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Sullivan Library: Spirits in Modern

One of the most exciting things about any new set is the revelation of cards that might just be able to change the world, even if only a little bit.

Modern is a hard nut to crack, even with the most radical of new cards. One big reason for that is that the card pool is so vast and the established archetypes so powerful, something making an impression can be very difficult.

Enter this little number:

Supreme Phantom

Any time a "lord"-style creature is printed, it is worth taking note. Supreme Phantom, cheap as it is, is an incredible supplement to Drogskol Captain in empowering a team of killer spirits. This is particularly valuable when thinking about how effective a Mausoleum Wanderer will be, or in keeping a Spell Queller from dying and releasing its trapped spell.

Of course, the baselines of these decks still need to have something real to be worth thinking about. Fortunately, there are precedents, even recent ones, like from this last weekend:

So, there are some small card choices that I expect will certainly get pushed out by a powerful Spirit here and there. Supreme Phantom demands that it get played, and then there are other cards that I find intriguing as likely main deck cards, like Geist of Saint Traft and Kira, Great Glass-Spinner.

Taking some lessons from some other older decks — namely Modern Humans, older Standard Bant CoCo, and old-school Legacy Merfolk — there are several paths that I feel make sense to me. First of all, maximizing the power of Collected Company is a huge deal. Humans, for example, smartly uses four Reflector Mage, a choice that is mirrored in Collected Company decks of yore. While Humans gets a payoff because of tribal synergies, the Collected Company decks got a payoff just in their density of hits on the CoCo that affect the board.

The real benefit of playing a Spirits deck is that you are able to be a true aggro-control deck, a strategic archetype which is just intrinsically powerful. Spell Queller is an incredibly good card, but it is all the better when it can stay out of range of a Lightning Bolt or Lightning Helix.


Rattlechains is also incredible in this kind of archetype, not only because the card acts like a pseudo-counterspell on most creature removal, but also especially because it lets you begin to act almost entirely on your end step. Twomana is a low, low investment for such a huge payoff, which can mean that you can represent Collected Company while still being able to do cruel things like cast Selfless Spirit as an instant, or even cast multiple 'lords' in the form of Drogskol Captain and Supreme Phantom at inopportune times for an opponent.

After some experimentation, here is where I ended up:

The thing I'm still most concerned about is whether or not the mana is sufficient to support everything the deck is doing. I could see the Botanical Sanctum being cut down to make Collected Company more reliable in a late game, and I could also see, like Kat Light, adding in Birds of Paradise. Without a Knight of the Reliquary, Gavony Township is only available as a naturally-drawn card, but I've generally found that it is powerful to have a land that is an outlet for an excessive mana draw; I've also flirted with Moorland Haunt in this slot, but so far prefer Gavony Township because I'm more looking to buff creatures in play than create small creatures in the late game. While either of these lands is a great way to handle an excessive mana draw, I'm still uncertain whether there is enough mana for that to end up being a problem.

Seeing as this deck is able to put forth an aggressive stance quite easily, I could also easily see the inclusion of more Geist of Saint Traft, or some other intriguing Spirits like Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit. Heading in this direction, though, makes me think that the deck would start wanting to be an Unclaimed Territory deck, which, perhaps it wants to be. Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit would certainly help the deck head into a more aggressive direction, a choice which could be helped by cards that stay in Bant, like Spirit of the Labyrinth, or be more wildly pursued by going full-on multicolored with cards like Eidolon of the Great Revel. That direction sounds exciting, but I do worry about the color requirements just destroying the deck.

Remorseful Cleric

The sideboard includes a number of powerful Spirits that can go a long way toward combating numerous strategies. Remorseful Cleric is an incredibly powerful option, allowing the deck to actually begin the work of killing an opponent while waiting until an appropriate time to pull the trigger on nuking a graveyard (though I think the deck would be happy to add a single Rest in Peace to complement it). Kataki, War's Wage and Eidolon of Rhetoric are both quite hateful to the respective strategies they attack. Kira, Great Glass-Spinner has always been a powerful weapon against decks that are trying to fairly kill creatures, and Selfless Spirit seems pretty incredible in a world where the control decks out there are still fairly common.

I could imagine a world in which Tireless Tracker were in the sideboard for long grinds. This choice has long been a powerful one for Green-based creature decks, and many decks just fall apart to it. Still, there are only 15 slots, and something has to give.

One card that I absolutely love in Kat Light's sideboard is the choice to include Worship. With so many untargetable or difficult-to-kill creatures in the deck, Worship can just be a practical ending of the game against many opponents. Kat may be right to include two copies of the card, but again, I'm working with only 15 slots, and the inclusion of the ancient 'Christopher Robin Combo' of Worship/[Crystalline Sliver analog] can sometimes just be 'cute' rather than 'effective'. Since a second Worship in play is just redundancy, I'm happy with just one.

Damping Sphere may have gotten to be somewhat ubiquitous in Modern, but it is perfectly at home in a deck like this. As I've mentioned in earlier articles, this card is especially effective in decks that can manage to threaten to end the game quickly, and this deck is such a one. I'd love to shave a copy, but I think Damping Sphere is just too good.

As hard as it might be to break into being Modern playable, I'm certain that Supreme Phantom, backing up Drogskol Captain, is strong enough to do so. Beware, Modern: Collected Company into Spell Queller, backed up by Spirit 'lords' is going to be giving us all grief in just a short while!

- Adrian L. Sullivan

@AdrianLSullivan on Twitter

Magic Core Set 2019 is available for Preorder!