Introduction

Avacyn Restored is right around the corner, and with every new set comes new possibilities.  One of the most talked about cards that is being released in Avacyn Restored is the new land Cavern of Souls.  This land has generated a lot of buzz concerning Wolf Run Ramp once again rising to the top of the food chain and crushing opponents without needing to fear counterspells.  Now Wolf Run players will be able to drop this new land on the table, name Giant as their creature type, and spend the rest of the game casting titan after titan and never having to ask their opponent if they have a response.

What does this mean for the meta game?  First of all, heavy counter-reliant control decks like U/B control will become much weaker vs the big green menace.  Previously, U/B control had a very good matchup vs Wolf Run due to the control player being able to run an abundance of counter magic, preventing the ramp player from ever resolving a titan.  This allowed the control player to reserve his or her instant speed kill spells for other threats, such as a naturally drawn Inkmoth Nexus or Thrun, the Last Troll.  Now that Cavern of Souls has been introduced, the U/B control plan of counter all the titans is no longer a viable one.  Combine this with the rise in popularity of aggressive strategies such as R/G and Zombies which are backed by resilient undying threats and it is easy to see why U/B control, and similar counter-heavy strategies, will have a difficult time surviving in the new meta.

Recently, the most successful standard control deck has been Esper tap-out control, running a very counter-light suite backed up with efficient spells such as Lingering Souls and a host of Planeswalkers and removal.  These decks attempt to tap-out for removal spells such as Oblivion Ring and Day of Judgment to keep their opponent’s side of the board clean while building up their mana base, and then eventually tapping out every turn afterward to produce a must-answer threat in the form of a Consecrated Sphinx, Grave Titan or Planeswalker.  The problem this deck runs into is its rough mana base, trying to support multiple BB, WW, and UU spells all in the same list.  It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to be able to reliably cast a turn 3 Liliana of the Veil, followed by a turn 4 Day of Judgment, turn 5 Gideon Jura and turn 6 Consecrated Sphinx.  Even so, with the help of Evolving Wilds, the deck has enjoyed some amount of success in DKA standard where U/B control has seemed to falter.

In this article, I want to discuss the recent resurgence of the Solar Flare archetype on MODO and the possibility of it being a top contender in post-AvR standard.  When Innistrad was first released, the most talked about deck at the time was Solar Flare.  Everyone thought it would be a dominating force, yet the deck did not experience an amount of success that justified the hype.  It had a handful of top 8s, 16s, and 32s in various SCG opens early on, but was never able to pull out a win and eventually disappeared into obscurity.  What was the problem?  Why didn’t Solar Flare perform well then and what has changed that may make it perform better now?

The Past

She hates Dragonball Z

To begin with, many people were trying to mimic the Solar Flare lists from Kamigawa block as closely as possible.  Everyone was trying to cram a full suite of counter magic into the deck alongside Snapcaster Mage and Liliana of the Veil.  The problem with this was that the mana base we had to work with was not able to support this ambitious spell selection.  Also, we didn’t have access to mana fixing artifacts like Azorious Signets.  This caused the deck to stumble quite often.  Aggressive decks were able to run over any Solar Flare player that could not manage to hit double white on turn 4 while they were holding onto their Day of Judgment.  U/B, U/W and Esper permission-style lists were also being played fairly heavily during this time and their lists were more straight-forward and able to out-control the Solar Flare players.  Not long after that came the aggro-control menace known as U/W Delver.  Packed with efficient threats and permission spells, the Delver lists could deploy 1-2 cheap, efficient threats and then hold counter magic and Snapcasters in reserve to prevent the Solar Flare player from ever resolving a threat or answer of their own.  From that point on, Solar Flare was relegated to lower tier status and became nothing more than a member of the “other” category of decks you should prepare for.

For reference, here is the deck piloted by Stephen Rosenthal that finished 2nd place in the Standard Open at SCG Charlotte featuring the Invitational in December 2011:


Creatures 10
1 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
1 Consecrated Sphinx
2 Phantasmal Image
3 Snapcaster Mage
2 Sun Titan
 
Planeswalkers 3
3 Liliana of the Veil
 
Spells 22
3 Oblivion Ring
1 Dissipate
2 Doom Blade
4 Forbidden Alchemy
3 Mana Leak
3 Think Twice
3 Day of Judgment
2 Unburial Rites
1 Batterskull
 
Lands 26
3 Island
3 Plains
4 Swamp
2 Darkslick Shores
3 Drowned Catacomb
2 Ghost Quarter
4 Glacial Fortress
3 Isolated Chapel
2 Seachrome Coast
 
