Facile, yes; cipher, no
The City Paper has seen fit to proclaim my estimable colleague Jay Hancock the best columnist in Baltimore, writing: “He’s a facile cipher of the holy grail of finance. ...” While it may be churlish to cavil at the citation, everyone knows that copy editors are churls.
So, where did they get cipher? One of the common meanings of the noun is, The New Oxford American Dictionary points out, “a person or thing of no importance, esp. a person who does the bidding of others and seems to have no will of their own.”* They can’t have meant to say that Jay Hancock is a nonentity. (Can they?)
A cipher can also be a code, and perhaps they meant to suggest that he unlocks the code of finance. And, as a verb, it has an old-fashioned sense of “to do arithmetic.” Perhaps they meant that he can penetrate the arcane calculations of finance. Your interpretations are welcome.
Beyond that, decoding or calculating a grail is, if I have divined their intention, still a mixed metaphor of some clumsiness.
He is, withal, a fine columnist. They got that much right.
*You want to mix it up over a person/their, step outside.