Lantern Control won the Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan.
I know there are a lot of people who hate the deck and are eagerly awaiting the anticipated banning of a card from the deck, maybe even something essential, like Lantern of Insight itself or Ensnaring Bridge. Personally, I think those bans are far from necessary and would likely be a mistake, so if nothing is banned and you have to play against Lantern, how can you prepare yourself?
Lantern is a great deck that uses a lot of extremely powerful cards very well while also turning some not-so-powerful cards into something far greater than the sum of their parts, but it's far from unbeatable. The best solution comes in deck selection--it would be nice to be to be able to tell you you can just play whatever deck you're familiar with and tweak your sideboard a bit, but that's not how Lantern works. Lantern is designed to stop you from casting your important spells--while in most matches, if your deck is 54 blanks cards and six cards that literally say, "you win the game" for maybe three or four mana, you'd expect to win around half the time. But against Lantern, you'd very rarely win between their discard and library control. Having a few bullets definitely helps, but density of cards that matter is far more important against Lantern.
The other thing you need to understand that people often miss is that it really matters which hate cards you use; they're not all created equal and there isn't one that's best for everyone. You need to pay attention to how your hate card fits into your game plan. The best example: If your deck loses to Ensnaring Bridge, Stony Silence isn't the right hate card, but if you don't care about Ensnaring Bridge and it's just the library lock that beats you, Stony Silence is perfect. I'll get into this more when I talk about each deck specifically.
Also, no matter what you play, you should really understand how Lantern works and what matters from the Lantern player's perspective. If the deck is still a mystery to you, start here with this extremely exhaustive guide written by Justin Cohen, regardless of whether you'll ever want to pilot it yourself.
So, if the best way to beat Lantern is in deck selection, what are the best options?
VS G/x Tron
Tron is an awful matchup for Lantern. Oblivion Stone and Karn Liberated have to be dealt with quickly, which is relatively manageable thanks to Pithing Needle, but the problem is that successful builds of Whir Lantern these days only have two Pithing Needles in the maindeck, and Tron has a lot of different cards you need to stop, like Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Walking Ballista, in addition to those two. Tron just has a lot of cards that matter and very few cards that are turned off by Ensnaring Bridge.
That sets a tricky baseline, but the real problem goes much deeper than that. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is almost unbeatable when cast, because the Lantern player is usually relying on a Pithing Needle or two, and when it exiles them, everything falls apart. The Lantern player has a lot of time to Thoughtseize Ulamog, but the problem is that Tron can find it with Sanctum of Ugin, so every Expedition Map, Ancient Stirrings, and Sylvan Scrying has to be stopped. Because this is such an important part of the game plan, it's important not to cast a Karn Liberated that has been named with Pithing Needle until you're ready to sacrifice Sanctum of Ugin to find Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, and if you want, you can even wait until you can do both in the same turn sometimes to play around Thoughtseize.
This is how Tron establishes the threat density that makes it so hard for Lantern, as there are very few cards they can safely let a Tron player draw, but there's still another level of difficulty on top of that. Chromatic Star and especially Chromatic Sphere make controlling the Tron player's draws difficult at best--Chromatic Sphere draws as a mana ability, which means it can't be responded to. This means that if the Tron player has an open mana and a Chromatic Sphere on the battlefield, any time the Lantern player tries to deny a card, the Tron player can choose to put it in their hand instead, which means any time a Lantern player tries to deny them a card they'd prefer the Tron player not draw, they're moving them closer to whatever card they most want.
The most important thing to know as a Tron player is to sacrifice your Chromatic Spheres and Stars judiciously. Merely registering almost any build of Green Tron will give you a great matchup against Lantern, but if you want to go even further, you could add Leyline of Sanctity to your sideboard, as several members of the Ultimate Guard Pro Team did at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan.
As I mentioned earlier, you want to make sure you have the right hate card for each matchup, and Leyline of Sanctity is a great hate card in this matchup because the Lantern player needs to rely heavily on Thoughtseize and generally can't afford to try to deal with permanents after they've resolved when Pithing Needle isn't sufficient. This also stops the Tron player from being targeted by Codex Shredder, which attacks the already very fragile lock and also prevents one of their best lines--trying to mill and then Surgical Extraction an Urza land.
VS R/W Prison
I have no idea if this deck is any good, but I do know that it's a horrendous matchup for Lantern. Chalice of the Void, Blood Moon, Leyline of Sanctity, and Stony Silence are all fantastic cards against Whir Lantern, and this deck doesn't care about Ensnaring Bridge. The fact that it can use several differently named planeswalkers to win helps it resist Pithing Needle, and this deck can potentially add any kind of mass artifact removal spell on top of everything else. Because this deck piles on additional hate cards as the game progresses, the Lantern player's only hope is to establish a quick Lantern of Insight with a mill piece. This makes Leyline of Sanctity and Stony Silence fantastic in this matchup, as both make it harder for the Lantern player to control the top of the R/W Prison player's deck, allowing the hate cards to pile up until the Lantern deck simply fails to function. This is another deck choice where it seems like the specific choices you make barely matter. If you show up with this archetype, you'll be happy to play against Lantern.
