Hi all, right now I’m in the middle of two big Modern events, the RPTQ from last weekend and Grand Prix Liverpool coming up this weekend. As I’ve got modern on the brain I thought i’d walk you through some key points from my RPTQ preparation and experience. Although the focus is on Modern at the moment, fear not, this isn’t just another article on 5 colour humans…. Wait? What?
Why didn’t you play 5 Colour Humans?
Despite really enjoying playing 5 colour humans over the last ten or so months, I decided to learn how to play Bant spirits. For those not in the know I can only describe it as an aggressive creature deck that packs some disruptive and tempo elements and leverages its spirit tribal synergies. Here are a list of the core cards in the deck that you’ll see in pretty much every recent list as of the time of writing:
Green unlocks Collected Company and Noble Hierarch, and the deck’s core is also supported by cards like Geist of Saint Traft, Path to Exile and Aether Vial. You can find my current decklist a few paragraphs down and some of the articles I’ve provided links to also contain alternate decklists.
There’s some slight debate about whether this deck has overtaken Humans as the ‘tribal weapon of choice’ for competitive Modern events or not. I was arguably a bit slow to make the transition, initially having more faith in humanity than spirituality, but there were a number of things that persuaded me to at least try the deck and to subsequently make the transition:
You get to play a real sideboard
It’s well documented, and at this point pretty much an accepted truth, that Modern is host to some really busted stuff. Sometimes the best way to stop opponents simply stomping you with such power is to play a powerful hate card. The Humans manabase mainly leans on Ancient Ziggurat and Unclaimed Territory which heavily constrains its ability to reliably cast cards like Rest in Peace and Stony Silence. While you can play Anafenza, the Foremost or Kataki, War’s Wage instead, these alternatives just don’t hamstring decks like Dredge or Hardened Scales as hard as the two-mana enchantments. Having a ‘regular’ fetchland/shockland manabase allows you to make use of the strongest sideboard cards in your colours instead of being restricted to only creatures and humans as sideboard options.
Making evasion great again
I’ll concede that the ‘nut draws’ aren’t quite as fast as those in the Humans deck simply because Champion of the Parish and Thalia’s Lieutenant are cheaper and faster than the ‘beaters’ in Spirits. So while you are likely to get more damage in with Humans on turns two and three, because your beatdown creatures in Spirits have evasion, you typically end up attacking for a lot more on turn four or five because that Tarmogoyf, Wurmcoil Engine or Gurmag Angler the opponent just played isn’t an effective blocker for your creatures. Having your creatures be primarily flying allows you to dictate combat to a greater extent, in the sense that you can attack advantageously into most boards successfully whilst retaining the ability to hold back blockers.
Collected Company is a dumb card
There’s concern that this is simply an Azorious deck splashing for Collected Company (and Noble Hierarch) but I’m here to tell you that I think including the former (and sort of by necessity the latter) is worth it! Winning games of Magic in Modern often comes about by doing ‘busted stuff’ and this is true even if you aren’t a linear combo deck. Having access to a spell that could provide your creatures +2/+2 upon grabbing two lords, but also then being able to also use the same card in response to a threat to find Spell Queller or protect a creature from removal with Drogskol Captain or Selfless Spirit makes it even more valuable. Yes there is a variance factor, but having said this, the deck is fundamentally built to bring about these situations with reliability enough for this to be a minor drawback rather than a Risk Factor.
How did you learn how to play this new deck?
Watch others play the deck
Luckily the deck has a good track record, having put up some very strong Grand Prix finishes recently, so I obviously scoured recordings of the coverage videos to watch some professional Magic players play the deck:
- Video Coverage of Grand Prix Stockholm (GGSLive Youtube channel)
- Video Coverage of Grand Prix Atlanta (GGSLive Youtube channel)
Both events were won by Bant Spirits (Ondrej Strasky won GP Stockholm and Peiyuan Zheng won GP Atlanta) so the Top 8 matches are what you might want to focus on most.
Do the ‘required reading’
There are some articles or pieces of ‘required reading’ out there. Here are links to a couple of the places I turned to first:
- Everything to know about Spirits in Modern (Ondrej Strasky, Starcitygames Premium)
- Is Bant Spirits Replacing Humans as the Top Tribal Deck in Modern? (Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Channelfireball)
- Droppin’ Baums – Bant Spirits (Corey Baumeister, TCGPlayer)
I also wish I had been able to read this piece by Sebastian Pozzo, which came out just after the RPTQ, and I’ve put a link in here as, although I technically didn’t use it to prepare for the event, I think it’s a really useful article if you’re planning on playing spirits.
