Standard PTQ Season is just about upon us, for those who’re living in the UK, as well as another couple of World Cup Qualifiers, and that’s pretty exciting. As there’s just been a new set released, there’s room for innovation, and those who are able should be able to get an advantage over the field, at least in the early days of the format.
For the most part though, the key to doing well in these tournaments is going to be picking one of the top decks of the format, and learning how to play it well. There are advantages to be had by playing something unusual, or that attacks from a different angle. There are a lot of combo enablers in this block, far more than we’ve seen in recent memory, but outside of Burning Vengeance, there isn’t much in the way of kill conditions to make use of this, which is a shame.
The deck I’m suggesting today isn’t anything particularly off the radar, but I’m pretty happy with its matchup vs the expected field. I’ve been playing around with it since before the new set was released, and while it doesn’t gain a lot from the release, its intrinsic power level is very high, and the increased number of Cavern of Souls decks, be they naming ‘Giant’ or ‘Human’ is likely to push the bad matchups out of consideration in the short term.
I’m talking about a Solar Flare deck, and before I go any further, I’ll show you the list.
After Innistrad was released, people were very excited about Forbidden Alchemy, and the potential to dump Unburial Rites + Fatty into the graveyard, for potential re-animation on turn 4 onwards. It was like Wizards were telling us ‘rebuild Solar Flare’. They gave us all the pieces to play with – the enablers and the creature recursion that we’d need, and they even spelled out which colours we had to be in across them.
The problem was, with the updated deck, we’d almost been given too many new toys to play with. We saw how good Snapcaster Mage looked, and figured he’d be a 4-of in a deck with a stacked Graveyard, so in he went. We saw Think Twice, and figured that that would end up in there as well, with the speed that we were filling up our Graveyard. We saw a pretty formidable creature base in Sun Titan, Phantasmal Image and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, so they all went in the melting pot as well.
The trouble was, we were wrong. We were trying to do far too many things at once. Our reanimation package didn’t have much synergy with the rest of the deck as a whole, and we ended up just playing an Esper good-stuff deck, and it wasn’t good enough. The deck was widely played in the early days, but people quickly realised that it just wasn’t winning that much, so shelved it, and moved on to other, more streamlined decks.
People in the early days were playing Solar Flare wrongly. They viewed it as a combo deck, when in actuality, it’s a Control deck. In the beginning, when people were playing it, it didn’t have a specific metagame to aim for, so wasn’t able to take its multitude of parts, and focus them appropriately. It wasn’t ever that the power-level wasn’t there, because the cards that Flare played were a collection of the best cards in the format, but you were never sure if you had to beat Wolf Run, Illusions, Humans, or any other number of decks that were widely played at the dawn of the format.
Now, while we’re again at the beginnings of a new Standard format, we have a lot of information to work from. Having looked at the Avacyn Restored cards in great detail in the last couple of weeks, as well as the first batch of tournament results coming in, we can see that not all that much has changed. Most of the new cards are being used to strengthen existing archetypes, rather than spawning new ones, and in actuality, the card that people have heralded as ‘The end of Control’, is actually very good for Solar Flare players, as it strengthens the position of our good matchups against our bad ones, to the extent that Nephalia Drownyard based strategies are practically unplayable.
One of the problems that Solar Flare traditionally had was its appalling mana-base. It was 3 colours, and it needed them all relatively early on. Evolving Wilds has helped to a degree, but really, players need to learn to be less extravagant with what they’re playing. If you look at the deck I’ve listed above, we’re clearly a base White/Black deck that touches on Blue for card filtering, and the mana base reflects that. Because we’ve cut Mana Leak entirely from the deck, we no longer require such a heavy blue commitment, which means more basics, which has, in turn led to the majority of our dual lands entering the battlefield untapped, which is never a bad thing.
