Locking it up in Legacy - Red Prison
In Legacy, red-based prison decks have been around for a long time. The allure of powering out Blood Moons and Chalice of the Voids using Sol Lands, and Spirit Guides has always been strong. However, these decks have always lacked effective ways of closing out the game. From Rakdos Pit Dragon to Hanweir Watchkeep, Red Stompy has a history of playing some of the more embarrassing creatures constructed Magic has ever seen. For the most part, this has been one of the major factors holding the archetype at fringe playability for a long time and is the reason the deck hasn’t had many significant results.
However, recently Wizards have printed a large range of cards to give the entire red-prison archetype a substantial boost. From more powerful, efficient threats, to a wider range of lock pieces, this archetype has gotten a lot of help from recent sets. In turn, this has not only brought this archetype closer to the forefront of Legacy, but has also led to more variants breaking out from the shell. This week I want to go over two of the versions that become substantially better over the past few sets/years, and briefly talk about some of the benefits and weaknesses of each choice.
Mono Red Sneak Attack, or as my friend calls it, Jund Sneak and Breach, has been around in some form for a relatively long time. In order to complement the prison shell, this deck seeks to end the game with a combo finish, pairing a gigantic creature with Sneak Attack and Through the Breach. In the past, this deck hinged more on its ability to combo kill its opponents, adding Pyromancy into the mix to increase its ability to end the game with a big creature. To this end, some of the deck building choices were made with the focus being to kill the opponent, rather than lock them out. Sandstone Needle was added to act as another Sol Land which can cast Sneak Attack on turn 2, along with Ancient Tomb or City of Traitors. Lotus Petals and Blood Moons were trimmed because the goal was to attack with Emrakul, more than maximize a turn 1 lock.
While this deck has had the least new additions of all of the red prison decks, what it has gained has changed the course of deck design and shifted the focus of building the deck. The printing of Blood Sun, specifically, has shifted the focus towards a prison deck before anything else. With 11-12 “prison” pieces, and in cutting down on Sandstone Needles and maxing out on Lotus Petals, Big Red can assemble a lock piece on turn 1 much more than before. Without Pyromancy, this deck can be a more stable prison deck, but by playing 4 Inferno Titans, in addition to the 4 Sneaks and Breaches, Mono-Red Sneak Attack can still have a “combo” finish by ramping out a massive creature.
This deck’s biggest weakness is the same as the motivation to play it: Its explosiveness. While it has a comparable chance to power out a lock piece early as most other versions (although definitely less so), when this deck fails to resolve it, it can be more likely to falter and be stuck with gigantic, uncastable creatures in hand. In this way, this deck is much more likely to fold to a timely Force of Will. On the other hand, when this deck is paired against a different fast combo deck, and doesn’t have a prison piece, Mono Red Sneak doesn’t have to durdle around with slower win conditions and can simply end the game on turn 1 or 2.
While this deck hasn’t been chock full of new inclusions, the way the deck has been built has substantially changed recently, and it has brought this deck more to the forefront of the Legacy scene
As opposed to Big Red, this deck has gotten a substantial amount of new pieces over the past few years, and this has not only influenced how the deck is built, but also made this deck a serious contender in the Legacy metagame. This deck takes full advantage of the ability to cast lock pieces as early as possible and, in the past, hasn’t paid much attention to how it ends the game. This deck almost maxes out on ways to cast lock pieces aggressively, with 12 permanent ways to ramp its mana, 4 Spirit Guides, and 19 lock pieces total. Various underpowered red creatures across Magic’s history have teamed up behind Blood Moons, Chalices, and Ensnaring Bridges as a means to an end because the deck needs to win somehow. However, this has been the greatest weak point of the deck for years. When a lock piece isn’t online, bad Dragons and Werewolves aren’t going to win too many games, especially in the face of Swords to Plowshares.
This is where new printings have completely buffed this deck. New staples for the archetype have been printed which not only rival some of the most powerful cards in Legacy in terms of power level, but there have been enough of these that the deck has real choices to make in deck building.
