Modern Whir Prison — Deck Tech and Strategy

Whirl of invention


Throughout Magic’s history, players have enjoyed solitaire. Magic’s early competitive scene was riddled with fun and enjoyable cards like Stasis or Winter Orb, and much of Magic’s design has moved away from these cards. Colloquially referred to as “prison” cards, decks with multiple copies of these cards attempt to win the game by “locking out” the opponent from being able to even play their cards. An emphasis on enjoyable games and layers of interaction has delivered to us a shift away from this perfect approach to Magic. Being a social game Magic affords the player the ultimate experience — forcing your friends and family to watch you play a game.

Realizing the futility in marketing the tabletop equivalent of watching paint dry, WotC has shifted away from this griefer style of card. Early sets legal in the Modern format include some controversial prison style cards, like Blood Moon or Ensnaring Bridge, and until recent times a critical mass of these elements was thought to be difficult. With the format shifting to account for a high density of Arclight Phoenixes, the prime opportunity for these wincon light decks presents itself.

Four-Color Prison/Whir Prison

Heralding a return to uninteractive the best type of Magic, Whir Prison is one of Modern’s newest archetypes. Seeking to take advantage of a weakness against artifacts, Whir Prison uses its namesake card, Whir of Invention, to find one of a variety of lock pieces. The most popular variant is the four-color version, using Ancient Stirrings to provide early game consistency.

While not itself an “engine deck” in the same way that KCI was, Whir Prison uses similar cards to have an engine for setting up its core game plan.

Lock Pieces

Chalice of the Void — Occupying frequent sideboard space for as long as Modern has existed, Chalice of the Void serves as an effective lock piece against many of the format pillars. Rendering many of Arclight’s spells null and void, Chalice boasts an incredibly high Game 1 win percentage. Additional copies of Chalice often are on different amounts, rendering further cards useless. This ability to mitigate additional copies, while boasting a high lock percentage result in a 4-of status for Chalice. Chalice is also the only lock piece you cannot always Whir for, as it would enter with zero counters on it.  Note: It is not uncommon to use Chalice of the Void as a 0 mana artifact for Mox Opal or Whir in matchups where it is less effective.
Ensnaring Bridge — Acting similar in vein to Chalice of the Void, Ensnaring Bridge functions as a lock piece that can be found with Whir of Invention. The 4-of status of Bridge is mostly due to its importance in most matchups. With few removal spells for opposing threats, Ensnaring Bridge is the primary means of stabilizing against the efficient threats of the format. Gurmag Angler and Awoken Horror can threaten to end most games quickly, causing Whir Prison to lean heavily on Ensnaring Bridge. The other reason to play Ensnaring Bridge as a 4-of is for that sigh of exasperation most opponents express when you resolve it. If you don’t enjoy your opponent’s suffering, then play less Ensnaring Bridge.
Witchbane Orb — The bane of many red mages, Witchbane Orb is effective against many backup plans available in Modern. Shutting off Lava Spike as well as Valakut, Gifts Ungiven, and Jace +2,  Witchbane Orb is a crucial lock piece against decks that would otherwise be able to beat Ensnaring Bridge. Unlike the previous two lock pieces, redundant Witchbane Orbs are ineffective. Witchbane Orb also serves an important role against that one guy at FNM that always plays his Curse of Misfortune deck, saving you the embarrassment of losing to Curses.
Sorcerous Spyglass — Not traditionally thought of as a lock piece, Sorcerous Spyglass plays an important role in managing the battlefield against opposing planeswalkers. Chandra, Torch of Defiance can be difficult to beat, and Sorcerous Spyglass gives you a clean answer you can tutor for. The most understated role Spyglass plays is in being able to see how dead your opponent is. You get to see their hand, and this gives you ample opportunity to inform them of all of their outs and why they don’t matter.


