A New Frontier: Trials and Tribulations
“A New Frontier” is a new series of articles based around the recently created MTG format that uses only cards with the new border from the M15 set and onward. In these articles I plan on following the results from tournaments, talk about viable decks in the format, as well as powerful cards. I hope to do at least an article each month with updates on the format, results, as well as the current status of its popularity. Please keep in mind that these are merely exploratory articles and that the Frontier format is still trying to find its footing. It could end up doing very well and develop a following like EDH has, or become just another footnote like Tiny Leaders.
For the 3rd straight week I find myself here with Frontier on my mind. I’ve been trying to play standard without playing any kind of energy deck but I simply haven’t been able to compete. While I believe that my GW Itlimoc Tokens deck is stronger than those decks, energy decks are by far the more consistent deck. If my deck was more consistent, I might be playing standard more, but at this point in the year I’m hoping that Rivals of Ixalan brings some hate for the overpowered mechanic or at least powers up the other tribes and archetypes.
Instead of boring old standard which only changes substantially ever 3-4 months, instead I’m going to focus on Frontier once more. This last weekend in Tokyo, Hareruya held a God of Frontier trial with the 1st place and 2nd place finishers leaving with a bye at the tournament in January (as well as a lot of store credit). Being a huge fan of the format and currently involved in the Frontier Untap League, I wasn’t going to pass up this chance to play the format in paper. I sleeved up my Mardu tokens deck and 21 other people joined me in competing for the top prize.
Hareruya God of Frontier Trial
I wasn’t sure what to expect at the Frontier event last weekend. The previous seasonal events that happened every few months had garnered a decent turnout of 70+ players each time, so I hoped that there would be at least 20 people for this trial. Thankfully I was right, and there were a total of 22 Frontier players.
I was hoping to get a good read on the Tokyo metagame before the God of Frontier event next year in January, especially since I expected it to be very different from the online Untap league. The major difference is that in paper, it’s less about brewing these days than it is about playing a strong deck. While you’ll occasionally see a rogue deck, for the most part you’re going see the usual aggro, combo, and midrange decks at paper tournaments. Online you usually end up with players switching every season to beat whatever meta decks were popular in the previous season. While this has led to some great deck innovations, the type of decks haven’t remained consistent. It was great to get more than 40 participants this season, but for things to really get serious, I’d expect the league to have to hit 50+ players.
- Round 1: Abzan Aggro (Won 2-0) – One of the oldest, and most predictable tiered decks in the format is Abzan aggro. I’ve been around since the inception of the format so I’ve played this deck enough times to know how to beat it. While it’s got the beats, it doesn’t got the heat. With superior numbers and speed, I was able to put a lot of pressure on my opponent game one and go wide with Gideon emblems and a Sorin in play. In game 2 I played early Hangarback Walkers to get lots of tokens, then turned them into an Orhmendahl midgame. Even with a Dragonlord Dromoka, I was able to push through enough damage in the air for a win.
- Round 2: Mono Red Artifacts (Won 2-0) – This deck put a slight spin on the traditional Atarka Red/Ramunap Red builds by focusing more on Artifacts. It played 4 Thopter Engineers which would give Smuggler’s Copter, thopter tokens, and Scrapheap Scrounger some speed, and basically try to push through damage as quickly as possible with plenty of burn. Too bad I could match his speed with plenty of tokens to block and sometimes trade with his attackers. I managed to flood the board with tokens while keeping his threats at bay with removal, then played Sorin to run away with the game when he ran out of cards. I got lucky in game 2 when he had nothing but vehicles and my removal kept any creatures capable of crewing them off the board.
- Round 3: Esper Control (lost 0-2) – For some reason, control continues to be quite a pain for me to deal with. I probably need more card devoted to beating it, as well as card advantage because counterspells and hand disruption do a pretty good job of wrecking me. It also didn’t help that I mulliganed in game 1 then proceeded to mana flood, and in game 2 he landed a Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet that I couldn’t deal with. Simply couldn’t put enough pressure on him early enough, and didn’t draw any white sources early which also hurt.
