I’ve been playing spirits in Modern since Aether Revolt. I’ve played Tallowisp Spirits, Bant Spirits, Esper Spirits, Jeskai Spirits, and UW Spirits. I am a moderator of the Spirits Discord with over 1000 members, I’ve been playing Spirits long before they were even considered good, and I have hundreds of hours logged with Spell Queller. Bant Spirits was the first competitive Modern deck I ever bought over the course of several months as I slowly gathered all of the pieces for it. I got the deck both online and in paper because I enjoyed it that much, and I played it at GP Las Vegas. In the past few months since GP Las Vegas, Supreme Phantom has been printed and has catapulted Bant Spirits to be one of the best decks in Modern. And during this time I have sold all of my Collected Companys and Noble Hierarchs both in paper and online.
For a deck that I have spent the better part of a year getting all the pieces for it, I parted ways with Bant very quickly. This is because I don’t believe Bant Spirits is the best Spirits deck in Modern. Tournament results notwithstanding, I still don’t think Bant deserves to be considered the one and only Spirits deck. I play UW these days, and every time I pull out the deck people ask me “Are you just playing the budget version of Spirits?” This frustrates me to no end. I’ve played almost every version of Spirits that exists, and I have finally decided that UW Spirits is simply the best, and people automatically assume that I’m playing a sub-par deck. Do I think Bant Spirits is a bad deck? Of course not, and the tournament results show that it is putting up excellent results. But I do believe that it is not as good as UW, and for today’s article I am going talk about the differences between the decks and show why I like UW more than Bant.
For this article, I will be using the following decks:
The Mana Base
Modern is a very fast format right now. With Dredge, Burn, Humans, Bant Spirits, and Hardened Scales all being top decks at the moment keeping a high life total is very relevant. When I played Bant Spirits one of my most common lines was fetch, shock, turn 1 play. If I didn’t grab a shock I would be unable to cast any future spell in my hand, and so I had to bite the bullet and take damage. Bant Spirits is splashing green for, effectively, only 2 cards. Noble Hierarch and Collected Company. Because of the necessity of playing a turn 1 Noble, the mana base has to warp significantly to accommodate it. 16 green sources in what is effectively a UW deck is hard to manage and usually means that you have to take a lot of damage in order to have a decent mana base. Starting the game at 14 life is not where I want to be in this meta.
Bant also does not have access to nearly as many utility lands that UW has the luxury of playing. I am of the opinion that Moorland Haunt is mandatory in any spirits list, and for a Bant player drawing a 7 with Moorland and Noble feels really bad. With only 2 colors we can not only play Moorland Haunt, but we can also play cards like Mutavault which really help us to get more from our mana base while at the same time taking less damage. One innovation in Bant that has been happening recently that I am a big fan of is Horizon Canopy. Being able to draw a card is really good but even then, Horizon Canopy puts pressure on a life total that already starts at 17 or below. If that Horizon Canopy is a Mutavault instead, you effectively draw a spell without having to take the damage for it.
The last thing I want to note about the difference in mana bases is Bant’s reliance on Noble Hierarch. With 16 spells that cost 3 or more mana and only 21 lands, getting your Hierarch bolted can often be a death sentence. This forces Bant to also play Aether Vial, which while a very good card, is less than ideal in a Collected Company deck. Splashing for green does allow the deck to play very powerful spells in Collected Company, but the deck has to stretch very far to even have any semblance of consistency. The other question I want to ask is it even worth it to splash?
Collected Company is Bad
One of the main draws to playing green is to allow access to Collected Company. The terror of its Standard season, Collected Company continues to see play in Modern. And I think this is more than ok. Collected Company is a very powerful card, that spends 4 mana to make up to 6 mana back at instant speed. In a deck such as GW Valuetown or Devoted Druid Combo, Collected Company is a fantastic value engine and digging tool. But I do not believe that it belongs in Spirits. The main problem with Collected Company is its random element. In the previous decks, this is not a huge issue as you aren’t digging for specific answers. But a lot of the power of spirits comes from having the right card at the right time. Casting Collected Company in response to a spell may prove to be disastrous if the right cards aren’t in the top 6. And if you have ever whiffed on a Collected Company, you basically just lose on the spot.
