Last weekend I played Lantern at GP Detroit. Though my finish wasn’t great (I ended up 11-3-1), I thought the deck performed well and my losses were the result of a combination of misplays and a bit of bad luck (plus, I was almost sure to win the match I drew). Some authors will always tell you that the deck they played was great even if they went 0-3, but I like to think I’m pretty honest in my evaluations—last weekend I had a 12-3 record but said that my deck wasn’t that good. You have a good matchup against any version of Eldrazi, but you’re also strong against a lot of non-Eldrazi decks (Lantern won a GP before Eldrazi existed, after all), so Lantern should remain competitive even when an Eldrazi card is banned.
This deck is different than any other deck in Magic. It’s usually called “Lantern Control” but that’s a bit of a misnomer, as it doesn’t play like a traditional control deck—it’s more of a control/prison/combo hybrid.
The idea behind this deck is that you deploy multiple lock pieces and you eventually win by default as your opponent is unable to draw anything that matters for the rest of the game. You accomplish that by resolving Lantern of Insight, which reveals the top card of both player’s libraries, and then a number of mill pieces (which are often called mill rocks and include Codex Shredder, Pyxis of the Pandemonium, and Ghoulcaller’s Bell). This lets you mill their top card if it’s good or your top card if it’s bad (or both in the case of Bell and Pyxis). Once you get to a point where you control the top card of their library, there are two ways for you to lose:
- You lose to whatever they already have. You can stop them from drawing new cards, but you can’t stop them from casting the cards they’ve already drawn. To that end, you have 6 discard spells, Abrupt Decays, and what is likely the most important card in the deck besides Lantern itself—Ensnaring Bridge. Most decks in Modern kill with creatures, and with Lantern it’s easy to empty your hand so that they can never attack.
- You lose to a sequence of top cards equal to the number of mill rocks you have plus one. If you’re at 3 life and your opponent’s top card is Lightning Bolt, then you can use Codex Shredder to mill it. If the next top card of their library is Lava Spike, though, then you need an extra Codex Shredder/Ghoulcaller’s Bell/Pyxis of the Pandemonium to mill that one too. The two ways you circumvent that are to have enough mill rocks that they’re realistically not going to have a sequence of important cards that goes this deep, and to narrow down the number of cards that are important. I like to think of this as the “universe of cards that matter.” In a situation where you’re at 1 life and don’t have Ensnaring Bridge, then the universe of cards that matter is any burn spells and any creatures—you’ll die to Lava Spike or to Goblin Guide. At this point, you have to mill almost everything, and you need to hope that your opponent ends up drawing a land every turn. If you have Ensnaring Bridge in play, then the universe of cards that matter is smaller—you can now let them have any creature that attacks because those actually do nothing. If you have Pithing Needle on Grim Lavamancer, then the universe is smaller still. The smaller the universe of cards that matter, the easier it is to get to a point where they never draw another one of those cards for the rest of the game.
My deck list is a little different than most Lantern lists you’ll see out there, though the “main slots” of Bridge/Lantern/Rocks/Stirrings/Discard/Decay are all still there. The main differences in my list are:
I like Mishra’s Bauble a lot—it is a 0-casting-cost artifact for Mox Opal, it’s a good way to empty your hand for Ensnaring Bridge, and it serves as a pseudo-Lantern for one turn. If you’re looking for something, you look at the top card of your library, and if it’s bad, you mill it. You end up digging two cards deeper for no mana. If they are looking for something, then you use it on them. If the universe of cards that they care about is very small (for example, you have them locked with Bridge and the only way they win is by drawing Hurkyl’s Recall), you can use Bauble + Academy Ruins as a 1-of Lantern every turn. This way, you’ll only lose if they draw 2 Recalls in a row before you draw a Lantern.
Bauble is also important for when you sacrifice Lantern. Between Lantern and the discard spells, you usually know your opponent’s entire hand at all times, but there is often a point where you have to sacrifice a Lantern to shuffle and that gives your opponent a 1-turn window to draw an unknown card. If they have a card you don’t know, then you are not going to know what to give them and what to mill. Most of the time, against Eldrazi, you want to let them draw lands as those don’t do much. Imagine, however, that they drew Ulamog—in this case, giving them land number 10 can be disastrous. Bauble lets you know what they drew in that 1 turn window before you regrow your Lantern with Academy Ruins so that you can plan accordingly.