- Round 4: Atarka Red (won 2-1) – I actually beat this deck in speed game 1 by playing a Goblin Rabblemaster into a Gideon + emblem and running away with the game when he couldn’t draw any removal for it. The player got revenge in game 2 when I couldn’t draw removal, but in game 3 I managed to draw my removal in a timely manner while blocking aggressively, then playing a big Secure the Waste followed by Sorin, Solemn Visitor the following turn for an alpha strike. An early Legion’s Landing Flip also helped tremendously.
- Round 5: ID into top 8.
I gotta admit, I was pretty excited to make top 8 with my deck. I’ve always felt that it was put together well, and that with enough practice it could run with the best of them. It wasn’t even waiting for the right metagame either, it was just a matter of finding Frontier tournaments to play them in. Mardu tokens is both an aggro and midrange deck. It can hit you hard relatively quickly thanks to cards like Reckless Bushwhacker and emblems from Gideon, but it can also rebuild it’s presence insanely fast with cards like Secure the Wastes. Most of my opponents struggled to overwhelm my forces, and weren’t equipped to deal with swarm strategies, let alone those with haste from Bushwhacker or coming in at instant speed the turn before.
As for the remainder of the meta at this tournament, I saw a little bit of everything. I saw BR Vehicles with Shrapnel Blast, 4C Bant Delirium that was playing Liliana, Death’s Majesty, an UR Thermo Alchemist build, 2 mono white human aggro decks, another 4C Delirium deck playing the likes of Dragonlord Silumgar, UW Narset Control (which I guess was all about locking down an opponent and winning with Approach of the Second Sun?), Mono red Dragons, Jeskai Tempo, a BR Control deck using cards such as Goblin Dark Dwellers and Dark Deal, and a BW Midrange deck playing Sorin, Grim Nemesis.
The Top 8
You can find a list of the top 8 on Hareruya’s/MTG Goldfish’s website if you’re interested, but I’ll post it here to save you time in case you don’t care about what was in each deck.
- Temur Marvel
- Esper Control x2
- Mardu Tokens
- 4C Ensoul Pummeler Energy
- Atarka Red
- Ramunap Red
- Artifacts Red
Thanks to a 3rd place finish in swiss, I was on the play in the quarterfinals match against Ensoul Pummler energy. It plays just like you’d think it plays. Using the Energy shell, it casts Attune with Aether, plays Longtusk Cub, then tries to land an Electrostatic Pummeler and protect it with cards like Blossoming Defense so they can swing with it and pump it up, use Temur Battle Rage, and hit for a huge amount of damage in one turn. The Ensoul Artifact is in there more as an alternate win con/support card. It can make the Pummeler much harder to kill with burn spells as a 5/5, or give you an early 5/5 flyer on a Smuggler’s Copter. You could say it also acts like a pump spell on the Pummeler instead of having to play a card that does nothing if you have no creatures. Instead of having to pay 6 energy to get it to a 4/4, you can cast an Ensoul then pump it up to a 10/10 with only 3 energy. Much more efficient.
While my opponent was able to get the Pummeler combo off in game 2, I had plenty of removal for his threats in games 1 and 3, using Fatal Push on his Smuggler’s Copter + Ensoul in game 1 to end his threats, and then Declaration in Stone and Murderous Cut after sideboarding to keep him in his place. His very light removal package made it easy for me to flood the board and Goblin Rabblemaster single handedly set me up for a win in game 3. It kept putting goblin tokens on board until I could swing for massive Reckless Bushwhacker attack.
Semifinal: Mardu Tokens (me) Vs. Esper Control
This was the same deck I had lost to in swiss, but I thought I could win if I drew better. I always thought that tokens had a good match up against control because it could threaten them with relatively few resources. One big Secure the Wastes, a Gideon, or even a Rabblemaster could make short work of a control player if they couldn’t take the card out. While I was able to constantly pressure my opponent in both games, his combination of counter spells, removal, and board wipes made it incredibly difficult to get anywhere.
I got him down low game 1, but he eventually drew into an Approach of the Second Sun and won the game. In game 2, he went from playing an Esper control deck to a 4C Saheeli Rai combo control deck. It caught me totally off guard and ended the game a lot faster than I thought it would. It also hurt that I mulliganed to 5 game 2 on the play and couldn’t keep the pressure on. I’ll admit that my deck hasn’t been primed for control decks to much, but I’ll be ready for it next time. I’m currently experimenting with Arguel’s Blood Fast instead of Outpost Siege for card advantage, and I think I will also put in a 2nd Impact Tremors so that it won’t matter as much if I can’t attack as long as I’m putting creatures out over and over again. The early incremental damage should be more than enough.
