Modern is an exciting format and one that keeps turning out new decks or new tech whenever a big tournament is held. I believe, while we have some extremely strong archetypes in Modern like Jund, Abzan, Merfolk, Splinter Twin, and other staple decks, that the format is not close to being solved yet. There are just so many cards in the format that so many people are overlooking or just too lazy to try out.
A while back at Grand Prix Charlotte Zac Elsik showcased this deck people called "Lantern Control" that he took to a Top 16 finish. The deck is packed full of cards you threw away when you drafted them. Fifteenth pick garbage fodder such as Lantern of Insight, cringe worthy Ghoulcaller's Bell, and no card helped stoke your fireplace more than Codex Shredder! Ah yes, it's as if Zac dug through a trash can and assembled his deck. At the time the deck was a very friendly budget deck that also happened to be secretly good. Even after he had a strong finish with it, people still stayed away from it. Either from being skeptical or they found the deck "too boring," (also known as "too hard to pilot"). I played the deck a bit when Zac first brought it to light on Magic Online but haven't really messed with it since. Next weekend there's an Open in Charlotte that's Modern and I've come back to this deck as a possible choice. This is the original list Zac got fifteenth with.
I'm still not sure why a lot of people refer to this deck as a "control" deck. It really doesn't have many control elements. It's not countering your spells, it's not really killing all your guys, and it's not drawing you a bunch of cards. Instead what it does is deny you. It denies you cards you would draw, turns off your manlands, fetchlands, planeswalkers, artifacts, pump spells, your attack step, and so much more. It's very much a prison a deck. One that can assemble its lock relatively quickly since the deck is pretty redundant. After having played this deck I can assuredly tell you that it may look like a funky deck, but it is extremely powerful and is probably one of the most annoying decks to play against. It's kind of like a land destruction deck but instead of destroying their lands you're destroying what they could be drawing.
I talked to Zac a little about the deck and managed to get an updated version. I took this list to a Top 8 finish.
ON DAT PRISON GRIND, ALL DAY ERRRRDAY! This deck can be a monster to pilot correctly. It just has so many ins and outs and little tricks you can do. Naming the wrong or right cards with Pithing Needle can be game breaking. Let's dissect this decklist so we can hopefully better understand how it works.
Lantern of Insight: What the deck needs to operate at 100%. When you have the Lantern out along with a couple of mill rocks you can start really affecting what your opponent can and can't do. Usually if I have this in my opener and I know my opponent is playing discard I will cast this first and get it on the board before a Codex Shredder or Ghoulcaller's Bell since we have more of those. Lantern of Insight in a vacuum is probably the worst card in our deck, but it's absolutely crucial to the game plan. Don't forget that the Lantern also has another mode on it: you can sacrifice it to shuffle a library. I had two out against an opponent with only one mill rock. I sacrificed one to stop him from drawing a key spell after milling a key spell. I then recurred the lantern with Academy Ruins so that I would have two ways of controlling my opponent's draw step until I found more mill rocks. Not optimal by any means, but you gotta do what you gotta do!
Codex Shredder: A mill rock with an attached instant speed Regrowth. This card is very good (I feel so awkward saying that.) It allows you to control what you and your opponent draw. If they have a land on top and you want them to have it you can always just mill that crappy land off the top of your deck instead. Who knows, maybe you actually need a land? Then mill away that Probe, Inquisition, or what have you in order to get to the land you need. The later the game goes the better this card gets. It allows you to rebuy any card in your graveyard at instant speed. Get back that Academy Ruins you milled away earlier. Or maybe you need that Surgical Extraction now because you want to get rid of that Emrakul, the Aeons Torn once and for all. Whatever you need buddy, Codex Shredder has yo back!
Ghoulcaller's Bell: Not as good as Codex Shredder by any means but at times it can pull a double shift by milling a crucial card for your opponent and getting rid of that crappy card on top of your deck that you don't want to draw. Why Bell over something like Pyxis of Pandemonium you ask? While Pyxis can exile annoying cards like Emrakul or cards with flashback such as Ancient Grudge. Ghoulcaller's Bell works very well with Codex Shredder, Academy Ruins, and Surgical Extraction. It may be right to also run a couple of Pyxis but I really liked Ghoulcaller's Bell when I played it. I felt like it did what it was supposed to do.
Ensnaring Bridge: If you look underneath this bridge, you'll find me. This card is almost always part of the lock. Against most of the creature decks it will stop all of them cold in their tracks. And since the deck plays thirty one converted mana cost spells, it's not too hard to get yourself hellbent and stopping the smallest of creatures from attacking.
Pithing Needle: A prison card in itself locking down planeswalkers, activated abilities of creatures like Qasali Pridemage, Scavenging Ooze, manlands, AEther Vial, or Tasigur, the Golden Fang to name a few. I've also Gitaxian Probed my opponent then followed it up with a Pithing Needle naming a fetchland in their hand making a hand that seemed like a decent keep turn into a monstrosity of a keep. A powerful card that does a lot of work in this deck.
Spellskite: Similar to Pithing Needle in some ways. This card however also can just slow decks down a lot on its own. Resolving this card early against infect, Splinter Twin, or burn decks will buy you some much needed time, especially game one since most people don't really expect it then. It also protects key pieces in your deck like Lantern of Insight or Ensnaring Bridge from removal spells by soaking them up.
