The Magic world has been lit up by the performance put on in Bilbao over the weekend, as the Modern format was put through its paces by the most powerful wizards around the world. Luis Salvatto's victory with Lantern Control has generated enormously heated debate about the future of the deck, and with the next Banned and Restricted Announcement just around the corner, many contend that the deck deserves a hit with the banhammer.
For the most part, these arguments simply don't hold water – they are reactionary and don't hold up to even mild scrutiny. Even as someone who personally dislikes the deck, I don't see a reasonable case for it to be banned. Today we're going to explore the five principal reasons that no action should be taken against Lantern Control as part of the next B&R update.
Lantern Control is not a deck you can expect to simply pick up and crush a tournament with. It requires an enormous amount of practice to play Lantern with even a basic level of competence, let alone to a point where you can dominate a tournament as we saw Salvatto do this weekend. There are decks in Modern that don't require a too much effort or practice, knowledge of the format or even particularly high play skill – but Lantern is not one of them. It's amongst the most difficult and skill-intensive decks in the format.
To be played effectively, Lantern demands you have a deep and intricate understanding of obscure interactions, demonstrate perfect timing with various spells and abilities and maintain unyielding attention to every single card your opponent has in their deck. A single misstep can be utterly disastrous, as any opportunity you give an opponent to get back into the game can and will be punished. Even after having assembled "the lock," anything other than constant, Mad-Eye Moody-esque vigilance will result in defeat.
Additionally, it's impossible to be a successful Lantern pilot without a meticulously thorough knowledge of Modern as a format. Given the wide-open nature of the Modern field in conjunction with the thousands of possible cards an opponent could play against you, knowing which cards are relevant against you and how your opponent is looking to leverage them is a daunting yet fundamentally critical skill.
The only reason a Lantern player can make their victories seem effortless and straightforward is because they have lost hundreds of games where they milled away the wrong cards at the wrong time, chose the wrong Whir or Inquisition targets, mismanaged their setup of the lock or simply didn't know what their opponent's game plan was. They've learnt from those mistakes and are better players for it, and a deck that rewards effort and skill in this way shouldn't suffer a ban.
Perhaps now more than ever before, it's a bad time to play Lantern Control at a Modern tournament. Given this high-level, high-profile finish, Modern players around the world will be gunning for the deck with high-impact cards that prove Lantern to be highly beatable. The deck has never been more at the forefront – players are more informed than ever before when it comes to beating it.
The most obvious way to beat Lantern Control is with sideboard cards. Given that it's an artifact-based prison deck, naturally any artifact removal is going to be excellent. Most notably, Ancient Grudge circumvents the mill-you-out plan very tidily, demanding Pyxis of Pandemonium from an opposing Lantern player. Other excellent interactive options don't necessarily need to hit artifacts; due to the combo-like nature of the lock, cheap disruption in the form of card such as Ceremonious Rejection and Inquisition of Kozilek is also excellent.
It's not just about sideboarding, however. Due to its unique angle of attack, it's not immediately obvious that a certain subset of cards are oddly effective against Lantern. Fetch lands help to protect key cards from being milled, zero-power creatures can attack under an Ensnaring Bridge, flashback cards gain value when milled over, and instant-speed card draw can turn the tide of a matchup. There are plenty of ways to attack Lantern decks on both sides of the 75, which is a much more constructive approach than calling for a ban.
One of the most common complaints when it comes to Lantern Control is the "boring" way in which matches play out, which is characterized as torturously one-sided and slow. The claim that Lantern receives more unintentional draws than should be acceptable in tournament play was recently put under rigorous scrutiny in the wake of the Pro Tour, and based on the weekend's results, the claim that Lantern is more draw-prone than any other Modern deck seems to be utterly false.
Reddit user alextyrian put together a stunningly comprehensive analysis of the draws that occurred in Bilbao, and the results fly in the face of the established wisdom that playing Lantern Control results in unintentional draws. Rather damningly, it instead finds that Cryptic Command decks are much more likely to unintentionally draw with an opponent (and if you want to see what happens when two Cryptic decks get paired, well… I hope you've got an hour to spare to watch one game).
