Prior to the release of Innistrad, I had been stranded on a deserted island. I was a man without a deck. The bannings of Stoneforge Mystic and Jace, the Mind Sculptor had wiped out my favorite deck Caw-Blade and forced me to embrace the dark side in Valakut. I didn’t particularly like Valakut, but the power level of Primeval Titan meant I couldn’t pass it up. I tried decks like UB Tezzeret, Tezzeret with Forgemaster, Monoblack Control, Monoblue Grand Architect, and finally some TwinPod. Nothing appealed to me as a player.
Innistrad changed all that. I’ve been playing since 1996, but went from the kitchen table to FNM during Invasion block. Odyssey was my first competitive block, and I loved it. Flashback was a great mechanic, and having it return in a real fashion really appealed to me. I looked forward to seeing what innovation some deckbuilders could find. I knew Snapcaster Mage was going to be a powerhouse and a card I wanted to play with.
SCG Open Nashville happened shortly after release, and I found what I’d been searching for. Christian Valenti’s Solar Flare list. I immediately sleeved up a version and furiously tested. It struck a chord with me. It fit all of the things I love to do in Magic. First, it kills your opponents creatures. Spot removal in Doom Blade, Celestial Purge, and Oblivion Ring offered the ability to deal with almost any creature. Day of Judgment allowed you to gain advantages in some mass removal. Second, it casts fatties. Titans are the best cycle of creatures to have ever been printed in Magic. One Titan or another has been a dominant force in Standard since they’ve been printed. Third, the deck generates some great card advantage, always a plus in my book. Seeing cards and drawing cards is always fun!
I’ve played it since then and I’ve gone through numerous tweaks. I’ve won over 90% of my matches and went undefeated in a Grand Prix Trial to win 3 byes for Grand Prix: Indianapolis. It’s seen Top 8 and Top 16 finishes in both the SCG Open Series as well as seeing some success in the recent Grand Prix. Here are the pieces that combine to for my Solar Flare:
The main force behind this deck is the powerful creature base. There are only 8 creatures (9 if you include Batterskull), but all of them bring immediate dividends. There isn’t a creature that doesn’t affect the game if it resolves. Snapcaster Mage is pretty obvious, allowing you to recur removal or permission as well as being a surprise blocker to conserve your life total.Sun Titan combos with Phantasmal Image to create one of the most powerful interactions in the format. Image isn’t a one-trick pony, though. Cards like Thrun, the Last Troll and Geist of Saint Traft are problematic if unchecked. Image deals with these, as well as coming back later to make a 6/6 Titan. Images are also great at eating early removal if need be. Copying your opponent’s best creature early and making them trade threats or removal for it is a powerful advantage for you.
Elesh Norn was an early change I added to this deck. My local metagame involved a few Wolf Run decks as well as a large contingent of token decks. I threw her in as a one of and she has been a fixture ever since. The rest of the world has now found the power of Elesh Norn, and I can’t see her losing a slot in the deck anytime soon. She’s so oppressive to creature strategies.Batterskull, for all intents and purposes a reusable creature, was something I originally cut. Most aggressive creature strategies play right into the decks power, and I often found it was unneeded. I cut it and added Grave Titan. Grave Titan played around the Delver decks’ Vapor Snags, leaving bodies in his wake. It created a finisher that closed out games in two to three turns.
The rise of Zombie decks became a problem. Even if you manage to deal with their creatures, the life loss generated by Diregraf Captains and Geralf’s Messengers is often enough to finish games. Batterskull provides valuable lifegain that can mean the difference between winning and losing those matches. Wurmcoil Engine was originally in Valenti’s list, but with so many swords floating around in the metagame right now, most decks are packing some sort of removal for it. Ancient Grudge makes Unburial Rites on it less appealing. I think Batterskull with the ability to bounce and be replayed makes it more valuable at the time right now.
The real backbone to this deck is Forbidden Alchemy. It’s way better than I thought at first glance. Mike Flores stated that it could be as format defining as Mystical Teachings. While it’s not quite on that power level, it’s an engine in this deck. Finding the proper land when you need it, filling your graveyard with reanimation targets, and allowing you to skip over irrelevant or situational cards (Celestial Purge or O-Ring) allows you to be consistent. An Alchemy in your opening hand often makes something mediocre into something awesome.Doom Blade has been my choice of removal. Many people have switched over to Tragic Slip, but I don’t like it as much. In a land full of 1/1 and 0/1’s, it’s great. the problem is when they ramp into a Titan or slam a threat like Hero of Bladehold. You’re digging for a Day of Judgment or hoping to trade something with a Snapcaster for value. Doom Blade is one more mana, but guarantees that it’s target is going to die. It kills Inkmoth Nexus and other artifact creatures like Wurmcoil Engine or Signal Pest. It leaves you vulnerable to black creatures like zombies and Grave Titan, but I feel that’s something you can fight in other ways (Day of Judgment, Oblivion Ring, and Celestial Purge).
