Zephyr Say Zephyr Again

Posted in Feature on February 8, 2006

By Chris Millar

Zephyr Spirit
Greetings deckbuilders, cult members, and other assorted Johnnies! I can't believe I've already been here for five weeks. I haven't been anywhere for five weeks, except for that one stint in juvie that I'd just as soon forget about. Thanks for reminding me, self. You must be getting sick of me by now, with my unnatural affection for really bad cards. If you aren't, then you might be after this article is done. That's what we in the business call “foreshadowing.” That's the business that we in the business call “Dictionary Sales.”

Before I get to what I will generously refer to as the “meat” of the article, I'd like to take a second to address some comments people have made in the forums and in my email about how I more-or-less stick to building decks around cards available online. There are a few reasons for this. One, I am extraordinarily lazy. To illustrate, as I write this article, I'm eating a comically large submarine sandwich while lying on a hammock. Put simply, Magic Online is by far the easiest way to find an opponent two hours before my deadline. Two, I want to try out all the shiny new cards, and playing Standard Online is the most fun way for me to do this. And three, when I go on a thirty-two game losing streak with my Infectious Host deck, no one can see me crying.

This doesn't mean that I won't use cards outside of the MTGO card pool. I've been trying to mix things up, with decks for a variety of formats. As always, though, keep in mind that these decks are intended to get your creative juices flowing. Use them as a starting point and not an end point. If you like the idea behind a deck, feel free to switch things up - add those Sensei's Divining Tops, put in Wall of Roots, tweak it to fit your style (and your collection).

A Classic Tale of Hardship and Perseverance

Last week I built a deck based around Homura, Human Ascendant and Natural Affinity. After talking a bit about the deck, I mentioned a few cards that might be worth trying once Guildpact becomes available. One of those cards was Savage Twister. Well, that card was originally in Mirage, which happens to be available online already. So during my testing, I threw a few into the deck, advertised that I was looking for a game of Classic, and found an opponent. Here's a rough recreation of the game log:

My opponent, Turn 1: He plays an untapped Watery Grave, casts a Careful Study, and discards two Chrome Moxes, a $100 bill, and a Mickey Mantle rookie card.

Me: Forest, go.

My opponent, Turn 2: He plays Watery Grave number two, casts a foil Duress (85% more powerful than a regular Duress), and takes an Overgrowth.

Me: Mountain, Sakura-Tribe Elder, go.

My Opponent, Turn 3: Swamp, Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual, Buried Alive. He puts two Krosan Cloudscrapers in the graveyard with a Sutured Ghoul on top. With the remaining mana, he casts Shallow Grave, reanimates the Ghoul, removes the two Cloudscrapers, and attacks me for twenty-six. On turn 3! And he had still had enough mana left over for a Counterspell!

In response to combat damage going on the stack, I sacrificed my Tribe Elder and then disconnected.

Just kidding!

That's what I get for leaving Standard. If you think that was humiliating, this week's decks would've done even worse.

Three weeks ago, I boldly proclaimed that Conclave's Blessing was the Worst Card in Ravnica. Many of you disagreed. Forum-goers and email-senders alike stepped in to prevent me from besmirching the (dis)honour of everyone's favourite fifteenth pick, Zephyr Spirit. Apparently, I had very unjustly taken away its most richly deserved title.

Zephyr Spirit, Biggest Stinker in Ravnica?

That sounded like a challenge.

Y'all ready for this?

A Fistful of Zephyr Spirits

I won't lie to you. Zephyr Spirit is not a good card. I'm not even sure that it can be made good. Adding it to a deck will likely make the deck worse. Zephyr Spirit has what we in the business call a “drawback.” Yep, still the same business. (Sorry, I'll come up with a new gag in the next section.) Actually, Zephyr Spirit has a number of drawbacks: it costs six mana, whenever it blocks a creature it's returned to your hand, and it puts a little bit of arsenic in your coffee each day so you won't suspect you're being poisoned.

Yeah, that last one was a surprise to me too.

Where I come from, we don't call a crippling deficiency a “drawback.” We call it “the starting lineup of the Toronto Raptors.” Har. I'm sorry. That was mean. What I meant to say was, “We call it the starting lineup of the Toronto Maple Leafs.” Either way, somehow we make do and we find a way to turn the drawback into a strength. Like I always say, when life gives you lemons, make a lemon combo deck.

