Solar Frites

Brad Nelson went on a quest to find a deck that beats Delver consistently for the SCG Invitational in Indianapolis. Find out how he settled on Frites, which he ended up going undefeated with in Day 1 of Standard.

The SCG Invitational in Indianapolis was this past weekend. Who won? I don’t actually know the answer because I am writing this article before I leave for the event. I tested extensively for this event and am going to be playing a very interesting brew in Standard. I didn’t want to ruin the surprise the night before the event, so I’m getting this published on Monday instead of Friday was the best I could do.

So today I am going to talk about what brought me to play with this amazing (probably horrible) deck and what I think about Standard for this (which is now this past) weekend. I also think it will be fun to see if everything I think came true or not. Let’s get into it!

The SCG Invitational consists of two different Constructed formats. The breakdown is this:

Day 1: 4 Rounds of Standard, 4 Rounds of Legacy
Day 2: 4 Rounds of Standard, 4 Rounds of Legacy
Day 3: Top 8 Standard

The last SCG Invitational was my first, and I learned multiple things from that event. Chris Lachmann was hanging out with me before the event started and told me that every good player was on Delver. He wanted me to play more cards for the matchup so that I’d be prepared to beat all of them. I thought that was a bit paranoid. Just because the best players were playing Delver didn’t mean I’d only play them. I’d have to when the tournament was down to the finish line, but I wouldn’t run into all of them.

My logic was very wrong. This tournament is extremely long and the cream rises very quickly to the top. It didn’t take long until every opponent I played was someone I knew on the professional circuit. I played Nick Spagnolo, Max Tietze, Gerry Thompson, Todd Anderson, Drew Levin, and Ben Friedman consecutively. This taught me that I will have to play all of the best players to win an SCG Invitational. Every last one of them!

Almost every good player was going to be on Delver for the upcoming SCG Invitational because the deck is so broken. I’d have to have a winning record to win the tournament, and I’d face all of these people playing Delver in rounds 9-12 to get to the Top 8. This meant I had to be prepared to beat numerous Delver opponents.

I know everyone screams ban far too often these days, but this time it’s true. Delver is a big problem, and the only thing that will solve it is banning Snapcaster Mage. I don’t think they will, but they should. Goodbye Delver of Secrets. I know you didn’t do it, but there is nothing I can do. Any last words?

The reason Snapcaster Mage is the problem is because of how flexible it allows the Delver decks to be. Delver decks have Mana Leak, Ponder, and Vapor Snag. All of these cards do different things that can be good in a game. The reason Delver decks are good is not that they get to play with these cards, but the fact that they play them with Snapcaster Mage. This creature allows them to replicate whatever their hand is good at. Snapcaster Mage simply gives a player more copies of whatever game plan their hand involves. This creates too many smooth draws for the deck. Delver can play the card advantage game with Ponder, the tempo game with Vapor Snag, and the control game with Mana Leak. Whatever game plan the deck needs, it just gets more copies of the cards.

Anyway, back to preparing for the SCG Invitational.

I expected to face five Delver opponents in the Standard portion of the event. This, of course, was in the event that I didn’t #playbradley and that I made it to Day 2. This was enough of a reason to play something that is good against Delver decks. I knew that I was comfortable playing the mirror match, but I wanted to spend some time on other strategies. I had about two weeks to test for the event, and I wanted to use it to work on a deck that could beat Delver. I knew Gerry would have my back in Legacy since I am not much help there anyway. The road to beating Delver (in Standard) began!

The way I wanted to attack Delver was to exploit the weaknesses Delver decks have. The best way to fight Delver is to get on the board quicker than they can. Zombies does a good job of this when it actually has a decent draw. That is the problem, though. Zombies is a very inconsistent deck that falls victim to not drawing enough early action in most games. This results in slow draws and losing to itself more than losing to an opponent. The end result is way too many game loses to even consider playing the deck. I wanted to find a deck that could put pressure on them early but be far more consistent than Zombies.

The only way to do this is to play Sword of War and Peace. You need something to deal with Restoration Angel since most creatures are not big enough to fight it in combat. Thrun, the Last Troll is by far the best for this, but Phantasmal Image ruins that plan. You need Sword of War and Peace to accomplish this.

The first place to go for beating Delver decks is Sword of War and Peace. This card is very good against Delver decks as long as you have something good to put it on. I like playing a couple in the normal Angel versions of Delver, but it is not the most important card in the mirror. The sideboarded games are a grind which involve four Phantasmal Images, Sun Titans, removal spells, and both players scraping to get a creature to stick. This means that Sword of War and Peace is a fine card to have but not the best thing to put all your eggs into. You can easily just run out of guys to put it on.

This is where Invisible Stalker comes in. We all know the old four Stalker + four Sword versions of Delver that were around for a few weeks and then vanished without a trace. This version of Delver was very good in those weeks because people did not expect them. They did not have a ton of answers to Sword and would crumble to turn 2 Stalker into turn 3 Sword. I sleeved up this deck and went to battle.

Todd Anderson was my first victim in testing. I slammed an Invisible Stalker into play followed by a Sword of War and Peace, and he crumbled. Then I never won another game in our ten-match set. Did you remember that Invisible Stalker is a very high variance card? I sure as hell forgot. Playing Invisible Stalker reminded me why Delver decks are insane; it is because they don’t play by the normal rules of Magic. They mulligan well, they rarely flood or screw, and they have very flexible draws.

