A Prisoner’s Dilemma – Attempted Evolution of Blue Prison

Posted in Event Coverage on June 5, 2016

By Marc Calderaro

Pro Tour Hall of Fame member Frank Karsten has a problem. He fell in love with sixth-ranked Martin Müller's deck from Grand Prix Manchester. He fell so hard, in fact, that he borrowed Müller's physical deck for this event. And he wanted to innovate it, as he knew that Müller only put in so much work on the deck. But then the problem struck: the more you move around the deck's parts, the less it remains the Prison deck. Though Karsten's dilemma has vexed him, he knows there's room for innovation here. And hopes that others can find and exploit it.


Frank splays the hits.

Firstly, here's Martin Müller's deck from Manchester, where he finished 12-3:

Martin Müller's Mono-Blue Prison – GP Manchester, 25th

The deck has a brilliance to it, and functioned much better that even Müller had intended. This got Karsten's attention, but he looked to shore up some of the problem match-ups and cards.

The deck's aim is simple: Don't lose until you cast 15 Zombies, then take as many extra turns as you need to win with them. Sounds pretty great, right? And it gets to do that with remarkable frequency.

In a bit longer form, Mono-Blue Prison churns through its deck with card draw, ignoring the board until it actually becomes more than a gnat, then bounces everything with Engulf the Shore. Afterward, use Day's Undoing to rinse and repeat—Jace's Sanctum's cost reduction makes casting that after something else a snap. Eventually, you can cast a giant Rise from the Tides and chain extra turns with Part the Waterveil and win. (Obviously, you can use the Part earlier too, and that's far more common. I just like the idea of looking like you're about to lose, then making a zombie horde and just jamming in again, and again, and again for the win while your opponent despondently hopes for their draw phase.)


We've got a Jace's Sanctum, folks.

So what are the problems? Karsten said, “I thought it could deal better with cards like Goldnight Castigator, Reality Smasher, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, and Planeswalkers with annoying ultimates, like [Ob Nixilis Reignited].” Many of you can guess where this is going. Karsten added a second color for Dragonlord Silumgar. But already he ran into an issue—diluting the amount of Islands makes your Engulf the Shore worse.

A couple of Sunken Hollow wouldn't be too bad, but you can't go overboard. Too many Haven of the Spirit Dragon and you might find yourself losing when you draw them—unable to bounce the entire board when you need to.

The second problem: “Sometimes the deck runs out of win conditions.” Clutch removal on key spells could write disaster on the wall for Prison. But again, the more creatures you add, the more you turn on your opponents' removal, and muddy the clear prison waters. He did add a Guardian of Tazeem or two to the sideboard, but Karsten's still skeptical. “I'm not even sure I should be boarding them in at all, or when.”

Karsten's proposed solution to both was a bit deep: Silumgar Monument. “It ramps; it fixes your colors; it can even be a win condition, or something to attack Planeswalkers.” It sounds perfect, but sadly, Karsten didn't get to see if his proposition would pay off. He was unable to find the Monuments he needed, so he had to look elsewhere. Perhaps you all have a couple lying around.

The problem of innovating the deck has vexed Frank, as much as playing it has. “It's a difficult deck to wrap your head around.” Though it appears straightforward, sideboarding gets weird. How many creatures to bring in? How many removal spells?

Karsten's question with no answer du jour (without more testing): “Do you board out Jace's Sanctum against decks with Dromoka's Command?” He explained, “You kind of need the Sanctum for your deck to operate, but is it worth turning on your opponents' removal spells? I'm not sure.” he said. But really he meant, “not sure, yet.

Karsten loves this deck because it proves there's still tons of innovation left in the format. Though when he thinks about possible additions like Brain in a Jar or Pieces of the Puzzle he's worried that it just becomes a different deck, he knows it's likely a variation from here might be even better than this deck. And this has already proved a player in the format.

If you take this deck to a tournament, it may be tough to play, and a little counter-intuitive (don't drop your eighth Island for Engulf the Shores if you have a Thing in the Ice in play...), it will be well worth your while.

“It's enjoyable, fun, different, challenging, and good,” Karsten said. What else do you want out of a Standard Magic deck? Maybe the dilemmas it posed to Frank it will also pose to you, but Magic is puzzling, and full of puzzles. Escape Rooms are fun even when you lose, right?

Frank Karsten's Blue-Black Prison – GP Costa Rica

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