The moment that I saw the Unburial Rites I swear that I heard a Beach Boys song play in the background of my mind. It was like the first time that Kevin Arnold saw Winnie Cooper an undying love was born. For the next few weeks every deck I brewed was a Solar Flare deck. My first version was a far cry from the list that I'm running now but I knew I was on the right track. I wanted to play it in Indy but instead I hung out with my wife and ate steak on a steak at the Renaissance Faire (not a bad trade). I didn't expect to make it to Nashville but in a fortunate turn of events my wife and our friend Leah decided that an impromptu weekend excursion would be good for them. I was pumped. I booked a room at the Gaylord for the ladies and reviewed the results from Indy for a decklist. Here's what I found.
I sleeved up the deck and played some games with my buddy Dan Robers. Dan is “that guy.” Everyone has a “Dan Robers” in their Magic career; he's my secret Nemesis who for some reason I can't seem to beat in a sanctioned match of Magic. He was playing a version of Solar Flare with Mana Leaks and no Liliana of the Veil. We playtested for a few hours and he destroyed me over and over again. I couldn't seem to find the right mix for the mirror match. For the rest of the week I wracked my brain for a solution.
The time came for us leave for the weekend. I didn't feel like lugging thousands of dollars in foil Japanese deckbuilding stuff with me (yeah sick brags) so I threw my deck in a box along with some cards that I was considering adding; my Mana Leaks were among the extras. We drove to Nashville and had a crappy chicken quesadilla at the Gaylord. It's cheese and chicken for $13; you'd think they'd get it right! But I digress. I didn't have much time to look over my deck since my wife didn't want me shuffling while she was trying to sleep. I got a couple more shuffles in to show her who's boss then I laid the deck out. I added my Jace Memory Adepts and tuned the sideboard. Then I went to sleep.
So it begins
My wife dropped me off at the convention center on Saturday morning. She and Leah decided to take Nashville by storm while I battled. I was happy to be onsite rather than watching SCGLive from home. My rations for the morning were yogurt-covered pretzels and a bottle of water which I stashed in my backpack. I expected to drop after the third or fourth round and eat some real food (spoiler that didn't happen). I surveyed the trade tables on the way to get my deck registration sheet. “Looks like a nice day for fishing.” I thought to myself.
I plopped down in a chair and laid my would-be deck out on the table. I was trying to make to make some edits before the tournament when Brian Kibler made his way over. He passed me a deck box and said “What do you think of my deck?” I opened it to find a stack of about 100 Daybreak Rangers.
I laughed “Nice call Brian.”
I nodded “Yeah what do you think?”
He pointed at the three Snapcaster Mage on the table “Is that the right number of those?”
I answered back “Do you think I should go two?”
He gave me a look and said “That card is soooo good.” He went on with his examination “Where's the Phantasmal Image?”
I made a dismissive gesture and said “I cut it.”
A voice rang out from the crowd that was forming “Phantasmal Image is what your deck does!” I looked over to see who it was; the voice sounded vaguely familiar.
I Love You Mike Flores
I smiled and said “Hello Mike nice to finally meet you.”
I interrupted “Dismember sucks in this deck.” I looked up at the braintrust that was standing around me; in my mind the sentence continued “…doesn't it?” I looked to Brian for approval and he gave the nod “Yeah I wouldn't run it in that deck.” My confidence picked up (maybe I did know something about this deck). I continued “I also don't want Mana Leaks; in the matchups where it matters the games go too long for them to be good.” Mike gave me a look like I was crazy and then he was pulled away by Joey Pasco (of Yo! MTG Taps!) it was time for them to get ready for commentary.
The crowd started to disperse. Brian had just finished sleeving his deck and I was looking to make room for the Phantasmal Image which I so obviously underestimated. I grabbed his attention before he left the table “Brian I'm looking for a slot to fit this Phantasmal Image in and I'm thinking about cutting a Snapcaster what do you think?”
