Bant Spirits vs. Modern (Sideboarding Guide)

Though I am constantly sleeving up a different deck Modern deck for my weekly local events, I often have one ‘primary’ deck to return to for larger competitive events.  This choice is always meta-dependent, but based on my play preferences and strengths as a Magic player, tends to be something along the lines of creature toolbox, tempo, or control.  As I prepare for SCG Regionals next weekend, this primary archetype choice couldn’t be more clear to me.  Today, I will make my case for Bant Spirits being the strongest contender in Modern (for Fall of 2018).


Corey’s Bant Spirits [October 2018]

Creatures (28)
Noble Hierarch
Mausoleum Wanderer
Supreme Phantom
Phantasmal Image
Rattlechains
Selfless Spirit
Spell Queller
Drogskull Captain
Geist of Saint Traft

Spells (8)
Collected Company
Path to Exile

Artifacts (3)
Aether Vial
Lands (21)
Moorland Haunt
Island
Plains
Forest
Flooded Strand
Windswept Heath
Misty Rainforest
Horizon Canopy
Cavern of Souls
Hallowed Fountain
Temple Garden
Breeding Pool
Razorverge Thicket
Botanical Sanctum

Sideboard (15)
Knight of Autumn
Dromoka’s Command
Kataki, War’s Wage
Stony Silence
Settle the Wreckage
Rest in Peace
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Unified Will
Negate
Eidolon of the Rhetoric
Remorseful Cleric


In addition to being ridiculously powerful and arguably, very well-positioned at the moment, this deck just happens to check all the boxes for my preferred play style as it combines tempo, toolbox, and control elements all in one streamlined package.  The Spirits tribe, like Humans, finds success in this format by combining aggressive tribal elements with relevant disruption that is necessary to interact with combo and control opponents.  Tribes like Merfolk or Allies, who occasionally see Modern success, lean heavily toward aggression (and very well could be more aggressive) but the lack of disruptors like Kitesail Freebooter, Meddling Mage, Spell Queller, or Mausoleum Wanderer (no, Cursecatcher is not event close) leave these decks with a serious weakness that hinders their success in a meta full of Jesai, Miracles, and Storm.

The biggest hindrance to the Spirit tribe has been a clunky curve that featured a bottle-neck at the three-drop spot and lack of relevant turn one plays.  The printing of Supreme Phantom helped this problem tremendously and the current iteration of Bant Spirits mitigates these issues further by packing a playset of Nobles and three copies of Aether Vial.  When I first saw this configuration, I had reservations about the number of non-creatures that were being packed into a Vial/Coco deck as the more this balance shifts away from creatures, the weaker these two pieces become.  Though Coco can occasionally come up blank (as is always the case), testing has proven that the benefit of including Vial is very worthwhile.  Unlike decks like Vizier Company, the success of Collected Company in Spirits is not tied to finding the right combo pieces, but rather, finding two creatures that either apply pressure or get in the way of your opponent’s plan.  At times, you’ll find yourself casting Coco in hopes of flipping a Queller or Selfless Spirit, but in general, any creature in the deck would be a satisfactory find as the eight lords in the deck quickly increase the value of any spirit creature and count to twenty very quickly.

Since Vial was adopted by the deck, the number of Rattlechains has diminished and the stock set has typically been one copy.  Prior to this version, I had heard Bant Spirits described as a “Rattlechains deck” in order to highlight the value of the Flash that it provides to your spirit creatures.  Aether Vial does this even better and, as I have previously described, improves our historically low-impact turn one.  Like Humans, Spirits contains an appealing list of creatures that function as relevant spells when they can be played at instant speed:

       

I’ve included Geist of Saint Traft in this list because it is so much more impactful when unexpected and represents the largest clock on its own.

I’ll let you use your imagination for the rest of them.  Flash provides so much utility in so many cases that our creatures start to read more like Counterspell on a stick.

The Best Deck in Modern

In order to illustrate my point, lets take a look at the current most played decks in the Modern metagame.  This format is extremely wide and there are always outliers in “the field” that will make things difficult for a Spirits pilot, but considering the match-ups that are most common, I am very comfortable with this choice right now.