Phone a friend
I’m lucky enough to have a support network of other Magic players, be they local friends, Team-mates from Upheaval, or just people who were willing to help me out because we were all at least considering playing Bant Spirits for the RPTQ. Others certainly helped sense-check theories I had about the deck and remind me of the pros and cons of some of the card choices. Being able to share ideas in a group really helped me understand the deck better and go into the event a lot more confident than I otherwise might have.
Do the reps
Sounds really simple, but I put the effort in to get a reasonable number of matches in on Magic Online to put the theory into practice and come to my own conclusions about the deck (while I’d say the advice of other more accomplished Magic players can be trusted, it’s important to come to your own conclusions about things, even if you end up agreeing with the pros – but this is a whole other side topic). My results weren’t fantastic, with an average MTGO Competitive League result of 3-2, and when I couldn’t commit to a full league, slightly above average 2-man constructed queue results. However, playing the games was important for practicing the fundamental play patterns of the deck, sideboarding, and learning a bit more about other decks people are playing around the world.
What I had learnt led me to settle on the following list at the event.
Some quick notes on some card choices
- Path to Exile/Reflector Mage: In terms of interaction these cards contest that role alongside the obligatory Spell Queller. Deciding how many of each is something people have differing opinions on, and I’ve seen decklists running a 4/0 split either way. I decided to go 3/2 because I think Path to Exile is going to do the fundamental job of removing a creature more effectively, but Reflector Mage serves as effective supplementary interaction that also makes your Collected Company hits more reliable and Phantasmal Images a little more flexible.
- Rattlechains: A very ‘spirit-esque’ card in the sense that its abilities resonate with the kind of things the deck tries to do, but I ended up not registering a single copy, instead opting for a third Selfless Spirit in its place. The card lets you play at instant speed, but with Vial, Spell Queller, and Collected Company, you already are very capable of doing this. Yes it does let you play your ‘lords’ at instant speed more frequently, and blowing out spot removal with a flashed in Drogskol feels great, but you often are playing the ‘lords’ in your first main phase anyway to get more damage in. In terms of the trigger giving one of your spirits Hexproof, this is nice, but Selfless Spirit’s activated ability is likely to do the same, and can make combats awkward. I see this card as an extension of the current configuration of the archetype, not an essential component. It could potentially become a better inclusion if control and attrition-based midrange decks with spot removal were more prevalent in the format.
- Worship: This is a card that I have very mixed feelings about, and, for me, it boils down to two things. Firstly, ask yourself “Would rather try and obtain some ‘free wins’ in some postboard games instead of using the sideboard slot(s) on to focus on being better at doing other things?”. Secondly, ask yourself “Am I playing 22 lands?”. Worship really shines against other creature decks or decks like Burn that go all-in on attacking the life-total. I believe that to a degree it must be respected in the mirror match and decks falling into this category could feel ‘forced’ to bring in a Disenchant effect ‘just in case!’. I decided not to run it because the answer to the above questions for me were “No”. With respect to the land count, I think it’s quite dangerous to play Worship if you only have 21 lands, partly because in some of the match-ups where you want it, Thalia is also a card you also sideboard in.
- Dromoka’s Command: This soon became one of my favourite cards in the 75 because it has such a wide application against damage spells and allows you to interact with other troublesome creatures and enchantments. It makes a world of difference when you can kill off a Steel Overseer AND Hardened Scales or ‘counter’ Anger of the Gods and speed up the clock. I had found Knight of Autumn a little underwhelming in the games I played myself so I turned one of them into an additional Command.
I travelled to the event from Leeds with Rob Catton and Alex Roebuck. However, because Rob was visiting friends and Alex had booked a different hotel, I was staying with David Calf and Kayure Patel (Axion), Nathan Hills (Upheaval) and Charlie Newton. David was on Bant Spirits like me, and had given me a few tips playing the deck as he had gotten a lot more play time in than I had. Kayure was on Dredge, Nathan on White-blue control and Charlie was on Burn.
