Hello! My name is Naoki Shimizu.
Many of you have never heard of me. That's natural, because I've been an amateur until this summer. I'm completely Japanese, and I have never lived or studied abroad, so I may make many grammar mistakes. Please forgive me in advance.
I'm a student of University of Tokyo, and there are many friends playing Magic here. We play and practice M:TG every day, in a narrow club room in the university... sometimes without attending a class!
I'm studying liberal arts, and I'm going to major in English. So I'm very glad to get the chance to write articles in English.
I made top8 in Japanese Nationals 2006, playing my own deck: Solar Flare. I am known to many people in Japan as the creator of this deck... but actually, that's not entirely correct.
One day, in November 2005 (when Ghazi Glare was born), a friend of mine (Hiroaki Yamakawa), brought a very strange deck to a testing session. He loves Yosei, the Morning Star, so much so that he has played it ever since the early days of Kamigawa Block Constructed.
His deck was very strange... or broken, you may say.
Here is what Hiroaki showed me first:
He played Time Stop for some countermagic.
Suddenly, he played Hokori to win the game.
Okay, I know you can't understand what his deck contained. Here is the decklist.
Yama-Control (Alpha-type Solar Flare)
A deck for old Standard ( CHK BOK SOK RAV 9th)
2 Dimir Doppelganger
2 Hokori, Dust Drinker
2 Meloku the Clouded Mirror
4 Yosei, the Morning Star
1 Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni
4 Mana Leak
4 Compulsive Research
3 Faith's Fetters
4 Wrath of God
2 Time Stop
2 Ghost-Lit Stalker
4 Dimir Signet
Descendant of Kiyomaro, and so on.
In fact, Solar Flare began when Ravnica released, not Guildpact or Dissension.
At that time, the metagame was packed with Gifts-Control (with Hana-Kami), and Ghazi-Glare, and Jushi-Control. Hiroaki says he got hints from Gifts-Control. Signets replace Sakura-Tribe Elder, and Compulsive Researches “replace” of Gifts Ungiven.
Of course, Dimir Doppelganger was so good against Gifts, which depends so much on the graveyard. Reanimating Yosei can put Yosei into play very quickly, earlier than Ghazi-Glare or any other decks in the environment. As the proverb says, the Early Yosei Catches The Opponent's Turn. Every spell in this deck is a must-counter for Jushi-Control, which is of course impossible for Jushi-Control to do. If it came up against Boros, Descendant of Kiyomaro was a bomb from the sideboard.
So, surprisingly, this deck was strong. When he brought this, I laughed.
“Why do you play Time Stop main? And Hokori in a control deck!? Why are you doing these things?!”
“Because they're cool,” he replied.
A lot of people who have won many tournaments think it is bad to use cards simply because you “like them.” I thought so too, but I suggest that it is sometimes good to make your own special deck.
We gradually tweaked this deck in the University M:TG club. First, Mana Leak was changed into Remand, following Ryuichi Arita's advice. Ghost-Lit Stalker became Persecute, which proved to be fine against those three popular decks. And someone (I forgot who was this, but certainly he is my friend) said, “ There are a lot of four-mana spells: Wrath of God, Faith's Fetters, Zombify, Persecute, and Hokori...” so we tried putting Dimir House Guard into his deck (which can be used to sacrifice Yosei). This discovery made the deck more powerful than ever. I think most folk were a little disappointed when they saw the House of Dimir's special ability... but I realize that we shouldn't treat a card as unplayable without testing.
Hiroaki took this deck to an iPod tournament (a Worlds 2005 side-event), and eventually made Top 4 and won an iPod. On the way, he defeated Tomoharu Saito, the Pro Tour champion, playing Ghazi-Glare. When Katsuhiro Mori finished with his great result, the deck named “Yama-Control” was born, which was so good against the champion's deck.
After Worlds, we noticed something.
“It's difficult to cast Persecute after transmuting, so would it be better to use Clutch of the Undercity...?”
You thought this card was crap?
