I thought spoiler season was effectively over. Yesterday I got Recruiter of the Guard as a new toy, and I honestly can’t say that I expected anything else from the set after that. Welp, I couldn’t have been more wrong. When LSV spoiled Sanctum Prelate today, he made a joke about how there might be a real conspiracy afoot; the conspiracy may in fact be that someone in R&D is a D&T player, and this set is just an excuse to print powerful white creatures. This set is an unreal boon for D&T players. The first thing I want to do I debunk one of the common oversimplifications of this card that I keep seeing: “It’s a Chalice of the Void on legs!” No, it really isn’t. Let’s talk about why.
Chalice of the Void is really only good at shutting off inexpensive cards, as the XX in its mana cost quickly becomes prohibitive. That’s not to say that isn’t good, as it certainly got itself restricted in Vintage. By Legacy standards, that means that Chalice is usually going to end up on zero, one, or two. Historically, Chalice has been played in various Stompy and artifact-themed decks alongside “Sol lands” or other mana acceleration as a way to try to create an insurmountable advantage on turn one. Many of the cantrip-based decks simply flop around like a fish out of water once half of their spells do nothing. Chalice is technically symmetrical, though most of the time this is not a detriment; Chalice decks tend to leave out one-drops, as Chalice most frequently gets set to one. To recap, Chalice is a proactive card for the early turns of the game; it tends to get used to shut off one drop spells and is 100% symmetrical.
Sanctum Prelate only stops non-creature spells. Let’s compare a Chalice on One vs a Sanctum Prelate on one to see a key difference between these cards. Against a RUG Delver deck, for example, Chalice stops Lightning Bolt, Delver of Secrets, Nimble Mongoose, and the usual set of cantrips. Sanctum Prelate does not stop a Delver or Nimble Mongoose. This means that landing a Sactum Prelate on one is not nearly as backbreaking as landing a Chalice; your opponent can still just blind flip a Delver and peck you to death. A Chalice on one would leave a RUG player with Tarmogoyf as their only castable card in many scenarios, but Sanctum Prelate does nothing to stop their win conditions (other than making it far more difficult to grow the Tarmogoyf or achieve threshold).
That being said, this clause is not necessarily detrimental as a whole. Decks like D&T that will play Sanctum Prelate are creature-heavy, and unlike with Chalice, you can continue casting spells into it. Let’s say you are playing against ANT. You played Sanctum Prelate on two to stop their Cabal Ritual and Infernal Tutor, which is completely reasonable. Unlike with Chalice, you can continue to cast your two drop creatures…oh, yes, that means Thalia, Guardian of Thraben can still join the party and make your opponent’s life more miserable.
Sanctum Prelate has much more flexibility in use than Chalice. For the low, low price of three mana, Sanctum Prelate allows you to shut off any number you’d like. Compare this to Chalice, which rarely achieves a number above two. This means you can shut off whatever card will beat you or wreck your board, no matter how large. As LSV noted, this means that you can name six to stop Terminus from ruining your day. You get bonus points if you Vial it in with the Miracle trigger on the stack. While the applications against most combo decks are pretty obvious, you can also get a little cheeky and name twelve against Omniscience so that Enter the Infinite is only good as Force of Will fodder. Oh, did I mention that if you set this to two, not even an Abrupt Decay will get you out of it? There’s another critical difference between Sanctum Prelate and Chalice.
In case you didn’t actively pick up on it from the examples, that means that in addition to just serving as a Chalice-like effect to shut off inexpensive spells, Sanctum Prelate can do two very different things: stop an opposing win condition or stop cards that would cause you to effectively lose the game or a large amount of tempo. How often do you find yourself thinking, “I’ll win this game as long as my opponent does not have X.” Well, Sanctum Prelate will shut off X, and every other non-creature spell that happens to cost the same amount. Let’s look at the Lands matchup now. A Sanctum Prelate on two would shut off both Life from the Loam and Punishing Fire, arguably the two most critical cards in the matchup. You get to shut off your opponent’s out and/or their win conditions with a single card, a flexibility that isn’t always there with Chalice. Also, Flickerwisp and Eldrazi Displacer can reset Sanctum Prelate when necessary. I’ll let that sink in for a second. In the early turns of the game, you can set Sanctum Prelate to one to stop opposing cantrips, but once you have an established board, you can switch it to their win condition or sweeper to lock up the game. It’s really somewhere between a Meddling Mage and Chalice of the Void instead of just being a Chalice impersonator.
In addition to all that goodness, it also happens to be a human, making Cavern of Souls even more justifiable than before. It does have the slightly restrictive WW in its mana cost, but I think that’s a good thing. That will cut down on the number of potential “8 Chalice” decks running around in the format. Sanctum Prelate also lives through Dread of Night, avoiding the dreaded one-toughness issue of many hate bears.
There are essentially two ways to incorporate Sanctum Prelate into D&T: you can include one as a tutor target or you can include four as a core part of your strategy. Truth be told, I don’t know what is correct. Between Thalia, Heretic Cathar, Sanctum Prelate, and Recruiter of the Guard, D&T is changing. It’s an exciting time to be a D&T player, but we have a ton of testing to do. I’ll be starting out with one of these in my maindeck, likely replacing the Mangara of Corondor from my decklist yesterday. Since we don’t have the chance to play Sanctum Prelate on turns one or two (in the early stages of development where it would have the most impact) I’m not sure that it is worth maxing on on all four. That being said, having multiples of this card is absurd and will quickly eliminate your opponent’s outs and ability to win.
Okay, Phil, where’s the decklist? The bad news is that you aren’t getting one today. The good news is that tomorrow’s spoilers could have Balance or Armageddon stapled to a 2/2 at the rate we are going