits and Arcane Spells in Betrayers
Lifespinner gets my vote for third most powerful Spirit in a Spirit deck of all time (behind Hana Kami and Thief of Hope, but ahead of Iname, Life Aspect and Kokusho the Broken Star). Lifespinner works so well with a variety of Spirits and effects that it is, quite simply, amazingly abusive.
Lifespinner is splashable, being a Hill Giant sort of creature. You can sacrifice Spirit tokens for the effect – so feel free to use Honden tokens, Zubera tokens, or Oyabi, Who Split the Heavens tokens for your sacrifice effect. Soulshift works really well with Lifespinner, as you can always shift sacrificed Spirits into something else. And lastly, you get a big, dumb Spirit into play for no mana straight from your library. Lifespinner is amazingly good.
2. Forked-Branch Garami
Forked-Branch Garami is the second-best Soulshift creature in print, behind Iname, Life Aspect (unless you want to argue that Iname is technically, bereft of Soulshift, in which case the Garami becomes the best). The relatively abusive things that one can do with a fully loaded graveyard are fairly staggering. The Forked-Branch Garami is also one of the best Soulshift creatures when comparing power and toughness to casting cost. A 4/4 body for five mana is par for the course, since many other Soulshift creatures are 2/3s for five mana. The Garami actually functions as a legitimate threat while on the table, and as a recursive engine while off. It’s a very subtly powerful card.
3. Oyobi, Who Split the Heavens
Oyobi is definitely the most powerful legendary Spirit in Betrayers for your deck, but there are others who also tilt the power scale. The ability to make 3/3 flyers for free is arguably the most powerful Tatari ability in print. (Sire of the Storm and Kodama of the South Tree would each argue that they have the most powerful Tatari ability). Oyobi is even splashable. The only thing it has going against it is the fairly high casting cost, but that can be overridden by Lifespinner.
4. Disrupting Shoal
Although it is just a bad Spell Blast, Disrupting Shoal is so important for the Spirit/Arcane deck because it counters a spell. It is the only reliable Arcane counterspell in the game. You’ll rarely want to use its alternative cost, but you’ll frequently be glad that one is in your hand.
5. Horobi’s Whisper
There are already several Arcane removal spells, among them uber-powerful removal spell Rend Flesh. As a result, Horobi’s Whisper moves down a few notches – but it is still amazingly good removal. The bad thing with the Whisper is figuring out what to remove from your graveyard in order to splice it. If you remove Spirits, then you can’t retrieve them with Soulshift or Soulless Revival. If you remove Arcane spells, then Hana Kami and Ire of Kaminari become less effective. It definitely limits the spliceability of the Whisper.
6. Waxmane Baku
Another great Spirit from Betrayers is the common Waxmane Baku. The Waxmane sits quietly, collecting counters, until you are ready to alpha strike an opponent into oblivion. Alternatively, you can use the Baku to tap down the occasional threat from an opponent in order to keep your life total from being smacked around. Waxmane Baku is not only splashable, but fits into the three-drop spot in a deck, where there are few Spirits to compete with that casting cost.
7. Patron of the Kitsune
Despite the fact that the Patrons have an offering ability, many of them are actually decent creatures for their regular casting cost. The best combination of fat body, good ability, and cheap cost is the Kitsune Lord. For the same casting cost as a Mahamoti Djinn, you get an equal 5/6 body with a better ability in multiplayer. Remember, as a legendary Spirit, Patron of the Kitsune is retrievable with Lifespinner.
8. Kyoki, Sanity’s Eclipse
While we are on the subject of legendary Spirits with big bodies and useful abilities, look no further than Kyoki. A Craw Wurm in black with an extra ability, Kyoki is a very cost-effective method of keeping an opponent down. "Tatari: opponent discards" is a powerful effect – but you remove that card from the game, Kyoki is even more powerful. Combining a potent Tatari effect on the equally potent 6/4 body makes for smashing fun. Feel free to Lifespin for Kyoki if you are going to cast a bunch of Spirits and Arcane spells in order to really put the hurt on one or more opponents.
9. Sickening Shoal
Although not as powerful as other Arcane options, Sickening Shoal is still a solid removal spell for your deck. Its alternate cost is a little more likely to be played, since black is one of the best Spirit colors, you are more likely to be playing more black cards. Sickening Shoal can take out the occasional regenerator or black Spirit that dodges Horobi’s Whisper and Rend Flesh. This now takes the place of Pull Under in your Spirit decks.
10 Pus Kami
Let’s get the bad out of the way right now: Pus Kami is just a 3/3 for seven mana. Nobody is claiming that Pus Kami is the end-all and be-all of Spirit decks.. but the Pus Kami has two major things going for it that you simply must consider. Firstly, Pus Kami can be sacrificed to destroy a nonblack creature, making it a Seal of Doom (which costs three mana normally + the 3/3 body that normally costs four mana = seven mana with a special gift ability). That means that you can sacrifice the Pus Kami anytime you need to use its second ability – the hallowed Soulshift: 6.
In my experience, there are only a few Soulshift numbers that matter. Soulshift: 2 (gets you several sacrificial Kami like Hana Kami), Soulshift: 3 (retrieves the important Thief of Hope, and also gets the powerful Pain Kami), Soulshift: 4 (there is a glut of powerful four casting-cost Spirits, including older ones like Windborn Muse and Tradewind Rider) and the uber-powerful Soulshift: 6 (retrieves, among other things, Kokusho the Broken Star).
Anything with Soulshift: 6 becomes very powerful. A board position that features Pus Kami and Kokusho is very powerful, trust me. A Wrath of God, for example, would not only trigger Kokusho, but then the Broken Star would return to your hand from the Pus Kami.