He looked over the deck and said “I think Snapcaster kinda sucks in your deck.” I nodded in approval.
Mark the Manabase Master
He'd been trying to tell me about the mana base since we first laid the deck out but he was drowned out by all the other voices. I looked over while he was checking something on his phone “What's up Mark?”
He put the phone down “This mana base looks terrible. Where did you get it?”
I shrugged “I took it from the guy who got eight last week.”
He looked concerned “Why wouldn't you use AJ's mana base? I trust him more that the guy who made eighth.” I really never considered using AJ's mana base.
“Did he run Liliana?” I had to make sure the mana base could support BB on turn three.
Mark confirmed “Yes.”
Mark's logic was sound “Let's do it then.” We changed up the mana base which meant that we had to cut another spell. AJ ran 26 lands to my 25. I cut a Think Twice. Craig Wescoe (he was part of the mob that was critiquing my deck) told me that Think Twice sucks in the deck and that I should run Divination. I was skeptical but I could see doing that if I were running a more Snapcaster-heavy version of the deck which I wasn't. I noticed from playing the 25-land version that I was leaning on my Think Twices to make my land drops so it made sense that I could probably cut one for a land. After making the final cuts I was ready for battle; this is what my deck looked like.
This is the part where a pro player would about each match that they played. Well since I'm a scrub and I didn't expect to still be in the tournament after round four I neglected to take notes. Rather than embarrass myself with a “best-recollection” version of the truth I'm just going to skip that part. I played against a ton of Solar Flare mirrors a White Weenie deck with Angelic Destiny a U/W Blade Deck a Pod Deck and Wolf Run Ramp in the semifinals. My record final record was 9-1-2. Since Nashville I've received a lot of questions from people who are preparing for States. Here are the most popular questions and my answers.
Why No Mana Leaks?
Mana Leak sucks in this deck. The reason why is because the deck wants to grind your opponent out through incremental advantage. The deck is more interested in controlling threats on the board than threats on the stack. Just like you my first instinct was to put the Mana Leaks in the deck especially when I started to lose to Dan Robers with his Mana Leaks in the mirror match. I even tried them out for a few games in the mirror but I realized that Unburial Rites beats Mana Leak.
Unburial Rites allows your opponent play their six-drop into Mana Leak and then reanimate it next turn with enough mana to pay for Mana Leak (if they flash Unburial Rites back). Unburial Rites creates a steady stream of threats and Mana Leak will only stall the inevitable. Mana Leak becomes dead once the Sun Titan engine gets online because they return enough lands to get out of Mana Leak range. I expected a lot of the mirror in Nashville and I knew that Mana Leak wasn't going to give me the edge that I wanted.
I couldn't think of another matchup that I wanted Mana Leak in. Against the aggro decks I'd rather have Day of Judgement or a removal spell and against the control decks I expected that Leak would be dead too often to matter. The funny thing about not having Mana Leaks is that your opponent plays around them anyway. As long as you keep two mana up you might as well have a Mana Leak. Some people have asked me if I ever wanted Mana Leak during the tournament and full disclosure: after getting pummelled by the Wolf Run Ramp deck I wondered if it would've gone differently if I had Mana Leaks. I stopped wondering after seeing Christian play his finals match. I noticed that Brian Sondag just ramped past his Mana Leaks anyway.
Don't get me wrong Mana Leak is bad for every deck. It works well if you're able to drop an early threat and then pressure them while buying time with Mana Leak. Much like the Caw Blade decks would do. Solar Flare doesn't resolve early threats instead it depends more on the late game grind to win. In the early game it focuses on answering threats and sculpting your hand and graveyard for the late game. Without an early threat to capitalize on the tempo that Mana Leak buys is wasted.
Was Jace Memory Adept Good?
