Saving Lantern Control

This metagame is increasingly hostile toward Sam’s favorite deck, but he’s still working on the archetype for SCG Indy! How can this tenured strategy stay alive? With Surgical precision…

Lantern Control has had a rough time in Modern lately. As the format has
evolved, most of the top decks are very hard for Lantern to beat, so it’s
basically left the format. Consider the most played archetypes, roughly:
Humans, U/W Control, Mono-Green Tron, Affinity, Ironworks, Mardu
Pyromancer, Hollow One, and Burn. Let’s discuss.

In my mind, this is a close matchup where almost none of the games are
close. One side basically rolls the other every time and the game is
usually functionally over by turn five at the latest. Humans either stops
Lantern from getting Ensnaring Bridge onto the battlefield by using
Kitesail Freebooter, Meddling Mage, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, and
Phantasmal Image, or it fails to do so and Ensnaring Bridge enters the
battlefield. From there, the Humans player tries to finish the game with
Noble Hierarch, which rarely works but can from time to time. Sometimes,
I’ll see the Humans player concede to Ensnaring Bridge, but more
experienced Humans players will attempt to use Meddling Mage to trap cards
in the Lantern player’s hand so that they can attack again. Still, a weak
Lantern lock is generally able to prevent this line from working.

Who has the better end of it and by how much is something I’ve seen debated
enough that I’m fine settling on calling it close, but my personal
experience leads me to think Humans is favored unless Lantern sideboards
fairly heavily for the matchup, but I don’t think it’s that hard to include
a few more Porphyry Nodes or Pyroclasms than you might otherwise and they
go a long way.

U/W Control has picked up as the most played deck in the format recently,
which I believe is largely a result of players coming to understand the
real power of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, the second coming of Jace, the
Mind Sculptor, which has proven even better in Modern than Jace.

This is a tough matchup for Lantern because after sideboarding, they just
have so many tools. They get to cut all their creature removal for a weird
mix of counterspells, artifact removal, planeswalkers, and enchantments
that are good against Lantern. It’s very hard to establish any kind of real
lock through this because they have card draw and almost no cards you can
really ignore and they’re fighting you every step of the way.

Mono-Green Tron has been the nightmare matchup for Lantern ever since the
Whir of Invention version became popular and/or Ulamog, the Ceaseless
Hunger was printed. The problem here is similar to U/W Control, but it
plays out slightly differently. They’re not fighting you early as you set
up, so you’re free to establish a lock and control their draws, except that
they have Chromatic Sphere and Chromatic Star to draw cards that are really
important to them, and they’ll have some number of cards that will be very
hard for you to beat in their hand at the beginning of the game. You really
need to Thoughtseize them at least once.

Even once you’ve done that, all of their land search can find Sanctum of
Ugin, which is extremely scary because even if you Pithing Needle their big
planeswalkers, they can still use them to find Ugin and you’ll lose if they
ever cast Ugin, so you have to try to deny their mana, but you have to let
them draw something and most of their deck is mana, and you can’t ignore
many of their spells without using more Pithing Needles than you have.

The way most games play out, you can actually establish a decent lock, and
though it’s very difficult, start to almost see the light at the end of the
tunnel, but then something slips through; it all falls apart like the
literal house of cards that it is.

Okay, this one I actually think is a good matchup for Lantern. Not one of
the best, and it’s not a blowout because they have a lot of play with
zero-power creatures with Arcbound Ravager or Cranial Plating, and they
present a fast clock, but they don’t do anything in game one to stop you
from setting up. Their counterplay folds to Pithing Needles. Game two is a
little trickier, as they’ll have Ancient Grudges, but you can also set them
back enough to make the game trivial with your own Pyroclasms or other
sideboard creature hate, like Ghirapur Aether Grid.

Game one, if you don’t Pithing Needle Engineered Explosives, they’ll find
one quickly and destroy whatever else you were trying to do. If you do
Needle Engineered Explosives, you’re still playing against a combo deck
with basically unlimited card draw and a gameplan that doesn’t care about
anything you’re doing. Unless you get a second Pithing Needle onto the
battlefield and name Pyrite Spellbomb, at which point they can only win by
attacking with creatures, so they lose to Ensnaring Bridge. So all you need
to do is get two Pithing Needles down before they kill you, but you’re
fairly horrible at stopping them from doing that, so you don’t have much

Game two, you basically lose all hope, as they get to add Nature’s Claim,
which they’re very good at finding because of all their instant speed card
draw, and if you’re leaning on a Pithing Needle, and when they kill it, you
basically lose on the spot.

