Last week, I alerted everyone to the existence and power of the Lantern deck with the addition of Whir of Invention, and then this previous weekend, I played it to an 8-0 finish on my way to finishing second at the SCG Season Two Invitational. Now that I've demonstrated that this deck is the real deal, you're probably going to want a primer.
I'm going to focus on my exact list, rather than all the different things one can do with Lantern, though I may note other cards that would make a big difference in certain matchups, and I'm going to attempt to go through the fairly long process of talking through your role, gameplan, and sideboarding in as many major Modern matchups as I can think of. This is intended to tell you as much as I can to help you win matches if you're playing Lantern this weekend.
To start with, this was my deck:
Now, let's get down to business:
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 1 Dark Confidant
- 4 Kitesail Freebooter
- 4 Mantis Rider
- 3 Mayor of Avabruck
- 4 Meddling Mage
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 4 Thalia's Lieutenant
- 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
- 1 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
This is the first deck I played against at the Invitational. Fundamentally, they're a deck full of creatures and you're an Ensnaring Bridge deck. Very few of their cards do anything and I think the matchup should be pretty easy, though I haven't played it a lot.
On paper, it can look a little harder than that. They have a lot of creatures that are theoretically good against you: Meddling Mage; Dark Confidant; Thalia, Guardian of Thraben; Kitesail Freebooter; Noble Hierarch; and Vithian Renegades as well as Horizon Canopy to find the important ones through a mill piece.
In practice, the problem is that they have too many bad cards, like every other creature, and most of even the listed creatures late in the game. This means that, after you use a discard spell or two at the beginning of the game, their hand is likely very bad, and they're unlikely to have more than two cards in a row on top of their deck that you really don't want them to draw.
Even if they manage to stick a Meddling Mage, you can still get an artifact that they name onto the battlefield with Whir of Invention, so it's not like you have to kill it if they name Ensnaring Bridge. Also, most of these creatures only matter if they can stick on the battlefield, and you actually have a pretty good number of ways of killing them if you need to.
The gameplan here is extremely basic. You're just trying to find and protect an early Ensnaring Bridge. You can mostly afford to use Codex Shredder to improve your draws rather than worrying too much about controlling theirs, since so few of their cards matter. As long as they don't run away with an early Dark Confidant or trap you with Thalia if your hand is light on mana, you should be in good shape.
- 4 Cursecatcher
- 3 Harbinger of the Tides
- 4 Lord of Atlantis
- 4 Master of the Pearl Trident
- 3 Master of Waves
- 3 Merrow Reejerey
- 4 Silvergill Adept
- 2 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
This is basically the same situation, except their creatures are less likely to do anything, but they have a few counterspells and Hurkyl's Recall. Luckily, Hurkyl's Recall targets, so if you have hexproof, they can't cast it. This means they're often locked out if you have Ensnaring Bridge and Witchbane Orb.
The way you're most likely to lose is if they have a fast draw and counter your Ensnaring Bridge, so you should prioritize using discard to clear the way for your Bridge. If you already have Ensnaring Bridge in your hand, you can prioritize developing your battlefield rather than trying to cast discard as quickly as possible, since you're not looking to slow them down to by trying to take a creature to break up their curve, since that's not likely to work because their deck is basically full of identical cards. Instead, you want to cast discard the turn before casting Ensnaring Bridge to minimize the chance that they'll draw a counterspell after you make them discard.
Same idea. Their deck is just random threats that can't beat Ensnaring Bridge and almost none of their cards matter. They're trying to Suppression Field / Stony Silence you after sideboarding, but those don't deal with the Ensnaring Bridge problem and you can easily remove them. This is a great matchup.
Horizon Canopy is likely the card you'll want to name with Pithing Needle in the first game, and after sideboarding, you should also consider Seal of Primordium. The reason to sideboard out Whir of Invention is out of fear of Gaddock Teeg; otherwise, the card is great against them, since Ensnaring Bridge is so important. In addition to their lock enchantments, they'll be bringing in some number of Nature's Claim-type cards, which is why you want Welding Jar.
- 4 Arcbound Ravager
- 4 Master of Etherium
- 2 Memnite
- 4 Ornithopter
- 4 Signal Pest
- 4 Steel Overseer
- 4 Vault Skirge
- 1 Hope of Ghirapur
While Affinity is also just a bunch of creatures that try to attack you, it has more game than these other decks because it can pump its zero-power creatures (Ornithopter and Signal Pest) at instant speed with Arcbound Ravager and Cranial Plating, and it also has a relatively fast clock and a versatile sideboard that's likely to feature Ancient Grudge. Pithing Needle is extremely important here because it cuts off those modes of attack, which can reduce them to a bunch of meaningless creatures. Remember that if you take too much damage setting up, you have to worry about Galvanic Blast finishing you off.
