When I saw that UW Spirits was one of the best decks in Pioneer I was ecstatic. Then some punks decided to go ahead and play Bant Spirits and do incredibly well with it, and now I’m back to saying “stop telling me to play Bant Spirits“. And this time, I have to admit, they make a good argument for Bant.
When Pioneer first came out, many people were trying to port over their favorite Standard/Modern decks into the new format. Bant Spirits looked like an easy port because it lost very few cards, and maintained it’s powerful tempo gameplan. But the concerns about the manabase were worrisome from the start. Gilded Goose into Spell Queller just wasn’t the same as Noble Hierarch. Oh and all your Supreme Phantoms were actually just 3/3 Elks.
Thus started the rise of UW Spirits as the superior version of the deck. The manabase was much better (though playing with Port Town wasn’t exactly ideal) and the deck started to more closely resemble the Eldritch Moon Standard version of Spirits rather than the Modern deck. I was happy with this, as I will go on the record as not being a big fan of Collected Company. I hate spinning the wheel only to get a dork and a 1/1, and losing to my manabase frustrates me to no end. So for a time, for me, Pioneer was the perfect format for spirits.
Then, over the course of one weekend we got 3 spirits decks into two different top 8’s! It’s awesome seeing my tribe do well, and I would like to give huge props to Mattia Rizzi, Valerio Luminati, and Kenta Harane for piloting these decks to such a high spot. But, unfortunately for me, they did it with one of my least favorite cards, Collected Company.
Honestly the hate that I have for Collected Company is irrational. It is a very powerful magic card and has the potential for huge swings. It’s the kind of card that can turn around an otherwise lost game, and is a powerful 2 for 1 in a format that is trying to one for one everything. But I’m the kind of guy who’d rather have 1 Spirit in the hand rather than 2 in the bush, if you know what I mean. Collected Company is random, and sometimes your entire strategy can hinge on Collected Company and then you reveal 6 lands. However, the way these decklists have been constructed I can actually get behind Coco and understand how powerful it can be.
To start off, this is a UW Spirits deck that is splashing for Collected Company rather than warping the deck around the card. At the beginning of the format, we quickly found out that Gilded Goose and Llanowar Elves were terrible cards in Spirits and trying to play a green card on turn 1 was just too painful. Instead, this deck opts to play only 6 green cards in the entire list which makes the 12 green sources more than ok. Doing this does add an additional 8 Shocks to the deck, however, giving your aggro opponents a free edge, and Field of Ruin plenty of juicy targets. These would have just been Islands/Plains in a traditional list but the idea is that Coco will offset this.
That’s more than enough talk about Collected Company, however, lets talk about the rest of the decklist. For the most part nothing is too crazy. All of the 4 ofs make a lot of sense (especially you Nebelgast Herald, I’m so proud to see how you’ve grown) and two playsets got shaved to make room for Coco. Spectral Sailor has proven to be much better in Pioneer than I initially gave him credit for, and threatens slower decks with the activated ability. But with Coco, that is less necessary. Shaving Brazen Borrower is unfortunate, as that card is one of the strongest spells in the deck, but Coco isn’t exactly something you play as a 2 of.
The sideboard is also pretty stock, until you get to the goodstuff. Rest in Peace is generically good, Settle is a great gotcha card, and Avacyn is criminally underplayed. 4 Mystical Dispute is frankly mandatory for blue decks (please ban Mental Misstep 2.0). 4 Deputy of Detention is great in a field of aggro, 2 Permeating Mass honestly feels like a meme that can incidentally block really well, and 1 Disdainful Stroke to round everything out. The reason I like this build of Bant Spirits so much is because it recognizes that mana dorks are terrible, and simply plays Coco as a value card. The abysmal lows are smoothed out when you can’t get two dorks anymore, and a hit like Spectral Sailor and Rattlechains can at least do something. With all of that out of the way, let’s get onto the games!
Disclaimer: My version of the deck plays +1 Spectral Sailor and -1 Brazen Borrower because holy cow I had no idea Brazen Borrower was 50 bucks online. A 10 dollar a month plan for Manatraders can only go so far.
Round 1: 5C Niv-Mizzet
To me, consistency in my mana base matters a lot. For Niv-Mizzet players it’s all about the high that a five mana 6/6 that draws you seven cards can bring.
I keep a pretty standard hand. I play Selfless on turn 2 instead of Rattlechains because it’s better to have on-board protection for the Spell Queller in my hand, rather than being able to flash out an Empyrean Eagle. This pays off as I get to Queller Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath and after that, it’s a matter of playing more spooks and smashing face.
