I've been playing a lot of Lantern Control lately. How much? Well that depends. Is it possible to play too much Lantern Control? If the answer to that question is yes, then I've been playing too much Lantern Control. While I'm certainly not a decorated master of the archetype like many are, I'm on the path to Lantern enlightenment. I've come to many conclusions about the deck, how to play it and how to approach games with everyone's favorite Modern deck. I'd like to share my insight about how to lanturn the corner with this deck. I am a Jack O' Lantern...a jack of exactly one trade, this trade, and I'd like to hallo-wean you off making the incalculable number of heinously bad mistakes that I've made playing this deck.
"Wow, I am so dumb. I can't believe how bad I am. I deserve to lose this game and every other game I ever play the rest of my life." If you're prone to yelling out wild and unsupported hyperbole like the above or other similarly preposterous things whilst you sit by yourself playing Magic Online in a dimly lit room as you throw away a meaningless game because of numerous small errors that added up, then you are exactly in the right mindset to pick up Lantern Control. I'm not saying I've ever done that, but no proof exists that I haven't either. If any of this sounds like you or sounds like it could be you, then continue onward dear friend, and join the Codex Army.
As for myself, I've spent the past month grinding 40-hour weeks in an unpaid Lanternship and now I'm ready to become a full-fledged employee of Lantern Inc., but Whir gonna cross that Bridge when we get to it. Let me ley it on the line, this deck is fine. Yes, two sets of mill rocks, so divine.
This is my current list, but it is in a constant state of flux. By that I mean I change like 1-2 cards from time to time. I don't like playing Abrupt Decay in the main deck like other lists do. Decay is pretty key in some matchups, like against Chalice of the Void decks or the mirror, but those decks are few and far between and I feel that Decay is severely lacking in other matchups. Trying to blow things up on a one-for-one basis doesn't play into this deck's game one plan of locking out huge swaths of cards via Ensnaring Bridge and then focusing on controlling the top of their deck. While it is just one card, the main deck is tight and anything that isn't an artifact can reduce the effectiveness of Ancient Stirrings, Mox Opal and Whir of Invention, impacting how smoothly the deck plays. I don't like it one bit.
Some lists play fewer than four Ensnaring Bridge. I understand the appeal of this. Drawing too many Bridges and Whirs can be a problem for getting low enough on cards to make Bridge active, and can clunk up your hand in matchups where Bridge isn't the end-all. The problem for me in cutting a Bridge is that this deck simply would not exist without Ensnaring Bridge and it is essential to find one to win the game in nearly every matchup. I want to maximize my chances of drawing a Bridge, even if it means that I will sometimes draw extra bridges that are extraneous or awkward. While having Whir of Invention means that you realistically have access to eight Ensnaring Bridges, drawing a natural bridge allows you to Whir for other cards, instead of being locked into a Whir for three.
There are a few key principles for playing Lantern Control.
The first and most important principle is to play fast. Seriously. It is more important to play quickly than it is to play perfectly. A draw is the same as a loss in many events. Your opponent is under no obligation to concede at any point, nor is it wrong if they choose not to. It's important to play at a pace of play quick enough to be able to go through your opponent's entire library twice in three games. This means starting the process of playing quickly from the very beginning of the match and ensuring that your opponent also plays at a reasonable rate of speed. Be at the table as soon as pairings go up, and be ready to play when the match starts. Enforce pace of play with your opponent. Sometimes this can be awkward, but I feel like it can be done politely. I usually just say something like "I think we both need to step up our pace of play to make sure we finish this match." Even if my pace has been adequate, people usually respond better if you're not accusing them of slowplay but rather encouraging faster play for the benefit of both players (a draw hurts both players in the vast majority of matches).
Beyond just making quick decisions, also practice physically playing faster. If you shuffle for 30 seconds every time you go into your deck, and then you also wait and spend another 30 seconds shuffling your opponent's deck every time they go into their deck, time will quickly become an issue. There just isn't time to dilly dilly around like this. I'm not suggesting randomizing insufficiently, but I know a great many players who are glacially slow with their shuffling mechanics, and that just won't work. I also know a great many players who are very slow about how they tap lands, activate abilities, draw their card for turn and so forth. Slowly peeling off five cards one by one for something like Ancient Stirrings is a great example of a time waster. Just grab five cards, make your selection, and move along.
Play quickly, and don't waste time on the mechanics of playing your cards.
Another key thing about playing Lantern Control is that Lantern Control rewards format understanding more than almost any other deck. Over the course of a game, your opponent has access to a certain number of cards that are relevant. The value of relevance of these cards varies as the game progresses. Having a strong, almost encyclopedic knowledge of the format is a huge plus for being able to pilot Lantern Control optimally. It is important to sit down across from any matchup, know what cards in their deck matter, what cards in your deck matter and how to play to maximize your chance of finding those cards and reducing the impact of theirs. While this holds true for any deck, it holds especially true for Lantern Control, a deck where you have some amount of control over the cards both players will draw.