No, this expensive Boomerang is awesome. Of course, we could transmute it easily. In addition, this card's life-loss killed many opponents many times. There are a lot of shocklands around at the moment, and people often pay two life to have them come into play untapped. Yosei attacks three times and he does fifteen damage.
Soon after the Worlds we had a big tournament in Japan - The Finals.
It is a Standard and Extended tournament, and Hiroaki and I participated. I brought my original W/B/G Greater Good deck, also featuring Yosei. Needless to say, Hiroaki's was Yama-Control.
But Hiroaki lost to a new deck. It was Annex-Fire (or Eminent Domain.)
The land-stealing was so strong that Yama-Control always lost to it. We needed some solution, so we put Terashi's Grasp in there, instead of Time Stop and Fetters. That card was not as good as Mortify (that we would get soon), but it's natural to use Grasp because we hadn't had Guildpact yet.
I tested this new Yama-Control online. (Oops, my MTGO account's name is “Shimichin2005”. Talk to me if I am online.)
Fortunately, I made some very good results, and earned many boosters. Sometimes I won against Annex-Fire thanks to Terashi's Grasp. But sadly, some people said, “your deck sucks,” or, “you f***ing noob.” I knew this deck was strange, and why people want to say such things. Even so, it made me feel sad.
And then Guildpact arrived!
Angel of Despair looks like Krilin!?
Their common ground? Hairlessness.
When Guildpact was released, we thought R/G “steroid” beats would be back. Burning-Tree Shaman looked awesome, and Rumbling Slum was excellent! We got a new Shock-land that is good with Kird Ape, and we already had nice burn spells like Char.
“Angel of Despair? Too much!”
Many people thought so. It's too expensive to play. Seven mana to destroy a single permanent seems a little unplayable. People hoped for a cool ability, something as strong as Desolation Angel, for seven mana.
If the cost is too expensive, how about reanimating it?
Fortunately, we had Yama-Control, which was our masterpiece. Besides, we also got Mortify, which can destroy Annex and many other threats. And all-new Shock-lands, Signets, and Karoos. It was clear that Yama-Control become stronger than ever.
When Guildpact was released, we had our final exams and a long Winter-to-Spring vacation. I couldn't practice often with Hiroaki, the original designer of Yama-Control. Instead, I took my deck to nearby card shop.
Here is the decklist.
The First Solar Flare (Taiyo-Ken in Japanese)
1 Shizo, Death's Storehouse
3 Watery Grave
3 Godless Shrine
2 Adarkar Wastes
1 Underground River
3 Orzhov Basilica
1 Dimir Aqueduct
1 Miren, the Moaning Well
1 Orzhova, the Church of Deals
Now go compare this list with Yama-Control (above).
Okay, first I will answer your questions...
Why do you play Kokusho, instead of Yosei?
Do you know why Yosei was stronger than Kokusho? The reason is there were many decks playing Yosei (and often with Greater Good), so it is important to play Yosei faster than those decks. Also, Kokusho is easily handled by Glare of Subdual. But when Guildpact was released, Gruul became the most popular deck, so gaining life is more important than forcing an opponent to skip an untap step.
Why Angel of Despair? I think legendary dragons are better.
Yama-Control's Achilles Heel is that it can't deal with Umezawa's Jitte easily.
Of course, I could Fetter it. However, if they have enchantment removal such as Mortify, it is useless. Terashi's Grasp was replaced with Mortify, so I needed artifact removal.
Also, the Angel could destroy lands. In other words, Urza's lands. And this is the biggest reason why I prefer Angel of Despair to any other creatures as the targets of reanimation.
Only Remand? No Mana Leak?
I think Remand is not a Counterspell in this deck. It is for making time to cast big creatures, and card-drawing. And this deck had a lot of cards that can deal with any permanent, so actually I didn't need countermagic.
Only one Phyrexian Arena?
Yes. I wanted to increase my card-drawing spells, although there was very little room.
I solved this problem soon, but wait a little while for the answer...
Why is this deck “Solar Flare” instead of “Yama-Control?”
