5 Reasons Lantern Control is a Triumph of the Magic Community
In case you missed it, a relatively unknown Modern deck just won a Grand Prix.
Zac Elsik, piloting a deck known simply as “Lantern Control”, won Grand Prix Oklahoma City in September 2015, defeating pro player Brian Braun-Duin (Splinter Twin) in the final. For some, this was the first time hearing about the rogue deck. For many of us, the first time we saw the words “Lantern Control” was in June 2015, when Zac Elsik placed 15th at Grand Prix Charlotte.
What you may not know is Lantern Control was developed by the Magic community, and has existed since 2012. That’s right, members of the Magic community came together and created this deck out of a simple concept – look at the top card of both libraries, control the draw step, profit.
The fact that such a rogue concept arose from the MTG underground and took a Grand Prix in its second major appearance is a testament to the creativity and collaborative skills of the Magic community, for several reasons. Let’s examine this new breakout deck, and discuss the 5 Reasons Lantern Control is a Triumph of the Magic Community.
5. It Began as a Forum Thread (and Still Is)
In November 2012, user zerodown posted a thread on the mtgsalvation.com forum about a new deck called “Top Control” (renamed to “Trinket’s Barber Shop” the following month). The deck’s concept was based around combining Lantern of Insight from Fifth Dawn with Ghoulcaller’s Bell, printed the previous year in Innistrad, and Codex Shredder, printed just months prior in Return to Ravnica.
Magic players have attempted to use Lantern of Insight and the information it provides to their advantage in Modern, but prior to Innistrad and Return to Ravnica there was no reliable way to interact with the revealed cards. In fact, until this summer the uncommon resided in discount bins or was stored away in backroom bulk boxes. With the printing of Ghoulcaller’s Bell and (especially) Codex Shredder, there was now a way to interact with the revealed cards, controlling both draw steps.
A possible reason for the deck’s misleading name, “Lantern Control” (we will discuss the name in a few minutes) is the fact that the deck’s first iterations featured a full removal/control suite: Path to Exile, Serum Visions, Oust, Terminus, and Porphyry Nodes. Essentially, the deck combined a control shell with the Lantern combo, which provided the “inevitability” factor. The deck was designed to control the board and win through slow, selective milling.
It didn’t take long for the community to take notice of this radical new deck concept and begin tweaking it. In fact, during the course of that first day in which the forum thread was posted, it received 19 replies.
4. Countless Players Have Spent the Past Three Years Developing the Deck
The “Lantern Control” thread has been active for the past three years, and is currently a staggering 127 pages long. Over this time, users have contributed, playtested, and debated every card choice. Starting in the early days of the forum thread’s creation, with the help of the community, the deck quickly began to take shape.
One of the biggest changes to Lantern Control was, ironically, its shift away from control (we’ll talk about archetypes later). Shortly after the deck’s conception, players began to incorporate Ensnaring Bridge into sideboards because of how often Lantern Control players ended up topdecking due to the deck’s low mana costs.
Just a few weeks into testing, Ensnaring Bridge became accepted as a maindeck card and a vital part of the deck. The addition of Ensnaring Bridge meant creatures could no longer attack, and the removal suite was no longer needed. This allowed the focus of the disruption cards to shift from control to hand disruption, with cards such as Inquisition of Kozilek and Duress, which is exactly what Lantern Control needs to focus on prior to the lockdown combo.
As I write this sentence, the last reply to the Lantern Control thread is dated 1 hour ago (in fact, 23 replies have been written in the past 24 hours).
3. A New Archetype
What is Lantern Control? We’ve established that it’s not a control deck. When the deck is in full lockdown mode, there is little to no board interaction. The only interaction is hand disruption and controlling the draw step. When the lockdown is in place, the opponent is no longer able to play the game.
More accurately, the deck should be called “Lantern Prison”. We still refer to it as “Lantern Control” because of its roots in control, but in its current form it is a prison deck. That’s right – Lantern brings a new archetype to Modern, and that’s an exciting prospect.
Lantern Control has been compared to Scepter Chant, which was a somewhat popular deck a few years ago in extended formats. Scepter Chant is named after the combo of Isochron Scepter and Orim’s Chant, which was usually protected with counter magic. While it was at its heart a true prison deck, Scepter Chant was never considered competitive and fell by the wayside with the printing of Snapcaster Mage.
