Tezzeret Prison In Modern

Ari Lax just couldn’t ignore that newfangled Tezzeret Prison deck any longer! Today he shares what he learned from his testing with Tezzeret the Seeker and presents his latest build featuring Dominaria! Don’t get caught off-guard at SCG Atlanta!

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While I didn’t attend a Modern event last weekend, my advice to play Lantern Control still stood.

Exhibit A: Luis Salvatto defeats Lucas Esper Berthoud 3-0 to Top 8 Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan.

Exhibit B: Nice Hollow One deck.

But I wasn’t playing, so I got to spend my time doing things that weren’t clicking Codex Shredder 37 times a game. Even if every other aspect of the deck is precisely my jam, I do value my sanity and time.

On The GAM Podcast last week* Gerry Thompson and Bryan Gottlieb both brought up Lantern as a deck they were interested in, but Gerry went a level deeper and brought up a Tezzeret Prison list that has been floating around lately. I knew it existed, and I knew Jody Keith had been trying it out because obviously he would, but the data Gerry cited shocked me.

* If you haven’t listened to The GAM Podcast, you should. It was the best Constructed podcast at literally every point of its existence and still is. I have a much longer rant about good and bad Magic content and what actually is informative to me (that likely ends in lots of people mad at me), but this is far beyond the bar.

A copy of Tezzeret Prison has 5-0’ed a Magic Online League in eight of the thirteen bi-weekly decklist dumps since March. Literally the same person was playing the deck in seven of them, which implies basically no one else is. Jody Keith showed up in the 5-0s once and in the SCG Dallas Modern Classic Top 8**.

** In retrospect, I should have applied my rule of thumb that Texas tournaments make no sense. Skred Red won a GP there, and a deck that wasn’t Caw-Blade made the finals of GP Caw-Blade there.

At some point you literally can’t argue with the numbers. I had to give this a try.

First Glance Tips and Tricks

It seems like the big picture here is that this deck is leaning on what Lantern Control views almost as the backup locks. Rather than control their draw steps to handle answers, U/R Prison is about layering extra pieces more quickly than they find answers.

The other plan in this deck appears to be eventually constraining their mana. I’m super-skeptical of this plan, given my experiences with G/W Company, but it does imply Crucible of Worlds is your most important tutor target. Exposing it too early and losing it to a Scavenging Ooze seems really bad.

One huge draw to this deck over Lantern Control is the ability to cast Turn 1 Chalice of the Void for one. Over a third of your deck is made up of artifacts with a converted mana cost of zero, which even Affinity can’t match.

That said, one of the things I’ll have to examine in gameplay is whether throwing down Engineered Explosives for zero to activate Mox Opal is worth it. My gut tells me using a Chalice for zero to boost into a Chalice for one is likely too big a cost to pay without knowing your opponent will be crippled by it.

Worth noting: this deck has one-drops but is built to not need them. Tolaria West, Tormod’s Crypt, and Sorcerous Spyglass cover for Expedition Map, Grafdigger’s Cage, and Pithing Needle. Whir of Invention also lets you dodge your own Chalice of the Void, and if you really need to, you can cast the dead spell into your own Chalice and Academy Ruins it back into your deck to tutor it onto the battlefield from your hand.

This deck is also light on two-drops, which makes sense because that’s the spot to hit with Chalice of the Void against many decks.

Just a reminder: Sorcerous Spyglass can Stone Rain fetchlands. It might be an even better Turn 1 play than Chalice of the Void sometimes.

Really cute. Bottled Cloister lets you build up to five cards in hand to ultimate Tezzeret the Seeker while keeping your opponent Ensnaring Bridge-locked. It also solves some of the clunk issues associated with being short on one- and two-drops in your Bridge-lock hand-dump deck.

One downside relative to Lantern Control is the inability to loop Whir of Inventions or other spells with Codex Shredder and Academy Ruins. This often comes up with Abrupt Decay and might be why this deck doesn’t have Pyroclasm or similar spells, opting instead for Ghirapur Aether Grid. This raises concerns about the Humans matchup and being unable to fight their Meddling Mages or Kitesail Freebooters.


I literally only won a match because my opponent conceded a mirror match on Turn 3 of Game 1***.

*** If you like Legacy and undoing your own Ensnaring Bridge lock, take a look at the Affinity-Stax deck that can sacrifice its own Bridge to Arcbound Ravager. It’s Gerry Thompson- and Tommy Ashton-approved. How much better could you get?

This might be the single worst Modern deck I have ever copied to test, and I once played five rounds with Dubious Challenge and let everyone watch me do it.

Still, I wouldn’t consider this a wasted effort. Lantern hadn’t evolved for almost two years before kanister/Piotr Glogowski popularized the Whir of Invention list. This deck is doing something similar but unique. At worst, there must be a lesson or two that can be ported to future builds of similar decks.

One big lesson I learned is that Whir of Invention decks can’t mess around with their mana. I think it’s possible I missed. You don’t have to be Frank Karsten to know thirteen-ish blue sources isn’t remotely enough for triple blue on Turn 3 or even Turn 4. Technically you can Ghost Quarter your own land, but you’d better hope it’s Darksteel Citadel. Or spend all your time on Expedition Map just to find an Island. Or bounce Oboro, Palace in the Clouds and replay it.

Or you could just play blue-producing lands.

Before you say something like “Lantern Control has sixteen blue lands,” Lantern Control has a one-mana way to find more in Ancient Stirrings and the super-powerful Lantern of Insight card selection engine. Seriously: Lantern controlling its own draws might be more powerful than controlling the opponent’s.

