The depth of Magic: the Gathering is amazing in the number of niche strategies it supports. What’s even more fascinating is how certain players move into those niche strategies and just live there. Some players play the same archetype or color combination in every single format FOR FOREVER.
There’s a lot to learn about these individuals from their play preferences. We have the aggro players who tend to be more outspoken and to the point. We have the control players who have amazing patience to sit there and think. And we have the mill players who prefer non-violent approaches to life.
But there are certain niche players in darker, more twisted archetypes. Dare we explore the psychology of the Colorless Artifact Prison player? I shudder to think about what might go on in private—maybe not the best person to hitch-hike a ride from. Definitely not going to go alone to help them sort through the Tangle Wires in their basement.
Still, for whatever reason (that let’s try not to think about) there is an audience for Colorless Artifact Prison. It has been consistently supported and played since forever. The strategy has followers in high and low places.
The idea behind the deck is to lock the opponent out. Chain them up, tie them down. Don’t let them do ANYTHING. Remove their permanents, don’t let them attack, don’t let them cast spells. Total restraint is a sure way to victory, and technically non-violent!
So today we begin to entertain the Colorless Artifact Prison people. This archetype has a history in Vintage and Legacy so I’m interested in seeing if there’s room to work in Modern. We have a lot of tools available so let’s dig in!
First and most exciting to talk about is our new Spirit Dragon overlord Ugin. I thought for sure the Eldrazi were coming back but this might be even sweeter.
This 8-mana planeswalker is a one-Dragon prison. It can sweep through just about anything leaving a clear board, and it’s colorless Lightning Bolts quickly ramp to the ultimate.
The funniest thing about the ultimate is that it doesn’t win the game at all, just further progresses the prison. More life, more cards, here’s SEVEN MORE PERMANENTS. Do any of them win the game? Nah, just some more prison cards.
While 8 mana is a lot this is the type of card that is going to see play no matter how mediocre the calculated win percentage. We love our Dragon planeswalkers.
This one actually may be a pretty decent upgrade over Karn. With U/R Delver the best deck, Karn is extremely weak to Young Pyromancer and Lightning Bolt, but Ugin can clear away everything and stay at 5 loyalty.
Obviously 8 mana is a lot and we can eat Remands and Spell Pierces, but if it sticks, it’s crazier than even Karn. So I’m excited to see how we can make this card work in Modern.
Colorless Lands and Fast Mana
If we’re playing colorless we should have a good reason because colors are pretty good. So we need to take a look at what kind of colorless lands and fast mana are available.
In Vintage we have the uber broken Mishra’s Workshop, while in Legacy we have Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors. Modern is a bit more shallow but we have options.
It’s tempting to play a mono-utility land mana base. Some of you may remember the G/R 45-land deck from this spring and how that deck won way more games than it seemed like it should. You don’t necessarily need to play any spells if our lands are that good.
First, we have the best man/womanland options:
These work pretty well as a team, with Blinkmoth Nexus able to pump even Mutavault. Inkmoth Nexus makes a pretty nice closer too.
Imagine a game where we 1-for-1 trade all the way down. If our opponent has 5 shocklands and we have 5 of these it’s a pretty easy win from there. There is LOTS of value to be had.
Next up we have our disruption lands:
Tectonic Edge is stellar and Ghost Quarter is okay. Combine them with Crucible of Worlds and they’re never getting past 3 lands. There are some slower control decks that crumble at this proposition and there are other decks that lean heavily on their own creature lands to win. These are good lands.
We have a wide selection of fringe utility lands to choose from as well and this is just a small selection. Each of these has their place and with Expedition Map we can tutor up some spice.
What makes “All-in Brown” style decks great in Vintage and Legacy is the fast mana bursts for quick lock pieces, but you don’t really have access to that in Modern. For turn-1 starts we have only Simian Spirit Guide or the hard to activate Mox Opal.
If we want to produce a big mana advantage we will have to wait until at least the third turn to play with the Urza Tron.
Having tried out a prison strategy without these lands I think these are a must. It’s possible for us to fall way behind from the start and while a bit luck-based this trio of lands gives us a chance to come back and take over starting on the 3rd turn.
To make 7 mana from 3 lands is a LOT, and we can do a lot of nasty things with them.
A few more nice options are charge counter ramp in Everflowing Chalice and Molten Slagheap. Chalice can provide a nice speed up on the second turn while Slagheap is a bit slower.
Both play great with proliferate effects which is something to keep an eye on.
Now that we have an idea of our mana options let’s move into available lock pieces. We’re looking for cards or combinations of cards that totally tie the opponent up. There are lots of resources we can restrict and ideally we restrict all of them!
Ensnaring Bridge + Bottled Cloister is a hilarious creature lock that dates back to classic “Burning Bridge” decks—mono-red burn paired with Ensnaring Bridge + Grafted Skullcap.
Ensnaring Bridge on its own is really hard for some decks to beat. Anything relying on fat creatures or even Ascendancy combo builds might not be able to kill through it. Once we empty our hand even Delver decks are locked out.
