Azorious Spirits in Pioneer is Here!

With the Pioneer Pro Tour in Philly over and done we now have access to a larger set of Pioneer metagame data. It’s interesting to look at the performing decklists to see what was and wasn’t popular. For example, Rakdos was the most represented deck at the event, but it did not have a standout record.

For the longest time, Izzet Phoenix was a substantial part of the metagame. However we saw it drop down to around 5% of the metagame in Philly. What’s more is that the deck seems to be dwindling further and further in popularity with online play as well. It seems that people have relegated Phoenix to a Tier 2 deck.

The other top tier deck in Pioneer used to be Mono-White. Although it won the Atlanta regional championships, it’s since fallen in popularity and barely has put up numbers.

What am I getting at? Well, there were three decks keeping Spirits decks in check. Yep, you guessed it: Mono-White, Phoenix, and Rakdos. Mono-White wasn’t too unfavorable if you won the die roll. Rakdos was strangely closer than people might think. However, Phoenix was the roughest matchup of them all.  

I’m a little sad I didn’t reach these conclusions before Pro Tour Philly. Although I faced Rakdos six times, so that might have been for the best really. One lucky spirits player made it all the way to the top 16 though! Lets look at their decklist for a starting point and then I’ll share my newest take on my favorite deck in Pioneer!

Lets look at some of the things we like and dislike with whats going on here. This player went with Shore Up instead of Slip Out The Back. There are numerous pros and cons these two cards have to offer. Essentially, Slip Out The Back is better if you want to avoid sweepers and Shore Up is better if you want to abuse Shacklegeist to make sure you connect the turn you attack. My personal preference is for Slip Out The Back, especially since it keeps the +1/+1 counter. 

I’m totally in agreement with the absence of Spell Queller from this list! This one typically surprises people because the immediate draw to Azorious on paper is Spell Queller. However, the way Spirits operates best is by going under the opponent. When you increase the curve to include a bunch of 3-drops it starts losing its primary strength. 

You also don’t want Staggering Insight for the same reason. Insight costs two mana and the important function of the card can be found in a one mana alternative. The lifelink and the +1/+1 don’t justify having to include Staggering Insight in your decklists over Curious Obsession.

Skrelv, Defector Mite is in the sideboard of this list, but I think it’s good enough to include in the maindeck. To me, three is the right number of copies since Skrelv is a legendary creature. Mono U spirits with a splash color has always lacked a proficient one-drop when you lose Ascendant Spirit (which you can’t play in two-color decks typically due to lack of efficient snow mana). Skrelv soaks of removal spells and protects creatures you control that are suited up with Curious Obsession. You can run away with more games with Obsession on the back of a turn one Skrelv.

While I do like Skyclave Apparition maindeck I wouldn’t include four copies of it like in this list. Again, the curve considerations need to be a factor. It’s nice that Skyclave Apparition is a spirit. We can protect it with Rattlechains and even cast it at flash speed with a Rattlecains already out. The double white cost is a little difficult on the manabase, which potentially could cost the consistency of having an untapped Blue source on turn one.

Selfless Spirit is a card I want exactly two copies of. Sweepers have been disappearing more and more from Pioneer and overloarding on a blank 2/1 flyer for 2-mana isn’t ideal. You really want your cards to interact with the opponents. That being said, you also want this effect at certain crucial points of the game and I like the flexibility of including it in my deck.

Here’s my take:

I am personally a big fan of Lofty Denial. To me, you want more counters in a deck like this, otherwise, we are kind of a slower and weaker Humans deck. Picking your spots and playing a flash game lets you stay in control.

Aether Gust in the sideboard is a flexible card that you want against decks like Gruul, but also get to use effectively against the 8-Llanowar Elf decks. This prevents these decks from getting super far ahead if you don’t have Portable Hole mana on turn one.

Four copies of Shacklegeist is just a bit too many. I explained earlier that you want your threats to have useful abilities. If you have redundant copies of Shacklegeist then you have at least one bland creature with only flavor text. 

My sideboard respects that you might face Phoenix in your event and you want to be able to win the matchup. So we have weapons like Mystical Dispute in higher numbers and Extraction Specialist. Disdainful Stroke was a card that only came in against some of our better matchups anyway, so that was an easy cut from my list. 

As far as differences in changes, there isn’t a whole lot. However, every change matters and can affect the rest of the build of the deck. You might not like taking damage and want to move away from cards like Adarkar Wastes, but I promise you that is the incorrect call. You need to maximize your mana flexibility at the cost of your life total. Pioneer is a format about snowballing advantage, not the slow grind.

Thanks for stopping by for my take. Good luck out there and carry me with you in “spirit” 😉


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