The Spirit of the Thing: Spell Queller in Modern

The prerelease is now behind us, and while we wait for release day to get our preorder cards, the testing and brewing process is already underway. I realize that most of that will be happening in Standard, but I also know that I cannot stand the thought of Bant Company and would much rather try to mine Modern value out of Eldritch Moon. While I respect the power of Eldritch Evolution and am intrigued by the potential of Curious Homunculus, I am at heart an Aggro-Control player and I always begin by investigating cards that can go into Merfolk and Fish-style decks.

Spell-Queller-banner-cropped

Much of the hype surrounding the new set has been focused on Spell Queller. Rightly so; the card is very powerful and aggressively costed for Standard (as if Bant Company wasn’t powerful enough). Far less has been said about it in Modern, possibly because everyone sees the three toughness and assumes that Lightning Bolt makes it unplayable. We know that Lightning Bolt isn’t the barrier to playability that many make it out to be, and when you consider how much of the format costs four or less it definitely becomes a card worth trying out. So I did.

What is Spell Queller?

Spell QuellerWhen beginning any statistical or scientific inquiry, it is essential to have a known baseline to compare your results to. Reaching an interesting result is all well and good but if you can’t prove that it is something new and valuable compared to the status quo then you’re just wasting time. And grant money. And good luck getting more money if that’s all your research is doing.

The problem we have is that there really isn’t a card like Spell Queller in Modern. The closest in terms of creatures that counters spells when entering the battlefield I’ve found are Silumgar Sorcerer and Mystic Snake, and those are imperfect comparisons. We’ll use them certainly, but we need to go deeper. While decent comparisons for Queller, neither has seen play in Modern so they’re imperfect baselines.

Therefore, before we really dive into whether Queller is playable or where, we need to look into how it stacks up against known good cards in Modern and then compare to Sorcerer and Snake. This isn’t the best situation analytically, but I think we can come up with a reasonable composite picture of Queller’s playability.

Basic Stats

  • Three mana, two colors
  • 2/3
  • Flying
  • Flash

Mystic SnakeNot a bad creature to start off with. Pestermite was a format staple for years at that cost and had worse stats, though it was easier to cast. 2U may not be that much more difficult than 1WU with Modern’s fetch/shock manabase, but I think it will be a barrier in this case. UW is typically a control color in Modern, and this is pretty obviously a tempo/aggro card which will limit the decks that can play it. Vendilion Clique is also very playable as a 3/1 with a double blue cost, which indicates that color commitment isn’t that big a barrier to playability when the stats are right. Call it even with a slight edge for Queller since better stats make up for the harder casting cost and worse deck flexibility.

Queller also matches up quite favorably against Snake and Sorcerer. Sorcerer is a 2/1 with a double blue casting cost, which makes it worse than Vendilion Clique. At four mana Mystic Snake is a 2/2 without flying and much more difficult color requirements. Queller bests them handily.

Verdict: Strong Playable (3.5 on the Channel Fireball scale)

It’s better than its closest cousins and at par with known playable cards, so on stats alone it is a good Modern card.

Ability

  • When Spell Queller enters the battlefield, exile target spell with converted mana cost 4 or less.
  • When Spell Queller leaves the battlefield, the exiled cards owner may cast that card without paying its mana cost.

Tidehollow ScullerThis is Fiend Hunter and Tidehollow Sculler‘s ability but for spells. Both have seen some play over Modern’s history, but have always been limited by their narrowness. Sculler is good against combo and control decks and fairly bad against aggressive decks, whereas Hunter has the opposite problem, and even then is only good against removal-light aggro. Sculler mostly sees play in Eldrazi and Taxes where its ability is abused with Eldrazi Displacer, while Hunter is a Chord target. Since both see some play, I’ll argue that the ability regardless of the target is Modern-playable, and thus so is Queller.

The main problem is that the flickering tricks that let Sculler and Hunter exile multiple cards don’t work with Queller. It’s pretty rare to have more than one spell on the stack at a time, so you won’t have the option to choose a second target when you flicker Queller and exile the first spell permanently. You could potentially exile your own spell under Queller but I have no idea why you’d want to. It might not be a big deal, but it is points off.