Most people look at this card and think “kill mechanism,” but the truth is that you don’t need it to kill—you can just mill people out. This helps with killing them a little bit faster, however, which can be important in a tournament. That in itself would not be enough to include it, but it’s also quite good against most creatures that can attack past Bridge—Signal Pest and Noble Hierarch, for example—so I like the slot.
Normally, people play 4 Bells and 1 Pyxis, as throwing stuff into your graveyard can be very beneficial when you have Academy Ruins and Codex Shredder in your deck. I opted to play 2 Pyxis because I thought the number of World Breakers would be high—RG Eldrazi plays 1 to 4 of those and UW Eldrazi can also splash for it. World Breaker dodges mill effects since it can come back, which can be an issue sometimes, particularly in versions with more than one. I also like Pyxis against Ancient Grudge, which is the single best card against you. This is only a factor in post-sideboard games but having a second one main makes sideboarding easier.
My sideboard is very random. This is how it breaks down:
Versus Affinity and decks with Stony Silence
Versus decks with Stony Silence/Affinity
Versus Infect, Bogles, Burn, and decks with Worldbreaker
I was actually quite impressed with Spellskite and would probably like a third somewhere.
Versus Ancient Grudge
Versus Burn, Infect, Affinity, and Pod
It’s possible to play Pyroclasm main deck—Sam did.
Versus Ancient Grudge, Worldbreaker, and other graveyard-based decks (Storm, Goryo’s Vengeance)
This is a small upgrade to Bell but it’s an important one in those matchups, and the fact that you never have much to side out anyway means making the swap is OK.
Versus graveyard decks and combo decks
Versus Eldrazi, Affinity, and Goryo’s Vengeance
Versus Chord and Collected Company decks, and some graveyard decks (but not Living End!)
I expected almost no Burn so I only had one, but you can play up to 4 if you think it’s going to be particularly popular. If you have 2 Sun Droplets, you can tap Llanowar Wastes to effectively gain a life, which will bring you out of burn range in the late game.
Here’s what I side out:
- Surgical against most decks that do not have graveyard effects (will side it out versus GW Eldrazi but not versus Bant Eldrazi, for example).
- Needle against decks with no relevant activated abilities. I like keeping one against most people to be able to Infernal Tutor against something unexpected.
- Bell when I side in Pyxis.
- Ghirapur Aether Grid versus Eldrazi decks if I am not short on time.
- – 2 Pyxis/Bells and -2 Baubles when I have nothing else to side out. I like to keep a minimum of 7 mill rocks in my deck, ideally 8.
A lot of people seem to have the idea that Lantern is an extremely complicated deck to play. I don’t think it actually is. A lot of the time you have perfect information (you know your hand, your top card, their hand, their top card, and the contents of both players’ libraries) so you can actually make decisions on the fly with little to no practice. It is important to know what your opponent’s deck can do, but it’s usually fairly obvious and even if you aren’t familiar with their deck, you can realize when a card is about to destroy your Ensnaring Bridge.
Most of the games follow the same pattern—you play some mill rocks, a discard spell, a Lantern, a Bridge, and then you lock them out of the game by stopping them from drawing things that destroy Bridge or that kill you. If you do not have some of those components, then you should mill yourself in search of them.
There are two big decision points with Lantern:
1) You have a Ghoulcaller’s Bell and a bad card on top, but their top card is also bad. In this spot, if you mill both, you risk giving them a good card. If you have them already locked, then I wouldn’t mill since both players drawing a bad card is not necessarily bad for you. If your opponent draws nothing, you win by default. If they are not locked (i.e., you need to find Ensnaring Bridge), then mill away.
2) You have a limited number of mill effects available and they draw a card that is potentially good but not game-winning. In this spot, you have to judge how likely you are to beat the card and what the universe of important cards in their deck is compared to the number of mill rocks you have.
Imagine, for example, you’re playing against UW Eldrazi. It’s game 1, they have Thought-Knot Seer in play and their top card is Eldrazi Displacer. You have 1 mill rock. In this spot, I’d likely mill the Displacer. It’s definitely a card that you can beat, but you don’t want to have to go through the trouble of having to do it since the universe of cards that matter in their deck is very small (your opponent can Blink Thought-Knot to give you extra cards when you have Bridge). If it’s the end of their turn, you have access to at least 2 more mills (the mill and the Lantern shuffle if worse comes to worst), so it’s highly unlikely they’ll draw 3 great cards.
