Playing Solar Pox at Champs

Josh took Solar Pox to Champs. After all, the deck had pedigree – it placed first in the recent StarCityGames.com $1500 Standard Tournament. Unfortunately for Mr. Ravitz, it was not enough to propel him to the top tables… nevertheless, he shares his insights on the deck, and reports on the full day of play.

Last Saturday saw the newest standard metagame take the next step, leap, and jump in its evolution. The first step occurred while a fair number of people descended on the city of Kobe, for the Pro Tour. They played in the King’s Games side event at the Pro Tour itself (99 Competitors, and G/W Glare won), and at a StarCityGames event ($1500 StarCityGames Games Tournament, 68 players, and Solar Pox won.)

Solar Pox won.

Now, who can say if Solar Pox will be around when this format ends at the release of the next set. The release of the first expansion for Time Spiral will greatly impact and alter the format, which is obvious. But decks that were, will be. Let me give you an example to clarify.

Tron circa Worlds ’05 was innovative, fresh, and ultimately inconsistent. We didn’t even have the Izzet guild! Our dual lands were Tendo Ice Bridges. Not the best. Tron circa Hawaii ’06 was another story altogether. Filled to the brim with efficient gold cards, fantastic mana fixers, and what essentially equated to the right stuff – one copy of that deck made Top 8 at that tournament. And of course, a metagame can only evolve if people play. At the end of every Block Constructed PTQ season there was a best deck, and the next week was generally a Sealed Deck PTQ and who cares about that Block Constructed format anymore? Except for “Block Party,” which was an Invitational Format (now deceased).

You have to Time Stamp your decks. At the end of Tempest Block Constructed there was a mono-Blue “counter-sliver” deck, not because it ran slivers, but because that was the game it was trying to play. Anyway, who is to say that this was the best deck in Tempest Block Constructed? It was just the final best deck. Had the format continued for another eight years… who knows what would have been?

Anyway, the next step was Standard Champs. As I mentioned last week, this tournament is often dismissed as a waste of time, not worth preparing for, etc, but in reality it shapes most of the future events one way or another. Last year, mono-Blue based around tapping out for Keiga or Meloku – because they were so much better than anything your opponent could play — was the strategy that found success at States, reminding everyone just how good a control-into-bomb trip could be.

I played in this tournament.

I played Solar Pox.

This wasn’t an easy decision to come to, but it could have been. Had I known such an awesome deck was going to be debuted in the StarCityGames $1500, I would have simply ignored the format until then, but obviously that wasn’t exactly what happened.

At first, there were many decks we (Mike Flores, whoever he tested against, and myself) liked. Of course, in general, he is much more excitable in this regard than I am. I’d often point out why or what I didn’t like about these decks, and he’d counter with typical arguments. We weren’t really getting anywhere. Nothing was terribly exciting, a lot of decks had cards I hated or strategies I thought wouldn’t work, and no matter how excited Mike got about a deck (see his final choice), I still couldn’t make the commitment.

But, like I said, that all changed.

The original decklist, in all its glory: Off the charts synergies and a solid early game meant this deck was a real threat. You could even watch videos of the finals of the StarCityGames tournament, where, despite “not the best” play (sorry to call you out, dudes), this deck thoroughly annihilated its opponent’s B/W control deck.

The synergies this deck contains are part of the reason it’s so good. First there are the lands: Gemstone Mine and Bouncelands — not game-breaking, but a nice trick that helps the mana along in a deck that is constantly asking for doubles in two colors, sometimes triples, sometimes doubles in two colors at the same time — and splashing Blue. It helps. Then there are four Flagstones of Trokair… well, I don’t know what to say about this card. When we first saw this card we were excited, as we were about a number of so-called spoiled cards. As the cards kept “coming in” (being spoiled) we had more and more uses for it. My favorite was sacrificing the Flagstones to Smallpox, but our dedicated Smallpox deck sucked. So that was that. But then, not exactly… of course, this deck plays Smallpox.

Smallpox allows for a number of great interactions. Namely, you can sacrifice Court Hussar in the early game, or sacrifice nothing at all. Sacrificing Court Hussar isn’t that awesome, except this deck also plays Haakon, Stromgald Scourge — so you can rest assured, that Court Hussar is probably coming back into play. Haakon, abuseable in the right situation, is just one of the cards you can discard to Smallpox; others include the Angel — ripe for reanimation. The fact that your opponents deck at best, should it not be a mirror, can probably not compete with those synergies puts you far ahead. Opposing Flagstones are annoying but not the end of the world – you just have to time your poxes differently.

Compulsive Research blends in nicely as an above-average card drawer, but when the “downside” of discarding a card or two is actually just as exciting as peeling three fresh ones… well, you see what I mean. This deck can do quite a lot.

