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By: Joe Fiorini, Joseph G Fiorini
Jul 10 2015 12:04pm
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Questions, and The Answer

In my quest to explore the mightiest of formats, Vintage, I've come across quite a few interesting deck lists. Some looked more fun to play than potent, and others looked just downright strange. Today, one of the decks that I have for you is an interesting concoction dubbed "The Answer" by its European creator. 

The Answer is a metagame deck. What that means is that this is a deck designed to seek out and exploit weaknesses of the top tier of Vintage decks. In the current metagame, those decks would be Martello Shops, Delver/Mentor decks, and Oath of Druids. The Answer has a few answers for other decks, but the card choices are designed to punish certain types of decks and the mana bases they employ.

Here's the list that I started with, taken from an article I found by Nat Moes on LegitMTG:



The Answer - Deck Tech

Chalice of the Void

Into the Void!

In many ways, this deck is like a Vintage version of Blue Moon. The deck is nearly all blue, it plays plenty of basic lands, and it has the surprise mana-denial plan of Magus of the Moon. In truth, there is a lot more going on here. Beyond Magus, this deck runs the card that everyone just loves to play against, Chalice of the Void! An early Chalice on zero on the play shuts down all moxen not yet in play, which adds to the resource denial plan. 

The other obvious use of Chalice in this list is to set it on one. Notice that this deck plays almost no cards at this spot on the curve. This means that The Answer can Chalice for one with little to no repercussions. Pretty spectacular. If you don't know how much of a pain in the rear a Chalice set to one can be, go ahead and count the number of cards with a converted mana cost of one in your deck. It's likely close to half of the deck, This is one of the ways that The Answer preys on decks like Delver and Mentor. These decks want to play as many cantrips and tempo counters as they can to help fuel their delve spells. Chalice is a giant stop sign to those shenanigans.

The Control Package.


Of the cards with CMC one, one of those cards interacts with Chalice in an interesting fashion. Flusterstorm can still counter a spell with a Chalice on the battlefield. Only the initial copy is countered by the Chalice, so if the remaining storm copies are sufficient to counter whatever spell is being cast, then Flusterstorm will still work.

The other Counterspells are mostly what you'd expect: Force of Will, Mana Drain, and Misdirection. The card that's notably absent is Mental Misstep. In this deck, a Chalice on one is our Misstep, except that it puts in a lot more work for us than Misstep ever could. One more card in this list that isn't seen every day (at least not on Magic Online) is Mindbreak Trap

Mindbreak Trap

Mindbreak Trap is a great card, even if it doesn't see the level of play that its peers do. Playing this card for its trap cost feels great, and it's generally a huge surprise to the opponent. I did have a game the other day where my opponent played a bunch of moxen, followed by Gitaxian Probe and Timetwister (which I then exiled with Mindbreak Trap), but usually you're only playing this for the trap cost when it's a legitimate surprise!

Mindbreak Trap has its obvious applications in matchups against Storm decks, but it has other uses as well. It's not all that uncommon for someone in Vintage to play three spells in one turn, so the trap cost is used quite often. Another aspect of MBT is that it exiles the card while it's on the stack. This has the effect of countering it, but it isn't in fact countering it, it is just removing it from the game. So, you can exile such uncounterable spells as Abrupt Decay and Supreme Verdict, or even Mistcutter Hydra (don't laugh, someone played a hydra on me a few days ago, and it ate my Jace!).

Card Advantage and Finishers

Dig Through Time Treasure Cruise Consecrated Sphinx

The Answer is packed with cards that build an incremental advantage in order to secure control over the match. Jace is a familiar face by now, as is Dack Fayden. Both are great at keeping our hands full of gas, and they have ultimates that can be highly effective as well if the situation arises. 

The other card-drawing machine is Consecrated Sphinx. This thing reminds me of the Mahamoti Djinns that used to see play in big blue decks of the mid-nineties, except for the fact that Consecrated Sphinx is actually REALLY good. Out-drawing your opponent two-to-one is pretty strong, as it turns out. The downside to Sphinx is that it can be a dangerous proposition to invest six mana into something that dies to Pyroblast. This is just one more reason to set the Chalices in the deck to one first. Also remember that red mana is going to be abundant after landing a Magus of the Moon, this is a little at odds with the fact that Lightning Bolt and Pyroblast are both cards that you don't want to resolve because they answer all of your threats (Magus, Jace, Dack, Sphinx). 

