Resurrecting Solar Flare

David McDarby goes over the Solar Flare deck he played to 10th place at SCG Standard Open: Washington, DC. Check it out for SCG Standard Open: Kansas City!

Greetings, Planeswalkers! It’s me again, and I’m here to tell you the story of how I put down my Endotaxis-Goggles and picked up my advokist law books to do battle in our nation’s capital last weekend. I finished just outside the Top 8 in 10th place, and I’m quite pleased with it, especially since the deck I piloted hasn’t really existed in Standard for a while: Solar Flare!

While the name Solar Flare is slightly ambiguous, it is a U/W/B "control" deck that is also capable of using the graveyard as a resource to Reanimate creatures into play. Ever since Sun Titan rotated out of the format, this deck hasn’t really existed, and Esper Control with Sphinx’s Revelation has become the control deck of choice. If you want Reanimate things in current Standard, you usually play W/B/G. Why would you want to merge Esper Control and Reanimator?

The main reason I piloted this "brew" was twofold. Currently, people are on a mana dork high. The aforementioned Junk Reanimator plays them. Colonel Mustard (Naya Ramp) enlists them. Even Jund has branched out to include them as a couple of extra Farseeks. This—combined with the fact NFL (Naya Fo’ Life) Blitz has surpassed Mono-Red Aggro as the "get ’em dead quick" strategy of choice—means Supreme Verdict is a spell I very much want to be casting.

The other side of the coin, though, is that threats are coming at you from so many different directions (Unburial Rites, Garruks, Kessig Wolf Run, Assemble the Legion, etc.) that it can be difficult to control it all, even with all the Knowledge of Absolute Law at your fingertips. Therefore, I also wanted to have a proactive game plan that could flip the game around and give my opponents less time to leverage their own threats into a winning strategy. I consequently turned to Dan Brown, who gave me the inspiration that Reanimating Angels and Demons could coincide with Supreme Verdict in a very favorable manner.

"But David," you might say, "Sphinx’s Revelation is a much more powerful card than Unburial Rites." To which I would reply, "You’re probably Rite, hypothetical person who would actually want to talk to me." But hear me out on this. Unburial Rites gives you a proactive game plan from an unexpected angle that can just end games on the spot. Can Sphinx’s Revelation summon a 7/7 lifelinker for the bargain price of 3W on turn 4? Now, pitching Unburial Rites and Griselbrand / Angel of Serenity off of a turn 3 Forbidden Alchemy (or, heaven forbid, a Thought Scour) happens about as often as Nicolas Cage turns down a role, but it’s important to know that your control deck does indeed have a nut draw (which is always a comforting thing to have in long Magic tournaments).

The rest of the deck has a very similar shell to Esper Control. Azorius Charm is the best spot removal spell in Standard (has U/W always been known for its spot removal over black?) , and it combined with Augur of Bolas buys us time to survive the early turns and gives us things to do with our mana. Forbidden Alchemy also is very spicy in that it can help you dig for that all-too-important turn 4 Nacho Supreme Special against aggressive decks, as Wrathing at the earliest opportunity is almost the only way you’re ever going to survive all the tanners, cobblers, and fools that Champion of the Parish decks rush at you.

Meanwhile, Lingering Souls is one of the most underplayed cards in the format. Not only does it buy you time like no Squadron Hawk ever could, but it serves the dual purpose of also being able to just kill your opponent, not to mention that it’s often a free roll that’s pitched to your digging spells when you’re trying to find land or a Supreme Verdict. In one game versus Prime Speaker Bant, I simply cast three of them, and my army of Gerry Thompson tokens marched over the heads of the Loxodon Smiters he brought to battle (a couple Spirits chumped, but hey, they’re already dead, so what do I care?). The only things that really trump the Souls are Bonfire of the Damned and Mizzium Mortars. Don’t run out every single Soul you have and you’ll be fine—they probably won’t keep them in after board against your control deck with large monsters.

Evil Twin was a result of me wanting something for the Angel of Serenity mirror matches. He took the place of Sever the Bloodline, as it’s something that not only can be rebought with my own Angel but functions favorably with my Unburial Rites and lets me start looping Angels quicker. Clones also bring another unexpected cog in the machine for your opponent, allowing you to take lines previously impossible in order for you to assemble a victory out of nowhere (like Cloning their Prime Speaker Zegana to draw cards and kill theirs or your own Obzedat, Ghost Council to deal the final two points of damage).

