Last week I wrote about Modern’s new Tier 1 decks, stating they were on another level from the rest of the decks in the format. At the end, I described Bant Spirits as a deck that was close to Tier 1 status, with the main thing holding it back a sideboard that needed more tuning. Since then, I’ve been playing the deck more myself, and while I have been impressed with it overall, Bant isn’t the Spirits deck that has me the most excited these days.
That would be the underappreciated U/W Spirits deck, which, as of writing this, is one of three decks I’m considering for #SCGDFW this weekend. Before I go into more detail about U/W Spirits and why I’m a fan of the deck, here’s my latest decklist, which I’ll be referencing throughout the article:
- 2 Phantasmal Image
- 2 Geist of Saint Traft
- 4 Drogskol Captain
- 4 Rattlechains
- 4 Spell Queller
- 4 Selfless Spirit
- 4 Mausoleum Wanderer
- 3 Remorseful Cleric
- 4 Supreme Phantom
Also, here’s a Bant Spirits decklist for reference, courtesy of Johnathon Schrader, who finished first at the StarCityGames.Com Invitational Qualifier in Roanoke, Virginia this past weekend:
- 1 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 2 Phantasmal Image
- 4 Drogskol Captain
- 4 Rattlechains
- 4 Spell Queller
- 3 Selfless Spirit
- 4 Mausoleum Wanderer
- 4 Supreme Phantom
As you can see, the reason to add green to the Spirits deck is to play Collected Company, an instant-speed threat that pairs nicely with the flash creatures from the Spirits deck. However, adding Collected Company to the deck means you’re unable to play Aether Vial as well, which is a steep cost. We need to pick a side to be on, so let’s discuss the merits and downsides of having access to each.
Advantages of Collected Company:
- Has the ability to generate multiple threats by itself
- Allows you to win games that no other card could bring you back from
- Is an instant, which makes attacking a difficult proposition for the opponent
- Best possible draw late in the game
Disadvantages of Collected Company:
- Collected Company will be a dead card in a relatively high amount of games for various reasons
- Modern is an extremely fast format and, in some games, four mana will be too expensive
- With only 22 lands and five mana creatures, in some games you won’t have four mana to cast it
- There’s variance with the card itself, as sometimes you’ll only find one or even zero creatures
- It’s a poor card to have in your opening hand, especially in multiples, since you’ll then likely be behind when you cast it, though this can be mitigated if you can accelerate into it with Noble Hierarch
Advantages of Aether Vial:
- Best card to have in the opening hand
- Allows you to get ahead by being able to double-spell early and often
- Allows you to play fewer lands and more threats
- Frees up your manabase to be able to play creature-lands, which act as even more threats
- Allows you to deploy threats at instant speed
Disadvantages of Aether Vial:
- Does nothing but put creatures onto the battlefield, so if you don’t draw enough creatures, it won’t do anything
- Takes a couple of turns to get fully online
- Is the worst draw you can have late in the game
- Severely diminishing returns for multiple copies drawn
While they both have their advantages and disadvantages, I believe Aether Vial to be the stronger card in the current Modern format. Modern is an incredibly fast format dominated by aggressive decks, so doing the most you can in the early turns to get ahead is incredibly important. Further, Spirits is an aggressive deck looking to get ahead and win the game with flying creatures while disrupting the opponent just long enough to win—the exact kind of deck looking to abuse the mana advantage Aether Vial provides.
While it’s undeniable that Collected Company helps Spirits against the removal-heavy decks of the format, I don’t believe the benefit Collected Company provides in these matchups outweighs the benefit of the speed of Aether Vial. Removal-heavy decks are scarce in Modern these days, and being able to race thanks to Aether Vial’s ability to empty your hand quickly is more valuable.
However, having access to Collected Company or Aether Vial isn’t the only difference between Bant Spirits and U/W Spirits. Their manabases form another important variable.
