I have a secret.
Most people think it's odd when I tell them. They act a bit concerned for my wellbeing and perhaps a bit for their own. They give me a sort of skeptical shifty-eyed glance, and they back off slightly, not unlike the behaviors you would exhibit if someone told you that they were the alter ego of a superhero, or a Scientologist, or a big fan of Jar Jar Binks.
“No, really,” they say. “That just can't be true. I know you. This has to be a lie!” I'm sorry, but the truth can be unbelievable sometimes.
Really though, it's not that odd… At least, to me it isn't. Don't be frightened. I promise I won't hurt you. I promise.
Here it is: I've never cast Delver of Secrets. Not in Standard, not in Modern, not in Legacy, not in Vintage, not even in Sealed or Draft. Not once.
The thing is that I should love Delver of Secrets. I've played tons of blue-based aggro decks, from Merfolk to Fish to BlueManji to Meathooks. Heck, I even played Flying Men with Unstable Mutation for a few weeks in Time Spiral Block because I like blue aggro so much. The inherent power of blue to draw cards and counter spells in concert with a coherent aggressive strategy has always intrigued me, even when the creatures I tried to use weren't that good.
And just look at Delver of Secrets. It's the aggressive blue creature we've always dreamed of: one that applies lots of early pressure, has evasion, and works best with a ton of instants and sorceries in your deck! And to top that, it has another good aggressive blue friend that also works best with a ton of instants and sorceries in your deck in Snapcaster Mage! What's not to like?
Well, a couple things.
First, it's the boogeyman of the format now. And by ‘the format,' what I mean to say is ‘all the formats.' That means that everyone is coming for it. And when the boogeyman of the format has just one toughness and doesn't have shroud or hexproof or the like, then it's in trouble. You can ask old cards and new about having a single point of toughness while simultaneously being Undesirable Number One. Savannah Lions, Goblin Welder, Grim Lavamancer, even Bob himself, Dark Confidant, can regale you with tales about what it's like trying to leave the house every morning to try to get to work with haymakers trying to take you out from every direction. In this format today we have a ton of cards that see play for the express purpose of killing Delves McGee. Sure, they kill other things, but Gut Shot, Arc Trail, Virulent Wound, and many others owe their life in Standard to being able to bury the possible Insectile Aberration they could be facing a turn from now deep in the graveyard.
And second, I am a ‘cooler.' Did anyone besides me see that movie? William H. Macy is in an old-school Las Vegas casino, and his job is to turn people's luck bad by standing near them. Yeah, that's me. Well, without Maria Bello as a love interest and Alec Baldwin as my boss. Man, that was a good movie.
Anyway, whenever I play cards that require any sort of odds, I know that I'll ‘cool' those odds by a good 10-20%. My friends can attest to having seen me topdeck the last land in my draft deck with 12-13 cards to go numerous times. I've flipped the worst possible Fact or Fictions and died to the least likely Ad Nauseams and Dark Confidant flips. I'm not complaining; this is just a fact that I know about myself and take into consideration when I decide to try to play a deck (or card), or I decide to avoid it.
Seriously, you can ask any of my friends about this ‘cooleriness.' I'll tell them to comment. Mark Sun, for example, flips Delvers at a normal human pace… unless I'm standing near him. To this day, I've never seen him flip a Delver in person. Jon Johnson has a similar story about the lack of Human Wizards he can turn into Human Insects when I'm nearby. Justin Calhoun, another self-confessed ‘cooler' who whiffs on Delver triggers like Adam Dunn does high fastballs, doesn't share my aversion to playing Delver. He said to me after our recent top 8 match at the Food for Africa 1K last weekend in Cincinnati that my Delver luck ‘outmatched' his Delver luck after he was able to flip them with normal mathematical efficiency. The stories go on and on.
So rather than torture myself with disappointing Delves, revealing not Secrets but lands and perhaps the occasional creature, I choose to choose a different path.
Which brings me to the deck I chose to play at last weekend's Food for Africa 1K: Chapin Grixis.
Yes, a Grixis Battlemage is me.
Why Grixis? Well, I liked the deck from the first time I read the coverage. And after I read Chapin's article on his success at the Grand Prix, well of course I was sold. I mean, he could sell rocking chairs to long-tailed cats if he wanted to.
