Tom Delia, born and bred right here in Central Florida where I now make my home, is a member of the 2013 Magic Online Community Cup-winning team, avid Commander player, fellow student at the University of South Florida (I suppose here is where I'm required to say "Go Bulls!"), and now SCG writer. He's also a regular at Armada Games, where we've been slinging the 100-card decks together for at least a year and a half. This won't even be his first appearance on these pages since I featured his Standard-legal Prime Speaker Zegana deck back in March.
Tom is constantly pleasant and upbeat and tends to talk in exclamation points. I find him thoroughly fun and engaging to talk to, so I thought you might enjoy it as well.
Me: Why don't you tell everyone a little about yourself?
Tom: I grew up in Davie, Florida, a place most notable for having Bergeron Rodeo grounds and being where the Miami Dolphins hold their off-season practices. While growing up my Dad was a publicist for Disney, which was awesome because I was able to invite all my friends to free screenings of movies and met a large number of movie stars whenever they came down to Florida. My mother has had a host of jobs ranging from nursing home administrator to risk coordinator and is the main inspiration of my devotion to the medical field.
Me: What are you studying at USF?
Tom: The one thing I want to do in this world is help people, and my major in Biology and minor in Religion that I earned at USF has led me to enter Nursing school in the spring and learn to help people full-time.
Me: How'd you get involved in Magic?
Tom: I have two older brothers that are to blame for my introduction to Magic. When I was thirteen my brother threw a bunch of Magic cards at my face and said," I don't like this stupid game anymore, have these." As any sibling would do, I decided to prove him wrong and dove into Magic with my best friend Kevin and began a long-time love affair with the best trading card game ever printed. While in high school I picked up this amazing format called EDH and immediately immersed myself in every detail.
Me: And then along came the podcast.
Tom: Due to my local playgroup splitting up to go to college, we decided to start a podcast to keep together called MTG Radio, the first Magic podcast to exclusively focus on EDH. Turned out that it was hard to run and edit a podcast while keeping up with sixteen hours a semester of work, so we ended the podcast after I missed a lab final due to recording.
Just last year I started streaming Commander on Magic Online to great success under the same MTG Radio moniker, meeting amazing people from around the world and preaching the virtues of the best casual format ever made. Just recently I was given the honor of representing the Magic: The Gathering Online Community at the Magic Online Community Cup, where eight Magic players took on Wizards of the Coast in twelve rounds of furious Magic. With the support of the rest of the amazing Community players, we took down Wizards and won back the Community Cup! It now rests in the hands of the Magic Online Community on a mantle somewhere in Renton at WotC headquarters for the Wizards team to look on in shame.
Me: What do you have planned now that you've hoisted the trophy?
Tom: My future plans are to continue streaming at a fervent pace and writing The Battle Of The Blocks article series [here] on StarCityGames.com to find the best block for EDH! I have a bevy of exciting events coming up in the near future, from a charity stream on October 12th devoted to the amazing Relay For Life program to some Ten-Ticket Challenge community days that should be an absolute blast!
Me: During the Community Cup, you had an opportunity that many gamers only dream about: visiting the WotC offices. Tell us about something that you had always wanted to see that was even better than you hoped.
Tom: I had always imagined the WotC offices as a Willy Wonka's chocolate factory that just happened to make Magic cards. While walking into the elevator in Renton, it turned out that it was less like a chocolate factory and more like the best summer camp ever. They have this really cool open office concept design that promotes discussion between people. While following behind the tour guide, I had so much fun just observing how they worked. Although not a mystical place of wonder like I had imagined, knowing how the WotC offices are set up is even better than I hoped.
Me: What surprised you?
Tom: My favorite surprise while walking through the offices came in two parts. The first was when we were passing Sean Gibbons' office space and the tour ground to a halt. Sean said, "Tom, something came in the mail for you." I was flabbergasted. Why would something come in the mail for me at WotC? I live in Florida. As Sean ducked into his office, I flashbacked three weeks ago to a user in my streaming channel saying that he had a surprise for me when I got to Seattle. "Apparently you like Snakes?" Sean quizzically asked as he whipped out a small Beanie Baby snake with a paper attached that said, "All the way from Europe, from your mod team —Paper." I was confused but thankful. Stephen is a cheerful member of the Magic Online EDH community, so it was really nice that he had sent me a gift from up in the UK. "Oh, and you have to wear this hat."
There it was, possibly the worst-looking hat I'd ever seen: a neon metallic green monstrosity of a skullcap adorned with nine paper towel roll-length snakes with beady little eyes and flaring red tongues. As all eighteen eyes bore into my soul, I could only think one thing; no matter how much I reviled this hat, I loved it all the same. It was a gift to me from the people who watch my stream and contribute to the Magic Online community. How the heck could I turn that down? I wore it all throughout the Iron Root Chef Challenge. It was the biggest surprise for me while at the WotC offices and one I am extremely thankful for. It still looks stupid though . . .
Me: How much other than the Community Cup did you play?
