Chalice Of The Void: The New Black Vise

Chalice represents a fundamental change in Type One that few cards have ever made. No single card that I have seen since I started playing again, not even Fact or Fiction, have had this sort of impact. This card is going to enter the format in way that will shape deck building for years to come, much like the cycle of Onslaught fetchlands. But unlike the fetchlands, Chalice forces decks that don’t use it to adapt. Moreover, this card affects Type One at every level and in every archetype. Combo, Aggro, Prison, all forms of Control and everything in between will undergo a huge transformation as a result of Chalice. But what will that transformation look like?

With the same breath that I compliment Wizards for ingenious design, I need to point out that Chalice of the Void was a huge mistake. When Randy Buehler wrote in one of his weekly columns that some cards were designed specifically with Type One in mind, there was, as always, unbounded pessimism, and great enthusiasm. The card is really clever because as one moves through each format, starting with Standard, the power of the card’s effect increases. But unlike Mind’s Desire, which is similarly situated, Chalice of the Void is not a broken combo engine. Hence, it seems the card will have little impact in Type Two, but is instantly recognized by all as a Type One bomb. While I find the ability to hose Goblins off a turn 1 Ancient Tomb amusing for Extended, right now I think its up in the air how much an affect it will really have in that format.

But why, then, is it a terrible mistake?

Chalice represents a fundamental change in Type One that few cards have ever made. No single card that I have seen since I started playing again, not even Fact or Fiction, have had this sort of impact. This card is going to enter the format in way that will shape deck building for years to come, much like the cycle of Onslaught fetchlands. But unlike the fetchlands, Chalice forces decks that don’t use it to adapt. Moreover, this card affects Type One at every level and in every archetype. Combo, Aggro, Prison, all forms of Control and everything in between will undergo a huge transformation as a result of Chalice.

On its face, Chalice seems to be a card that would help out budget players in Type One. After all, it looks like another anti-power card. This is incredibly deceptive. Anyone who can envision how this card will operate in the Type One environment will have one question crystallize in their mind: How could Wizards have printed a card so blunt in its impact, so pervasive in its influence, so inescapable in its destruction? I’m not criticizing Wizards – far from it. I’m merely pointing out that this card will have a bigger impact on the format than Duress or Sphere of Resistance, and will hit Vintage with the Force of Will.

Every deck now falls into one or more of four categories:

Category A

Most Multicolor Control and Workshop decks – play three or four maindecked Chalices.

The two decks that will abuse Chalice the most will be Multicolor control decks and Mishra’s Workshop decks. Both decks will use it to hose budget and combo decks. The control player now has the”Mox, Land, Chalice for One” play against aggro decks, to which any efficiently-built Sligh player begins scooping their cards. Against most combo – but not all – playing a Chalice for zero is about as close as you can get to just winning. Take for example, long.dec. In that deck, you have just shut down four Lion’s Eye Diamonds, six Moxen, a Lotus Petal, Mana Crypt, and one Black Lotus. All that remains in terms of mana sources is Sol Ring, Mana Vault, four Dark Rituals, and eleven land. Of that land, four of them can only be used three times, and the Tolarian Academy is heavily reliant upon resolving that fast artifact mana to become maximally effective. The result is that the deck is not only tremendously stunted, but becomes almost unable to handle the stress to the mana base. Moreover, in order to find answers and play them, it needs that locked-out mana. The deck becomes so slow that any opposing deck with a sufficient number of control elements or aggressive elements should have little problem winning.

Category B

Use Chalice in the sideboard as a hoser.

Most budget decks fall into this category. The capacity to mulligan safely into a card which just hoses power combo decks like long.dec, as described above, is simply to powerful to ignore. Finally, budget decks have a good, free, answer to combo – but at a price.

Category C

Decks that are vulnerable to Chalice, but not totally hosed.

A great number of decks fall into this category. Many Type One decks, even if their mana curve isn’t a blob like Sligh, try and fit efficiently into a nice curve. Type One Psychatog is a deck that nicely fits this category. Playing a Chalice for one against Tog shuts down Duress, Brainstorm, Vampiric Tutor and Mystical Tutor, Ancestral Recall, and Berserk. That slows down the game sufficiently that by the time you play the second Chalice for two, all the Accumulated Knowledges, the sideboard answers of Naturalize, Artifact Mutation, Hurkyl’s Recall, and other key cards become dead in the water. However, playing a Chalice for three is about as close as you can get to just winning; Intuition, Cunning Wish, and Psychatog all become unusable. It remains to be seen which other decks will fall into this category.

