I have been waiting for this day for about a week now. Not every day does a deck come along that makes me excited to play Magic like this one. I wasn't able to shout from the rooftops last weekend since I wanted to do as good as possible at the SCG Invitational, but all of that is over now. Earlier this week I talked about how I came to dust off Frites and bring it back to Standard. Now I get to talk about everything I know about it, from the best list to the best strategies while playing the deck. I bring you guys Solar Frites!
This is the list that I played in the SCG Invitational last week. The reason this deck is so good is that it has a good matchup against Delver, but it also has surprisingly good matchups against the rest of the field as well. The biggest villain for this deck is actually itself. Yes, this deck can be a bit inconsistent at time, which is a real issue. The great thing is that it is very difficult to beat in the games that the deck does not stumble too much.
On the surface, this deck is just trying to Unburial Rites a fatty. Mulch, Faithless Looting, and Tracker's Instincts all play a role in making this happen by filling up the graveyard with important spells that either have flashback or can be Reanimated by Unburial Rites and/or Sun Titan.
Earlier versions of this deck did not play Sun Titan. Most of them were running Inferno Titan, Wurmcoil Engine, and the new Griselbrand to have another big creature to bring back from the graveyard. The problem with all of these targets was a little blue instant we know all too well: Vapor Snag. Delver decks are already well positioned to handle a big boom-boom, so going this route is a formula for failure. Sun Titan and Phantasmal Image allow a deck like Frites to not be dead to Vapor Snag and Snapcaster Mage, which is the biggest reason why this deck is so good. Not only does Phantasmal Image help deal with Geist of Saint Traft, but it gives Frites the ability to throw multiple creatures on the board in the same turn.
Sun Titan / Phantasmal Image also protect the deck from the second biggest issue: Zealous Conscripts. This Threaten on legs does wonders already against a deck like this by being able to steal Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and effectively wipe the board of mana creatures and Spirit tokens. Griselbrand or any of the other fatties would fall to the same fate and just turn around and attack their creator. A chain of Sun Titans neuters the ability of Zealous Conscripts by not allowing its controller to win the game on the spot. Image also plays a pretty sweet role in turning the Conscripts against their owner by coming down after Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite has been stolen and copying the Zealous Conscripts to deal fourteen damage back at the other player.
Enough about Sun Titan. Let's get into matchups, since that is the most important thing about the deck anyway. This deck plays out differently in every matchup, so it seems fitting to spend most of our time today on them.
The way you want to play this matchup is to get Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and Unburial Rites in the graveyard as soon as possible. You don't need to get the Praetor into play right away, because the threat of being able to Reanimate it is more powerful than actually having it in play. You want to use this weapon to wipe your opponent's board if they ever try to get things going.
Delver decks do not have that many threats. Restoration Angel is the only one that survives Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, which makes it very difficult for a Delver opponent to put creatures on the board when the combo is in the graveyard. They can't usually afford to play a Geist of Saint Traft, let it die to Unburial Rites, Vapor Snag the Elesh Norn, and then still have enough threats to regain a tempo advantage they just lost.
Once you have the combo in the graveyard and you are not under much pressure, you simply just cast all of the spells in your graveyard that do not cost 3W. Tracker's Instincts and Lingering Souls go a long way at pulling ahead of a Delver opponent. Getting these few turns to just cast extra spells almost destroys a Delver player on the spot. Their game plan is to get early pressure on the board and use spells to create tempo against an opponent. If they can't do that, there isn't much else they can try to do.
Once this is in place, your next job in the game is to not allow your opponent to assemble Sword of War and Peace. The maindeck already has one copy of Ancient Grudge to help stop this card since it is one of the only ways Delver can beat a good draw. When able to, copy Snapcaster Mage with Phantasmal Image and flash back a Mulch or two. This is one of the best cards in the deck since it will get you deeper in the deck than any other card. Lands are also really important in the late game since you will be able to play around Mana Leak. It also helps you dig for the Ancient Grudge or more cards to flash back.
Delver's best chance of beating this deck is to be aggressive. Turn 1 Delver of Secrets into Mana Leak / Gut Shot and a Geist of Saint Traft is the best start Delver can have. The funny thing is that it's really only powerful against a bad hand or on the play. I find myself beating this draw on the play quite often.
I am going to be doing something out of the norm this week. Instead of just a sideboard guide, I also want to talk about the best card you can play if you are having trouble with a specific matchup. It is very difficult to fit everything into the 75 of this deck, so the sideboard I play is geared towards the matchups I find difficult. You might have a different opinion on this, so I want to let you guys in on the best cards.
Combust is the strongest card for the Delver matchup outside of Ancient Grudge. Restoration Angel and Delver of Secrets can sometimes get out of hand. Combust is the strongest card that can deal with these cards. It also helps kill Hero of Bladehold, which is something more players are starting to register in the sideboards. This creature is almost unbeatable, which makes having access to this card somewhat important.