On this metric, Queller blows Silumgar Sorcerer out of the water. Sorcerer is not a good card on stats and the ability is not good enough to see play. Its ability is too narrow and requires Fiend Hunteran extra payment. Mystic Snake on the other hand just counters the spell. No muss, no fuss, no restrictions based on CMC. Just Counterspell. I think that on average this is better than the Nightmare ability by the same standard that Sculler is usually left on the bench in favor of Inquisition of Kozilek—When you want something gone, you want it to stay gone. The only time that Queller’s ability is better is against uncounterable spells, which are few but not so few that it is irrelevant. On that basis I think that Queller is merely good. It has better stats than other cards with the same ability, but it doesn’t have the same flexibility or power as Mystic Snake.

Verdict: Solid role-player (2.5 CFB)

It’s not the most powerful or flexible ability, but it does what you want it to do. Sounds like a role-player to me.

The Bottom Line

So on stats it’s a strong playable and on ability it’s a solid role-player. What does that mean? Putting it all together, I see Spell Queller as a more expensive Tidehollow Sculler with a reactive, more narrow ability. In exchange it gains a point of toughness and two good keyword abilities.

Given where Sculler sees play now and the types of spells you’re likely to counter (more on this below) I think this is a tempo/aggro-control card. It isn’t a permanent answer, but it buys time and attacks in the air to shorten the clock, and in those kinds of decks it should see play as a way to protect against removal and fight combo decks. It won’t turn the format on its head or completely alter a deck, but it will do good work in certain decks and inspire more players to pick them up.

Verdict: Strong role-player (3.0 CFB)

I realize that I’m low compared to a lot of other reviewers, but I’m only dealing with Modern, and Modern is very different from Standard. It’s faster, making the necessity of the card lower, and removal is better and more plentiful. These combine to keep Sculler and its ilk down now, and I imagine that they will do the same for Queller. It will be a good card, but not as much as in Standard.

Let’s Find it a Home

My initial reaction, as I’m sure it was for many of you, was to jam Queller into a UW Spirit deck. So I did.

UW Spirits, by David Ernenwein

Creatures (26)
Mausoleum Wanderer
Figure of Destiny
Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit
 Rattlechains
Geist of Saint Traft
Drogskol Captain
Spell Queller

Artifacts (4)
Aether Vial

Instants (10)
Path to Exile
Remand
Spell Snare

Lands (20)
Seachrome Coast
Hallowed Fountain
Mystic Gate
Mutavault
Plains
Island
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Let me start by saying that this deck was weird. The mana is not right, and I don’t think that Mutavault is good here. Anafenza was really demanding colorwise and made colorless lands awkward. That said, it destroyed Jund and Jeskai in testing. Rattlechains was far and away the best card in the deck and combined with Drogskol Captain made spot removal a dicey investment. You’d two-for-one the grindy decks into oblivion and using Spell Queller on sweepers was very satisfying, especially when you Vialed it in.

Geist of Saint TraftThe problem with the deck was closing speed, and this made Queller a poor inclusion. Sometimes Geist of Saint Traft just crushed your opponent and sometimes Figure of Destiny went unanswered, but usually you just chipped away with 2/2’s and that was shockingly slow. I didn’t beat Tron when they were having an average or better game and I never beat Zoo or Burn. I got lucky against Infect a few times, but it was definitely luck rather than the deck. Merfolk scale in a way that Spirits don’t, so there wasn’t a way to quickly steal wins—you had to grind out damage. That was fine when you were in a grinding matchup, but if you had to race at all you lost. For this reason this deck doesn’t compete with Merfolk, but I do think it competes with Death and Taxes. Same average creature size, and where they have taxes and a soft-lock we have hexproof and counters. It might be a worthy trade-off.

This closing speed problem made Queller much worse than I thought. You would counter a spell and then plink away. Unless you managed to assemble a couple Captains then you lived with the constant fear of losing Queller and getting blown out. RattlechainsThe clock was too slow to make great use of the tempo that Queller gained you, and so its performance was lackluster and disappointing.