Of course, there were some parts of the original decklist I didn’t like. You’d agree that there is practically no reason not to run a fourth Compulsive Research, and Ghost Quartering Vitu-Ghazi is attractive, but that matchup (Glare) is very good, and breaking up the Tron is nice. I don’t think they can compete against your deck at all, so you might as well make yourself more consistent — you aren’t exactly playing it safe with U, U(w), WW, BB, WWW, BBWW as your mana costs, after all.

We made a lot of changes, because – up to this point – Mike was still on board. We decided to make the deck better against a variety of creatures by removing Darkblast and upping the Condemn count — we did anticipate opposing Akromas, after all. Other minor changes were made to the maindeck, though changing the Signets might have been incorrect. This was my idea — I wanted to be able to cast Arbiter every time, after board, but in practice, this deck needs a lot of Black mana.

Then there was our sideboard. Evangelize was exciting from the start, and in practice it was good, but I only cast it once because we didn’t get the metagame right, per se. Withered Wretch was insane, and it is equally good at removing Firemane Angel from the game as it is at removing opposing Akromas etc. The extra Mortifies were nice, and the anti-control package… well, I didn’t love it. I don’t like having a gameplan that starts and ends at four mana. It’s too slow. I think that Castigate is better than some of the other cards in our board, but I didn’t test it and I didn’t play it.

End result: 6-2 and Top 16.

How disappointing.

In the end, I have no one to blame but myself, I’m pretty sure.

Here’s the rundown:

(And, if you’re reading this and I don’t mention you by name, forgive me. I’m good, but I’m not that good.)

Round 1: Some Dude.

I don’t know how old he was, maybe around 15. His deck was Black/Green/Blue creatures: Birds of Paradise, Elves of Deep Shadow, Hypnotic Specter, Call of the Herd, Shadowmage Infiltrator and the like. He also had Putrefy and Mana Leak. All in all, a typical B/U/G creature deck. He didn’t have Dark Confidant, though, which made things a lot easier.

The games were uneventful. The first game went about as well as could be hoped, to the point where I didn’t even bring in Withered Wretch for his Call of the Herds. Perhaps that was a little arrogant, but in any case this was a relaxing round and my opponent was very nice. We exchanged pleasantries, and that was that.

Round 2: Some Dude Again.

This guy was older than my round 1 opponent. He was probably in college, or a senior in High School. He played fairly well. His deck was Blue/White/Red Burn (like the one I posted last week, actually). He played Ancestral Vision and maybe Compulsive Research (I can’t remember if I saw it or not,) along with the usual Demonfire, Wrath of God, Solifuge, Lightning Helix, Electrolyze, etc. I lost game 2, and despite Peace of Mind being in my deck game 2 and game 3 were difficult and close. One hiccup would have definitely been deadly (for me.) Luckily I found fast enough Akromas to first force and then overcome his supply of Wrath of Gods.

Round 3: A Girl. I Think Her Name Was Sara.

She knew who I was, in any case. She was playing U/W/R Control: Lightning Angel, Electrolyze, Wrath of God, Lightning Helix, Firemane Angel, Think Twice, Flagstones. The usual suspects. This match was frustrating, despite my winning eventually. I missed early land drops, and her aggressive starts with Lightning Angel and Helix had me low, struggling for breathing room, back against the wall, etc. Two close games that eventually turned favorable. A second-game Muse Vessel allowed me to strip her hand of Condemns, which was profitable in that my Akroma was free to attack. Her Tormod’s Crypt was rendered ineffective as she was forced to play it (Muse Vessel), and that allowed me to avoid over-committing to my graveyard (it killed one each: Akroma, Angel, and Haakon… but backups were on the way). This game was long and boring towards the end, but in truth it was over long before the final blow was dealt.

R4: Some Dude, probably 19.

He was playing B/W/R Control with Phyrexian Arena, Rix Maadi, Firemane Angel, Void, Demonfire, Wrath of God, Mortify, Condemn, Castigate, etc. Truth be told, I saw this guy playing in round 2 and didn’t really want to play against him. I thought the combination of Arena and Discard, and renewable threats and Demonfire, would just be too much.

In actuality, I managed to miss land drops, have him play Arena, continually make us discard and me discard more with Castigate, and I still came out ahead, because once I was empty-handed his deck just didn’t do anything, while I cycled through mine setting up more and more good cards. Slowly he was stuck with useless cards and no way to win – save decking me – which we both know wouldn’t happen first. Game 2 I was behind with missed land drops, and I sideboarded badly. I conceded early in the game to save time for game 3.

Game 3 he was stuck on lands, and my Smallpoxes made this even worse for him. Before you know it, he was conceding.

At this point I was 4-0, and my friend who I had gone with was also 4-0 playing a version of our U/G deck. We were both feeling pretty good about our chances, certainly not wanting to play each other. Luckily we avoided each other; unluckily, neither of us made Top 8.