The finals was between Esper Control and Temur Marvel, but the players decided not to play each other and instead do a prize split for the points since both the 1st and 2nd place players would receive byes at January’s God of Frontier tournament. I really can’t complain after a 3-2-1 finish for 4th place. I was very impressed with how my deck dealt with a variety of strategies, and I’m confident it can continue to do well in the future. I also really enjoyed playing the format in paper. While it’s competitive, there are a lot more people having fun in the format than those playing standard or other highly competitive formats. There aren’t any turn 1 or turn 2 wins in Frontier, but you can do some crazy strong stuff around turn 4 or 5 that will end games quickly after that.
An Update on Untap.in
If any of you signed up for Untap to test out Frontier or other formats after my last article about it, then you probably know that the programmers have recently upgraded the software to Version 3. There are quite a few changes, but they are mostly visual in nature. Another big change was that it’s currently only supported on Chrome. No longer can you play it on Firefox, which is a shame since I had used it on there for so long. Luckily I was able to find an old version of Chrome for my computer and I’m back up and running again.
Here are my initial impressions of the new version:
- The new version is a lot more graphics heavy – Previously it was very simple. Ugly, but simple and easy to run on your computer. This can cause some computers to run more slowly if they don’t have a newer video card and slow down games.
- The new version is less intuitive – In Version 2, you could see the “shortcuts” for a lot of the functions but in the new version you can get lost really easily and not know what to do. There is a steeper learning curve.
- Everything is smaller and harder to see –
The size of the cards used to be larger and easier to see, and all of the other functions that were originally located in menus when you clicked your deck or name are now all stuff into the left side margin. Not only is it hard to see them, but also you sometimes forget they are even there. The middle area between the two battlefields seem like wasted space that could hold more menus and make battling easier.
- Speed and load times are an issue – Games take along longer now because instead of clicking to activate a function like “finding a card” from your deck, you have to hover over the deck, wait for the menu to pop up, then select. It uses graphics a lot more heavily in this and it can really slow down when two people are playing and multiple things are going on at the same time on the screen.
- Tokens are a pain to deal with – just like with the other speed issues, you have to push ‘W’ now to bring up the tokens menu and you have to select from the names of the cards instead of pictures like before. I’ve already made mistakes while doing this by selecting the wrong vampire or warrior tokens when playing. I preferred the previous style with pictures I could click and drag.
- Lag is a big issue – sometimes the servers lag quite a bit, and make play almost impossible. Perhaps this will change in the future as servers are improved and the code is more streamlined (it’s barely out of beta I believe).
- Pasting a deck list is impossible now – It simply doesn’t work. Time and time again I’ve tried to copy my other lists that I put in text form before V2 went down, and it says that there are server issues and it can’t be done. You have to do everything manually now.
While it will take some getting used to and you’ll curse it from time to time, the software is still a great way to test your Magic decks for free and to play against others. If you’re not competitive and not looking for the gold and glory that comes from MTGO, Untap will suit you just fine. It seems that since I first started using it 2 weeks ago, the speed issues have been addressed somewhat and it’s running smoother, but there are still some aesthetics that I’d like to see changed in future updates.
Until Next Time
Well, that will do it for today’s Frontier update. The Untap Frontier league is currently in its 4th week out of 6, so you should see a report from me around Christmas time with an update on the metagame, as well as what’s happening in the top 8. The X-mage league is planning to start up again for anybody interested in playing Frontier that didn’t get a chance to do season 3 on Untap, and I believe there is a league on Cockatrice as well. A search on Reddit should help you find out about those.
To all of my readers who are expecting more standard content this year, you’ll probably have to wait until after the God of Frontier tournament next weekend in Tokyo. I haven’t really been too keen on playing standard in my free time because of the stifling Energy metagame. I’ll play in a big tournament and try to punish those players, but I don’t think it’s worth my time heading into town for a few hours, paying the train fee, and only facing energy decks for 3-5 rounds in a regular tournament. You can, however, expect at least another Frontier themed think piece before the end the year about what the format would look like without Fetchlands and/or KTK and FRF. It should be rather interesting! If you have any other questions or comments about today’s article though, please post them down below.