Modern is a format of diverse threats where it can often be hard to find the right answers. Fortunately, a card has been printed that is on the same power level as Demonic Tutor + Black Lotus, if you’re willing to work within a few constraints. That card is Whir of Invention, and the constraint is that you must be willing to play mostly artifacts. To the benefit of Whir, Modern now has 15 years worth of sets to draw from, including many, many powerful artifact cards.
I first saw the power of this card demonstrated by Michael Coyle (sussurus_mtg on Twitch), the most prominent champion of the Grixis Whir (a.k.a. U/R Prison) deck, who is currently the runner-up in Modern Competitive League trophies on MTGO (with 36), and has posted consistent solid finishes at SCG Classics with the archetype.
Michael Coyle, 15th place at a tournament in Baltimore, Maryland, United States on 2018-12-01
What’s going on here is a package of prison artifacts designed to stop your opponent from winning, combined with the tools to find them quickly and reliably. Unlike its cousin Lantern Control, which would fight you over your cards in hand and what you could draw from the top of your deck, this deck fights you over axis of play and the ability to cast cards that you’ve drawn.
When I say axis of play, I mean mainly the ability to use the attack step, and the ability to target an opponent. Ensnaring Bridge is one of the most inappropriate card designs in Modern, sneaking in through 8th Edition. If you liked casting Wrath of God, you’ll love making the power of every creature on the battlefield irrelevant. Meanwhile, Witchbane Orb turns off a variety of strategies, including most burn effects, mill cards, Valakut triggers, and the like. These two cards together are often enough to beat most aggressive strategies, and a large number of combo strategies.
But the disruption plan to accompany these cards goes even deeper. The deck has a powerful engine of Expedition Map, Tolaria West, Crucible of Worlds, Inventors’ Fair, Ghost Quarter, and Tectonic Edge. With these cards you can assemble Crucible of Worlds plus Inventors’ Fair to tutor for a prison component every turn, or Crucible plus a land destruction land to slowly Armageddon your opponent.
Bullets in the main deck help you handle a variety of situations, from Bottled Cloister helping to decrease your hand size for Ensnaring Bridge or build up total resources, to Sorcerous Spyglass helping with planeswalkers and creatures with useful activated abilities, to Damping Sphere to force big mana decks and storm-style decks to play fair. You also have many ways to tutor and recur answers to problematic permanents in the form of Pyrite Spellbomb and Engineered Explosives.
I haven’t mentioned the most hit-and-miss card in the deck, which is Chalice of the Void. Chalice is one of those cards that when it’s good, it’s great. There are decks like Death’s Shadow or Phoenix that rely on a lot of 1-CMC cards, and are just a mess against a quick Chalice on 1. The card is also quite strong in a long game for cutting off key CMCs for your opponent that you don’t care about. The biggest draw to playing this style of build with Whir of Invention is to attack a metagame that is reliant on 1-CMC cards.
Grixis Whir is surprisingly resilient to artifact hate despite being almost all artifacts. There are two reasons for this. The first is that the deck has playsets of Welding Jar and Spellskite in the 75, which are both great against Shatter effects. Beyond that, sideboard cards like Grafdigger’s Cage and Torpor Orb can turn off a lot of tutorable answers like Knight of Autumn or recursion of cards like Ancient Grudge. The other reason is because the deck is mostly immune to Stony Silence. Most of the abilities on important artifacts in this deck are static, so the greatest white hate card is almost a blank here!
The rest of the sideboard is mostly full of additional alternate threats that are needed against control style decks. The one thing this archetype is incredibly vulnerable to is a legitimate control deck. Control decks often pack answers to permanents (Teferi, Detention Sphere, Cryptic Command) and counters for key cards, and aren’t hurt by the best prison pieces (Ensnaring Bridge, Witchbane Orb). Trying to get them with cards that synergize well with artifacts like Sai, Ghirapur Aether Grid, and Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas is the best hope. And these cards can be roleplayers in other matches too. It’s not just a Hail Mary for a bad matchup.
The deck requires a lot of format knowledge to play—knowing what to Spyglass and what CMC you want your Chalices on is a big deal. But if you put in the reps, in the right metagame this deck can be incredibly rewarding. Michael reported win rates between 80-90% depending on the build over the last few months, and my own testing with similar decks put me more around 75%, but I may have been doing worse things with less skill than Michael. All that said, if you want to control a game of Magic, this is the real deal unless there is a lot of U/W in your metagame.
I’ll be back next week with another take of Whir of Invention in Modern. Until then, I’ll answer questions in the comments. Happy gaming!