With Lantern Control winning last weekend’s Pro Tour in the hands of Luis Salvatto, the deck was thrust into the spotlight like never before. Its performance has fueled vigorous debate about the future of the deck, but the consensus among professional players is that Lantern is here to stay.
The good news is that Lantern is a very beatable strategy, and today I’m going to investigate some of the best ways to beat Lantern Control. As people around the world tweak and tune their Modern decks to meaningfully contest Lantern, there has never been a worse time to be a Lantern Control player (then again, there’s never really a good time to play such a miserable deck, is there? At least they’re not playing Tron).
First and foremost, the easiest way to tussle with Lantern Control is to maximize dedicated artifact hate cards. Stony Silence prevents mill rock activations and the hard lock, but eats it to Abrupt Decay. Other options include Wear // Tear (highly flexible in many matchups), Shatterstorm (immune to Inquisition), and of course the Lantern-smashing all-star, Ancient Grudge.
Ancient Grudge is of particular importance in this matchup given its flashback ability. As it can be cast from the graveyard, a Lantern player will either have to exile it with a Pyxis or shuffle it away with a Lantern. The appearance of a single copy of this high-impact sideboard card can completely swing the matchup.
The upside of running cards like this is that they are also excellent in other matchups—principally, of course, Affinity. This means that building a sideboard against Lantern Control doesn’t involve too many sacrifices against the field. Artifact removal is almost always going to be good against the field in general.
Just as artifact hate is good against many Modern decks that will populate a typical tournament field, you can never really go wrong by loading up a deck with cheap disruptive options. Thoughtseize and Inquisition are superb against Lantern, and there are powerful options in blue as well. In addition to Hurkyl’s Recall, Ceremonious Rejection is an excellent option given its utility against various Tron decks.
The most important thing to note when leveraging various disruptive options is the path you expect to take toward victory. For example, if you Inquisition a Lantern player who is holding both Ensnaring Bridge and Lantern of Insight, which should you prioritize as a target?
In this case, the answer depends on how much pressure you’re putting on them. If you have a threat, then you don’t need to worry about Lantern—all you’re concerned about is not having your threat stuck on the wrong side of a Bridge. Conversely, if you’re not applying any pressure, you’re much more susceptible to a Lantern lock (and the Bridge is irrelevant for now, as you’re not attacking anyway).
Finally, don’t forget: all the interaction in the world doesn’t do any good against Lantern if not combined with pressure. You can’t afford to give a Lantern opponent the time they need to recover from discard/counterspells/artifact removal as they have a fair bit of redundancy and Whir of Invention to tie it all together. Always pair pressure with your interaction!
Control Your Library
Lantern Control is all about controlling the top of libraries—a highly unusual angle of attack, and one most decks aren’t set up to deal with directly. Indirectly, however, a lot of commonly-played Modern cards offer enormous utility against Lantern’s game plan. Some very obviously, and others in a much more subtle way.
It’s an open secret that fetchlands make it very difficult for Lantern players to fully control the top of the library. Being able to shuffle to avoid a dead draw or to protect a key card from being milled are both extremely important roles that fetchlands play in the matchup, and for that reason it’s critical to deploy and activate them with precision and foresight.
Don’t forget that Lantern players come ready to go up against fetchlands with Pithing Needles. This means that, where possible, you should diversify your fetchlands as much as possible to as to prevent them from knocking out several cards with a single Needle. For example, if playing White-Blue Control, rather than playing 3 Scalding Tarns in addition to your 4 Flooded Strands, play only 1 Tarn alongside 1 Misty Rainforest and 1 Polluted Delta.
Instant-speed card draw doesn’t feature heavily in many Modern decks, although the addition of Opt and the ascension of Street Wraith have changed this somewhat. Being able to draw cards in response to mill rock activations is big game, so before cycling something automatically at the end of turn, consider if you want to sandbag it for a key draw at a later stage.
Find Cards with Utility
There are a number of cards that have weird upside or utility when playing against Lantern Control. Some of these are well-known and established—others are a little more obscure. Here’s a quick list of cards that play a strangely positive role in the matchup.
0-power creatures can attack past a Bridge, which is excellent when their power can then be increased. The classic example is Noble Hierarch as an 0/1 exalted, but don’t forget about Signal Pest or Ornithopter with an instant-speed Cranial Plating activation!
Cards that make use of the graveyard can mean a Lantern player inadvertently fuels your plan by milling you—while flashback cards are hit by Whir of Invention searching for Grafdigger’s Cage, cards such as Eternal Witness can provide enormous value.
It’s not just Eternal Witness that can leverage the graveyard. Repeatable sources of direct damage like Grim Lavamancer force Lantern players to find their Witchbane Orb or die on the spot. As a Whir for 4 isn’t always achievable, even something expensive like Endbringer can get the job done.
In addition to the instant-speed card draw discussed above, it’s possible to exploit cards like Duskwatch Recruiter to have a repeatable way to control your draws. Looking at and selecting from multiple cards in your library is exactly what Lantern Control is trying to prevent.
Further, Chromatic Sphere entirely undoes all the work Lantern seeks to do, drawing a card at faster-than-instant-speed. Opponents cannot respond to the Sphere’s ability, guaranteeing you draw a card irrespective of their mill rocks.
Given that we have an all-star Humans deck as a current tier 1 competitive option, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a hugely punishing card like Harsh Mentor make an appearance, especially given how it lines up against much of the rest of the field (fetchlands being the best example).
A quick Chalice of the Void for 1 prevents Lantern players from deploying about half of their deck. Obviously, this is a narrow option due to the deckbuilding restrictions that come with it, but it’s very effective all the same.
Lantern Control is not in a position to overtake the Modern format completely, and despite having a Pro Tour victory to its name, scarcely can be defined as an oppressive or unfair deck. There are plenty of ways to beat it—get out there and teach the bad guys a lesson!