Sharks and Chalices: The New White-Blue Control of Modern

Control has struggled in Modern ever since Mystic Sanctuary got banned. However, the archetype has come back with a vengeance, revitalized in the hands of legendary control master Guillaume Wafo-Tapa. Let's examine the new lineup and see how and why this version continues to be successful.

chalice - fof - shark

White-Blue has been a mainstay of Modern for as long as I can remember, albeit in different forms: tap out, Miracles, planeswalker-heavy, midrange, flash. It got a huge boost with War of the Spark, Jace, the Mind Sculptor got unbanned, we got Mystic Sanctuary and lost it again after it proved too strong. There also was Modern Horizons with Force of Negation and Archmage's Charm. Control players had to deal with the ebb and flow of the deck oscillating between tier one and tier two. Some time ago, we received the shocking news that the literal Counterspell would get reprinted into Modern through Modern Horizons 2 … Oh, how happy we were. "Now control is going to truly dominate the format," I'd heard numerous times before the actual set release.

The reality turned out differently. Not only did it not dominate Modern, but it's been a tier three deck. Yes, we got Counterspell. But the rest of the format received very powerful tools in Urza's Saga, Shardless Agent, Dragon's Rage Channeler, and Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer—sweeping changes that effectively turned Modern into a rotating format. Control couldn't keep up.

Enter the most powerful control player on the planet, Guillaume Wafo-Tapa.

Sharks & Planeswalkers Versus Cat

Let's start off with one key deck-building choice—there is no Lurrus of the Dream-Den here. While control players are used to their planeswalkers and other expensive spells, Lurrus has been one of the most ubiquitous cards in Modern lately, and for good reason. We saw a trend of moving toward more spell-heavy builds even among control decks. "Lurrus is basically a planeswalker that you don't have to draw" has been a sentiment that resonated with a lot of us and I tended to agree.

The companion clause had to be accounted for, though, as losing walkers meant losing win conditions. Players would run Bring to Light alongside Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor, or Entreat the Angels in Miracles, or looped Snapcaster Mage with Pulse of Murasa or more popularly Kolaghan's Command. At this point, you have to have a reason not to play Lurrus, but Wafo indeed opted against it. Let's examine the cards that break Lurrus's stipulation:

  • Teferi, Hero of Dominaria—the classic finisher. Being a removal on a stick against big boys such as Murktide Regent is relevant and the untap ability works perfectly with Counterspell.

  • Teferi, Time Raveler—I'd wager that this is the single most significant reason to abandon the companion. Teferi shuts down the cascade mechanic, which is lights out against Crashing Footfalls and Living End. In addition, he cleanly bounces Urza's Saga winning some tempo or the Construct token from that Saga. Teferi quite strongly undermines the current pillars of the format. He's still relevant against the rest of the field as an interaction piece on a stick that cantrips. Last but not least, he enables instant speed on Prismatic Ending, at which point it's simply the best removal spell in the entire format, and the three main-deck copies of Supreme Verdict.

  • Shark Typhoon—This one is controversial. There are two schools of thought regarding the Typhoon: unplayable or good. I've been in the "unplayable" camp, but seeing Wafo play it makes me have to reconsider. It is a way to increase the threat density for free, and against Ragavan you only need a 1/1 Shark to already make it awkward for the opponent. It works well with the draw-go plan.

  • Solitude—I assume the lone copy in the main deck was rather an effect of already having broken the Lurrus restriction rather than a reason to do so in the first place. I see it as a fifth Prismatic Ending with some other upsides such as being a body. When the situation gets critical, you can even remove your own Shark and gain some life.

For all those reasons not running Lurrus makes sense. However, there is one more which is a bit less obvious. While the cards above literally break the condition, Chalice of the Void benefits from such a build too.

A Palace for a Chalice

If other people play Lurrus, it means they pack a ton of one- and two-drops. We can try to exploit it by playing a card which shuts off half of their deck. Turn two Chalice on one punishes a huge chunk of the metagame, giving control the much-needed free wins. All the top-tier decks suffer under a Chalice—Murktide, Monowhite Hammer, cascade decks. Speaking of which, Chalice does not have to be put on one. It can easily be put on zero to hate out the Shardless Agent decks. It has to be mentioned though that Urza's Saga can still cheat a one-drop into play under Chalice.

chalice of the void prismatic ending

We can quickly identify that the deck lacks the former best removal spell in Modern, Path to Exile. A trained eye can also spot that the list does not contain Opt, another staple of previous control iterations. I myself have never been a fan of Opt and cut it from my deck whenever I could. Here, it has anti-synergy with the Chalice, same as Path. To circumvent the restriction that Chalice imposes on us, we play a new Modern Horizons 2 removal spell: Prismatic Ending. Bear in mind that it checks how many colors you've paid with, not the mana. If you pay two white mana, it will exile a non-land permanent with mana value 1 or less (because only one color was paid) but it will not be countered by Chalice, because the mana value is 2 total. It's a trick worth remembering if you want to pick up the deck and was a conscious deck-building decision on the creator's part.

End of Turn Fact or Fiction, You Lose

Modern's planeswalkers have been terrorized heavily by Unholy Heat making control less viable in general. Players have been searching for ways to generate card advantage that are not heatable. Well, Fact or Fiction has your back. It enables a true draw-go playstyle, especially alongside the previously mentioned Sharks. It's also trivial to find the single copy of Snapcaster Mage, which can can help you dig even deeper with a subsequent FoF. I personally adore the card and find it super fun to play. I enjoy seeing the misery pouring out of my opponent's eyes as they're trying to split up a pile of two lands, a Snap, a Walker, and a Cryptic.

Final Verdict

The deck looks super solid and takes advantages of the format's weaknesses. Kudos to the creator for making white-blue viable once more. I will certainly sleeve it up and give it a go. And as always, hold my hand and let's pass the turn together. Cheers!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.

1 Comment

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Nekuzu(26.08.2021 10:45)

Playing the list for 2 weeks in a row at our local tournaments all with X-0 results against decent players with good lists. The newer refined list cut Wall of Omens and Snapcaster Mage for additional copies of Solitude and Spreading Seas. Chalice MB is amazing at the moment.
Don't be shy to cycle Shark Typhoons simply for the card draw. Your top priority is to stabilize the board and you need to find the right tools for it. You find a way to win the game at some point in the game. Despite common belief hardcasting Shark Typhoon is actually good since only a handful of decks can answer it at all.