A handful of Spirits have seen play in Standard before Eldritch Moon, but with the release of the new set, we’re sure to see a spike thanks to a number of exciting rares. The comparison to Faeries isn’t too far off, and the deck can play an incredible range of cards at instant speed. You can pass priority each turn while representing a number of many spells, which should give any opponent fits.
The card that’s sure to push the archetype more than any other is the new talk of the town, Spell Queller. Hyped as the best card in Eldritch Moon, a 2/3 flash flying creature for 3 mana is already above the curve. On top of that, it counters any spell with converted mana cost 4 or less.
Everyone I know misread this card at first. Oh, it’s got to be spells under 4 mana, so 3 or less, right? Nope, it gets 4cc cards. But it’s only noncreature spells, right? Right??
Spell Queller is an absolute joke. It’s far too powerful and definitely will warp the format for the entirety of its stay in Standard. While many are lamenting the ruination of Standard only one week into the format, Spirits players are rejoicing at a powerful weapon. Unfortunately, as a 3-casting-cost flash creature in UW, it also slots perfectly into the format’s top deck: Bant Company.
So, if Spell Queller is already slotting into many of the format’s best decks, you’re going to need some other tools to put the Spirits deck on top. Mausoleum Wanderer may do just that. Judge’s Familiar appeared in multiple Pro-Tour-winning deck lists, and the Wanderer is better in nearly every way. Pumping its own power to start attacking for 2 as early as turn 2 is already a strong feature, but the fact that you’re playing a bunch of Spirits that have flash means that you can often cast spells during your opponent’s turn to pump the Wanderer and make it into a trickier counter. When looking for a tool to really punish cards like Collected Company, Mausoleum Wanderer can do exactly that and will often force an opponent to have 6 mana available if they want to get their instant through.
Next, you have Selfless Spirit. A 2-mana 2/1 flying creature is a reasonable rate, and we’ve seen players put them in their decks throughout the years even when they came with a drawback. Instead, Selfless Spirit comes with an incredible bonus of making your team indestructible. This gives your Spell Quellers extra protection, allows you to survive cards like Planar Outburst and Kozilek’s Return, and gives Spirits an instant-speed way to flip an Archangel Avacyn.
Archangel Avacyn lets you overextend your creatures and make sure they’re protected, then closes the game in a hurry. When Spirits passes the turn with 5 mana up, between counters and Avacyn, the opponent won’t have many safe lines.
The final piece to the Spirits puzzle is one we’ve seen in aggressive decks with no Spirits synergies whatsoever. Rattlechains has proven itself on its own, but the abilities really shine in a Spirits deck. Giving your Spirits flash can have a big impact on the game, especially Mausoleum Wanderer and Selfless Spirit against an unsuspecting opponent. And giving Spell Queller hexproof at instant speed in the face of an opponent’s removal spell is insane.
So you’ve got your creature suite. If you want to play 25 lands, that gives you lots of flexibility for the 15 spell slots, and there are plenty of appealing options. Honestly, no spell stands out as an absolute slam-dunk, so there are tons of viable ways to construct this deck.
Perhaps the most interesting is Ojutai’s Command. With 12 different creatures with casting cost 2 or less, and 8 of those liable to be sacrificed at some point in the game, there’s a good chance to get max value out of the Command. It’s not going to be every game where there’s a creature you really want to counter once you’re at 4 or more mana—there are control decks with very few creatures, Company decks are often casting Company, and the aggro decks may have already deployed their hand. The secondary option to return a creature and draw a card is what makes Ojutai’s Command really shine. If you’re gaining 4 life, something has usually gone wrong, but it can win a race in a pinch.
Clash of Wills is not an exciting Magic card, but it really does the trick when opponents just assume you have Rattlechains. You need a lot of mana to make this work, and there will be times that it looks pretty silly since you would rather cast Ojutai’s Command or Queller, but this is a reasonable counter and the cheapest in the format.
Stasis Snare is such a good removal spell that really has only been pushed out of the format because of Dromoka’s Command. You do have some solid ways to help protect against the Command with your many counters, but it’s still an issue. That said, an instant-speed removal spell in a deck filled with flash creatures and counters makes Stasis Snare appealing. Even if they’re able to deal with the enchantment, you’ll still get a tempo boost, and they should be using their Dromoka’s Commands pretty early to deal with your creatures.
Planar Outburst is a key difference between this list and what most people are playing. Combine Selfless Spirit and Planar Outburst and you have a one-sided Wrath on your hands, but just clearing the board before sitting behind your flash creatures and instants is a pretty good plan. Outburst is it’s at its best when they don’t see it coming.
Essence Flux is an interesting card that many aggro Spirits decks are running in high numbers. The combinations with Rattlechains or Spell Queller are nice, but even targeting Archangel Avacyn is pretty insane. For a single mana, this can be an awesome trick, but it’s the one card that has no effect without a creature in play. In this list, it ended up getting trimmed.