I hate sideboarding and I’m bad at it. So don’t take my sideboarding decisions as truth. I just find the cards that are good and hope for the best. This meant boarding out Nebbies, and lords in exchange for Counterspells. Nebelgast may let me win the game through a resolved Niv, but a resolved Niv probably means I’m losing the game.
I keep a hand with no white sources because yolo. Mainly, the reason I did this was because I wasn’t going to be playing the lord anytime soon, and I had a gameplan even if I didn’t draw white. (Although this further supports my vendetta against Bant). By turn 4 I still haven’t drawn another land and my clock is pretty anemic. They play a Teferi and I decide to flash in Rattlechains and give itself hexproof to guarantee some attackers against him. I choose to not play my lord and hold up Dispute. This pays off as I counter their Niv.
Then they Oath of Kaya my Rattlechains and I flash in a Selfless Spirit to save it. After I sacrificed Selfless Spirit though, I realized that I was suddenly weak to a board wipe and Rattlechains didn’t really matter anymore. I swing and bring them down to 1 life and they untap and cast a Bring to Light finding Deafening Clarion. They then ripped two more lifegain spells off the top and I punted an otherwise easy game.
I lead with the tapped land to cast a turn 2 Selfless instead of playing Sailor. (10 points to house Azorious). I hold up Queller and they do nothing because they fear the Quell, and I flash in Rattlechains, but it quickly dies to an Abrupt Decay. Uro gets Quelled again, and after a second Abrupt Decay, Selfless dies to keep the warden alive. A Deafening Clarion comes out (which probably meant the Uro was bait) but when you have two Spell Quellers you don’t really have to think about your life choices.
Round 2: Mono-Blue Devotion
And now we go from one extreme in 5C Niv, to a *mono-colored deck. Pioneer is awesome.
*They were splashing for black for Thoughtseize. Close enough to mono-color for me.
For a while there I was just hitting him with Rattlechains and he was hitting me with Harbinger. We were both trying to keep mana open for our counterspells and first one to act was going to lose. They cast a Brazen Borrower and I Queller only to get it “thefted” back to my hand. (C’mon wizards, get your naming conventions together). I untap and I have a lot of choices.
I decide to Petty Theft something as I’m behind on board and both of their creatures seem like poor choices to bounce as they are basically spells. Then, I decide to make a big brain play and bounce their Leyline. Them getting flash was annoying, and it was the most expensive spell for them to recast. I play a Selfless to block and they waste their next turn casting Leyline. Honestly, couldn’t have gone any better. I cast a lord and get aggressive, holding up Queller and eventually their only blocker trades for my Brazen Borrower and they die.
Wow, this pro really knew what he was doing when he put 4 Mystical Dispute in his sideboard. He must have recognized that a hate card for your own color is really good, and that other people who are playing blue probably have a large amount of this in their sideboard, and the playing field will be completely unbalanced if one person has it and the other doesn’t. It’s normal to have 4 of a card that hates on one color in the sideboard right? Oh yeah and two Deputies cause they made a lot of bodies.
Turn 0 Leyline, Leyline. Nam flashbacks. They slam a Nykthos on turn 3 with 6 devotion and I’m feeling clever for boarding in 4 Mental MisstepMystical Dispute, then they just pass the turn. I remember what Leyline does and I start sweating bullets because I have no idea what they’ll cast. I draw another Dispute and decide it’s better to discard a card rather than going shields down. They cast Gadwick and I Dispute, only for them to Dispute, and then I Dispute them again. Aren’t one mana counterspells great?
After this they cast a Thassa’s Oracle for value, and once they are done tutoring through the top 10 cards I realize I’m in trouble. Gadwick number 2, electric boogaloo completely refuels their hand and I scoop to a torrential downpour of blue pips.
They start off with Shockland, Shockland, Thoughtseize and I notice that their life total was super low. I decide to be aggressive and smack in with Phantom and Nebelgast. But then I change my mind halfway through and decide to not be aggressive with my Queller. Note to self, Spell Queller is a 2/3 flash flyer first, and a counterspell second. Not casting it earlier meant it ate a Mystical Dispute the next turn. They get a Jace, Wielder of Mysteries out and I can kill it. Instead I go face and drop them down to 3 life. They try to get tricky with a Harbinger of the Tides, but Mystical Dispute constricts their mana enough to let me win.
Round 3: Mono-Black Aggro
Now we have a true mono-colored deck in black aggro. So far my experience with this deck has been me thinking that my brew with Anger of the Gods has a great matchup, and then losing and wondering what the hell happened.
