Legacy can be a tough format to get into. A pool of over 20,000 cards, a deeply-entrenched metagame, and the price tags of some staples means that the format isn’t Magic’s most accessible. Nonetheless, Legacy is a rich and rewarding format to play, and Level One Legacy is all about helping you make a start and find your feet in the format. This week, I’m looking at Mono-Red Prison.
What Mono-Red Prison Does
Mono-Red Prison is, surprisingly, a prison deck. Its single aim is to prevent opposing lists from playing their natural game by using a powerful suite of disruptive cards that are specifically geared to hate on the pre-eminent blue strategies in the Legacy format. Chalice of the Void, Trinisphere, and Blood Moon are good examples of the sorts of weapons in this deck’s arsenal—Chalice on 1 against a Delver deck? Yes please.
It backs up this disruption with some all-important pressure. As we’ve discussed extensively in this article series, disruption plus pressure is the best way to beat out many decks in Legacy, and Mono-Red Prison executes this plan magnificently. Breaking the symmetry of Trinisphere and Chalice by playing a range of powerful 3- and 4-drops, Mono-Red Prison will end the game swiftly once an opponent is locked out.
Goblin Rabblemaster and Legion Warboss pile on pressure fast and efficiently, while cards like Hazoret, Chandra, or Pia and Kiran Nalaar are able to win the game without ever needing to attack (particularly important when Ensnaring Bridge is in play). These high-powered threats mean that Mono-Red Prison doesn’t give locked-out opponents much of a chance to get back into the game before they’re dead.
Finally, the glue holding this whole deck together is the range of fast mana available to Mono-Red Prison. City of Traitors, Ancient Tomb, Chrome Mox, and Simian Spirit Guide all seek to power out a Chalice or Trinisphere as early as turn 1. Or, alternatively, just play a Rabblemaster and get in there!
4 Ancient Tomb 10 Mountain 4 City of Traitors 4 Goblin Rabblemaster 1 Hazoret the Fervent 4 Simian Spirit Guide 4 Magus of the Moon 1 Pia and Kiran Nalaar 4 Legion Warboss 4 Blood Moon 4 Chalice of the Void 4 Chandra, Torch of Defiance 4 Chrome Mox 2 Fiery Confluence 2 Lotus Petal 4 Trinisphere Sideboard 1 Abrade 2 Ensnaring Bridge 1 Fiery Confluence 1 Grafdigger's Cage 1 Hanweir Garrison/Hanweir, the Writhing Township 4 Leyline of the Void 3 Scab-Clan Berserker 2 Sulfur Elemental
Despite not having access to blue cantrips, Mono-Red Prison has a surprising amount of consistency when it comes to game-breaking turn 1 plays. Blood Moon, Trinisphere, or Chalice of the Void on turn 1 presents a must-answer threat, and can often lock people out of the game before it has even begun. Thanks to the overwhelming redundancy in card effects in this list (Ancient Tomb/City of Traitors, Goblin Rabblemaster/Legion Warboss, Blood Moon/Magus of the Moon), Mono-Red Prison locks people out very quickly and very easily.
This list also has a pretty good matchup against a wide percentage of the format. With a plethora of specifically-targeted disruptive elements, Mono-Red Prison munches on combo and tempo strategies. Assuming you can land even a single piece of disruption, opponents playing fast Brainstorm decks will have a tough time getting themselves back in the game. As Legacy is full of fast Brainstorm decks, this isn’t a bad spot to be.
Mono-Red Prison also has a powerful game plan against creature-based decks. Ensnaring Bridge stops them in their tracks, making decks like Eldrazi Stompy look very silly indeed. Against smaller creature decks, there’s not only Ensnaring Bridge—Fiery Confluence does a heap of work in cleaning up go-wide board states.
Overall, Mono-Red Prison is the Bryan Mills of Legacy—it has a very particular set of skills, and those skills make it a nightmare for decks looking to play a classic Legacy game of Brainstorms, Ponders, and the like. If you expect a field flush with people trying to flip Delver of Secrets or go off with Storm, this deck is a great pick.
Having said all that, Mono-Red Prison isn’t without its weaknesses. As a deck that is essentially pre-boarded against a wide percentage of the field, it opens itself up to attack from other, less expected angles. Additionally, Mono-Red Prison has a number of critical “choke points” that can be exploited by a canny Legacy player.
Given its reliance on resolving expensive cards, and given the hoops it has to jump through in order to do so, well-placed disruption can be a real spanner in the works for Mono-Red Prison. It’s vulnerable to going “all-in” on a single threat, and will pay the price if an opponent has the answer. For example, going Mountain, Chrome Mox, Simian Spirit Guide, Blood Moon, only for the Moon to meet a counterspell is a disaster, and sets the Prison player back a long way.
It goes further than this—many of Mono-Red Prison’s hard-hitting threats are creatures that die really nicely to opposing removal. Point removal spells do good work against this deck, and can often gain a fair bit of value given the resources Prison has to burn to deploy them competitively. In a similar vein, hand disruption spells are very effective against Mono-Red Prison, as it doesn’t have a great catchup mechanism to deal with having a key card stripped from the hand.
Additionally, without fast mana, the deck doesn’t really do anything relevant. Resolving a fair 3-drop on turn 3 isn’t a winning strategy in Legacy, and this deck’s threats start to look awkward and clunky when it doesn’t have access to accelerants.
Finally, and this isn’t a “real” weakness, but is still worth raising—this deck doesn’t really give you access to a lot of what Legacy has to offer. It might be a scissors deck in a world full of paper. It is extremely linear and doesn’t really offer the complicated decision points and absorbing play patterns associated with the Legacy format.
How to Beat Mono-Red Prison
As Mono-Red Prison is something of a one-trick pony, leveraging a portion of their disruption and their threats to carry them to victory, neutering this game plan is relatively simple. In principle, at least. If you’re able to outclass their threats or ignore their disruption, all of a sudden their deck doesn’t do very much against you. Do this either by going bigger, or going faster, and by including answers to their disruption.
Force of Will is obviously the industry-standard option here, and can even gain value despite being a two-for-one against you, thanks to Mono-Red Prison’s tendency to go “all-in”. This card has always been excellent at attacking a deck’s choke points, and Mono-Red Prison has plenty of them to attack.
If you’re playing a big creature deck, excellent—Mono-Red Prison is more or less reliant on Ensnaring Bridge to keep you at bay, so be sure to play artifact removal to push through damage. If you’re playing combo, include ways to defend yourself from Blood Moon, Trinisphere, and the like, and all of a sudden you’ll be breaking out of prison and turning the tables.
Going faster doesn’t have to be combo based, however. If Mono-Red is seeking to burn you out, put a faster clock on them with your threats and force them into a more defensive role (a role Mono-Red Prison doesn’t always relish having). Broadly speaking, however, speed is a useful tool against Mono-Red Prison, assuming they aren’t able to completely lock you out on turn 1.
Being able to go first against Mono-Red Prison is quite a big deal. Being on the play gives you an enormously improved chance to avoid being locked out, so don’t forget this incredibly important piece of strategic advice, and win your die rolls as much as possible!