Magical Hack: Summer Heat Caused By Solar Flare

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With the first of possibly several “Magic Weekends” behind us, the U.S. National Championships, Italian National Championships, and English National Championships are all in the books, and in at least two of the three cases we have enough information to work with…

With the first of possibly several “Magic Weekends” behind us, the U.S. National Championships, Italian National Championships, and English National Championships are all in the books, and in at least two of the three cases we have enough information to work with… neither Italian nor English Nationals seem to have a Top 8 Decklists available, but in at least the case of English Nationals we have an archetype to work from thanks to the Player Profiles page. (Perhaps it’s in there in Italian, but I don’t seem to have picked up a Romance language or two while I wasn’t paying attention.)

The English National Championships saw an elimination bracket that looked like this:

R/G/W Zoo beats U/R Vore
Izzetron beats B/W Rats
Ghazi-Glare beats Greater Gifts
U/G/W Counter-Post beats Four Color Control

Ghazi-Glare beats U/G/W Counter-Post
R/G/W Zoo beats Izzetron

Ghazi-Glare beats R/G/W Zoo (and Scouseboy fans everywhere rejoiced!)
U/G/W Counter-Post beats Izzetron

The coverage doesn’t give decklists, but it’s probably pretty easy to guess the contents of most of these decks. Additional coverage may even appear in the future, such as in our illustrious editor’s pending tournament report as he shouts his victory to Grozoth and the stars, proclaiming at the top of his lungs that he is indeed the last English National Champion. In the end there shall be only one… and that one shall be the Scouseboy. [My report is coming on Monday. Yay! — Craig.]

Poking over to the U.S. for a very rough first look, we see the following:

Solar Flare beats Ghazi-Glare
Solar Flare beats Izzetron
Solar Flare beats B/W Rats
Izzetron beats B/W Husk

Izzetron beats Solar Flare
Solar Flare beats Solar Flare

Solar Flare beats Izzetron
Solar Flare beats Solar Flare

… Though Blisterguy would have you believe that in the Solar Flare mirror, everyone loses! It’s interesting to see how technology ebbs and flows… in a tournament where a significant portion of players followed the prior week’s advancements in technology, with the French U/W Weenie decks crossing the Channel well enough to constitute a key portion of the metagame, a very varied field pushes through to the elimination rounds and eight different decks filled those eight slots. And yet a tournament with a similar starting constitution, give or take a dozen Solar Flare players, ended up with very different results… five different decks in the Top 8, instead of eight, and only two decks making it through to elimination rounds. U/W Weenie was not a contender at either the U.S. or English National Championships, while the MTGO / Australian Nationals breakout deck, Solar Flare, very effectively dominated the tournament in which it was present.

Having omitted a decklist last week, in the absence of a ‘unified’ list for the Solar Flare deck, in addition to pointing at the U.S. Nationals Top 8 Decks Page, we can present the deck of 2006 US National Champion Paul Cheon.

This is not your standard-issue Blue-based control deck. In fact, it’s hardly Blue at, all but instead an interesting mix of a board-control deck and an exhaustion strategy. Card advantage is obvious, with many-for-one potential out of both Persecute and Wrath of God, blatant card drawing from Compulsive Research, and “187” effects like Court Hussar’s free Impulse and Angel of Despair’s stapled-on Vindicate. While this is not a counterspell-based deck, it is still a control deck, and it controls the board by removing permanents and playing high-quality threats… and the tension of board-sweepers and hand-sweepers makes it so that there is no “safe” zone in which to bank your cards, not keeping them in hand or “dodging Persecute” by playing all your creatures out at once. What countermagic it has is enough to control tempo and force through a spell or two against more dedicated countermagic, but in a control battle it is the White and Black cards that are more important anyway.

