I typically try to get some matches in with any new Modern deck I see, especially if I notice it continues to put up results on Magic Online (MTGO). Over the course of the past year I’ve noticed that Whir Prison continues to get published among the 5-0s, but is still a deck I rarely see get talked about, and sometimes when I reference it people haven’t even heard of it. After seeing a couple people piloting the deck at GP Atlanta I decided to give the deck a try and even 5-0d my first league.
Decklist and The Basics
1 《Steam Vents》
1 《Watery Grave》
4 《Polluted Delta》
1 《Flooded Strand》
4 《Tolaria West》
1 《Ipnu Rivulet》
1 《Academy Ruins》
1 《Ghost Quarter》
1 《Tectonic Edge》
1 《Inventors' Fair》
-Land (22)- -Creature (0)-
1 《Artificer's Intuition》
4 《Welding Jar》
4 《Mishra's Bauble》
4 《Mox Opal》
3 《Engineered Explosives》
3 《Chalice of the Void》
1 《Tormod's Crypt》
2 《Expedition Map》
1 《Grafdigger's Cage》
1 《Pithing Needle》
1 《Pyrite Spellbomb》
1 《Damping Sphere》
1 《Sorcerous Spyglass》
4 《Ensnaring Bridge》
1 《Crucible of Worlds》
1 《Bottled Cloister》
1 《Witchbane Orb》
I copied my list from one that susurrus_mtg had recently played in a Modern Challenge. I don’t know who susurrus_mtg is but they certainly have the best results with the deck, and are even currently in second place on the competitive Modern league trophy leaderboard, so I trust a lot of their decisions when it comes to deckbuilding.
The only card I would consider changing right now is the 2nd copy of 《Expedition Map》, I don’t really know what I’d replace it with though. Things like a 4th 《Engineered Explosives》, a land, 《Simian Spirit Guide》, or 《Chalice of the Void》 or 《Torpor Orb》 from the sideboard could all make sense to me.
How to Win the Game?
The idea when playing this deck is to imagine you are solving a puzzle, and the solution is to assemble a collection of permanents that leaves your opponent with no ability to win. Once you’ve done that you can win with either 《Ipnu Rivulet》 + 《Crucible of Worlds》, 《Pyrite Spellbomb》 + 《Academy Ruins》, or even just by not running out of cards in library with just 《Academy Ruins》 or a higher number of cards on your library.
This means you will want an extensive knowledge of which cards your opponent plays and if they can disrupt your ability to lock them out or beat you through a lock. Especially considering you often give your opponent time to draw any possible outs you’ve left them with.
While I’ve only played around 25 matches with this deck so far, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking through how to solve the different puzzles for different matchups. So while I don’t necessarily have an indication of which matchups are truly good, bad, or close, I believe I have a pretty good understanding of what needs to happen in order for you to win in most matchups, and how to sideboard to help accordingly.
I can also say from experience that this deck can mulligan quite aggressively, and in fact in some matchups it is so important to get empty handed with 《Ensnaring Bridge》 quickly that the number of 7 card hands you can keep on the draw is likely very low. In the dark it is typically best to look for hands that have a quick 《Ensnaring Bridge》 as most decks in Modern win through combat. Things like turn 1 《Chalice of the Void》 for 1 can sometimes be good enough to keep.
Against Bant Spirits
Game 1 if you get empty handed with 《Ensnaring Bridge》 they can only win by attacking with 《Noble Hierarch》, but they can easily assemble multiples by drawing them, using 《Collected Company》, and copying them with 《Phantasmal Image》. Your way of dealing with them will be using 《Pyrite Spellbomb》 or 《Engineered Explosives》, typically alongside 《Academy Ruins》.
Their deck also features a lot of disruptive elements, 《Mausoleum Wanderer》 can line up well against 《Whir of Invention》, and 《Spell Queller》 can line up well against 《Ensnaring Bridge》, but luckily they don’t line up well in the other order. 《Selfless Spirit》 can be used to protect 《Noble Hierarch》s, which means it is frequently the card you will want to name with 《Pithing Needle》 or 《Sorcerous Spyglass》.