Kolaghan’s Command is their scariest card. Stopping someone from drawing a
single card is generally something you’re good at doing, but Faithless
Looting and Bedlam Reveler give them draws you can’t control. You need
Grafdigger’s Cage or Pyxis of Pandemonium to stop them from using Faithless
Looting and those uncontrolled draws can chain into more uncontrolled draws
until they find Kolaghan’s Command and everything falls apart. The other
threat is that they stick a Blood Moon, and that at some point that traps a
Whir of Invention or some other colored spell in your hand and suddenly all
their 1/1s can attack through Ensnaring Bridge.

That said, they have few enough cards that matter that I believe you’re
favored in game one. Even if a Faithless Looting slips through the cracks,
it’s not actually that likely to give them a card that matters.

Game two, things get worse because they get more cards that matter and
sometimes they’ll be tricky ones that you weren’t necessarily prepared for
like Kambal, Consul of Allocation. Despite that, I think game one is good
enough that you’re still a small favorite in the matchup, but I’m not
extremely confident about that.

This matchup’s actually pretty good. They’re an aggro deck that attacks
with big creatures and doesn’t have a lot of answers to Ensnaring Bridge.
Sometimes they come out too fast, usually when they open with Flameblade
Adept, but for the most part, they’re not doing things that matter. Game
two is basically the same except that they’re good at finding Ancient
Grudge. That’s a problem, but if Lantern couldn’t beat Ancient Grudge, it
wouldn’t be a deck.

I feel like I win most of my games at exactly one life against Burn; things
just generally time out such that I can exactly lock them out with
Ensnaring Bridge + Witchbane Orb right before they kill me. If they draw
Eidolon of the Great Revel, I usually lose. Sometimes you can beat it if
you have a removal spell, but sometimes needing to do that sets you back
too far. This is a close matchup where I think you might be slightly ahead,
contrary to conventional wisdom, but you might not, I’d be surprised if
it’s more than 5% favored in either direction.

I can’t imagine anything about that rundown inspired anyone to pick up
Lantern. There’s no matchup there that I think you’re more than a small
favorite in. U/W Control, Mono-Green Tron, and Ironworks make up about 20%
of the field and you’re extremely unlikely to beat any of them. If you
wanted to say that Lantern Control is dead, I wouldn’t blame you.

But does it have to be this way?

Obviously, you can’t change the metagame, you can only adapt, so is there
anything Lantern can do to fix some of these matchups? My best guess is
that they can try to work Surgical Extraction back into the maindeck.

A brief history lesson for those of you who haven’t closely followed the
development of the archetype:

Lantern Control first rose to prominence when Zac Elsik won Grand Prix
Oklahoma 2015 with G/B Lantern Control, but three months before that he
introduced the deck to the world at Grand Prix Charlotte, so its origins
were kind of similar to Matt Nass forcing the world to respect Ironworks.

Later on, Piotr Glogowski rebuilt the G/B Control deck as the Whir of
Invention Lantern deck and popularized it on his stream, where he played
endless matches and kept extensive data that demonstrated the strength of
this new build, which became almost universally adopted by Lantern players
and peaked with Luis Salvatto’s Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan victory.

In the G/B Lantern deck, Surgical Extraction had been a supporting utility
spell that was dropped from the deck in the transition to Whir Lantern. On
the surface, this change can appear to be a result of the removal of
Ghoulcaller’s Bell from the deck, which makes Surgical Extraction weaker.
In reality, Ghoulcaller’s Bell was removed from the deck because Pyxis is
better if you’re not playing Surgical Extraction and Piotr didn’t like
Surgical Extraction.

What I’m getting at is that there’s very little about the builds that
dictates that G/B should play Surgical and Whir shouldn’t. The best
argument for that would be that G/B has Ghost Quarter, and Whir doesn’t,
which means G/B can much more easily use Surgical Extraction to break up
Tron, which is much harder for Whir, which is true and pertinent,
especially when that was the best common use for Surgical Extraction.
However, if Surgical Extraction is good in the metagame, there’s nothing
preventing Whir Lantern from using it, and it still plays very well in the

Am I allowed to just make that statement without explaining it justifying
it? I mean, I guess so. This is my article and I can say whatever I want,
but Surgical Extraction isn’t generally a good maindeck card, so it might
be worth discussing why it’s different here.

Surgical Extraction is best when you know some cards in your opponent’s
hand so that you can potentially remove one of them on resolution so that
you’re not “down a card;” this makes it pair well with other discard
spells, especially if your opponent has two copies of card, as then the
discard spell and the Surgical Extraction can you take both.

It further benefits very strongly from milling your opponent, especially if
you know cards in their hand, as whenever you mill another copy of
something, you can fire it off to snag the card you know.

