Ensnaring Modern

Ensnaring Bridge is one of the most powerful effects in Modern, shutting down all but a handful of decks. Adrian Sullivan, devotee of Lantern of Insight, turns his eyes to a different Ensnaring Bridge deck and gives it his singular spin ahead of SCG Dallas!

If there is anything to be reckoned with in Modern, it is the specter of Death that looms over us all.

Before Grand Prix Vancouver, I was certainly told by more than one person that I should play the deck because it was just that good. And, from what little experience I had, it truly was. At the same time, in the wild world of Modern, I decided to go with what I knew best, Lantern Control, and while I went only a mediocre 10-5, much of that was from some poor choices in games.

Now, in the time since Vancouver, with finishes by Josh Utter-Leyton, Sam Black, Gerry Thompson, and Matt Severa, we’ve seen another weekend, and after SCG Indy, add Michael Majors and Justin Cohen to people who have shown us high finishes, and the archetype was a dominant force in the field.

Some might think that this is exciting news for Lantern Control. With a recent, high-profile win, there is a new model for Lantern Control, which gives some clear indications that the deck is good enough to be worthy of serious consideration. On the other hand, even after the winning performance from Oliver Oks with Lantern Control, this most recent week, it didn’t put up a player into the Top 32, let alone the Top 8.

While Lantern was a no-show, conversely, Death’s Shadow had nine players in the Top 32 of SCG Indy.

All of this relates back to something Michael Majors said recently: “To be honest, I’m not exactly sure how good this matchup is for Lantern Control, but I have a hard time believing it to be bad.”

In a way, the answer is “It depends.”

Let’s take a quick glance at the two Death’s Shadow lists from the Top 8 of SCG Indy:

Both decks can hit fast and hard. Both decks have an incredible amount of discard, so any opponent, let alone a Lantern Control opponent, can’t necessarily count on the plan in hand. But, as a Lantern Control player, I’d certainly rather play against Michael Majors than Justin Cohen, at least in terms of their builds.

The entirety of the matchup can boil down to a simple thing: protect Ensnaring Bridge.

Michael Majors has these cards, in the main, to affect an Ensnaring Bridge:

Conversely, Justin Cohen has these:

While, after sideboarding, Michael Majors has access to many more options, as a practical matter, that is often just a question of individual tastes as it relates to any metagame. The maindeck itself is more about philosophy; Majors is heading to fight against creatures more aggressively, and Cohen is more open to affecting any number of cards.

For me, this makes me contemplate how much I fear playing Lantern in Modern at this moment. It is particularly important as Death’s Shadow of all varieties feels greater or lesser degrees of scary, but in addition, Death’s Shadow encourages the uptick of certain builds of Grixis Control, which are also often problematic for Lantern.

And yet I still love Ensnaring Bridge.

This led me to another Prison-esque deck, altered to include Ensnaring Bridge, using it to support a classic control element with battlefield sweep.

W/R Prison has been around for a long time, but recently it’s made a few waves, including a Top 8 at GP Brisbane. My own build has a few oddities, but they’ve all been tried out thoroughly with one notable exception, which I’ll talk about below.

Can you guess what piece I’m uncertain of?

If you guessed Terminus, you’d be right.

It’s not that I’m not confident in the card Terminus, which I am. I played Terminus at GP Detroit and I’ve played it in many other controlling/Prison-like decks over the years, and the card is phenomenal as a removal spell. Unfortunately, I only have a few dozen iterations of the card in this version of this deck, and I have some lingering concerns about it clogging up my hand when I need to get it low for an Ensnaring Bridge.

This is made a lot less complicated by the fact that its Miracle cost will generally mean that you won’t get stuck with it from topdecking it unless you’ve got another spell in hand that demands you cast it instead. I’ve yet to have the Terminus clog up my hand in any meaningful moment, but I know that it is possible, and that means it will certainly happen at some point that it wouldn’t have if the card were simply the second and third copy of Anger of the Gods.

Now, don’t get me wrong: Anger of the Gods is a great card. Right now, though, in this time of Death’s Shadow, I’d just had too many moments where an Anger of the Gods was being laughed at by a Tarmogoyf or a Death’s Shadow, and I decided to try out Terminus again. So far, I’ve been happy with it, but I could easily see it being replaced by Wrath of God. I’m not so particularly excited by more than a single copy of Anger of the Gods, at least not in the maindeck.

