“One of the most exciting parts of the game as a designer is watching when people get tied to a particular card or strategy.”
Wafo-Tapa and Mystical Teachings. Patrick Chapin and Cruel Ultimatum. Reid Duke and Thoughtseize. Sometimes in Magic we come across a strategy we really love playing and for me, that is Lantern Control.
It was FNM, around 2014, and one guy who liked playing off-beat decks was talking about one.
Using Codex Shredder to mill the opponent one card at a time and main-deck Surgical Extraction. The deck was called Barbershop: “A little off the top, Sir?”. I dismissed it and carried on casting Deceiver Exarch and Splinter Twin.
Tendo Ice Bridge. That must be a sign his deck is broken! I thought. But again, I dismissed it and went back to squeezing four Remand into every deck I could.
Fast forward to Aether Revolt. Whir of Invention and Battle at the Bridge piqued my interest in the archetype. Whir helped find the pieces to lock out your opponent, and Battle at the Bridge bought the time you needed to establish that lock. My first attempts at incorporating Whir were ambitious: with Basic Swamp, multiple Ghost Quarters and Inventors’ Fair. I had some success with the deck in a few events, but shortly after stepped away from the game.
After seeing Sam Black’s recent success with Lantern Control, I wanted to share the knowledge I have acquired from researching and playing the deck.
What is Lantern Control trying to do?
Lantern Control wants to establish control in two ways:
1. Preventing creature combat using an empty hand with Ensnaring Bridge.
2. Controlling the top of both players decks through Lantern of Insight and “Mill Rocks” to control the top of the library, helping the Lantern player draw more of what they need, and their opponent less. “Mill rocks” are cards that allow you to make you opponents, or yourself, discard cards from the top of their library into their graveyards, such as Codex Shredder.
Post-board, the Lantern player is looking to protect their lock pieces, increase removal for disruptive creatures or add threats to close out the game.
Like any Ensnaring Bridge deck its game play is relatively simple. The skill lies in a lot of small decisions that maximise your chance of victory: milling at the right time, choosing which card to Surgically Extract, and maximising your shuffle effects.
Two Types of Lantern Control
There are two ways to build Lantern Control: with Whir of Invention, or without.
Both are perfectly valid, but each comes with a trade-off.
If you find the format is focused on Big Mana decks – Tron, Scapeshift, Amulet Titan and Graveyard decks – then you are likely to find more success with the Whir-less version. Here you can play more copies of Ghost Quarter and Surgical Extraction, which are the most disruptive cards you can play against these decks . Ghost Quarter into a Surgical Extraction on either a Tron piece or a Valakut will buy you a lot of time.
Building Lantern with Whir of Invention excels in a metagame where Ensnaring Bridge is most significant – think Humans or Spirits. Whir can access silver bullet cards, like main deck Grafdigger’s Cage.
So to summarise: if you think Ensnaring Bridge is the best thing in Lantern, should look to play Whir. If you favour the more disruptive elements of the deck you should look to be Whir-less.
These cards make up both builds of Lantern.
Lantern of Insight
Lantern of Insight
This namesake card grants us the information to decide which player to mill with our mill rocks. If you have multiples in play they can sacrifice as a shuffle effect. Most hands containing a Lantern, a mill rock and lands are easy keeps.
This is our best mill rock. It lets you choose which player you mill, so you can control their draw steps. Remember this mechanic is signing you up for the long game – Shredder is often more useful in controlling your own draw steps than milling the opponent of unthreatening cards. Its inbuilt Regrowth ability can be useful to reclaim cards in a drawn out game. Combined with Academy Ruins is good practice to blind mill yourself with this card if you don’t have a Lantern in play due to the deck’s inbuilt recursion.
Milling both players, the lack of targeting can be good for beating cards like Leyline Of Sanctity. The numbers of Bell and Pyxis change based on the metagame: Bell can enable Graveyard decks if you find a lot in the format . The ability to recur what you mill does offer more utility for Lantern. I often play 2-4 copies of Bell and Pyxis.
Pyxis of Pandemonium
Exiling Creeping Chills and Archlight Phoenix warrants Pyxis some place in the deck. However I believe its weakness against Crucible Of Worlds and other various recursion effects makes it less favourable than Bell. The ultimate on it does come occasionally, so it is good practice to note which cards are exiled underneath. You cannot exile them face up – even as a shortcut – with a Lantern in play.
This is how we stop ourselves dying during the combat phase. A lot of Tier one decks are cold to this card game one. This card is the reason Lantern control is playable. You can trim down on this card in some match ups – Tron and UW Control – as you won’t need to rush to play your Bridge. Many post-sideboard games against attack decks will involve protecting your Ensnaring Bridge at all costs.
A good friend of mine recommends to never cut Pithing Needle completely from your deck, and I’m inclined to agree. It is useful to have a cheap card you can tutor for. This card names Planeswalkers – powerful against Ensnaring Bridge – lands (Field Of Ruin), and threats to your rocks (Engineered Explosives and Oblivion Stone). It may not shine in every match up, but at worst it remains a strong piece of utility in protecting your rainbow lands.
Mox Opal is a zero-mana artefact mana rock – a card that taps for mana, other examples include Llanowar Elves and Lion Eye’s Diamond. In a format with Bloodmoon, this sort of mana fixing is infinitely useful as well as any other potential mana disruptors your opponent could be playing.