This is the most frequently asked question. First, this deck didn't play Yosei, or Dimir Doppelganger (because it is not good with Angels), which were characteristics of Yama-Control. And Hiroaki, the creator of Yama-Control, didn't use the new Signets or Angels so much at first. Besides, Yama-Control wanted a new deck name at that time. I considered that this deck was different from Yama-Control, as some of my friends agreed.
I named this deck Taiyo-Ken after major Dragon Ball's technique, because Angel of Despair looks like Krilin. Solar Flare is the English name of Taiyo-Ken. I love to give decks cool names, as it's much better that a simple deck name like U/W/B control.
After all this, some people said “Taiyo-ken is almost same as Yama-Control, so it's Hiroaki's deck, not Naoki's.” But actually, I want to say Yama-Control was not a creation of Hiroaki alone, as I mentioned in the last part. We were the creators. There are some people who say “Hiroaki and Naoki are quarreling” but it's completely untrue. We are best friends.
And now, what's most important: how this deck works.
Versus Gruul or Zoo
Turn 3 Wrath is always good against them, and after sideboarding you may win easily thanks to Descendant of Kiyomaro and Faith's Fetters. The biggest threat is Flames of the Blood Hand, so you must always be careful.
The key point is whether you can put your Angel into play. If you succeed in doing so, you should win. If you don't, you may lose. Boseiju helps you to do that.
Nowadays, Persecute seems to be the biggest threat for them, but the most important spell to play is Angel of Despair. Persecute helps push through the Angel, but it's not the end of the world if the discard spell is countered.
Versus Orzhov Beatdown (Hand in Hand variety)
At that time there were many Rat-style decks. The discard sometimes helped me to Zombify up a large monster. Their biggest threat is Dark Confidant. You must deal with it when you see it. If you can, you should win. So therefore, the Orzhov player must draw a Confidant, which doesn't always happen. This is one of the best match-ups for Solar Flare.
Solar Flare has four Wraths, and two Clutches that can fetch it! Keep on playing Wrath, and be wary of Yosei, and you should win. This is also the one of the best match-ups.
Versus Greater Gifts
It is important not to let them get huge number of mana. Aim at White mana, and be careful of Goryo's Vengeance. If you have Hokori in the sideboard, this match-up will become very good for Solar Flare. In this match-up, Remand is the biggest threat for them.
Versus Loxodon Hierarchy (G/W/B Good Stuff)
Almost same as Greater Gifts. Don't let them get mana. Wrathing away their mana-birds and destroying their Karoos with Angels is the major way to win the game.
Versus Wildfire decks
This subset of decks can be a little severe for Solar Flare, especially the land destruction spells and Boomerangs on Karoos. Against Magnivore decks, it is difficult to win. But it's not impossible, because if they can't play turn 2 Boomerang, the game is much easier.
Versus Heartbeat Combo
In the first game, you may lose. But if your opponent does not know this deck (not likely now), they'll put their Mountain or Swamp into play and you can destroy that with Angel. This is sometimes lethal for Heartbeat players. When Solar Flare was not so famous, this situation often happened to me. After sideboarding, bringing Cranial Extraction will make this matchup better, thanks to the Transmute system.
Versus Owling Mine
Sorry. You should pack up and go home if you face this deck.
The only thing you can do is keep on taking mulligans. The good news is that I have won against this deck... twice. The bad news is that I have lost over a dozen times.
The major problem with this deck was lack of draw spells. I am not a good topdecker, so I need more card-drawing spells. First, I ran Phyrexian Arena. It was so good when it wasn't destroyed, but when it was, I got thirsty. Next I tested Gifts Ungiven. It was good because it can be transmuted for, but the loss of two cards from the library is a bit too heavy. Tidings was considered, but double-Blue can be difficult to find. I tested my deck online; sometimes I won, and sometimes I lost. I even played out ten losses in succession.
Finally, I found a Ninth Edition common card. That card was also thought to be unplayable by many people. The card is Sift.
The simple effect - drawing three cards and discarding one card - was best for Solar Flare's concept. Of course, it's weaker than Compulsive Research, but you don't have to discard two cards when you have Zombify! And it can be fetched via Transmute! What a nice card!
I was really pleased to find this, and in April, I took my deck to a local tournament in Tokyo, attended by 160 competitors.
