Delving For Glory: 10th At GP Baltimore

Ben Friedman placed 10th at Grand Prix Baltimore with Matt Costa’s winning U/W Delver deck. Read about his experience with the deck and why you should play it in Standard at StarCityGames.com Open: Tampa.

Hey everybody! Since the last time I put finger to keyboard, I got to travel to Hawaii for the Pro Tour where I went 6-2 on day 1 with Matt Costa Delver deck and inverted it for a pitiful 2-6 and no cash and extra Pro Points on day 2. Let me tell y’all a little something about tilting, boys and girls, it’s no joke. Sometimes tilting is just a Magic player’s way of refueling the drive to win when variance doesn’t go his way. The type of tilt I’m talking about is a profound competitive psychological meltdown, the kind where you feel like you just never want to play Magic again and you’ve completely lost your drive to win. It takes a while to get over that kind of tilt and it can strike in varying degrees, but it always ruins a tournament.

Usually, though I can shrug off a single loss like a champ, the first signs of tilt show up for me when I take two losses in a row. If I’m also stressed out about something outside of the immediate tournament like a school assignment (or, as I had in Honolulu, a general funk about life and what I want to do with mine) that kind of tilt just ends the tournament for me. I think that the psychological drain of a Magic tournament goes too unnoticed, and the best players often seem to be able to get into a mental zone where they are 100% focused on the matches at hand. I know that I play my best Magic when I’m less emotionally invested in my result for a tournament and am just focusing on each game individually. It seems to me that the good, but not great players who have learned the technical aspects of the game in and out disproportionately need to work on this part of Magic if they want to get to the next level, myself most definitely included.

So after losing the first two rounds of day 2 with a draft deck that I thought was certainly at least worthy of a 2-1, I beat Michael Jacob in the tilt bracket and proceeded to play some of the worst Magic of my life. I kept several bad hands and got run over by Mono-Black Zombies, I beat Ben Stark who was playing a sweet Wolf Run deck, then lost to Humans after failing to draw a land on a crucial final turn. At x-6, I could still 2-0 my last two rounds to make money, but I decided that I’d rather punt both away with easily seen winning lines in both matches. Despite peoples’ best efforts to help me get back in the zone, I was just too worn out to play any more Magic; by the back end of day two, my heart simply wasn’t in it anymore. 8-8 was all I was good for, a decidedly mediocre performance that made me reconsider why I even wanted to keep playing the game.

Obviously, my good friend and Magic associate Matt Costa did a little better than me that weekend, showing the world what the people who know him have known for a while: he’s really, really good at Magic. I guess all that time playing decks like Teachings, Faeries, Dark Depths, Jund, and Caw-Blade in Constructed and playing gobs of Limited really can make you a master. After watching him lose in an unfortunate four-game set against Finkel, we wasted our last day in Honolulu sitting around the convention center, although at least I got to buy some sweet souvenirs for my family. To say I was disenchanted with Magic that day would be a giant understatement, but twelve hours of tiring travel back to the east coast managed to leave me just confused about whether I wanted to spend my spring semester pursuing an invite to Barcelona and Gold level. To be honest, the decisive factor in my opinion is the fact that I don’t think I’ll ever have a better chance to clamber on to the Pro Tour again. I know so many people who, given the chance that I have, would do anything to get these last six points so I really can’t justify squandering my opportunity now, can I?

All profound thought about what I want to do with my life would have to wait because my hometown Grand Prix was only two weeks away, and Matt and Jason Ford would be coming to stay at my house! Two weeks of school passed by in a blur of tests and stress, and come Friday the 24th I was driving down to BWI and Reagan to pick up my houseguests for the weekend. Of course, we were on the best deck in the format, Costa Delver, guest starring Batterskull and Jace, Memory Adept in the board.

Here’s my list, which differed from Matt’s by three cards:

Why the Batterskull and the Jace? Well, Batterskull is a great way to crush Zombies and Jace is a great way to crush U/B Control. You run ten cantrips, so you’re more likely to find your one-ofs, especially in a longer game against control decks; I won two games by Jace-ing my opponents out. Batterskull won me a game against Zombies, and it does great work by being a Baneslayer that you can hook up to all your creatures to put the game out of reach if the opponent does have the removal spell. Usually, though, they don’t have it since you’ll often have another creature out and thus be protected from Geth’s Verdict. In those situations, it ends the game on the spot. If I were to play this deck again, I’d probably cut a Corrosive Gale for another Batterskull, although with the inevitable rise of the mirror match another Gale would probably have to also go for another Offering.

To properly explain this deck, I have to refer to the most prolific aggro-control deck of all time: Faeries. Essentially, you play with perfect information because of Gitaxian Probe, which is just a free Thoughtseize, and you get all these Vapor Snags with Snapcaster Mage flashback as your fake Cryptic Commands. Also, your opponent can never play around every potential card, and you end the game with either a Snapcaster Mage for Vapor Snag to win the race or you grind out your control opponent with Moorland Haunt (your fake Bitterblossom vs. control) while keeping them from tapping out due to the threat of a Mana Leak or a Snap-Leak into a big Runechanter’s Pike or Jace, Memory Adept.

Your Delver of Secrets is the other part of Bitterblossom, that part being the "oops, I win" hands that both cards sometimes give you. Nothing compares to Thoughtseize into Bitterblossom into Scion of Oona into Mistbind Clique, except maybe Delver of Secrets into Gitaxian Probe, Ponder, Delver of Secrets into two 3/2 flyers attacking on turn 3 with Mana Leak, Vapor Snag, and Snapcaster Mage backup. Obviously you don’t get the insane Mistbind Clique or Cryptic Command, but instead you get game-changing equipment, better card selection, and the nearly-as-insane Geist of Saint Traft. You also get one of the best sideboards in the format, finding your game-changing one- and two-ofs with your cantrips and shoring up your weaknesses in each matchup. And people want to play decks like Birthing Pod? Get real.

