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Budget Magic: $58 Spirits (Standard, Magic Arena)


ආයුඛෝවන්, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! This week, we're delving again into Core Set 2020 Standard, this time for an ultra-budget tribal deck: Spirits! A year ago, we got Supreme Phantom in Core Set 2019, which has been powerful enough for Modern, but the lord simply hasn't had enough support to find a home in Standard . . . until now. Core Set 2020 brought with it several extremely powerful Spirits, including another lord in Empyrean Eagle, a one-drop in Spectral Sailor, and Hanged Executioner and Dungeon Geists for removal attached to on-tribe bodies. Can all the powerful new Core Set 2020 Spirits combine with Supreme Phantom to form a powerful and extremely budget-friendly Standard deck? Let's find out! Then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Spirits

 

The Deck

Standard Spirits is a tribal aggro deck. The deck has a ton of lords and anthems to turn our relatively small Spirits into bigger threats, along with some powerful utility creatures, which makes Standard Spirits a weird mixture of Merfolk and Spirits in Modern. While the tribe can win a lot of games simply by curving out with evasive threats and lords, it can also play a longer game, with cards like Hanged Executioner and Dungeon Geists working as removal and Winged Words and Icon of Ancestry for card advantage.

The Lords

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Supreme Phantom and Empyrean Eagle are the reasons to play Standard Spirits. Both cards are extremely efficient, not only working as Spirit lords but also being evasive threats on their own. Supreme Phantom is pretty straightforward. It's a two-mana lord that gives up a point of power compared to most two-mana lords (like Lord of Atlantis or Legion Lieutenant) but makes up for this with an extra point of toughness and flying. Meanwhile, Empyrean Eagle isn't technically a Spirit lord, but since every Spirit in our deck flies, it's essentially a three-mana version of Supreme Phantom, giving all of our Spirits +1/+1 while also flying over opposing blockers to attack our opponents. Together, these cards allow us to get off to some incredibly fast starts: curving a one-drop into lords on Turns 2 and 4 is a very powerful start and gives our deck the ability to pick up free wins against opponents that stumble on mana or don't draw their removal.

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While Favorable Winds and Icon of Ancestry are anthems rather than lords, their effects are very similar to those of Supreme Phantom and Empyrean Eagle: pumping all of our creatures. Favorable Winds can come down early to turn our small Spirits into bigger threats, while Icon of Ancestry (naming Spirit, of course) is a bit more expensive but offers a lot of late-game value. With 24 Spirits in our deck, the odds are in favor of us hitting at least one every time we activate it for three mana, giving us a way to draw extra cards and use all of our mana in the late game. It's especially helpful against midrange and control decks, where digging for extra Spirits gives us a way to keep up with the card advantage of various planeswalkers and fight through our opponent's removal and sweepers.

All in all, this gives us a massive 14 cards that pump all of the creatures in our deck, with most of them being pumpable creatures as well. As a result, it's pretty common that our random 1/1 Spirits will end up as 2/2s, 3/3s, or even 4/4s in short order. Combine this with the fact that every creature in our deck flies, and the end result is that Standard Spirits can close out the game quickly with an evasive clock that many decks can't interact with by blocking.

Other Spirits

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Apart from Empyrean Eagle, Hanged Executioner and Dungeon Geists are the biggest Core Set 2020 additions to our deck. Hanged Executioner is amazing. Two 1/1 Spirits for three mana is already a good deal, and with the help of our lords and anthems, it's not uncommon for Hanged Executioner to add six or eight flying power to the battlefield. If this were all Hanged Executioner did, it would still be a staple in Standard Spirits. But it comes with even more upside, allowing us to exile it to exile one of our opponent's creatures, giving us a solid answer to annoying threats like Rekindling Phoenix or various Cavaliers that trigger when they die. 

As for Dungeon Geists, it offers a solid flying body at the top end of our curve, and as long as it sticks on the battlefield, it's often even better than Hanged Executioner as removal since along with answering Rekindling Phoenix and Cavaliers, it locks down Gods as well. In the worst case, Dungeon Geists ends up being a good tempo play, entering the battlefield to tap down a potential attacker or blocker for a turn or two while we beat our opponent down in the air. And in the best case, it answers our opponent's best creature forever!

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Remorseful Cleric is similar to Hanged Executioner: the reason it's in our deck is because it's an on-curve tribe member, as a 2/1 flying Spirit for two. But it actually has a lot of additional utility in some matchups. Most of the time, we simply play Remorseful Cleric, pump it with our lords and anthems, and use it to beat our opponent down in the air. But against decks like Izzet Phoenix or Command the Dreadhorde, having a Tormod's Crypt sitting on the battlefield to exile our opponent's graveyard is actually a really big deal. While Remorseful Cleric is just a curve-filling Spirit in some matchups, in others, it is the most important card in our deck and can potentially beat some opponents all by itself if we can wipe our opponent's graveyard at the right moment.

