Vs Red Prison
(last updated 6/6/18)
Role: variable, alternates between control and aggro depending on gamestate
Worst cards (main): Swords to Plowshares
Best Generic Sanctum Prelate Numbers: 4, 3
Deck Strategy and Key Cards
Red Prison is a deck that seeks to capitalize on the way that Legacy decks are built. It tries to aggressively deploy a lock piece like Chalice of the Void, Blood Moon, Trinisphere, or Magus of the Moon as quickly as possible. In many cases, landing one of these cards on turn one or two just ends the game. Once a lock is established, the Red Prison deck sets itself up to play a long game, utilizing cards like Ensnaring Bridge and Chandra, Torch of Defiance to create a much harder and safer lock.
While Red Prison wasn’t really respected as a “real deck” in the past, it’s consistent numbers at GPs and other large events this year have rocketed it to tier one status. Red Prison is absolutely a strong presence in the metagame now, and people are finally starting to respect it. It’s gotten a number of very powerful additions in the past two years that have really made it a viable strategy. Part of the strength of Red Prison is in the diversity of its cards. It plays creatures, artifacts, enchantments, and Planeswalkers, all of which require different removal and promote different angles of attack. This diversity, coupled with explosiveness, means that Red Prison frequently gets ahead and stays ahead. This deck is absolutely terrifying on the play, where basically only Force of Will offers any protection from the first lock piece.
There are two very effective ways of fighting Red Prison. First, the deck often crumbles if its early game disruption is answered. Answering Red Prison’s first two plays often results in the deck failing to do anything. For example, a Delver opening that presents a turn one threat followed by two counterspells like Daze or Force of Will is hard to beat. The second way Red Prison tends to lose is if its disruption attacks from the wrong angle and can be ignored. Decks like D&T and Miracles can largely ignore the Blood Moon portion of the deck. Ensnaring Bridge isn’t going to do much against combo decks like ANT.
The Matchup and Important Interactions
Your role is this matchup is variable, so you have to be willing to change gameplan fluidly as the game state changes. This is more true in this matchup than other common Legacy matchups, as your opponent has strategy-altering cards like Ensnaring Bridge and Blood Moon which can invalidate turns worth of work instantly.
Plan A in this matchup is usually controlling the game via resource denial. Early Wastelands, Rishadan Ports, Thalias, and/or Revoker/Flickerwisp on Chrome Mox provide the easiest path to victory, especially if you have an Aether Vial on turn one so that you can you to get extremely aggressive. You are really hoping to be in control for the first few turns of the game and to stay ahead on board. You are trying to keep your opponent from casting the powerful 4 drop spells that threaten to take over the game.
Plan B is ignoring your opponent’s lock pieces while getting aggressive. Your opponent’s primary lock pieces like Blood Moon and Chalice of the Void do relatively little to hinder you in comparison to their impact on other popular decks of the format. The Red Prison deck often relies on these lock pieces to buy time to draw into cards like Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Ensnaring Bridge. Given the opening to get aggressive, you often have to take it if you can’t keep your opponent’s resources in check. Unfortunately, this sometimes means overextending into a potential Fiery Confluence. Be aware of your clock. If playing out another threat isn’t going to shorten your clock, you perhaps don’t need to play it out, but if it shortens the clock by a turn or more, it is probably worth your time to play it.
Plan C is figuring out how to escape their lock. You hope to avoid getting to this stage, but it is going to happen in some games. Once your opponent locks you out (usually with Ensnaring Bridge), you need to figure out how you can win the game and play to your outs. Three are three primary options for beating Bridge:
1. Use cards like Sanctum Prelate, Rishadan Port, and Thalia to strand cards in your opponent’s hand so that you can attack. This is usually only a viable strategy if the Bridge comes down early before your opponent can empty their hand too much.
2. Use Umezawa’s Jitte to sneak in under Bridge. Let’s say that you have two Jitte counters and a Stoneforge Mystic. You can shrink Stoneforge by 1 with Jitte, making it a 0/1. It can then attack. You then pump Stoneforge with the Jitte, turning it to a 2/3. You’ll then get two more Jitte counters. Repeating this process, you can attack through a Bridge even if your opponent has no cards in hand. It isn’t the fastest clock, but sometimes it is one of your few outs.
3. Accumulate enough creatures to present a lethal attack, and then use Flickerwisp to blink out Bridge. This frequently becomes your only out, and is a reason to save Flickerwisp until the late game whenever possible. For similar reasons, your Recruiter of the Guard very frequently fetches Flickerwisp as a safety net.
As an aside, I do want to mention Goblin Rabblemaster. While this card presents a four turn clock if you have absolutely nothing on board, this card can frequently be your friend. The goblin tokens are forced to attack each turn if able, so you can often gain a bunch of extra life with your Batterskull or use them to accumulate bonus counters with Jitte.
Sideboarding is pretty easy on your side. Bring in cards that can muck with artifacts, enchantments, and Planeswalkers. Leonin Relic-Warder, Council’s Judgment, and Cataclysm will be some of your best options. I usually start by boarding out Swords to Plowshares, as its utility is limited; if your opponent is on a very creature-heavy build, consider leaving in one or two copies though. From there I usually just trim a generic beater or two to round things out.
Your Red Prison opponent has a ton of terrible cards against you in their maindeck, and often not as many cards for the matchup as they might like in the sideboard. As such, Chalice of the Void often stays in for post-sideboard games despite being a pretty mediocre card in the matchup. Expect to see some additional removal, including more sweepers and artifact removal. Things like Abrade, Kozilek’s Return, and Sulfur Elemental are the most popular options at the moment. You should also keep in mind that your opponent is likely to board in a few copies of Sorcerous Spyglass, so “the Vial plan” isn’t as safe as in game on scenarios.
This matchup is extremely positive for D&T. Pooling my data for RW and WW builds, I’m currently 11-2 against the deck. For an average pilot, realistically this is probably a 70-30 matchup in favor of D&T. Unless the Red Prison player is hedging to specifically beat D&T, it’s going to be an uphill battle for them. You just have so many more impactful cards. Bridge and Chandra are really the two cards that matter, so if you keep them in check, you can coast your way to a win. The splash builds are theoretically weaker here than WW, though in my experience, that hasn’t mattered quite as much as I thought it would.
Data as of 5/31/18
Win rate with WW D&T: 6-2 (80%)
Win rate with RW D&T: 5-0 (100%)