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Attention to Detail #43
Setting Standards
by Jordan Kronick
October 27, 2006

Anyone who regularly reads Attention to Detail knows that I love new sets.  There's nothing more fun than a big batch of new cards to play around with and figure out.  In that way I very much play into my role as a Johnny-Spike.  That is to say that I am a tournament-minded player who likes to figure out the ins and outs of a format and to tinker with lots of different deck designs to see what works.  So although having 305 new pieces of post-apocalyptic art is great and all, what I like more is having all those combinations of new (and old) cards to mess around with.  I love to see what new decks appear in the wake of a new block and what happens to the old decks which may have lost some of their steam but are trying to adapt.  It's just that kind of deck which is first on the table today.  The following deck was the winner of the Star City Games pre-Champs tournament.  Ken Adams put this deck together and it's even got a nice name to it.  Here, for your edification, is Solar Pox:

 

2x Angel of Despair

4x Court Hussar

1x Skeletal Vampire

2x Akroma, Angel of Wrath

2x Haakon, Stromgald Scourge

3x Orzhov Signet

1x Phyrexian Totem

1x Peace of Mind

1x Condemn

2x Darkblast

3x Mortify

3x Compulsive Research

3x Dread Return

4x Smallpox

4x Wrath of God

1x Snow Covered Island

1x Snow Covered Plains

2x Snow Covered Swamp

1x Dimir Aqueduct

2x Gemstone Mine

2x Ghost Quarter

4x Godless Shrine

2x Hallowed Fountain

1x Orzhov Basilica

4x Watery Grave

4x Flagstones of Trokair

 

Sideboard

 

3x Circle of Protection: Red

1x Faith's Fetters

2x Peace of Mind

1x Condemn

3x Trickbind

1x Haakon, Stromgald Scourge

2x Deathmark

2x Nightmare Void

 

When was the last time you saw such a varied pile of cards winning Standard tournaments?  Counting the lands (and not the sideboard), this deck has 8 1-of cards and 8 cards of which there are two copies.  In fact, the only things you get 4 of are lands, Wrath of God (always a good plan) and the card that the deck derives its name from – Smallpox.  If it hadn't won a tournament, I'd be a bit skeptical about the deck on paper before giving it a test drive.  But you really can't argue with results.  This deck is a winner, and you can bet that it's going to be copied and improved upon over the next few months.  So let's talk about the genesis of this deck and just what it's all about.

 

If you've been living under a rock for the past year or so, you don't know what Solar Flare is.  This deck is, for the most part, Solar Flare.  A lot of the pieces have been changed around, but the concept is still there.  It's a white-black-blue reanimator deck.  It uses Compulsive Research to dump the good creatures into the yard and then a black reanimation spell to pull them out again.  It uses Court Hussar to gum up the field until the big guys can win the game for you.  It uses mass removal knowing that all it's going to lose is Hussars until the game is ready to be won.  The differences between the accepted Solar Flare deck of a couple months ago and this deck are mostly cosmetic.  Zombify has found a much stronger replacement in Dread Return.  Solar Flare's reliance on the big dragons of Kamigawa was forced to change and now it's got something which is even better – Akroma.  The big purple haired angel has been a favorite reanimation target since Legions, and it's not a surprise that she'd find a home here.  Most of the real changes to how the deck plays have come about because better tools became available and some tools disappeared.  The backup plan (or sometimes the main plan) for the old Solar Flare decks was everyone's favorite tuning fork – Umezawa's Jitte.  Put that on a Court Hussar and you probably won't need Angel of Despair or Yosei to win the game.  The Jitte does it all on its own.  In fact, the presence of Jitte in this deck was what originally turned me off from it.  Spike I may be, but I am still someone who likes to win with something new.  And in the last days of Kamigawa-Ravnica-Coldsnap Standard, Jitte was about as old-hat as you can get.  So, when Solax Pox arrived, I knew I had to take a good look.  Without Jitte, there just might be something fun happening here.

 

So how does the deck win?  What is it doing that's so great?  Well, aside from the obvious plan of using Dread Return to put Akroma into play, there's a lot of things happening with this deck.  Let's start with the namesake – Smallpox.  What is this card doing here?  Cards with lots of different effects all at once are best in decks that can make the most of all the effects.  It sounds simple, but sometimes it's easy to forget.  For example – Balance.  Everyone knows its broken, but there's a good reason why its broken – and why the original designers might not have seen it that way.  Let's say your opponent has gotten ahead of you on creatures.  Their removal has decimated your board position.  Balance will help you out and clear out the creatures.  But that's just a half-price Wrath of God.  An awesome card for sure, but not earth shattering.  Since you undoubtedly have enough mana to cast a normal Wrath anyway, the discount doesn't matter so much here.  No, Balance is best when it's doing everything to your benefit.  When you have no creatures – and you're killing theirs.  When you have no cards in hand – and they are discarding a full hand.  And most importantly – when you have no land, and they've got plenty.  The printing of Zuran Orb in Ice Age was what finally tipped Balance completely... well, off balance.  Suddenly you could be getting a Wrath of God, a Mind Twist and an Armageddon (and a bunch of life) for 2 mana.  That leaves you with enough mana to play a threat (from that one card you kept in hand, perhaps) that's going to win the game before your opponent can recover.  The three pieces of Balance are best when combined – and the same is true for Smallpox.  And that's why this deck bears its name.  Because Solar Pox can make the best use of all three parts – or, depending on your point of view, all six parts.

 

When Smallpox resolves, eight things happen:

You discard a card.

You sacrifice a creature.

You sacrifice a land.

You lose 1 life.

Your opponent discards a card.

Your opponent sacrifices a creature.

