Brewing Tribal Spirits in Standard with Core Set 2020

Core Sets traditionally tend not to have a huge impact on Standard in terms of raw volume of playable cards. As an on-ramp for newer players, Core Set cards tend to be a little simpler and easier to grok, meaning their constructed applications are often diminished.

But that’s not always the case–while the Core Set 2020 cards we’re going to discuss today aren’t necessarily splashy or exciting, they help to form a critical mass of tribal synergy that can be exploited to great effect. With the usual “white-blue fliers” draft archetype giving us cards like Empyrean Eagle as well as a bunch of new Spirits, we can bring in old, overlooked cards like Supreme Phantom to get quite the deck together!

U/W Spirits in Standard

Riley Knight

7 Island (335)
6 Plains (331)
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Glacial Fortress
1 Field of Ruin
1 Blast Zone
4 Ugin's Conjurant
4 Spectral Sailor
4 Supreme Phantom
1 Remorseful Cleric
1 Departed Deckhand
4 Empyrean Eagle
4 Hanged Executioner
3 Dungeon Geists
3 Conclave Tribunal
2 Icon of Ancestry
3 Teferi, Time Raveler
1 Gods Willing
3 Winged Words

Sideboard
4 Baffling End
3 Dovin's Veto
2 Unbreakable Formation
1 Lyra Dawnbringer
2 Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants
2 Remorseful Cleric
1 Settle the Wreckage

With some notable exceptions–Teferi, Time Raveler the most obvious one–the individual card quality on this list isn’t at an all-time high. However, high-performance tribal decks often have redundant “lord” effects, and between Supreme Phantom, Empyrean Eagle, and Icon of Ancestry, this deck follows in those footsteps.

Additionally, having playable Spirits low on the curve means these lords will have their best effect–Spectral Sailor into Supreme Phantom into Empyrean Eagle is one hell of a start. None of the Spirits in this list are embarrassing plays in their own right–even the experimental inclusion of Departed Deckhand (to break through stalled skies or get past a Lyra) isn’t horrific, as its fail-case is still a 2/2 that gets buffed.

Ugin’s Conjurant is a terrific way to fill out the curve, providing a decent body at a decent rate anywhere (critically, it’s another one-drop). The only downside is that it doesn’t receive a buff from Empyrean Eagle, as it doesn’t have flying.

The deck doesn’t even have to skimp on interaction. Conclave Tribunal is a terrific catch-all answer and is backed up by Hanged Executioner (whose token-creating capacity is perfect in this deck), and there’s Dungeon Geists to tap down opposing threats. Additionally, Gods Willing feels like it might be better than Dive Down here, as it can be used on offense as well as defense.

One other card I’m very excited to try out is Winged Words. A two-mana Divination is an insane card, and this deck can reliably make it so. It may prove to be a trap, but given the pedigree of cards like Chart a Course, I’m optimistic.

Overall, the gameplan is straightforward–play to the board, buff your creatures, and deal with whatever your opponent plays. It strikes an excellent balance between proactive and reactive gameplay, and you simply can’t ignore having so many reasonably priced pump effects.

Sweepers are problem, but the sideboard offers answers to cards like Kaya’s Wrath in the form of Dovin’s Veto and Unbreakable Formation. You also can play around sweepers by deploying creatures judiciously and spending mana on accumulating further resources instead of overcommitting to the board.

If there’s one thing the list is missing, it’s a reliable way to gain life. Sanctum Spirit is the only spirit in Standard with lifelink, and it doesn’t cut the mustard. Perhaps Gideon Blackblade and his lifelink-granting ability might be worth another look, but Teferi is just too good. Be cautious when racing, as your life total will sometimes be uncomfortably fragile.

Finally, this deck mitigates mana flood really well. Between Spectral Sailor, Icon of Ancestry, Ugin’s Conjurant, Hanged Executioner, and Blast Zone, there are so many ways for this list to put extra mana to good use.

I’m excited to see if these spooky bois can get it done once Core Set 2020 joins us–on a purely theoretical level, this deck seems to have a lot going for it, so it’ll be interesting to see if that translates into practical reality!

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