All three of these things are problems in most decks, and Stalker Delver is one of them. I found myself constantly stumbling while Todd always just had it. His draws were smooth every game. Meanwhile, I was either digging for a Sword to put on my Invisible Stalker that was doing nothing but poking Todd. Another problem was my creatures with equipment were just getting bounced! My first attempt at beating Delver was a failure. On to the next deck!

I was really excited about this deck. Bonfire of the Damned was a card I really wanted to play with, and this deck seemed like a perfect fit. The deck has Sword of War and Peace, mana acceleration, and hexproof guys. What more could you ask for? Well, a lot actually.

The problem this deck had was that Delver got to make all the decisions. I relied on my opening hand and the top of my deck while Delver got to react to me and create a game plan. I was unable to change course and have answers once they started to take over the game. I had no control over my fate and just watched over and over again as my Delver opponent stabilized at a very low life total and was able to play circles around me because I had zero options. The deck was powerful when it drew the perfect numbers of spells or when a Bonfire was in the perfect spot of my deck, but it lost horrifically when that wasn’t the case. Le sigh.

I know what I was thinking…but I don’t know why I was thinking it. The theory behind this deck was it was yet another Sword of War and Peace deck that also had access to card advantage and board presence. I was able to win some games against Delver using the powerful draws this deck can get, but at the end of the day it was yet another deck that played by the rules of Magic while Delver didn’t.

I had one last ditch effort before I conceded that Delver was the only deck to play. Five days before the tournament, I built a list of Frites that was in an article of Gerry’s from two months ago. I was thinking, “This is going to be successful…”

Inferno Titan and Wurmcoil Engine were comically bad since they didn’t do anything against Delver. They were slow and clunky and weren’t even that great in other matchups. I tried Griselbrand since I thought the card would be good against Solar Flare (which is a horrible game one matchup) and it gave me a lifelink effect against the aggressive decks in the format. This slot is completely dead against Delver, but the rest of the deck was faring well so I didn’t mind.

The interesting thing about this deck in the Delver matchup is that it has the ability to threaten Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite very early in the game. That forces the Delver opponent to hold Mana Leak mana up at all times. Even if the Delver player doesn’t have Mana Leak, they can’t just run Geist of Saint Traft into Unburial Rites on Elesh Norn. That sets up a ton of time for the Frites deck to get way ahead in the midgame and actually hold off most of Delver’s threats.

There were still games that Delver was on the play with Geist of Saint Traft and just ran over Frites with a Mana Leak. Frites is also very weak to Restoration Angel into Sword of War and Peace even if Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite is in play. I was still getting good results, so I wanted to test this deck against the versions that didn’t run Delver.

It was really late and my friend Mike Bryant was on Magic Online. He was playing Sam Black U/W Midrange, and we went to battle. Nothing worked at all. Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite did absolutely nothing against Consecrated Sphinx and Blade Splicer. Lingering Souls tokens didn’t trade with anything but Snapcaster Mage and couldn’t even go on the offensive. The matchup was horrific.

I decided to try something spicy and play Sun Titan over Griselbrand since I thought it would have a higher impact. To do that, I had to play Phantasmal Image to get a good effect out of my Sun Titans, and the deck was already milling over a ton of cards anyway. The only problem was figuring out if a mana base that could support it. I just crammed the cards in the deck and worried about the mana after I played some games.

The Sun Titan plan was a huge success, and I was able to easily overpower the late game spells the U/W deck had to offer. I was possibly on to something!

I spent the next couple days playing around with slots and figuring out the mana base. Every day I met Gerry at work and said I was playing Delver but actually wanted to work on my deck some more. It felt very powerful but just needed some TLC. Every day it got better, and when Wednesday finally rolled around I was locked in on playing this deck:

This deck beats Delver. At least it does now when no one is playing graveyard hate. Some Delver decks have one Surgical Extraction, but Frites overloads the spell with so many cards that interact with the graveyard.

Solar Flare is the one matchup that has the best graveyard answer in the format: Nihil Spellbomb. This is where the transitional sideboard comes in. Game 1 is a breeze. They have Sun Titan and Phantasmal Image as well, but Frites is better. It sees more cards and has more ways to bring them back. If Solar Flare has no graveyard hate maindeck, they have no way to win.

They do have it in their sideboard, so Frites needs a different plan postboard. This is where Strangleroot Geist and Sword of War and Peace come in. Strangleroot Geist might seem like an awkward sideboard card, but it does a very specific job. Haste is a great ability to have when equipping to Sword of War and Peace, and undying is pretty significant as well. This deck can easily get a Strangleroot Geist / Phantasmal Image draw that can put a ton of pressure on your control opponent.

The worst matchup this deck has is Zombies just because of the fact that Blood Artist is a card. Zombies is able to copy the Artist multiple times with Clone effects so Frites is not able to Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite a Zombies player out of the game. Arc Trail is a good card to help eliminate some of these annoying Vampires from the game before dispatching its game plan.

I have to leave now to catch my ride for Indianapolis. Wish me luck (I hope I won)!

Later this week I will be bringing you guys stories from the SCG Invitational with an updated version of Solar Frites and strategies on how to play all the matchups. See you guys then!

Brad Nelson