Innistrad Standard is here in a big way. Last week we saw two Mono Red decks split the finals with three different styles of U/W aggro two Tempered Steel and a Solar Flare deck rounding out the top 8. Will the talk of the tournament Solar Flare live up to the hype? Had everyone really just underestimated Mono Red? Is the format to evolve again soon?
Yes to everything.
The format is evolving rapidly as there appears to be an interesting and diverse mix of strategies possible. Additionally there are so many powerful new cards that people are only just beginning to understand. This week's top 8 is quite a bit different from last week's and we are surely going to see this rapid evolution continue this weekend in the State Championships. This week's top 8:
4x Solar Flare
As you can see Solar Flare is the deck to beat this week. Here are a couple good lists to use for deck one in the gauntlet:
While Christian Valenti was the highest finishing Solar Flare player I do not expect builds with no Lilianas to be as popular (nor as good). Trey Viers and Star City's own Jonathan Medina have the lists that I would start with. They give us a pretty good idea of the range of stuff people will be playing. Notice the shift to tons of Timely Reinforcements main Wurmcoils even more life gain. These two both recognized and respected the power of the red decks. Successful Solar Flare lists at States will surely be on a similar page.
- 3 Solemn Simulacrum
- 3 Wurmcoil Engine
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 1 Birds of Paradise
- 3 Primeval Titan
- 4 Viridian Emissary
Valakut the Molten Pinnacle may no longer be legal but Sondag's list has a new deadly endgame to be fetched up by Primeval Titan. Inkmoth Nexus plus Kessig Wolf Run means that even if the opponent can deal with the Primeval Titan now basically every threat is lethal. Additionally Inkmoth Nexus is difficult for a lot of decks to deal with as he dodges Oblivion Ring Day of Judgment Liliana and more. Pumping its power with the KWR is doubly effective and often kills in one hit.
Wolf Run Ramp is much less reliant on its "combo" than Valakut however. Without the need to play a million Mountains Sondag was free to incorporate a lot of other sweet action to take advantage of his ramping. Wurmcoil is just fantastic in the format right now gaining much needed life against aggression as well as combating Day of Judgment and Liliana of the Veil. Pumping its power with a KWR can make a game totally unwinnable in a hurry.
The Garruks provide a steady stream of durable threats but also serve as a card advantage engine letting Sondag play a mean R/G control game. Green Sun's Zenith doesn't have as great a selection as it once did but the ability to search up acceleration is more important than ever now that Overgrown Battlement is gone. Obviously finding Titans is great but it is also invaluable to be able to find Acidic Slime.
Four Beast Within three Green Sun's Zeniths and a Slime make for eight ways to destroy artifacts and enchantments maindeck. This is especially brutal against people relying on Oblivion Ring as so many Solar Flare and U/W Blade lists do these days.
This is only the beginning of the Wolf Run Ramp archetype but already this list is incredibly technologically advanced. Solar Flare was the big deck but Sondag definitely won both the event and the best deck for the day.
Sometimes we see cool new decks show up for a day and fade away just as quickly. I suspect we have not seen the last of Wolf Run Ramp however. It will suffer a bit now that people realize it is even on the radar but there is still room for it to evolve as a strategy as well. That it is so naturally effective against Solar Flare is a tremendous advantage. Solar Flare doesn't have a lot of permission or discard right now so it is unable to stop someone from going "bigger" than it which Wolf Run Ramp does very easily. This strategy is likely to become quite mainstream and influence the way decks are built in the months to come such as an increase in Flashfreezes and Dissipates as well as possibly more land destruction. Any good gauntlet for States should have a Wolf Run Ramp list included.
This top 8 actually provides a beautiful mix of decks to flesh out a gauntlet for this week. Mono-R U/W Blade and U/B Control were the other three decks to top 8 and definitely the other three decks I would include in a gauntlet besides Wolf Run Ramp and Solar Flare.
A word on Solar Flare:
It is Solar Flare; get over it. Naming is a matter of form and function. Names are selected by the players who win with a deck or created the list those greatly responsible for its form (Kibler naming Caw-Go Caw-Blade Rubin Zoo...). Additionally names are selected by the community for functionality so that we can convey a large amount of information quickly and efficiently.