Smooths out our draws and helps us find what we need. Given a one choice between this and a discard spell on turn one it is often right to keep Ancient Stirrings in hand – you know what hate is needed after seeing their hand. Ancient Stirrings is a precious card and it is right to save it for optimal use.
Thoughtseize/ Inquisition of Kozilek
While Lantern Control aims to establish control of the board and top of the library, these cards allow us to deal with what they hold. They slow down the opponent and let us know what cards we will be facing.
While this wasn’t in the PT winning Whir list, this is still one of the most hyped cards in Modern currently. With the prevalence of Graveyard decks, I feel Surgical Extraction certainly deserves its place in both versions of Lantern Control. Strong in the current Modern meta, Lantern makes optimal use of Surgical through its many graveyard-fillers. Shredder a Valakut from Scapeshift, a tron piece from Tron, fight Snapcaster Mage… besides the obvious applications versus Dredge and Phoenix. Sugical Extraction doubles as a cheap shuffle effect have no other mill rock activation to remove a card you don’t want them to draw.
When this card was spoilt many pundits thought it would redefine Modern, however the lack of GB in the format stopped the card taking over. However Lantern is a deck that truly appreciates this card existing. Of all the decks in Modern, Lantern doesn’t care about gifting a land to remove an annoying permanent. Assassin’s Trophy answers everything, and with Counterspells at an all-time low, this card has superseded Abrupt Decay.
Whir of Invention
Whir’s power lies in accessing multiple copies of the deck’s most important cards. Getting backup copies of Ensnaring Bridge in play is attractive when it is the chief game plan of the deck. Pulling main deck silver bullets is an added bonus, but be specific in your build: you can’t include an artifact for every situation. Veer towards cards with broad influence in the meta, like Grafdigger’s Cage – perfect against Dredge, Izzet Phoenix and Snapcaster Mage decks. Whir doesn’t come completely free however and the triple Blue in the mana cost is limiting. You lose a lot of powerful utility lands, and will usually play only 2 when supporting this colour intensive spell.
Pyrite Spellbomb is often seen as the win condition, but in reality this deck doesn’t need one. Its aim is to stop the opponent winning. Spellbomb is really in the deck to remove creatures which pose a threat, such as Noble Hierarch or Ornithopter that can attack under Ensnaring Bridge. Spellbomb also gives an out when dealing with Planeswalkers.
Everyone’s favourite 0 mana artifact from Coldsnap, Mishra’s Bauble contributes towards Whir Of Invention’s improvise and Mox Opal’s Metalcraft, besides offering some neat little synergies with the deck’s Mill-rocks.
Often a sideboard card, Whir makes Grafdigger’s Cage excellent main deck against Graveyard abuse. It earns the slot due to its strength against a wide berth of decks.
Non-Whir Versions/ Spice
Crucible Of Worlds
One of my all-time favourite Magic cards. Sadly the inability to support Ghost Quarter makes Crucible of Worlds relevant only in the non-Whir version of Lantern Control. Often used to help lock out the opponent by slowly destroying all their lands, you can also use it to rebuy Academy Ruins and Inventors’ Fair.
Kaya, Orzhov Usurper
Key to Sam Black’s winning list from Magic Fest Tampa, Kaya, Orzhov Usurper offers the Lantern deck a piece of Graveyard hate which is very welcome in the current format. The opportunity to exile Chalice Of The Void and Pithing Needle is a very welcome piece of utility, whilst the ultimate helps against one of Lantern’s key weaknesses: the game clock.
I have yet to play with this card, but I have seen it pop up and the theory seems sound. It helps in one of Lantern’s worst match ups (Tron) and though Cranial Extraction effects are normally weak, this card gets the nod. Lantern loves flexible cards, because locking out such a wide format likas e Modern requires some flexible answers.
This is another card that I have seen but haven’t tried. 4-mana is a lot in Modern, even allowing for the desirability of flexible cards. It is certainly tempting, though.
Glimmervoid/ Spire of Industry
These support your splash cards and are just the best you can play in an artifact matters strategy.
Blooming Marsh/Darkslick Shores/ Botanitcal Sanctum
You want your colours early and you don’t want to pay life, as, in Lantern, every single point matters.
Pulling back pieces from your graveyard, Academy Ruins can reclaim Ensnaring Bridge or Pyrite Spellbomb. It is a staple in every version of the deck.
You will often have the metalcraft to gain life each turn. While 4 mana is a lot to Tutor an artifact, it comes up often enough that Inventors’ Fair gets the slot.
Ghost Quarter is how you fight Tron/Valakut decks. It can also colour fix, or act as another shuffle effect. With Surgical Extraction can target non-basic lands, Ghost Quarter can be a powerful start to any land based match up.
With five colours of mana you have access to a wide berth of sideboard cards and options. These are some of my favourites, listed by functionality – Modern is such an open format it is impossible to list every single match up.
Win Conditions/Card Advantage
Tezzeret Agent of Bolas, Search For Azcanta and Ghirapur Aether Grid
Pyroclasm, Bontu’s Last Reckoning, Collective Brutality, Ghirapur Aether Grid, Engineered Explosive, Assassin’s Trophy, Abrupt Decay and Malestorm Pulse.
Leyline of Sanctity, Welding Jar, Padeem, Consul of Innovation and Spellskite.
Nihil Spellbomb, Tormod’s Crypt, Surgical Extraction and Grafdigger’s Cage
Unmoored Ego, Jester’s Cap, Sorcerer’s Spyglass, Surgical Extraction and Gaddock Teeg
Battle at the Bridge, Notion Thief, Circle of Protection: Red.