The deck also employs Vintage staples like Time Walk, Ancestral Recall, Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise. These are here to create an advantage or to solidify control over a game. Since this deck plays Mana Drain, casting an early Sphinx or delve spell is quite easy to accomplish. Nothing feels better than draining a Treasure Cruise to fuel your own!

Jace, the Mind Sculptor Dack Fayden

Jace is a planeswalker with a storied history in Vintage, and in Magic in general for that matter. Few planeswalkers have ever been as objectively powerful, and the one's that have been more powerful cost nearly twice as much. Jace is the master at building an incremental advantage every turn, as his Brainstorm ability begins to add a +1 card advantage each turn past the one in which he is cast. The "Jace bounce", as it is often called, is a great way to protect your board position, and it serves to protect the walker himself. Bouncing some creatures goes beyond the realm of mere annoyance and is actually game-winning at times. It isn't easy to beat an Oathed up or Tinkered Griselbrand or Blightsteel Colossus, but Jace is quite helpful in that regard. Generally, people are "cheating" such fatties into play with little to no way to actually hard-cast them. 

Speaking of beating a resolved Blightsteel Colossus, Dack Fayden has really come into his own in Vintage. I can hardly think of a Vintage deck that could pay the mana cost of Dack that wouldn't want at least one copy of the greatest thief in the multiverse in their seventy-five. Dack is the Swiss Army Knife of Vintage. He's good against Mishra's Workshop decks, stealing all manner of things, and he powers up the delve spells that have become ubiquitous in the format. The ultimate that Dack has isn't why people play him, but I've had it done to me and it won my opponent the game. Even casting a Dack, stealing something small like a Mox Ruby and then getting him killed with Lightning Bolt is a three-mana two-for-one in your favor. Sometimes, it's the little incremental advantages that end up winning games, and Dack is somewhat of an expert in that field.

As I sit here typing, it occurs to me that Dack is in nearly every deck that I've covered. That's pretty impressive considering that this is a format that allows every set and card ever printed! If anyone at Wizard's R&D is reading this, thanks! Keep the Vintage playables coming!

Utility Cards.

Fire/Ice Echoing Truth

Like all blue decks full of Counterspells, The Answer has to have some answers for resolved threats. This is where Fire/Ice comes in. Fire is decent removal (although I feel it isn't as good as it was when Delver was more popular online), and Ice can be a tempo play when it shuts down something like a Tolarian Academy, It pitches to Force as well, so it's a great fit.

Echoing Truth is a bounce effect with the echoing ability. This spell targets every other card with the same name as the one the original spell did. The first time you bounce a Griselbrand with Echoing Truth, the usefulness of the card will reveal itself! I think that other bounce spells would likely get the nod in a different build, but it's pretty clear that the original architects for this deck decided to shy away from cards with a converted mana cost of one. The single-blue mana requirement makes Echoing Truth easier to cast than something like Boomerang, and being able to wipe the board of a horde of tokens in one fell swoop is an ability that can't be underestimated.

Prime Real Estate:

The Mana Base.

The Answer plays Magus of the Moon, so playing a healthy amount of basic lands is a no-brainer. The non-basic lands that the deck does play are either fetches or mana-ramp lands like Tolarian Academy or Ancient Tomb, This deck wants to get to a high mana-count fast, so a full set of moxen and Black Lotus is used. 

Being that this deck doesn't really play any significant number of one-drops, it becomes even more important to build up a healthy mana base in a timely fashion. With eighteen lands, five moxen and a Lotus, this deck packs a lot more mana than the average Vintage deck. Many of the one-drops employed by other Vintage decks are cantrips. Ponder, Brainstorm, and Preordain allow those decks (like Delver for instance) to get away with running less lands. Workshops decks tend to take advantage of that fact by dropping a Chalice, or simply by taxing those cantrips until they are unplayable. When, for instance, a Delver deck is forced to hit its land-drops by naturally drawing them, things get ugly in a hurry. The Answer can't play that game, as there are no cheap hand-sculpting cards in the list. It takes 24 sources of mana (18 lands, 5 artifacts) for the deck to reliably play a land each turn.