Sorry if I got a little too assertive there in that last paragraph, but the deck is the real deal and the fact that you’re not vulnerable to a sweeper like Corrosive Gale is just icing on the cake. You also have much better mana than Esper Spirits, which is another point for Costa Delver. Learn to play this deck, and it will reward you in more than just a higher win percentage for the rest of the current Standard season. You’ll gain an appreciation for how Magic games are won and lost, and you’ll learn by immersion some of the intricacies that make this game so compelling. You’ll also get a lot better. It’s decks like this that make me love Constructed; they’re the gems of the game.

As for the weekend itself, Matt and Jason immediately made friends with my family’s dog, Sheila, and I honestly think that for Jason she was the highlight of his weekend. After getting to wake up in my own bed on Saturday morning, we took the twenty minute drive down to the Baltimore Convention Center, jamming out to Love Shack and the Jackson 5’s ABC. Yeah, this tournament was looking real promising. Registration and pre-tournament battles with Matt Ferrando and Alex Majlaton ate up my measly two byes, and before I knew it I was sitting down to battle round 3!

My opponent, Eric, was playing B/W Tokens, and I assumed that my Sword of War and Peace would perform admirably, but things fell apart when he ripped an Intangible Virtue in game 1 and when I bricked for a while in game 3. Ugh. I really thought I had the makings of a strong tournament, and now this! Well, thankfully I wasn’t super invested in my results this tournament or I might have started tilting, but I just kept battling. I narrowly beat a B/G Wolf Run deck when he played cautiously around a Mana Leak I didn’t have, although I was still feeling a bit unhappy and the sheer difficulty of playing this deck was starting to become startlingly apparent to me at this point. Jason explained that he enjoyed playing this type of deck because the in-depth thought required was a mental release for him; to be able to rewire his brain for a tournament was to fully focus on the intricacies of the games. I wasn’t so sure.

Fortunately, the next round involved me beating up on a G/W opponent quite thoroughly, and that type of resounding victory was enough to really get me mentally situated for the rest of the day. I was 4-1 at this point, and after a tight win over Ray Tautic’s Mono-Black Zombie horde, I was coasting. I followed it up with wins over a Naya Pod deck and Frites before an epic on-camera feature match against Michael Jacob. An aggressive Jace in game 3 followed up by an off-the-top Thought Scour for his last two cards won me the game when he drew with an empty library on the fourth turn of time. I knew that Jace was a good call!

Matt, Jason, and I were all 8-1 at the end of the day, and I was running hot on a nice little six-match streak. Little did I know that the very first round of day two would see me paired for the second time in my life against Matt and would see me drop to 0-2 lifetime versus him, as a lackluster series of topdecked lands in game 3 let him run roughshod over me. I’ll get you one of these days, Costa!

At 8-2, I won my next three matches, including a win over pal Max Brown’s U/B deck, which lacked colored mana in game 2 and got into a spot of trouble with a Mr. Memory Adept. I also won against a sweet Naya aggro deck, since I was all about Delving for Secrets and Snapping some Snags. Sometimes the tempo of this deck is just unbeatable!

This set me up for a conflict with another friend, also by the name of Matt: Mr. Matt Scott. Matt may not be able to attend Barcelona because he’s got an appointment with fatherhood scheduled the same week as the Pro Tour, but he’s a great, stand-up guy. I’m really happy that he got a GP Top 4 to his name this weekend. I was debating asking him to concede before our match, but I didn’t want to put him in an awkward spot before the match even started. After all, I’d have to win another round after that one and then win a Top 8 match to get the plane ticket, and Matt (rightly) wanted to achieve something that weekend. Conceding to your friends in key rounds isn’t the way to do that, and I completely understand.

After a close game 1 and a blowout game 2, I kept an okay hand in game 3 that never drew the kind of cards it needed to stay in the game. Matt barely brought my life total to zero when a Timely Reinforcements would’ve made the game unwinnable for him, but such is Magic. Afterwards, I kind of decided I had to at least ask for the concession, despite knowing that it would make things awkward for my pal. He explained that he really wanted to do well this tournament, and although he wanted me to qualify for Barcelona, he had to take his win. I told him that he had better go and Top 8 the tournament then, and he went and did just that! Congratulations again to him.

At this point I was dead for Top 8, but I won my next rounds against the mirror (my opponent bricked on a second land after keeping a one-lander with Ponder and Probe) and against B/R Zombies (a key Mana Leak that my opponent didn’t play around let me hit him for exact lethal damage while at one life.) Like I said, the deck is awesome, and I’m really happy with the fact that I was able to pick up two more wins in a row despite being demoralized because I was out of contention. The fact that I hadn’t been very invested in the weekend at all may have played a part in that, though. I ended up getting 10th place on tiebreakers, which is a little disappointing considering one player did make Top 8 with three losses. Oh well, $600 and only six more Pro Points to go before Gold!

Oh yeah, then Costa went and won my hometown GP. The nerve! And people said I run good! In all seriousness, though, congratulations to the newest Platinum level player. Waking up to take him back to the airport at 5 AM the next morning was about as fun as it sounds, though. I’m expecting the royal treatment come GP Worcester, buddy!

I’ll be back next week with some sweet Legacy content to gear up for Indianapolis! (Hint: if it ain’t Tundra, it’s crap!)

Until then, good luck Delving people out!


Ben Friedman