We've seen bans in the past for this reason – famously, Second Sunrise got the axe as the old Eggs deck was deemed too uninteractive and slow, while Sensei's Divining Top also got hit by the banhammer due to the glacial pace of play it encouraged. Lantern Control may be a deck in a similar vein, but it's by no means as egregiously uninteractive or slow. Consigning Lantern Control to the scrapheap for causing unintentional draws would be seeking to fix a problem that doesn't actually exist.
Lantern Control is a deck like no other, and shows us how – when given a huge card pool that spans more than half of the game's history – completely unique approaches can be taken to winning a game of Magic. There are many tried-and-true methods of winning – dominating the board with creatures, denying an opponent resources with disruption or just the good old-fashioned burn spell at the dome. Lantern Control operates on an entirely different axis; we've never seen a deck directly attack a player's library like this. At the Pro Tour, Marc Calderaro shared his thoughts on Lantern's uniqueness, and why the deck really is worth something to the game.
Punishing a strategy with a ban simply because it doesn't line up with the expectations of a subset of players is not the way forward. There's no disputing this deck is strongly disliked by a very vocal group of players – but equally, every player has decks or strategies or even cards they don't like. In my view, a perfect Modern format wouldn't contain the Tron lands, but they exist, and I respect them by playing Spreading Seas alongside Field of Ruin. Instead of clamoring for a ban, find a way to punish Lantern players with innovation.
Having said that, it's difficult to argue against people finding Lantern boring to either play against or to watch, given the subjective nature of judgments like that. Over 4.4 million Australians recently watched two sweaty men stand inside some rectangles painted on the ground and propel a small yellow ball back and forth between one another for hours on end – how this is interesting to anyone at all mystifies me, but for whatever reason, people like tennis. People also like Lantern Control, and that's fine. It's also fine to dislike it, but that by itself isn't grounds for a ban.
The most basic and fundamental reason that Lantern Control doesn't warrant a ban is its metagame share and overall win rate. Only nine players registered Lantern decks at the Pro Tour, and while one of them took down the whole tournament, his 8-2 Constructed record was outshone by many other pilots playing many other decks. Lantern Control is not even close to a dominant archetype - on Magic Online it's less than 2% of the metagame, lagging behind even Black-Red Hollow One (really, people should be clamoring to ban the real threat – the best card in Magic, Goblin Lore).
Nothing about the numbers that Lantern Control puts up suggest it to be a threat to the health of the format or to metagame diversity. Modern is continuing to develop and grow, as showcased by Five-Color Humans – a deck that didn't really meaningfully exist pre-Ixalan – being the most-played archetype last weekend. Lantern Control is not stifling creativity, it's not imposing deckbuilding restrictions on brewers and, most importantly, it's not over-performing at the highest level.
When you consider some of the broken cards that have got the chop from Modern, it's clear to see that something like Whir of Invention doesn't stack up against them. Summer Bloom enabled consistent turn-two Primeval Titan; Treasure Cruise was a sorcery-speed Ancestral Recall more often than not; Eye of Ugin led to a Modern format (and Pro Tour Top 8) with no meaningful deck diversity. These are the factors that should precipitate a ban. Not, as Aaron Forsythe rightly pointed out, winning a single Pro Tour.
It's abundantly clear that Lantern Control is and will remain a highly polarizing deck. From a personal perspective, I don't like the deck at all; I don't like playing against it and I'd never subject myself to actually playing with it, my goodness. Even with that said, it's pretty clear to me that the deck doesn't warrant a ban.
No one can fault you for disliking the deck, its angle of attack and its unique play style. But for those who wish to see a Lantern-free Modern, the challenge is to outwit, outbuild and outplay Lantern pilots and run them out of the format the good old-fashioned way – by crushing them into the ground. Long may you see your copies of Ancient Grudge, my friends!