Bant Spirits is quietly picking up some traction in Modern. You may not have come across this deck yet, and that’s not all that surprising, as Vengevine decks are the talk of the town and have eclipsed a lot of the other new developments in the format. But just as Vengevine decks were hugely bolstered by M19’s Stitcher’s Supplier, so too were the previously low-tier Spirit decks given a shot in the arm by the addition of Supreme Phantom.
The Spirits deck, much like 5-Color Humans, is a synergy-focused creature deck that aims to flood the board with disruptive creatures that concurrently put the opponent on a real clock. Spirits benefit from having evasion, as well as incredible resilience to sweepers (Selfless Spirit) and point removal (Rattlechains, Drogskol Captain). Further interactive options include Remorseful Cleric for main deck graveyard hate, Spell Queller as an Oblivion Ring that swings in for damage, and Mausoleum Wanderer as a spooky Cursecatcher.
Currently, the deck is split into two sub-archetypes, both with their strengths and weaknesses. The “cleaner” 2-color version features just white and blue:
Today, we’re going to examine the strengths and weaknesses of both U/W and Bant Spirits, and see if we can discover which deck is ultimately superior.
The baseline question is, of course, the respective mana bases in a 2-color as opposed to a 3-color deck. 3-color decks are certainly achievable in Modern—supporting 3 colors doesn’t stretch a Modern mana base to breaking point by any means—but there are certain advantages to restricting the deck to just 2 colors.
Firstly, a 2-color list gets to play more basics. While the difference between 3 and 5 doesn’t seem like much, having even just a few more basics gives you added resilience against some of the most played cards in the Modern format. Path to Exile, Field of Ruin, and of course Blood Moon are all around to ruin your day if you skimp on basics, not to mention how much less painful it is when you don’t have to fetch for shocklands every time.
Playing shocklands across 3 colors naturally diminishes the amount of life you have to play with, which is another strike against the 3-color list. Additionally, a 3-color list also has less room for utility lands like Field of Ruin, Ghost Quarter, Moorland Haunt, and the like, although a deck with green will ultimately get more mileage from Horizon Canopy. All the same, based on all these reasons, it’s clear that the 2-color mana base is superior.
But by how much? Not a fatal amount, certainly, especially if the green payoffs are worth it. The addition of Botanical Sanctum to the Modern format allows both Mausoleum Wanderer and Noble Hierarch as a turn 1 play, offsetting at least a little of the shockland-induced life loss, and I don’t think anyone will argue that 3-color mana bases are difficult to properly pull together.
Finally, one of the two reasons to play green in these lists is for some extremely powerful mana dorks. Turn 1 Hierarch or Birds is a play that demands an immediate response from your opponent, lest it enable a turn 2 double-play or 3-drop. These green creatures also improve your mana when on the table, which offsets the “stretching” involved in adding the third color.
Ultimately, it’s abundantly clear that the 2-color mana base is superior in a vacuum, but the Bant mana base is functional and enables some powerful payoffs, and not a reason to write the Bant version off from the get-go.
White-Blue Spirits can curve Mausoleum Wanderer into Selfless Spirit into Drogskol Reaver and be set up to beat just about anything. There are a number of other curveouts that will make it difficult for an opponent to properly disrupt the game plan. Aether Vial also enables some tricky and cunning plays, while throwing off combat steps due to the threat of cards like Supreme Phantom. The deck is sleek, refined, and designed to enact a consistent game plan.
Bant Spirits does away with big threats like Geist of Saint Traft and trades in Aether Vial for Collected Company. In other words, Bant Spirits has the capacity for truly explosive starts, where it can dump a huge number of creatures onto the battlefield at a much faster rate than its white-blue cousin. Obviously, the various mana dorks help to enable this, but the real all-star here is Collected Company.
Collected Company does it all. It can serve as a value engine, comeback mechanism, and disruptive element, or can be fired off to put bodies on the ground (er… ghosts in the air?) when the time is right. It’s terrific at all points of the game. When you’re behind it helps to catch you up, and when you’re ahead it pushes you further over the line. In a deck that is 50% cheap creatures, Collected Company is bound to put in some serious work.
Aether Vial is a strong card, but has strict timing requirements and is a hideous late game topdeck. Company, on the other hand, is the card you’re praying to see every turn after you hit your fourth land. In short, the green cards enabled by playing a third color more than justify their position in the deck, especially Collected Company.
As you can see in the two lists above, there generally isn’t too much of a difference between the White-Blue and Bant builds of these two decks when it comes to sideboarding. Spirit sideboard are principally filled out with powerful, white-based hate cards like Stony Silence and Rest in Peace, although Bant tends to relegate its copies of Geist of Saint Traft to the sideboard.
In previous weeks, however, and as this deck has evolved and adapted, we’ve seen plenty of green cards in the sideboard of this deck. Dromoka’s Command was included in most post-PT sideboards, and recent League play has seen Reclamation Sage, Rhox War Monk, and even Thrun, the Last Troll!
While current Spirits sideboards don’t include green cards, the option is always there for Bant decks moving forward, while white-blue lists lack the flexibility to bring in a powerful green option such as Dromoka’s Command. This is another tick in the Bant column—the flexibility offered by having access to an entire extra color is too much to overlook, and given the dynamism of the Modern format, being able to pull together the perfect sideboard from week to week will be much easier with access to 3 colors rather than just 2.
Bant Gets the Nod
Ultimately, it seems pretty clear that Bant Spirits is the better version of the Spirits deck. While the mana base is a little more painful and less resilient to nonbasic hate, it still functions to a highly acceptable level and isn’t stone-cold dead to something like Blood Moon. Aside from this, Bant is all upside—not only do you get to leverage the power of the turn 1 Noble Hierarch, Collected Company is one of the best possible cards to play in a deck like this.
If you’re tossing up between White-Blue and Bant Spirits, Bant is the superior choice. With a more explosive early game and a more powerful late game, Bant Spirits will in time become the industry-standard version of the archetype.