The deck’s core (the hexproof creatures and flash) is good enough that I plan to keep working on the deck, but word to the wise: Anafenza isn’t very good. I put her in to be a two-drop that increased your clock but you wanted to play Rattlechains and Captain fairly reactively which was at odds with Anafenza’s desire to be proactive. Ana rarely got through on the ground and was overall the weakest card in the deck. I’m taking her out for a couple Spectral Flights and another Geist to try and speed the clock up—stay tuned for results.

Everything Eventually Flows into the Sea

Those of you who excel at picking up on extremely subtle clues probably figured out a long time ago that I would try Spell Queller in Merfolk. The rest of you should have gotten that from this section’s title. I’ve been trying Vendilion Clique out as a way to increase my threat count and interact with control/combo decks—since most of the cards that you care about cost less than four already, it seemed like a good fit.

UW Merfolk, by David Ernenwein

Creatures (26)
Cursecatcher
Silvergill Adept
Lord of Atlantis
Master of the Pearl Trident
Merrow Reejerey
Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
Spell Queller
Master of Waves

Artifacts (4)
Aether Vial

Enchantments (4)
Spreading Seas

Instants (6)
Path to Exile
Echoing Truth

Lands (20)
Island
Wanderwine Hub
Seachrome Coast
Mutavault
Tectonic Edge
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And it has been. The problem with Clique was that if they had redundant copies of spells you wanted to remove then you were screwed. Queller forces them to pay mana, which usually means that they can’t play their extra copy. It also has the benefit that you don’t Clique away one card just for them to draw another copy and crush your soul. I’m not bitter.

Queller in Merfolk has been testing as well or better than Clique and much better than in Spirits. Merfolk is a far more proactive deck and its clock is mighty enough that your opponent is less likely to get the opportunity to get their spell back. Frequently you exile their Cryptic Command or sweeper and win on the spot. It’s not great in the creature matchups, but the body is solid and blocks surprisingly well, which is far more than Clique did. It’s worse in the grindy GBx matchups, but its improved impact in control and combo matchups probably makes up for that. Playing Kira to protect it is also pretty good.

Use the Right Tool for the Job

I know I’m weird about how I build my Merfolk decks and admit it’s not for everyone but that’s not the point. In Modern Spell Queller isn’t the powerhouse that it is projected to be in Standard, but when used properly as a way to protect an already substantial clock it is very powerful. It should see plenty of play in Fish and Delver decks. If you were thinking that Unsubstantiate would see play I think you’ll be disappointed because Queller sits in almost the same niche and is a better and more powerful card.

I’m open to suggestions on the Spirits deck, and if you’ve also tried it I’d love to hear your results. As always, I’ll see you in the comments.

David began playing Magic during Odyssey block, quit playing Magic when Caw Blade ruled the world, and returned to Modern shortly before Deathrite was banned. He’s made an appearance at the Pro Tour, made money at GP Denver, and is constantly grinding and brewing in Modern.

24 thoughts on “The Spirit of the Thing: Spell Queller in Modern

  1. It seems most people see this card in terms of how it can benefit their pet deck.

    I’ve seen some interesting D&T variants with Reflector Mage, Clique, and crew, but I have yet to really see anything that makes me feel this beats the current decklists it’s being jammed into.

  2. I think Spell Queller is to narrow for most modern decks. The main problem being bolt and path to exile will awnser it if they just want their spell through. With the exeption of death and taxes eldrazi tidehollow skuller often just slows them a bit and eats a lightning bolt, or worst case a kholigans command, to get the card back.

    Spell Queller costs one more and it is just very narrow. It is a better topdeck then Skuller late game because you can wait until your opponent does something to stop it.

    If Queller does have a home I think it will be something like Allesandro Lippi’s bant company list. (Link below) That deck featured Medling Mage, and if you can land medling mage on lightning bolt then Spell Queller will live much longer. With collected company you can get multiple Medling Mages / Phantasmal Images and that can make sure your Queller lives longer. (Also, company into Phantasmal image when you have queller on the table already is quite nice in respons to a removal spell.)

    http://mtgtop8.com/event?e=11774&d=267164&f=MO

    1. Not denying that it is quite narrow, but I think the versatility and better stats should make up for that and it will see a little more play than Sculler.