11. Ire of Kaminari
I think that printing the Ire was a mistake because now somebody can build a random all-Arcane deck around Oath of Druids (or some other card that dumps a deck into the graveyard) and then burn out a person with the Ire. Boring.
In a Spirit deck, the power of the Ire is directly related to the percentage of your deck taken with Spirits as opposed to Arcane spells. As your creature-to-spell ratio rises, Ire becomes less powerful. In my experience, Ire hits for either two damage or double-digits.
12. Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
Kira is solid in multiplayer, where it tells others to steer clear of your stuff. Two people working together can still easily get past her glass-spinning ability, so I’d rather have had a creature that could just make Spirits untargetable.
13. Callow Jushi
Although Callow Jushi doesn’t begin life as a Spirit, it can be very powerful after being flipped. Since only the Disrupting Shoal can counter spells, the Callow Jushi gives you another route to countermagic. Typically, the Callow Jushi will only counter one or two spells, because you’ll have to use several counters for each. That’s still worth it, however, and opponents really have to respect a Jushi with a lot of counters on it.
14. Tomorrow, Azami’s Familiar
Although Tomorrow has a fairly high casting cost, it is splashable. It is Tomorrow’s ability that concerns me: Spirits have few ways of manipulating their deck or drawing more cards. There are a few Arcane draw spells, and then there is Sire of the Storm… But Tomorrow adds another permanent method of getting quality cards from your library. Although the casting cost may be off, the ability isn’t.
15. Patron of the Nezumi
Like its Kitsune brethren, the Rat God has a fine body for its casting cost. The real ability here is to act as a winning condition. Rest assured, Patron of the Nezumi will not be around for long, as creature removal flies out at it from every direction. My favorite Patron of the Nezumi trick is to Lifespin it out into play in response to someone playing Obliterate or Akroma’s Vengeance. Sure, the Patron will die, but everything was dying anyway, so you might as well hit some people for loss of life.
16. Shining Shoal
It may be a powerful, tournament-level card – but in a casual game, it’s just a Captain’s Maneuver. Sure, Shining Shoal is decent, and I am certainly playing a couple in my deck… But you will virtually never use its alternative casting cost. Lots and lots have been written about the Shining Shoal, and I have no new tech for the Spirit deck, so I’m just going to move on to the next card.
17. Patron of the Moon
The Moon God does give you a decent flyer, and you can slap any extra lands down as instants… But I’ve found that the Moon God is just barely playable in dedicated Spirit decks. For big flyers, you have Yosei, Kokusho, and Keiga – the big three from Champions. You also have Oyobi, Jugan, Eternal Dragon, and more. You don’t have much of a need for another big flyer.
18. Kaijin of the Vanishing Touch
If you want a cheap two-drop with an overly-defensive posture, you can come to the Kaijin of the Vanishing Touch. Personally, I prefer my two-drops to be a little more powerful, and there are some great two-drops in Champions (Soilshaper, Hearth Kami, Kami of Ancient Law). Still, you may prefer the safe feeling of hiding behind a defensive creature. If so, look no further.
19. Terashi’s Grasp
The last spell on our countdown is the solid Terashi’s Grasp – one of the better Disenchant effects ever printed. Wear Away was already in Spirit decks everywhere for its splice onto Arcane ability as well as being an instant. Between Wear Away, Cleanfall, Kami of Ancient Law, and Hearth Kami, you may not feel the need for Terashi’s Grasp. On the other hand, you may prefer the splashable life-gaining aspects of the Grasp over the instant, splice-but-double-green Wear Away. How you roll it is your decision, but I’ve steered clear of the Grasp in my deck for now, at least.
20. Kami of the Honored Dead
Since Soulshift: 6 is so valuable, Kami of the Honored Dead is another valuable dragon recursion tool. It’s much better in combat than ol’ Pus Kami with its flying ability and its 3/5 body. It can also gain you a spot of life, although I consider the lifegain ability of it to be rather minor. Really, it’s a mid-size flyer that can get you back your Kokosho.
21. Moonlit Strider
The last card on our little analysis is the Moonlit Strider. I enjoy Soulshift creatures with a sacrifice ability so that you can Soulshift anytime you need. Moonlit Strider can protect a more valuable creature from removal while also bringing you back a solid creature. It never made the cut in my deck because of a glut of solid four mana Spirits – but it certainly could have, and I would respect anybody who played with it.
Honorable Mention: Innocence Kami
There is one more card that I want to mention. With the infusion of Betrayers cards to my three-hundred-card Spirit deck, my playgroup has noticed that the deck has changed. Without the extra chaff from Champions, the casting costs have gone down, the spells have gotten better, and the deck has become more streamlined. As a result, Innocence Kami has gotten much better with Betrayers in the environment.
Innocence Kami is able to hold off several creatures for a few turns, and can regularly lock down two creatures for long run of turns. I kept my opponent’s Akroma and Darksteel Colossus down for over a dozen turns a few weeks ago with one Innocence Kami. Watch out for it – it’s power level has jumped with cheaper casting costs, splice costs for free, and whatnot.
The other flip creatures are decent enough, but I don’t find any of them to be good enough to warrant inclusion on the above list. Feel free to play them, because they will accumulate a lot of counters. I play a copy of one of each in my three hundred deck except for the useful Callow Jushi mentioned above. They’re just not that powerful.
That brings us to the end of another Spirit excursion. I can’t wait to see what goodies Saviors will bring. Until then, keep looking for Lifespinner tricks! My favorite tribe wishes you well.