Tom: From when I got to the hotel on Wednesday to leaving early Sunday, Magic was played. The first thing we did was a Modern Masters draft with some of the packs that James Searles, who was accompanying Melissa DeTora, had brought with him on the trip. In fact, any time we weren't at the WotC offices, we were either drafting or just hanging out around the city of Seattle. For a ballpark estimate I'd say we played at least 24 hours of Magic over the four days the Community Cup took place, including time spent during the actual Community Cup competition.
Me: Had you been to Seattle before?
Tom: This was my first trip to Seattle, and Wizards was nice enough to give us some time to go out and explore the city. I met up with Melissa and James at a diner at Pike's Place market for an amazing salmon steak sandwich. During some other downtime I walked up to the area around the Space Needle with my good friend Derek Boyko. The city itself is great, like a more alive Tampa without a defined Ybor district. I guess that makes no sense for non-Florida residents, so a simpler description would be that Seattle is a place where everyone has a reason to be somewhere but don't mind helping you out. Oh, and their love of coffee has not been overexaggerated. I remember being in a long line at a Starbucks and then just walking through the coffee shop into a small gated area across to another Starbucks. They really, really, really like coffee.
Me: It sounds like the Community team was really a team.
Tom: I'm thankful for all of those drafts we did outside of the WotC offices and some within them because they let me get to know the other Community members on a more personal level. Reid Duke is exactly what the broken record says he is, a tall man who is both humble and kind. He never hesitated to help others when they needed it and was content to step back when other people had opinions about a current draft pick or play. He was the captain of the team, and he was a very good one. Jan van der Vegt, or DZY as I constantly got reminded not to call him, just could not stop smiling. He's a carefree guy from the Netherlands who loves forcing Storm in Modern Masters, playing Magic, and dancing. The guy really likes dancing. He even convinced me and Kenji to go down to a club on Friday night with him, but that's a story for another time.
Kenji Egashira, or numotthenummy, is the player closest to my age on the team, him being 24 and me being 22. Kenji is an amazing Magic player, dominating in two different Draft archetypes at WotC and destroying us in the side drafts as well—yet I never felt bad losing to him because he's such a great opponent to play against. He abides by the classic rule of "if you don't taunt your opponent, they won't know your there." I even went as far as to place a $5 bounty on his head during a Modern Masters draft! No one actually got the five dollars though.
Keya Saleh is similar to Kenji in that he was also a joy to hang out with and play against. Keya's expertise at the game went a little under the radar due to some timely draws by WotC, but he is a really good Magic player and someone I'm happy to call a friend after we stepped away from Seattle. Plus, he knew where to actually get good breakfast food, which is a win in my book.
Matthew Watkins is a writer for Pure MTGO and a great conversationalist. When waiting to get into PAX for the Community Cup, conversations tended to happen around Watkins. He's a heck of a guy and someone I'm really glad was on the Community team with us.
Michael Jacob was the most surprising person to me. On stream he comes off as a slightly acerbic person, but in real life he was just as much of the group as anyone else. Funnily enough, after getting off my plane in Seattle, Michael was the first person I met while walking up the stairs to the hotel. We got our "swag bags" that were held behind the desk together, and his eyes got as big as mine did. His Magic play was great, and although quiet at times he's still a great person to hang out with.
The final two people that I consider part of the team are Melissa DeTora and our unofficial ninth James Searles. Although James never got to sit down and play a game against WotC, he helped the Community team in both strategy discussion and deck ideas. He even got us coffee while we were playing at PAX! Big shout out to James for being an all-around amazing person. Melissa is a fantastic Magic player and the unofficial MVP of the Community team. In side drafts I think I went 3-1 against her, but her expertise was on point and admittedly one of those matches she tried to draft dredge in Modern Masters.
I honestly don't think Wizards could have put together a group of people as great as the one they did for this year's Community team. I was lucky enough to have personal experiences with each member of the team, and without them the event wouldn't have been nearly as fun.
Me: Let's turn our eyes back to Commander. I know you have Prime Speaker, Riku, and Borborygmos. You obviously like ramping and drawing cards. What's your latest concoction?
Tom: My favorite general at the moment is Borborygmos. I'm not gonna lie to you; I love attacking. Getting into the red zone each turn is the road to victory for me, and Borborygmos is one of the greatest, face-smashing ways to do it. Plus no one gives the meathead the respect he deserves, which leads to some wins out of nowhere, looking to seize the day.
The most recent deck I've built is a direct port of my Living In The Upkeep deck that I built online for my EDH stream. It is a super-fun deck that lives and sometimes crashes in the upkeep. The most important card in it is Paradox Haze. It has produced a different play experience each time I've played it. I can't suggest it enough. Here's the link.
Tom: Although it is full of value, please do not use Progenitor Mimic on Graveborn Muse. It quickly cycles into a fit of depression and self-loathing that can only be helped by a sweeper. But it was the best play of the game! I only lost 31 life . . . Hey, I want to ask you a question while I'm thinking about it.
Tom: Where'd you get your forearm tattoo and what's the story behind it?
Me: It's the Rune of Wisdom from Werewolf: The Apocalypse, for which I was a Second Edition playtester (that's the version that comes in hardcover with the slashes actually in the cover of the book). I liked the shape of it. I put it right there on my forearm to actually be my "rune of wisdom." I can't miss it, so when I'm about to do something stupid, I have an automatic trigger to think about it a second time.
