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The Field Report – Solar Flare by the Numbers

As we head into the new Standard, there’s one clear end boss to watch out for.

Solar Flare.

Across two Standard Opens, nine places in two top sixteens went to Solar Flare builds. Perhaps more impressively – or as we sometimes find out, misleadingly – half of the top eight slots last weekend went to Solar Flare.

You should expect to run into Solar Flare in the hands of the most experienced players, at least those with a taste for control builds.

So…what is Solar Flare?

Today I’m going to take a more narrative approach to our stats, identifying some of the key numbers that define winning Solar Flare builds.

But first, a little reflection

Before we launch into Solar Flare’s numbers, let’s take a look at how we did on our second try at crowdsourcing.

Last time I posted your collective best guess about the top decks in the new Standard. Here’s what you came up with:

Um. So no.

It turns out that only one Birthing Pod deck cracked either top sixteen…and if you’ve done some playtesting using the builds that seem to make up the current Standard environment, you may have concluded that this environment is not friendly for the typical Birthing Pod builds.

By pure top sixteen appearances in the past two weekends, our top decks list looks like this:

With a tie between Moorland Aggro, U/B Control, Wolf Run Red, and Tempered Steel for places 5-8.

So, the major flaws in this attempt at crowdsourcing were the misassessment of Birthing Pod as a strong contender and the underrating of Solar Flare. The failure to collectively identify tokens as a viable archetype may have played into this, since it seems to be hard to build a Birthing Pod deck that does well against both Flare and Tokens at the same time.

Solar Flare, by the numbers

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s look at our new end boss, Solar Flare…by the numbers. The following numbers were taken by surveying the crop of reported “successful” (top thirty-two or better) Solar Flare lists from the past two weekends (except for John Medina’s deck, for which I lacked a complete copy). All numbers are taken from a deck’s full seventy-five cards, including both main deck and sideboard.

These eight cards are the only non-land cards present in all of the successful Solar Flare builds. They do a decent job of representing the “essence of the archetype,” and give you a good idea what you’re trying to defeat when you go up against a Solar Flare deck.

First, we have the obvious combination of [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card], [card]Unburial Rites[/card], and [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] – the cards that either load your graveyard up or let you access its contents, a core element that distinguishes Solar Flare from other control archetypes.

A related interaction appears in the [card]Sun Titan[/card] / [card]Phantasmal Image[/card] combination, which can generate those sickening “Titan into Image into Liliana” turns.

Finally, [card]Day of Judgment[/card] and [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card] are critical to letting a slow control deck like Solar Flare avoid getting completely run down by fast aggro builds.

All of these cards except [card]Phantasmal Image[/card] tend to be run at somewhere between three and four copies, with Image clocking in at one or two.

There are four “runner up” cards that appear in all but one of the successful Solar Flare decks surveyed for today’s column. They are [card]Surgical Extraction[/card], [card]Doom Blade[/card], [card]Think Twice[/card], and [card]Dissipate[/card]. The fact that each one didn’t make the cut at least once reflects their somewhat-less-than-critical role in the archetype, although they are solid players in the deck.

These successful takes on Solar Flare run between twenty-five and twenty-seven land, with an average on the low side of that range.

The mana bases are, naturally, quite similar across the full range. The biggest variation – splitting the decks into roughly two camps – comes from the choice of how many “fast” duals to run. For more on mana base construction and the significance of running the various dual land options, you may want to check out last week’s In Development.

The average Solar Flare build runs 17.6 cards at a converted mana cost of two, and 15.3 cards at a converted mana cost of three. If we look at combined totals of cards in the CMC 2 to CMC 3 range, then these Solar Flare decks feature 29-37 cards in that cost territory, with an average count of 32.8.

If you add in cards at CMC 1, then the average for that full range is 35.7 cards.

So what does that mean?

Between the main deck and sideboard, you should expect nearly three quarters of the non-land cards to cost three mana or less to deploy. Although the deck can feel intuitively “top heavy” based on its closers – Wurmcoil Engines and the like – most of its cards actually live down in the lower CMCs. This means that you can’t just blithely say, “Well, I’m aggro so I’m faster” and be done with it. You may be overestimating your speed edge on the deck, and may need to pay more attention to what your deck does after Solar Flare has caught up with it.

Our cadre of successful Solar Flare builds runs an average of 12.6 “flashback” cards, where that tally includes both cards with flashback and the complement of [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]s in the deck, since they effectively impart flashback to one other card.

Although the average if 12.6, the range is reasonably wide at 10-15. The low end is staked out by Ryan Spindler’s deck, which is our sole contender lacking any copies of [card]Think Twice[/card]. At the high end we have Bryce Geda’s deck, which boosts its total with three copies of [card]Purify the Grave[/card] – Bryce is clearly ready for a graveyard fight.

In general, the main decision points for all of the flashback cards are less dramatic, being of the “one more or one less?” variety. For example, the decks we’re surveying here are almost evenly split between having two or three copies of [card]Unburial Rites[/card], and three or four copies of [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card].

Solar Flare decks average a fairly modest 4.2 mass removal spells, with the bulk of this average coming from running three or four (usually four) copies of [card]Day of Judgment[/card]. If you have no other take home lessons from reading today’s piece, you should remember that once a Solar Flare deck is able to generate 2WW, you can and likely will be Judged.

Actually, I tend to say “Dayed,” but that sounds less dramatic.