In terms of gameplay itself, Lantern Control plays a lot like Legacy Miracles did. One thing I tried to do when playing Legacy Miracles, other than just bash folks with Monastery Mentor, was to play to restrict my opponent's outs every single turn of the game. Every decision was designed to make more and more cards in their deck less impactful as the game went on until eventually I had complete control. The same game plan applies for Lantern. You're not actively trying to win the game, but rather you're trying to reduce your opponent's ability to win until they cannot anymore.
Lantern Control is a great deck to teach one of the most important skills to playing good Magic: Always have a plan. At every point of every game, with any deck, you should always have a plan for how you envision the game will end and what you think a victorious endgame would look like for you. Lantern Control takes this mentality to the maximum, because there are so many micro decisions to make and none should be made without a reason. To pilot Lantern Control, one must always have a plan and always be moving toward executing that plan.
That plan should also continually update as the game progresses and new information reveals itself. Your plan at one point in a game might be "Find Ensnaring Bridge, then Pithing Needle for the Gideon in their hand, and prevent my opponent from drawing Cryptic Command in the meantime." Every action should be done toward accomplishing those specific goals. However, what if your opponent draws a Detention Sphere that you couldn't stop? That messes up the Ensnaring Bridge plan. Now a new plan might be "Find Inquisition of Kozilek, then Ensnaring Bridge and don't worry about Pithing Needle until later." At every point of every game it is paramount to constantly be asking yourself "what cards matter from my opponent, what cards do I need to lock this game up, how much time do I have to find them, and what is my plan to accomplishing this?" I also like to ask myself to play faster. Nobody really knows how to react to someone out loud telling themselves to pick up the pace or they'll have to call a judge for slowplay.
Lantern Control is what I call a puzzle deck. In many games with Lantern, all information very quickly becomes public, as both players hands are known and every draw step is known. Both players then have perfect information to work with and the game reduces to both players trying to play in a way to maximize this information in the most optimal possible way. In most popular matchups, there is actually quite a bit of skill involved for both players.
While Lantern Control does create a lot of very interesting and unique games, there are also a lot of patterns to how these puzzles develop. Many games play out to the same formulas, even if the cards involved change each time.
The first puzzle in many matchups is to get Ensnaring Bridge in play and get to a low number of cards in hand to not die to their creatures. Sequencing is huge here. There are a lot of factors to this, such as whether you already have a Bridge or you need to find one, and if you already have a Bridge, how do you map out your turns to get enough cards into play fast enough? In some of the more linear matchups where the opponent is going to just lose to Ensnaring Bridge, this can even mean pointing a Thoughtseize or Inquisition of Kozilek at yourself for the classic 0-for-2 Power Play in order to get hellbent to seal the deal.
If you already have a Bridge in hand, or a Whir of Invention, then considerations at this point involve making sure you have the resources to get it into play and that you can clear out your hand. This means making sure you don't end up with too many lands that you can't play fast enough and making sure you don't flood on expensive cards that can't be deployed fast enough, such as extra Bridges, Whir of Invention or Witchbane Orb. It's probably best to just not bother cracking something like Mishra's Bauble at all until you've reached hand size stability. Oftentimes at this stage of the game, if you have a Lantern and a mill rock in play (Codex Shredder or Pyxis of Pandemonium), it is often better to use it on yourself to smooth your draws out rather than mess with your opponent's top cards, unless it absolutely necessary or your top card is already something desired.
If you don't have an Ensnaring Bridge, then finding a Bridge or Whir of Invention for Bridge becomes the game plan. The key thing to note here is that in some matchups where your opponent isn't blazing fast, you actually have a little bit of time to accomplish this, which means that you can afford to set up. For example, if you have a Lantern of Insight and a Codex Shredder in play and see another Codex Shredder on top, it's probably fine to just draw the second Shredder, because over the course of multiple turns it will actually help you dig even deeper to finding a Bridge, even though it reduces your chances of finding a Bridge in the moment.
Sometimes you even have time to blind mill yourself with Codex Shredder to mill over a Bridge, then use the five-mana ability on Codex Shredder or an Academy Ruins activation to get back Bridge and cast it. That's a turn five or turn six Bridge, but sometimes that is still good enough.