In postboard games they will gain access to 《Stony Silence》, 《Knight of Autumn》, countermagic, and 《Thalia, Guardian of Thraben》. However, we get access to the very powerful 《Ghirapur AEther Grid》, as well as 《Torpor Orb》, which gives us a pretty simple puzzle solution of those 2 cards alongside 《Ensnaring Bridge》 with no hand. This allows us to stop 《Knight of Autumn》 and 《Spell Queller》 from interacting with us, gives us an answer to 《Noble Hierarch》s, and isn’t stopped by 《Stony Silence》.
I believe the only out our opponent will have is 《Dromoka's Command》 to deal with 《Ghirapur AEther Grid》, which may not even be in their deck. This can be dealt with by ending the game quickly with 《Ghirapur AEther Grid》, or using the one 《Chalice of the Void》 left in the deck on 2. Using 《Chalice of the Void》 for 2 can also prevent various counter magic, or their 2 mana enchantments from ever hitting the battlefield if you find a different combination of permanents to win.
In this matchup we have access to 《Grafdigger's Cage》 in game 1 which is obviously amazing against them. Unfortunately it’s not lights out but it can buy an amazing amount of time. You will need 《Ensnaring Bridge》 to prevent their creatures from killing you, which fortunately all have 1 or more power. From that point their deck contains 《Creeping Chill》 and 《Conflagrate》. 《Grafdigger's Cage》 once again buys a lot of time by forcing them to hardcast 《Conflagrate》 to get any damage out of it, and 《Witchbane Orb》 will completely stop it.
The best thing you can do is combine 《Tormod's Crypt》 with 《Academy Ruins》 to deny them of a graveyard. If you use 《Tormod's Crypt》 with 《Creeping Chill》‘s trigger on the stack you will prevent them from having the option of exiling it meaning it will not damage you. The threat of hardcasting 《Creeping Chill》 is still there, but 《Inventors' Fair》 can hopefully keep you out of range, and if you really need to you can use 《Ghost Quarter》 and 《Crucible of Worlds》 to keep them off enough mana sources to utilize copies of 《Creeping Chill》 or 《Conflagrate》 in their hand.
Postboard they have a lot of ways to destroy artifacts, but hopefully 《Welding Jar》s, 《Spellskite》s, and 《Chalice of the Void》s will protect you. In general this deck is quite good at shrugging off simple “destroy target artifact” effects in the long games. Some Dredge players have access to 《Stain the Mind》 which can certainly be annoying. Hopefully you already get an 《Ensnaring Bridge》 in play before that point. We also bring in 《Sai, Master Thopterist》 to have a different angle of attack.
In this matchup if you can get 《Damping Sphere》 into play before they assemble Tron you will be in great shape. The next best thing you can do is assemble 《Crucible of Worlds》 + 《Tectonic Edge》 in order to deny them of ever having more than 4 mana. However often you will not be fast enough to do all of this, so you will likely have to use your 《Needle》 effects on 《Oblivion Stone》 and 《Karn Liberated》 to protect your lock pieces.
《Chalice》 for 1 also does a lot of work in this matchup and can make it harder for them to assemble Tron, find important pieces, or use 《Relic of Progenitus》 as interaction. They don’t pressure you with combat too quickly if you get your 《Damping Sphere》, but you will likely need an 《Ensnaring Bridge》 eventually. Preferably you should use 《Witchbane Orb》 to prevent 《Walking Ballista》 from killing you, but if you have 《Damping Sphere》 and some sort of 《Crucible》 lock, a 《Needle》 effect will do.
They will likely bring in 《Nature's Claim》s and 《Thought-Knot Seer》s. One of the nicer things about this deck is that 《Nature's Claim》 is frequently not amazing against us given the high amount of 《Welding Jar》s and 《Chalice》 for 1. Your game plan remains the same as game 1, now with 2 extra 《Needle》 effects we can remove 《Witchbane Orb》 as we should be better protected against 《Walking Ballista》.
Against 5C Humans
This is very similar to the Spirit matchup. They are a disruptive aggro deck with a hard time beating 《Ensnaring Bridge》, but you still need to find an answer to 《Noble Hierarch》 from that point. Luckily, all of their disruptive elements in game 1 have a Converted Mana Cost (CMC) of 2, meaning you should be trying to get an 《Engineered Explosives》 with 2 counters into play whenever possible, to prevent it from being taken with 《Kitesail Freebooter》 or named with 《Meddling Mage》.