Solar Flare has been called Solar Flare by people winning with it as well as by people building better versions that are being used as a foundation for the format and every professional Magic player I know. Additionally when I say Solar Flare you know what I mean.
For ease of reference here are the versions that top 8'ed this past weekend and solid starting points for the gauntlet:
If you only have limited time to test this week the order of importance is probably:
1. Solar Flare
4. U/W Blade
5. U/B Control
I am not sure my schedule will permit me to play in States this weekend but if I can swing it here is the list I am currently working on:
This is a continuation of the deck I first posted here built around a Burning Vengeance endgame. While many people do have access to cards like Oblivion Ring or Beast Within this list features more card draw than anyone else in the format meaning we will eventually find one more Vengeance than they can answer. Every turn that we are allowed to Burning Vengeance we gain a massive advantage shocking multiple times a turn for free. This lets us totally dominate the board removing creatures when needed as well as putting our opponents on a very short clock. Besides sometimes when they deal with it they have still dropped to a low enough life total that a timely Devil's Play can put them away.
I cut the Sixes from the maindeck as I found that they just turned on people's removal too much. It's great to have access to them after sideboarding but game one Devil's Play is a much better "backup plan" as it is also quite solid removal.
I have moved away from Dismember as Dismember's influence on the format has been so great that everyone's decks are totally warped around it. We are talking about an awful lot of decks with true 6s Dismember's achilles heel and we aren't exactly overjoyed at Dismember against red anyway. Burning Vengeance Geistflame and Slagstorm give us so much good game against small creatures having more answers to fatties is a welcome addition to the deck. It stretches the mana base a bit (which still requires a bit of tinkering) but the full package of Think Twice Desperate Ravings and Forbidden Alchemy really do a pretty good job of digging us to our black mana.
Tribute to Hunger is a nice hedge against Geist of Saint Traft a card that is definitely potentially problematic for us. A little life gain and an extra answer to Sixes is also nice. Still it is the Sever the Bloodline that is really exciting. It fights Sixes well (particularly Phantasmal Image + Sun Titan) but also works as another sweeper against token decks. Additionally flashing it back is a very realistic and strong option and exiling is relevant with Skaab Ruinator Wurmcoil Engine and Unburial Rites in the format. This card is still a bit underrated and I would suggest anyone playing any sort of a black strategy to have access to a couple in their 75.
Slagstorm over Rolling Temblor is mostly just a matter of quality. We already have so much to do with our mana we don't get as much value from the flashback half. Additionally hitting fliers and Tempered Steel enhanced creatures is important. Slagstorm also contributes to our Devil's Play plan and sometimes we need two in order to kill a six.
The counterspells work differently depending on whether you are against a "Six-Deck" or not. Against Sixes we often want to save our counterspells for the Sixes themselves. It isn't just that we need to stop the threat it is the tempo we are gaining by spending two or three to their six. We may also want to save our Leaks to protect a turn-five Vengeance from an O-Ring when we are on the play. Dissipate is particularly valuable against Sixes as it exiles them (preemptively fighting Unburial Rites). We actually don't need to worry about countering Liliana (or most planeswalkers for that matter) as we have so much direct damage we can easily fry them to a crisp. Liliana in particular is quite poor against us as nearly a third of our deck has flashback and we have more card draw than anyone.
Against aggressive decks it is much more realistic to just use counterspells on actual anything. The first reasonable target that comes along nail it. All we want to do is survive the early turns and not get too far behind something like Shrine of Burning Rage. While we do have a fair bit of cheap removal for creatures it is especially important to dig for the Grudge or the Disperse against the Shrine lest it tick all the way up and do us in on its own.
Disperse definitely still has a big question mark over it but with so much digging we can find miser's cards like this more often than normal. We have enough card draw that we can definitely make up for going down a card sometimes. Besides sometimes all we want is to be able to gain a little tempo. That it also gives us options when fighting against Oblivion Ring planeswalkers and the aforementioned Shrine goes a long way towards giving us counterplay against powerful permanents especially when combined with a counterspell. Besides we can always just look to Disperse our Snapcaster Mage if we are going long and can't find any other way to get a "card" out of it.