As a result, until this year, there was no competitive “prison” archetype in the Modern format. At the moment, the ten most popular Modern decks are:
- Splinter Twin
- Naya Burn
- UR Aggro
- Grixis Control
- Tie: Collected Chord, Infect, Scapeshift
While I don’t anticipate Lantern Control becoming as popular as the “Tier 1” decks listed above, it is a presence that should be expected from now on at any large tournament. At Zac Elsik’s recent Grand Prix victory he went undefeated until the final round of the swiss, a 0-2 loss to Jasper Johnson-Epstein’s Naya Burn which was immediately avenged 2-0 in their quarterfinal match.
If Zac’s showing at Oklahoma City is any indication, Lantern Control is a deck to watch out for regardless of how many players choose to sleeve it up. And that’s because…
2. The Deck Was Designed to Have No Bad Matchups
Zac Elsik is no stranger to the pro Magic scene. In 2012 Zac placed 17th at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored (for which he qualified after winning a Modern PTQ), earning him an invitation to Pro Tour Return to Ravnica. However, his showing at his second Pro Tour was far less successful, and he decided to take a break from Magic.
In early 2015, Zac Elsik sought to return to the competitive Magic scene. He started by trying to find a deck for Modern, his favoured format, and this search led him at first to Time Walk and its development thread on mtgsalvation, where he actively posted for about two months. Ultimately, he concluded the deck was too fragile and had too many unfavourable matchups, particularly against burn and Abzan.
During the following month, April 2015, one of the primary contributors of the Lantern Control forum thread, Randall Thompson, started posting YouTube videos of MTGO gameplay with the deck. Zac discovered this videos within the first few weeks, and became interested in trying out the deck on his own. Fortunately, he already owned many of the cards and it was not difficult to find the rest due to the “budget” nature of the decklist.
What appealed most to Zac was the idea that as long as the combo “shell” of the deck was in place, the other pieces could be altered to whatever is needed. This provides a lot of flexibility and if done correctly, eliminates nearly every possible bad matchup. This was one of the goals of the deck’s original concept that was slowly developed by the community, to control the top card of the deck and thus the progression of the entire game, regardless of the opposing deck.
For example, the most common argument made against Lantern Control is that it “dies” to artifact removal, which is not entirely true. When the lock is in place (which is generally considered to be Lantern of Insight and at least three mill artifacts), it is statistically impossible for the opponent to draw anything useful. In Zac Elsik’s own words:
“With 3 mill rocks how many runners (or threats) does your opponent need on top of his deck … to draw out of the lock? They need seven. … When they end their turn you can mill 3 of their threats, untap, mill 3 more. Of those 6 runners milled they still need another runner to follow in order to win. And even if they manage to hit that 7th runner, you can always sac Lantern to shuffle giving you an extra out.”
This really only leaves whatever cards your opponent can get in his or her hand before the lock occurs, which is why the deck’s versatility is so important. Zac built a copy of each Tier 1 Modern deck in the weeks following his discovery of Lantern Control and went to work testing every matchup, at an average of two hours a day, to determine what cards might best cover the deck’s weaknesses.
After a month of testing, Zac came to the mtgsalvation thread with feedback and suggestions, quickly becoming an active contributor. In June, he took the deck to Grand Prix Charlotte, having made some of his own tweaks to the previously accepted decklist:
- Mishra’s Bauble, a “free” card intended to give an additional peek at the top card of the opponent’s deck, was replaced with Mox Opal, which aids in ramping the combo into place much more quickly.
- Galvanic Blast, a 4-damage-for-1-mana spell that rewards the player for having three or more artifacts, was replaced with Pyrite Spellbomb. Since the deck makes use of Academy Ruins, Pyrite Spellbomb could function as a weaker, but recurring, version of Galvanic Blast, thus providing an additional win condition.
- A reduction of the land count from 18 to 17, due to the low mana costs of the deck and the addition of Mox Opal‘s mana ramp.
- The addition of Surgical Extraction to the disruption suite.
Ultimately, the most effective way to protect Lantern Control’s weak early turns is aggressive hand disruption. Inquisition of Kozilek and Duress were already in use by most Lantern players, and Zac added Surgical Extraction to the list to deal with Tron and combo decks, nullify Snapcaster Mage, rip cards out of the opponent’s hand (e.g. fetch lands, as in the picture below), and take a peek at the opponent’s library.