Tom: It looks pretty awesome!
Me: Thanks! Let's get back to the Magic. What do you think about what you've seen of Theros so far?
Tom: I love the set so far. It's super-flavorful of Greek mythology, and it's only the first set of the block! I'm honestly scared of a couple of cards though. Both Purphoros, God of the Forge and Erebos, God of the Dead look super-powerful and will be cards to be reckoned with. Erebos, God of the Dead in a tight mono-black ramp shell will be really difficult to play against because the only limiting agent to mono-black decks previously was their lack of consistent card draw. Now that these amazing ramp decks have access to a "worse Greed" on a commander, the amount of Exsanguinate hitting the table will increase tenfold.
Purphoros, God of the Forge is a Commander I can get behind though! He will see play as both an amazing card in red decks for the mini Warstorm Surge effect and as a really fun mono-red commander to build around. Also, I have my eye on Fanatic of Mogis. His ability deals the damage to each opponent, and in a Kiki-Jiki Mirror Breaker deck, it gets ugly.
Me: Has what you've seen motivated you to work on any of them as commanders?
Tom: Theros hasn't inspired to make a deck yet. I need to see some of the cards in play first. As of right now there are a lot of cards that I can't wait to put into already formed decks, like the aforementioned Purphoros, God of the Forge in Aurelia, the Warleader. I also like Rescue from the Underworld in the Thraximundar deck due to the shenanigans at instant speed. If Purphoros, God of the Forge turns out to be as good as I think he is, that would be a deck I want to create!
Me: Pretend you're on the Rules Committee. During the next quarterly meeting (and in the super-secret place that we talk online in between), what change(s) to the format will you argue for?
Tom: If I were placed on the Rules Committee? Well, the snap call is a ban on Palinchron. I honestly think the card brings nothing to the format and leads to a downward spiral of unfun combos that take little to no effort to actually pull off.
But thinking about the format as a whole, I honestly believe it is balanced or will become balanced soon. One of the things I like about the current Rules Committee is the laissez-faire attitude it has about Commander. This leads to the format having a sort of auto-correction to really big problems. If ramp and tutoring is taking over a format, why not play cards like Tunnel Ingus or Stranglehold? If Goblins have you down, cards like Wrath of God do exist and are easy ways to keep safe. I really like the current Commander format and the way things are in its current iteration. I will agree that early artifact ramp and aggressive land ramp strategies have a distinct advantage nowadays. But if people just attacked more, the fifteen lands that Omnath, Locus of Mana has out on turn 8 mean nothing, especially when their life total is zero!
The current glut of land ramp strategies is in response to the proliferation of sweeper effects that used to be very popular in Commander. The best way to beat the twelve-sweeper deck was to out-ramp them and always have a finisher to outlast the board wipes. Theros brings some cards that will help hurt land ramp strategies. Up-and-coming Commander decks like Kaalia of the Vast and Krenko, Mob Boss are more aggro-based to hurt these ten-turn decks.
Me: What are you watching on TV these days?
Tom: My favorite TV shows are The League, Game of Thrones, and Archer. I love to laugh when it comes to TV. I'm also waiting to devour all of Breaking Bad at once when it hits Netflix.
Me: How about reading?
Tom: I loved reading through the entire Game of Thrones series, but my light reading has been dedicated to Kurt Vonnegut and the yearly rereading of my favorite novel, Watership Down. It may be about bunnies, but the political ramifications and amazing writing within Watership Down is fascinating. It allows me to reread it as much as I want and always delve a little deeper into the startling similarities between our world and one made up of rabbits.
Me: Where would you suggest someone start with Vonnegut?
Tom: My first Vonnegut book was the classic Slaughterhouse Five. It's a real page-turner and displays Vonnegut's more morbid side. As an introduction to Vonnegut, I would suggest Slaughterhouse Five if you want to read a book that you can have healthy discussions [about] with multiple people. It's easily his most popular work and one that people love to talk about at length.
For my money though, Breakfast of Champions is his best work that I've read so far. It has the trademark characters of a Vonnegut work and a little bit of time bending accompanied with the self-referencing you expect in his novels. The humor shines in this novel though! I read it in about three days because I was just engrossed with the characters and the way that Vonnegut can turn the mundane into heavy character development. An A+ book for me.
Me: Looks like we've eaten up enough of your time. Any last attacks?
Tom: As someone who loves deckbuilding, I guess my final words are "be creative." One of the reasons I've stuck by Commander for so long is because of the amazing deck design that goes on in this format. From (Monday Night Gamer) Keith's crazy decks at Armada Games to some of the wacky decks I've seen online, it always seems like the person playing the oddest deck is having the most fun. So don't settle for a "RUG good stuff" Maelstrom Wanderer deck. This format has a better ban list than Vintage; you're better than that. Commander truly is a deck designer's paradise, so go out there and be creative!
Thanks to Tom for taking the time to chat with us. Something tells me this won't be the last we hear of him. Next week, it's all Theros all the time, so tune in for a complete set review!
Embracing the Chaos,
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