A Tallowisp Tale

Posted in Feature on June 5, 2012

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

Modern is a format that consistently crosses the streams of past and present. With nine years' worth of cards at deck builders' disposal, synergies that designers never even dreamed of appear more often than ever. Some Modern-legal Magic themes overlap in weird places—like today's deck.

The overlap? Kamigawa and Innistrad blocks.

Kamigawa certainly had its Spirit tribal mojo going on. Spirits were a major theme of the block, and several mechanics interacted between them. On Innistrad, Spirits have a small tribal component as well.

Combined, the two create something entirely new and unique to Modern.

Take a look at this week's deck, sent in by Joe Lam:

Joe Lam's Tallowispirit

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The Battle Plan

Tallowisp is a bit of an oddball card that received very little fanfare when it was initially printed. However, this certainly isn't the first time The Little Spirit That Could has made a run at Constructed.

Tallowisp | Art by Ron Spears

Let's set the dials back a few years here. Way back at Pro Tour Honolulu—not the recent third one, nor the second one, but the very first one—Ben Goodman and his online team Cymbrogi debuted a deck that surprised everybody at the event: Ghost Dad.


Ghost Dad bucked all norms at the Pro Tour, playing cards as unexpected as Enfeeblement and Strands of Undeath. The key piece to the deck was the Aura-centric Tallowisp, which ensured a steady stream of cards. It turns out that drawing extra cards with every spell you cast is still powerful even when the cards you're getting for free are as meager as Enfeeblement.

But it wasn't only Standard where Tallowisp made a splash. In 2008, the card actually showed up in Extended as well! Spirit Stompy, an aggressive green-white deck that used Tallowisp to find cards like Armadillo Cloak and Griffin Guide for Phantom Centaur, showed up out of nowhere late in the season. Although many people laughed at the idea of a Tallowisp deck being competitive in the high-powered Extended environment, that quickly changed as the deck put up a Top 8 finish at Grand Prix Philadelphia.

So, how does Tallowisp fit into Modern?

Within the wide card pool of Modern, there exists a plethora of good Auras to go grab and plenty of exciting Spirits. The challenge with this deck is going to ensure it can survive against the most degenerate decks Modern can throw at it. The curve is going to need to be brought down; ideally I see this performing like a tempo deck full of efficient creatures and cheap countermagic. The Auras this deck will end up using either need to provide some radical bonus or serve a very specific purpose.

Card Breakdown

Since this deck's vision needs to be refined a little, let's start by taking a quick look at each card in this deck to see if it's a good fit or not. Once we see what's left, we can work from there.


Tallowisp is a core function of the deck, and these won't be going anywhere.

Geist of Saint Traft

Geist is one of the best cards in the deck. It's an ideal creature to suit up with an Aura, and it's also an extremely powerful card in its own right. Even though he's legendary, I'm happy to play with four. Turn-two Tallowisp into turn-three Geist, searching up Steel of the Godhead, is the ideal draw, creating a one-two punch that will leave many opponents down and out.

Geist of Saint Traft
Drogskol Captain

Drogskol Captain

While not nearly as crucial as Geist of Saint Traft, the combination of being a lord, being a Spirit, and granting hexproof so you can cast Auras with ease makes the Captain another solid choice for this deck.

Spectral Rider; Kami of Ancient Law; and Kataki, War's Wage

All three of these cards have something major in common: they're two-drop Spirits! They're cheap, have small bonuses, and carry Auras nicely. Kataki is especially nice for those times you discover you're playing against Affinity—how convenient!

My issue with all three of these cards is that I don't think they do enough for this deck. None of them are blue, so Steel of the Godhead doesn't give the unblockable bump. They don't have hexproof and are pretty easy to deal with overall. I would rather focus on the primary Tallowisp plan with Geist and Captain—and there are better cards for that purpose.