Birds of Paradise Decks
Of course these decks are not all the same, but they are similar enough in the way you should approach them. The goal in these matchups is to get Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite into play as soon as possible. This card destroys almost every deck based around creatures since there are very few creatures that actually have a toughness more than two. It is also very rare to get Zealous Conscripted in game 1 since there is few four-drops that live through the legendary creature to even Pod up.
Lingering Souls is a defensive only spell in these matchups, but rarely does it even matter. Investing a couple mana into flashing it back is usually worth it since it will buy enough time for the Unburial Rites blowout. Phantasmal Image does the same thing but more effectively since it helps set up Sun Titans for future turns.
Sideboarded games can become a bit trickier. These are the games where Pod decks become more streamlined for aggressive draws. Most versions these days have Hellrider (or should) in the sideboard to help beat any deck that isn't crushed under the power of Birthing Pod. This means that Pod or not, every Copperline Gorge deck now has access to Zealous Conscripts.
This makes your main goal to slow your opponent as much as possible. Arc Trail seems to be the winner in this category since Bonfire of the Damned is a bit to slow at doing the same thing Arc Trail does. Bonfire of the Damned does help destroy an opponent's entire board, but without pressure to back up the miracle the card oftentimes doesn't do enough.
I am not too concerned about Sword of War and Peace against these decks since they are becoming more streamlined with creatures. Make sure to have Grudge in your deck if you see Sword, but don't play it unless you know for certain your opponent has them in their deck.
Lingering Souls is a very good defensive spell but not against decks with Bonfire of the Damned. It is too backbreaking to invest mana into this spell just to watch all of your hard work get destroyed by three mana. Instead of trying to block a few extra times, spend that mana to get the combo going. Nine damage is all Zealous Conscripts and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite can deal, so make sure to keep at least ten life on the board if you plan to Elesh Norn your opponent.
Game 1 against this deck is a joke. Both decks have Sun Titan / Phantasmal Image, except Frites can dig much deeper to find its copies of these spells. It also has four Unburial Rites to always have a steady stream of threats. One deck has reset buttons, and the other has an unlimited supply of threats. Just dig through the deck as fast as possible and put some pressure on the board when you have time. It is as close to a walk as possible unless they have Nihil Spellbomb in the maindeck.
Strangleroot Geist might seem like a very strange card to have in the sideboard, but it is really just the best card you can ask for. This card has haste, two lives, and only costs two mana. The reason it is in this deck is that it can grab a Sword and enter combat more efficiently than any other creature in the format. Sword of War and Peace is the strongest card against a control deck, and you need access to this game plan to be able to beat Solar Flare postboard. They will board in Nihil Spellbombs, which make the graveyard portion of the deck almost useless.
These games are all about aggression. Just get Sword of War and Peace into play and put it on the first guy you have without summoning sickness.
Who wins the Skullclamp Affinity / Tempered Steel matchup? That is pretty much what this matchup is like. Both decks are trying to do similar things, but one is far superior to the other. Wolf Run is trying to get Primeval Titan on to the battlefield as quickly as turn 4, while Frites can do all of the above by that turn. Phantasmal Image, Sun Titan, and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite all trump Primeval Titan so well that this matchup is almost a freebie.
I don't think the Ghost Quarter is needed in the sideboard since this matchup is already so good, but having access to one of these lands makes the matchup infinitely better. You can cut the land if you want to since it is already such a good matchup, but I don't see how they could ever win without Wolf Run in play.
This is by far the worst matchup for the deck. Blood Artist plus Clone effects make it very difficult to ever even be able to put Elesh Norn into play. The deck is very fast and can kill you out of nowhere. The only thing that makes this matchup winnable is the fact that Zombies is more inconsistent than Frites. They will simply just hand games to you from time to time.
Arc Trail is a fine sideboard card for this matchup, but Wurmcoil Engine and Celestial Purge are much better if you want to find room for them. This is where you will have to figure out your local metagame and determine if worrying about this matchup is more important than beating Esper Control decks.
I found three Wurmcoil Engines, two Arc Trails, and two Celestial Purges to be enough to make the matchup good enough for me. I just don't think I want to shave that many of Arc Trails from the sideboard to make this work.
This is the latest version of the deck that I've been playing:
Gavony Township has traditionally been a valuable land in this deck ever since it was released, but I feel that this version doesn't need it that much. Sun Titan / Phantasmal Image help create very powerful board states that make the pump land less valuable. I also found myself rarely using it for its ability and think the extra sideboard slot would be better to have than the extra land.
I really feel that this deck is above and beyond the best deck to be playing this week. No one is playing graveyard hate, and very few people even respect this deck. I couldn't talk anyone but Brian Braun-Duin into playing it, and he found himself in the Top 8 of the SCG Invitational with it last week. The only suggestion I have is to play a ton of games with the deck and get the ordering of spells down. It is not the easiest deck to play in the format, but it rewards tight play.
I will see you guys next week with another article and some more videos with Gerry Thompson.