There are pros and cons to this plan. Sometimes, hands have far too much land and must be mulliganed, and sometimes you can be prone to missing an early land-drop or two. Overall though, the numbers used means that mana-screw isn't all that likely. This deck also has built-in defenses to Shops decks. I love playing glorious, textless basic Islands and uncracked fetches while my opponent sits their waiting to use their Wasteland.

One of the ways that Shops decks beat the hate-cards played against them is to make them unplayable in the first place. Shutting off cantrips, as I mentioned, makes hitting the land-drops needed to cast that Ingot Chewer through multiple Sphere of Resistances a difficult endeavor. I've lost count of how many games I lost to Shops with the perfect answer stranded in my hand, all because my deck couldn't cough up one more basic land. Luckily, that type of scenario shouldn't happen all too often, as this deck is stocked to the gills with mana.

The Sideboard:

Ingot Chewer Ravenous Trap Grafdigger's Cage

Hurkyl's Recall Sulfur Elemental 

After writing ten or so Vintage articles, I think it's pretty clear what these cards do. I think that it's important to note that this deck still plays plenty of Shops-hate in the sideboard, even though the main deck is considered to have "a positive match-up" against Shops. In my experience, even a deck that can beat shops quite often still has to fight for every inch of it. Of course, there are exceptions, but that's true for nearly all facets of life. 

The sideboard is designed to help against Shops, Dredge, Oath, and Mentor. There are only two anti-Mentor cards, and zero anti-Delver cards. That suggests to me that this deck's creator either didn't fear Delver whatsoever, or they just didn't expect to play against it enough to matter.


Delver/Mentor Aggro Control Decks

In my experience, Delver can be an easy match-up if you draw well, but if they establish a decent threat early enough, it can be difficult to maintain control. The same goes for Mentor decks, but Mentor tends to be much slower at first, but has the chance to "combo out" with a flurry of tokens and A Time Walk.

In this match-up, I simply focus on countering or killing Young Pyromancer or Delver. Pyromancer is by far the deadlier card, so I focus my efforts on it whenever possible. Against Delver or Mentor, Chalice of the Void is great. Just like Shops likes to hinder a Delver deck with Chalice, The Answer can (and should try to) do the exact same thing.

Magus of the Moon, however, isn't so good against Delver (although it is good against Mentor, which is almost always three colors). The reason I say this is that Delver decks play Lightning Bolt and Pyroblast, which are made easier to cast with a Magus giving everyone Mountains.

Personally, I'd add more cards to the main deck and sideboard that would help in the aggro-control match-ups. Switching from Magus to Blood Moon would allow the deck to run either Pyroclasm or Volcanic Fallout. Fallout might be a stretch with its double-red casting cost though. When the Delver deck is on the play, the efficiency of their threats can overwhelm the counter-magic this list employs.

"Delver" , "Mentor, and "Pyromancer" decks really should just be referred to as "Gush" decks, as I feel that more accurately describes their modus operandi. The point is that these decks can potentially out-draw The Answer because they're much more focused on drawing cards and they play far fewer lands. 

Just like Gush decks try to gain virtual card advantage through a lighter mana base, The Answer can gain virtual card advantage by negating a large swath of the Gush deck's spells by resolving a Chalice of the Void. My experience is that Chalice is extremely important in this match-up. Just be aware that this strategy will receive a lot of "splash damage" from anti-shops cards that become relevant against this build.


 Mishra's Workshop

This deck is supposed to be well-positioned against Workshop decks, and I'd say that's accurate. Basic lands help quite a bit in this match-up, and Magus of the Moon can put a damper on their mana-production.  Dack Fayden is great at stealing Forgemasters and Golems, and Mana Drain can find a lot of juicy targets. 

In this match-up, Chalice of the Void can do a lot of work if you know how to use it. It's obviously bad at one, as Shops doesn't have and targets of note at that CMC. At zero, a Chalice on the play will slow Shops down considerably. At two mana you begin to find most of the lock pieces that the deck plays. Personally, I'd trade the ability to cast Mana Drain to preemptively disrupt every single Thorn of Amethyst, Sphere of Resistance, and Phyrexian Revoker in a Shops player's deck.