Chandra, Torch of Defiance has been the biggest boon to the archetype. At times, it can rival Jace, the Mind Sculptor on the power front, and can be cast somewhat consistently on turn 2 (perhaps usually on turn 3, but sometimes on turn 1). In addition, being a Planeswalker with removal attached means that it can not only protect itself and is hard to kill, but gives the deck a real means of interaction on board. To this end, Fiery Confluence has been a massive addition to the deck, as well. The modality and power of the card is above and beyond any other card that has been printed to this effect. Not only is it powerful, but it lines up very will with the current Legacy metagame, effectively clearing the board of Deathrite Shamans and Young Pyromancer tokens. These two pieces have been integral to bringing the deck to the heights it has currently achieved.
The creature base has seen a marked increase in power level, as well. Goblin Rabblemaster, Pia and Kiran Nalaar, and Hazoret the Fervent are all uniquely designed to be abused in this deck. Turn 1 Rabblemaster can easily end the game against unprepared opponents, and the presence of resilient threats like Pia and Hazoret help impact the game when a prison piece can’t be effectively assembled. In addition, the latter 2 can win the game through an active Ensnaring Bridge, further giving them an edge over other cards.
The redundancy of threats and lock pieces give this deck a lot of game against Force of Will decks, and often times it can just jam threat after threat until one sticks and effectively ends the game. The specific nature of its lock pieces are particularly good against most Legacy decks, with Blood Moon and Chalice being the most potent, but Ensnaring Bridge doing a fair amount of work against the right opponents. However, fair blue decks have started to be built in a way to manage some of the lock pieces in game 1 with the inclusion of Kolaghan’s Command and Abrupt Decay, which does make things a bit more difficult. Luckily, these decks are often cold to a turn 1 Blood Moon on the play, and that will always require a Force of Will check from the opponent. Combo decks are a different story, however. While combo decks are a bit slower in Legacy these days than they used to be, they are much more resilient, as well. While the slower speed usually gives the red deck a turn or 2 to assemble a lock piece, the resiliency gives decks like Storm the ability to actually set up a win through a Chalice, and this deck has a much slower clock than Big Red.
New Sideboard Additions
Both of these decks have benefitted from a couple of key sideboard cards that have helped in a making these decks a bit stronger. These haven’t single handedly propelled the deck to the forefront, but serve as upgrades to make the deck a little more efficient. The first is Abrade. This serves to complement Fiery Confluence, and is an excellent addition against decks like Death and Taxes, which can get under the lock pieces with Aether Vial, as well as present a creature-based lock plan, themselves. Being modal allows it come in against a lot of decks that might present problems in the form of creatures, such as Delver, and costing 2 mana allows it to get under one’s own Chalice.
The other addition is Sorcerous Spyglass. On its face, this doesn’t look much better than Pithing Needle or Phyrexian Revoker, but it most certainly is. The ability to pin down specific cards that they actually have in hand, while costing two mana is a huge deal. While Revoker can attack, which is something that these decks are looking to do sometimes, Revoker dies to creature removal, some amount of which is staying in. Spyglass subtly dodges some of these weaknesses, and helps act as another 2-mana lock piece.
The Tip of the Iceberg
These aren’t the only versions of the red prison decks that exist. More Planeswalker heavy decks have been tested, as well as various Goblin/Moggcatcher variants. In addition, the threat base doesn’t seem to be set in stone by any means, and there are a lot of options that have been printed in the past few years, such as Sin Prodder and Thunderbreak Regent. However, I think these two show the most promise with the technology that has been developed so far, and I think these decks are a great addition to the Legacy metagame. The interplay of Prison/Fair blue decks/Combo makes things interesting in terms of deck construction and selection. In addition, it’s simply cool that decks that play Inferno Titan and Hazoret exist, and i’m excited to see where the archetype goes in the future of Legacy.
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