One of the things you may not have noticed - perhaps due to legal blindness or a bad case of the crazies - is that Zephyr Spirit is a Spirit. Don't think I didn't see your socks getting knocked off with that revelation, because I did. I know what you're thinking, “A Spirit, eh? Didn't we just have a whole block centered around Spirits and their Arcane magic?”

Cloudhoof Kirin
Hey, you're right! Good call. Zephyr Spirit's Spirit-status, combined with its tendency to be returned to your hand, would be perfect in a deck with some (non-Anaba) Spiritcraft-ers. That's one drawback out of the way. What about the fact that it costs six mana? Luckily, Saviors of Kamigawa brought with it a series of creatures whose Spiritcraft abilities care about the converted mana cost of the Spirit or Arcane Spell. I'm talking about the Kirin cycle. Cloudhoof Kirin, in particular. I can't believe I thought of this crazy combo, after shamelessly stealing it from Tony Bologna and a character who goes by the name of Vyolynce in the forums.

With the Cloudhooved one on the board, play your Zephyr Spirit of Victory and mill six cards off your opponent's deck. If your opponent foolishly decides to attack you with a non-flying creature, just block with ol' Zephy and return him or her to your hand. On your next turn, replay it and mill six more cards! Cloudhoof Kirin is so important to the deck that four is simply not enough. What could I use to supplement the Kirin's milling abilities, while still working well with Zephyr Spirit? How about Circu, Ravnica's favourite back-alley lobotomist? Now whenever you play big Z, you can mill six cards and remove the top card of your opponent's library. Kiri-Onna lets you do the same thing, without being so terrible otherwise. With a Cloudhoof in play, you can just use the Kiri-Onna's ability to return itself, if you have nothing better to do, milling five cards in the process. Dimir Infiltrator was a late addition, but it's a card I love for its versatility. It can block an early Isamaru, Hound of Konda or Savannah Lions, it can Transmute for a key card like Dampen Thought, it works well with both Circu and Cloudhoof Kirin (since it's a Blue and Black Spirit), and it can get in for some damage if the need arises. I particularly enjoyed the time I had Circu in play, and I kept bouncing my Infiltrator with Kiri-Onna, then replaying it, which allows me to return the Kiri-Onna to my hand only to bounce the Infiltrator back. I got to remove three cards off the top of my opponent's library per cycle. It's hard to win after you've been lobotomized so many times. Just ask the Toronto Raptors.

Death of a Thousand Stings could very easily be Petals of Insight. They are both Arcane spells that can be played repeatedly and they both cost five mana. I went with Death of a Thousand Stings because it's an Instant, so I could wait until the opponent's end of turn step to use it and, hopefully, Splice a Dampen Thought on to it.

The two things that I most enjoyed doing with this deck:

  1. Neutralizing Umezawa's Jitte with Zephyr Spirit. The Jitte won't get counters if the creature wielding it doesn't deal any damage, and the creature won't deal any damage if it's been blocked but the blocker isn't around during combat damage. If the creature you block with Zephyr Spirit has Trample, then this doesn't apply. Your opponent can just assign all the damage to you.
  2. Countering a Keiga, the Tide Star by pitching Zephyr Spirit to Disrupting Shoal. The look on the face of the opponent that I couldn't see was priceless. I pretended that he was very embarrassed.

For a Few Zephyr Spirits More

Another thing you may not have noticed – perhaps because the part of the article where I mention it – is that Zephyr Spirit costs six mana. I know what you're thinking, “Six mana, eh? Didn't we just have a block featuring all kinds of big, expensive creatures, and an expansion in that block which focused on six-mana creatures in particular? Like, three blocks ago?” Hey, you're right! Good call. It wasn't too long ago that Onslaught block's Scourge expansion introduced us to a number of cards that keyed off of creatures costing six mana. Cards like Fierce Empath, Krosan Drover, Kurgadon, and, most importantly, the cycle of Dragon part enchantments.

In went four copies of all the power-enhancing Dragon bits (Dragon Fangs, Scales, and Shadow), and a single copy of the other two (Dragon Breath, Dragon Wings). Now I would need a way to get them all in the graveyard, so that when I played my Zephyr Spirit, they would all hop out of the grave and on to it. For this task, I turned to Tunnel Vision. (You could use Oath of Druids, if you prefer.) Tunnel Vision is a little inconsistent, if you can't manipulate the bottom of your library somehow. I didn't want to include Junktroller, because it just seems out of place in the deck, so I went with Telling Time instead. Hopefully, you'll draw into one of the deck's one-of's, so the subsequent Tunnel Vision will dump your whole library.