They empty their hand too quickly for me to want discard and they don't have specific cards I can't answer. They'll probably have some kind of artifact removal spell waiting, but you have Welding Jar and a lot of redundancy with Whir of Invention.
- 1 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Drowner of Hope
- 4 Eldrazi Displacer
- 4 Eldrazi Skyspawner
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Reality Smasher
- 4 Thought-Knot Seer
The big creature part of their deck is obviously pretty ineffective here. The primary fear is that they take your Ensnaring Bridge with Thought-Knot Seer before you can cast it. Once you get a Bridge down, they usually keep playing the game because they can theoretically still beat you with Eldrazi Displacer on Thought-Knot Seer to put cards in your hand. Pithing Needle Eldrazi Displacer if they have a Thought-Knot Seer; otherwise, you probably want to name Engineered Explosives just in case. Try not to let them draw Ancient Stirrings in case they have an Engineered Explosives that it can find. After you have Ensnaring Bridge and Needle Eldrazi Displacer, they're just hoping to beat you with Noble Hierarch. That's not a great plan.
After sideboarding, you need to respect counterspells and Stony Silence, so you want to keep all your discard. You don't need a lot of lock pieces because they have few relevant cards, but I want to keep one Pyxis in case they have World Breaker. I think you can afford to choose to draw here because they're not that fast and the extra card is nice. Just be sure that you lead with discard when you can if you're on the draw so that you can take Stony Silence before they can cast it.
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 1 Wurmcoil Engine
- 2 Endbringer
- 4 Matter Reshaper
- 4 Reality Smasher
- 4 Thought-Knot Seer
- 1 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
This is similar to Bant Eldrazi, but scarier because they have Chalice of the Void. Pithing Needle wants to name Walking Ballista or a land like Ghost Quarter or Sea Gate Wreckage most of the time in Game 1. After sideboarding, you probably want to start with Ratchet Bomb. Watch out for Dismember on Matter Reshaper as an instant card draw while you're trying to control their draws.
A lot of matchups are just about racing to get set up before your opponent kills you, and they essentially end as soon as you have Lantern of Insight, Codex Shredder, and Ensnaring Bridge on the battlefield. In those matchups, you don't need any other way to win the game, and you don't want cards that don't work toward keeping you alive or finding those pieces.
A few decks have game against you going long, usually because they have a lot of instant-speed card draw and/or a very high density of relevant cards, or other cards that cause unique problems going long. In spots where your Plan A doesn't necessarily work or offer inevitability, Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas is there to try to close or steal games. In this matchup, your basic functionality may be denied by Chalice of the Void, or they may be able to fight through a soft lock going long with Sea Gate Wreckage, so this is a spot where you want Tezzeret.
I'm not completely sure about taking out Inquisition of Kozilek. It's not great against a lot of their cards, and games go long and they empty their hands, but it's important against Ratchet Bomb and Chalice of the Void, so it might be better to just shave on Mishra's Bauble.
This is another match that's slow enough that I think you want to be on the draw, but again, you'll need to prioritize casting a discard spell on the first turn to try to take Chalice of the Void before they can cast it.
This version of the deck is poorly configured against Burn. We have no way to gain life outside of Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas or Nature's Claiming our own cards. Burn has been relatively unpopular lately, but if you're afraid of it, you can add Collective Brutality or Sun Droplet to your sideboard. (It's somewhat common to play Collective Brutality maindeck. I think this is a huge mistake.)
The one thing that we have going for us is that we have Witchbane Orb that we can find with Whir of Invention to combine with Ensnaring Bridge to minimize the number of cards in their deck that matter.
Control and Blue Decks
You're heavily favored in the first game. You just need to get an Ensnaring Bridge down and avoid letting them draw Snapcaster Mage and Kolaghan's Command. If you can't stop them from getting a Snapcaster Mage, prioritize finding your Grafdigger's Cage. It's nice if you can Pithing Needle Tasigur, the Golden Fang, but you can also usually give them cards that don't matter when they activate it. Remember that you can Pithing Needle Street Wraith to deny their instant-speed card draw, which can be important when trying to control the top of their deck.
After sideboarding, things get a lot trickier. They have a lot counterspells and sometimes additional ways to destroy your artifacts, or else more planeswalkers.
Witchbane Orb comes out for Leyline of Sanctity because they can eventually kill Witchbane Orb, but not Leyline, and you want it to prevent early discard. Neither is that important, and if you think your opponent is sideboarding out discard, you might only want to bring in one Leyline. Cutting Lantern of Insight is unusual, but between all of their fetchlands and Thought Scour and Street Wraith, controlling the top of their deck is very difficult, and Lantern of Insight may just improve their draws by telling them how to use their fetchlands. Instead of trying to control their draws, we just want to choose draw and just get more problematic permanents than they have answers to, especially if we can stick Search for Azcanta or Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas.
