Spirit monsters (スピリットモンスター Supiritto monsutā) are Effect Monsters with the ability "Spirit". With the exception of "Yamato-no-Kami", they cannot be Special Summoned and each have an effect that returns them to their owner's hand during the End Phase of the turn they are Normal Summoned or flipped face-up.
The designs of many Spirit monsters are based on icons from Eastern mythology. They all have very similar backgrounds, ostensibly the Spirit World. Their OCG names are in kanji, but the furigana is in katakana which normally would indicate a foreign-language word.
Usual effect text (using PSCT):
Cannot be Special Summoned. During the End Phase of the turn this card is Normal Summoned or flipped face-up: Return it to the hand.
There are no archetypes focused on Spirit monsters. The only two archetypes that have Spirit monsters as members are "Ice Barrier" ("Sacred Spirit of the Ice Barrier") and "Gishki" ("Gishki Natalia" and "Emilia"). Both archetypes are WATER-Attribute, and their Spirit monsters don't represent any mythological figure, instead representing revived spirits of dead characters of their storyline. All of these Spirit monsters were introduced in the Hidden Arsenal series.
Due to the low speed of a dedicated Spirit Deck, as well as their lack of Special Summons and field presence, they never experienced competitive relevance as a Deck theme (although individual members did). There are several competitively noteworthy Spirit monsters, such as "Yata-Garasu", the fundamental part of the Yata-Garasu Lockdown, which has long been Forbidden; "Tsukuyomi", which used to be forbidden due to its ability to Set Flip monsters again to allow them to activate their Flip effects again, which enabled powerful loops; and "Asura Priest", whose ability to attack every opposing monster was unique at the time of its release.
In the anime
In the Yu-Gi-Oh! anime, in episodes 117 and 118, Noah Kaiba used Spirit monsters in his duel against Yami Yugi. According to him, the Spirit monsters were created by Maximillion Pegasus when he was traveling to Eastern Asia and drew inspiration from the religions and mythologies from that region.
Spirit monsters return to the hand during the End Phase of the turn they were Normal Summoned or flipped face-up, so it is difficult to maintain field presence. This can be worked around with cards like "Spiritual Energy Settle Machine", "Mirror of Yata" and "Izanagi", which allow Spirit monsters to remain on the field in spite of their effects. Alternately, some cards provide positive effects whenever a Spirit returns to the player's hand: "Spirit's Invitation" forces an opponent's monster to return to the hand whenever a Spirit returns to the player's hand, while "Spring of Rebirth" increases its controller's LP whenever a monster returns to either player's hand.
Spirit monsters have a wide variety of effects, including searching for cards, allowing an extra Normal Summon, retrieving fallen monsters, locking the opponent's attacks, and destroying all monsters the opponent controls.
The strongest Spirit monsters, "Hino-Kagu-Tsuchi" and "Yamata Dragon", focus on maintaining significant hand advantage over the opponent, with their effects activating when they inflict battle damage: "Hino-Kagu-Tsuchi" empties the opponent's entire hand before their Draw Phase, while "Yamata Dragon" fills its controller's hand with up to 5 cards.
Since Spirit monsters only return to the hand during the End Phase of the turn they are Normal Summoned or flipped face-up, if they fail to return to the hand such as "Dimensionhole", "Forbidden Chalice", etc.
Some of the generic cards that may help a Spirit Deck include:
- "Gorz the Emissary of Darkness", "Tragoedia" and "Battle Fader": due to the lack of field presence, the player is likely to be frequently open for direct attacks. Also, these monsters can be used as fodder for the Tribute Summon of a Spirit monster.
- "Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning": it can be a great beatstick, and can be Summoned by banishing, for example, "Nikitama", "Otohime", "Asura Priest" or "Effect Veiler" and "Yamato-no-Kami", "Aratama", "Great Long Nose" etc, giving the fallen Spirit monsters a last utility.