A big part of Prison decks is finding a way to make things incrementally worse. Each piece is supposed to move the dial in favor of you finding the next piece more quickly than they undo your disruption, which turns the dial further, until you establish a hard lock. This deck does not do that.

Tezzeret the Seeker impressed me the most out of this deck. This is probably because it solo-locks people in this incremental manner. A -3 for an Ensnaring Bridge turns into a Welding Jar the next turn, then another Welding Jar, and then “whatever, who cares, the game is over.”

My big takeaway is that I think a Tezzeret the Seeker deck in Modern is powerful enough to exist. Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas has had the mini-spotlight due to letting Lantern Control go beatdown against lock-proof decks, but the original flavor Tezz is the Prison A-Game card.

Artificer’s Intuition was also impressive, if limited. The idea of a single card letting you layer Pithing Needles or Welding Jars is quite exciting, as is flipping extra stuff into mana via Mox Opal or Darksteel Citadel or just finding your Grafdigger’s Cage or Tormod’s Crypt. One or two copies of it could easily be in an improved version of this deck.

Another issue with this deck was how clunky it was. It seems super-obvious in retrospect, given that Whir-Lantern only plays three Ensnaring Bridges. I easily died to Lingering Souls because getting hellbent was a struggle. Insert another complaint about how the lack of card selection makes assembling the Bottled Cloister / Ensnaring Bridge lock difficult. You need to get out quickly enough to Whir and then find another part of the thing? You’re playing tapped lands and a three-mana land tutor.

What’s the flip side of this? How do we use this failure to improve our deck? I just want to play more artifact mana. Basically every Tezzeret deck in Modern and Legacy I can remember played Talisman of Dominance or Dimir Signet.

The other super-sweet secret lesson I learned is that losing in this way felt highly matchup-specific. Yeah, Mardu Pyromancer wrecks me for having two cards in hand, but what if they were Death’s Shadows and Gurmag Anglers? Or Hollow Ones?

This got me thinking that, much like we saw midrange decks with Blood Moon in the past, we should see midrange decks with Ensnaring Bridge. If you struggle with Hollow One or G/W Hexproof, what better way is there to beat them? All Ensnaring Bridge asks is that you have something like Grim Lavamancer or Lingering Souls (attack, play my one card) or any planeswalker to finish with. Those are just good Magic cards.

It’s a sideboard plan, so you can even just maindeck those Gurmag Anglers or Tarmogoyfs for the real closure. Since you can even block with a Tarmogoyf early, I wouldn’t be shocked if some games end with their deck being 70% terrible cards, you eventually killing most of their stuff under Bridge, and then Kolaghan’s Commanding your own Bridge once you got established.****

**** Yes, this is the fourth of these. Why, yes, I was reading many StarCityGames.com articles from last decade. Why do you ask?

I wasn’t a fan of the land destruction aspect of this deck. It’s a lot of space for not a lot of gain. Maybe a year ago you would have shredded some Death’s Shadow decks with a million Ghost Quarters, but even the Tron decks these days show up with a pile of basic lands and Oblivion Stone the hard way.

Fortunately, that plan is basically irrelevant post-Dominaria because of Damping Sphere. Lantern is great at setting up protected soft locks around one hate piece. A Welding Jar, a Pithing Needle, and a Damping Sphere might just be enough to solve all the weirdo issues Ghost Quarter does and then some.

On the subject of currently bad lock pieces, Chalice is really bad. It’s bad against Humans. It’s bad against Hollow One. It’s bad against Jund. If it were good, Eldrazi Tron would be still be Tier 1. This is sad because it might be the most exciting new thing this deck does.

The other X spell of Engineered Explosives, on the other hand, is darn good and one of the real draws to playing a different Prison deck from Lantern Control. Or maybe you just can Engineered Explosives in Lantern if it’s for two or zero. What really wants you to cast Engineered Explosives for one, bar things you beat with Ensnaring Bridge (Death’s Shadow, G/W Hexproof) and mirrors?

Worth noting on similar lines: mis4tune on Magic Online has started playing one Pyrite Spellbomb as real removal. I want more cards like that to buy setup time.

Making A Working Prison

Okay, now that we’ve explored that whole list, it’s time to enter the deep dive of “every Tezzeret deck since 2016.” Here are the abbreviated notes:

  • I want something to kill creatures. I don’t think I want Fatal Push, as I don’t expect fetchlands for revolt to be a big part of my strategy, but I want to kill Tireless Tracker. That card is still a nightmare, even if it doesn’t break a Lantern lock, because they still draw all the cards you can’t beat.
  • The Thoughtseizes in Lantern are great. I need something similar.
  • Blood Moon would have been a great extra lock option in a pre-Damping Sphere world. As is, I think you can naturally lock the Scapeshift decks and Damping Sphere the Tron decks.
  • The biggest punt everyone makes with these decks is including Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek. I’ve played a lot against people trying to do that, and here’s what always happens: they draw these terrible cards that do nothing until they get both and invest a bunch of mana and don’t lose one to Shatter and die. The answer to how you are going to win the game just must be “eventually.”

This is my weird amalgam of all the ideas I liked, all the good ideas I scrapped, and a little bit of goldfishing work. If you want to work on non-Lantern Prison decks, I would start here.

Further notes:

Maybe the result of all of this is you play one Tezzeret the Seeker in your Lantern deck sometimes, but that’s how deck building in non-rotating formats goes. There are a lot of cards and “a lot times a lot” of combinations of them, resulting in a lot of dead ends.

But Lantern Control was once one of those possible dead ends on a random internet forum. Trying is far from the worst thing you can do.

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