The only other mass removal that makes an appearance in our representative Solar Flare builds is [card]Ratchet Bomb[/card]. This makes decent sense for a couple reasons. First, there’s the fact that a deck that might “mill” away a [card]Black Sun’s Zenith[/card] via [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card] is a little less than exciting, since that undercuts the Zenith’s value. Second, and the likely real reason, is that [card]Ratchet Bomb[/card] is a fast, Instant-speed solution to one of those suddenly appearing token waves that [card]Day of Judgment[/card] tends to be less than helpful against.

Those Days and Bombs are bolstered by anywhere from five to ten point removal spells. These typically serve to try and keep the Solar Flare player alive through the very early rounds, when you’re trying to race them with your [card]Stromkirk Noble[/card]s and the like.

As we saw above, [card]Doom Blade[/card] is the near-universal first choice for point removal in Solar Flare builds, as it quickly and efficiently kills nearly everything you care about. Perhaps as a consequence of living in a post-[card]Goblin Guide[/card] world, [card]Dismember[/card] is far less frequently seen than it was in prior Standard.

Most surprising to me, at least, was the appearance of [card]Sever the Bloodline[/card] in two of the decks. The logic is reasonably sound, since Sever can wipe a bunch of tokens off the board and has flashback…but it’s also a Sorcery, and that flashback card is pretty intense.

That said, exiling is exiling, and the ability to remove an opposing Solar Flare deck’s fatty from the cycle of resurrection is a big deal right now.

Although we tend to assume that “control” means “running counterspells,” these Solar Flare decks run pretty light on the countermagic, much as their original namesakes did.

About two thirds of the decks run [card]Mana Leak[/card]. Those that do run it mostly run the full four copies, although a few default to three, which is either wise (since it’s not so useful in the late game) or slightly suspect (since it’s not so useful in the late game).

The other popular counterspell is, unsurprisingly, [card]Dissipate[/card]. As a clear tool for the mirror or against any flashback card, [card]Dissipate[/card] just seems to make sense in this deck – often as a sideboard card. You should expect to run into anywhere from one to three copies of [card]Dissipate[/card] in your opponent’s deck, at least post-board.

There’s little consistency among the other counterspells, with a mixture of [card]Negate[/card], [card]Flashfreeze[/card], and the one odd deck out running [card]Mental Misstep[/card].

Despite relying to a great extent on the graveyard themselves, our sampling of Solar Flare players chose to run relatively light on graveyard hate, averaging some 2.6 cards per deck.

That average is a little misleading, as the majority of the decks have just two graveyard hate cards, with a few of them running five. If you had to bet money on which graveyard hate cards you’d see in a Solar Flare deck based on this pool of decks, you’d want to put your money on [card]Surgical Extraction[/card]. Extraction has been the default graveyard hate option so far, perhaps buoyed by its cheapness (or freeness) and the ability to yank key cards ([card]Sun Titan[/card], perhaps) out of your opponent’s deck.

The alternate plans of [card]Nihil Spellbomb[/card] and [card]Purify the Grave[/card] both run a distant second, appearing in two decks each.

I’m very curious to see if this distribution of graveyard hate continues into the future. Although Extraction is good at comprehensively removing one threat from an opponent’s deck, it does very little to help against a graveyard that’s packed with viable flashback cards and reanimator targets…and that’s an area where [card]Nihil Spellbomb[/card] seems superior.

Spellbomb also has the advantage of cycling – you can always cash it in for a card when there’s nothing relevant for graveyard hate to target.

So, low average cost aside, Solar Flare does tend to close games out via fatties – reanimated or hard cast.

The average “fatty” count – here given as creatures costing six mana or more – is 6.3. This also covers up a fairly wide range of options, however, with half the decks running four or five big creatures, and three of them going for nine or ten big dudes.

As we discussed earlier, [card]Sun Titan[/card] is a staple fatty in these Solar Flare builds, with decks running either two or three copies. These are then supplemented by the very popular [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card], which also shows up in pairs and trios in many decks.

Most decks have at least one copy of [card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card], typically in the sideboard. Just one – run by Kendall Quinones – featured two copies of [card]Rune-Scarred Demon[/card].

…and lest we forget that it exists, or why [card]Doom Blade[/card] might not be the absolute ultimate in point removal, [card]Grave Titan[/card] is in the finishing suite of about a third of the Solar Flare builds we looked at here.

The average Flare

Although it’s probably no way to build a deck unless you’re a Hall of Famer, it’s still fun to look at the “average” version of a successful deck. Here you go:

Average Solar Flare

[deck]3 Darkslick Shores
3 Drowned Catacomb
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Island
4 Isolated Chapel
4 Plains
2 Seachrome Coast
2 Swamp
2 Surgical Extraction
1 Celestial Purge
2 Doom Blade
2 Mana Leak
2 Phantasmal Image
1 Ratchet Bomb
1 Revoke Existence
3 Snapcaster Mage
1 Dismember
2 Dissipate
4 Forbidden Alchemy
3 Liliana of the Veil
3 Oblivion Ring
4 Timely Reinforcements
4 Day of Judgment
1 Gideon Jura
2 Unburial Rites
1 Consecrated Sphinx
1 Grave Titan
3 Sun Titan
2 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite[/deck]

That should be seventy-six cards, so you’ll need to cut one.

Deciding which cards should go in the sideboard versus the maindeck are left as an exercise for the reader. And honestly, I think you’d want to commit to one direction on some of these cards choices where averages can be misleading – after all, no one runs two copies of [card]Mana Leak[/card].

Now go win!

So that’s Solar Flare, by the numbers. As I said above, Solar Flare is highly likely to be your local end boss, so you’ll want to understand it inside and out, whether your goal is taking it down or taking it to the top.

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