I went 8-0 in that tournament, winning against Izzettron, Gruul, Zoo, and Orzhov Beatdown. This result proved the strength of Solar Flare. At that time, there were very few people who knew this deck. When they saw this deck in action, they got confused and made mistakes. This is why I love rogue decks and hate net-decks. I want many people to know how good rogue decks are, and how delighted you feel when you win your original deck.
Online, of course, I could keep on winning playing Solar Flare. Whenever I won a Premier Event, people PMed me “please give me the decklist,” and I didn't refuse. I made the list in txt format, e-mailed them, and asked them to call it Solar Flare because I loved that name and hoped it would become famous.
And finally, Dissension was released!
Finally we had a complete complement of Shock-lands, Karoos, and Signets. This made it difficult to choose which cards to put into our deck. Solar Flare's mana-balance was as difficult as learning Japanese.
We need to get 2WW on turn 3, and U on an early turn, and BB as soon as possible. Therefore, Azorius Signet is the best signet for Solar Flare, because it can produce both W and U, helping us to get 2WW on turn 3 and play Remand.
After sideboarding, Dimir Aqueduct is not good choice, as it can't supply White mana to play Descendant of Kiyomaro.
The breakdown is as follows:
You should play Signets that can supply U, for playing Remand.
You shouldn't play Dimir Aqueduct.
You should play as many basic lands as you can. There will be many Blood Moons, and reducing damage from the lands will make it better against aggressive decks.
You need at least 17 of W, 16 of U, 14 of B. The most important mana is W because of Wrath, and if you get U you can get the others thanks to cantrips.
Miren can't be removed. Mikokoro is awesome against Orzhov.
This is the penultimate version of Solar Flare:
3 Angel of Despair
2 Kokusho, the Evening Star
2 Yosei, the Morning Star
1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror
4 Compulsive Research
4 Wrath of God
2 Clutch of the Undercity
4 Azorius Signet
2 Dimir Signet
2 Watery Grave
3 Godless Shrine
2 Orzhov Basilica
2 Azorius Chancery
1 Minamo, School at Water's Edge
1 Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
1 Shizo, Death's Storehouse
1 Miren, the Moaning Well
2 Caves of Koilos
1 Underground River
Why is Yosei back?
In Japan, the most popular deck was Izzettron, or Sizzettron. Yosei was good against those decks.
Hokori is back too?
That guy is nice against Greater Gifts, Heartbeat Combo, Lox, and so on.
Solar Flare has six Signets and four Karoos, which help it operate under the Winter Orb.
Three Zombifies? It seems a bit too many!
If you play Sift, it's not too many at all. Sift helps you to put your bombs into your graveyard easily, and Zombify is nice against Izzet-Tron.
You noticed there is no Court Hussar, which is in every Solar Flare deck.
My friend Yamakawa first tested him. But as a card drawing spell, I believed Sift is better in this deck. In fact, Court Hussar is nice against aggro decks, and Sift is nice against control decks. So in Japan, where people love to play control decks, I play Sift. Online, where people love to play aggro decks, I play Hussar.
I would say Sift...
Is good against control decks.
Can make it possible to play third Zombify.
Is too expensive against Magnivore and aggro decks.
Can be fetched with Transmute.
While Court Hussar...
Is good against creatures like Solifuge, Ninja, Lions, Ape, Isamaru and so on.
Does not make your hand bigger, which Sift can do.
Can make it possible to play Umezawa's Jitte in your sideboard, or even maindeck.
Is not good with Clutch of the Undercity.
My friend Takahiro Suzuki, who also made the Top8 of Japanese Nationals, preferred Hussar and didn't play Clutch. He won the first place in many local tournaments, and the deck Solar Flare spread like a forest fire in Japan.
In my Regionals, I was wondering whether to play Sift or Hussar, but I decided to play Sift because it is better against Tron, which is the most difficult deck for me to beat.
Fortunately, I went 6-1-1 at a Nationals Qualifier, and earned the right to take part in Nationals. I lost to Izzettron because of triple-mulligan and manascrew, and tied with Heartbeat. I even defeated Owling Mine in my first round!