There are six anti-artifact spells in the sideboard, so after game one things should only get better. Just remember to make this face when you cast Hurkyl's Recall:

Thanks AtomicBoosh!

Oath/Grixis/Other Combo/Control Decks:

This deck has a healthy amount of Counterspells, so defeating the combo/control decks of the format should not be a problem. Most of those decks aren't going to run as many counters as The Answer, depending how all-in they are.

Storm decks tend to run just a set of Forces, with some number of Missteps and/or Flusterstorm. The Answer has its own Flusterstorms as well as Mindbreak Trap, so Timetwister has a decent chance of finding us some countermagic. Just remember to keep four mana open if possible. This will allow you to cast Flusterstorm or Mindbreak Trap through a Defense Grid

One thing I've learned from piloting The Answer is that decks like Grixis, Oath, Storm, and "Vault" Combo rely heavily on their greedy mana bases to pull of their combo. This is where Magus of the Moon really shines. Shutting off lands like Tolarian Academy, Forbidden Orchard, and even just Mana Confluence can be a major setback to combo deck pilots.

Many of these decks can pack their own Red Elemental Blast or Pyroblast, and Magus beats only go so far sometimes. Remember to protect your Consecrated Sphinx or Jace with either a Chalice or counters. It's possible to lose a game because you can't find something to close it out in time.

Why Should Anyone Play "The Answer"?

First of all, I don't think that this deck is right for just anyone. I'd say that if playing hard control decks like Landstill are in your wheelhouse, then this deck would be a great choice as it has been designed to take advantage of the current Vintage metagame.

It isn't always an easy deck to win with. With decks like Oath, Grixis, and other decks with a combo finish, once you are clear to make your "I win now" play, you can close out a match. It's possible to still lose a game with The Answer even if both players are hellbent, and you have a Jace or Sphinx out. 

Gush decks like Delver and most Mentor builds run up to sixteen ways to draw one or more cards. These decks are willing to counter anything and everything possible, if for no other reason than to fuel more delve spells like Treasure Cruise. My friend and clan-mate James "Niffiwan" Cady put it best. He said something to the effect of "Delver decks with their huge amount of counters and card-draw can afford to play bad Magic and just counter anything, just so they can Cruise again". The more I thought about his words, the more sense they made. Refilling your hand so often makes up for wasting counters sometimes. 

This is a control deck that must be a little more frugal with its counter-magic. Each win that I got with this deck took some work, there are really no free wins with this list. Sure, you could get a Magus online early, but that probably isn't even the right play, depending on the exact situation. You must be willing to be patient while piloting The Answer.

If you like a deck full of broken combos, this isn't your cup of tea. I am the type of player that likes to cast Mana Drain, so I enjoyed this deck. If you're a die-hard control freak that loves to ruin people's day with Chalices and Blood Moons on legs, then this deck just might be The Answer for you.

Closing Thoughts

I've been an advocate for Vintage for a little while now, and I enjoy every minute of it. It's funny to me that even though I'm new to the format, it's actually the way I've wanted to play Magic as long as I can remember. I remember back in the early 2000's, long after I'd sold my initial Magic collection, I built two proxied Tolarian Academy combo decks to play against my friends with. 

When Vintage Masters came online, I hoped that I'd be able to make a Vintage deck at some point. I've now done that, and I've barely played any other format since. I have enough Phantom Points in my collection to do a free Cube Draft, and I still haven't touched them. The chance of drafting a Black Lotus seems tame when there's one already sitting in my collection!

This brings me to the point of this little speech. Think about the MTGO Cube for a moment. Many of the Cubes are powered, and the ones that aren't are called the "Legacy Cube"! People must enjoy playing with older Magic cards, otherwise the Cube would be populated with something else. If people like playing with older cards, and using the power nine, then why aren't there more events firing and people playing online?

One person I know enjoys cubing. They've told me numerous times about how awesome it is to draft Tinker, Lotus, and Blightsteel in the same deck, Personally I think that those cards create an unbalanced draft experience, whereas in constructed Vintage everyone can have those cards in their deck if they wish. To each their own, I suppose. Anyway, this individual that just LOVES powered cube had the following reply when I told him that I'd been playing Vintage lately.