A word on Mana Leak. I wasn’t running it any more, even before Cavern of Souls. It was never really necessary to the strategy. The rest of your deck is a tap-out control deck, and it’s completely useless to be holding up Mana Leak when you’d far rather be advancing your own board position. In the event that you don’t have anything to do, people will sometimes still play around the Mana Leak, because it’s not out of the realms of possibility that you do have it. It’s certainly worth trying to trick your opponent into doing so early on, by tapping, sighing and untapping mana before letting a non-critical spell resolve. Do be warned though, if you’re letting something huge, like a Primeval Titan resolve after humming and hawing, you’re fooling no one.
On the subject of Countermagic, I’ve decided to play a couple of Cavern of Souls myself. I don’t know if these are going to be entirely necessary, but they’re so good against Delver decks that it’s probably worth running what are, for the most part, colourless lands against everyone else. The Caverns let us just run out Sunny T on turn 6, or Elesh Norn of turn 7, if we’ve been lucky enough to draw her. The reason that Sun Titan is so good is that he so seldom comes alone to the party. There’s usually 2 or more of him, and while a couple of them are fragile, they can keep coming back, unless the original is dealt with as well.
The Card Choices
As I usually do in these types of articles, I’ll run through some of the cards I’ve used, and explain why they’re there.
When Solar Flare wins, it’s usually because there’s a number of Sun Titans on the board. That number is generally between 2 and 4. For those who’re not up on the interaction, when Sun Titan enters the battlefield, he’ll return a Phantasmal Image, who copies the Sun Titan, who in turn gets his own, illusionary Sun Titan trigger, to bring a friend, or, in the vast majority of cases, a land with him. Solar Flare has enough digging and card selection that we can usually find a Sun Titan in games, should we require him.
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite is still insane against the field. She’s insane against Delver, resetting practically everything they’ve been doing, even if they have the Vapor Snag, she makes Primeval Titan fetching up Inkmoth Nexuses look silly, and just generally acts as a constant Day of Judgment against the other aggro decks. Brilliant against most of the format, so well worth running a copy. Again, we’re digging through a whole heap of cards, so finding her isn’t impossible if you want to.
Unburial Rites is pretty good. The thing with this deck, is that while it is a Control deck, it’s a control deck that can’t win without creatures. This means that more traditional Control decks will want to keep their Day of Judgment effects in, as not only do we need creatures, but we need them to live a turn, and we don’t really have any way to ensure that they’re going to remain alive once we’ve cast them. Unburial Rites is a way to begin the chain again.
I see people using Unburial Rites pretty badly at the moment. They’re quite happy to dump it off of a Forbidden Alchemy, and only use half the card. While an opponent can reasonably have disruption for the first and second wave of Sun Titans, it’s quite unlikely that they’ve put up much of a fight if they’ve got 3 Wrath effects, so it’s quite often right to take the Unburial Rites and hold it. Plus, by holding it, it’s not being telegraphed, and that’s a good thing. A very good thing.
Wurmcoil Engine is my lifegain card. I’ve elected to use this over Batterskull because it plays nicer with both Unburial Rites and Phantasmal Image. These are not irrelevant. Adding another 6-drop was tougher than you might think, so the decision was closer than it might appear.
The Sun Titan package:
We’ve based a lot of our card selection on how well it interacts with Sun Titan. Sunny T is so integral to our game plan that it’s worth using these sometimes sub-standard options to maximise Sunny’s effectiveness.
Ratchet Bomb is such a house. In a format with so many tokens, and werewolves, it so often acts as a 2-mana Day of Judgment. You can play the long game with it, and go after opposing Planeswalkers, Oblivion Rings, Anthem effects, and really, whatever tickles your fancy. There are remarkably few decks who have nothing to gain value on with this. The only thing better than a Ratchet Bomb is a recursive Ratchet Bomb. One of the strongest plays is using this to ruin a Delver players team, then using a Cavern of Souls fuelled Sun Titan to rebuy the Ratchet Bomb to deal with the second wave of creatures, who conveniently mostly have no CMC.