Postboard their most annoying card is 《Kambal, Consul of Allocation》. Our best answer to it is an 《Engineered Explosives》 for 3, which is quite slow. Luckily not everyone plays 《Kambal》, but it’s definitely something you need to be aware of. 《Torpor Orb》 is now your best card against them, which will not only soften their clock, but prevent 《Kitesail Freebooter》 or 《Knight of Autumn》 from interacting with you.
It is now even more important to get 《Engineered Explosives》 for 2 on the battlefield due to 《Gaddock Teeg》. 《Pyrite Spellbomb》 or 《Ghirapur AEther Grid》 can help remove a 《Teeg》 from the battlefield, and because he’s not a Human he usually will only have 2 Toughness. Every now and then someone will have 《Kataki, War's Wage》, so keep that in mind if you can afford to play around it.
Against UW Control
This is basically this deck’s worst matchup. Your solution to beating them game 1 usually involves 《Chalice》 for 4 to prevent 《Cryptic Command》, which is quite hard to pull off. If your opponent doesn’t know what’s going on in the matchup they may use counterspells on unimportant cards or time their Planeswalkers incorrectly.
If you can use 《Engineered Explosives》 or 《Pyrite Spellbomb》 to actually get rid all of their 《Jace, the Mind Sculptor》s and 《Teferi, Hero of Dominaria》s you can steal games that way. Land disruption with 《Crucible of Worlds》 can also steal games.
Hopefully they keep an anti-creature hand with lots of removal and you have time to find various paths to victory. Don’t be afraid to start aggressively using 《Ipnu Rivulet》 + 《Crucible of Worlds》 and try to get lucky and mill their Planeswalkers/《Cryptic Command》s, especially if you have 《Grafdigger's Cage》 or 《Tormod's Crypt》 to protect yourself from 《Snapcaster Mage》.
After board they will likely have 《Stony Silence》 and possibly 《Rest in Peace》 as potentially hard hitting disruptive elements. We give ourselves access to alternate win conditions that can sometimes catch them off guard in 《Sai, Master Thopterist》 and 《Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas》, as well as 《Spellskite》 which can help against 《Cryptic Command》 interacting with our permanents so long as they don’t have 《Stony Silence》. You still likely need to make decisions that help get the game over with, as if they eventually have access to all of their cards they should be able to come up with something to disrupt us and get an active Planeswalker.
Against 《Krark-Clan Ironworks》 (KCI)
We have the tools to beat this deck but I assume their speed might be the biggest issue. On top of that, most people have adopted 《Spine of Ish Sah》 which requires more pieces to get a full lock against them. 《Chalice》 for 1 can do a great job of slowing doing their ability to cycle through their deck, while also preventing them from killing you with 《Pyrite Spellbomb》. You will also need a 《Needle》 effect on 《Engineered Explosives》 to protect your permanents. With those 2 permanents and a 《Bridge》 with no cards in hand, their only remaining out should be 《Spine of Ish Sah》.
We can use 《Welding Jar》 to protect ourselves from the first trigger, but its self return trigger will require 《Tormod's Crypt》 to interact with, and they can use 《Buried Ruin》 or 《Myr Retriever》 + 《Krark-Clan Ironworks》 to fight over it while it’s in their graveyard. This can answered by using your 2nd 《Needle》 effect on 《Buried Ruin》, and trying to get a 《Chalice》 for 2 down before they control 《Myr Retriever》.
After sideboard we get more of our best cards in 《Chalice》/《Needle》 effects, as well as 《Phyrexian Revoker》 which gives us the ability to name 《Krark-Clan Ironworks》, which not only can buy time, but also makes 《Spine of Ish Sah》 less annoying as they lose the ability to sacrifice it. Their countermagic is likely more annoying than their 《Nature's Claim》s, given our 《Welding Jar》s and 《Chalice》s. Most people don’t play 《Ghirapur AEther Grid》 anymore, but if you’re in full control of the game and have access to another 《Needle》 effect it probably doesn’t hurt to name it.
Against Grixis Death’s Shadow
This deck is naturally pretty good at breaking up the pieces of a puzzle and ending the game quickly. Game 1 they are quite soft to 《Ensnaring Bridge》 hitting the battlefield though, so that should be your main priority. They are also frequently slowed down heavily by 《Chalice》 for 1, and with those two plans being what you usually mulligan for in the dark, I’d like to think we have a pretty decent shot of winning game one.