Spectral Rider
Kami of Ancient Law

Celestial Kirin

It's really neat to see somebody trying out Celestial Kirin in Modern—that's a card you don't see played very often! The intention is pretty exciting as well—systematically blowing up the opponent's drops at each turn.

Unfortunately, I think the Kirin falls flat here. It's not going to be reliable what you destroy, and, since a lot of your cards are within the same price range, you risk blowing up your own creatures or Auras. I'd rather have a card like, say, Dungeon Geistss, which is going to do something reliably.

Celestial Kirin
Dungeon Geists

Dungeon Geistss

If this deck wants a four-drop creature, Dungeon Geistss seems like the one. It's an efficient Spirit—although it is a tad on the expensive side for what this deck will have to do so it can be competitive. I could see playing one or two, since it is excellent if your opponent is relying on creatures.

The Heavy Hitters

This deck features four huge, top-end creatures.

The idea is sound—survive until you can slam down one of these, then proceed to victory. The problem is, that doesn't work as well as you might think.

Modern is full of efficient removal like Path to Exile, easily nullifying a big threat. The format is fast, and filling your deck up with six-drops is going to cost you games when they are in your opening hand. Finally, the point of awesome Auras is mostly to enhance your creatures so you don't need to play individually huge creatures—you can make your own instead.

Because of all of those factors combined, these big guys don't fit here very well. They can be cut to better focus the deck's plan.

Moonlit Strider

While soulshifting back a Captain or a Geist is incredibly cute, this card is fairly weak overall. I'd rather be playing something more effective for four mana.

Temporal Isolation

This is an excellent Aura for a Tallowisp deck. It turns a Tallowisp trigger into a potential removal spell, which is certainly necessary. Temporal Isolation edges out something similar like Pacifism or Guard Duty because it prevents all damage the creature would deal—shutting off effects like Grim Lavamancer's—and also has flash, which can be surprisingly valuable.

Additionally, Isolation has one other interesting upside in this deck—giving your Geist of Saint Traft shadow! While Isolation shuts off the Geist's damage, it doesn't affect the Angel token at all. In a pinch, this can let you swing in for 4 damage a turn.

Temporal Isolation
Threads of Disloyalty

Threads of Disloyalty

I love Threads as a midrange and control card in general, although usually it's something I prefer to sideboard. If I could search up Threads of Disloyalty it would be a different story, but the card does not work with Tallowisp, which makes it far less attractive to me in this deck. (Tallowisp searches specifically for Auras with enchant creature, and any variation of enchant creature—such as Threads of Disloyalty or Daybreak Coronet—are disqualified from that search.) It's something I might look at as a sideboard option, but I would rather just have more Isolations or Path to Exile main deck.

Tutor Targets

This deck has four Auras that serve as singleton targets for Tallowisp. Out of these four, two of them I'd like to keep and two of them are headed out of the deck.

Angelic Destiny

Steel of the Godhead is phenomenal. Most beatdown decks have little to no ability to race a Geist of Saint Traft wielding a Steel, and the card can win games all on its own. Steel is an Aura I'd be happy to play two or even three copies of just because of how many "Oops, I win" scenarios it provides.

Angelic Destiny is less spectacular than Steel in this deck, but it is still a target I'd like to keep. It sits much better on a Tallowisp than Steel does, and it can do some slightly different things compared to Steel. It's much better when you're in the "make tokens with Moorland Haunt" phase of the game or when you just have a Tallowisp left.

Infinite Reflection
Call to the Kindred

Infinite Reflection is a card that really intrigues me, since with Drogskol Captain it's completely insane. All of your creatures are hexproof and huge? Sign me up! The issue, however, is that if you have enough creatures on the battlefield to make it strong then you probably don't need the Reflection to win. If this deck was playing Lingering Souls—which is certainly a route you could go—I would be far more inclined to keep this card.

Call to the Kindred is pretty inconsistent, and even when this deck did have huge creatures in it I doubt I'd search it up over other options. Now that those creatures are gone, it's an easy cut.