Oblivion Ring is a card that I don’t think anyone is particularly excited. It’s a good catch-all, and it sits in the Graveyard nicely from a Forbidden Alchemy, just waiting for a Sun Titan to show up. Last year, around this time, when Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic were getting banned, I was of the opinion that they should just allow people to play with Oblivion Ring instead. While the format has obviously massively shifted since then, to the point where the things that you’re ringing generally cost less than the Oblivion Rings itself, it’s not as good, but it’s really difficult to put a price on versatility. That’s what you get with an Oblivion Ring; Versatility, and lots of it.
Dead Weight is pretty interesting. If you return it with Sun Titan, you are able to attach it to a creature. This is different from targeting a creature. What this, seemingly small, difference means is that you’re able to use it to kill something that you can’t target. Something like, say Geist of Saint Traft or Invisible Stalker[card]. People don’t seem to realise this interaction, but it’s legit, and you’ll catch people unawares as a result. This interaction is the reason that we’re playing it over [card]Tragic Slip, or Mortarpod, though, to be honest, at the point you’re casting Sun Titan against Delver or Humans, the differences are almost negligible.
The Set Up – Enablers and Dig:
Forbidden Alchemy should be relatively self-explanatory. I’ve touched on it above, but I’ll elaborate here. While we’re no longer as interested in getting a fatty on the board on turn 4, we do run a lot of cards that play nicely in the graveyard. Forbidden Alchemy keeps the foot on the gas, keeps you hitting your land drops, and every now and then you will live the dream, and get to reanimate an Elesh Norn on turn 4. This is the engine that keeps the deck running, and any less than 4 is just wrong.
Liliana of the Veil is the reason I’ve opted to be base WB rather than UW. The abilities are so useful, and all of them have synergy with your game plan. You can use the +1 ability to fill your yard with flashback spells and fatties while you’re ripping your opponents hand apart. The -2 will deal with difficult to interact with creatures, and buy you time into your late game. The -6 will almost always end the game. It’s not something that happens often, but it’s there. The fact that it’s both an enabler and synergistic with Sun Titan means that Liliana is well worth inclusion, even if she is a little tough on the mana base.
Not enough people are running Ponder. This is a slot that used to be Think Twice, but once I changed to Ponder, I haven’t looked back. A deck like this has a very specific progression that it wants to see, and Ponder helps you regulate that. We’re running a couple of fetchlands, and that means that we’re able to maximise our Ponder usage. When you Ponder, it’s important to plan out your next 2 turns. People are too excited to see the card that they want that they’re willing to draw dead for the next 2 turns. If you’re not about to die unless you draw that specific card, can you afford to take the other 2 as well? If not, shuffle! Not enough people play Ponder properly, and that’s a damn shame, because it’s so good.
The Other Stuff:
Cos mise, amiright?
You really want to stall the game for the first few turns, and look to start taking control from turn 5-6 onwards. These are the cards that help you live til the late game. Lingering Souls isn’t a win condition per se, but if you drop a Day of Judgment, then cast both halves of this on the following turn, you’re looking a formidable clock for your opponent to deal with. Really, at this stage, I shouldn’t need to sell you on how good Lingering Souls is. Forbidden Alchemy really does like dumping these in the Graveyard. Basically, every time you dump a flashback spell with Forbidden Alchemy, it’s essentially the same as drawing half a card. Half a Lingering Souls is still worthwhile.
Day of Judgment is still a necessary, unexciting part of the format. Wraths are Wraths, and while it might be right to experiment with a 2/1 split of Day of Judgment and Terminus, for now, I’m more interested in consistently being able to wipe the board on Turn 4, which Terminus doesn’t do.
I’ve touched on Cavern of Souls above, so I won’t repeat myself. Initial results have been encouraging, and I can’t see them coming out. I can’t afford to run more, nor do I want to, but 2 seems like an excellent number to have access to.