Regarding “the field”, Bant Spirits has access to some of the most powerful and versatile hate cards for a few generalized strategies in Modern.  Typically, three copies of Rest in Peace are present in our sideboards.  I opt for a 2:1 split of RIP and Remorseful Cleric to diversify my options and provide a bit of upside when I draw multiple copies of these similar effects in a game.  Also, two-three Stony Silence are commonly present to combat the wide range of artifact strategies in Modern.  There are few that can function even when they are “silenced”.  Cards like Eidolon of Rhetoric and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben cover our bases verse storm-type combo decks, which there are surprisingly many of (UR Storm, KCI, Cheerios), and slow down anyone else interested in doing “too much”.

Unfortunately, our sideboard is only so large, and though these cards provide very useful utility against a range of archetypes, we are left with a few notable weaknesses.  One major blind spot for Spirits was the lack of pinpoint artifact and enchantment removal.  The printing of Knight of Autumn helps this a bit (plus there is additional need for the lifegain vs. Burn decks), but Ensnaring Bridge decks could often get the best of us before we had access to ‘destroy target artifact’.  Obviously, Noble Hierarch provides a way to attack under Bridge, but dealing your opponent lethal damage one point at a time was not reliable enough against a deck that can control its draws like Lantern.  Unfortunately, Stony and Kataki don’t provide much help on this front.  Beyond that, our Tron match-up is never stellar as we have almost no disruption for the set-up of a ‘tron-fecta’ might just fold to Ugin, the Spirit Dragon but I will cover that weakness in the next section.


Against Humans

Bant Spirits is generally favored in this match-up.  Maindeck inclusions such as Kitesail Freebooter and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben are very low-impact against Spirits and Mantis Rider, who typically poses a major threat to opposing creature decks is easily blockable by our fliers or can be taken care of via Path to Exile.  The biggest detriment to Spirits in this match-up tends to be Reflector Mage but we also have ways to bypass this pseudo-removal (ie. the aforementioned Aether Vial).

The presence of Spirits in Modern exposes a bit of a weakness that this format has towards flying creatures.  Often times, the attacker in a creature stalemate loses more resources as the defending player gets to decide blocks and control variables aside from combat tricks.  Having flying creatures vs. Humans allows for a Spirits player to send in one threat a turn and leave up the rest of the team on defense.  With the ability to play lords at instant-speed or even flash in a Selfless Spirit to protect your team from lethal damage, combat math becomes very muddy here.

-2 Collected Company
-2 Geist of Saint Traft

+1 Dromoka’s Command
+1 Settle the Wreckage
+2 Knight of Autumn

I can’t even begin to tell you how great it feels to have Settle in this match-up.  Since this card is no longer ‘stock’ in this list, it becomes even better.  I like Knight of Autumn in place of Geist because it can hit opposing Vials or provide enough power to block and trade with an attacking Human.  Geist is blockable by almost everything in Humans and doesn’t often survive more than a single attack.

Whenever we bring in more non-creature spells, I am inclined to remove some number of Collected Company because the creature count is lowered.  Also, these types of spells are susceptible to Freebooter and are likely to be turned off by Meddling Mage.  I wouldn’t be surprised in Humans keeps Freebooter in during games two and three due to the need for a flyer.

Against Dredge

So this is a thing we have to talk about again… No matter how hard this deck gets hit with bans, we’ll always have to respect aggressive graveyard strategies.  I would lump Bridge/Vengevine decks into the same category as we can attack both in similar ways.

Rest in Peace tends to be the best thing you can do against these types of deck so its fortunate that we have access to a few.  Outside of RIP, we’ll lean heavily on Paths for their recurring creatures, Dromoka’s Command to blank a Conflagrate, and the Queller and Wanderer contingent to hinder spells like Cathartic Reunion, which tend to progress this deck’s plan rather quickly.  These two will be helpful in protecting a RIP when your opponent points Nature’s Claim, Assassin’s Trophy, or Abrupt Decay at it.  The biggest threat to our survival is taking a large Conflagrate to the dome after a few Creeping Chills have been triggered.  Keep this ruling in mind…

From Gatherer.wizards.com

This means that Queller won’t be very useful against Conflagrate when it is cast with Flashback.  It will, however, prevent it from going to the yard if you can exile it when it is cast for 0 or 1 in order to be placed there in absence of a discard spell.

