Greatness, at any cost.
I can't think of a more iconic flavor text than that of Dark Confidant. When my sixteen-year-old eyes first laid eyes on it all I could think was, "That's freakin' cool." Seven years has done nothing to change this opinion.
Of course, nowadays what it means to me is that I'm willing to incinerate a lot of money to refine my decks of children's cards. So willing, in fact, that I ventured out to Omaha and Des Moines on back to back weekends to PTQ in a format that I knew very little about to learn as much as possible for the PTQ in Fargo this weekend. Apparently the cost of potential greatness is mind-numbing treks to three of the most boring states the Midwest has to offer.
My weapon of choice has been Grixis. Not to be a Magic hipster, but I was playing Grixis in Modern long before it was good. My first foray with the deck was a top 64 finish at GP Lincoln with a spicy Sedraxis Specter brew. As I found out in Omaha (and probably should've already known), that card is a pretty far cry from viable.
Luckily for me, in the week following that event Zac Hill unleashed his Grixis Delver deck to subscribers and moochers of SCG Premium worldwide. I was rather skeptical of the particulars of Zac's deck when I first saw it, as it had a lot of elements that I had tried before and didn't care for. The three cards that jumped out at me were Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration, Serum Visions and Cryptic Command... A set of cards that I would have a hard time convincing anybody weren't good enough. Before I go into what I thought then and what I've learned now, I'll present the decidedly sub-optimal list that I brought to Des Moines:
I basically took Zac's deck and modified it for edges against the mirror, opposing Tarmogoyfs and Lingering Souls. The edge that I added is named Tarmogoyf. Like many others I saw the absence of Goyf as a weakness but adding it didn't end up helping the matchups that are actually troubling. The thing about opposing Lingering Souls and Goyfs is that they usually are coming out of decks that are doing slower, fairer things than Hill's list, so those decks are pretty beatable. I thought Goyf would be useful against GR Tron but having the extra one drop has mattered a lot more in my experience. If I could play against non-Tron decks all day I think I'd want something close to this list, but with Tron being a surprisingly popular deck in the Midwest, I've landed on this list:
On Delver of Secrets
Given the choice between having a Goyf in play and having an Insectile Aberration in play I would choose Tarmogoyf almost every time. That said, the difference in casting cost has turned out to be a dramatic drawback, and not just in terms of getting Spell Snared. The format is just faster than I gave it credit for. Many decks present leaving up Remand on turn two as a necessity, and having a one drop to pair with that Remand is infinitely better than the alternative.
I think that the major reason that I missed Delver initially was that I wasn't used to having Deathrite Shaman in the deck. Being a deck with two one drops is dramatically different from being a deck with only one, and both one drops in this deck are very serious threats.
On Serum Visions
It stinks and I don't like it. Next question.
Okay, that's being somewhat unfair to the card. Zac Hill contends that the card is abstractly good, whereas going in I was of the belief that the card was only good enough in decks that wanted as much card manipulation as possible due to having degenerate ways to end games. I think that the actual value of the card lies somewhere in between.
Basically, I'm playing two because I think a deck that thrives on mana efficiency wants some amount of manipulation but I'm ONLY playing two because drawing multiples tends to tie up too much mana for too little of an effect. I'd be surprised if the correct number wasn't one or two, but I've certainly been wrong before.
Having only two does impact consistency some, which I hedged with the inclusion of Izzet Charm. One copy does't seem like much but you almost never want to draw multiple Charms in decks that want to make their land drops and you can always Snapcaster Mage it later if you are hurting for a Careful Study.
On Cryptic Command
I've revealed Cryptic to Bob and died in situations where it wouldn't even be good enough had I lived enough times (at least once) to be quite skeptical of its inclusion. I could potentially see it as a one of but it's basically just inefficient redundancy of things that you're already doing. The bounce mode gives you something pretty unique, but I don't see it being as relevant as the Bob drawback or the triple blue in my deck with one basic Island drawback. Again, I'd play the odds on one, but the card has been underwhelming in my non-Scapeshift Modern experience.
If you want to read up on how decks like this play, then I very much recommend Zac Hill's article on SCG. To sum it up, everything is based on context and experience is paramount to success. You're going to make some weird plays and you're going to win a lot of games that your opponent didn't think were lose-able.
While I'm quite fond of Grixis (beats literally every fair deck if played well and isn't bad against unfair ones) there are a lot of cool decks to mess around with in Modern currently. I think that the format is finally starting to grow into something unique and at least for now there doesn't seem to be a de-facto best deck. Now, whether or not this implies that the banned list is currently correct (it doesn't) is another matter, but for now I'm actually having some fun with the format.
Good luck to anybody playing in any remaining Modern PTQs, with Grixis or otherwise. Questions, concerns? Make a comment!
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