Another key puzzle in many matchups, especially blue-based matchups or Tron decks is the battle between the number of ways you have to manipulate the top card and the number of ways they have to manipulate the top card. Sometimes this ends up creating situations where you have something like a Lantern, Codex Shredder and Pyxis of Pandemonium against say a Desolate Lighthouse, Electrolyze and seven lands. In that situation your opponent has two ways to draw a card at instant speed to your two ways to control their top card. So, if something like Cryptic Command shows up on top of their deck, they can draw it if they work hard enough, unless you are willing to give up your Lantern of Insight to make them shuffle, which is not worth it most of the time.
The way this works is that you go to mill a card, they activate Lighthouse to draw a card in response, then you go to mill again in response, then they cast Electrolyze to draw a card in response, and now you are out of ways to manipulate the top of their deck, so they end up getting the card they want. If, instead, you choose to not try to fight over the card, they can just do nothing and draw it on their next turn. You are forced to act first in a situation where they are favored.
In battles for control over the top of the library like this, it is important to immediately dig for relevant cards to break parity. Relevant cards are either cards that reduce their ability to draw cards or increase your ability to control the top of the deck. So, in the Shredder + Pyxis vs. Electrolyze + Desolate Lighthouse example, for instance, a discard spell would be a good draw. Even though the opponent can just cast Electrolyze in response, it is still worth forcing the Electrolyze out of their hand to reduce their options on later turns. Pithing Needle for Lighthouse or another Codex Shredder or Pyxis of Pandemonium would also be good cards to see here.
Lantern Control is generally favored in these kinds of situations because Codex Shredder and Pyxis of Pandemonium give the deck more control over its own draw steps. However, the opponent also has some amount of control. Fetch lands can reset the top of their deck via shuffling. There is also a risk to ever tapping both Codex Shredder and Pyxis of Pandemonium, even on their end step before you untap for turn. What if they crack a fetch, see a good card on top and then draw it while you are tapped out? A lot of times in situations like this, it is better to just activate one mill rock and leave the other on defensive duty, just in case.
Generally speaking, it is better to give your opponent a card that you can deal with, even if it is annoying, because there is a risk that if you instead try to mill it, the card below might be one you are even less equipped to handle. Bend, don't break.
Mishra's Bauble is by far the hardest card to play in this deck. There are a lot of ways to use Mishra's Bauble and even lots of situations where you are not supposed to use it at all.
I don't crack Mishra's Bauble in situations where I need the mana for Mox Opal, situations where I need the artifact for Whir of Invention or Inventor's Fair, and situations where I need to keep my hand size low for Ensnaring Bridge. Mishra's Bauble's interaction with Ensnaring Bridge can even be relevant late in games where the opponent has enough one-power creatures in play to threaten lethal. In those situations, it is not worth the risk of drawing two lands, being unable to get hellbent, and losing as a result. Only crack Bauble in that spot when you know you will be able to end the next turn hellbent.
There are also lots of options on when to crack Bauble and which player to target with it. Cracking Mishra's Bauble on your own turn means you'll draw the card in your opponent's upkeep. Cracking it on their turn means that you'll draw it on your own following upkeep. As there are a very low number of instant speed effects in this deck, I generally err on cracking it on my opponent's turn, because that protects the card you'll draw off it from your opponent's discard spells, and it keeps your Bridge smaller on their turn.
It's fine to crack it on your turn if you are going to pass the turn with enough mana to cast Whir of Invention should you draw it. The same goes for any instant-speed cards you might have sided in for the matchup.
I also crack Mishra's Bauble on my own turn in situations where I have a Lantern in play, I want the top card of my deck and I want to either use a Pyxis of Pandemonium or Whir of Invention before my opponent's draw step. For example, say I have a Codex Shredder on top that I want to help complete the Lantern lock, but my opponent has a Cryptic Command on top of their deck that I don't want them to draw. If I have a Pyxis of Pandemonium in play, I'm going to want to Bauble on my turn, draw the Shredder in their upkeep, and then activate Pyxis afterward to keep them from drawing the Cryptic Command.
Most of the time, I crack Mishra's Bauble on my opponent's turn. If I'm planning to target them, I generally do it in their upkeep to see what they draw for turn.
If I have a Codex Shredder or Pyxis of Pandemonium in play I will almost always target myself with Mishra's Bauble because being able to control my own draw step is more important than controlling the one card I get to see from my opponent, especially if I don't know their hand and thus don't know what they want or need. Even if you do know their hand, but the card on top of their deck is one you can safely ignore, you've wasted an opportunity to dig deeper through your deck to find whatever missing pieces you need.
Sometimes, unless I am under pressure, I will also wait with Mishra's Bauble in play uncracked until I've had time to find and deploy a Codex Shredder or Pyxis of Pandemonium. Rather than draw a random card immediately, I effectively get to scry 1 and then draw a card later. That said, if Lantern of Insight is in play, it's irrelevant who is targeted with Bauble because that information is publicly known anyway.