R5: Some Dude Again.

This is where the wheels start to fall off for me, and I’m not even sure what happened. Game 1 was a walk in the park; his draw provided him with no options or spells. He played a Knight of Holy Nimbus, a Sunforger, and four Lightning Helixes. Two of them killed my Angel of Despair, which killed his Sunforger. Merely turns later he packed, and we were off to game 2. Game 2 went poorly for me. It came down to me assuming he didn’t have the fourth Remand, and promptly losing to it.

Game 3 is the one I must have messed up, because I was pretty far ahead. He drew a total of six lands this game. I Smallpoxed away two of them, and the sixth didn’t show up until much later in the game. Still, he never ran out of gas and his Devouring Lights were actually quite filthy. I lost to a bunch of guys after my last post-Wrath of God turn didn’t yield me any spells.

Round 6: Kyle.

Now, Kyle was a nice kid. I think he recognized me, but I’m pretty blurry on the details of our opening exchange. All I know is that he was playing Glare, and while he didn’t seem to play poorly I think his heart wasn’t in it. He was 3-2 (I was on 4-1, paired down). Anyway, it seemed that Kyle thought he could gain an advantage by quickly talking about anything he could just to throw me off. This wasn’t the case, and soon we were measuring the size of Angel of Despair’s sword as it sliced through Kyle in chunks of five.

Game 2 saw his friend Ed came over to watch, and they were bantering back and forth as Kyle mulliganed not once, or twice, but three times. His third hand was, allegedly, all lands (but he played turn 1 Birds of Paradise!). This wasn’t really a game either, and he gracefully packed it in and wished me luck, only to follow me to both the Convenience Store and then to my round 7. It’s okay though… Kyle was a nice kid.

Round 7: Christopher Brellochs.

This guy played at my local shop when I was fifteen, and he told me this as we sat down. Apparently he was annoying back then, and I was more irritable. I didn’t know what he was playing, but I somehow came to know his deck contained Loxodon Hierarch and Birds of Paradise. I was hoping for Glare of Subdual, but that isn’t what I got. It turns out this matchup is pretty bad, if it is a real deck in the future. His deck was basically 22-24 lands, Wall of Roots, Birds of Paradise, Cloudstone Curio, Momentary Blink, Mystic Snake, Draining Whelk, Loxodon Hierarch, Congregation at Dawn, Court Hussar, and Coiling Oracle. In game 2 he searched for Riftwing Cloudskate, though I think that was probably a sideboard card.

I was locked under Mystic Snake and Draining Whelk in every game. It was never clear to me how he’d stop a fast Akroma, which I managed to sneak into play, carefully, in game 2… and yet I still almost lost (didn’t know about Cloudskate, of course.) Game 3, Chris made some interesting decisions and was generally just playing far too cautiously, giving me lots of extra time — still, the matchup was that bad. I was crushed easily, and so were my chances of winning the tournament.

Round 8: The Consolation Round. Opponent? Some Dude.

His deck was B/W/G Control with Vitu-Ghazi, Akroma, Angel of Despair, Nightmare Void, Crime/Punishment, Mortify and/or Putrefy, all the usual spells. Nothing spectacular: he informed me that this would be an easy matchup for me.

Game 1 was simple. I can’t honestly remember how it went down, but I’m pretty sure he Crimed an early Akroma which I probably Wrathed and reanimated with Dread Return. Game 2 was such a struggle, but I obviously can’t remember why. I know it ended when the long-drawn out affair seemed to be closing for our hero (that’s me, if you’re confused). He had just drawn Vitu-Ghazi and my hand was Haakon. I think I was on around four life at this point. Luckily, his very next play was Nightmare Void. He chose Haakon and I was off to town with my Court Hussars, eventually finding enough reanimates to finish the job.

Sorry my memory is a bit foggy on these last few rounds, but that’s how it goes. I tired, and I just can’t remember as much.

That’s my tournament. Like I said, pretty disappointing, all things considered. What things, you might ask? Well, for one, I expected a ton of mirror matches, since I had a pretty good read on the strength of the deck compared to the other known decks. Sadly, this was not the case. I saw a few Solar decks on the top tables – maybe one or two old-Flare and one or two Pox – but it wasn’t the dominating force I thought it would be. Apparently Green/White even won the tournament, so who knows?

In the future, I expect Solar Pox to be a big part of the metagame. I expect it to be very popular on Magic Online when all of the cards start appearing (opening packs or casual drafting is a very slow way of making cards appear on Magic Online — once events start, they’ll be more readily available). It’s a versatile deck with tons of power, despite being three colors (thanks to the now seven ticket Gemstone Mines – they will probably go down! It has no mana issues to speak of. In short, be ready for it or be playing it.

Catch you all next week