Speaking of Obzedat, I truly believe him to be the best card in the deck. You think Thragtusk is good? The ol’ Beast that could doesn’t stand a ghost of a chance against this board meeting. He negates the work of a ‘tusk in about two turns, but what’s more is that he just flat out kills your opponent while sustaining your life force. Unless people start playing Murder, Orzhov Charm, Victim of Night, or Urgent Exorcism, there is hardly any way for him to…die. Both players can even have one, as unless one player chooses for their own committee to expire, he can exist on both sides of the battlefield at the same time, flying around like some delirious old man who forgot where he put his bingo card from 1923.

If you follow up a Verdict with Obzedat and have anything else at all to muck around with (Lingering Souls, Augur of Bolas, Azorius Charm, Vault of the Archangel, etc.), even Matlock would be hard-pressed to win against your undead bureaucratic legion. I would highly advise putting a second in the maindeck over the Ultimate Price (I pretty much boarded in the other copy every single match).

As for the rest of the deck, Liliana of the Veil is not just a Legacy card! She was included as a way to pitch fatties that are stranded in your hand, as it’s a struggle to find another way to do it outside of the Tezzeret’s home world’s Shard. An early Liliana gives Esper Control fits and is your best threat against them—just hope they don’t get to attack her with Restoration Angel.

As far as the mana base goes, Vault of the Archangel is my vote for best nonbasic land in Standard. It is capable of swinging the entire game state in your favor. Your Lingering Souls turn into flying Typhoid Rats, and your Obzedat becomes a Baneslayer Angel (one of these comparisons might be a little better than the other)! Sure, when you draw both Vaults you’re going to be a little unhappy, but that’s going to happen when you want U on turn 1, UW on 2, BB on 3, and WWU on 4. The rewards far outweigh the risks of having your mana base be the reason why your opponent couldn’t race you with their aggro deck against your control deck.

The sideboard contains the usual suspects, and I’m sure you can deduce what most of them are brought in for. The counterspells are mainly for Sphinx’s Revelation, but I chose Negate over Dispel for its usage against Naya Ramp. One of the best strategies against ramp decks in general is to counter their expensive threats, and there is no Cavern of Souls for Garruk, Primal Hunter or Assemble the Legion. Planar Cleansing is a way to fight on the planeswalker / enchantment axis, and it can also incidentally destroy any Rest in Peaces, Ground Seals, or Grafdigger’s Cages that might be ailing you. But in all honesty, you’re not confined to working out of the graveyard.

How I sideboarded for game 2 greatly depended on how much of my deck my opponent saw. If I killed them (or died) having cast just things like Lingering Souls or Forbidden Alchemy, they more often than not wouldn’t think of bringing in graveyard hate to snag a couple of Spirits and seven-mana flashback spells. In that case, I would keep in my Unburial Rites. If, however, they saw me Reanimating, I took out Unburial Rites (sometimes leaving one) and a fatty or two and became an Esper Control deck with Obzedat. That’s an odd sort of reward of playing with rogue-ish strategy: if people aren’t sure what you’re doing, how in the world can they make one of the most important decisions of the match in the form of tweaking their deck to beat yours mid-match?

If you want to hear more about the deck, you can watch my deck tech:

The two problem decks I faced in the tournament were Esper Control and Junk Reanimator. If you don’t land an early Lily or your counterspells don’t line up well with their Revelations (they usually don’t), it’s going to be difficult to beat Esper. A fourth Liliana or (ugh) Nevermore can help if you really want to beat it.

The Junk Reanimator matchup often comes down to who can find their big guy first (Craterhoof vs. Griselbrand, R1: FIGHT). Purify the Grave is good against them, but Cavern of Souls naming Beast can often be the nail in the coffin for our intrepid heroes. Any hate permanents such as Blind Obedience can just be Acidic Slimed, and unless you Wrath away their mana dorks and slow them down long enough to get an Angel or Demon into play post-haste, you’re going to be hard-pressed to win. I’ve yet to figure out a winning strategy in these colors for that deck, and considering it won the Open, that information is of vital importance for upcoming tournaments.

Overall, I was very happy with how the deck performed, and despite finishing just outside the Top 8, I felt like the deck was very powerful. It’s consistent, chock-full of powerful cards, and presents a powerful strategy. It has a bit of tension between needing spells for Augur of Bolas and creatures for Unburial Rights, but you can tweak it in a myriad of ways. If you were a fan of the old (or original Taiyou Ken deck circa 2006) Solar Flare deck, I recommend trying this deck out in the future. It’s not just incredibly fun, but it’s good against a large part of the metagame and gives you lots of decisions to make as you play.

I sure hope The Dracogenius doesn’t get upset at me for defecting to The Syndicate for the time being. But come on, Teysa wrote up such an appealing contract, and maybe, just maybe, there are other colors of mana than blue and red…

Thanks for reading,

David McDarby

@J_Beleren on Twitter