The other problem with Collected Company is how the deck has to warp to accommodate it. Like I mentioned earlier in the mana base section, playing a 4 mana spell with only 21 lands makes you very reliant on acceleration. Playing an Aether Vial and then only drawing 3 lands can make those Coco’s feel like the worst thing ever. The other way the deck has to warp is in its creature base. 12 three mana creatures are not that much if you are trying to maximize the power of a Coco, but going any higher would throw your curve completely out of whack. Bant Spirits has worked really hard to find a balance, which has led to a deck that can be very powerful, but also very inconsistent.
Collected Company was a card that we had to use in the days before Supreme Phantom. It gave the deck the kick it needed to compete and was during the time period of Death Shadows dominance over Modern. Collected Company allowed the deck to come back after getting everything ripped apart in our hand. All of the problems of Collected Company were still there, but it was a necessary concession in the field. With the printing of Supreme Phantom, however, we don’t need Collected Company anymore. Our individual cards have become stronger at all points in the curve, and 2 for 1’s are just not as important in Modern these days. Playing Coco also restricts what kind of cards we can play in our deck, which brings me to my next point.
Thalia and Friends
Collected Company is a card that demands creatures. Put anything less than 30 creatures in your deck, and Collected Company starts to look like an awful card. (And even at 30 creatures, Coco can still whiff fairly often). Once you drop Collected Company from the deck, you have access to so many more options. One of the main draws of UW is the ability to play Thalia in the main deck. Thalia is becoming one of the most important cards in the Modern metagame, and having access to it is more important than ever. Bant believes that it is so important it chooses to play her in the sideboard, even though you are trying to cast a 4 mana noncreature spell. Being able to play 3-4 copies in the main deck is a huge draw to UW over Bant.
Bant as a deck has also become increasingly tight over what it can and can’t play. The flex slots are few and far between, making it more difficult to tune the deck against an expected meta. UW does not have this problem and can choose to play tons of different cards. You can throw in a few Curious Obsessions or Serum Visions. Drop the Thalia’s and play counterspells. Splash for a third color, and play cards such as Lingering Souls or Lightning Bolt. Not being restricted to only creatures expands our toolbox significantly, and allows UW to be tuned to your exact preferences.
Why Play Bant
I’ve said a lot of negative things about Bant today, but I don’t want to ignore what the deck is good at. When you hit a good Collected Company it is an insane card, and hardly anything can compare. This gives Bant an amazing comeback tool and is exactly what I pray for when I am in a topdecking situation. Collected Company can also dig fairly deep for any 1 of. It’s much easier to play a Remorseful Cleric in the main deck when you can choose to grab it against Dredge in game 1.
Green also gives the deck access to Noble Hierarch which is kind of a busted Magic card. Exalted is a very powerful mechanic and allows the deck to play a single Spell Queller and then sit on interaction as you chunk them for 3 a turn. A good draw from Bant will normally beat a good draw from most other decks, and while it may be inconsistent at getting that powerful opener, Noble, into Queller, into Collected Company is really difficult to beat.
Finally, I believe Bant is an easier deck to play than UW. When it is round 13 at the GP and you’re completely drained of all energy, Collected Company can sometimes just be an “I win” button. UW Spirits is a very viable deck, but it requires a lot of mental energy to run at peak performance. Bant has had great showings in the past few months because of it being easier to play and because it is simply played far more often. Once Ondrej Strasky placed first at GP Stockholm with Bant Spirits, everyone copied his list and haven’t considered other options such as UW Spirits.
After a year of waiting and hoping that Spirits would get it’s two mana lord, Spirits is finally one of the best decks in Modern. Unfortunately, everyone believes only one version of the deck exists. I’ve been playing Spirits for a very long time, and have had a lot of experience with all of the different versions of the deck. I sincerely believe that Bant Spirits is not the best version of Spirits out there and that there is still a lot of room to explore in this archetype. This is, of course, my opinion, and many people may not agree with it. Tournament results show that Bant Spirits is the most successful version of the deck and I can’t argue with that. UW Spirits is far better than most give it credit for and deserves to be in the discussion for one of the best decks in Modern. Thank you all for reading, I hope you have a great week and an amazing Tuesday!