Whir of Invention — The namesake card of the deck, Whir of Invention can quickly find many of the lock pieces available while finding silver bullet 1-ofs like Tormod’s Crypt or Damping Sphere when appropriate. Whir also can find card advantage engines like Crucible of Worlds or Bottled Cloister to quicken the pace of the game. The primary reason to play Whir, however, is for the number of puns available. The whirld is your oyster when it comes to slinging words, so make sure to have an ample amount of puns prepared for your Modern tournaments.
Ancient Stirrings — An old (ha!) piece of Modern, Ancient Stirrings serves as an additional set up piece alongside Whir of Invention but can find pieces and lands as early as Turn 1. Seeing five cards deep is more than any other cantrip in Modern, and this consistent format staple showcases its power in many Whir games. Finding Chalice for Turn 2  locks or land drops to smooth out your blue Sources, Ancient Stirrings earns its place as a 4-of with ease.
Mishra’s Bauble — Rounding out the core of 0 mana artifacts, Mishra’s Bauble does a reasonable Serum Visions impression for this artifact dense archetype. Mishra’s Bauble serves as the perfect compliment to multiple cards in the deck, functioning as an extra mana source for Whir of Invention while enabling Mox Opal and reducing cards in hand for Ensnaring Bridge. When not needed for synergy purposes the ability to draw an extra card improves the consistency of the deck, and can give crucial info for Sorcerous Spyglass. Mishra’s Bauble also allows for a soft lock akin to Lantern Control’s lock — you can look at the top card of your opponent’s library and use Ipnu Rivulet and Crucible of Worlds to mill it away every turn.
Mox Opal — Serving as the core of any artifact deck in Modern, Mox Opal provides critical colored mana while enabling busted Ensnaring Bridge starts. By acting as a ramp spell, as well as enabling earlier Whir of Inventions, Mox Opal constitutes perhaps the strongest starts for Whir Prison. Maxing out on early game plays enables Prison to lock quicker, and Magical Christmasland can afford Whir the opportunity to play a Turn 1 Chalice of the Void (Mox Opal, Land, two Mishra’s Bauble/Welding Jar and a Chalice).

Tolaria West — Rounding out the necessary blue sources is Tolaria West — a versatile land that often functions as a tutor for crucial spells like Chalice of the Void or Tormod’s Crypt. This establishes a recurring theme of success with Whir Prison — many of your early game set up cards also have late game power, and Tolaria West is no slouch. It can also grab other lands, like Inventors’ Fair and Academy Ruins, which in turn can create long term card advantage. Tolaria west serves an important role in the consistency of the archetype.
Inventors’ Fair — In many ways serving as an additional tutor, Inventors’ Fair can also serve as a soft lock piece. By incrementally gaining life, pairing Inventors’ Fair with Ensnaring Bridge can quickly put Whir Prison out of reach of opposing lightning bolts, while turning into a card advantage engine in the late game alongside Crucible of Worlds.
Academy Ruins — Like Inventors’ Fair, Academy Ruins is a one-of land that allows Whir Prison to out-grind most opponents in the first game. It can recur Engineered Explosives in the early game while acting as an engine in its own right in the late game. Academy Ruins gives Whir Prison the ability to continually lock opponents out with Pyrite Spellbomb or Engineered Explosives, and can even bring back Welding Jar against Abrade decks.
Bottled Cloister — A mostly forgotten rare from Ravnica, Bottle Cloister is a one sided card advantage engine that interacts favorably with Ensnaring Bridge. By ensuring you have no cards in hand on your opponent’s turn, Bottle Cloister combos with Bridge to stop nearly all attacks, while allowing you to stockpile artifacts in hand.

Supporting Cards

Engineered Explosives — Showcasing a recurring theme among this archetype, Engineered Explosives serves as a flexible 0 mana artifact while interacting with opposing permanents. Long a staple in many Modern sideboards, Engineered Explosives can act as an additional Ensnaring Bridge against Humans or Spirits, while giving outs to Detention Sphere. The prismatic nature of mana sources can allow for late game Engineered Explosives to reach upwards of four or five charge counters. While rare that this matters, the ability to remove a Jace, the Mind Sculptor or a Teferi is critical in the control matchups. Engineered can also slow down opposing Mox Opal decks, by acting as a two-mana sweeper of sorts. You can also engineer a superior board state against Thing in the Ice by proactively arming an explosive with X = 2. This proactive nature of Engineered Explosives allows it to shine in Whir Prison, acting as much as an engine piece as Welding Jar.
Tormod’s Crypt — Whir of Invention requires an unusual amount of 0 mana artifacts and Tormod’s Crypt is an additional one that has utility against much of the Modern metagame. Getting the nod over Grafdigger’s Cage due to its mana cost, Tormod’s Crypt can provide additional insurance against powerful Dredge or Arclight draws, while insulating yourself against Surgical Extraction (you can target yourself with Tormod’s in response to a Surgical). As mentioned before, Whir Prison wants a critical mass of 0 mana artifacts in addition to silver bullet toolbox cards, and Tormod’s Crypt is the perfect addition on both accounts.
Welding Jar — In many ways serving as a piece of the engine, Welding jar is the, well, WELD (the jokes don’t get any better), that holds the pieces together. From protecting lock pieces to enabling Whir, Welding Jar is one of the most powerful components of success for this up and coming archetype. Welding Jar also affords you the opportunity to make some jarring plays with high blowout potential, like cracking an Engineered Explosives on X = 3 and using Welding Jar to protect your own Ensnaring Bridge. This can come up against Liliana of the Veil or Blood Moon. Similarly to Chalice of the Void, Welding Jar has early and late game utility, while remaining functional in multiples.
Damping Sphere — One of the most pronounced (and mispronounced) sideboard cards in Modern, Damping Sphere serves as an additional piece of disruption against Tron and Amulet. The spell hate utility of Damping Sphere can put a damper on may of the spell based combo decks in Modern, like Storm or Arclight, and serves an important role as a potential tutor target.