Category D

Change or die.

Long is in this category. Sligh falls in both category B and D. Point is, old-style cheap aggro has never been worse than it has with Chalice around.

What you have then a restructuring of the metagame.

Of the combo decks, I think Dragon is best suited towards surviving the Chalice Wars (because I still foresee Chalice as a ubiquitous presence in competitive Type One). The first reason is that Dragon is in category C. It is mostly hosed by Chalice at two. It doesn’t even have Brainstorm, and mostly no Duresses. Playing it for zero is about the best you can do (which is still pretty sweet since casting Animate Deads, Intutitions, and abusing Compulsion becomes costlier, slowing down the slowest combo deck already). And after the combos are weeded out, it might be the best combo deck to play.

I foresee the metagame being played out in two phases. The first is that a wealth of artifact hate is going to enter the format – more so than has been seen in a while. I feel this is a fair trade-off to decrease the power of combo. Moreover, Workshops are eminently hateable, and mirror matches don’t degenerate into goldfishing matches. Workshop mirrors are like a precisely balanced scale: It requires excellent design, and painstaking perfection – it is a skill-based endeavor. The second effect will be the inevitable period of adjustment, as some decks are made obsolete, others find ways to survive; as new decks get better, and old good decks get worse; other decks that were dampened before become viable once more.

The essential idea behind Chalice in multicolor control is that it now has a Swords to Plowshares which is never dead. It hoses combo at zero, and can be calibrated to hose specific decks. Against budget aggro or stupid burn, Keeper couldn’t ask for a better card. Mox, Land, Chalice for One (or Zero) is going to be as common as Dark Ritual, Duress, Hymn to Tourach was two years ago.

The Chalices are even strong against Workshop decks. Workshop decks want to get lock parts on the board as quickly as possible. As a consequence, they might keep hands without actual land but Moxen laden with Metalworkers or just lock parts. Chalice will have to make each Workshop Prison player think carefully before keeping any hand which is made good by a particular Mox or a Black Lotus, as a turn 1 Chalice for zero could ruin that plan. Then, once Keeper has played Chalice, its Wastelands become much more effective. Keeper, as with most multi-color control decks, has a very diverse mana curve, at least relative to the mind-numbingly simple mana curves of budget type one decks.

Finally, we hit on one of the reasons Chalice is so powerful: It punishes speed and efficiency. The more efficient your deck is, the bigger the risks. A deck like Sligh needs twenty-eight one-mana spells.

Moreover, Control decks have a lot of synergy with the Chalice. The use of Mana Drain can create a tremendous advantage. Draining into a large Chalice simply wins games if you know what you are playing against and what to cast it for. Tolarian Academy also becomes an automatic inclusion into most of these control decks, since the number of potentially zero casting cost artifacts has just jumped dramatically.

What about in Mono Blue or URphid? Again, the concept is similar: Abuse Chalice to hose budget decks, replacing Powder Keg. But at the same time, you totally hose combo. As you can see, the Chalice theme is going to be played out in a variety of settings.

But it is obvious that the place in which it will be most broken is in Workshop decks. The fact that Chalice is an artifact would already suggest this. Add to it the fact that the Workshop decks attempt to lock the opponents down through resource-denial and take away their ability to play spells, and then you quickly realize how perfect this card is for those decks. In the first place, it stops them from playing spells; in the second, it functions as a huge mana denial element. The mere fact that its casting cost is variable makes it even more broken then if it had a fixed mana cost, since it can be played at zero or two and followed by more threats, easily with a single Workshop. In fact, testing has borne out that Chalice provides the best lock spell this deck now has access to.

In Workshop decks such as Stax, Stacker 3, and even TnT, Chalice has many functions. When playing first, Chalice can almost always be reliably played on turn 1 against a powered deck to negate at least one card in their hand. When you consider that you have just played your Moxen first, the importance of winning the coin flip has just gone up dramatically. Instead of being like a wild, random shotgun, it is actually a precisely-aimed sniper. You are rewarded for using Chalice effectively.