      I’ve been looking at that Bant list for quite awhile and I don’t think it’s better than Abzan Company. When all the gears are meshing and it’s running as designed, yeah it’s remarkably powerful but I think the lack of the combo ends up costing the deck.

  3. So I’m trying out the WU Spirits thing as well, but I went a bit more on the go-wide axis than you did (by using token generators and skipping out on Anafenza). I also am testing the Phantasmal Image-Drogskol Captain shenanigans in order to put some more pump on the table. There, Spell Queller has been good, but it’s mainly done some work as a sideboard card for when my token generators are bad (because of sweepers). Here’s what I have so far:

    Spirit List v. 1.0, by Roland Rivera

    Creatures (24)
    4 Drogskol Captain
    4 Mausoleum Wanderer
    4 Phantasmal Image
    4 Rattlechains
    4 Selfless Spirit
    4 Topplegeist

    Instants (8)
    4 Midnight Haunting
    4 Path to Exile

    Sorceries (8)
    4 Serum Visions
    4 Spectral Procession

    Lands (20)
    1 Cavern of Souls
    4 Flooded Strand
    2 Hallowed Fountain
    2 Island
    1 Moorland Haunt
    2 Mystic Gate
    4 Plains
    4 Seachrome Coast

    Sideboard (15)
    2 Dispel
    2 Eidolon of Rhetoric
    2 Keening Apparition
    2 Negate
    2 Rest in Peace
    2 Spell Queller
    1 Spellskite
    2 Stony Silence

    I’ll freely admit that the sideboard is a bit of a work in progress, but the mainboard has been performing well. Getting Delirium for Topplegeist is actually doable without the opponent intervening much (all 4 card types present go to the graveyard on their own if needed), and slamming down a Midnight Haunting or a Spectral Procession with one or more Mausoleum Wanderers on the table is actually pretty powerful.

    1. My problem with the tokens generators is that my experience with BW Tokens, both against them and playing the deck, is that it they’re really slow and you need quite a few Anthems to make the deck good. The current lists don’t have enough to really make things work. Favorable Winds might be the missing piece.

      I’m still really down on Image, though hexproof is the reason to run the card. Do you copy Captain enough to make it worthwhile?

      1. Surprisingly enough, my copy targets have been split 50-50 between Captain and Wanderer thus far. Part of it is a function of the decks I’ve had the opportunity to test against thus far (the counterspell clause was very relevant), but as it turns out, a T1 Wanderer –> T2 Image –> T3 Spectral Procession sequence was a fairly relevant clock.

        And yeah, I’ve been thinking about Favorable Winds. I’ll definitely test that one next if I feel I don’t have enough pump. There’s a nice spot for it on my curve.

      2. Try a bant shell splashing for CoCo and township. Also, I’ve been tuning a deck and 4 drogskol captain and 4 phantasmal image are insane together. Really good in racing.
        These are the nonlands in my list.
        4 path
        4 birds
        4 hierarchs
        4 image
        4 rattlechains
        2 selfless spirit
        3 bygone bishop
        4 captain
        4 spell queller
        4 company

        For utility lands i run 3 township instead of mutavaults. The mana base needs tweaking but the nonland cards seem great from my testing.

  4. spell queller needs a home in a tempo creature deck, the problem with that is the fish already rules in that department, so unless queller can make fish better or another tempo deck better i dont think it will see any play, but i think maybe a sweet jeskai tempo deck could be dope.

  5. Personally, I think this might be pushing the number of “pieces” for the esper hatebears style deck: some 1 mana discard, tidehollow sculler/meddling mage/spell queller/geist/spellstutter sprite/mana leak/remand/path. We’re approaching the point where there’s enough of these little value dudes to really put the screws on modern.