In a control fight, card advantage and mana advantage are two key things, and while this may not have the sheer amount of mana available you get with, say, an active set of Urza’s lands, it still has 29 actual mana sources and four of those are the oh-so-wonderful Karoos. Stack up the cards that require an answer against the usual lot of answers in your Blue control decks and you can see how Solar Flare has been doing well with its “mana, disruption, and bombs” plan, especially as it tunes the flavor of “disruption” to suit the opponent. Against aggressive decks, more removal comes in the form of Condemn and Descendant of Kiyomaro. Cranial Extraction, Persecute, and Castigate come in to tweak the numbers against opposing control strategies or the combo Heartbeat deck… it just happens to be that the “control” elements are proactive control (discard) instead of reactive control (countermagic) in addition to the board-sweeping Wrath of God.

The clever little part that makes this deck work so dangerously, however, is how it cheats on the mana cost of its fattie boom-booms. Compulsive Research into Zombify means you can’t quite be sure what you’re going to face off against and how quickly, because “playing fair” is for chumps. Without Zombify as a threat in the early game, we’re taking about a deck that ultimately has to play fair and play by very specific rules of engagement: deploy mana, destroy opposing threats, gain card advantage, play fattie boom-booms. With this game-plan you can try and exploit the weaknesses of the deck, racing against its creatures long before they deploy or timing things just right to dodge Wrath of God. After all, unless they get the double-Signet draw, they won’t be able to drop a threat until turn 5 at the earliest, and that threat is going to be exposed… dropping your pants isn’t exactly a winning strategy for a control deck.

Enter Zombify, and the Remand-into-Compulsive-Research-into-Zombify plan comes to fruition. It’s another avenue for the deck to take in order to cheat its fattie into play faster, getting a Dragon or better on turn 4 without the double-Signet draw. Also note how un-worried Solar Flare is about dropping its pants and exposing its fatties to removal: most of the creatures it’ll be bringing into play and needing to protect are still fine plays even if you kill them. Angel of Despair still gets its Vindicate in, and Yosei will at the very least buy you some time and leave your opponent completely exposed. Kokusho still drains for five, helping again to buy time even if the opponent kills it. It’s not even truly a board control deck… it’s looking to deploy its mana, Wrath the board (or Persecute the hand, depending on which is more relevant), and drop a Dragon. Mana and bombs is a strategy that is appreciated in a variety of forms, and five of the eight decks to make the cut to elimination at U.S. Nationals (and all four decks to earn an invite to Worlds) play out mana and drop bombs.

You know who else likes mana and bombs? Who loves Dragons? Little kids love dragons. Over at U.S. Nationals still, we have the following results:

Heartbeat defeats U/W French Weenie
U/W French Weenie defeats Solar Flare
Solar Flare defeats Solar Flare (well actually, both lose.)
U/R Magnivore defeats Izzetron

Heartbeat defeats Solar Flare
U/R Magnivore defeats U/W French Weenie

U/R Magnivore defeats Heartbeat

All told, between the three events, we see the following:

Solar Flare — 6 Players (1 Win, 3 Qualified)
Izzetron — 4 Players (2 Qualified)
B/W Rats — 2 Players
GhaziGlare — 2 Players (1 Win, 1 Qualified)
Magnivore — 2 Players (1 Win)
U/W French Weenie — 2 Players
B/W Husk — 1 Player
Zoo — 1 Player (1 Qualified)
Greater Gifts — 1 Player
Heartbeat — 1 Player
U/G/W Counter-Post — 1 Player (1 Qualified)
Four Color Control — 1 Player

Where the metagame goes from here is anyone’s guess, but if nothing else the “flash in the pan” at Australian Nationals has turned out to be a real contender indeed, winning U.S. Nationals, qualifying all three players at U.S. Nationals to play it into the elimination rounds, and putting up a dominant showing at the JSS Championships. The two “best decks” for the weekend, Solar Flare and Izzetron, both look to control the board, drop Dragons, and use a distinct mana advantage… in one case by dropping the Tron, in the other “just” through the use of Signets and the occasional discounted price of Angels and Dragons that comes when you don’t mind your minions having a hankering for brains.

However, there is more to learn about this weekend than just the latest trends in a Constructed format that sadly will not be very relevant to most players. For those who haven’t read Benjamin Peebles-MundyThe Definitive Coldsnap Draft Primer,” and thus have not downloaded full and comprehensive tactics for drafting triple-Coldsnap, Coldsnap-Guildpact-Dissension, and any other wacky draft format that might ever use Coldsnap cards, there is another source of information to be found and which can continue last week’s tracking of Coldsnap draft at the Grand Prix level. One need look no further than here to find the decklists for every deck that won its Coldsnap draft pod over at the U.S. National Championships.