- "Forbidden Chalice": can be very useful, as it can negate the signature effect of the Spirit monsters and keep them on the field. Use this card after you used their main effect, like after attacking with "Hino-Kagu-Tsuchi" or after destroying a Spell/Trap Card with "Yamato-no-Kami". This card is more valuable when used on high-level monsters, such as "Great Long Nose" or "Yamata Dragon", or Spirits whose effects don't activate upon being Normal Summoned or flipped face-up, such as "Asura Priest" or "Fushi No Tori".
- "D.D. Sprite": this monster can also be used to keep a Spirit monster on the field, and since it is a Tuner monster, it can allow the Deck to perform Synchro Summons. "Ancient Sacred Wyvern" is a useful Synchro Monster that can be Summoned by using one of the Level 6 Spirit monsters; since the Deck frequently has cards that increase the difference between the players' LP ("Spring of Rebirth", "Orb of Yasaka", "Fushi No Tori", etc.), this monster can be used at its maximum potential.
- "Slacker Magician": this monster can be easily Summoned by the effect of "Kinka-byo" and can serve as a wall, since it cannot be easily removed from the the field, except by effects that don't target.
- "Creature Swap"/"Mystic Box": the Spirit monster given to the opponent will return to its owner's hand anyway.
- "The Monarchs Stormforth": this card can be used to get rid of an opponent's monster while also Tribute Summoning a Spirit monster.
- "Soul Transition": this card's drawback of not allowing Special Summons during the turn it is used generally is not a problem. It is best used if the monster tributed as cost is "Nikitama", while you control another Spirit monster, preferably "Aratama": in this scenario it is possible to draw 3 cards while also replacing the Tributed "Nikitama" with another copy of it, searched by "Aratama".
- The main weaknesses of the Spirit Monsters are the fact that they can't stay on the field for long and cannot be Special Summoned (except "Yamato-No-Kami"), which make them having limited swarming capabilities. Due to the difficulty in maintaining field advantage, this Deck is susceptible to direct attacks, so Beatdown and Aggro Decks, like "Six Samurai", "Dark World", "Yosenju", "Karakuri", "Noble Knight", "Spellbook", etc are good against this Deck.
- Stall Decks are a large threat to this Deck, since it is inherently slow due to its lack of swarming and field presence. If "Hino-Kagu-Tsuchi" or "Yamata Dragon" is Summoned but doesn't get a chance to activate its effect, a lot of resources are wasted. As such, "Vengeful Bog Spirit", "Level Limit - Area B", "Threatening Roar", "Gravity Bind", "Chain Energy" and even "Skill Drain" can mean trouble.
- "D.D. Designator" and "Mind Crush" can easily pick a card from the player's hand, since monsters frequently return there.
- "Rivalry of Warlords" and "Gozen Match" can slow this deck down, since Spirit monster Decks typically uses Spirits of different Types and Attributes.
- The two most powerful Spirit monsters, "Hino-Kagu-Tsuchi" and "Yamata Dragon", are counterparts of each other. They are both high-level Spirit monsters with high ATK and DEF that sum to 5700, and have hand-based effects that activate when they inflict battle damage. This is emphasized on "Last Turn", which depicts a battle between the two.
- The Spirit monster "Yata-Garasu" is infamous for its complete lockdown of the opponent's hand when combined with "Chaos Emperor Dragon - Envoy of the End"; however, both have been Forbidden since 2004.
- "Izanagi" is the only non-Spirit monster that has Spirit World in its background and the only non-Spirit monster that directly supports Spirit monsters.
- "Soul Resurrection" is the only card that have the Spirit World in its background with absolutely no relation to Spirit monsters.
- "Yamato-no-Kami" is the only Spirit monster that cannot be Normal Summoned/Set, and the only Spirit monster that can be Special Summoned.
- The effect that returns Spirit monsters to the hand, as well as their transparent appearance, may be a reference to them not being able to stay on the physical plane for long.