I keep a hand that is very aggressive curving Wanderer into Rattlechains, and by turn 2 I’m chumping two Knight of the Ebon Legion. This gets rid of one of them, but I’m still in trouble. My mana is all shocklands and I still need to curve out. I roll the dice and Coco getting a Nebelgast Herald and an Empyrean Eagle, which is a great rip. They respond by dumping their hand, pushing my eagle, and leaving me with one creature against their 4 dudes and 2 Mutavaults.
Nebelgast is gas, however, and with two of them out I’m able to shut down a ton of their creatures. They have a smart play and animate their second mutavault after I tap their Knight, because holding mana up no longer mattered. I go down to 5 and do everything I can to not make my gameplan rely on the second Coco in my hand. I can only get lucky so many times. I cast Selfless and hold up blocks that would be unfavorable for them. An empty Spell Queller taps two of their guys and I hold off another swing. Then for the next turn they start to rev up their mutavaults and I cast a Spectral Sailor and Coco and get to tap down 6 of their guys and swing for 25 next turn. So, yeah, Coco is kind of busted when it works.
I bring in all of my removal spells (including the mossy mass himself) and board out all my Quellers. Their curve is so low that Queller doesn’t really do much outside of blocking, which is awkward to do if it does exile something. The rest of the sideboarding was painful as I really didn’t know what to do, and was kind of just grabbing things and hoping for the best.
I try to chump my Rattlechains for their Scrapheap Scrounger but they push it before I get the chance. I’m sad at first until they play a second Scrapheap and I get giddy because of the Deputy of Detention in my hand. I sign the slip for the easy 2 for 1 and pass the turn. They get a Spawn of Mayhem, which is scary, but then I coco into Nebelgast Herald and then just Deputy it the next turn rendering it useless. They swing in with a 2/1 into my 1/3’s and I choose to not block because I don’t want anything to get pushed. I kind of half flood, half draw really great cards and my opponent gets smushed.
Round 4: The Mirror
When my opponent played a turn 1 Hallowed Fountain, I knew that I was playing the mirror. I prayed for it to be UW Control, but my gut was right. As someone who claims to be a spirits expert, I suck at the mirror and lose it almost every time. Maybe this time will be different?
Narrator: He got his butt kicked.
Our openings start off pretty similar with Selfless Spirit, but then they resolved a Nebelgast Herald and I felt hurt and betrayed. I was one of the first ones to believe in you, how could you turn on me? I loved you and now you’re tapping down my board and swinging for lethal. I sniffle, wipe my tears away, and begin sideboarding.
Honestly, the cuts for this deck were some of the hardest I had to do in the entire league. I knew I wanted Dispute, Avacyn, Settle, and Deputy but it came at a cost. I cut Mausoleum Wanderer which is great at punching through board stalls, Rattlechains which can be clutch vs Herald and Brazen Borrower because I was honestly at a loss at what else to cut. Again, don’t take my word for sideboarding as gospel, it’s honestly not that great.
I immediately mull to 5 cards and regret my life decisions that led me to this point. I decide to hold up Spell Queller rather than committing to lords while they are tapped out which I believe was a mistake. I Queller their Herald, and they Deputy my Queller. They have 3 bodies and I have 1. I cast a lord to get big butts. They aggressively tap down my team, even main phasing Queller for damage. I deputy their Herald, but they have another deputy for me and before I know it I’m at 2 life and my only hope is a Hail Mary Coco. I cast it and find a single Supreme Phantom. I scoop.
Round 5: Ensoul Artifact
They lead on a Bomat Courier and I hope that they are keeping a 1 artifact hand and flash in Spectral Sailor to trade. They then play a Hope of Ghirapur and my hopes are dashed. I flash in Nebelgast Herald and then they Metallic Rebuked my card, which surprised me and proved to be game winning. I then flooded out and died to a 5/5 indestructible.
For this matchup I decided to try something different and board out all of my lords. Their 5/5’s are going to be bigger than most of my creatures anyways, and I needed to play the control game. This might have been a mistake but sideboarding is hard, and I wanted to try something new.
I mull to 5 and hope for the best. Instead, what happens is my Rattlechains gets shocked, my Queller gets Disputed, and my Nebelgast gets stomped. I also get distracted by a cat and missed a chance to tap down their creature but that didn’t really change the outcome of the game, as they had so many burn spells that I couldn’t even maintain a board presence.
This version of the deck is actually really strong. Getting to Coco into Nebelgast Herald can stonewall most aggressive strategies, and when you hit with Coco chances are that you have lots of good choices. The mana was definitely awkward in a lot of spots, but Pioneer is much more forgiving of tapped lands compared to Modern. There were still spots where I wanted to play my spells and couldn’t, but overall the deck played smoothly. I think I’ll continue to play UW Spirits as that deck has everything I want, but if I ever want to play the lottery game, I’d be ok with sleeving up a Collected Company again.