Does anyone remember the days of Solar Flare? It could cast turn 3 Compulsive Research and discarding a fatty, and recur it with a turn 4 Zombify, and yet still maintain a control role with Remand, Wrath of God, and more. Obviously, these cards does not exist in Standard anymore, but there was an emergence of a similar deck at a local $5000 Standard tournament in Malaysia. There was about 80 players who turned out, and at least half the field was Jund, but the winner turned out to be Atoibolan Esper Control piloted by Shamsul Baharin. Without further ado, here’s the list:
- 4 Knight of the White Orchid
- 2 Wall of Reverence
- 3 Wall of Denial
- 3 Baneslayer Angel
- 2 Iona, Shield of Emeria
- 3 Sphinx of Lost Truths
This deck plays very similar to good old Solar Flare. The only difference is this deck is actually a Blue-White deck splashing Black for Esper Charm and Rise from the Grave, while Solar Flare is spread across three colors evenly. It maintains early control with its cheap counterspells and efficient creature removal options, while ending games with redundant large fatties and a small combo element featuring Sphinx of Lost Truths discarding Iona, Shield of Emeria and recurring it with Rise from the Grave.. The combo alone is often a game winner. Surprisingly, Iona shuts down most decks hard.
Against Jund, choosing Black with Iona means that your opponent can only cast Lightning Bolt, Bloodbraid Elf, Garruk Wildspeaker, and Master of the Wild Hunt from his entire deck, and those cards can’t even touch Iona (except for Master of the Wild Hunt with a couple of his wolves). Against Naya, choosing White shuts down all big spells like Baneslayer Angel, Path to Exile, Woolly Thoctar, Ranger of Eos, and Ajani Vengeant. I don’t even have to mention how insane Iona can be against mono-colored decks such as Eldrazi Green, Mono-Red Burn, Mono-White Tokens etc. The deck has a very good matchup against creature decks, and it is designed specifically to beat such strategies. Before Shamsul proceed to win the tournament, I played several practice games against him using my Naya deck. I was smashed 0-5 before deciding not to waste any more time, since I have no good chance to win. The testing was not even relevant because no one else was playing the the deck besides him. Little did we know that this was the deck, a deck that no one cared about, that ended up taking the whole tournament.
If you are playing a control deck and coincidentally playing White, I don’t see a reason why you are not playing with the maximum number of these removal spells. Moreover, the deck is designed to beat creatures, and this is the obvious reason to play the maximum numbers of Path to Exile and Day of Judgment.
These are commonly played counterspells these days, especially since the real Counterspell is gone. They trade their spell for a card and two mana, and there is hardly any better choice than these two counters. If you are sure of your current metagame, you can always use Flashfreeze instead, although the deck already has Flashfreeze in the sideboard. Personally I prefer Cancel over Negate, because you can always Cancel a creature on turn 3. I think Essence Scatter is very solid in a format filled with creatures, and you always feel safe on turn 2 with an Essence Scatter in hand. You don’t get the same feeling with Negate. Against slower decks where Negate shines, Cancel can essentially do the same thing. And if the opposing deck is slow, it would not make a huge difference anyway. But given the choice between holding a Negate and countering Woolly Thoctar with Cancel, I’ll take the latter. It makes a huge difference in the creature matchup.
Esper Charm works as “draw 2 cards” most of the time, but if you have both Rise From The Grave and Iona in hand, feel free to use the discard option on yourself. You should almost always target yourself with the Esper Charm, regardless of whether you’re drawing cards or discarding to the combo. There are hardly any enchantments in this format for Esper Charm to destroy, except for Oblivion Ring and Honor of the Pure; keep this in mind against a White deck, and ignore it against any non-White decks. Be careful against Luminarch Ascension after sideboarding.
Rise From The Grave is the combo and utility part of the deck. Don’t forget that you can always recur your opponent’s dead Baneslayer Angel or Broodmate Dragon and turn it against them. Two copies is the correct number because it is a situational card, and it is only good after you’ve gained control of the board.
Oblivion Ring should fall under the creature removal spot, but I like it more as utility spell in this deck, because it happens to kill Howling Mine and troublesome Planeswalkers as well. Moreover, you always side in additional Oblivion Rings to kill non-creature permanents after sideboarding against other controlling or slower decks.
There is surprising number of creatures in this deck. The deck has a total of seventeen. Knight of the White Orchid is awesome at blocking small dudes, and it delivers card advantage if played correctly. Note that you should always try to hit a land with him on the draw, but you shouldn’t bother on the play because it slows you down a lot, unless you are very light on lands and have a solid reason to do so. Wall of Reverence and Wall of Denial love blocking dudes all day long. Sphinx of Lost Truths is part of the card advantage and combo engine in the deck. Feel free to cast him without kicker to dig for answers. Baneslayer Angel is always awesome in this format, and he comes out on top against creature decks. Besides combating creature decks, Iona is surprisingly good against Turbo Fog as well, because your argument can’t Fog or remove her, and she also hits very hard and ends the game in 3 turns. The 6-0 Turbo Fog deck from Worlds also runs Flashfreeze instead of Essence Scatter or Negate, which means you can Rise her or hard-cast without fear.
