Core set 2019 has come out and I'd say that the card that's made the biggest splash in Modern so far hast to be . As soon as people saw this, they started immediately sleeving up some spirits. Every knows that having "lords" is a key piece of a tribal strategy. You want to buff your guys together, so that they can work better together (and then usually stomp all over your opponent). The deck that has seemed to catch on in the last few weeks has been Bant Spirits, with people actually playing it at very high levels at the recent Worchester SCG Team Event. Here's Zan Syed's list from that event
Breakdown of the Deck
Bant Spirits is a Tempo driven, aggressive deck that is trying to delay your opponent from doing stuff, while still killing them. It does this by having creatures that are evasive, obstructive, and disruptive. We're going to break this deck down by starting at the bottom of the mana curve and work our way up. First we have . Notably not a spirit, but if you're playing Bant, you need 4 in your deck. It's just that good. We actually even have a , basically acting as a 5th Hierarch, simply because we want to start dropping our 3 drops quick. But we'll get to that in a bit.
Our cheapest spirit, , is a disruptive spirit that can get pretty big on certain turns. It also acts as an insurance policy on our more important spirits. Our lords are our most important creatures usually, so being able to drop something before them that both protects them, and also gets extra benefit from them coming into play, is huge.
The 2 Drops
In a similar vein, we have . This white flyer from Eldritch Moon will prevent board wipes from taking out our precious ghosts. This card might as well read "needs to be removed first", because it will be the thing that dies if you try and kill anything else. Including, once again, our lords. We also have , which really is a core card to our tempo driven strategy. 2/1 with flash and flying is pretty good. But it also can act as a one time protection against a creature. Say you put that down the aforementioned . You just negated your opponent from dealing with the creature they really needed to deal with. On top of that though, all those Spirits you have sitting in your hand now have flash. This kind of acts like a psuedo effect, since it pops things onto the battlefield out of nowhere, which will keep your opponent on their toes at all times.
Now we get to the newest lord to the spirit arsenal, . This card wasn't exactly a sleeper, but it also isn't really a bomb card. It's solid, as a 2 mana 1/3 with flying is a pretty resilient critter. And being a lord is nothing new. But it seems that this has been the little bit of extra board pumping that this deck needed to start being a serious contender in the Modern metagame. There's not too much more to say about this. It's not a super amazing card, it's just pretty good adding to an already pretty good deck, and those two together might make the deck great.
Rounding out our two drops is . Don't let the name fool you, this isn't a spirit-only tribal card. It's pretty much a staple in tribal decks, as your creature's effects usually stack on top of each other if you're running lords and such. And since lords will often be on the battlefield, making another is always a good thing.
The 3 Drops
Moving on to the top of our creature curve, we have our 3 drops. First, is exiling spells. This delayed on a stick is one of our biggest tempo plays, and a big reason why getting to 3 mana is so important with and birds. It's actually not that often that the gets answered before the end of the game, in which case this 3 drop can sometimes be a 2/3 and a all in one. It's especially hard to get your card back when you have our final lord, . Not only does this dude buff your board, it also makes it hexproof, which means that Drogskol needs to be dealt with before anything else. Sound familiar?
How does this compare to Merfolk?
In Modern, Merfolk has always lived as a perpetual tier 2-3 deck. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Part of the reason for this is that blue as a standalone color isn't all that good in Modern, ironic considering how dominant it is in Legacy. Compared to other decks like Humans, it's disruptive, but not nearly as disruptive as it would need to be. Compared to something like Goblins or 8-whack, sure its fast, but not nearly as fast as those tribal decks. Having as your only hard removal means it's hard to comeback from faster strategies.
Now with Bant Spirits, the deck sets the tempo, and keeps it all game until it either wins or loses. Its board is evasive to removal, another thing the Merfolk deck is lacking. Its tempo creatures like interact just as much with creature decks as non-creatures. It has some comeback potential with cards like . Sure, it doesn't run (though I have seen some lists that do), but you really don't need to when your cheap creatures all have flash courtesy of .
Personally, I think this deck stomps all over Merfolk, and would be much more worried facing it than against the long-beloved fish.