  6. Wow, looks like we independently came to almost the exact same conclusion on the Spirits deck. However, the list I brewed helps with closing speed AND increases synergy to maximize the effect of Queller, Rattlechains, and Selfless Spirit. Also, the addition of 2 Phantasmal Image drastically increase your chances of doubling up on Drogskol Captains (no, they can’t target Phantasmal Image anymore).

    Let me know what you think.

    Azorius Spirits.dec, Built with Decked Builder
    http://decks.deckedbuilder.com/d/217560

    1. Also, another great international is Spell Queller + Vapor Snag, using the first half of the trigger on the stack, returning it to your hand with vapor snag, permanently exiling the spell, then being able to recast it with Aether Vial.

      1. It’s good enough that I’ve seriously considered adding it to Merfolk. I didn’t, but I thought about it. And trying to find non-tempo disadvantageous ways to take advantage of the ability. Haven’t found it yet.

    2. It’s interesting and I may have to finally reevaluate my opinion on Image if this deck ends up working well. I wasn’t very impressed with Selfless Spirit. With all the hexproof I didn’t really need the ability and a 2/1 flier isn’t good enough for Modern. How’s it worked for you?

    1. It’s pretty fragile and the three drop slot is a bit choked as is. You don’t really need it to clear the road for attackers since fliers aren’t too common in Modern and I think if you need to use it defensively then you’re in real trouble, this deck does not want to get involved in creature fights.

  7. I think in order for Spirits to be successful, there needs to be more reliance on counters and ways to benefit from playing at instant speed. Aether Vial, like has been pointed out to me, works well in Merfolk because you often leave it at 2 because of the bevy of 2-drops available. Aether Vial in a Spirits deck makes sense on the surface because it plays well with the whole instant speed thing until you realize that Vial doesn’t want to sit on any one CMC. That being said, the curve that’s possible with Spirits is part of its benefit, especially with tempo plays.

    I’ve been looking at Spirits as a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ type tempo deck. It’s probably more like D&T than it is Merfolk, to be honest. The reason I say this is because of how many spirits play into this mindset. If you go t1 Mausoleum Wanderer, t2 Rattlechains (or Selfless Spirit), t3 leave up mana for Spell Queller, flashed in Drogskol Captain, Remand, etc. what is your opponent supposed to do? Cast a bolt to hit a guy? You can protect it with at least 8 creatures in your deck. Cast a sweeper? Selfless Spirit takes care of that. Cast their flurry of pump spells like in Infect or Suicide Zoo? Stop it with Vapor Snag or Path or even just counter it with Wanderer. Meanwhile you’re beating down for 4-6 a turn (since most combat happens on the ground in Modern).

    This is why Selfless Spirit is perfect for the deck. It’s a clock. It protects you from sweepers (which I’ll get to why that’s so important), can help you win in stalled board states by chump blocking and then sac’ing to save your team and in a pinch, can be flashed in to protect some spot removal with Rattlechains.

    The reason why it’s important to protect against sweepers is because the benefit of playing Spirits over any other tribe is the token makers. All of your guys are weak toughness. Mix that with token makers and you have a recipe for disaster when it comes to sweepers. Lingering Souls is a very solid card in Modern, especially to push you into the late game. Souls (and others like Midnight Haunting and Spectral Procession) are the reason Spirits can be a solid tribal deck. Mix those with Drogskol Captain and Phantasmal Image and you have a recipe for overwhelming your opponents quickly before they can recover.

    Here’s my list:
    http://www.mtggoldfish.com/deck/444033

    That being said, my deck is a work in progress, but I think Lingering Souls (or potentially Midnight Haunting) has to be in the deck somewhere. It’s too powerful with Drogskol Captain. It’s even extremely powerful with Mausoleum Wanderer (which is Delver like in power).

  8. I disagree entirely with the premise of Lingering Souls in a deck like this. Many of your points about the tribe are on point, especially the highly disruptive element of the tribe. But the Disruption is what you need. The majority of your playable threats are evasive and/or have Hexproof. As a result you’ve already negated a fair portion of the cards in any interactive deck. Nobody expects Abrupt Decay or Terminate to be an all but completely dead card. As a result, you can save your creature based countermagic and the few spells you play for the noncreature spells that actually matter, a la Scapeshift.