VS U/W Control
I've generally found game 1 of this matchup to be favorable for Lantern because U/W Control has so many dead cards in all the creature removal, but after they get to sideboard that out for cards that matter, I think the sideboard games heavily favor the U/W Control player. Detention Sphere, Cryptic Command, Stony Silence, planeswalkers, Geist of Saint Traft, Snapcaster Mage, instant speed card draw, Field of Ruin--these cards are all effective and attack from slightly different angles. It's worth noting that I think the U/W Control deck generally wants to be the "aggressor" in this matchup, so far as there is one--it's a weird concept, but the point is that I think you want to be doing things proactively, and I've found that counterspells are among U/W's worst cards after sideboarding; as long as Lantern isn't under any direct pressure, it doesn't matter that much if something gets countered, especially if they can protect an Academy Ruins and keep recasting their cards that matter when they get countered. U/W Control does best when it can proactively attack the Lantern player or their resources.
VS Grixis Control
Corey Burkhart has a good matchup against Lantern. At this point, there's a pretty long history of Corey being the only person who ever wins with this deck, so I wouldn't necessarily recommend it, but the cards do fundamentally line up very well against what Lantern is doing and this deck is pretty close to what Grixis Death's Shadow hopes it can sideboard into.
The important things going on here:
- 4 Snapcaster Mage
- 4 Kolaghan's Command
- 4 Cryptic Command
- 2 Search for Azcanta
- 4 Field of Ruin
- 3 Surgical Extraction (after sideboard)
Surgical Extraction is a huge card in this matchup, as it's almost always going to go long, and it's very easy for Grixis Control to get an Ensnaring Bridge, Codex Shredder, or Lantern of Insight in the graveyard at some point, and if any of those is exiled, it's very difficult for Lantern to win. If I were to try to make this matchup better for Grixis Control, I'd add Vandalblast or, if I really wanted to win precisely this matchup, Mogis, God of Slaughter to the sideboard. Mogis costs exactly four mana, which means it can't be hit by Inquisition of Kozilek, Lantern generally has no way to remove it from the battlefield or beat it once it's resolved, and if they try to mill it, it can be returned to hand with Kolaghan's Command.
Incidentally, yeah, there are a lot of really obscure cards that Lantern randomly has trouble dealing with. Mostly, they are permanents that don't need to attack or use activated abilities, especially if they can actually win the game directly or punish Lantern's basic functioning--cards like Mogis, God of Slaughter; Kambal, Consul of Allocation; Eidolon of the Great Revel; Ruric Thar, the Unbowed; Kataki, War's Wage; or Tireless Tracker.
I used to think this was a good matchup for Lantern, but after testing it before the Pro Tour, I think the opposite is true. Phantasmal Image really swung the matchup, and after its addition, I think it's too easy for Humans to pile up multiple Kitesail Freebooters or Meddling Mages, especially if they also have Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and stop the Lantern player from protecting themselves.
After sideboard, the Lantern player can bring in more removal to try to answer the creatures that matter, but Humans gets to add cards like, Kataki, War's Wage, Vithian Renegade, and Kambal, Consul of Allocation, which is a real nightmare.
This is a great example of the kind of deck where I think Stony Silence or Leyline of Sanctity would absolutely be the wrong way to attack the Lantern player, and the right approach is absolutely just overloading on creatures that thwart Lantern's defenses.
Unlike some of the decks above, I do think the specific build matters here. The more of the creatures I've named here you play, the better your matchup against Lantern will be. If you skimp on creatures like this in favor of creatures that only matter as attackers, it can become too easy to get locked out by Ensnaring Bridge.
Games of this matchup are extremely short and feel very lopsided. From a small sample size, it can be easy to believe that either player is a massive favorite if you watch either one of them run away with the game based on resolving important cards. Ultimately, I think the matchup can be somewhat close, but it's easier for the Humans player to get a big edge in deckbuilding if they want it.
Like with Humans, this matchup is going to come down to the details of how the Death's Shadow player builds their deck, but there's more room for variation here, which means some builds of Death's Shadow will good against Lantern and others will be bad. In general, the more cards in the Death's Shadow deck that can destroy an artifact, the better the matchup will be for the Death's Shadow deck.
Ancient Grudge is probably the best use of a sideboard slot for a Traverse Death's Shadow player who's looking to beat Lantern without adding anything overly narrow, but Tireless Tracker as a Traverse the Ulvenwald target might be even better.