"You're playing Vintage?", he said. I replied in the affirmative, and that prompted him to follow up with "Well, that's a dead format, but you can do whatever you want I guess". 

In all honesty, I was offended by his comment, but I made sure not to get visibly upset. I just told him that there is an online community of Vintage players, and plenty of Vintage events in paper, and even a Vintage Championship every year. 

His reply to this was that since there are no Vintage Pro Tours or Grand Prix that it isn't a "real format" (I believe those were his exact words). Then he said something about Vintage is probably a fun format because you get turn-one wins, and that seemed to be the extent of the positive things he apparently sees in Eternal Magic altogether (he also criticized Legacy for being "stale", which is a whole other can of worms I'm not going to pry open in this article).

I firmly believe that there is a segment of the human population who's ill-informed opinions are both difficult and pointless to change. I'm going to assume that this particular gentleman is a card-carrying member of this subsection of society, and I'll leave him to have his own opinions as he sees fit. However, for the record - I humbly disagree with everything that he said to me that day.

First of all, as I've mentioned before, turn-one wins are the exception in Eternal formats. They are NOT the rule. You already know that, because you've read my articles, so we get to move along briskly.

The second point I would like to talk about is a bit deeper. I know that for a lot of competitive Magic players, the Pro Tour is the Holy Grail. I understand that, and I sympathize completely. The Pro Tour was once my ultimate goal in life as well. I had the chance to play in one once, I missed the opportunity, and while it bothers be quite a bit, I've grown to accept it. Even if I really wanted to try to qualify for the Pro Tour again, my adult life as a Husband and Father would make that quite difficult. I have no qualms with anyone who is able to grind Grand Prix and RPTQs to "stay on the train", but it isn't something that I can do anymore. 

The thing is, just because I can't dedicate my entire life to that one goal doesn't mean that I don't want to play  competitively. I enjoy playing best-of-three matches using sideboards. I don't get the same satisfaction playing casually. I have fun playing the game the way I want to, just like a casual player playing Commander with their pals. I prefer to play in a tournament format though, even when it's just a pick-up game. 

So, don't tell me that I'm not playing a "real format" because there isn't a Pro Tour for me to qualify for. There's Vintage and Legacy Championships to qualify for, there are even some large tournaments like the NYSE that are proxy tournaments. The most recent NYSE in particular had great prize support and drew in a lot of talented players. Just because I don't have to sit with 4,000 other people for two days to win one of those tournaments doesn't make them any less "real".

While I'm on the subject of "real" formats, would you all like to know something that isn't a "real" format? CUBE! Where's your Cube Pro Tour? Where are your Cube Grand Prix? People still like playing it though, and some people love it so much that they take it very seriously. They enjoy being the person that drafted the most broken deck out of all the broken decks. That's great! Have fun with it! Just don't knock Vintage until you've actually tried it. I'm pretty sure that the person I had the aforementioned conversation with has never played either Eternal format before. 

To me, Vintage the best example of "real" Magic that exists today. The community is incredible, the games are epic, and the cards themselves have history to them. Some of these cards are older than the hands of the players wielding them - that's pretty incredible to think about! I've also noticed that there are a lot of professionals playing Vintage. Not Magic professionals mind you, but people with actual professions. Lawyers, doctors, school teachers, and otherwise grown-up responsible types certainly seem to make up a much larger portion of the community compared to other Magic scenes. That fact is a major selling point for me because I like associating with decent, hard-working people. It's comforting to know other players like myself, responsible adults who happen to like to game competitively in their leisure time. 

Young Pyromancer

That's all I have to say for this week. Thanks for coming along for the ride. Recently the interviews that I've done have created a lot of positive feedback, so I'll try to do more in the future. I've been meaning to do another article with some in-depth strategic content for some time now, and I hope to have one soon. In the mean time, if you're a newer reader, I'm going to add a couple links to my older articles. These two are one's that I consider my best, and they showcase the type of strategy content that I'm itching to get back into. 

Mental Probing and Gitaxian Missteps: This article discusses my thoughts on Probe and Misstep. The Prison-Industrial Complex: My article on Shops decks. This one seems to have been the most popular. If you want to see my entire catalog, click here.