In grindy games that will go long, it is valuable to target yourself in the blind with Codex Shredder at least until you have something like a Whir of Invention in your graveyard. Codex Shredder has a second ability of getting back cards from your graveyard, which is very relevant and does come up quite often. You don't want to over-mill yourself, though, because you can put yourself in a situation where you mill over a one-of card that you need for the matchup and have to sacrifice Codex Shredder to get it back when you'd rather just keep the Codex Shredder in play and be able to Whir of Invention for that card later.
In sideboard games, it is risky to target yourself with Codex Shredder because people will have Surgical Extraction and you're giving them more and more options with each activation. I also don't like to Shred myself when I'm playing against decks that have graveyard hate like Scavenging Ooze. I might end up milling over an essential card, see them eat it with Scavenging Ooze, and then be unable to access it later in the game.
There are some matchups where it is correct to begin to just mill your opponent in the dark. Ad Nauseam is a great example of this, where if you get enough Simian Spirit Guides, they might not be able to go off properly, and if you happen to mill over a Laboratory Maniac or Lightning Storm, then they are reduced to killing you with the other one. If you get both, then they are on the Simian Spirit Guide beatdown plan, which is unlikely to work.
The mirror is another matchup where you should aggro mill your opponent with Codex Shredder starting from turn one. Red-Green Valakut is another deck where I'm happy to mill them in the dark, because hitting Valakut or Mountains out of their deck has possible tangible benefits.
Against almost every other deck I would not blindly mill, because they can or do utilize their graveyard in some fashion. Even post-board, I wouldn't mill some of the decks that I would in game one. Valakut, for example, gets Ancient Grudge. I'd rather not blind mill them and wait to handle Grudges with Pyxis of Pandemonium plus Lantern of Insight.
I almost never blindly activate Pyxis of Pandemonium, unless I'm playing a matchup where my opponent needs specific cards to win (like Ad Nauseam) and I don't need specific cards to win myself. The deck has a Grafdigger's Cage, Witchbane Orb, Pyrite Spellbomb, and two Pithing Needles. You don't want to Pyxis one of those cards and then try and fail to Whir for it later. If none of those cards are relevant, then it's fairly safe to just start activating Pyxis.
It's good to remember that Pyxis has a second ability. It comes up very rarely, but sometimes Bridges end up under there and paying seven for a Bridge could win the game.
I mulligan aggressively with this deck. You're looking for specific hands and specific cards to make the deck function. The deck can also win on low hand size better than most decks can. I've won on four cards three different times with Lantern in the past two weeks, for example. Just because a hand has lands and spells doesn't mean it's a keep. A hand with a bunch of Codex Shredders, for example, doesn't do anything. If you don't have a Lantern of Insight or a reliable way to find one, then you should probably ship it.
For what it's worth, I usually keep "hate-heavy" hands that have a lot of silver bullets, and just hope some of them are impactful in the matchup. Frequently, matchups where the bullets don't matter are also matchups where Bridge just wrecks them, so it's fine to have a few duds if you can also put a Bridge out quickly. I almost always keep hands that can deploy a fast Bridge, even if they don't do too much else. I will also mulligan hands with Bridge if there is no way I can get hellbent with it in a reasonable time frame.
The moral of the story here is that mulliganing is fine, and usually six cards is better than a borderline or do-nothing seven.
You can beat zero-power creatures like Noble Hierarch, Signal Pest and Ornithopter by killing them with Pyrite Spellbomb or undoing the damage with Inventor's Fair. Keep in mind that Cranial Plating and Arcbound Ravager can both represent huge chunks of damage after a zero-power creature has attacked. Pithing Needle those or keep them from being drawn.
I'm straight up cold to Doran the Siege Tower, though. Come at me Treefolk Tribal. I'm down to Rootgrapple.
Chromatic Sphere is a mana ability, and drawing a card off of it is part of that mana ability. Mana abilities cannot be responded to so they get to draw whatever card is on top of their deck without you being able to do anything about it. You also cannot Pithing Needle it. This is a large part of why Tron is the worst matchup for Lantern. Chromatic Star, however, is a trigger and can be responded to.
Leyline of Sanctity shuts out Codex Shredder, but it is still possible to win by looping artifacts with Academy Ruins so they mill out first, and Pyxis can still control draw steps. Gideon of the Trials emblem can be beaten by milling their entire deck, then looping Pyrite Spellbomb to kill the Gideon with Academy Ruins. If they also have Gideon Jura, it must be hit with Pithing Needle first and then killed after. If they Ghost Quartered Academy Ruins earlier in the game, Codex Shredder can return it.
This article is far too long for me to get into specific sideboard plans. I'm hoping to write a follow up matchup guide that looks at popular matchups, how to play them, and how to sideboard. In the meantime, happy milling.
- Brian Braun-Duin