Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan had everything. It had amazing matches, great storylines to watch, and an incredible array of decks saw success. This bodes well for Modern overall, although some would argue that this extraordinary diversity actually pushes some of the more fair decks out of the format. After Lantern Control took home the trophy this weekend in the hands of Luis Salvatto, some players have been calling for the deck to get hit with a ban, due to its general strategy being centered around preventing the opponent from playing the game. This leaves Wizards of the Coast, and its players, with the central question that will be swirling for the next few weeks or months, “should Lantern Control get banned?”
Modern Has a Problem
First and foremost, it’s important to look at Modern as a whole. Since its inception, Modern’s ban list has been ever-changing due to Wizard’s desire to create a format where any sort of deck are viable, players can express themselves through card and deck selection, and there isn’t one dominant deck. This, of course, has been a massive and ongoing challenge, as “unfair” decks in one form or another will always exist with such a large card pool, and the presence of those decks tend to dictate what decks can rise to the top. Decks that exist in order to simply shut down the opponent’s game plan fall into this category, as well.
When a combo deck or a prison deck, like Lantern Control, wins a match, the optics of the situation tell a very different story than the numbers. If a “normal” deck was in the same position as Lantern, where it won the Pro Tour but certainly didn’t run the field, there would be absolutely no calls for a ban. When Lantern wins, it’s different, as viewers (and players) notice that the loser didn’t get to play a game and they didn’t really have a chance from the beginning.
Looking at Lantern
Lantern is certainly an unconventional Control/Prison deck, and it attacks the opponent in a very unique way. Let’s look at the decklist that took home the trophy this past weekend.
Lantern Control, by Luis Salvatto at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan – 1st
Non-Creature Spells (42)
1 Abrupt Decay
4 Ancient Stirrings
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Whir of Invention
4 Codex Shredder
3 Ensnaring Bridge
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
4 Lantern of Insight
4 Mishra’s Bauble
4 Mox Opal
2 Pithing Needle
1 Pyrite Spellbomb
2 Pyxis of Pandemonium
1 Witchbane Orb
1 Abrupt Decay
1 Ancient Grudge
1 Collective Brutality
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
2 Leyline of Sanctity
1 Maelstrom Pulse
1 Nature’s Claim
1 Pithing Needle
1 Search for Azcanta
2 Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
2 Welding Jar
The main goal of this deck is to disrupt the opponent’s draw step by controlling it with Lantern of Insight and mill rocks such as Pyxis of Pandemonium and Codex Shredder. Over several turns, and with the deck getting more of these effects in play, the opponent nearly never draws another relevant card. Ensnaring Bridge is this deck’s central way to both ensure that it doesn’t die while it sets up its “combo” and a way of further reducing the amount of relevant draws in the opponent’s deck. This combination may take some time to kill the opponent through milling, but the feeling of hopelessness that it causes the opponent to feel is usually enough for them to concede.
Lantern has several weak spots, however. It can be extremely susceptible to disruption in the early turns of the game through discard effects and overwhelming aggression, and can be weak in the late game to artifact removal. Its reliance on several key cards can also make it very weak in certain situations to cards like Meddling Mage, and the 2/2 is currently seeing a ton of play thanks to the popularity of 5-Color Humans. In Salvatto’s mainboard, he had no ways of protecting his crucial artifacts from removal, and only 1 piece of direct spot removal in Abrupt Decay. There are some matchups where Lantern feels like it can’t lose, and there are similarly some matchups where the deck feels like it can’t win. Salvatto ended up with strong matchups at critical times and was able to take home the trophy.
The reason why I’m very unlikely to play Lantern Control ever is that I simply don’t think the deck is fun. It’s not fun to play with, and it’s not fun to play against. Playing with Lantern is frequently about assembling the same combination of critical pieces game after game, with only small line changes based on different matchups and situations, and playing against Lantern is, perhaps, the least amount of fun you can have in Modern. And yes, I am including playing against Affinity and Tron in this.
So, Should Lantern Control Get Banned?
In my opinion, definitely not. I pretty much despise the deck, but as we currently stand in the format, Lantern doesn’t have the extremely lopsided results or critical mass of play to warrant a ban. It’s a very contextually strong deck, and thus is very unlikely to ever be the best deck in any given format. What I think we’ll see in Toronto and Lyon this weekend is a major uptick of Lantern, but a similarly large uptick in hate towards it, which is something that, in my opinion, the deck isn’t really equipped to deal with. Don’t be surprised if Lantern puts a copy in the top 8 of one or both of these events, but also don’t be surprised if it doesn’t. It has a big target on its back now, and we’ll see if the deck can overcome it.
However, should it become the most popular deck in Modern or the deck that consistently puts up the best results, I think it should be banned. The theoretical combination of considerable play, a decline in weaknesses, and inability of opponents to play Magic would force Wizards’ hand into a ban of some sort, whether that be on Lantern of Insight, one of the mill rocks, or perhaps Ensnaring Bridge itself, which would have the largest effect on the format as a whole.
Unfortunately, due to me not checking if my passport had expired (ruh roh, Raggy), I won’t be able to play in GP Toronto this weekend. Instead, I’ll be playing in a local PPTQ or two and keeping a close eye on both GPs this weekend.
So what do you think? Should Lantern Control get banned?
Until next time,
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