New Recruits

Now that the deck is down to its core elements, we can start adding in pieces that support the aggro-control plan it wants to play.


This deck could use another two-drop. There are no Spirits I really want to main deck that cost two. Fortunately, Spellskite works well in this deck. It protects your first Drogskol Captain from removal spells, helps keep Tallowisp alive, helps keep you alive by blocking, can redirect cards like Maelstrom Pulse that hit your enchantments, and so on.

Furthermore, Spellskite can even go on the offensive sometimes! This 0/4 lacks defender and is only an Angelic Destiny away from attacking for 4.

Mind Control

Mind Control

This deck definitely wants one stealing effect to search up when the game goes longer against creature decks. Out of all the options, the most straightforward looked to be the best. Domestication's drawback is very real when staring down cards like Tarmogoyf, Krovikan Whisper's discount wasn't worth the drawback, and the other options were either worse or cost more mana.

If you have an irrational vendetta against Jace artwork, fear not—you can also use Persuasion instead.

Path to Exile

While you do have Temporal Isolation for removal, Path to Exile is powerful and works as a good removal spell in this deck. Clearing out Geist blockers for only is excellent for pushing damage through, and the land you provide your opponent often isn't too relevant. I'm willing to play the full four copies.


The big piece this deck was missing for its game plan was disruption, and the best form of disruption in blue is countermagic! The counterspells this kind of deck wants should cost one or two mana and be good at gaining tempo.

Remand | Art by Mark A. Nelson

In any deck focused on tempo, Remand is one of the best "counterspells" you can have. In a deck like this, with cards such as Geist of Saint Traft, Remanding spells for a turn can be the equivalent of 6 more damage!


After Remand, the deck needed to have some more permanent countermagic. Spell Snare and Mana Leak are good at different things, but a couple of each gives you flexibility in your draws and means you won't draw too many of any given one. Finally, the deck also has one Disrupting Shoal. Your opponent will always have to play around it once he or she knows you have it, and it plays very well with Tallowisp.

Spell Snare
Mana Leak

Cryptic Command is a strong option, but it was not included because of concern that this deck won't be leaving up four mana on the opponent's turn that often. I could see playing a couple, over the Shoal and a Mana Leak, but I wouldn't want the full four copies simply for mana cost reasons.

With all of that said, here is the list I would play:

Gavin's Geist Dad

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In a moment I'm going to give you a guide for how to sideboard with this deck—but before that, let me run down what each card in the sideboard is for.

Kataki, War's Wage is a Spirit, which works well with Tallowisp, and it also happens to be pretty good against the Affinity deck. It's certainly not anywhere close to the powerhouse it once was when Affinity had all of its artifact lands, but it's still a good card against the deck. I would also bring it in against any deck that plays more than a couple artifacts, such as Red-Green Urzatron.

Kataki, War's Wage | Art by Matt Thompson

Shining Shoal is excellent against damage-based sweepers like Pyroclasm, which is how a lot of people will try to remove Geist of Saint Traft. Additionally, it's also powerful against beatdown decks since it wreaks havoc on their combat. On top of all that, it also triggers Tallowisp, which provides an immediate replacement for whichever card you pitched to it.

Spell Pierce is to fight combo and control decks. You can load up on extra countermagic or swap them in for other pieces of countermagic, depending on the matchup.

Vendilion Clique is also for control and combo, providing you with an additional avenue of disruption that lets you know if the coast is clear to cast an Aura. The 3/1 body is fairly threatening on its own as well. (Although it does trade with Squadron Hawk.)

The Disenchant is just an extra card for opposing Affinity, to deal with Cranial Plating or that deck's huge creatures.

Hyena Umbra is for board sweepers like Day of Judgment. You can tutor it up and put it on whatever your primary threat is (ideally Geist), then ensure it lives even if you know your opponent is playing a lot of ways to clear the board.