Mox Opal: Basically just Glimmervoid five through seven. Games with this card in your opener make things run much quicker and smoother. It also gives you access to blue mana so you can pay for your Gitaxian Probes or Spellskite activations.
Pyrite Spellbomb: Ensnaring Bridge doesn't stop all creatures from attacking. Creatures like Noble Hierarch can still get under the bridge. Lucky for us, those creatures also die to Pyrite Spellbomb. Spellbomb is not only good at killing small creatures but it can keep a planeswalker in check. Ultimately it also can kill your opponent after you've got them locked out by just recurring it with Academy Ruins. This is a good way to get around the annoying Eldrazi cards since they shuffle the whole library when they enter the graveyard.
Ancient Stirrings: Helps you find some of your prison pieces or that land that you need. This deck also doesn't run any fetches or any real ways to shuffle your library consistently which allows us to stack our deck. On the other hand keep in mind what you put on bottom in case you need something desperately. You can always sacrifice a Lantern of Insight later in the game to shuffle everything, however this rarely comes up.
Gitaxian Probe: An amazing way to gain knowledge. This allows you to see what your opponent has so you know what cards to deny them with the mill rocks or what cards to look out for. It also works really well with Surgical Extraction if they happen to have cards in their hand and graveyard with the same name.
Inquisition of Kozilek: Arguably the best discard spell in Modern. It certainly is against hyper aggressive decks or decks with burn. It also provides you with the same information that Gitaxian Probe does.
Thoughtseize: An extremely powerful card that is played in every single format it's legal in. However we can't run too many of these since we use our life as a resource and can't gain it back. I feel like two is a safe number to have.
Duress: Gets some things that Inquisition of Kozilek can't. I'm honestly on the fence about this card. It's probably just better as the fourth Inquisition.
Abrupt Decay: An uncounterable catch-all since most things in Modern have a converted mana cost of three or less. Just very nice to have access to this type of card.
Surgical Extraction: A good way to get rid of cards like Emrakul or annoying cards like Abrupt Decay. Just make sure when you use it to look through your opponent's library and see what outs they have or what possible threats and answers they still have left. Make sure to jot down your opponent's hand as well.
Ghirapur Aether Grid: The newest edition to the deck. Similar to Pyrite Spellbomb it kills pesky creatures that can get under a bridge and keeps walkers in check. It also capable of closing out a game surprisingly quick.
Academy Ruins: Having one of these in play with a Lantern and some mill rocks is amazingly powerful. You can get back cards you milled with it and it's also a win condition in conjunction with Pyrite Spellbomb. Slow and steady wins the race...and makes your opponent want to strangle you.
Ghost Quarter: A good way to deal with pesky lands with abilities, like manlands or ability lands. It can also shuffle an opponent's library in a pinch; it's that or get Strip Mined by it. I find most people get the basic if they have it.
I'd also like to talk about some of the sideboard cards.
Sun Droplet: This is what you want against hyper-aggressive decks like burn and Grixis Delver. One sets your life total while having multiple in play will gain you a lot life. Keep in mind this thing triggers on both upkeeps!
Pyroclasm: Collected Company, Monastery Mentor, Fish, Elves, Etc. You basically want to bring this in when it's a two mana Wrath.
Nephalia Drownyard: This was to replace Ghost Quarter if my opponent didn't have anything to hit with Ghost Quarter. It's a flex slot for sure and I would not play Drownyard going forward. A third Welding Jar and some other sort of hate card is what I would play over Drownyard.
Welding Jar: Ancient Grudge is usually just a one-for-one against this deck and Welding Jar is very good against that. Especially when you're guarding your Ensnaring Bridges or other lock pieces.
Grafdigger's Cage: Stops Collected Company, Snapcaster Mage, and Ancient Grudge from being flashbacked. I nice hate card to have access to.
Sunbeam Spellbomb: Same uses as Sun Droplet but just gains you life instantly. A pretty nice one to have in the board.
Some cards I really want to look into are:
Infernal Tutor: I think the deck really wants at least one of these main over a Spellbomb or something. You're hellbent a lot of the time and it is basically just a Demonic Tutor at that point. Many a game I would've loved to tutor up a bridge or a prison piece.
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas: As a one-of it helps you dig for pieces and is a nice alternate win condition. It does cost four mana however.
Trinket Mage: A nice way to tutor up almost any artifact in your deck outside of bridge.
Hide // Seek: Not only is it a good removal spell for enchantments and artifacts it can also exile Emrakul and gain you fifteen life in the process. A decent one-of to have in the board, especially if you play an Infernal Tutor maindeck.
Mikokoro, Center of the Sea: Just something worth looking into, nice to have some extra cards when you have the soft lock in play. Probably not needed honestly though.
Nihil Spellbomb: I feel like this is the best graveyard removal spell if we wanted one. Just a nice one to keep in mind.
Mishra's Bauble: Another way to see the top card of your opponent's library without needing to have Lantern in play. Works very well with Academy since you can just recur it every turn and still control your opponent's draw step to some extent until you get a Lantern of Insight.
Vengeful Pharaoh / Firemane Angel: Cards that play well in the yard.
And that's about it for this deck! I'll be championing it for a while because I enjoy playing it and I really do believe it's a powerful contender in the metagame.
Also make sure to check out Freshly Brewed, my podcast with Frank Lepore where we discuss many things Magic while having some fun banter in between! It's the best podcast out there!
Thanks for reading!
Ali Aintrazi@Alieldrazi on Twitter