It also provides perfect information, something critical to the Lantern
player. When you know exactly what they have in their hand and in their
library, you know precisely what you can allow them to draw, which makes
your decision-making much better.

Further, you’re playing a very long game that involves denying all your
opponent’s outs. If Surgical Extraction can remove three of them from your
opponent’s deck, your job can become much easier.

So where could Surgical Extraction help us in today’s problem matchups?

VS Humans
: It’s not going to be good here. The game isn’t long and it’s not about
spells in their hand. If it was good everywhere, everyone would already be
playing it. But also, it’s not that bad, because the matchup isn’t about
attrition; it’s about emptying your hand. So just having a card that
doesn’t cost mana can be better than some other bad spell. As long as
you’re not losing anything important to the matchup, it won’t be a big

VS U/W Control
: I think Surgical Extraction goes a really long way here. Cryptic Command
is a huge part of their game one plan and so is Snapcaster Mage, so
Surgical Extraction can make it much easier to lock them out. It’s a
reasonably high impact free instant, which is going to be good in a
counterspell matchup. I think it would be a vast improvement here

VS Mono-Green Tron
: Short of dedicated hate like Crumble to Dust, I think this is the best
card you can have in this matchup. The dream scenario is that you get to
mill a Tron piece they don’t have and disrupt their mana for the rest of
the game, but failing that, nabbing any high impact four-of payoff card
makes your life much easier. One of your biggest problems is that you don’t
have as many Pithing Needles as you need to answer all the things you need
to name, but Surgical Extraction can cover additional cards for you. You
can even bring it back with Codex Shredder to remove extra threats.
Remember when I described the games that you can get something set up, but
then it falls apart eventually? Surgical Extraction is your best tool to
build real inevitability.

VS Affinity
: Basically the same situation as with Humans, except that here, sniping
one of the cards you want to eventually Pithing Needle to stop them from
winning through Ensnaring Bridge can be good.

VS Ironworks
: If you exile Scrap Trawler, I don’t think they can realistically beat
you. This matchup will still be bad because while they’re going off, Scrap
Trawler can prevent you from resolving a Surgical Extraction, but given
that you need to steal wins, exiling any of Scrap Trawler, Myr Retriever,
Krark-Clan Ironworks, Engineered Explosives, and Pyrite Spellbomb will make
your job much easier. Game two will still be rough, but exiling Nature’s
Claim is another huge play.

VS Mardu Pyromancer
: This deck has very few cards that matter, but they matter a lot; that’s
the ideal spot for a Surgical Extraction “for value” rather than a Surgical
Extraction as graveyard hate. If you exile Faithless Looting, Bedlam
Reveler, or Kolaghan’s Command, their life gets much harder.

VS Hollow One
: Weirdly, I think Surgical Extraction is worse here than it is against
Mardu Pyromancer, even though it gets to function as direct graveyard hate
by nabbing Bloodghast, Flamewake Phoenix, or Faithless Looting. Bloodghast
and Flamewake Phoenix are among their weakest cards against you; they’re
about resilience more than speed, and resilience isn’t what the game is
about. That said, it’s nice to have Surgical Extraction around in games two
and three, when Ancient Grudge is involved.

VS Burn
: Surgical Extraction is just straight up terrible against Burn. Sorry.

To me, it looks like Surgical Extraction isn’t great in your best matchups,
but will be among your best cards in every bad matchup. If anything can
save Lantern, this seems like the card to me.

So how do we make room for it and what does the deck look like with
Surgical Extraction?

I’ve taken a normal list/my old list and replaced an Inquisition of
Kozilek, a Mishra’s Bauble, and an Abrupt Decay with Surgical Extractions,
Inventors’ Fair with Ghost Quarter, and a Mishra’s Bauble and a Pyxis of
Pandemonium with two Ghoulcaller’s Bells. Cutting Mishra’s Bauble is
blasphemy for a lot of Lantern players, but I’ve never personally loved the
card, the metagame clearly demands some kind of change, and I just think
the other cards are more important. You can only have so many non-artifact
spells, especially when you’re playing Whir of Invention, so I had to cut
Abrupt Decay and trim Inquisition of Kozilek. I wanted Ghoulcaller’s Bell
to make Surgical Extraction better – turning one Pyxis into one Bell was
easy – but I also want to try an extra over a Mishra’s Bauble. This is a
change you could easily reverse.

Once I had three Surgical Extractions in my deck, I thought the value of
Ghost Quarter exceeded the value of Inventors’ Fair because it’s so good
against Tron, especially because it you can still use it on yourself to
help cast Whir of Invention in a pinch, unlike Inventors’ Fair.

How far can this update take Lantern? Time will tell, but I do think this
is the best chance Lantern has with Modern looking the way it does.