Bottled Cloister speeds things up by immediately dumping our hand. On its own it protects us from discard and draws us an extra card every turn to cement our advantage.
Since our deck is going to be a bit slower than Legacy or Vintage variants I think this combo is necessary to stabilize an ugly board by the 4th turn.
Chalice of the Void and Trinisphere are classic lock pieces that restrict the opponent’s spells and mana.
Chalice of the Void is an interesting one in Modern as we can’t reliably play it on turn 1. If we could, so many decks would be locked out and we would really have something potent on our hands. But since we can’t, we need to decide whether to play with 1-drops ourselves, and the card loses a lot of the punch. Still good, but not at its strongest.
Trinisphere comes out slow too, but it’s still a game-changing effect. Even on turn 3, setting an opponent back to 1 spell per turn for forever is a savage beating. Many Modern decks are designed to play 2+ spells every turn and Trinisphere can buy tons of time.
We’ve discussed Tectonic Edge with Crucible of Worlds and I consider this a must. Even if the opponent can operate under 4 mana, Crucible of Worlds produces a slog of manlands for the opponent to grind through and can retrieve Tron pieces if we go that route.
Relic of Progenitus cycles and lets us control our hand size a bit. It restricts the opponent’s graveyard, which is problematic for a lot of decks. It can do a lot to delay a Treasure Cruise or slow down a Tarmogoyf army. With Tec Edge for Faerie Conclave and Relic for Fatestitcher, UWR Ascendancy will have a hard time trying to combo. Solid card.
Pithing Needle and Phyrexian Revoker give us some nice answers against problematic permanents like Birthing Pod and Liliana of the Veil. Revoker is more vulnerable to removal but Pithing Needle might be harder to cast through our own Chalice. Both have their strengths and weaknesses.
Classic one-card locks. Each is vulnerable to removal and expensive, but can catch an opponent by surprise and win immediately if they boarded out their creature removal. These are probably better as sideboard jukes.
While we do have Chalice of the Void to protect us from burn and aggressive strategies, Sun Droplet and Witchbane Orb provide some nice insurance.
Spellskite and Welding Jar are important options for protecting our lock pieces, especially in sideboarded games.
Ideally we don’t let the opponent do anything, but in reality we need to be able to answer must-remove permanents that slip through. This includes early game creatures.
Dismember and Contagion Clasp are a couple nice early game options. Dismember is a 1-mana play that dodges Chalice. The life payment is steep but if we’re mono-colorless we don’t have many options.
Contagion Clasp is a nice one to answer threats like Young Pyromancer or Dark Confidant and the proliferate effect is pretty decent as well. It can team up with Inkmoth Nexus to work on the opponent, team up with Everflowing Chalice or Molten Slagheap to ramp, or team up with our planeswalker to ramp to our ultimate.
We would like to have sweepers as well as 1-for 1 removal to make sure we can come from behind if it comes down to it. We have a decent number of options available, but all of them are pricey, which points us back to Urzatron.
Oblivion Ring is not ideal but we have some good ones:
—and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon.
All is Dust or Ugin are our best bets, and I’m leaning toward Ugin. For only 1 mana more we get a win condition as well. Seems like a must-play upgrade and I’m excited for the next set to try it out.
So we’ve figured out our mana, figured out how to lock the opponent out, figured out how to remove their stuff, but how are we going to win? We can do it incidentally with what we already have.
This is a pretty slow way to do it, but given enough time it will work.
Ugin can send 7 Lightning Bolts upstairs and that is incredibly slow, but it’s something.
We could use Karn to remove some permanents from our opponent, restart the game, and win that way.
We could also use some artifact fat like Wurmcoil Engine or Myr Battlesphere, but since we’re leaning heavily on Ensnaring Bridge I would prefer to get it done the slow way.
Some of you may have made it this far and are waiting to hear about the Tezzerets.
Both are fantastic in a strategy like this except for the fact that they have blue and black in them. The point of this exercise is to build a colorless prison deck, but if you want to build a colorful prison deck, these are great options. It depends what you’re into.
Most Imprisoning Artifact Prison List
OK, I know you’re ready to see a list. The truth is I’m still working on that, and I don’t have anything ready for “buy these cards and you will win”-level of confidence.
I’ve toyed around with a Tron-less option, which has performed all right against some strategies but struggled heavily against UR Delver, which is the most popular online deck.
(Fun vs. Junk)
I’ve decided that Tron is necessary and I think Ugin is the missing piece. The card does everything the deck needs it to do and is so much better than splitting slots between All is Dust and Karn. So I do have a list but I think we should wait until Ugin is released.
Colorless Artifact Prison with Ugin
This is my starting point once Fate Reforged drops. Until then I think the deck is missing something and that something is Ugin. We will return.
Still it has been worth a try and I’m curious to hear from any Artifact Prison players if you think this deck is missing some card or combination of cards to push it over the edge. Let’s get some discussion going in the comments!