You have a good matchup game 1. The discard effect from opponent’s Blightning can be minimized by discarding Iona and locking them on the following turn using Rise From The Grave. Since you can’t rely on opponent’s Blightnings to discard the Iona, try to always cast Sphinx of Lost Truths with kicker to win the battle of attrition. If possible, try keeping Path to Exile back for Sprouting Thrinax because its tokens are very annoying.
According to Shamsul, Rite of Replication is the tech card against Broodmate Dragon and Malakir Bloodwitch. The Rite is an answer that directly matches these threats, and the potential to kick it is an added bonus. The game will take a while, and if you happen to kick it, you usually seal the game. Celestial Purge is a direct substitute for Path to Exile, and Flashfreeze gives you more counterspells by replacing redundant Walls in this matchup.
You have an excellent matchup both pre- and post-sideboard. I have tested this matchup personally, and there is barely any chance to win for the Naya player. Every card in this deck is so good against Naya. I can see that the only possible way to win is turn 2 Lotus Cobra, turn 3 Bloodbraid Elf into Woolly Thoctar… and that’s only if your opponent doesn’t Day of Judgment or any spot removal spells.
After sideboarding, you get to replace Path to Exile with better removal options like Celestial Purge and Oblivion Ring, which essentially serve the same purpose except that you don’t give them lands. Flashfreeze also gives you more chance to counter a guy on turn 2 and turn 3 to stabilize the game. If Naya has no creatures, or is unable to push through your Walls by turn 5 or 6, you can stabilize the game and just wait for the right moment to play Iona.
This matchup is very similar to Naya, except that they are faster but smaller. Ranger of Eos and Elspeth are their best cards against you, and the matchup is very straightforward. They produce small threats and you produce answers. Match them turn by turn, and eventually you will come out on top.
The Negate is almost useless because you will be tapping out a lot to cast removal and creatures. Furthermore, a good Boros player would not walk his Elspeth into your Negate, and it hurts to continue leaving the two mana untapped. Oblivion Ring does almost the same job, and it is even better at solving other problems. Celestial Purge is not very good due to its limited targets against Boros, but it helps kill early Goblin Guides and Plated Geopedes, and it assists you in stabilizing the game. Some Boros players will tend to side out their Red creatures because they know you are bringing in Celestial Purge, so two is the right number to avoid getting clogged with too many Purges if they do.
This is dependent on the version in your metagame. If they run Flashfreeze, they don’t run other counters, at least most of the time, and it is really easy to spot which version they are running. With Howling Mine and Jace, they usually draw two cards every turn, and have to discard very early in the game as they have no removal or Fog effects to play against you. If they run Flashfreeze, they will usually discard it as the first card because they knew it is useless against you. Take advantage of the information and try playing your Iona as soon as possible when you see the Flashfreeze hit the bin.
After sideboarding, you replaces redundant Walls and removal with early beats and more answers. Obviously Vedalken Outlander is not the best card for this matchup, but I can see it coming in to replace some Walls. The number of Oblivion Rings and Negates has been increased to maximum numbers after sideboarding. Rite of Replication increases the number of threats in your deck.
As always, Red hits very hard, but at the same time they are exhausted very quickly. Try mulliganing into hands with early answers, and that should put you ahead in the late game.
The combo gets sided out due to its slow nature. All you really need to do is stabilize with cheap answers and win the game with Baneslayer, because they have no real answer to it. As you can see, the sideboarding strategy demonstrates what I mentioned above. Vedalken Outlander basically says “minus 2 damage off any Red trampling guys,” while Celestial Purge and Flashfreeze are self explanatory. Day of Judgment is irrelevant in this matchup as they never have more than one guy on the table, as all of them simply die at the end of turn.
They are slower than Mono Red, and in return they have better removal and spells. They cannot kill you quickly, so you have more flexibility to keep slower hands. However, Mind Sludge can be disheartening and game breaking, so watch out for that.
You get better removal with Celestial Purge, additional Negates to handle Mind Sludge, and Rite of Replication to handle Malakir Bloodwitch. Try not to be tapped out if possible, due to Mind Sludge. There’s little reason to play the Walls and tap out, as they don’t change the game like Baneslayer Angels, so opening yourself to Sludge is weak. Once the game has proceeded long enough, Iona should take the lead and seal the victory.
Have fun with this exciting deck, and happy holidays!