Zac Elsik’s decklist became featured on Grand Prix Charlotte coverage and ended up placing 15th in the tournament, but the deck was never actually shown in a featured match (although he was seated at the featured match table). The day after the tournament concluded, Aaron Forsythe tweeted about the decklist with amazement. The following day, Sam Black recorded a series of videos for Star City Games piloting the deck online (which he referred to as “Lantern Mill”), and the day after Black’s series went online, Luis Scott-Vargas recorded a similar series of videos for Channel Fireball.
Word was getting out about this rogue deck. Proverbially speaking, the cat saw the light at the end of the bag.
1. The Modern Format (and Lantern) is Already Adjusting
Following GP Charlotte, Zac Elsik knew immediately which cards needed to change. He shared his results, match by match, with the mtgsalvation thread and discussed the alterations he intended to make. Zac’s primary concern at this point was a consistently low win percentage against Naya Burn, but he was unwilling to make any drastic changes to the deck’s structure.
By the time Zac took the deck to Grand Prix Oklahoma City in September, and subsequently won the title, the deck had only undergone some minor, but vital tweaks:
- 4x Inquisition of Kozilek (from 3x), to target early cards such as Eidolon of the Great Revel.
- 4x Mox Opal (from 3x), to maximize mana ramp and establish a quick board presence against fast, aggressive decks.
- 2x Thoughtseize (replacing 2x Duress), a decision that was heavily debated on the mtgsalvation thread and Zac wrestled with for a long time. The 2 life lost by Thoughtseize is incredibly relevant when attempting to establish a lock without losing the last previous few points of life, but ultimately, Thoughtseize was chosen for Oklahoma City to hit Keranos, God of Storms, Gurmag Angler, and Tasigur, the Golden Fang (gods and delve creatures).
- The addition of the newly printed Ghirapur Aether Grid from Magic Origins for an additional win condition (a singleton in the deck).
- The removal of 3x Gitaxian Probe from the list to make room for the above cards.
The final list:
Ultimately, Zac’s preparation paid off. (As Brian Braun-Duin joked before the final match of GP Oklahoma City, “Well, you’re definitely more prepared than I am for this matchup.”)
Part of this preparation involved figuring out what cards posed the greatest threat to the deck and which disruption cards could best deal with these threats, such as the struggle between Thoughtseize and Duress. It is entirely possible that, despite the threat of Keranos and Grixis Delve creatures, Thoughtseize will no longer be a viable option due to the inevitability that players will now be more prepared for the match up and as a result, the Lantern player’s life total will be even more vulnerable.
And that is the other side of the coin.
Only a matter of days following the GP Oklahoma City win, a few prominent MTGO streamers took Lantern Control for a spin, enjoying its “rogue” status and easily beating the field… for a time. After awhile, though, they started to see more and more hate cards brought in from sideboards, and in some cases, those hate cards found their way into maindecks simply to catch Lantern players off-guard (a common metagame choice in online games when faced with the same archetype repeatedly).
We can expect to see more of this in the coming months as Modern players are faced with the prospect of preparing against all the known Tier 1 decks while having a contingency plan for Lantern Control or other rogue decks. And in some cases, they’ll have to make some major changes to their sideboard plan if they want to have any answers to Lantern in their opening hand. According to Zac Elsik:
“The trick to beating Lantern is not, ‘Oh, I’ve got these sweet two Ancient Grudges that I can bring in,’ because that’s not enough. It’s quantity of cards, not quality, since you only draw an opening hand of seven, you have to have your answer there or you have to draw it immediately. … If you side in seven sideboard cards, the chance of you beating the Lantern deck goes up a lot. … If you devote too much attention to beating Lantern then you take away from… having matchups against other decks.”
Only time will tell if Lantern Control is a “flash in the pan” that succeeded because of its metagame placement during its time of obscurity, or whether it can adapt to the field. If it can, we can expect a shift in the field as players begin to favour the more versatile decks that have ways to deal with this new archetype while still posing a threat to the established decks.
Who knows? We might even see more new archetypes in the near future.
The following people were instrumental in the research and writing of this article: Zac Elsik, Jared Demartini of The Gathering Place, Steve Wise, Ian “Dix” Dixon, and T.J. Love.
Thanks for reading,