While most lists don’t play things 《Kolaghan's Command》 or 《Liliana of the Veil》 maindeck anymore. If your opponent is still playing after you 《Bridge》 them, just start caring about getting burned out or having your artifacts destroyed before you start assembling your win condition.
They will bring in 《Shatter》 effects like 《Abrade》 and 《Kolaghan's Command》 that can be somewhat annoying but prevented by 《Welding Jar》 and 《Spellskite》. What is more annoying is their countermagic. Your gameplan doesn’t change much but I’m guessing they make a few more upgrades than we do. It’s possible you can take out 《Pithing Needle》 for another 《Spellskite》, given you will probably try to 《Chalice》 for 1 whenever you can, and the cards I’m wanting to name are 《Liliana of the Veil》 and 《Grim Lavamancer》, but I hardly see 《Liliana of the Veil》 anymore.
I’ve actually played against a decent amount of these decks with Whir Prison and was really impressed by my ability to beat them. 《Welding Jar》 is just amazing against most of their disruption. You need 《Bridge》 quickly of course, and then after that you will want a 《Needle》 effect for 《Liliana of the Veil》, after that you just want to protect your artifacts, this can be done with redundant copies, 《Chalice》 for 2, or just finding all of your 《Welding Jar》s before they draw all of their 《Trophies》/《Decays》/《Maelstrom Pulses》. Most lists I see recently only play 4-5 copies of those cards, which makes just drawing/tutoring for 4 《Welding Jar》s often good enough.
I supposed vs Jund you can expect 《Kolaghan's Command》 which might increase the total number of ways they have to remove your permanents, and also their red cards give them some ability to burn you out. You also might want to name 《Scavenging Ooze》 with your 2nd 《Needle》 effect to make it easier to close out the game.
Things mostly play out the same way after board if they don’t have white for 《Stony Silence》. 《Surgical Extraction》 is something that might allow them to steal games, it’s possible if you see that you should consider adding 《Sai, Master Thopterist》. I like leaving in the 《Pyrite Spellbomb》 as another out to various Planeswalkers, and it also can kill 《Scavenging Ooze》 which is a little annoying.
Against UR Storm
Like the KCI matchup, you have the tools to win but you aren’t necessarily fast enough. 《Grafdigger's Cage》, 《Damping Sphere》, and 《Chalice》 for 2 are all quite good against them, but any single one of them can be answered by something like a main deck 《Repeal》.
Given your graveyard hate I would expect them to try to use 《Empty the Warrens》, which is why I don’t want to remove any 《Engineered Explosives》 as it can be a nice answer. They will also bring in various 《Shatter》 effects, the one you most want to watch out for is 《Shattering Spree》, which 《Spellskite》 and 《Padeem, Consul of Innovation》 are good at stopping.
Against UR Phoenix
I believe this deck rising in popularity is one of the better reasons to play Whir Prison because it’s an excellent matchup for us from what I can tell. Not only is their main deck typically unable to remove 《Bridge》 from the battlefield, but you can also sometimes still have 1-2 cards in your hand when you play it so long as they don’t have 《Monastery Swiftspear》. After that you need to not get burned out by finding 《Witchbane Orb》, but 《Chalice》 for 1 also goes a long way at preventing that while also just being generally excellent against them.
It’s pretty funny that 《Thing in the Ice》 has Defender, otherwise this matchup would probably be a lot harder given they could attack with it and flip mid combat, but luckily for us that’s not an option for them.
I like swapping the 《Pithing Needle》 for 《Sorcerous Spyglass》 given we want to 《Chalice》 for 1 quickly, but I still like having some 《Needle》 effects for 《Ral, Izzet Viceroy》, 《Engineered Explosives》, or 《Jace, Vryn's Prodigy》. Another funny interaction is that 《Spellskite》 is a Horror, which means it can’t be returned to your hand with 《Thing in the Ice》.
In this matchup 《Eidolon of the Great Revel》 is by far their best card. Once again, we have all the tools but they can be quite fast. 《Chalice of the Void》 can buy a lot of time, remember you can’t resolve 《Chalice》 for 1 if you already have 《Chalice》 for 2, but even then it might be advisable to 《Chalice》 for 2 first and just try to find 《Witchbane Orb》 later, in order to prevent them from resolving 《Eidolon》 if they haven’t already.
