Hello everyone! Thanks for coming to read my first article for SeekPowerGaming, and I hope you find it enjoyable and informative. My name is Alex “Bradykin” Shulman, and I’ve been piloting Chalice Control almost exclusively for the past 3 months, including bringing it to the Season 5 Invitational and taking it to second place in ETS Season 6 Week 2. I’d like to share the insights I’ve gotten into the deck with you all. When you think about Chalice Control, generally speaking players fall into two categories: Either they love to hate it, or they hate to love it. I fall in that rare third category, that loves Chalice Control and is proud of it. Hopefully, I’ll be able to convince some of you to love it too! My focus for this article is helping to teach people how to play as and against Chalice, so they can get more success in their own games. I’d also like to state that this guide will make some references to tournament play, but is intended to be useful for both tournament and ladder. There’s also a specific topic that became a way larger part of the article than intended, which you’ll notice pretty quickly when you start reading.
Without further ado, let us begin!
What is Chalice Control?
Let’s begin at this fundamental question. What is Chalice Control? What is the deck’s fundamental goals and strategy?
Chalice Control falls under an archetype that is usually called “Tapout Control”. It is a proactive control deck that aims to bog up the board, prevent the enemy from attacking, and using its small amounts of hard removal and disruption to remove key threats. Chalice fields an assortment of utility and defensive units to control the game, and then uses its namesake card on them to refuel and turn them into real threats. This is backed up by some critical interaction cards such as Eilyn’s Choice and Harsh Rule, and a couple major finishers in Great Parliament and Channel the Tempest. Because Chalice needs their units to have 2 or less attack, it makes certain namesake cards of this colour combination unusable, and other typically bad cards excellent.
Resource management is the key to playing Chalice. You have less direct answers than other control decks, so you have to use them more sparingly, and handle other threats with your units. You also need to be careful not to let all of your units die before you can Chalice them: if you do, you miss out on a lot of drawing and will run out of steam. You also can’t be too stingy about using your units: if you save every unit to Chalice and refuse to trade with enemy attackers, you risk dying before you can stabilize the board. There aren’t specific rules about when to spend resources and when to conserve—that comes down to the minutiae of the specific moment, and it’s something you learn by playing.
Now, there are a lot of interesting choices in terms of what cards to use in your Chalice deck. Like all decks, it has a core set of cards, some cards most lists run, and some oddball things you see occasionally. I’m going to discuss the cards I run and my reasoning for playing them.
The Core Cards
(Warning: Upcoming Rant)
Let’s just get the hard one out of the way. There is a lot, and I mean a lot, of debate around this card. Some people consider it to not be a good chalice card, some do consider it to be a good chalice card, and a whole lot of people are on the fence about him or consider it mostly a matter of preference. Now, many of you already know my position on this, but let me state it unequivocally for those who don’t:
Kothon is a powerhouse in Chalice, is good in virtually every matchup, and removing it from the deck would be almost as wrong as removing Heart of the Vault from Praxis Midrange.
Here is why I feel this strongly about Kothon as a Chalice staple. First off, it meets our requirements of being a Chalice target. Secondly, it is the only viable Chalice unit in the game with Endurance. I cannot overstate how important this is. Endurance is a critical mechanic in a deck based around blocking with units when you sometimes have to exhaust your own units to draw cards. For example, you might play Kothon on turn 5 and chalice him to draw and have a 4/5 blocker, or a in the very late-game play Kothon, use Chalice, and ult him to get two readied flying blockers.
The third reason to run Kothon is that he is both a win-con and an early play, meaning you can run more wincons without compromising your matchup against aggressive strategies. Fourth, he adds a lot more flying to the deck, helping to patch an old weakness Chalice had in set 1 of being extremely vulnerable to flying-based decks. Next, Kothon is one of your best draws in a game where you’ve failed to find your Chalice yet, because he is perfectly capable of taking over and winning a game just with his body and his owl. Finally, Kothon with a Combrei Healer buff can survive blocking a Sandstorm Titan. You’re probably laughing as that one might sound like corner case nonsense, but I cannot begin to express how often it comes up.
Now let’s address some of the common counterpoints to using Kothon. Firstly, people argue that Chalice’s units should all be utility units, or “spells on a body”, because that helps Chalice generate card advantage due to the 2-for-1 nature of it’s units. Now, this brings up a good point. Since Chalice is a control deck that controls with its units, it can’t just use a bunch of midrange units; It needs its units to contribute to the strategy. But, that doesn’t mean that literally every unit needs to fit this model, or that these kinds of spell effects are the only thing that contribute to the strategy. A reactive control deck wants to have it’s entire deck be about cards that answer threats, but Chalice isn’t reactive, it’s proactive. You need cards you can play out into a board without threats to answer. Also, even if Chalice prefers to have those spell effect units, that doesn’t mean that it wants a terrible spell effect unit over an excellent generic one: since Kothon meets our “Can be buffed by Chalice” requirement, an exception to other card choice norms can be made because of the raw power of the card itself.
