Spirits are the talk of the (ghost) town in Eldritch Moon and rightfully so. They are powerful and synergistic, and they gained a handful of the best cards from Eldritch Moon, including, arguably, the best card in the set — Spell Queller.
Lost in all the Spirit hype are some of the other tribes that also improved with the new set, most notably Dragons and Humans. Today I'm going to share with you a pair of Spirits lists (W/U and Bant), a Jeskai Dragons list, and a W/G Humans list that revolves around transforming Lone Rider. Each of these lists is complete with sideboard and ready for battle this weekend!
Most Spirits lists that are being posted are straight white/blue, though there is some variation between card choices. One strategy is to play all or nearly all spirits to maximize the power of Mausoleum Wanderer, Rattlechains, Nebelgast Herald and potentially Essence Flux. Another strategy is to play mostly Spirits but also add in some key non-spirit creatures such as Reflector Mage and/or Archangel Avacyn, like my list above. I like Archangel Avacyn because her flash ability plays well with all the instants and flash Spirits and also because her transform ability can be triggered by sacrificing Selfless Spirit. It's unclear as of yet what the optimal build of the deck is, but we will likely find out at the Pro Tour in two weeks.
Comparing W/U Spirits and U/B Faeries decks of old is an obvious move. The comparison is warranted given the synergistic tribal relevance and the flash permission abilities the two archetypes share in common. As close as this comparison is, the deck really reminds me more of Mono-Blue Devotion, a deck the similarly wants nothing more than to start the game with a turn one Judge's Familiar, or in this case Mausoleum Wanderer. At Pro Tour Dublin the French figured out how to build the deck and showed up and crushed the tournament, finishing in first and second place. Most other teams didn't play the deck because they didn't have good enough versions and/or overestimated the amount of Esper Control decks that would show up (Mono-Blue Devotion's worst matchup). I think a big part of which teams have success with the deck at the Pro Tour will be determined by who finds the best version in time. Will someone do it in time for the Pro Tour or will it remain a mystery until later in the season?
This is another take on the spirits archetype. A lot of people are talking about jamming four Spell Queller into an existing Bant Company shell, but few are actually talking about simply splashing green into W/U Spirits. One of the problems with a lot of the W/U Spirits builds is that if their tempo is hindered, they don't have a lot of reach to try and close out games. This deck has some powerful curve-toppers once the deck hits four mana that can help solve this problem in a big way. Collected Company is not quite as good in this deck as it is in a more dedicated deck, since hitting Mausoleum Wanderer is not exactly as impactful as hitting Duskwatch Recruiter in the midgame, but it's still powerful enough to play in this list.
In addition to the reach, another advantage of splashing green is getting Aerial Volley in the sideboard. Aerial Volley is one of the most powerful cards against W/U Spirits. It's cheap enough that you can easily do the following things with it: cast it the same turn as another threat, leave up enough mana to pay when they sacrifice their Mausoleum Wanderer to Force Spike it, cast it in response to their trick, cast it to kill a Spell Queller at a moment that is especially devastating for the opponent, or cast it on your own end step after they tap out to play their flash threat. It's also simply great at creating a two-for-one or even a three-for-one by targeting all their one-toughness fliers. The card is extremely versatile in the matchup and one of the most effective cards in the format against the tribe. What better card could you want in the mirror?
While Spell Queller is great in the spirit tribal decks, the card is plenty powerful enough on its own outside of any tribal synergies – or in conjunction with the tribal synergies of a different tribe…
Dragons have been flying under the radar lately, but Spell Queller might be just what Jeskai Dragons needed to breathe some fire into the archetype just before Dragons of Tarkir rotates out of Standard. The deck has a few key things going for it that didn't exist prior to Eldritch Moon.
First of all is Spell Queller. People seem to have forgotten about the dragon tribe and how all the cards work together to create powerful under-costed effects from Silumgar's Scorn and Draconic Roar. The deck didn't quite have enough powerful cards before, but with four Spell Queller slotting in, that has changed in a big way!
Second of all is that Spirits are the new most popular tribe and Dragons have the tools to effectively combat Spirits. Cheap instant-speed red removal is great at keeping Spirits in check and Dragons outclass Spirits in terms of size. Thunderbreak Regent will Deal Damage to the opponent when they try to target it while Dragonlord Ojutai will dominate the skies without the possibility of ever being budged.