Valenti originally played a Celestial Purge (as well as Timely Reinforcements maindeck), but this was mainly because he expected to fight through a sea of red decks. I cut Purge for a long time, but brought it back to deal with the rise of Zombies and Grave Titans. I went to two maindeck, as it’s great against GR aggro decks in removing cards like Huntmaster of the Fells and Hellrider, as well as Inferno Titan in the ramp decks.Unburial Rites is another engine in the deck. The ability to blow by cards like Elesh Norn or Sun Titan in early Forbidden Alchemys and still get value from them is important. Many decks in the format can’t deal with a turn 4 or 5 Elesh Norn. Nothing feels as good as living the dream of turn 3 Alchemy, putting Elesh Norn and Unburial Rites into your graveyard. Getting 2nd and 3rd chances to stick Sun Titans is also good. Even if they manage to find removal for your finishers, you can just buy them back. Oblivion Ring is a great all-purpose removal for the deck. Dealing with problematic creatures and enchantments in a pinch fantastic. The fact that it costs less than 3 mana and can be put into play from Sun Titan is really important. I’ve had many opponents forget that Sun Titan can grab things other than Images and Land! Liliana of the Veil is something that I was torn on for a long time. I like Valenti’s build and the tweaks I’d made. I felt like Liliana was an unnecessary addition. I didn’t want to discard my cards. Sure, I could flash them back or Titan them back, but I wanted even more value. I originally ran more spot removal (three Go for the Throat) instead since the format was really creature based. I finally broke down and tested those slots as Liliana and I’ve never looked back. Often she hits the table, removes a creature, and then eats your opponents next attack step. She’s basically like buying a free turn and a removal. A couple turns later, she returns with Sun Titan to do more of the same.
Esper Spirits is a shockingly easy matchup. Many people have adopted the list Finkel played at Pro Tour: Dark Ascension. The best part of that list for the Solar Flare matchup is that they only play two Mana Leak and their manabase is pretty wonky. You don’t really have to worry about fighting over spells. Vapor Snag isn’t really relevant against you, since it rarely pushes through any damage and all your creatures provide immediate value. Kill Drogskol Captains on sight and this is a fairly easy matchup. Ratchet Bomb and additional mass removal from the side make this even easier. You’ll grind them out and recur Ratchet Bomb with Sun Titans. I’ve lost 1 match and about 3 games total to this deck in about 12 matches. It’s generally not close.
UB Control is probably the roughest matchup you’ll face. They play more hard counters, and you have a lot of dead cards. If you play your cards right, you can win this, but it’s rough and grindy. You’ll see better dividends in games 2 and 3. After sideboard, you want to be way more aggressive. Azure Mage provides a 2/1 body that poses an additional thread in free cards. You either eat counterspells or make them use their turns dealing with them which will allow you a window to resolve some better threats. You’ll want to side out some removal depending on whether they’re playing Consecrated Sphinx or Grave Titan.
This is a pretty good deck to see. Worst case scenario is they’re playing Sword of Feast and Famine and resolve one on turn 2 or 3 when you’re missing a Doom Blade. You still have answers, and most of the decks are only running Sword of War and Peace, which doesn’t really matter since you have black removal. Phantasmal Image deals with Thrun, and they’ll run out of threats and wilt to the Titans. Ramp relies on Primeval Titan, Inkmoth Nexus, and Wolf Run. Doom Blade and Ghost Quarter generally shut them down. Elesh Norn locks out their Inkmoth plan. I’ve yet to lose a single game to Wolf Run Ramp.Mana Leak is generally poor here, as they ramp out mana dorks and either play around your Leaks or slam Thrun. It’s generally better to bring in the answers for their threats. Purge gets rid of Huntmaster and Hellriders, and Doom Blade + Day of Judgment mops up the rest.
Frites is fairly straight forward. They’ll dig to resolve an Elesh Norn, but that really doesn’t affect you. You can kill their mana dorks and Elesh Norn with spot removal, or even Day of Judgment when the time is right. They work best against linear creature decks, which Solar Flare isn’t.
Zombies is the other hard matchup. If they get a ridiculous draw, you’re in trouble as their creatures double as burn as you remove them. You have answers, but you have to really avoid Geralf’s Messenger. Undying is a pain to deal with. Liliana isn’t good here, as Undying negates her usefulness and Doom Blade is dead. You’ll add more sweepers and some more lifegain, it should be enough to allow you to stabilize.
I feel like Solar Flare is a great deck. Its advantage lies in that it has answers for anything, given the time to find them. I think it’s an often overlooked deck choice. I encourage you to give it a hard look if you like digging through your deck, killing creatures, and slamming fatties onto the table. It’s an extremely powerful and synergistic strategy.
Eric Blanc (@evilbeard on Twitter)