Strixhaven is around the corner, and with it comes a brand new archetype in Boros Spirits. Many people were surprised to see spirit tokens in a color pair usually not associated with the undead, but regardless I was excited to see what Strixhaven had in store for our tribe for Pioneer and Modern. Now with the full set released, we can see all of the exciting new spirits available for potential new Jeskai tribal brews.
Strixhaven sucks ass for spirits.
Only 12 cards in the set actually have the spirit sub-type, and only two are worth talking about. Strict Proctor is a unique take on Hushbringer that could be an interesting addition to the tribe. However, Hushbringer is one of the strongest hate pieces to use against spirit decks, and adding a spirit typing to it doesn’t change that fact. Strict Proctor taxes our 4 strongest cards in the deck, those being Mausoleum Wanderer, Rattlechains, Spell Queller, and Skyclave Apparition. While you can certainly play around this downside, a deck built around Strict Proctor is usually going to try and abuse the trigger to cheat out massive threats such as Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger. It still has a chance to end up as a sideboard card, but this is not a game-changer for the deck.
The other spirit worth talking about from this set is Venerable Warsinger. This is a really pushed Magic card. Vigilance and trample plus a wall of text is reminiscent of classic F.I.R.E. design. As pushed as this card may seem most of the time it’ll end up not doing anything the turn it comes into play, which is usually all a card needs to become bulk. It does have some redeeming qualities to it that may enable it to succeed in Pioneer, but in a format full of Lightning Bolts and Path to Exile, Venerable Warsinger just won’t make the cut.
“Hold on” you say “there are other cards that care about spirits in the set.” And to that I say you’re right! But they also suck. Spirits got two new lords from this set, which is actually incredible because there really aren’t that many lords to choose from. Both of these lords have one fatal problem to them. They cost five mana. If your five mana threat isn’t drawing five or more cards is it even something you can consider? Spirits curve usually ends at three mana, four if they decide they want to splash for green to play mana dorks and spin the lottery wheel. If you were to splash red instead, you’re not getting a mana dork to help get you up to five mana. The best non-spirit spirit card from the set is probably Make Your Mark, which creates a spirit token that forgot to include one of the best attributes of spirits in flying. And it’s not like Otherworldly Outburst has seen a ton of play in the first place.
After all of that you still want to play Jeskai Spirits? Frankly me too, Lightning Bolt is one hell of a drug. Let’s talk about Jeskai Spirits in 2021 starting with Modern. In Modern, you get all the fancy tools that make this kind of deck viable. Lightning Bolt, good multicolor fixing, Lightning Bolt, Lightning Helix, Lightning Bolt, maybe a red spirit, and Lightning Bolt. In all seriousness Lightning Bolt really is the main appeal to a Jeskai spirits deck and everything else is gravy. There is one spirit in red that is worth considering, but I’m going to be upfront and say I hate this card in a spirit’s shell. Eidolon of the Great Revel has always been a powerful choice for the Modern metagame and still continues to put up good results to this day. But there are some fundamental issues with it in a spirit deck that I’d like to cover.
First and foremost is the mana problem. Typically when you play Jeskai spirits it is a very light splash. There just aren’t many good reasons to dip outside of Azorius except for one lovely card that happens to deal three damage. Eidolon taxes the mana in a really complicated way, asking you to have U on turn 1, RR on turn 2, and 1WW on turn 3 if you’re playing Skyclave Apparition. This completely warps the manabase to fit Eidolon, and when you’re taking two for your spells as well, fetching and shocking isn’t such a good idea.
To fix this we can take a page out of Humans book and play a manabase of Cavern of Souls and Unclaimed Territory. This is also problematic, however, because the main draw to Jeskai becomes uncastable. Sideboard cards such as Rest in Peace also become unavailable with a tribal manabase which is one of the primary reasons to play spirits over humans. Another issue with Eidolon is that in a deck full of flying creatures, anything that can’t fly becomes much more awkward. It’s similar to a control deck that doesn’t want to play creatures so they don’t turn on your opponent’s removal, a spirit without flying turns on your opponent’s blockers. Eidolon of the Great Revel is one of the greatest spirits of all time, but it is not a good fit for spirit tribal.
