A Brief Primer on Red Prison

I brought four Legacy decks with me to Charlotte: Waterfalls (4-Color Cascade), Burn, Monowhite D&T, and Red Prison. I intended to play each deck for one challenge event, but ended up playing Red Prison in three of the four events since I enjoyed it so much. For those of you unfamiliar with the archetype, let’s look at my list to start things off:

Red Prison

Planeswalkers (5)
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Koth of the Hammer

Creatures (14)
Hazoret the Fervent
Magus of the Moon
Quicksmith Rebel
Simian Spirit Guide
Sin Prodder

Spells (23)
Fiery Confluence
Chalice of the Void
Chrome Mox
Ensnaring Bridge
Blood Moon
Lands (18)
Ancient Tomb
City of Traitors
10 Mountain

Sideboard (15)
Kozilek’s Return
Leyline of the Void
Phyrexian Revoker
Sudden Shock
Thorn of Amethyst

I based the list I ran largely off PinkFrosting’s recent 5-0 list, just tweaking some sideboard cards slightly. This deck has been called “Dragon Stompy” quite a bit, but since this version doesn’t actually run any of the trademark dragons like Avaricious Dragon or Thunderbreak Regent, I’ve just been calling it Red Prison. The core of this deck is very powerful. Chalice of the Void, Trinisphere, Blood Moon, and Magus of the Moon often effectively end the game on your first or second turn. Accordingly, you can mulligan very aggressively for powerful openers, especially if you know which pieces will cripple your opponent.

As an aside, I do mean that you can mulligan *very* aggressively. I took 17 mulligans with this deck over 12 rounds (plus a couple of playtesting games on the side) and still ended up with a game win percentage of ~60%. Honestly, if I could replay some of the games I lost, I would have mulliganed more. I kept many “reasonable” hands in my first event instead of trying to mulligan for stronger hands, and that may have cost me. Oddly enough, mulliganing makes your Ensnaring Bridge and Hazoret the Fervent better as well, which is an odd factor that I didn’t initially consider. This was my favorite example from the event of the power of good mulligan decisions: I mulled to four against an opponent, and my opponent said, “Oh man, I’m sorry. It’d be really impressive if you pulled off this win though…” Sure enough, my four card hand produced a Blood Moon, and my opponent flopped around while a Simian Spirit Guide beat him to death. Impressive indeed.

On that note, it doesn’t really matter what cards you choose to win with. The core shell of this deck is very good at crippling opponents, buying you time to win…somehow. The version I’m playing is pretty controlling, but it’s easy to get aggressive with things like Goblin Rabblemaster, Shaman of the Great Hunt, and Pia and Kiran Nalaar. I like the Ensnaring Bridge as a way to hate on Show and Tell, which is a rough matchup otherwise. Once you have a Bridge up, Chardra, Torch of Defiance and Sin Prodder will draw you cards and/or slowly bleed your opponent out. Both of those cards were so much better in practice than I imagined they would be. Sin Prodder is basically a color-shifted Dark Confidant, while Chandra is similar to Jace, the Mind Sculptor. While that’s slight hyperbole, the cards are very good at taking over games.

I did lose a few games to my own mistakes and poor sequencing, and I’ll be the first to admit that. This shell is extremely explosive, but that power does come at a price. Take Trinisphere, for example. Playing a turn one Trinisphere often feels like a double Time Walk for you…but it does make your future Chrome Mox feel terrible, and it does make your hand a bit harder to empty for Ensnaring Bridge. Ensnaring Bridge may protect you from opposing creatures, but it keeps your idiots form getting in damage as well. Sol lands and Simian Spirit Guide can power out an early threat, but they do make casting your double red cards a bit tricky sometimes.

Magus of the Moon and Blood Moon are simultaneously a combo and nonbo with your Sol lands. The obvious first level thought is that playing one of these cards leaves you effectively down a mana. In reality though, Moon is often (usually?) a good thing. A Moon will keep you from sacrificing City or taking damage off Tomb, both of which are very relevant as the games go long. Moon also helps you to get double red, which is more of a concern than you might think in the early turns of the game. It’s also an insurance policy against annoying lands like Rishadan Port and Wasteland that can really disrupt your gameplan. It also turns your colorless lands into Mountains for synergy with Koth of the Hammer.