Its honestly hard to say who is favored in this match-up but I feel confident in the amount of hate cards that we have access to with Bant Spirits.  Winning the die roll will help our odds tremendously and we’ll need to mulligan aggressively to find sideboard pieces in the second and third game.  Play conservatively but don’t forget to clock your opponent with attackers.  This new style of Dredge is far less combat-oriented so tough decisions will need to be made when you are deciding to go on the offensive or hold back your resources to interrupt their plan.

-4 Collected Company
-2 Supreme Phantom

+2 Rest in Peace
+1 Remorseful Cleric
+1 Settle the Wreckage
+1 Dromoka’s Command
+1 Negate

You could make the case for leaving in some number of Coco and cutting some Vials here but I feel like this option eliminates some of the gambling aspects of trying to find the right disruption from the top 6 cards of your deck, verses making informed decisions about what you can do with your hand.

Against Control

While control typically flourishes in creature match-ups, Aether Vial, Cavern of Souls, Spell Queller, Mausoleum Wanderer, and Rattlechains do a fantastic job of complicating things.  One of the biggest strengths of this tribe is that it inherently packs answers to the worst nightmares for creature tribal decks (Wrath spells), bypasses opportunities for your opponents to counter your creatures, and nimbly shields your creatures from removal spells.

An early clock provided by Mausoleum Wanderer and lords, backed up by a Spell Queller to protect from Supreme Verdict makes the control match-up very favorable for the Spirits pilot.  Though Terminus stands as an exception to our resilience to mass removal provided by Selfless Spirit and Queller, if a Wanderer isn’t able to counter this spell, Vial provides a very relevant option to go long vs. Control by sneaking in attackers at the opponent’s end step and chipping away at their life total.  The presence of Geist of Saint Traft in our maindeck (which is typically reserved to sideboards with the intention of bringing in vs. Control) allows us to steal some games single-handedly.

-2 Path to Exile
-1 Collected Company
-2 Supreme Phantom
-1 Phantasmal Image

+2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
+1 Negate
+1 Unified Will
+1 Remorseful Cleric
+1 Eidolon of Rhetoric

Phantom often comes out when we need more space for two-drop creatures from our sideboard (Thalia, in this case) as it is relatively low-impact on its own.  When we are pitted against a removal-heavy deck, we often have to rely on fewer creatures to provide a clock so “going wide” is rarely something that happens if it can’t be achieved early on.  I really like this card’s interaction with Wanderer here, though.  Putting a Phantom into play with Vial allows Wanderer to become a Mana Leak useful in taking care of spells like Cryptic Command and similar.

I am always conflicted about the number of Cocos I leave in vs. Control.  Its a very strong play to follow up a Wrath or to bait out a Counterspell so that you can cast something without disruption on your turn, but I find that I am often tempted to cast it for some extra damage on my turn and they’ve always got the answer to it.  I think I’d rather lean more heavily on Vial here.

Many of the Bant Spirits lists include Gaddock Teeg in the side.  I miss not having him in my 75 the most when I am up against Control, and depending on what you are expecting on a given weekend, can agree with a decision to shave something from the board to make room for one.

Against Tron

You can’t see this but I’m rolling my eyes as I type this part…

I’m never terribly excited to see Tron no matter which deck I am playing.  This match-up often feels like it is determined by how well my opponent draws and one thing I’ve learned is that they always find what they need.

We don’t waste our valuable sideboard space with cards like Damping Sphere so our best plan against Tron is to clock them.  I fully subscribe to the plan of looking to cards like Geist of Saint Traft in these types of match-ups where you’ll surely lose if the game goes long so its convenient that Geist is already a part of our main deck.

The good news is we have eight creatures that can interact with spells like Ancient Stirrings and Sylvan Scrying in Wanderers and Quellers.  You must decide carefully, however, when you’re given the opportunity to sacrifice a Wanderer to interrupt your opponent.  What is more relevant to you at the time? The attacker or the disruption?  Remember, if they don’t get to search for Urza’s Tower right now, they’ll just draw it next turn anyways.  At least, I’ve been trained to assume so.