Take a look at this Stacker 3 list with a whole slew of new Mirrodin cards:

Stacker 3 – Vise City

By Vegeta on The Mana Drain.

// Mana

9 Mountain

4 Mishra’s Workshop

2 Wasteland

1 Strip Mine

1 Tolarian Academy

1 Mana Vault

1 Black Lotus

1 Sol Ring

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Ruby

// Shotgun and Co.

4 Goblin Charbelcher

4 Shrapnel Blast

// The Vise Age

1 Black Vise

// Lockies

4 Chalice of the Void

4 Sphere of Resistance

4 Pyrostatic Pillar

// Critters

2 Myr Enforcer

4 Su-Chi

4 Juggernaut

4 Goblin Welder

As you can see, Chalice has enormous synergy in this deck. This deck probably makes the most of Mirrodin than any Type One deck using Shrapnel Blast, Belcher, and Chalice among others. The Chalice helps it lock down the game and protect its men by setting it at one to stop Gorilla Shaman and Swords to Plowshares. The Belcher is just another larger source of damage that costs four, and Shrapnel blast is an oversized Lightning Bolt. The idea behind the very first Stacker deck by JP Meyer was to simply use a Sligh-type mana curve which uses Workshop to skip from one to four in mana cost.

Non-blue based control decks also get a slight boost. Modern Nether Void variants might really enjoy being able to play a turn 1 Chalice for zero against an opponent and be able to magnify the pain through Wastelands, Sinkholes, and Sphere of Resistance. If playing second, play a Chalice for one; it undoubtedly affects many spells in the opponent’s deck and makes your own creatures safe from burn and Swords to Plowshares.

As you can see, the effect of Chalice is going to be pervasive. But does that extra abuse in Prison decks warrant the restriction of Mishra’s Workshop?

It’s not unusual to hear people calling for the restriction of Mishra’s Workshop because they don’t like the card. People like losing to prison even less than they do to combo; at least with combo, the game ends quickly. But that isn’t an argument against Workshop. Chalice becomes legal Oct. 20th. I don’t feel that the mere month before the Banned and Restricted lists are announced is sufficient time for the full effects of Chalice to be played out, and for metagame answers to develop. In my opinion, the strongest decks post-Mirrodin are going to be blue-based control and Workshop decks with marginal, and perhaps not-so-marginal combo elements.

Budget aggro decks get hosed no matter how you look at it. The goblin deck that [email protected] De Graff used to make top 8 at GenCon will have serious difficulties surviving what is to come… But that doesn’t change if you restrict Mishra’s Workshop – in fact, it is probably amplified as Blue-Based control has no strong foil. While that obviously doesn’t mean that no foil will emerge, I wouldn’t put my hopes on the re-emergence of TnT or Masknaught, the previous answers to Blue-Based control.

My fellow Paragon team member Oscar Tar has recently publicly called for the restriction of Mishra’s Workshop, with the rationale that its restriction is warranted due to the sheer power of the new artifact cards introduced in Mirrodin. I would advise against any knee-jerk reactions to the new Mirrodin artifacts, as the most powerful of them, Chalice of the Void, can be wielded in a variety of decks with or without Mishra’s Workshop. The alleged brokenness of Workshop will need to be determined through plenty of playtesting to see if its mana acceleration distorts the format through the new Mirrodin artifacts or whether Mirrodin merely maintains the status quo. It may be that Darksteel or Fifth Dawn will release artifacts that will distort the format when consistently accelerated by Mishra’s Workshop – but for now, I would advise a cautious wait and see attitude as opposed to the wanton destruction of an entire archetype of Type 1 decks. If something, in the end, does have to be done about Mishra’s Workshop, there is no harm in waiting until March to see if it is necessary.

Stephen Menendian

I can be reached at [email protected]

P.S. – I’d like to thank Kevin Cron, Mike Lenzo, Ted, Matthieu Durand, Steve O'Connell, Arthur Tindemans, and Justin Walters for their excellent commitment to post-Mirrodin testing.

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