We've taken advantage of the inflated mana cost of Zephyr Spirit. What about its other drawback? I'll just say this: Zephyr Spirit has no drawback when you attack for the win the turn it comes into play! Dragon Breath will give Zephyr Spirit haste. The other Dragon parts will make him a 12/18 creature with Flying, Fear, Trample, and Vigilance. If you have the mana, you can use Dragon Breath's firebreathing ability to pump him up further, but you will probably still need two attacks to win. That's where Seize the Day comes in. It has Flashback, so it can still be used if it ends up in the graveyard because of Tunnel Vision. The rest of the deck is made up of artifact mana (did I mention that Zephyr Spirit is expensive?) and some more deck manipulation in the form of Careful Study. Sometimes, your hand will be clogged with a bunch of practically uncastable Dragon parts. The Careful Studies should alleviate this problem somewhat. Here's the deck:

The ideal draw would you have you putting Seize the Day on the bottom of your deck with Telling Time, then playing Tunnel Vision (naming Seize the Day) with a Zephyr Spirit in hand and ten mana available. I admit that that scenario is more of a stretch than my “Zephyr” puns. Luckily, you don't have to do it all in one turn. And you don't need all twelve power-enhancing Dragon parts attached to Zephyr Spirit to end the game quickly (although it is fun to have a 12/18 Zephyr Spirit). If you get even six or seven in play, you should be able to end the game with Seize the Day.

During my testing Online, I played this deck against R/G Madness. Nostradamus predicts that this deck will lose to R/G Madness. Playing this deck is a sign of madness, not a way of overcoming it. Other decks this one can't beat include:

Mono-White Urzatron.
Black Aggro (any kind).
Squirrel and Nail.
Bottle Gnome Affinity.
Nephilim Bidding.

And so on.

The Good, the Bad, and Zephyr Spirit

Now I Know My ABC's
There is one situation where Zephyr Spirit shines brighter than the Conclave's Blessing. No, not in your fireplace. In a deck with Unhinged's Now I Know My ABC's! This card reads: At the beginning of your upkeep, if you control permanents with names that include all twenty-six letters of the English alphabet, you win the game. Unfortunately for Conclave's Blessing, too many of its letters overlap with the letters of Now I Know My ABC's itself. The difference between Conclave's Blessing and Zephyr Spirit boils down to this: LVEG vs. ZEPHRT.

I'll take ZEPHRT every time.

Now I Know My ABC's is a card that got a pair of big boosts from two Ravnica block Guilds - the gizmometers of the Izzet League and the shadowy plotters of House Dimir. The Izzet cards all have names that'd make a Scrabble player weep with joy. Petrahydrox, Stratozeppelid, Mizzium Transreliquat, Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind. The Dimir, on the other hand, provide you with the tutoring power of the Transmute cards. Drift of Phantasms fetches Now I Know My ABC's. If you need a “Q”, Transmute for Bloodletter Quill. Need a “Z” and a “V”? Fetch Vedalken Plotter and trade a Swamp for your opponent's Orzhov Basilica. Kamigawa block also has some great cards for Now I Know My ABC's deck. Kaijin of the Vanishing Touch contains over half the alphabet – literally!

I made the deck using the Standard card pool as a bit of an extra challenge. Feel free to use whatever cards you have available, including other Unhinged cards like the Man With No Name and the Big Long Name Elemental.

Quetzalcoatl's Jungle-Based Tax Haven – Casual

Download Arena Decklist

Mizzium Transreliquat
There are a number of game-winning scenarios that include four cards plus Now I Know My ABC's. Too many to list. After doing some figuring, I found a couple of three-card plus Now I Know My ABC's combos.

Now I Know My ABC's + Kaijin of the Vanishing Touch + Mizzium Transreliquat + Petrahydrox.

Now I Know My ABC's + Kaijin of the Vanishing Touch + Bloodletter Quill + Teferi's Puzzle Box.

The only three-card plus Now I Know My ABC's combo, where one of the three cards is a land, is Now I Know My ABC's + Mizzium Transreliquat + Genju of the Spires + Nivix, Aerie of the Firemind. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the deck, Nivix has no functionality beyond adding colourless mana. There just isn't any room for a bunch of instants and sorceries. Still, I included a single copy, just for fun.

That's all the Zephyr Spirit I got. I bit the bullet and chipped a tooth. I hope you had fun. I know I (kinda) did. If nothing else, know that I played with Zephyr Spirit so that you don't have to.

Until next time, don't hate Zephyr Spirit because it's beautiful!

Chris Millar

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