The particular choices on a removal suite aren’t wildly mind-blowing for anyone familiar with the archetype. An extra Blessed Alliance is analogous to a fifth Lightning Helix of sorts, and Journey to Nowhere plays a similar role. Banishing Light might be the worst kind of Vindicate, but it still is a kind of Vindicate. Between these cards, the sweep spells, and the four Ensnaring Bridge, you have a deck that is very robust against creatures, especially since all of the planeswalkers do work to also fight creatures.

Ensnaring Bridge does mean that we lose the ability to count on a very important card for many of these decks:

The power of Nahiri, the Harbinger to bring out an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is a huge reason to play this archetype. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is an incredible card, but if you’re going to play Ensnaring Bridge, you simply can’t play a Spaghetti Monster. I think that access to Bridge is more important right now, but I definitely don’t want to give up on the power of Emrakul, so the package is available via sideboarding for those matchups where you don’t expect to want or need an Ensnaring Bridge.

The more I’ve played the deck, the more I question whether or not I actually do end up needing the Emrakul package, and if it couldn’t simply be replaced by another Ajani Vengeant or a Karn Liberated (or some other world-shaking effect), or if such an effect is even necessary at all. Whichever the case may be, it is certainly true that there is good evidence that the effect is worthwhile.

Tetsu’s deck, like most builds of this deck, includes the Emrakul package and Gideon Jura to help on defense (and eventual offense). Eschewing this plan is all about commitment to the protections of Ensnaring Bridge and the surprisingly few decks that are unaffected by it.

With this trifecta of hateful cards, there are only a few decks that can properly function, and nearly all of them have to do the hard work of fighting out of the many pieces. Doing this as many times as is required can be exceedingly difficult. For Death’s Shadow, this is made even more difficult by the additional inclusion of actual hard removal to keep things protected along the way. Between the free wins from Chalice of the Void and Blood Moon, and the general difficulty (and lack of joy) it presents to opponents, this is one of my favorite decks in Modern right now.

There are a few other unusual choices I’d like to address.

This card starts slowly but ends very, very quickly, and it is one of the few cards that can get around Ensnaring Bridge and kill via the attack phase. The card isn’t the fastest card on defense, but it is still remarkably effective after that first turn of “do-nothing.” There will be some games where, all on its own, an Assemble the Legion can end the game. The cost, of course, is that this card will only hit at earliest on turn 4 and won’t become scary for several turns.

I’ve toyed with cutting this card, and still may, but for now, I’m happy with how it plays out, especially given the sheer amount of creature suppression already in this version.

This is one of my pet cards, and pretty much any deck with red that I feel I have room for a colorless card, I’ll fit this into it, especially in a deck with a fair number of planeswalkers. This card first really made itself known to me as valuable when Tarmogoyf was first printed, and even my aggressive red decks would run it, in large part because a shocking amount of times, having excess mana turn into a preemptive damage shield can be huge.

When you are on the defense against attacks and you are using various means to suppress the opponent, there are often turns where the opponent simply doesn’t have an attack that they want to make or can make. This is particularly true with Ensnaring Bridge. I’ve won many a game because I’d built up an army of Kobolds on one side of a Bridge, and by the time my opponent fought through them, new full defenses were back up. Kobolds may also be Nahiri’s best friends, creating a great opportunity for her to finish off an attacker that was stopped, if only for a moment, by a 0/1.

Mostly, what I like about Ghitu Encampment is that it can cheaply block. Often this might only be a single time, but because it has first strike, with a little bit of help from a Lightning Helix, it can take down something much, much larger. While a Needle Spires hits harder and is better at taking out certain creatures all on its own, in those cases, it will also die. I’d rather spend a mana less in making the creature, despite also losing another white source. Four mana on defense is not that much to have up to gain the ability to take down an X/5 with a Lightning Helix.

The sideboard Baneslayer Angel is a classic “let’s wrap this game up” that can be very, very hard for many decks to beat. Unkillable by Fatal Push, Lightning Bolt, and Abrupt Decay, Baneslayer Angel can dominate any game where it enters the battlefield. However good this is, you’re still an Ensnaring Bridge deck, and while Nahiri, the Harbinger can do great work in summoning Baneslayer Angel out, there are many games where it might just sit out, glaring at the opponent.

I probably need to cut this card for a Celestial Purge or Pithing Needle, but I just haven’t pulled the trigger yet.

I’ve worked a lot on this list, and I like it. Recently, I saw another build of the deck that had a lot in common with my own. Here is DarkNSPrince’s build, 5-0 in a League:

If you’re looking for something that has good game on its own and can put up a fight against Death’s Shadow, I think revisiting W/R Prison is a way to go. Right now, it is definitely my favorite Ensnaring Bridge deck, and I feel like that is a good place to be. It might be strange to be running this deck without Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, but I find it still feels very good.