The second argument I hear is fairly connected to the first, and it’s the idea that Kothon is liable to tempo-inefficient trades because it can be 1-for-1’d by removal, specifically Torch. This is true. Kothon does die to Torch, and if he gets torched before ulting or being Chaliced, he was indeed 1 for 1’d. But, I’ve found a few things that I take issue in when using this as an argument against running Kothon. Let’s talk about this matchup by matchup and consider two things: Why did your opponent have an opportunity to torch Kothon like this, and what else would that torch be used for if not on Kothon. Let’s start with aggressive decks. The reason they had a chance to torch Kothon is because they are aggressive, and you had to use him early. But what kind of window did you give them to use the torch? If you cast Kothon on turn 2 when they have a mana open and no active threat, you misplayed. If you are using it to attempt to block their Oni Ronin and to draw the torch away from being used to help kill the upcoming Combrei Healer, then it’s really not that bad of a trade. Now let’s talk about slower decks, control and midrange decks that use red. Generally speaking, if you drop Kothon on turn 2, or on any turn you aren’t using either it’s ultimate or Chalicing it versus these decks, you misplayed. You don’t need to run an early defense against these decks, so you can save Kothon for getting value out of. As a result, the “Dies to Torch” or any other removal argument is null and void, because there is no reason you should expose your Kothon to being removed before getting to extract its value, at which point you no longer care if they remove it.
Occasionally you will get a bad trade between your Kothon and their removal, and that sucks, but “Dies to removal” is never a reason to discount a unit as they all die to some removal or another. Sandstorm Titan trades very poorly with Annihilate, and we still play him in lots of decks. If the torch wasn’t clearing Kothon, it would be clearing away a Combrei Healer with the help of an Argenport Instigator or something similar, and there’s a lot you can do through good play to limit the chances your opponent has to profitably torch Kothon, which we will discuss more later.
The third argument I hear is that Kothon can’t block the best 2-drops in the game and, thus, isn’t an effective early game tool. The units referred to here are Champion of Glory, Awakened Student, and Argenport Instigator. Now, this is another true statement. Kothon can’t block those well. But neither can any other realistic tool to use. Unless you want to bring out the Scaly Gruans, we aren’t blocking those with 2-drops, and Kothon can handle the other 2 big aggressive 2 drops, Champion of Fury and Rakano outlaw, as well as all one drops. And his power against aggro isn’t just as a turn 2 body, it’s as a chalice target that readies itself and then can block nearly everything. His situational use as a 2-drop is just a bonus.
The final argument I hear is the general statement of saying things like “X card is better then Kothon against Y deck”, such as the Scaly Gruan reference I made above. Now, a lot of those arguments are often true. If I know, for a fact, that I will face Bandit Queen when I queue up, I would rather have Scaly Gruan than Kothon in the deck. But Kothon isn’t a tech card against a specific deck, it’s good against almost everything. Running that Scaly Gruan will get you in trouble in many other matchups, whereas Kothon is solid in all of them. The only matchup where I am not thrilled to have Kothon is against Praxis Midrange. He’s not terrible here, but it’s generally harder to get value out of Kothon without exposing him to Torch in this matchup. Praxis is a fast deck, making it harder to have the time to use Kothon well, and they are a deck that doesn’t have much else to do with their Torches versus you: they don’t need to clear out your little blockers because they try to go over the top of them.
Final judgement? Run 4 of them. I’m currently doing some testing with it as a 3-of, but I’m really not liking it. I think Kothon is a mandatory 4-of for Chalice unless we end up in a meta that is 50-60% Praxis again.
The rest of the core is fairly obvious, so let’s just go through it quickly:
4 Desert Marshal: Desert Marshal is an amazing card, and is good for control, so it’s fairly apparent why it is a staple in this deck.
4 Temple Scribe: Temple Scribe is a pretty simple 4-of inclusion in Chalice, as it just does everything we need it to: It’s an early play, trades with 1 drops, replaces itself in hand, and even gains a life for good measure.
4 Amber Acolyte: Amber Acolyte’s are great for this deck as they give us card advantage and help to stabilize our power and influence.