This deck has more burn than Grixis Death's Shadow. For the most part, they're going to try to either burn us out or set up a battlefield where they can use Cryptic Command to bounce Ensnaring Bridge and attack for lethal. Getting a second Ensnaring Bridge down or holding up Whir of Invention makes it a lot harder for them to win. Because they don't have a lot of pressure, you can safely let them draw the first few burn spells, and between that and Path to Exile, they have too many dead cards, so Game 1 will be hard for them. Like Grixis, they improve after sideboarding, where they'll have artifact removal and Stony Silence in addition to more counterspells. Taking advantage of the fact that Whir of Invention is an instant is very important in this matchup.
They'd like to sideboard out as much burn as possible, so Witchbane Orb is worse after sideboarding. Grafdigger's Cage is good against Snapcaster Mage, but these decks generally only have two, so it's likely not worth bothering with. I'm hesitant to cut Mox Opal while adding two four-drops, and I wouldn't fault someone for cutting something else instead, but you're not really in a hurry and drawing multiples can be a liability. I could see cutting one Lantern of Insight instead, if you wanted to approach the matchup a little more like Grixis Death's Shadow. I'd like to choose to draw in this matchup, but there's a chance it's too much of a liability against Geist of Saint Traft.
Most Storm decks can't win Game 1 if you have Ensnaring Bridge and Witchbane Orb on the battlefield. Grafdigger's Cage might do a decent Witchbane Orb impression. Note that Witchbane Orb turns off Gifts Ungiven, and Whirring for it in response to Gifts Ungiven counters the Gifts Ungiven, which is a nice little dagger while also locking them out of the game. After sideboarding, you have to worry about them having bounce spells and artifact destruction, which means they can kill you through whatever defense you have if they go off, so post-sideboard games might actually be somewhat difficult.
It's tempting to try to fight over Goblin Electromancer and Baral, Chief of Compliance with Abrupt Decay, but I think you want to just let them have all their mana generation cards and fight over card draw, since you need to let them draw something, and as long as you have Grafdigger's Cage, mana doesn't matter because they can't Past in Flames.
- 2 Walking Ballista
- 3 Wurmcoil Engine
- 1 World Breaker
- 1 Emrakul, the Promised End
- 2 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
This isn't really a combo deck, but whatever. This is one of your worst matchups. The problem is that Chromatic Sphere draws a card as part of its mana ability, which means that it can't be responded to, and because it's a mana ability, it can't be Pithing Needled. This means that as long as they have a Chromatic Sphere on the battlefield, they can always trump your attempt to mill a card from the top of their deck, which means any time you try to deny them something, you're only digging them closer to whatever they most want. Chromatic Star does a much weaker impression of this, but still taxes your milling considerably.
You can't just give up on trying to control their draws because you can't really beat cards like Oblivion Stone, Karn Liberated, or Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Old versions of Lantern used Ghost Quarter and Surgical Extraction to potentially stop them from getting enough mana or remove some of their more problematic spells, but this list doesn't have those tools. In most games, you can slow them down with your library control and Pithing Needles, but they're probably going to break free and kill you at some point. Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas is extremely important here. You have to kill them before they break free of your disruption.
There are a few different approaches if you want to try to improve this matchup. One option is Phyrexian Revoker, which can turn off Chromatic Sphere or Star as well as functioning as additional Pithing Needles, which is one of your best cards against them anyway. Another option that I've heard discussed is Jester's Cap, which can deal with things like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and World Breaker that you can't Pithing Needle, but it's extremely narrow and somewhat low-impact. Finally, you could just play more threats, like additional Tezzerets or Geist of Saint Traft.
This isn't an exhaustive list of Modern decks, but this covers most of the common decks that I've actually played against and most of the kinds of cards you should be thinking out sideboarding out and what you're trying to do with the sideboard.
If you decide to try to learn Lantern, good luck and have fun. While it's often derided as the antithesis of fun because of its slow nature, I actually find the deck to be among the most fun to play because of the density of interesting decisions, from how to sequence your early turns where all of your spells cost one and you can cast them in any order (in general, Ancient Stirrings last unless you need a land that turn) to what you can let your opponent draw to how much you can afford to mill yourself to improve your draws when it might give you fewer tools to fight over your opponent's next draw step.
Winning any game requires a huge number of actions, and many of them involve weighing relevant pros and cons to make an actual choice: not merely activating a planeswalker every turn because that strictly improves your position, but weighing the odds that using a Codex Shredder will improve your situation or expose you to something more dangerous.