A few weeks ago, I proposed various Team Trios configurations that could maximize your style points, such as triple-Mono-Red or triple-Merfolk. Themed configurations like these, as I argued in that article, could make an event more memorable, could yield better gameplay suggestions to teammates, and ultimately increase your team’s chances.
Today, with Grand Prix Sydney on the horizon, I want to take a similar look at Team Unified Modern. Since the Team Unified deck construction rules forbid any card (other than basic lands) from being used in more than one deck, you can’t do triple Mono-Red or triple Merfolk in Team Unified Modern, but it is still possible to run themed configurations.
For example, you could register three unfair decks (Dredge, Storm, Tron) or three aggro decks (Affinity, Burn, Bogles). But these decks are only loosely connected, and I have something much more nefarious in mind. After all, some players have the most fun when they can leave their opponents incapable of playing Magic, either by relentlessly attacking their mana base or by removing their ability to attack or cast spells.
If you’re one of those players, then what could be more fun than preventing one opponent from playing Magic? Why, locking out an entire team, of course! You can see where this article is going…
— Magic Esports (@MagicEsports) February 4, 2018
Of course, if you’re not one of those players, there’s a good chance that you will have a miserable round. When a player is denied mana or resources to play with, they become a spectator in their own match, which is not a lot of fun. Especially when their teammates are in a position that could be just as miserable. So a triple-prison configuration may be better for scaring children around a campfire than for making friends at a tournament, but you can’t deny it is based around a clear theme, and that’s what I was going for.
Moreover, I would actually enjoy playing against such a configuration. Personally, I always welcome the challenge of Stony Silence, I felt a thrill when facing Stasis or Smokestack back in the days, and I jumped when I saw Fall of the Thran in Dominaria. These resource denial cards change the rules of the game completely, forcing me to reevaluate cards and strategies on my feet, and they show how complex, nuanced, and deep Magic can be. As long as it’s a rare occurrence—the novelty factor would wear off quickly if prison decks became a large chunk of the metagame—I enjoy having such strategies around.
I am not alone in this. A few months ago, Brian Braun-Duin wrote that “Lantern actually involves a lot of fun, interactive, skill-intensive Magic for most decks in the format.” He pointed out that many decks contain ingenious ways to beat Ensnaring Bridge or a Lantern of Insight lock. And Matt Sperling, also referring to Lantern, wrote that “it’s fun that something so different thrives in Modern. It lets competitive players who enjoy a puzzle/lock deck scratch that itch.” Like them, I love having prison strategies around, at least in small doses.
So it’s a polarizing topic, but there are teams of players who would enjoy playing with or against such decks. Either way, let’s take a look at the evilest Team Unified Modern configuration possible.
Deck #1: Lantern Control
After its inception on a message board and thousands of hours of collaborative testing and tuning, Lantern Control won the Modern Pro Tour. Luis Salvatto took the trophy with the above main deck, locking opponents out of relevant draws through Lantern of Insight and Codex Shredder while preventing them from attacking with Ensnaring Bridge.
In the sideboard, I had to cut one Ancient Grudge and two Leyline of Sanctity due to overlap with other decks. Instead, I filled out the sideboard with alternatives that sometimes appear in Lantern Control sideboards: one Padeem, Consul of Innovation, one Surgical Extraction, and the second Collective Brutality.
Deck #2: R/G Ponza
R/G Ponza has seen an uptick in popularity after the release of Bloodbraid Elf. The deck had to be streamlined a bit (for instance, Bonfire of the Damned had to be cut) but after those adjustments, Bloodbraid Elf turned out to be an excellent addition. It increases the consistency of getting Blood Moon by turn 3, and you’re also happy to cascade into Stone Rain or Molten Rain. With these mana denial cards, opponents will have a hard time casting spells. Andrew Wolbers took the above list to a 1st place finish at the SCG Modern Open in Dallas.
I considered several other options instead of R/G Ponza:
The R/W Prison deck that runs Blood Moon next to Chalice of the Void. Unfortunately, it had too much overlap (notably Simian Spirit Guide, Leyline of Sanctity, and Nahiri, the Harbinger) with the third deck.
Deck #3: Restore Balance
Restore Balance takes away your lands and creatures, and then Jace, the Mind Sculptor fateseals you into oblivion. The symmetry of Restore Balance is broken by using artifact mana and planeswalkers, and you can sacrifice all of your lands to Greater Gargadon to make sure that both players are left with zero lands.
The above list is inspired by one that Zoidon_5 took to a 5-0 finish at a recent Magic Online League, although I made a few other changes. In terms of action spells, I cut one Jace and one Nahiri because I feared that eight 4-mana planeswalkers were too many. Also, I cut all three copies of Blood Moon because they were already taken by the R/G Ponza deck in this Team Unified setup. Instead, I added two Leyline of Sanctity, two As Foretold, and the fourth Restore Balance to increase the number of games where I can cast a turn-3 Restore Balance. Since the Leylines came from the sideboard, I added two new cards to the sideboard that I figured might be useful: one Wear // Tear and one Oketra’s Last Mercy.
Finally, I made a few adjustments to the mana base, cutting one Steam Vents and one Firewild Borderpost to add two Fieldmist Borderpost, which increases the number of blue sources for Jace. It also increases the Borderpost count to 10, which is a reasonable move considering that Peter Vieren’s list from the inaugural Modern Pro Tour ran as many as sixteen Borderposts.
In the end, these deck tweaks are probably for naught, as I doubt that any team will register this nightmarish configuration at Grand Prix Sydney this weekend. But if your team is evil enough to run this exact configuration of three decks, then get ready for everyone to hate you.