In addition to these two major developments brought about by Eldritch Moon, the deck is also just full of good cards that synergize with each other. Exquisite Firecraft deals just the right amount of damage to take care of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar or Nissa, Voice of Zendikar out of W/G Tokens. Reflector Mage is excellent against Hangarback Walker. All the fliers are also great at pressuring Planeswalkers. And when push comes to shove, evasion combined with burn spells can finish off an opponent in a hurry. And if the opponent tries to out-attrition us with removal spells, they'll have to deal with a heavy dose of Wandering Fumarole and Needle Spires. I opted for those over Haven of the Spirit Dragon because they help us cast all our spells, not just the dragons, and provide a comparable amount of late-game reach. I expect Dragonlord Ojutai to have one last curtain call in Standard.
While Spirits and Dragons are each great ways to take advantage of Spell Queller, don't forget about the tribe that has had more success than any other tribe over the past few months – humans!
Humans gained three very powerful new tools to work with: Lone Rider, Heron's Grace Champion, and Thalia, Heretic Cathar. They also got a powerful sideboard card in Repel the Abominable to counter a Kozilek's Return out of the graveyard or to help win a race or to cripple combat against enemy tribes.
Lone Rider can be very powerful if adequately supported but lackluster without enough help. It's a classic tribal centerpiece that requires being built around, but once the necessary ingredients are in place, it becomes a very potent threat. In this case the goal is to gain 3 or more life in a single turn. This can be accomplished in two primary ways: pumping the Lone Rider's power so it attacks for three, or gaining life externally.
The easiest way to turn on Lone Rider is to play Heron's Grace Champion to give all your creatures in combat lifelink, whether attacking or blocking. Alternatively if Heron's Grace Champion is already on the battlefield, you can simply attack or block with it to gain three life and trigger Lone Rider.
Another way is to cast Cleric of the Forward Order, a card most people probably forgot exists. Cleric of the Forward Order's stock improved with the likely rise in popularity tempo decks, and it also synergizes very well with Lone Rider. If you attack for one with Lone Rider and then cast Cleric of the Forward Order after combat, Lone Rider will transform since it checks at the end step and only cares whether you gained three life total that turn. And if you already have a Cleric of the Forward Order on the battlefield, the second one gains 4 life and thereby triggers Lone Rider on its own. As a Human, Cleric of the Forward Order also gets bonuses from Thalia's Lieutenant and Heron's Grace Champion.
The last way to transform Lone Rider is to pump Lone Rider's power to at least three. The deck runs lots of ways to do that: Heron's Grace Champion, Always Watching, Dromoka's Command, Thalia's Lieutenant, and Gryff's Boon. I had Hamlet Captain in the original list as another way to pump, but it proved too difficult to cast reliably on the second turn, so I opted to cut it for Cleric of the Forward Order. There is also a pair of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in the sideboard, which can ultimate to make an anthem to pump the Lone Rider.
Also once Lone Rider transforms, it becomes a 4/4 Eldrazi Horror that retains lifelink. This means a transformed Lone Rider can transform future Lone Riders simply by attacking for four. There is also a singleton Blighted Steppe to gain life, but I'm not sure if that is actually worth it or not.
I like this list over the more traditional Mono-White lists for a few reasons. Most importantly, traditional Humans have a tough time beating Spirits, especially the card Nebelgast Herald. They have an uphill time trying to race. This build is very different because we have so much lifegain. Secondly, we get access to Aerial Volley in the sideboard, giving us even more tools to fight them. Third, this deck has a bit more reach since our curve goes up to four mana for Heron's Grace Champion. Fourth, we get better against black control decks. Holding up four mana in the face of a potential Languish is perfectly acceptable since you can flash in Heron's Grace Champion regardless of what happens. Also a transformed Lone Rider with a single pump effect gets it outside of Languish range or Grasp of Darkness range, and it becomes colorless so it also cannot get hit by Ultimate Price. Lastly, you get Dromoka's Command for the mirror, which is probably the best card you could possibly have in a Humans mirror.
And most importantly, you get to play white/green, the best color pair in Magic!