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U/R Prison in Modern

Modern is a sweet format because the card pool is extremely deep. This allows for new decks to pop up with some consistency as new tools get introduced to potentially push them over the top. Most recently a ur “Prison” deck has been putting up results on Magic Online with some consistency. While some of the details are different from list to list, the core of the archetype looks something like this most of the time:

When I first saw the decklist, I had to do a quick double take at exactly what I was looking at. For starters, how does this deck actually win games? The primary win condition is, subtle, to say the least:

Ipnu Rivulet
Crucible of Worlds

That is right. When we are ready to win the game, we do so by milling our opponent out four cards at a time every turn.

So that leaves the question: How do we survive to execute this excruciating win condition? A few different ways:

Ensnaring Bridge
Chalice of the Void
Grafdigger's Cage
Pithing Needle

The goal of this deck is to proactively search up lock pieces and then find protection for them to cut our opponent out of ways to be able to win the game. This deck has a few different ways to search up its various lock pieces:

Whir of Invention
Tolaria West
Tezzeret the Seeker
Artificer's Intuition

Because this deck has some card overlap with Lantern Control, people like to draw a lot of parallels between the two. The most important distinction though is that this ur Prison deck is proactive about its lock out, while Lantern Control waits to mill relevant cards off the top of the opponent’s deck before they draw them. This means that in order to play this Prison deck well you need to be familiar with what types of interactions decks in the format typically play. This lets you know in advance what cards you need to Pithing Needle, what you need to set Chalice of the Void to, and how aggressively you need to find Welding Jars.

In addition to proactive lock pieces, our tutors also find a smattering of different bullets that are useful in different situations:

Welding Jar
Bottled Cloister
Witchbane Orb
Sun Droplet

Welding Jar is secretly one of the best cards in this deck. Many decks in Modern are just not playing very much artifact destruction, so playing the full four copies of Welding Jar in our 75 often beats what they can bring to the table. Bottled Cloister is a slam dunk attacking lock with Ensnaring Bridge, in addition to generating card advantage. Being able to have cards in our hand on our turn also enables Tezzeret the Seeker to be a win condition by turning our board into 5/5s. Witchbane Orb and Sun Droplet help lock out decks that can try to sneak in damage around our Ensnaring Bridges. Worth noting that getting multiple Droplets into play results in gaining life every time we take damage.

Post board we get a few other tools that are useful in different situations:

Ghirapur Aether Grid
Padeem, Consul of Innovation

Spellskite is a utility card that also acts as “Welding Jars 5 and 6”. It can protect our important cards from removal and is even better than a jar against cards like Maelstrom Pulse. Ghirapur Aether Grid is a card that not only doubles as interaction against creature based decks, but it also acts as an alternative win condition. Past all of this, Ghirapur Aether Grid is one of our best ways to beat the powerful hate card Stony Silence since we can just use the Grid to contain their board and eventually win.

Padeem, Consul of Innovation is a powerful card that does a variety of things. First and foremost, Padeem gives all of our artifact tools Hexproof. This protects them from targeted removal that will commonly come in against us. We play Padeem in our sideboard because most people will generally be cutting their creature removal against us.

I like a lot of the things this deck is doing, there are a few things that stood out to be while playing this starting iteration:

  • This deck has a lot of lines. Lots of toolboxes and modal cards lead to many decision trees.
  • It has the perfect number of win conditions. Don’t add more.
  • The mana is excessively greedy. Too many colorless sources.
  • Chalice of the Void is necessary, but underwhelming.
  • Damping Sphere is going to be excellent in this deck

My first point means if I want to play this deck at a high level, I am going to need a lot of practice. Not only for finding the right lines, but also to be able to find those lines in a reasonable amount of time. My second point is a comment based on the feedback I have seen from people watching me stream this deck. This deck needs to spend its time setting up a lock the opponent can’t get out of. Once the lock is setup we have plenty of time to win the game. If you feel like you need to race, it means you are not locking your opponent out properly.

This is a deck that is trying to cast the triple Blue card Whir of Invention. While it is cute that we can Ghost Quarter our own Darksteel Citadel as a “build our own fetch land”, in practice we often end up with Quarters and no Citadel and just put ourselves behind land drops so we can play our Whir before we die. Chalice of the Void is not a card that gives you free wins in Modern like it does in Legacy. There are many decks that do not care about a Chalice of the Void on one and playing a Chalice on two is very slow. While I do want access to some Chalice for setting up my eventual lock, I do not want to flood on them and do not need it early most of the time.

The first card I talked about in my piece last week was Damping Sphere and this is certainly the perfect deck to leverage this new hate card. We can play a single copy main deck to tutor for to hose a variety of decks in the first game.

With all of these things in mind, the ur Prison deck I am going to start testing when Dominaria releases will look something like this:

Wrapping Up

This ur Prison deck not only feels powerful, but has a lot of flexibility to keep me entertained while I find new lines with it. Have you played with or against this deck since it started developing? Do you think it has staying power or will it just be a flash in the pan once more people get some experience with it? Let me know in a comment below!


—Jeff Hoogland

Dominaria is Now Available for Preorder!