Of the maindeck cards, I am 100% comfortable with 57 of them. Quicksmith Rebel, Koth of the Hammer, and Hazoret the Fervent are probably the three most questionable/replaceable cards in the maindeck. All of these cards serve a unique purpose and fill a niche role, but are perhaps not essential to the deck. The deck is a little glutted at the 4-drop slot, so I could see wanting a little more early interaction. I’ve seen Magma Jet floating around as an option that can snipe an early creature while also providing some card selection. I’m not too keen on that card personally due to its objectively low power level and upside, but I get it. I do also think that other four drops like Avaricious Dragon or Pia and Kiran Nalaar are worthy of consideration. I also would consider promoting Sudden Shock to the maindeck. I think that card is criminally underplayed for how good it is at wrecking Delvers and friends.

On the subject of four drops, Fiery Confluence is a stupid Magic card. Unlike other modal cards like Cryptic Command where you have to make a different choice for each mode, you are allowed to make the same choice multiple times with Fiery Confluence. That means that this is a split card that can: wipe the board, destroy a bunch of artifacts, dome your opponent for six, or some combination of those things. This card stabilizes the board, answers problem cards, and closes the game. That’s amazing flexibility, and I attribute many of my wins to savage blowouts with this card. “I’ll blow up your Vial and do two damage to each creature.” “I’ll blow up both of your Mox Diamond and do two to you.” You get the idea.

Red Prison Sideboard

Sideboard (15)
Kozilek’s Return
Phyrexian Revoker
Sudden Shock
Leyline of the Void
Thorn of Amethyst

Conceptually, I wanted to do four primary things in building the sideboard for the deck:

1. Deal with graveyards, an axis on which the deck has no other real ability to fight.
2. Deal with creatures, especially those of Delver and D&T.
3. Fill holes in a few other matchups of your choice.
4. Have seven “fair and reasonable” cards to bring in for matchups where Chalice and Trinisphere are bad.

Since this is a Chalice deck, Faerie Macabre and Leyline of the Void are the two primary options for strong grave hate. Faerie is a bit better with Ensnaring Bridge since you can discard it at any time, and is better if it is drawn after your opening hand. Leyline of the Void will be a more impactful card in most cases if it is in your opener and a more permanent hate card. I think both are very reasonable. I opted for Leyline given how willing I already am to mulligan looking for a good hand.

I’ve been really hot for Kozilek’s Return for ages. That card has crushed my dreams on so many occasions that I tend to throw it in most red decks I play. It dodges cards that otherwise might nullify red removal like Mother of Runes or Hydroblast due to its Devoid nature. It’s also an instant, meaning it can snag creatures in response to equipping or catch man lands like Mishra’s Factory. That being said, being Devoid is not necessarily a bonus when you are playing a set of Chrome Mox. Playing two was probably a mistake, and I’ll probably switch one to a Pyroclasm,Volcanic Fallout, Sudden Demise, or a second Pyrokinesis next time.

I see many people playing four Sulfur Elemental in the slots where I have sweepers, and I think that’s a mistake. I think the metagame is too wide open right now to be playing that specialized degree of hate, especially with Mentor Miracles being dead (or in a much worse state at the very least). It’s probably worth losing a few percentage points against D&T to pick up points against other creature decks like Elves with more generic sweepers. I also don’t think the D&T matchup is the worst thing in the world. This red deck certainly has more game against it than other iterations using the same shell. Fiery Confluence is a hell of a drug, and it will get out out of a surprisingly bad situation if you are able to cast it. Similarly, Ensnaring Bridge makes it very hard for your opponent to do anything productive unless they have a Flickerwisp.

I think the final few slots of the sideboard need to address general holes in your game. I opted to fight against combo decks and Burn with a set of Thorn of Amethyst. There’s probably an argument for these to be Sphere of Resistance to hate on Elves and Food Chain as well, but I liked the idea of curving Thorn into Sin Prodder or Magus too much to make that change. I’d probably consider playing three Thorns and a second Phyrexian Revoker next time though; Revoker is a great way to stop opposing planeswalkers, which are a big problem when you are stuck behind your own Ensnaring Bridge. I’ve seen people throwing in Zuran Orb for Burn or Karakas for Sneak and Show in these slots as well. I don’t like Zuran Orb in a land-light deck, and I’m not a fan of Karakas in a Blood Moon deck, but I understand the battles that are being fought with those cards.

I really enjoyed playing this deck, and I’ll probably mess around with it a bit more. Don’t worry, I’ll still be on D&T most of the time, but after spending weeks testing builds to varying degrees of success, I wanted a bit of a break. I’m still relatively new to this deck (I’ve probably played about 100 games), but I think I’m starting to get a good feel for the sequencing and boarding. For those of you who have been playing it for longer than I have, I’d love to hear your thoughts and advice!

About the Author

Phil Gallagher

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