Sideboard:
2 Ratchet Bomb
2 Dissipate
2 Flashfreeze
2 Gut Shot
2 Surgical Extraction
1 Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur
1 Day of Judgment
3 Timely Reinforcements


The Present

Definitely not a Dragonball Z Fan

Fast-forward to the present and we see a different story altogether.  U/B Control has all but disappeared from the meta game, pushed out by the aggressive strategies full of resilient threats and equipment.  Token strategies revolving around Lingering Souls are showing up in decks everywhere and counterspells in general (outside of delver) have lost a lot of their influence.  Deck builders have had ample amounts of time to mold lists, figuring out what works and what doesn’t work, trimming the fat which was once considered staples of the deck.  In the last couple of weeks, Solar Flare has returned with a vengeance on MODO.  Taking the form of a more linear tap-out control deck with one plan: Keep the board clear, build a mana base and then land a Sun Titan and bring back all of the Phantasmal Images.  No more Snapcaster Mage + Mana Leak shenanigans, no more stretched mana bases trying to play Liliana into Day.  With permission-heavy control decks nowhere in sight, Solar Flare is now able to prey upon the creature-heavy meta relatively uncontested.  With the upcoming release of Avacyn Restored and the new land Cavern of Souls, Solar Flare now has an opportunity to cement itself as a top-tier contender for the remaining months of Scars/ISD standard.

For reference, here is the deck that has been tearing up the online scene as piloted by MODO grinder _Batutinha_:

 

Creatures 8
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
4 Phantasmal Image
3 Sun Titan

 

Planeswalkers 2
2 Gideon Jura

 

Spells 24
1 Batterskull
3 Day of Judgment
2 Dead Weight
4 Forbidden Alchemy
3 Lingering Souls
3 Oblivion Ring
4 Ratchet Bomb
3 Think Twice
1 Unburial Rites

 

Lands 26
1 Darkslick Shores
2 Evolving Wilds
2 Ghost Quarter
4 Glacial Fortress
3 Island
4 Isolated Chapel
4 Plains
4 Seachrome Coast
2 Swamp

 

Sideboard
2 Celestial Purge
2 Dissipate
2 Jace, Memory Adept
1 Karn Liberated
2 Nihil Spellbomb
2 Revoke Existence
3 Timely Reinforcements
1 Wurmcoil Engine

 

 

Even at first glance you can clearly see the difference between this version of Solar Flare and the versions from early post-Innistrad standard.  First you will notice the complete absence of counter magic and Snapcaster Mage.  Every spell in this deck (with the exception of Day of Judgment) already comes equipped with flashback, thus negating the need for the little blue wizard.  This deck doesn’t want to spend its time worrying about whether or not to allow an opponent to resolve a creature; instead, this version is packed full of ways to answer anything an opponent may have in the early turns of the game.

Ratchet Bombs keep tokens easily at bay, as well as providing additional methods of board wiping against low cmc creatures, and are an answer to permanents such as Planeswalkers or equipment, in the event that an Oblivion Ring is nowhere to be found.  Two copies of Dead Weight help deal with early pressure threats such as Delver of Secrets.  Three copies of Oblivion Ring give the deck a catch-all solution to any non-hexproof problems.  The best part, all of the above answers are returnable by Sun Titan, allowing you to get extra mileage out of them even after they have already served their immediate purpose.  Three Day of Judgments are in the main deck to compliment the other removal and help deal with aggressive strategies such as Humans, Naya Pod, R/G aggro, and hexproof creatures such as Geist of Saint Traft.

Aside from a strong removal suite, the deck is also packed with a number of ways to simply buy time vs many opponents.  Four Phantasmal Images allow you to copy any threat your opponent plays and use it against them.  With the plethora of undying creatures running around, Phantasmal Image can safely copy an undying threat of the opponents and not be as concerned about being lost to removal.  Additionally, the 4-of Image allows Solar Flare to consistently deal with a turn 2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, something that can give the deck trouble by slowing down its progression, or other annoying hexproof creatures such as Thrun, Geist and soon Sigarda.  Don’t forget that the Image is also returnable with Sun Titan as well.  In addition to Image, the deck also comes packed with Lingering Souls and Gideon Jura, two of the best cards at buying you time.  The souls can chump block or trade with many creatures, often deterring opponents from attacking into you.  Gideon Jura does what he does best and keeps the opponents threats off your back while simultaneously forcing your opponent into overextending into your Day of Judgment or Ratchet Bomb.

To finish off the opponent, the deck relies on the Sun Titan/Image interaction, Batterskull, and Elesh Norn backed by Unburial Rites and Lingering Souls.  Having a few lines of attack ensures that an opponent packing Surgical Extraction or Nihil Spellbombs to deal with your Images will not easily thwart you.  The Sun Titan/Image combo is one that many people have forgotten about, but is still very powerful and able to end a game very quickly if an answer is not immediately available.