Tectonic Edge — Perhaps the most interesting piece of…tec to enter these lists, Tectonic Edge can combine with Crucible of Worlds to function as an endless answer to most manlands in the format. Commonly misidentified as worse against Tron, in Whir Prison Tec Edge is stronger than Ghost Quarter against the colorless menace, as it keeps them off of activating O-Stone or playing a Karn. While not great as good against Tron on the draw, an early Damping Sphere or Sorcerous Spyglass can buy enough time to lock them out. Tec Edge can also slow down Scapeshift decks by a turn, as it forces them to have eight lands in play. If they Scapeshift for seven lands (Valakut and six Mountains), you can use Tec Edge to destroy one of the Mountains, countering all but one of the triggers. You can also use it to destroy opposing Inventors’ Fair or Academy Ruins in the mirror matches.
Ipnu Rivulet — While the primary wincon for Whir Prison is inducing a concession, some lame Modern players are going to want you to play it out. This is why you should foil out Whir Prison, so when a player forces you to play it out, you can see every foil you have. Ipnu Rivulet serves as a wincon alongside Crucible of Worlds, allowing you to mill out stubborn opponents once a lock has been achieved.
Pyrite Spellbomb — Serving as an additional cantrip packaged into a potential win condition, Pyrite Spellbomb contributes to the four-color nature of the deck while allowing for extra flexibility against troublesome creatures. By eliminating an early Eidolon of the Great Revel or Thalia, Pyrite Spellbomb serves an important role in managing board states against disruption, while acting as a fifth Mishra’s Bauble when digging.

4c Whir


Grafdigger’s Cage — Supplementing the Tormod’s Crypt in the main deck, Grafdigger’s Cage stops Dredgeeffectively, while also preventing Vizier Company decks from fulling utilizing their tutors. Importantly, Grafdigger’s can stop Snapcaster Mage from flashing back Kolaghan’s Command. A common misconception is to board Grafdigger’s Cage in against Arclight, but the matchup is positive enough that it is unnecessary.
Spellskite — You can’t play eight Welding Jar, but you can play four 2-mana Welding Jar Horrors. Importantly able to block Thing in the Ice, Spellskite serves as additional protection against problematic artifact removal spells, while doubling as a speedbump against aggressive decks.
Torpor Orb — With Knight of Autumn rising to prominence in many sideboards, Torpor Orb raises its stock against Spirits and Humans alike. It shuts off nearly every card in Humans while preventing Knight and Deputy of Detention from dispatching your key artifacts. There is also utility against Primeval Titan, as well as potency against Azorius Control due to the ability to shut off Vendilion Clique and Cataclysmic Gearhulk.
Sai, Master Thopterist — First Thop Thoping onto the scene alongside Scrap Trawler, Sai proves to be a powerhouse among slower artifact strategies. Providing both a threat that kills through Stony Silence and an extra payoff for 0-mana artifacts, Sai represents the perfect combination of resiliency and impact.

Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas — In many ways, Tezzeret serves a similar function as Sai. He digs, he makes threats, and he can snowball games very quickly. However, Tezzeret can kill over the course of two turns — a much faster feat than Sai. As well as providing a quick clock, Tezzeret can create insurmountable board presence alongside nearly any lock piece and acts as an additional form of card advantage.
Jester’s Cap — Birthed out of the innovative mind of Susurrus_mtg, Jester’s Cap is a nostalgic piece of Tech utilized against troublesome sideboard cards like Consulate Crackdown and Shatterstorm. The ability to tutor for Jester’s Cap as well as the ineffectiveness in multiples, allows it to persist as a one-of in the sideboard. This unique piece of Magic’s history occupies an irreplaceable aspect of the sideboard and is crucial in navigating many matchups. It also is a huge ego boost, as it lets you know exactly how much your opponent can’t beat you.
Unmoored Ego — Similar in many ways to Jester’s Cap, Unmoored Ego serves as an answer to combo decks while maintaining the flexibility to answer problematic sideboard cards. Unmoored Ego can also name Brushwagg, but do so at your own risk. Mooring your Ego feels far worse than unmooring it. Bring Unmoored Ego in alongside Jester’s Cap to force opponents to play more proactively.
Sorcerous Spyglass — Acting as additional answers to planeswalkers, bringing in Spyglass against control decks and Chandra, Torch of Defiance is the main purpose. It can also be used against Lightning Storm and Fetchlands, while saving your board from Oblivion Stone against Tron.

Thanks for checking out this week’s Modern Deck Tech, and next week I’ll be back to discuss the State of Modern leading up to the release of War of the Spark.

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