But more importantly, I decided to go back to what I'm best at. Some players are aggro players by nature; some are combo people, etc. Others are more specific than that, like specializing in Red Deck Wins, Storm Combo, on and on. For example, I know someone who only plays G/B/x Rock decks because that's what he knows. Personally, I'm best at Tribal Aggro and Grindy Control.
Every once in a while I like to venture out, like everyone should. I try the occasional combo deck here or a Red Deck Wins there, but I know what I'm best at. And since no tribes interested me this time around, I played a grind-‘em-out control deck. I took Chapin's list, made a few small changes like putting the third Liliana and the Karn in the main and a few other tweaks, and played the thing in penny sleeves like I was a small child. And I had a blast.
One of the main draws to Chapin's deck was the number of sweepers. I'm a sucker for a sweeper (that Kelley O'Hara, oh boy!), and this deck is full of ‘em. Whipflare, Black Sun's Zenith, Curse of Death's Hold—man that's a good time. They're in place of cheaper targeted removal like Galvanic Blast or Dismember mostly to deal with hexproof creatures like Invisible Stalker and Geist of Saint Traft but also quite good against early drops that can get quite huge like Champion of the Parish and… oh lookee here, it's our old friend Delver of Secrets. How surprising to see you at the top of the most wanted list. Dealing with a Delver and another guy at the same time is what they in the business call a two-for-one. I'm sure someone has written an article about that sort of thing somewhere.
My record at the end of the day looked like this:
Win, 1-0-1, Tatiana Hritzko, Grixis mirror
Win, 2-0, Joe ?, Jund Titans
Win, 2-0, James Grendell, UW Illusions, wasn't playing Delver
Win, 2-1, Mark Sun, UW Humans
I.D., ?, Mono Red
So while I did lose to UW Delver decks twice, I still feel that my matchup isn't that bad against them. I believe I drew poorly to lose my first round, and without three Mana Leaks and a Snapcaster in game 3 against JCal, I would've won my quarterfinal match as well. In any case, it'd would be dumb of me to complain about how I did considering I top 8'd the tournament, had a great time at a wonderfully run event by Taylor Gunn, and on top of all that beat every other archetype I faced, including a hard fought mirror in which game 1 took 35 minutes.
In short, I know I'm unlucky at times, but I stuck to my guns, and I was rewarded as a result. We should all be so lucky.
Poll Question Roundup
As was the case with Innistrad's prerelease and release events, Dark Ascension appears to have grabbed the attention of the Magic community in a way not seen in years. Nearly half of those voting said they are more excited for the upcoming Dark Ascension events than those from Mirrodin Besieged and Worldwake. While Spikes and Vorthoses (Vorthosi? Vorthosians?) typically have little in common, they both really like this block. Look for longer lines and larger crowds at your local prerelease and release events in the coming weeks.
While there was a lot of initial hype surrounding the new Sorin, it appears to have been tempered a bit. While his price is still hovering around 60 bucks, most people I've spoken to don't expect him to reach ubiquitous playability in the format. This initial reaction to Sorin is probably as a result of people's sense memories of B/W Tokens domination of the format several years ago, but in those days the token producers were on such a higher power level (Bitterblossom, Spectral Procession) than they are today that even with the Lord of Innistrad on their side, I don't anticipate anywhere near that many B/W token decks running around. Ajani Vengeant and four-drop Elspeth are both good comparisons, considering the enemy color nature of Sorin and Ajani and the somewhat similar abilities of Elspeth and Sorin. Time will tell the true power of the newest four-drop planeswalker, but I think the polling audience got this one right.
I suppose I sort of led people to the answers on this question, which mirrored my own opinions. I believe that not only is this the healthiest format for the time of the three-month cycle, but the fact that creative players like Patrick and Conley can still thrive in explored formats and not just unexplored ones is a testament to good design and execution on the part of the Wizards team. Compare it to last year at this time, when the best decks were Caw-Go, and… that's about it. This year we have many archetypes and a diverse metagame. Hopefully the introduction of Dark Ascension will only add to the varied tournament scene.
And yes, I did use two ‘explores' in one sentence. Insert your own Alex Bertoncini joke here.
Questions of the Week
Until next time fellow explorers…
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