Your opponent sacrifices a land.

Your opponent loses 1 life.

 

We can pretty much ignore the life loss.  It's always nice to get your opponent a point closer to death (after all, getting them down to 18 means that Akroma wins in 3 swings instead of 4).  The important stuff is the loss of resources.  Now, the way that Balance was played, Smallpox would be best used when you have no cards to discard, no creatures to sacrifice and no land to throw away.  But Solar Pox takes it to the next level.  It wants to discard cards.  It wants to sacrifice creatures.  It wants to sacrifice land.  Now, presuming that your opponent does not want these things to happen, you're playing a card which costs 2 mana and making 6 things happen that your opponent isn't happy about.  That's a hell of a bargain.

 

First let me say that I love Flagstones of Trokair.  When I first saw them on the spoiler for Time Spiral, I got really excited.  I pointed them out and said “that's tournament calibre, without a doubt”.  And I was right.  Having a Flagstones in play means that the land sacrifice of Smallpox is really not very painful to you.  In fact, it's beneficial.  Instead of having a land that just taps for white, you can search up one of your Hallowed Fountains or Godless Shrines and make sure your colors are flowing nicely.  As for discarding, well Compulsive Research already tells us what we need to know.  If you wondered why there's only 3 copies of Research in here, this is why.  Smallpox can let you discard your Akroma very quickly.  You hopefully don't lose a land drop due to a Flagstones, and that can set you up for a reanimation on turn 4 – against an opponent who just lost some steam.  And then there's the creature sacrificing part.  Now, most decks that like to sacrifice creatures do so because the creatures do something cool when they die.  Either they have massive effects like Yosei or Kokusho or they build on one another like Modular creatures from Mirrodin.  The reasoning is a bit more simple with Solar Pox.  The creatures you want to be sacrificing (if any at all – keep in mind that not sacrificing a creature is still just fine) are Court Hussars.  And that's the bit of genius in this deck.  Say you don't have your Akroma or your reanimation spell.  But you've got a Smallpox.  What can you do with it?  Quite a bit.  You can discard Haakon (the best way to get him into the graveyard, for sure) and sacrifice a Hussar.  In case you hadn't noticed – it's a Knight.  From there you can start playing your Hussar out of the yard and generating lots of card advantage while still holding the board.  In fact, you can even play it without spending white mana, giving you a cheap reusable Impule effect.  That's not bad at all!  Another great thing about the Hussar-Haakon connection is the interaction with Dread Return.  Sacrificing three creatures to reanimate one is only good if you don't care about the creatures much (Saprolings, for instance), they produce an effect when they die, or they can come right back again.  The latter is true here.  You can build up a steady stream of Hussars to hold the board and find your killer cards, and then once you have them, you can turn the Hussars into something useful.  It's got a very Scion of Darkness feel to it.  And how does that Dread Return get into the graveyard in the first place?  Well, Smallpox and Compulsive Research of course.  This deck has so many cards that want to be in the graveyard, you're going to have a tough time picking ones to put in your hand.  Smallpox does lots for this deck.  It deserves the name.

 

One of the other things I like about this deck is that is has a very “silver bullet” feel to the construction.  Although there's nothing besides the Hussars to search with, it still has a lot of one-ofs for use in different situations.  One of my favorites is Peace of Mind.  Before Solar Flare hit the scene I rediscovered this gem as a way to completely wreck Owling Mine decks.  Not only did you put your life ahead, you discarded whenever you wanted to.  A perfect fit against the Owl.  Well here it serves a dual purpose.  You won't have to protect yourself from Netsukes anymore, but you do have to protect yourself from a very quick Standard environment.  And once again we have a way to do that while accomplishing another goal at the same time – discarding the goods.  Your big fliers go into the graveyard (or your knights) and you get some life to hold out a bit longer.  Sounds good to me.

 

A couple of the other one-ofs are real game winners in the same way that Peace of Mind is going to make sure you don't lose.  Skeletal Vampire is annoying.  No, it's more annoying than that – it's really annoying.  Anyone who's run into one during a Ravnica block draft knows just how annoying it is.  If it gets into play with its bats intact, it can be game over in a hurry.  The new world of removal that doesn't prevent regeneration all the time leaves Skeletal Vampire in a pretty good place.  The deck doesn't need more than one of him for sure.  Akroma, though legendary, is the stronger card.  So there deserves to be two chances to find her and dump her into the yard.  The vampire is happy with just one.  It's not often that a card like this survives the block constructed season to become a standard superstar – good on you, Skeletal Vampire.  And then there's the other game winner – Phyrexian Totem.  How can you not love Phyrexian Negator that's only a creature when you want it to be.  Opponent just played a Jaya Ballard?  Time to let it sit and produce mana a whilte.  They're tapped out with no blockers?  Time to activate and get 5 points in.  And while it's sitting on the sidelines, it's still producing mana.  It's not a particularly efficient mana producer, so more than one isn't really necessary.  I love this addition.  If you're playing wrath of god and also black mana, this makes perfect sense.

 

I barely skimmed the surface of this deck, really.  There's so much more at play here than just the overview I gave.  Darkblast being dredged to support your reanimation.  The Trickbinds in the sideboard and just why those are important.  All the uses of Smallpox that I didn't mention in 2000+ words.  Indeed, this deck is a varied piece of machinery.  It might be too varied, in fact.  If there's one criticism that seems to have been raised frequently about Solar Pox, it's that the deck can be all over the place.  But the pieces fit together.  This is a good deck and the record stands it out.  Champs is coming right up, and you can bet that Solar Pox is going to be there playing to win.  If you're not playing this deck, you need to prepare for this deck.

 

 

 

 

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