In game two and three, you’ll need to respect Wurmcoil, Ulamog, Ballista, and Worldbreaker, but don’t over-commit to doing so.  Three to four Paths should do and we’ll likely be interested in Stony Silence for other purposes (ie. Expedition Map and Oblivion Stone) so that should help with Walking Ballista.  Don’t bother with extra help from cards like Settle the Wreckage because if that is something you need, you’re likely already losing that game.  Save that space for on-tribe creatures to ensure that you’ll curve out nicely and finish them fast.

Karn Liberated is not the end of the game so long as you’ve dealt your opponent some damage prior to its arrival.  In fact, destroying a permanent is relatively low-impact unless it is followed up with an Ulamog or Ugin right after.  Ugin is scary, but on its own, can be beat.  Yes, the -X will probably deal with your entire board but you should have the option to flash in a Rattlechains, drop a spirit into play with Vial, or play Coco and hope to find some attackers in order to finish them off after ‘Tron’ has been achieved.

-3 Aether Vial
-1 Collected Company
-1 Supreme Phantom
-1 Rattlechains

+2 Stony Silence
+2 Knight of Autumn
+1 Negate
+1 Unified Will

If you’re on the play, I could see cutting some Path to Exile instead of the creatures as your plan should be to draw a hand that curves out nicely and reduces your opponent’s life to 0 before removal is needed.

Against Burn

Your results against Burn will depend on how well your creatures are timed in order to blank their removal (especially “searing” effects).  Mausoleum Wanderer and Selfless Spirit will be useful in protecting a Spell Queller who is hoarding a temporarily ‘countered’ burn spell.  Like the Tron match-up, Geist can present a relevant clock here, too, and can dodge their removal nicely while attacking as a bigger creature than anything their deck includes thanks to Exalted triggers and lords.

In general, if you can combine a pair of Drogskol Captains (or a Captain plus Phantasmal Image) to give your entire team Hexproof, you’re likely able to win the game as this pairing will also make your Wanderers and Quellers even more significant roadblocks for your opponent’s spells.  Be prepared to deal with Eidolon of the Great Revel if you aren’t lucky enough to have a Vial in play to bypass the cast trigger altogether.

+2 Knight of Autumn
+1 Dromoka’s Command
+2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
+1 Negate
+1 Eidolon of the Rhetoric

-4 Noble Hierarch
-2 Collected Company
-1 Phantasmal Image

Dromoka’s Command is very useful here as it can ‘counter’ a burn spell pointed at your creatures, make a creature large enough to survive a burn spell, and/or destroy an enemy Eidolon of the Great RevelEidolon of Rhetoric may seem odd, but trust me, this will slow your opponent down significantly and make combat math much more manageable when your opponent casts and attacks with a Monastery Swiftspear or Goblin Guide or has reached their limit on burn spells for the turn.  Beyond that, its stats are situated quite nicely for blocking their creatures, especially when boosted by a lord.

Against Storm

This match-up is very good for this particular 75.  We’ve got so much Storm-hate built in that we don’t have to veer too far from the tribal plan to hinder them.  Cards like Rest in Peace and Remorseful Cleric will obviously shine here, but the best-case scenario is when your Eidolon of Rhetoric receives Hexproof from a Drogskol Captain or two.  There is very little that can be done in this case from the perspective of your opponent and this should slow them enough to attack them to death with your creatures.

+2 Rest in Peace
+2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
+1 Negate
+1 Eidolon of the Rhetoric
+1 Remorseful Cleric

-2 Supreme Phantom
-1 Phantasmal Image
-4 Collected Company

I like to board out Coco entirely here because tapping out pro-actively to find creatures opens up the door for your opponent to resolve Gifts Ungiven to set up their combo or find the needed answers to your disruption.  If you’re doing so re-actively, a four-mana spell that might find a way to counter something is a little too susceptible to being blown out by an opposing Remand or Lightning Bolt.

I can see a case for Settle the Wreckage as an out to Empty the Warrens, especially if you lost game one.  Generally speaking, I am more inclined to present a clock and attack over the goblin army if I’m up a game in the series.

Conclusions

Bant Spirits is tough and resilient.  It can do things that I’ve never seen a Modern creature deck capable of doing.  If you’re in the market for a build that has potential to work its way out of any tricky situation or creatively disrupt your opponent, this is a good place to start.  I’ve said it before and I truly believe that Bant Spirits is the ‘dark horse’ best deck in Modern right now.

Discussion