4 Combrei Healer: Combrei Healer is arguably the best tool in the game for holding back aggro and has surprisingly good use in the mirror, making it an excellent card for our purposes.
2 Lumen Defenders: Lumen Defender is a card that Chalice gets away with using and nobody else can justify because it is a Chalice target. It’s also a great card for stabilizing against aggro and pretty powerful against midrange.
3 Eilyn’s Choice: This card is the main reason Chalice got so good with the inclusion of set 2. It allows us to run our vanquishes and some counterspells in the same card slot, and is a very powerful card against most decks.
4 Wisdom of the Elders: Our deck runs much better when we draw Chalice then when we don’t, and we are in the colours of the best draw spell in the game, making this a natural inclusion.
4 Harsh Rule: We often need to reset the board, or at least threaten the possibility of resetting the board, meaning that we need Harsh Rule. We are also excellent at rebuilding the board after dropping a Harsh Rule on our own units.
4 Crystalline Chalice: If you aren’t sure why this is mandatory, I’d suggest you go read the title.
This all adds up to 37 cards as the core of the deck. We haven’t covered win cons yet, but the current Chalice versions generally run some combination of Great Parliament and Channel the Tempest. I’ve left those out of the core because there are viable versions without them in some metas, but right now I feel pretty comfortable with my split of 2 Parliaments and 3 Channels. I also feel that we want to be at about 30 power (or 25 power plus power tutoring cards). My current list runs 3 Seek Powers and 2 Eilyn’s Favor, and I think there’s not much to modify on that: the face aegis is really useful, but running more Eilyn’s has proven to destabilize the power base in my testing.
This leaves us with 72/75 cards, and there are a few choices to fill those last slots. Currently I run a 4th Eilyn’s Choice and 2 Archive Curators, for some extra control effects though the silences and capitalizing on how powerful Eilyn’s choice is in this meta. Other options for these slots can be Marisen’s Disciples, Vanquishes, and Scorpion Wasps. You can also trim a couple win condition slots for more things here if you are seeing more aggressive decks: I have run other lists that only had 2 Channels and used these slots for 2 Scorpion Wasps and 2 Archive Curators, or 2 Wasps 2 Marisen’s.
After all of this, here’s the final list we end up with:
3 Seek Power (Set1 #408)
4 Desert Marshal (Set1 #332)
2 Eilyn’s Favor (Set0 #24)
4 Kothon, the Far-Watcher (Set2 #218)
4 Temple Scribe (Set1 #502)
4 Amber Acolyte (Set1 #93)
4 Combrei Healer (Set1 #333)
4 Eilyn’s Choice (Set2 #220)
4 Wisdom of the Elders (Set1 #218)
2 Archive Curator (Set2 #50)
4 Crystalline Chalice (Set1 #359)
2 The Great Parliament (Set1 #338)
4 Harsh Rule (Set1 #172)
2 Lumen Defender (Set1 #115)
3 Channel the Tempest (Set1 #244)
4 Time Sigil (Set1 #63)
3 Justice Sigil (Set1 #126)
4 Primal Sigil (Set1 #187)
1 Combrei Banner (Set1 #424)
4 Seat of Progress (Set0 #58)
1 Elysian Banner (Set1 #421)
4 Seat of Wisdom (Set0 #63)
4 Seat of Order (Set0 #51)
Before moving on, I’d like to give a shout out to another person’s list that I really like, that takes a different approach then mine, and that is camat0’s list. You can see his list at https://eternalwarcry.com/decks/details/KkoVDe7kdHA/chalice. Camat0 has had a lot of success with it recently, and it’s great to see another version of the archetype running so well. He is focusing his list to crush Time-based midrange and aggro, where mine is more aimed fighting the mirror and trying to have somewhat favoured matchups against a larger part of the field. I personally favour my approach in having more balanced matchups, but for what camat0 is trying to accomplish I think his deck is perfectly built.
Alright, now how do we play it?
We’ve got our list. We’ve got a rough idea what the archetype is. Now what?
Unfortunately, this is a question much easier asked than answered. There are a lot of little finicky details, and a lot more information than we could go over in the rest of this article. So instead of trying and failing to cover every detail about how to pilot this deck, I want to invite everyone to send me questions about the deck, and I plan to make a follow-up article that is talking about those questions, along with every other small detail of piloting I can think of. This will be launched sometime after September 30th, so it can be accompanied by a recording of my ETS play that week and analysis of it play by play.
Until next time, I hope you all enjoyed the read, and good luck on ladder! Little bit of homework for you all: Just what drink is in the Chalice?