Ben Zoz — U/B Flying Beatdown
Ben Chapman — R/W Snow
Lance Loden — W/g Weenie
Lawrence Watts — G/W/u Weenie
Brian Fulop — G/r Cow.dec
James Rossellini — B/G
Michael Krumb — B/R/g Snow
Brad Taulbee — B/W
Jason Imperiale — G/b Cow.dec
Brendon O’Donnell — R/B Snow
Sam Stein — G/R Snow
Alex Sittner — W/g Weenie
Ben Lundquist — G/W
Antonino DeRosa — U/B/r Snow

Color breakdown by deck:

Color Number of Decks

By the numbers, the color that had the best run was clearly Green, and the color that had the worst run was clearly Blue. The common conception of Green being a color that just doesn’t win is clearly an inaccurate opinion, especially the opinion that Green doesn’t win unless it gets the multiple Aurochs Herd deck… as there were two Green decks focusing on Aurochs, and nine Green decks overall. Green/White did surprisingly well, especially the Green/White decks that took on an extreme aggressive stance and picked up numerous Kjeldoran War Cries. When you see a beatdown deck playing five Martyrs, with no interest whatsoever in actually sacrificing them for their effect, you have to realize that something is a little bit funny.

Contrary to previous opinions, Coldsnap draft has turned out to be a surprisingly deep format, even if it is still one that tweaks some players (myself included) the wrong way. The repetitive nature of drafting Coldsnap allows for archetype drafting very easily, even more so than triple-Ravnica, where it was quite simple to try and pull together a Dimir Mill control deck or a Selesnya Convoke token deck. Coldsnap pushes the limit between Limited and Constructed, as the ability to get multiples of specific cards allows one to go to more unusual extremes than are often seen in draft and approach the consistency of a Constructed deck… like White Weenie or U/B Snow or G/x Cow.dec. Let’s look at one very interesting and amusing extreme:

Alex (John) Sittner
U.S. Nationals Coldsnap Booster Draft

7 Forest
9 Plains

3 Kjeldoran Outrider
3 Martyr of Sands
2 Ronom Unicorn
1 Squall Drifter
2 Surging Sentinels
1 White Shield Crusader
1 Bull Aurochs
2 Martyr of Spores
1 Ohran Viper

1 Gelid Shackles
6 Kjeldoran War Cry
1 Resize

1 Snow-Covered Plains
1 Mouth of Ronom
2 Cover of Winter
1 Swift Maneuver
1 Controvert
1 Flashfreeze
1 Frozen Solid
1 Jokulmorder
2 Martyr of Frost
1 Surging Aether
2 Surging Dementia
1 Zombie Musher
1 Karplusan Wolverine
1 Into the North
1 Freyalise’s Radiance
1 Ronom Hulk
1 Sound the Call
1 Tamanoa

Most Coldsnap decks laugh off 1/1s for one that don’t tap for mana, or blow up and cast Earthquake. So far, Martyr of Sands has only really been discussed as a card that works with Grim Harvest to form its own archetype for drafting, but here it’s being thrown in as a cheap drop to pick up an Overrun when attacking… but a limited card-pool asks for unusual cards filling specific roles, and Martyr of Sands is the only White one-drop that doesn’t require a Cumulative Upkeep cost. As unsuited to a beatdown role as it may seem, it plays the role as best it can, and two War Cries later it’s quite the respectable beatdown creature.

Why it is that Coldsnap draft has gone from degenerate to interesting in our minds is a curious question, as it plays very differently in the real world than it does in each of our heads. This question will be revisited in later weeks, when we’ve had a chance to see some more high-level results from Coldsnap draft… and compare these results to the leading opinions on how to draft with Coldsnap and what is the best color / archetype in Coldsnap draft as put forward by knowledgeable individuals such as Benjamin Peebles-Mundy.

Sean McKeown
smckeown @ livejournal.com