Jace Memory Adept was my tech for breaking the mirror match. He's a dangerous threat because the Solar Flare deck can't keep him in check with early pressure. The only answer that they have is Oblivion Ring but Jace's immediate effect on the board makes the Oblivion Ring irrelevant. His mill ten ability allows you to pull ahead by milling yourself until you have enough gas in the graveyard to close the game. If Jace remains unchecked then you can switch roles buy milling your opponent and using your resources to stay alive while you mill them.
I've had some people ask “Doesn't milling them turn on Unburial Rites?” It does but the scariest thing that they can do is get a Sun Titan into a Phantasmal Image into an Oblivion Ring. This gives me plenty of options for a follow-up turn: I can stall with a Day of Judgment or if I have a Titan on board I can Oblivion Ring their Ring and continue with the milling. Even if they finally do remove your Jace they actually have to kill you before running out of cards which will prove difficult.
Milling your opponent with Jace becomes safer after sideboard because you can use Nihil Spellbomb / Sun Titan recursion to lock them out of graveyard access. Milling yourself becomes more dangerous after sideboard especially after this weekend; I expect a lot of people to be packing Nihil Spellbomb and Surgical Extractions. Jace is still good after board but you have to play him differently. You may also want to consider Jace in other non-control matchups. For example Jace was one of my few outs to the Wolf Run Ramp deck. If I could have milled his Kessig Wolf Runs or Inkmoth Nexuses then I might've had a chance.
Why Nihil Spellbomb over Surgical Extraction?
I'm not a huge fan of Surgical Extraction. It interacts well with Snapcaster Mage but this is more of a Sun Titan deck than it is a Snapcaster Mage deck. Nihil Spellbomb is insane with Sun Titan and clearing the whole graveyard is much more relevant in the mirror because Solar Flare can grind value out of every card in the graveyard. You might extract an Unburial Rites target but the opponent still has an Oblivion Ring to recur with Sun Titan or a Forbidden Alchemy to flashback. With Spellbomb you deny them all these things and undo the work that Forbidden Alchemy did before. Spellbomb can also save you from Surgical Extraction in a pinch by exiling your own graveyard. This play is not one that I recommend but it might be necessary to stay in the game.
What would I change before States?
This is a really tough question. It's one that I have been asking myself since I was beaten senseless in the semifinals. If you plan to play this deck at States there are two questions that you will need to answer: How do I beat R/G Ramp? And how do I gain an advantage in the mirror? Before we answer these questions we have to decide which cards we can cut in the deck.
Consecrated Sphinx – This card was good for me once during the Tournament. The rest of the time it was mediocre at best. I'd have no problem cutting it.
Tribute to Hunger – This would have been better as a Doom Blade. I didn't play against any red decks but even in my testing this card isn't the best against red anyway. In the U/W matchup it's good against Geist of Saint Traft but most of those decks run Inkmoth Nexus which they can activate to fizzle my edict. This won't survive my pre-states cut.
Jace Memory Adept – This card was a superstar for me all day but I'm not sure if I want three. I could see cutting the third in the board for something else especially now that people will probably be gunning for Jace or running Jaces of their own.
Stony Silence – After sideboard my removal suite for unwanted artifacts includes four Oblivion Rings and two Revoke Existences (which can be Snapcasted); with six removal spells I never had the need to turn artifacts off. This is a safe cut unless you expect a ton of Birthing Pod/ Sword decks.
Day of Judgment – This deck crushes aggro decks in the pre-board configuration. I often felt myself leaving the fourth Day of Judgment out to make room for the fourth Timely Reinforcements and Wurmcoil Engines.
Jin-Gitaxias Core Augur – This card was sick in the mirror but it becomes a liability as the games go long. They may be able to stall you long enough for you to mill out. How embarrassing would that be?
How do I beat R/G Ramp?
The key to beating this deck (as well as any other deck) is to find out which cards are key in the matchup and then find meaningful ways of interacting with them. My first thought was to try to beat Primeval Titan.
Primeval Titan (Problem?)