One more quick thing before I go. The sample hand last week was a keeper. I don't think it was a "snap keep" though. Don't ever actually snap keep a hand unless you're going to run out of time if you don't. The hand had one true lock piece, and a second card that is a lock piece some of the time. Specifically, this hand on the draw won't stop cards like Force of Will and Lightning Bolt from being live provided the opponent hits their first couple land drops. While this was a good hand and I'd have kept it, it's far from the type of Shops hand that just rolls someone over.

Magic is all about math, prediction, percentages, and reasoning. Several people presented me with their opinions on that starting hand, so I accomplished my goal of starting a dialog wherein people discussed their reasoning behind their decision to keep that starting seven. To everyone who played along, thanks! By the way, I kept a very similar hand before, and still ended up losing. I didn't hit another mana-taxing effect fast enough, and my opponent was able to Preordain enough lands to the top to eventually land a Dack Fayden. I still think that I made the right choice given the odds.

It's time to...


Here's another starting hand, generated by Magic Online's shuffler. Please remember, I'm NOT white-listed! 

Jace, the Mind SculptorFire/IceAncient TombAncestral RecallChalice of the Void

If this hand seems familiar, it's because it was randomly generated from today's featured deck, The Answer. 

It's game one, you're on the play against an unknown opponent. Do you keep?

Imagine the same scenario, except that you know your opponent is on Martello Shops? Do you keep this hand on the play? What if you were on the draw?

Until next week, stay chill and play Snow-Covered Islands!


Jeez between the folks by CalmLittleBuddy at Fri, 07/10/2015 - 17:46
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Jeez between the folks telling you Vintage isn't a real format and people telling me that Standard isn't real Magic, I'm wondering what exactly it is that this snobby clique is playing with their super large Magic brains?

I'm always curious as to why certain folks have to knock formats they don't enjoy. I don't like EDH commander but I don't feel it is my obligation to convince the world it's not a good format.

We need healthy formats. Period. Otherwise the game as a whole suffers. The more healthy formats the better. And picking on vintage is even more asinine thank knocking Standard. Hello? VSL?one of the most popular
Streams in MtG! Dude was on crack....

Real Magic players play THE by Paul Leicht at Fri, 07/10/2015 - 18:47
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Real Magic players play THE format. Obv.

I just thought is was funny by Joe Fiorini at Fri, 07/10/2015 - 18:51
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I just thought is was funny that he once proclaimed his love for drafting a Tinker / BSC package in Cube, (which is something you can do every day on Vintage), but since there is no Vintage PT then it's just meaningless.

When was the last Cube Pro Tour?

According to the continuum by Paul Leicht at Fri, 07/10/2015 - 19:17
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According to the continuum galactic Googlepedia that event first occurs in the year 2142, after several Xionflytians take control of WOTC away from Hasbromechatroncorp in a proxy war that lasts 6.92 months. No actual lives are lost but the aliens make sure that very few Hasbromechatroncorp assets are left in any kind of condition to retake the subsidiary.

As a consequence, since Xionflytians are by their very nature casual niche gamers they adopt Unpowered Cube format as their new PT format and reduce others to GP or lower status.

Sadly I couldn't build "The by Paul Leicht at Fri, 07/10/2015 - 19:15
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Sadly I couldn't build "The Answer" if I wanted to as many of its components are pricy and not in my collection but what really irks me about it is the fact that it kills a lot of the fun in the format, imho. Chalice set to almost anything is an ugly, ugly card. Imho that card needs to go the way of Brainstorm and every other restricted card.

Bloodmoon effects are less certain though they certainly do wreck shops. I see a lot of basics in TP these days and many of them are merely two color decks so it isn't even a strain if their few nonbasics become mountains.

Sulfur Elemental is a funny sb against Mentor. A one card, "you can't win while this is in play" card that really hurts hatebears too in multiples of two or more...

Thanks for writing as per usual.

I've sarcastically referred by Joe Fiorini at Fri, 07/10/2015 - 20:09
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I've sarcastically referred to chalice of the void as "fun" on numerous occasions, several of which occurred today :D
Chalice of the void is an abomination of a card, especially on the play!
In all honesty, I don't think that I will be playing the deck all that much. I enjoy aggro control and tempo decks much more.