Solar Flare traveled to the U.S, Australia, and other foreign countries, and made good results. I was so glad to hear that news, and I wanted to win my Nationals, too.
Then Coldsnap was released. I tested Adarkar Valkyrie instead of Yosei, and Jester's Scepter. Valkyrie was much better against mirror or aggro decks than Yosei. Jester's Scepter was also a bomb against mirror.
I thought that winning the mirror match is the most important in my Nationals, because Solar Flare had become the most popular deck in Japan (and other countries).
I didn't know the new decks borne from to Coldsnap, like Structure and Force and Vipies. I knew Erayo was a big threat, but I thought few players would play that deck, as it's only good against control decks like Owling Mine. I practiced online every day, and knew Snakes are not a strong favorite to beat Solar Flare if I have Cranial Extraction.
Here is what I played:
From now on, I will write my tournament report for Nationals, concentrating only on Constructed.
Round 1 versus Izzettron (win-win)
Game 1: My opponent's stopped laying land early and was screwed afterward, while I kept on playing my lands. I played Persecute, Kokusho, Angel, and Zombify in quick succession. finally he lost all of his counterspells, and at last Meloku beat him.
Game 2: My opponent countered my turn 2 Signet. I tried to Persecute, and it resolved, forcing him discard 2 Mimeofactures. Then I played Valkyrie, stole his Meloku, and defeat him.
Round 2 versus Real Japanimator, played by Osamu Fujita (win-loss-win)
Game 1: On Fujita's first turn, he Shocked himself with a Breeding Pool and played a Blue Rusalka. I was surprised at that super Wandering One. Then he followed with Thought Courier, and I realized he was playing a Reanimate Deck, so play all three of the Mortifies in my hand. Unfortunately, he had Compulsive Research and successfully got his two Simic Sky Swallowers into his graveyard. On his next turn he Zombified one, and I Wrathed it away, and then we did the same again. I played Persecute (Black) to put his Kokusho and Mindslicer into his graveyard, and played third Wrath. Suddenly his draw seemed to become poor, and I won.
Game 3: I got two Remand in my opening hand, and was glad to keep... and I drew my third and forth Remand! What good draws! I Remanded four times, and by Zombifying my own Kokusho I won the game. How lucky!
Round 3 versus Heartbeat Combo, played by Kenji Tsumura (win-win)
Game 1: Tsumura unfortunately took a double mulligan... and I transmuted for Persecute. That's all.
Game 2: I hold two Mortifies, and keep 1WB untapped. He started to make his combo, I interrupted. On the following turn I played Angel of Despair to destroy his Swamp, which is nice action against Heartbeat Combo. On the following turn he played Weird Harvest, and I was a little afraid. Soon, he smiled and said, “I sided out my fourth Drift of Phantasm...”
Again, how lucky I was. Thanks to that error, I won that round.
There was a miracle in my following Limited rounds: I eventually made 10-0! After this, I didn't have much chance to play Constructed games seriously, because I did some ID-ing.
Round 11 versus U/B Snow-Control, played by Takahiro Suzuki (loss-win-loss)
Game 1: I took a mulligan to six cards, and pulled three lands that couldn't produce Blue. I got screwed with the three lands for a long time, and lost the game.
Game 3: Again, I was short of Blue mana. He made turn 3 Ironfoot and turn 4 Jitte, equip, which was surprising. I couldn't draw cards that dealt with this, and lost.
Round 12 versus Erayo Ninja, played by Shingou Kurihara (Loss-Loss)
I conceded, because he is a friend, and the deck is too terrible to face.
Round 13 versus Sea Stompy, played by Tomoharu Saito (Tie)
We took an Intentional Draw this round.
Round 14 versus Snow Epic, played by Akira Asahara (loss-win-tie)
I knew if I conceded, Asahara could make it. But I wanted to play because on that day I played only one match, and I lost because of manascrew.
Besides, if I defeat Asahara my friend Ryosuke Aoki might make it... I was so glad to play against Emperor Asahara.