Still haven’t talked you out of Jeskai spirits? You’re persistent, I’ll give you that. Here’s a decklist that is more or less Azorius, but splashes for just a little bit of red to spice things up.
I’ve certainly gushed a lot about Lightning Bolt, but I still haven’t discussed why it is so good in spirits particularly. Spirits struggles with two things that Lightning Bolt is very good at solving. Late game reach, and early removal. In UW if your opponent wraths and they are sitting at 3 life, the best you can hope for is to top deck a flash creature, cast it on their end step, and then only swing for two because that is the strongest our creatures get on an empty board. Lightning Bolt brings a lot of raw power in one card, something a synergistic based deck can appreciate when it’s synergies have been thoughtseized and picked apart by removal. Another area where Lightning Bolt excels is the early game. Spirits have historically had only three cards that are good on turn one. Mausoleum Wanderer, Aether Vial, and Noble Hierarch. For an aggro deck we lack good options at one mana. Path to Exile was our only removal spell for a while which you obviously never play on turn one, and Spectral Sailor simply gets the job done. Lightning Bolt is strong early, mid, and late and fits into our gameplan extremely well either in picking off utility creatures, or finishing off an opponent who thought they had stabilized.
Red also brings a smattering of sideboard cards that could potentially be useful. Lightning Helix is obviously good against aggro decks, and the brand new Rip Apart is Abrade on crack. Flame Sweep is a particularly cute card that is simply a one sided Pyroclasm. Out of all the sideboard options that red brings, my favorite addition is probably Alpine Moon. Typically for big mana decks we bring in Damping Sphere, which gets the job done but two mana is where most of the decks curve lies. A one mana answer to Tron is especially good because of the whole issue of not having many good turn one plays. It’s easier to work into the curve which means it is easier to protect,
and you won’t accidentally punt to Damping Sphere making your spells cost more. There aren’t a lot of options, but there are still some useful tools here that other colors can’t provide.
That’s enough about Modern where it is considered “spicy” to splash for the most played card in the format. Pioneer is where it is at if you want some Jeskai jank. As I mentioned earlier in this article, Venerable Warsinger has got some sauce and that is very easy to see with two other spirits that already see play. Selfless Spirit is a card that many people have already identified as pairing along quite nicely with Venerable Warsinger. Sacrifice it to give indestructible, and swing freely knowing that if they don’t chump you’ll get to do it again next turn. Another card that goes along nicely with Venerable Warsinger is Shacklegeist. Swing with your vigilant creature and then tap down their best creature before blocks.
Neither of those creatures care about enter the battlefield effects, so maybe it is possible to play the other new spirit in Strict Proctor. This would require a radical warping of the deck, but if you’re playing Venerable Warsinger that was already a given. Could this deck also play Make Your Mark? The deck is already playing a few creatures that sacrifice themselves, so what’s a few more in Remorseful Cleric. Here is what I managed to come up with using these three new cards.
This deck is much weirder. Usher of the Fallen isn’t as bad when you have other threats that are good on the ground. Strict Proctor is potentially good hate against the opponent while only negatively interacting with Mausoleum Wanderer. Make Your Mark is an efficient way to turn any of your creatures into a 3/2, and when combined with Venerable Warsinger you don’t really lose that much. Bonecrusher Giant is also just a really good card that we now have access to.
There are some really obvious flaws with this deck that I should note. First of all, the mana is a lot worse. Without fetchlands it is a lot harder to make a competent three color manabase. Second, you’re missing out on some of the best cards in spirits in Spell Queller and Rattlechains. Venerable Warsinger and Strict Proctor are probably not at the same caliber, and require the deck to significantly morph. We also lose out on Empyrean Eagle because a significant portion of creatures in the deck don’t fly. Suffice to say if you were asking for Jeskai jank, look no further.
Jeskai spirits is something I’ve always wanted to be good. I’ve been talking about it since as far back as 2019. (Different Takes on Spirits in Modern). As much as I want it to be good, there usually isn’t a good reason to be playing it. There are just so many good options in UW alone that I haven’t ever felt the need to branch into a different color. With this being one of the first sets to feature red spirits since Kamigawa, I figured it was worth a shot to look at this color combo again. It’s probably not worth it, but dammit, I have some really nice Lightning Bolts that need to be cast.
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