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Our last Spirit is another new Core Set 2020 addition, and while it might not look like much, Spectral Sailor is very important to our deck for two reasons. First, it's the only one-drop in our deck, and having a way to get our "curve out into lords" plan started from the first turn of the game is nice and essential to our free-win draws. Second, while expensive, the ability to pay four mana to draw a card gives us a way to generate card advantage in the late game, once we empty our hand. This makes Spectral Sailor the rare one-drop that is good on Turn 1 and on Turn 10. Throw in the fact that it benefits from all of our Spirits synergies and, while it's just a 1/1 for one, Spectral Sailor is one of the best cards in Standard Spirits.

Utility Spells

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Winged Words is basically a Chart a Course, except we never need to discard a card. Since we have 24 fliers in our deck, we can almost always cast it for just two mana, making it a solid source of card advantage for the Spirit tribe. Meanwhile, Unsummon and Spell Pierce give us just a touch of interaction, with Spell Pierce being especially helpful against control and various planeswalker decks, while Unsummon is a good way to support the tempo plan against creature-based strategies. While it isn't hard removal, thanks to our fast flying clock, even just returning a creature to our opponent's hand is often enough to win the game in our favor. 

Wrap-Up

All in all, we went 3-2 with Standard Spirits, which isn't insane but is solid, especially for an ultra-budget deck that's in the $50 price range in paper and like 6 tix on Magic Online. Our main problem is aggressive Izzet decks with lots of removal and fliers, with our two losses coming to Izzet Wizards and Izzet Phoenix. On the other hand, it took down two different Command the Dreadhorde decks along with one of the hottest new decks from Core Set 2020 in Vampires.

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As far as changes to make to the budget build, the Spirits core of the deck is more or less set in stone, along with the four copies of Favorable Winds, which leaves about nine flex slots. It's hard to imagine not wanting Winged Words since drawing two for two mana is such a good deal, although maybe playing less than four copies could be correct. This means that the only debatable slots are Icon of Ancestry, Unsummon, and Spell Pierce. And while the mix we had in the deck seemed to work fine, it's possible that we should be playing more copies of Unsummon for additional removal. Regardless, feel free to play with the flex slots. Some mixture of removal, card draw, and counterspells make sense, but I'm still not 100% confident in the mix.

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Oh yeah, and Cerulean Drake might be worthwhile in the sideboard. While it isn't a Spirit, it is a flier, so it benefits from Favorable Winds and Empyrean Eagle. And it seems like one of the better cards we could play to help shore up our weakness to Izzet, not just giving us an infinite blocker for things like Crackling Drake and Arclight Phoenix but potentially countering a lethal burn spell as well.

In the end, Spirits felt like a solid budget option for Standard, especially considering their ultra-budget price tag. The combination of tons of lords and evasion seems like a pretty effective way to take down a lot of the best decks in Standard, outside of Izzet, which was a problem. The other upside to Spirits is that the deck might survive rotation in some form or another. While losing Supreme Phantom hurts, it's possible that we could simply move away from the Spirit theme and play flying tribal with Empyrean Eagle and Sephara, Sky's Blade (which could be a good main-deck option if our curve were a bit lower). Plus, it's possible we will get some additional support from the fall set, so even though a couple of key cards will rotate, there's a good chance the core of the deck will be able to adapt and survive. If you like tribal strategies and getting in for evasive damage, are a Spirits player in Modern (or Merfolk player in Modern), or are looking for an ultra-budget option for Core Set 2020 Standard, Spirits might just be the perfect deck for you!

Arena-Budget Spirits

One of the weird quirks of the Spirit tribe is that while they are dirt cheap in paper and on Magic Online, they are actually somewhat expensive on Magic Arena since the tribe features a lot of rares. Even with Azorius Guildgate in the mana base over Hallowed Fountain, the build we played for the videos had 28 rares, which is a lot of wildcards to invest. Unfortunately, we have 16 rare Spirits in the deck, and we can't really cut any of them since there aren't any playable replacements. As such, to get the deck as cheap as possible, we cut all of the rares from the sideboard, drop Glacial Fortress for Tranquil Cove, and turn Icon of Ancestry into more copies of Unsummon. This leaves us with 16 rares, which is about as cheap as the deck can get while still being Spirit tribal. If you decide to head this direction as a starting point, try to upgrade your mana as soon as possible since playing eight enters-the-battlefield-tapped dual lands really hurts our plan of curving out with Spirits lords, which is one of the most powerful things our deck can do.

Non-Budget Spirits

For our non-budget build this week, we have a build of Spirits that managed to go 5-0 on Magic Online a few days ago. The deck is actually strikingly similar to ours, except with upgraded mana, no Icon of Ancestry (and more copies of Unsummon and Spell Pierce instead), and some sideboard upgrades, including Narset, Parter of Veils, Teferi, Time Raveler, and Lyra Dawnbringer (another great answer to Izzet and Mono-Red decks). While the deck is three times more expensive than the one we played on video, it's still only around $150, which isn't too bad, especially when a big chunk of the costs is tied up in staples like Hallowed Fountain and Teferi, Time Raveler that you can play in multiple decks and formats.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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