Now imagine the same scenario against a post-sideboard Melira/Chord deck when you are at 10 life and their top card is Noble Hierarch. Hierarch is an annoying card since it can attack through Bridge, but it’s definitely a card you can beat, like Displacer. Post-sideboard, the universe of cards that matter for them is bigger, and you have access to Decay, Aether Grid, Spellskite, and Pyroclasm to kill that Hieararch in 10 turns. With a Lantern and a mill rock in play, you’re very likely to draw one. In this spot, I’d err on the side of not dying immediately to a top deck, and would let them have the Hierarch.
As a general rule, I tend to play mill + Lantern the way I play Vendilion Clique—I’d rather have a known bad thing that I can handle than an unknown thing. Unless I know they have nothing useful left in their deck or I think the card is going to be really hard to beat, I let them keep it because I know I can play with it in mind, whereas if I mill it, the top card can be something that I can’t beat and I don’t want to risk that.
In my opinion, practice with the deck is more important than being mechanically fast. You have to be constantly flipping the top card of your library, deciding what to mill, and telling them to flip the top card of their library because they’re certainly not going to remember it. Add Sea Gate Wreckage to that and that’s a large number of small things you have to constantly be doing. For this reason, I would recommend some practice with the deck—not because it’s complex, but because you have to be able to do everything quickly. It’s not the kind of deck that you need to have played for months, but it’s the kind of deck that you need to play a number of games with before the tournament so you know what’s going on.
The Lantern deck mulligans relatively well because one of its cards (Ensnaring Bridge) can win the game single-handedly against a variety of decks. I won multiple games on mulligans to 5 and even a game on a mulligan to 4 during the tournament.
In game 1s, you should overvalue Ensnaring Bridge—it’s the best card to have in your opening hand and a bad hand with Bridge is often better than a good hand without Bridge. Other important cards are Ancient Stirrings and the Lantern + mill combo. I tend to mulligan most hands that do not include either of those components.
With Needle, you usually name:
- Eye, Eldrazi Displacer, or World Breaker against Eldrazi
- Viscera Seer, Township, or Qasali Pridemage against Chord decks
- Nexus or Pendelhaven against Infect
- Plating or Ravager against Affinity
- Grim Lavamancer or a fetchland against Burn
- Oblivion Stone or Karn against Tron
- Fulminator Mage or a random cycler against Living End
If you have nothing to name, naming a fetchland you’ve seen in their hand works.
- On turn 1, you generally want to lead with Lantern. This is for three reasons: first, because you have fewer Lanterns than mill pieces, so you want to get that into play as soon as possible to prevent discard/counterspells. Second, because you get more information about your opponent’s hand this way since you see more draw steps from them. Third, because there’s always the chance your opponent will draw something awesome and you want to stop them. At the PT, I played a turn-1 Lantern and immediately shuffled away my opponent’s Stony Silence.
- The exception for this is when your opponent mulligans and scrys to the top. In this scenario, you almost always want to just turn-1 mill them. The scry rule is definitely a great benefit for this deck.
- In the dark, milling yourself is better than milling your opponent because of Codex and Bell. Against decks that don’t have any graveyard effects, you want to Bell whenever you can because it always ends up benefiting you.
- If your opponent has a bad card on top and you have multiple mill effects, it’s often better to not use any and leave the card there. The exception is when you’re running out of time, in which case you want to be a little more aggressive.
- Don’t be afraid to sacrifice your Lantern, especially if you have Academy Ruins.
- Remember that you can target yourself with discard spells to lower your hand size for Bridge.
- Surgical Extraction forces a shuffle, so you can use it if they have a good card on top (or on yourself if you have a bad card). Ghost Quarter, on the other hand, does not force a shuffle (they can choose to not search).
- 0-power creatures are problematic, but they are also very slow. Unless you’re at a very low life when you play Bridge, it’s unlikely that they can kill you before you draw into an answer since you usually see 3+ cards a turn at that point.
At this point, I know something will be banned from Modern, but I don’t know what. If Eldrazi is still a deck after the bans, then Lantern will continue having good a matchup against it. If Eldrazi is not a deck anymore, then Lantern is still likely good, as it was good before. If they ban something from Affinity like Nexus, Plating, or Ravager, then the deck gets much better because Affinity is not a great matchup and because you won’t have splash damage anymore. If they ban Mox Opal, well, then we’ll see…
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. See you next week![Editor’s note: this article originally misidentified the tournament and PV’s final record.]