The single Ancient Grudge is perhaps less surprising despite having so little green mana. Forbidden Alchemy has a tendency to chain together like so many Mystical Teachings. Once you start digging you can often access most of the cards of your library in a relatively short time. This makes having even one artifact destruction spell huge as it is way way more than zero. Putting it into your graveyard from Forbidden Alchemy is like drawing an extra card and even if you don't have green mana for a while as a Shatter it is still good.
Geistflame is no secret at this point. It provides excellent cheap removal and a bit of card advantage later. That it also hits players is nice because even against a creatureless opponent each point adds up. Often you will save it to Burning Vengeance with later making it deal four damage for a card. Also it is a prime choice to save in your hand (and often eventually discard to Desperate Ravings) against creatureless decks (which often have Snapcasters to target anyway). You can't afford to get behind a Stromkirk Noble so having cheap answers (and Blackcleave Cliffs to make sure you can cast them turn 1) is important.
Drowned Catacomb is generally better than Darkslick Shores in here as we don't need the extra blue or black early. If we play too many Scars lands we end up paying the price later. With no blue or black one-drops playing a Drowned Catacomb on turn one is not the worst anyway. Blackcleave Cliffs is a very different matter however as it combines well with both Geistflame and Slagstorm (no one wants Dragonskull Summit to be their third land when they already have Blackcleave Cliffs or Dragonskull Summit in play as their only other red).
I actually think quite a few Solar Flare players are running suboptimal manabases for similar reasons by the way. Darkslick Shores works fine as you want to be able to play Liliana on three (like Slagstorm in Grixis). Seachrome Coast on the other hand is often way worse than Glacial Fortress in Solar Flare (and worse than Plains or Island). It is not out of the question to play it in moderation if your mana requirements are particularly greedy but you don't need the extra white or blue early as all your double white appears on cards like Day of Judgment Sun Titan and so on. Those are some really bad cards to have to wait a turn on because your fourth or sixth land enters the battlefield tapped. Too many people build three-color manabases as though they were building with all shocklands filter lands and manlands. That is not how M10 duals work. If they always enter the battlefield tapped for you they are not nearly as impressive. In order to power them up you need at least some amount of basics. Playing two Islands and two Plains is so few no wonder Glacial Fortress seems less impressive. Play more basics! If you are using cards like Think Twice Divination or Forbidden Alchemy remember those help fix your mana a little. They don't find the first blue but they do help with black or white.
The sideboard is definitely built from a Big vs. Small dynamic. Are your opponent's creatures big? Doom Blade Tribute to Hunger Sever the Bloodlines. Are your opponent's creatures small? Geistflame Arc Trail Slagstorm. Are your opponent's spells big? Dissipate Flashfreeze Nihil Spellbomb. Are your opponent's spells burn? Wurmcoil Engine Tribute to Hunger Ancient Grudge (for Shrines). In addition to the Wurmcoils Consecrated Sphinx and Olivia Voldaren are fantastic options to sideboard into once your opponent boards out some or all of their creature kill. Consecrated Sphinx is well established as one of the best creatures in the format but Olivia Voldaren is a bit more under the radar.
A 3/3 flier for four that pumps permanently for every 1R you spend is already basically a Jenara (easier to cast but a mana more). That it also pings while it is doing that makes it better that Jenara already. Once you factor in stealing creatures the card is just unbeatable by a lot of creature decks if they can't get it off the table immediately. It is an extraordinary "Baneslayer" type that is not getting the full respect it deserves.
Nihil Spellbomb is a card that is gaining popularity and will likely continue to do so. The opportunity cost is relatively low and it does provide great value against flashback decks (as well as Chandra's Phoenix Skaab Ruinator and so on). It is very possible that there should be two or even three Nihil Spellbombs in my board but the combination of Dissipates and Sever the Bloodlines does reduce the need a bit.
I am hoping to get some more testing in this week particularly if I can make it to States but this is definitely the strategy I am focusing on for this weekend. It attacks from angles that many aren't prepared for; this combined with the card draw and how great Burning Vengeance is makes me a fan.
Good luck to everyone playing in States this weekend! See you next week!