Game 1: He played Counterbalance on turn 5, activating the Top, and on the following turn he played Confiscate on my Karoo. I had U, W, and B open at that time, and Remand and Mortify in my hand - and Persecute. I wondered whether to Remand it and Persecute for Blue, but Asahara had activated the Top the turn before. Asahara must have put two-mana spell on the top of his library. I played Mortify on Confiscate.
On the following turn, I played a Signet... and it resolved. I regretted the last decision. He played Confiscate again, which I allowed to resolve because he had nothing in his hand. I tapped out for various things... and he had Enduring Ideal!
I regretted my mistake again, and lost to the Dragon named Asahara.
Game 2: I played Jester's Scepter and it resolved, removing Enduring Ideal. But Asahara got Boseiju. Soon he played it and brought down Dovescape. I played Angel of Despair to destroy it. I added Kokusho, and won.
We were short of time...
Game 3: I succeeded in playing turn 3 Cranial Extraction for Enduring Ideal. I thought I'd won this game, but the Emperor didn't agree. He played three Court Hussars, and kept on attacking, while I was lacking mana. Finally, I put my Kokusho into play and destroy his Dovescape with Angel. And we went into extra 5 turns.
I was so glad to hear that... these five turns were awesome.
On turn 3, my life was five, with Kokusho and Angel in play, and I had Clutch of the Undercity in hand. Asahara's life was at eight, with two Hussars in play, and two cards in hand.
He played Confiscate on my Kokusho. I didn't have Remand, but I had Mortify, and in case he had Miren in his hand I tried to destroy my legendary dragon.
But it was countered by Comandeer!
My Mortify target was changed to my Angel, and I lost my way to win on the following turn. I played Clutch on the Confiscated Kokusho, and played it again, ending the turn. And we tied!
I had never thought of that situation when I had resolved my Cranial Extraction.
I'm so glad to have had such a good game with Asahara, and thought it was good not to concede.
Eventually I finished third in the Swiss rounds, and got to the final table.
That night, all of my friends celebrated with me. I was so pleased.
I practiced against Vipies with my friends online, and posting five wins and a single loss. Naturally, I thought I could win that round easily...
It was careless of me.
Quarterfinals versus Vipies, played by Ken Ishimaru (loss-win-loss-loss)
Game 1: He took mulligan, but he made a turn 2 Hypnotic Specter and a turn 3 Genju of the Cedars. Attack. I played Compulsive Research twice, but couldn't get Wrath or Mortify, and soon I lost the game. What a mess!
Game 2: This was completely Solar Flare's show. I killed all of his creatures, and Valkyrie and Angel ended the game quickly.
Game 3: I took a mulligan, keeping a one-land two-Signet hand. Fortunately I drew my second land, and a third, but didn't have Wrath. He played a turn 2 Viper, turn 3 Solifuge, as if he knew I didn't have Wrath. He added more creatures, and I couldn't get my Wrath. I played Descendant of Kiyomaro, but he met Deathmark and I lost.
Game 4: I kept the following hand: Condemn, two Wraths, Mortify, Watery Grave, Godless Shrine, Mikokoro. Nice hand. And he took a double mulligan!
I thought I could win.
He played turn 1 Genju, turn 2 Confidant, which I destroyed quickly. I took four damage from the Genju and played Compulsive Research, keeping my Shrine untapped. I drew Azorius Signet, Azorius Chancery, and Watery Grave. I didn't have any other land in my hand. Without thinking carefully, I discarded Watery Grave. That was huge mistake. He played Solifuge, and following turn I couldn't play Wrath because I didn't have WW, and couldn't draw another land. Next turn, he ripped Persecute off the top, and I lost.
I throw my cards down, and shake hands with the winner with a hearty “Congratulations.”
I was full of regrets at this stage. If I had discarded the Chancery, I could play my Wrath and kill the Giant Solifuge. I forgot Persecute at that time.
Never be careless.
Always be careful.
I will keep this in mind in future.
Hopefully, I can participate in Worlds thanks to my rating. I'm studying French in my university, so I'm looking forward to going to Paris.
I will bring a new deck, as strong as Solar Flare... so please look out for me!
Until next time,