The day started with a bit of a misplay. I opened my deckbox to write up my decklist before setting off. To my horror I hadn’t packed a Moorland Haunt, and instead had an extra Windswept Heath in my deck (so it was always 60 cards). I immediately tried to reach out to other players to see if I could borrow one.
This was then followed by another misplay. I put the wrong postcode into Apple Maps and took us on the scenic route to the venue. This was soon rectified and we got to the venue in time to play in the event, but I’m sure I stressed everyone out in the process!
Nobody had any Moorland Haunts I could borrow so Joao Martins kindly lent me a Mutavault and I registered that instead. I was slightly embarrassed at my inability to pack the correct cards before setting off from home.
The event was attended by just over 70 players which meant seven rounds of swiss before the cut to Top 8 and play-off round for Pro Tour Qualification. Here is a quick summary of how the swiss rounds played out for me before I go into some more interesting talking points from the matches:
- Round 1 vs Mono-green Tron 2-0 WIN 1-0
- Round 2 vs Blue-Green Infect 1-2 LOSS 1-1
- Round 3 vs Bant Spirits 2-1 WIN 2-1
- Round 4 vs Bogles 2-1 WIN 3-1
- Round 5 vs Grixis Shadow 1-2 LOSS 3-2
- Round 6 vs Jeskai Control 2-1 WIN 4-2
- Round 7 vs UR Splinter Twin 1-2 LOSS 4-3
The early rounds were fairly routine and I don’t have much to say about them. My Tron opponent stumbled both games; I don’t like the Infect matchup and mulliganed to five in game three; I drew a bit better than my Spirits opponent in round three. I was a little lucky to win game one against Bogles in round four because all his lands were Horizon Canopy and I had exactly lethal on the right turn.
- The whole match against Grixis Shadow was very close. I died to a Temur Battle Rage‘d Street Wraith in game two (yes I had reduced my opponent to doing that, but at least they had a play left). In game three, after putting my opponent to 1, I was ‘one-shotted’ by a Battle Rage’d Death’s Shadow.
- I misplayed very badly against Rob, my Jeskai opponent, in game two of round six. The long and short of it is that I added a Spell Queller to the Battlefield when I intended to actually add Drogskol Captain. This deprived me of a potential lethal attack on a crucial turn. This is a basic case of me failing to cast spells properly. I got fully punished for this as a Terminus showed up and the game slipped away from me very quickly.
- In round seven, I didn’t actually play against ‘Splinter Twin’ as it’s still banned in Modern. My opponent was Duncan Tang, a great player indeed, who is tearing up the field (to an extent) with a good old-fashioned Deceiver Exarch and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker combination within a Blue-red control shell. In games two and three I was a bit land-short and ended up repeatedly going to the Clean-up step and discarding cards, but I think overall I played a bit too scared of the combo. If I had been playing against a regular control deck, I would probably have jammed my spells a bit more proactively, but because I lived in fear of the ‘I win’ button, I played a lot more cautiously, and I think Duncan was able to take advantage of a lot of ‘wasted mana’ on my part. It’s true that the nature of his deck gives him a lot of equity to ‘force’ opponents to ‘respect the combo’ but I think with the dire straits I was in, maybe I couldn’t afford to play around it and would have given myself a better chance to win by playing more proactively.
Overall, 4-3 is a fair result when you consider the mistakes I made either in preparation or during the event, the draws I had and the quality of the opposition. Perhaps with a bit more spiritual experience and I’ll remember to put the right cards in my deckbox and cast the spells I intend to cast. I ended up 23rd which earned me just over 20 booster packs for my troubles! Both David and Nathan made Top 8 of the event, which was excellent. Nathan won his quarterfinal round and earned Pro Tour Qualification – Congratulations to him!
This weekend is Grand Prix Liverpool which is team Unified Modern. I’ll be there from Friday morning as I intend to play in the Ultimate Masters Sealed PTQ (my pre-release for this set!). If you are going to the event and see me around the event hall, feel free to come and say Hi! I’m happy to chat and it’s always great to meet new people!
You can find me on Facebook, Twitter (@Chris54154), at most PPTQs in the North of England, RPTQs and GPs in Europe, and some other large competitive events like Mega Modern and Legacy Masters throughout the year in the UK.
As always, thanks for reading, good luck and have fun in your next event!