I thought to myself “If I could counter Primeval Titan then I could stop them from getting Inkmoth Nexus and Kessig Wolf Run.” This is a trap; trying to counter Primeval Titan is a fool's errand. The deck runs three Primeval Titans (maybe four) and four Green Sun's Zeniths. How many hard counters would I have to run to compete with these seven spells? Probably more than I want to. Even if I succeed in diluting the deck enough to counter a Primeval Titan my opponent can always just draw Inkmoth Nexus or Kessig Wolf Run. I also thought about using Nevermore (you can return this from the graveyard with Sun Titan) on Primeval Titan but that still leaves me open to Green Sun's Zenith. Nevermore is a dead card if they resolve a Primeval Titan. After thinking it through I realized the problem is more with Inkmoth Nexus than with Primeval Titan.
Inkmoth Nexus (Problem)
This is the real culprit of destruction. In Nashville I only had two ways to interact with Inkmoth Nexus: Doom Blade and Consecrated Sphinx (chump block for days!). My deck was obviously ill-prepared and since I cut down on Snapcaster Mages I couldn't rebuy my Doom Blades as reliably as I would have liked. The question going forward is: what low-impact changes can I make to the deck to give me a better game against Inkmoth Nexus? Here are the options that I'm considering for States.
Ghost Quarter (Answer)
This is an auto include after this weekend but there are some things to consider before jamming them into the manabase. This is a three-color manabase and you don't want “two-Ghost Quarter” draws all day. Cutting yourself off an early Liliana could be game breaking. This gives us two choices: only run one in the main or run them in the spell slots. I know that I want at least two and I don't want to run them in the spell slots so I'll run one over an Island in the main (since all my duals make blue) and one in the sideboard.
This makes Inkmoth (or other random creatures) less of a threat because you can redirect the Wolf Run pump (tech from Scott MacCallum of The Eh Team). It also protects your lands and other permanents from unleashing the Beast Within. I like answers that can be recurred with Sun Titan because you dump a lot of cards into the graveyard so it's just like drawing them if you can buy it back with Sun Titan. Spellskite also incidentally helps in the red matchup by blocking early beats and sucking down Brimstone Volleys like a champ.
Elesh Norn Grand Cenobite (Answer)
This chick locks down the Inkmoth Nexuses especially if they run out of Beast Withins. She also performs well against Grave Titans and Artificial Armies powered by Tempered Steel. I'll probably be running one of these maindeck. I tried Frost Titan for a moment and it was good but Elesh Norn does more work. The only thing that I don't like about her is that she dies to Phantasmal Image.
Garruk Primal Hunter (Problem)
This guy is a real problem for Solar Flare. He undoes all the work that you do with Liliana and your removal spells by refilling your opponent's hand or board (whichever they choose) at will. This is a spell that I wouldn't mind countering; I'll probably add Dissipate to the maindeck for this guy. I have Oblivion Rings to manage him but Acidic Slime will ensure that I don't lean on those alone to deal with Garruk. One of the other cards that I'm considering is Despise.
This spell is uniquely relevant in this matchup because it allows you to take out their Garruk or their Primeval Titan. It also allows you to combat Jace or Liliana in the mirror match and Snapcaster Mage against U/B Control. Above all Despise gives you information so you can make more informed plays. The matchups where you bring this in might be slow enough to consider Distress but since you'll be running two Ghost Quarters after sideboard I don't think it's wise to count on a discard spell that cost double black.
Tech that Is Probably Bad
I've been racking my brain about this matchup because I feel pretty comfortable with every other matchup except this one (and to some degree the mirror but we'll talk about that in a moment). In my search for answers I found some unconventional pieces of technology. They do interesting things but they're probably bad.
The first one is Marrow Shards. Yeah I'll give you a min to look it up. Marrow Shards kills a pumped Inkmoth or an army of swinging Nexuses for zero mana. It can also help against Hero of Bladehold and Moorland Haunt decks.