Ghost Quarter is pretty sweet. With the new influx of spell lands from Avacyn Restored, killing lands has almost never been so relevant. We weren’t allowed Tectonic Edge, but this is what we’ve got, so we’d better make the most of it. The fact that you can recur it once a turn with Sun Titan is very relevant, and while most decks have sufficient basics that you’ll never be able to ‘waste-lock’ them, like in Legacy, eventually, you’ll remove all their exciting lands, and they’ll be down to mono-basics. It’s a pretty important part of the Sun Titan package, but effectively, the entire deck is a Sun Titan package, so that’s to be expected.
Evolving Wilds is included for the same reasons, though to be fair, our mana base is pretty ambitious in its current iteration, so would be here even if not for the synergy with Sun Titan. We’ve not got that many basics, but there are enough to ensure our Duals are generally coming into play untapped. Another fringe benefit is how well it plays with Ponder. Shuffle effects always gain additional premium with Ponder, and this deck is no exception. As I said above, this deck really wants the games it plays to follow a certain progression, and Ponder helps us do that.
The sideboard is in the early days. I’ve borrowed pretty heavily from a variety of other Solar Flare decks, but this seems like a good starting point. I’m not a big fan of dedicated sideboard guides, but I’ll give you an idea of where to look to make the changes. Obviously, flexibility is key. Be willing to experiment.
The Matchup Plan
Vs Wolf Run Ramp
I don’t really like Ratchet Bomb in this matchup. You’re seldom going to be able to get anything good out of it in a timely fashion, but I like it better than Lingering Souls. You’ll occasionally snag a Huntmaster or two, but for the most part, I’m fine upping my curve and attempting to go over the top of what they’re doing. Lingering Souls never really does anything meaningful against Wolf Run, because Primeval Titan tramples, and Inferno Titan will just Arc Lightning his way past the tokens anyway. Huntmaster should be containable with Dead Weight and Ratchet Bomb, so other than that, what are we trying to do? We’re never getting to attack for any meaningful amount of damage, so I think we’re better off with the Planeswalker plan for the 2nd and 3rd games.
Vs GR Aggro
Forbidden Alchemy is too slow for the matchup, and they’re too resilient to Liliana of the Veil, with horrible, hateful cards like Strangleroot Geist to make her worthwhile. We’re basically removing the reanimation element of the deck entirely, but to be honest, making Intangible Virtue into a Timely Reinforcements is practically impossible for them to beat, assuming you’ve got any kind of pressure to back it up with. Here, you’re going to want to use your Phantasmal Images very aggressively, copying Strangleroot Geist and the like early days, and hopefully by the time Sun Titan arrives, you’ll be able to bring plenty of them back.
Not even necessarily the case. I actually really like the maindeck configuration for fighting Delver. If they’re on Spirits, you might want an extra Day of Judgment as well, in which case you should cut a Liliana of the Veil as well. Wurmcoil’s not ideal here, it really sucks to get it Vapor Snagged, so that’s the first thing you cut. I don’t think any of the Planeswalkers are necessary here, but it’s possibly worth considering Tamiyo, and I’d be looking at the Oblivion Rings as being the area I’d look to cut from. I’m not wild about raising my curve, so I don’t think it’s entirely necessary.
These decks are effectively the same.
As with GR Aggro, the package is just too slow. We’re bringing in top notch hate, and lowering our curve slightly. Pretty much everything we’ve got in the deck is now live, though we are leaning pretty heavily on Ponder to set us up.
Vs Control Mirror
We don’t really need the removal in the mirror, so out it goes. Wurmcoil Engine isn’t necessary either, so out it goes.
What comes in is the Graveyard hate, the Planeswalkers, and an extra, utility land. We’re going to attempt to use Tamiyo to keep our opponents lands locked down, especially if they’re old school, Nephalia Drownyard based control decks, though I wouldn’t expect that too much. We need to leave the Oblivion Rings in, as well as the Days as a reset button, or to deal with stupid stuff that they might have. Be flexible here, there’s different flavours of control deck, and while in the true mirror, you need to have Days, against other decks, you might not need them so much, so don’t be afraid to cut them. It’s possible that Intangible Virtue deserves consideration here, as it will help win Lingering Souls battles. Further testing is, as always required.
Stay classy mtgUK,