Spirit monsters are characterized by having effects that return them to their owner's hand during the End Phase of turns they are Normal Summoned or flipped face-up (whether by Flip Summon, surviving battle or any other method). This would seem to symbolize the monster "being spiritual" in that its physical body is temporary (barring player interventions). The returning effect also triggers if the Spirit monster in general becomes under the control of the opponent during the turn it would return or is summoned by your opponent after winding up in the opponent's hand via effects like "Exchange". This makes them appropriate fodder for getting rid of monsters like "Brain Jacker" or for using "Creature Swap".
The original run of released Spirit monsters also could not be Special Summoned. However, new Spirit monsters starting with The Duelist Genesis have been released of which (so far) can be Special Summoned for a cost.
Spirit monster Cards are designated by having "Spirit" in the place where "Effect" would be. They are also the second secondary type of Effect monsters to have this indicator (the Flip Effect Monsters prior to them simply had "FLIP:" at the beginning of their effects).
Many of the Spirit monsters' designs were based on icons from Japanese mythology and they all have very similar backgrounds, supposedly of the spirit world. Their OCG names would be given in kanji, but the furigana would be given in katakana which normally would indicate a foreign-language word. These themes would also tie into the anime and manga's story; Maximillion Pegasus, the creator of Duel Monsters, would not only have lifted specific cards of his game from Egyptian legends and his love of American cartoons, but would have drawn inspiration from the religions of Eastern Asia to create the Spirit monster type, after having extensively traveled in the continent.
One Spirit monster in particular, "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 of these monsters are on the latest banlist.
Spirit monsters often had effects that would be used when they were played, or had combat-based effects but would be vulnerable due to low attack, making the returning to hand ability a boon. Examples of the former include "Tsukuyomi" and "Maharaghi", and examples of the latter include "Yata-Garasu" and "Inaba White Rabbit".
The two most powerful Spirit monsters are "Hino-Kagu-Tsuchi" and "Yamata Dragon". They are counterparts of each other. They are both two tribute monsters with high attack and defense, and have hand-based effects. The first empties your opponents hand when it deals damage, and the second fills yours when it deals damage. The primary weakness is their returning to your hand, due to the requirement for tributes. The fact that they are counterparts is emphasized on "Last Turn", where a battle between them is depicted.
Spirit monsters can only remain on the field temporarily (unless they are face-down during the End Phase they would be returned or removed from the field temporarily during the the same time), and thus their controllers run into a major problem of maintaining field presence, but many Spirit monsters have devastating special effects to make up for this deficiency. "Mirror of Yata" and "Izanagi" keep the spirits on the field permanently or until they are removed, making these cards a must for any spirit deck. "Spiritual Energy Settle Machine" also does this, but it costs a discard per turn. Other ways to make up for the returning to hand is to make your opponent's monsters return to their hand whenever a spirit does, such as with "Spirit's Invitation", or to gain life points whenever this happens, such as with "Spring of Rebirth".
In addition, there is a loophole with Spirit monsters that lets them stay on the field regardless of their self-bounce effect. The exact text on Spirit monster cards states they must return to their owner's hand "during the End Phase of the turn [they are] Normal Summoned or flipped face-up". Therefore, if they stay on the field for more than one turn you don't have to worry about them returning to your hand. For instance, a "Hino-Kagu-Tsuchi" monster equipped with "Mirror of Yata" who then had its Mirror destroyed (e.g. by "Heavy Storm" or "Mystical Space Typhoon") would stay on the field the subsequent turns. Another card that can help bypass the common effect of Spirit monsters that returns them to the hand is "Future Visions". When Spirit monsters are Normal Summoned, and afterward banished by the card, the End Phase would have already passed when they return so they can no longer return to the hand.
Two of the strongest Spirit monsters ("Hino-Kagu-Tsuchi" and "Yamata Dragon") focus on maintaining a significant hand advantage over the opponent, and when combined with "Spiritual Energy Settle Machine" or other effects like "Dimensionhole" that allow them to remain on the field, they can easily turn the tide of any duel in their owner's favor. Though it wasn't an option in the past, there is currently enough support for decks entirely themed around Spirit monsters to be viable. Because Spirit monsters return to the player's hand, the player runs the risk of having too many cards during the End Phase, forcing a discard, so "Infinite Cards" is an effective way to counter this problem. Cards like "Exchange", "Creature Swap", and "Mystic Box" are staples.
A commonly used card with Spirits is "Mausoleum of the Emperor", which allows users to pay a life point cost to get high-level Spirit monsters out without tribute. Trap Monsters are also often used either as tributes or as a method of maintaining a field defense when the Spirits leave the field. Kaiser Colosseum is another decent card to maintain field advantage when Inazagi or a spirit monster equipped with mirror of yata is on the field.
Another way to make Level 5 and higher Spirit monsters more easily able to be used is to use the monster "Level Eater". After you Normal Summon the Spirit, you can flood the field with "Level Eaters" and due to the Spirit monster returning to the hand, their Level will be reset. This makes the "Level Eaters" great to use on the next turn for Tributing the Spirit monster back. On top of that, this makes Xyz Summoning possible easily in a Spirit monster Deck and also frustrates your opponent when you combine this combo with "Dark Dust Spirit" and "Light of Intervention".
Their effects range from Beatdown, Direct Attack, hand control, and even field control, making a dedicated spirit deck very flexible regardless of what the opponent has. However, due to their habit of returning to the hand, cards that make you discard will be a serious hamper, as Spirit monsters in general are rather useless in the Graveyard. Cards that recover discarded cards are thus suggested, but not recommended as Spirit monsters do not have much in the way of deck thinning. Once the problem of field presence is resolved, spirit monsters can be quite annoying as well as devastating, since it is hard for the opponent to destroy them, and even with cards that forces discards, it is hard to target a particular spirit monster (unless something like "Card Destruction" is used). This is particularly true for "Inaba White Rabbit", as it can attack directly while avoiding opponents' counter-attacks.
- See also Card Rulings:Spirits
- Asura Priest
- Dark Dust Spirit
- D.D. Sprite
- Fushi No Tori
- Great Long Nose
- Inaba White Rabbit
- Level Eater
- Susa Soldier
- Yamata Dragon
- Yata-Garasu (Traditional format)
- Spirit Reaper
- Creature Swap
- Future Visions
- Mirror of Yata
- Mystic Box
- Orb of Yasaka
- Soul Exchange
- Sword of Kusanagi
- Swords of Revealing Light
- Spiritual Energy Settle Machine
- Spring of Rebirth
- Spirit Burner
- Double Summon
- Compulsory Evacuation Device
- Legacy of Yata-Garasu - Combine with "Creature Swap"
- Metal Reflect Slime
- Royal Oppression (Traditional Format)
- Scrap-Iron Scarecrow
- Spirit's Invitation
- The Golden Apples
- Ultimate Offering