The second one is an old school pet card of mine Royal Assassin. I expect that the G/R player will board out their Slagstorms which means that the only way they can kill this is Beast Within. It's also not bad in the mirror because he can't be Doom Bladed and he comes back with Sun Titan. Speaking of the mirror match let's talk about the something that you are sure to see at states The Solar Flare Mirror.
How do I gain an advantage in the mirror?
Here's the problem I blew my load this weekend for sweet tech against the mirror. Jace Memory Adept Nihil Spellbomb and Jin-Gitaxias Core Augur were my mirror breakers; now they're the enemy. I'll have to channel my inner Chapin to figure out how to next level these cards especially with Spellbomb getting more popular in U/B Control decks.
Jace Memory Adept (Problem / Answer)
You can easily undo the work that Jace does for your opponent by Spellbombing them but how do you save yourself from getting milled? You can try counting on Oblivion Ring and the legend rule to keep the Jace off the board but this might not be enough. I plan on running my Dissipates main to deal with threats like Jace and Garruk. This alone won't beat Jace but it's good to stagger your answers so that you can address the issue from all angles. I also considered Elixir of Immortality; I talk more about this below.
Nihil Spellbomb (Problem Answer)
This card is going to be hard to fight. Solar Flare gains a lot from being able to utilize its graveyard. There's a couple of ways to fight it but the problem is that they turn off your Spellbombs too. For example you can use Stony Silence or Phyrexian Revoker but then you have to go back to using Surgical Extraction. Another option is to run a Trinket Mage package with your own Spellbombs and an Elixir or Immortality. This way you can beat them to the Spellbomb and you can save your yard with Elixir. It won't be hard to rebuild your graveyard with Jace and it can protect you from being killed by Jace. You can also Sun Titan the Elixir into play and incidentally it's good against red decks as well.
I like the Trinket Mage package because it offers a small foot print but I'd probably have to cut Snapcaster Mage to make it happen and I'm not ready to do that. Another option for the deck in its current state could be Mental Misstep. Misstep can counter Extraction and Spellbomb as well as some of the relevant red cards. The key issue here is that they can recur the Spellbomb with Sun Titan so you have to Spellbomb them before they can recur it.
The most promising way to beat Nihil Spellbomb is to have a plan B that doesn't rely on the graveyard. My plan is to become a “super friends” deck with Titan backup to help stall the game while my planeswalkers do my dirty work. The center piece of Plan B will be Venser the Sojourner.
Venser the Sojourner (Answer)
This seems like a strange choice for the mirror match (Gideon and Sorin Markov were also on the list) but all of his abilities are relevant. Let's look at each one.
- +2: Exile target permanent you own. Return it to the battlefield under your control at the beginning of next end step.
- -1: Creatures are unblockable this turn.
In the mirror match it's not uncommon to see the board in a stalemate. Venser allow you to swing and get activations off your Titians without the danger of losing them. Swinging with an unblockable team can either kill your opponent (first order of business) or at least kill the opposing planeswalkers and further your board position.
- -8: You get an emblem with “Whenever you cast a spell exile target permanent.”
Do I need to explain this?
If States Were Tomorrow…
[It is tomorrow! –LL]
Considering all that I talked about in the article this is what I would play at States if it were tomorrow.
4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Shrine of Burn…..
It is game two and I just played against deck “X”; this is how I would sideboard. Keep in mind that I haven't played against all these decks and for some of these notes I'm just free-ballin' it. My recommendation is to play the matchup which you think is relevant and make your own sideboard notes.
U/W Blade (With Geist of Saint Taft)
That's about all I have to say about the deck for now. I hope that this has been helpful. If you have any questions or if you want to call me an idiot feel free to leave a comment and I'll try to respond. Good luck this weekend at The 2011's and I will see you next week on Monday with the Magic Finance that you know and love. Thanks for reading.