Finally, if you’re leaving up lots of mana, it’s important to have a play even when they play around your interaction. Anticipate isn’t an exciting Magic card, but it does what you need it to do.
Here’s the list Jeff Hoogland piloted to a Top 16 finish in the first Standard Open of the format:
Jeff Hoogland, Top 16 in a Standard Open
There’s a lot going on that I really like about this list, and quite a bit that I don’t. The sideboard doesn’t feel well tuned. You have lots of 2-ofs, and that’s rarely a recipe for success. The main issue comes from the fact that it was week 1 of a format, so having a carefully calibrated sideboard is going to be awfully tough to accomplish. As the format goes on, it’ll be easier to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Each of these cards can serve an important purpose, but only a couple serve as effective hosers for specific matchups.
You have additional removal in Silkwrap, which is an excellent weapon against low-to-the-ground aggro. Right now, that would be Humans, but Silkwrap is versatile enough to take care of other cheap creatures, especially in as yet unknown matchups.
Blessed Alliance serves a similar purpose, although it can rarely get their best guy. It’s not going to be the best card against a deck that can create enough tokens to make the Ormendahl you’d hope to kill with it, so instead Alliance is likely to be focused on the aggro decks, like Humans, where you can kill their early creature or kill a creature and gain 4 life in the midgame.
Planar Outbursts in the sideboard allow the Spirits deck to move up to 4 copies. While this is a little slow against aggro decks, its power level in that matchup is through the roof. This is also a potential tool against Company decks and anything else that floods that board. Cryptolith Rite in particular looks silly after the board is cleared. If Eldrazi becomes a thing, being able to take out Thought-Knot Seers and Reality Smashers will be important.
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is an unexpected choice. It’s powerful, but the majority of the spells in this deck are countermagic that you don’t really want to flash back. Since your opponents are sure to have their cheap removal in against you after board for your deck full of Spirits, it’s tough to imagine Jace surviving.
Bygone Bishop is a sweet tool in long games, providing tons of card advantage and a great mana sink for when your opponent passes the turn against your open mana. Being able to crack Clues at instant speed gives you tons of staying power, and your flash creatures will often provide you with instant card advantage.
Negate is one of the best tools printed against control decks, but also does well against ramp. Countering ramp spells will slow down an otherwise tough matchup. Negate stops card draw, sweepers, and planeswalkers, making it one of the best ways to fight slower decks.
Confirm Suspicions feels a little slow for Standard, so I’m surprised to find it here. When it works, it’s a blowout, but it only really works against the slowest of decks. This deck is one of the few that can realistically leave up 5 mana, but you only get to counter one spell in a turn.
On the surface, Summary Dismissal looks like a slower counterspell. In reality, this is the perfect tool for fighting any ramp deck. Yes, you may just use it to counter their ramp spell, but the fact that this gets all of the abilities in addition to exiling the spell is perfect for the matchup. World Breaker and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger were just unbeatable cards for many slow decks. While Spirits isn’t the slowest deck in the world, an early 5/7 reach that blows up a permanent is a huge problem. It even comes back from the graveyard after a Planar Outburst! Not so much against Summary Dismissal, however. Dismissal will exile the World Beaker and counter the ability to negate the card entirely. Same for Ulamog, the emerge creatures, and anything else with a cast trigger. The fact that you could use this to stop game-breaking effects such as Emrakul, the Promised End or a planeswalker ultimate makes it an awesome new tool for all blue decks.
This isn’t the only way to build a Spirit deck, and I couldn’t tell you this early in the season which way is best. Let’s take a quick look at the build Harrison Fang used to Top 32 the same event:
Harrison Fang, Top 32 in a Standard Open
This build uses almost no countermagic, outside of the always present 4 Spell Quellers. Most of the spell slots are instead focused on Essence Flux. With Flux being a 1-mana counter for removal, a potential +1/+1 counter, and the ability to double-up on enters-the-battlefield triggers, this is likely to be the most popular build.
Hoogland completely eschewed Reflector Mage, which you’ll only see in the most controlling of UW decks. It’s tough to say which direction is correct as Reflector Mage is a very powerful card, but a ground creature is just not what it used to be in Spell Queller’s world. The fact that both 3-mana UW creatures work so well together is another point in favor of Reflector Mage, though.
Nebelgast Herald shares many similarities with Pestermite, one of Magic’s finest creatures, and will go a long way toward making sure you win any race. As a 2-power flyer, it’s a reasonable attacker and worth blinking with an Essence Flux.
Where Spirits ends up going from here remains anybody’s guess, but it’s sure to stick around for a long time thanks in large part to Spell Queller. In conjunction with Mausoleum Guard and Selfless Spirit, you have an awesome 1-2-3 curve to start any deck list.
So which version of Spirits do you like best? How about playing Bant and splashing some Collected Company? Has Spell Queller ruined Standard? Sound off in the comments!