The glue that holds the deck together is the same that was used in previous versions.  Think Twice and Forbidden Alchemy provide the Solar Flare player with a way to quickly cycle through their library and extract the necessary components needed to defeat a given opponent.  These cards also help ensure that you are hitting your land drops every turn, which is vitally important to the Solar Flare player.  Luckily, the deck has been streamlined quite a bit and we have gained the use of Evolving Wilds, so mana consistency is much less of a problem in this version than it has been in previous iterations.

The sideboard is designed to deal specifically with the matchups that the deck has the most trouble with.  The additional planeswalkers and spellbombs come in against permission-based control strategies.  The Celestial Purges, Timely Reinforcements and Wurmcoil Engine come in vs Zombies or other aggressive strategies that are a little more resilient to Day of Judgment.  The counter magic in the sideboard comes in against the ramp matchups, allowing you a proactive solution to their Primeval Titans.

The Future

Cavern of Soul..ed out in stores.

So, does Solar Flare’s recent online success streak stand to both continue and carry over into post-Avacyn Restored standard?  I believe it most certainly does.  First, many of the new, powerful threats in Avacyn Restored happen to be legendary creatures.  If any of these new threats (looking at you, Sigarda) find a good home, Phantasmal Image’s power and value will continue to rise.  Cavern of Souls will most assuredly keep permission-heavy control decks like U/B control on the backburner for now, but will also conveniently find a home itself in the Solar Flare list.  Wolf Run Ramp isn’t the only deck that can benefit from having uncounterable titans.  Running Cavern as a 2-of in the deck will give Solar Flare the ability to contend with permission-style decks like control and delver more easily, without having to worry as much about having their best threat countered.  If Wolf Run does once again become a dominant force in standard, Solar Flare will be a good choice to use to battle against the green menace.  Being able to copy an opposing Primeval Titan, search up your own Ghost Quarters to deal with the lands the opponent searched, allows you to easily deal with the titan using removal and then also deal with the lands that came with him.  Sun Titan can then rebuy your Ghost Quarters over and over, gaining you infinite value against the ramp opponent.  Additionally, many ramp opponents are splashing colors for key spells/creatures, so being able to rebuy Ghost Quarters can eventually cut your opponent off from being able to cast all of the spells in their deck.

That being said, here is where I see Solar Flare just after Avacyn Restored:

 

Creatures 8
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
4 Phantasmal Image
3 Sun Titan

 

Planeswalkers 2
2 Gideon Jura

 

Spells 23
1 Batterskull
3 Day of Judgment
2 Dead Weight
4 Forbidden Alchemy
3 Lingering Souls
3 Oblivion Ring
4 Ratchet Bomb
2 Think Twice
1 Unburial Rites

 

Lands 27
1 Darkslick Shores
2 Evolving Wilds
1 Ghost Quarter
4 Glacial Fortress
3 Island
4 Isolated Chapel
2 Plains
4 Seachrome Coast
4 Swamp
2 Cavern of Souls

 

Sideboard
2 Celestial Purge
2 Negate
1 Jace, Memory Adept
1 Karn Liberated
2 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Day of Judgment
3 Timely Reinforcements
1 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Cavern of Souls
1 Ghost Quarter

 

The changes I made were dropping 1 Think Twice and 1 Ghost Quarter to add in 2 copies of Cavern of Souls to the main board.  Think Twice is the least important of the two draw spells, so cutting 1 to add a land shouldn’t hurt the consistency of the deck very much.  Ghost Quarter is most relevant in the Wolf Run matchup, but we have Images that we can use to copy their titan and fetch our Ghost Quarter up.  I moved the 2nd copy of Ghost Quarter to the sideboard to bring it in vs ramp.  In the sideboard, I’ve replaced the 2 copies of Dissipate with 2 Negate.  Since most Wolf Run players will be playing Cavern themselves, I am less concerned with countering their creatures and more concerned about countering their ramp spells and their Green Sun’s Zenith.  The extra cavern can come in against permission-heavy control decks or delver opponents still packing counterspells.  I wanted to have the 4th Day in the sideboard to give me an extra sweeper vs any new aggressive strategies that may arise.  Typically after a new set release, aggressive strategies are very popular since they are fairly easy to both build and play, so it’s always good to pack some extra hate in preparation for them.

This will be my starting point for post-AvR standard.  I will continue testing it and plan on taking it to some local events right after release.  I will continue to evaluate the deck’s viability and performance and will report back with my findings after I’ve had some time to see how it stacks up and what new technology surfaces post-release.  Thanks for reading and happy planeswalking!

 

Ryan Gilleland