    However, your argument about Vial is incorrect, both in reference to Merfolk and in reference to Spirits. Merfolk often leaves its Vials at 2, but that is neither correct in all instances nor necessary. Spirits plays the same way, as there are several 2 drop spirits that are both available and powerful to fill the 2 drop slot. Of those,

    Rattlechains
    Selfless Spirit
    Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit

    are likely the strongest, but the tribe also has access to

    Spirit of the Labyrinth
    Kataki, War’s Wage (and incidental shutdown of a faster aggro deck plays right into the aggro control shell UW Spirits Vial should be developing)
    Spectral Rider
    Keening Apparition/ Kami of Ancient Law if you find yourself needing a mainboard Disenchant

    The deck may also want to step outside of its tribe and include Thalia, Guardian of Thraben to maximize its aggro/disruption package as another 2 drop.

    In addition, if you buy into the argument for T3 cast Drogskol Captain, vial in Phantasmal Image in response to removal, you have yet another 2 drop to include. Testing with this strategy thus far has proven highly effective, as most decks cannot deal with a +2/+2 Hexproof board when you have access to Spell Queller to deal with Supreme Verdict and Spell Pierce for any other sweeper effect. Frankly, most decks cannot easily deal with a pair of 3/3 Hexproof fliers in a deck with access to countermagic, so the only option for non-linear-aggro decks is to race you, and you will win in this scenario. While this is something of a Magical Christmasland argument, it demonstrates that you can spend your first and second turns playing a vial and disrupting your opponent and still be just fine.

    Re: Use of Vial. Aether Vial is a very strong card for spirits decks, as it negates countermagic, the non-sweeper removal type that Hexproof doesn’t touch. The greatest advantage Spirits has over Merfolk in this regard is that we don’t need any 4 drop creatures, so a game playing out with a Vial at 2 in tandem with, or simply with the ability to become, a Vial at 3 lets you cast any creature in your deck except for Mausoleum Wanderer.

    Lingering Souls and related Spirits token generators don’t belong in a Vial deck. A more midrange-esque build, certainly, play souls. But then you still haven’t actually solved your problem. You make yourself all the more damned by sweep effects, and the presence of Engineered Explosives in many sideboards will ruin your day, making you a worse BW tokens. Now, if you settle on a midrange spirits build, you should be playing Jeskai spirits, not Esper, because Bolt is superior to any card black offers you in this shell, and 4 color decks still aren’t really viable.

    In sum: Lingering Souls and related effects do not follow the game plan of a vial deck, and should not be included. If you want more than a minimal noncreature component in a Spirits deck, Jeskai is superior to Esper.

  9. I’ve been playing UW Death and Taxes in modern for over a year now, and I think that spell queller will take the list from quirky variant to a real choice compared to GW hatebears. queller interacts very favorably with both eldrazi displacer and flickerwisp, and eats wraths alive, which is something most of the rest of the deck struggles with. the most important part though is that queller will give me a critical mass of good flying creatures to carry swords. with flickerwisp, vendilion clique, spell queller, and judge’s familiar in our arsenal we won’t have to reach for things like skaab ruinator or hero of bladehold to force damage through anymore. instead we can simply suit up one of our numerous evasive creatures with a sword of fire and ice or a sword of light and shadow and go to town on the opponent’s life total. In short, I think queller looks remarkably promising.

    I’m also pleased as punch to hear that queller matches up favorably against fair decks, since jund and abzan are the matches I most worry about. obviously things like the swords granting protection, and mirran crusader exisitng (and new thalia being printed, which seems plausibly playable) make he matchups playable, but it’s nice to know that I can safely maindeck a few cards that give a distinct edge.

  10. Out of curiosity, is there a particular reason Kira was left out of the Spirits list? I can think of some reasons, like the deck being overloaded with 3cmc creatures and the ability being overly redundant with hexproof, but I’d like to hear about it from someone who knows what they are talking about (which is not me).

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