With Bant Spirits only having one land more than U/W Spirits, it’s easy to assume the two manabases are similar, but that’s not the case. With nine fetchlands, four shocklands, and two Horizon Canopies, Bant Spirits is, on average, taking one damage for every land played, assuming two life paid for a shockland. This means that the approximate starting life total when playing Bant Spirits is between sixteen and seventeen after accounting for damage from the manabase.
U/W Spirits only has four fetchlands and two shocklands, so roughly every third land will deal one point of damage, making the approximate starting life total when playing U/W Spirits around nineteen. Bant Spirits effectively allows your opponent to start with a zero-mana Lava Spike in their hand, something that can be the difference between winning and losing in this aggressive Modern format.
Fewer fetchlands and shocklands also mean more basic lands for U/W Spirits, which, besides less damage taken, also means it’s naturally going to be better against Blood Moon, always a problematic card against nonred three-color decks.
U/W Spirits receives other benefits to its manabase. Mutavault is a wonderful addition to the deck and mitigates the loss of not having access to Collected Company against the removal-heavy decks by being an extra threat. It also gives the deck another way to race the combo and big mana decks and provides a blocker to slow down the aggro decks while you win the race in the air. You also get access to Ghost Quarter, which can slow Mono-Green Tron down for a turn or disallow a Celestial Colonnade to block on a key turn.
U/W Spirits is just a worse version of Humans, right?
I’ve heard this plenty of times in the last few weeks. They both play tribal creatures and Aether Vial, and Humans is one of the best-performing decks in the format, so U/W Spirits must just be a worse version of Humans, right? Not exactly. First, and I’ll describe this in more detail later on when I talk through some matchups, I believe U/W Spirits is favored against Humans in the heads-up matchup.
Besides that, U/W Spirits has some major benefits over Humans. The flying creatures allow it to beat decks that are going wide on the ground, and the hexproof of Drogskol Captain and Rattlechains allows it to have a better game against the removal-heavy decks. Selfless Spirit is a nightmare for the creature decks to attack through by making your army full of indestructible blockers, while Remorseful Cleric provides useful maindeck graveyard hate.
These are all much different effects from what the creatures in Humans are doing, so saying U/W Spirits is just a worse version of Humans is both lazy and wrong.
Here are some of the most popular matchups you’ll play against in Modern and why I believe U/W Spirits is a good choice against them. I’ve included a sideboard guide to go along with it based on what I’ve been doing so far, but remember I’ve only been playing the deck for around a week now. Still, I’m happy with where my sideboard is for now.
This is one of Geist of Saint Traft’s worst matchups, so it’s the first card to go. Remorseful Cleric is similarly underpowered, considering its ability is irrelevant, but only two copies are shaved because of curve considerations. Coming in are some cards that can singlehandedly win the game, Worship and Settle the Wreckage. Both cards are weak to Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, but the opponent will likely sideboard Thalia out in this matchup.
Kira, Great Glass-Spinner can protect your creatures from Reflector Mage or Izzet Staticaster, perhaps even saving the game with Worship on the battlefield, making it much more valuable than a Remorseful Cleric.
Path to Exile is one of the most important cards on either side. It’s an incredibly efficient answer to any creature Humans plays and the best way to deal with their large ground threats. This would usually mean that you want to draw as many Path to Exiles as possible, but unfortunately Meddling Mage will always name Path to Exile, preventing you from casting it. It’s also the only good card for Kitesail Freebooter to take Game 1, and because of these two cards, you need to unload your Path to Exiles early before they become obsolete.
Once Meddling Mage is on the battlefield naming Path to Exile, you won’t be able to remove it in Game 1, save for a Phantasmal Image that copies a Reflector Mage. Normally you want to try save Phantasmal Image for Drogskol Captain, though, to make all your creatures hexproof.
Humans will be able to build larger creatures faster than you can, thanks to Champion of the Parish and Thalia’s Lieutenant. This means you’ll likely need to chump block once or twice while racing in the air, with help from Supreme Phantom and Drogskol Captain to get your creatures bigger than Mantis Rider.