For Grixis Death's Shadow, Kolaghan's Command is the standard, but any other artifact removal will also perform well, as will most planeswalkers. Be careful about not overly exposing yourself to Leyline of Sanctity and minimize the extent to which you're trying to play a creature deck--look at the decks I'm suggesting that are good against Lantern. If you build a control deck with card advantage and artifact removal, especially if you have a good answer to Academy Ruins, you can grind them out. They're too good at finding Ensnaring Bridge, so it's not useful to try to steal games with Death's Shadow. Besides, a single creature hits hard enough to force them to find an Ensnaring Bridge as soon as possible, and they won't be relying on spot removal, so you really never want to draw multiple creatures. Sideboard low enough that you can pressure them, but not so much that Ensnaring Bridge can generate a lot of functional card advantage for the Lantern player in the early game.
VS Mardu Pyromancer
Gerry may have lost the finals to Lantern, but I'm still not excited to play against Mardu with Lantern. Game 1 has felt pretty easy for Lantern, but this is another deck that can easily have a great sideboard against Lantern. Whir of Invention is important because the Mardu deck puts Lantern under a good amount of pressure, but it's also a liability because it can get trapped by a Blood Moon, and Ensnaring Bridge is relatively useless against Mardu Pyromancer if the Lantern player has even a single card in hand.
This is the kind of deck that can sideboard Stony Silence, but where I wouldn't really recommend it. I think Shattering Spree or Shatterstorm is the correct approach from the Mardu side. Something like Wear is nice, because the Lantern player will want Leyline of Sanctity, but they're already planning to use Welding Jar and build redundancy among their artifacts, specifically, finding multiple Ensnaring Bridges, which does most of the work, but a mass artifact removal spell breaks all of that and tends to instantly end the game in Mardu's favor. Again, this would be a place where a dedicated oddball Mogis, God of Slaughter would likely perform well, and Kambal, Consul of Allocation can also fit nicely here.
Reid Duke's deck is enough of an outlier in the format that many have almost forgotten how frightening a matchup G/B/x Midrange was for Lantern back when Jund was heavily played, and a resolved Tireless Tracker out of any deck that has a few real pieces of interaction is always a nightmare for Lantern. Personally, I think three Stony Silence, as Reid played in his sideboard, is a little overkill. Again, I'm not overly impressed with Stony Silence; if your deck can't win through Ensnaring Bridge, Stony Silence often just delays the game until the Lantern player finds an answer, and I think this deck is a little too weak to Ensnaring Bridge for me to want to rely on it. Unless that Stony Silence is a necessary part of the plan against Tron, I'd want to remove one of them for a Creeping Corrosion.
Burn is actually overestimated as a foil to Lantern. An unanswered Eidolon of the Great Revel will easily win the game, but without it, I find Burn often comes up just short of winning before getting locked out by Ensnaring Bridge and Witchbane Orb. Burn is a deck that has game against Lantern, but it's by no means a slam dunk, so it's not a deck I'd recommend to someone specifically based on that matchup. The reason I bring up Burn is that I want to comment on the sideboard. Industry standard has become playing Destructive Revelry and a single Stomping Ground. This is a good approach because Destructive Revelry can destroy Leyline of Sanctity, but I've played several games now where I've managed to keep my opponent from finding green mana to lock it out. At the Pro Tour, I lost to Kyle Boggemes playing R/W Burn with no green splash because he had Shattering Spree, which, not surprisingly, was extremely effective against me. It's worth noting that that kind of card is particularly effective out of Burn because Lantern wants to sideboard out Thoughtseize, so they're less likely to make the Burn player discard it before the point where it can immediately win the game for the Burn player. This would be even more true of Shatterstorm, which can't be hit by Inquisition of Kozilek, meaning the Lantern player's only hope to win the game against a Burn player whose drawn it would be Collective Brutality, which is unpopular to use in large numbers at the moment.
You'll notice that this is a fairly long list of decks that I think are decent to positive against Lantern, and this list isn't comprehensive. This is why I don't think any action needs to be taken against Lantern, and I think the metagame will correct itself. For the moment, just try to avoid playing decks like G/W Hexproof that have almost no chance, and if you do have to play it, please don't rely entirely on Seal of Primordium for your artifact removal--Lantern players know about it and they'll name it with Pithing Needle. You can afford to just play a normal artifact removal spell (or Creeping Corrosion) instead.
Whatever you play, when choosing your sideboarding cards for the matchup, think about how the game is going to play out. Lantern does a very consistent thing, so you should be able to tell how your deck lines up against that and how the sideboard card fits in. Wherever possible, choose something unexpected. Lantern players know that their most important skill is metagame knowledge, and you can expect that they'll have studied how your deck is usually built and they'll prepare for the normal cards they'd expect from it. If you want to beat them, try to catch them off guard, but make sure you do it in a meaningful way.