Recumbent Bliss is an extra Temporal Isolation against beatdown that has a small upside when you can spare the extra mana.

Finally, the fourth Steel of the Godhead is for the matchups where it plus Geist is an easy route to victory. There are several matchups that roll over to that combination, and you just want to give yourself the highest chance possible of drawing it.

Here is how I would sideboard with this deck:


-2 Mana Leak
-3 Remand
+1 Recumbent Bliss
+1 Steel of the Godhead
+3 Shining Shoal

Shining Shoal

Against Affinity, you will also want to bring in all three Katakis over Mind Control, a Spellskite, and Disrupting Shoal. Bring in the Disenchant as well instead of fourth Steel of the Godhead; Affinity hits you in such large increments that the life isn't always as relevant.

In this matchup, you are usually playing control by dealing with threats one at a time. Eventually you will land a Tallowisp and start accruing card advantage, or play one of your more aggressive Spirits and start attacking past them. In many of these matchups Steel of the Godhead will be incredible, so you can try and assemble that for your endgame plan.


-1 Mind Control
-1 Steel of the Godhead
-2 Dungeon Geists
-2 Spellskite
+1 Hyena Umbra
+2 Vendilion Clique
+3 Spell Pierce

Vendilion Clique
Spell Pierce

Depending on what kind of control deck your opponent is playing, a lot can vary. If it's red-based, you might want Shining Shoal to fend off red sweepers. If it doesn't have white or black sweepers, the Hyena Umbra isn't something you're going to need. Mind Control can be good if the deck has an expensive finisher.


-2 Dungeon Geists,
-3 Steel of the Godhead
+2 Vendilion Clique
+3 Spell Pierce

Depending on the matchup, Disenchant and Kataki can come in handy. If you're playing against Red-Green Tron, I would at least bring in Kataki and try to force it into a rough spot with its early Chromatic Stars and Spheres. Disenchant is good against Pyromancer Ascension and Splinter Twin. Otherwise, just play carefully and you can often ride a single threat to victory.

Honorable Mentions

Here are some of the coolest Modern decks from last week that didn't quite make the cut to be featured.

KaiDaemon's Training Grounds

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Benjamin Spark's All-In Windbrisk

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Mark McLoughlin's Red-Green Land Destruction

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Zach's Silverblade Ninjas

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André Marques's Shamans

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Keith Walker's Warp World

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Patrick Perkins's Blue Land Denial

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Will of the Wisp

If you wanted to try different directions with this deck, I will once again mention I would look into splashing black for Lingering Souls and potentially Dimir Cutpurse. My concern is that the deck ends up clogged on three-drops without enough going on in the early turns—but it's something worth trying.

Lingering Souls

Hopefully you enjoyed taking a look at this deck—Modern is one of my favorite formats, precisely because it means decks like this can exist! What a crazy, yet exciting, deck-building experience.


Next up: Standard!

Format: Standard
Restrictions: None!
Deadline: Monday, June 11, at 6pm Pacific Time
Send all decklists via email by clicking the "Respond via Email" link at the bottom of this article

No, that's not a typo. You have until June 11 to get these decklists in! And no, I'm not hopping into my telephone box and traveling in time to make this all work either. ReConstructed is just changing so you will submit your decklist for the article in two weeks rather than the article the next week.

Why? There are two big reasons. One is so you have more time to work on decks to send. I know the under-48-hour turnaround has made it difficult on a lot of you, and so now you'll have more time to get your decks ready to send.

The second reason is so I'll have more time to look at and work on those decks. The more time I have to look through and think about the decks I work on, the more refined decks I can show off!

This means that next week I'll be doing another "Zero to Sixty" article—and it's about the right time for one anyway, considering I have a sweet new card from Duels of the Planeswalker to show off!

If you have any questions or comments, send them my way on Twitter (@GavinVerhey) or post them in the forums. Otherwise, I'll see you next week!

Until next week, may you find new decks in old places.


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