However, if you happen to draw Selfless Spirit, racing Humans gets much easier. All you need to do is get a couple of chip shots in the air while leaving most of your creatures back to block and use Selfless Spirit to make them indestructible to eat the opposing Humans creatures in combat, all while setting up a one- or two-turn lethal attack in the air. When this is your plan, you should try to keep Aether Vial on two so that you can put Selfless Spirit back on to the battlefield immediately in case of Reflector Mage.
This matchup isn’t too favored for U/W Spirits, and a lot of it may come down to who has the Aether Vial advantage, but as I said before, I prefer to be on the U/W Spirits side. Collected Company is a liability against Thalia, Guardian of Thraben; Kitesail Freebooter, and Meddling Mage, and that negative interaction is one of the biggest reasons why I like U/W Spirits over Bant Spirits.
This entire matchup revolves solely around Terminus, and without it, U/W Control doesn’t have much of a chance. Unfortunately, Selfless Spirit and Spell Queller don’t do anything to prevent Terminus from putting all our creatures on the bottom of our deck, so aside from Mausoleum Wanderer and Negate in the sideboard, we’re at the mercy of the miracle.
There aren’t really any other scary cards for this matchup in U/W Control, as we have plenty of ways to punish them for playing expensive cards like Detention Sphere, Cryptic Command, and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.
I like leaving in two copies of Path to Exile because Lyra Dawnbringer and Baneslayer Angel are scary cards that they may have in their sideboard. If you know they don’t have either, then take out another copy of Path to Exile for Kira, Great Glass-Spinner. I would still leave in the last Path to Exile for a Celestial Colonnade over bringing in a Disenchant, but depending on the list of U/W Control, I could see changing my mind there.
Hollow One and R/B Vengevine
As you can see, I’m currently sideboarding the same in both of these matchups. Our sideboard provides some incredibly good cards for these matchups, with Rest in Peace being backbreaking and Worship oftentimes being lights-out. Over in the maindeck, Remorseful Cleric is a huge addition to the deck in these matchups that you don’t often see in Bant Spirits.
Against Hollow One, Phantasmal Image can copy a Hollow One or Gurmag Angler that comes down right away and is giving you trouble. Against R/B Vengevine, you can sacrifice Selfless Spirit to clear away Bridge from Below. With both decks having plenty of two-power attackers and minimal removal, Spell Queller is an all-star, eating a spell and then playing quality defense. Neither deck can deal with our flying creatures well, but both put on a ton of pressure right away, so the speed that Aether Vial provides is more beneficial than the strength of Collected Company in these matchups.
Even though I don’t believe this matchup is favorable for U/W Spirits and it’s the worst matchup out of the Tier 1 decks I wrote about last week, I’ve been pleasantly surprised how much game U/W Spirits has here. The onus is on Mono-Green Tron to have access to Tron right away, and if they stumble, U/W Spirits is fast enough to capitalize. Selfless Spirit provides nice protection from Oblivion Stone, Geist of Saint Traft can provide a fast clock, and Ghost Quarter does a good job slowing them down just enough.
Our sideboard is, unfortunately, filled with artifacts and enchantments that are easily dealt with by Nature’s Claim. I wish we had a better chance to diversify our attack, but these are still the best cards to be playing. The main target for Disenchant is Oblivion Stone, but on the play it can also hit an Expedition Map right away. Therefore, I would bring in the second copy of Disenchant on the play and take out another Spell Queller.
While I don’t believe this matchup is favorable for U/W Spirits, I’ve had enough success in this matchup that I don’t absolutely hate it. Given I like the chances of U/W Spirits against the other top decks, that’s exactly where I want to be against the worst of the bunch.
Moving Forward with Spirits
I do believe U/W Spirits is a good choice for #SCGDFW this weekend and it’s one of the last three decks I’m considering myself. The biggest deck I would be worried about when registering U/W Spirits is Mardu Pyromancer, due to the combination of removal spells and Lingering Souls.
Thankfully there are other decks that are keeping Mardu Pyromancer down these days, but that could change if U/W Spirits starts to see the spotlight. But for now, I recommend giving U/W Spirits a try. I hope you’ll be as pleasantly surprised as I was by the combination of speed, disruption, and consistency it provides.