When they do have 《Eidolon》 you need to use 《Spellbomb》 or 《Explosives》 to deal with it usually. Another out is to have 《Bridge》 + 《Cloister》 and not cast many spells until you can get 《Witchbane Orb》 into play, then eventually use 《Explosives》 to answer any 《Eidolon》s so you can win.
It’s possible 《Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas》 should just be more 《Spellskite》s, but I like the idea of using him to steal games or force burn his direction while replacing himself with some artifact. 《Spellskite》 is also a little less valuable when you want to 《Chalice》 for 2 so aggressively. They usually have 《Smash to Smithereens》 or 《Destructive Revelry》, but every now and then they have 《Shattering Spree》, so keep that in mind. The remaining 《Pithing Needle》 is for 《Grim Lavamancer》, even though your 《Explosives》 or 《Spellbomb》 can also answer it.
Against Hardened Scales
Unlike older versions of Affinity, this deck does not feature any 0 power creatures which is great news for us. They can certainly steal games with their speed, but all you need is to be empty handed with 《Bridge》, and then 《Needle》; 《Walking Ballista》 or get 《Witchbane Orb》 into play. If they have given you any poison counters you will also need to use a 《Needle》 effect on 《Throne of Geth》, or 《Chalice》 for 2 before they have one, so they can’t ”Proliferate” you to death.
Given we bring in 《Phyrexian Revoker》 and 《Sorcerous Spyglass》, I think it’s fine to remove 《Witchbane Orb》 for 《Spellskite》. 《Chalice》 for 1 is actually pretty effective against them after board, given they will likely board in 4 《Nature's Claim》s. The game plan remains the same and you mostly should just be looking for hands that quickly get 《Bridge》 down with no cards in hand.
Against RG Valakut
Their deck can sometimes win on turn 4, but I would expect you usually have a little more time than that. Your first priority is usually 《Witchbane Orb》, and second will be 《Ensnaring Bridge》. Some lists have a main deck 《Reclamation Sage》, so you will just need a 《Welding Jar》 to protect yourself from that. 《Crucible of Worlds》 + 《Tectonic Edge》/《Ghost Quarter》 can possibly lock them out, but I doubt that will be better than 《Bridge》 + 《Orb》.
I like leaving the 《Pyrite Spellbomb》 in because your Creature/Planeswalker win conditions can be killed with 《Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle》 triggers. For the same reason, 《Spellskite》 and 《Padeem, Consul of Innovation》 aren’t amazing but they might do something. 《Torpor Orb》 is a nice addition to stop 《Reclamation Sage》 and 《Primeval Titan》.
Against RB Hollow One
Another matchup where you just need 《Bridge》 and way to not get burned out. You can certainly lose to their insane draws, but I would assume this is a very favorable matchup, especially considering just landing 《Bridge》 even with 2-3 cards in your hand can likely prevent a lot of damage.
《Sai》 is just quite solid against them as they don’t have a lot of answers to it. 《Chalice》 for 1 is quite good so I like swapping 《Pithing Needle》 for 《Sorcerous Spyglass》, and having the effect at all to protect ourselves from 《Liliana of the Veil》 and 《Grim Lavamancer》. It’s possible 《Sai》 isn’t worth it if it makes it too hard to get empty handed with 《Bridge》 out, if that’s the case just keep in a couple 《Engineered Explosives》.
I know there are basically infinite decks in Modern but I think this will give you a good idea of how you should approaching matchups. For the most part you just need to be familiar with your opponent’s deck, and think through all of their outs.
This deck is definitely not for everyone, and prison as an archetype isn’t very popular. But I think it’s a pretty underrated Modern deck right now, and really should be considered as a good deck choice if you don’t expect many 《Cryptic Command》s in a tournament. People like to comment that decks like these aren’t really “Magic”, but I think using the combination of strange cards spread across many different sets to approach the game from an entirely different angle is one of the best parts about Magic.
Thank you for reading my guide, I hope it inspires more people to play and come up with decks similar to this one. If you have any questions about the deck feel free to ask me on Twitter @JacobNagro.