A New Frontier – (Land)Falling in Love All over Again
“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.
I have to admit that if you asked me a few months ago if I would still have the drive to play Frontier in 2018, I might not be able to give you a straight answer. I wanted so badly for the format to be successful but living in Nagoya there were literally no other players to hang out with. Then I moved to Yokohama in November, and I was approached by the people in the Untap League before that to join their tournament.
Suddenly I was back in the thick of things. I was playing Frontier every week online, I was going to events bi-weekly at Hareruya in Tokyo, and I became a big part of the Frontier Discord group. It’s like nitro was added to my engine and I was running at 140% power. I was playing, brewing, and doing very well at the tournaments. The last time I posted about Frontier, I had just made the top 4 of a 21 person Trial at Hareruya and finished 2-4 in season 2 of the Untap League. I had used all of the feedback and experience from my time playing in the online league and it paid off in spades at the God of Frontier Trial. I just missed getting the bye, but I was psyched about the deck. I felt like some people had written my tokens deck off after season 2, but due to lack or practice and testing I didn’t really have a chance to optimize the deck.
Untap Frontier League: Season 3 (November 20th – December 30th)
|Mardu Tokens Frontier|
|60 cards, 15 sideboard|
2 Inspiring Vantage
2 Concealed Courtyard
2 Wooded Foothills
2 Bloodstained Mire
2 Smoldering Marsh
1 Cinder Glade
1 Canopy Vista
2 Windswept Heath
2 Westvale Abbey
|4 Legion’s Landing
4 Smuggler’s Copter
4 Raise the Alarm
3 Secure the Wastes
4 Fatal Push
3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
2 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
2 Kolaghan’s Command
26 other spells
The copy of my Mardu tokens list is the same one I used at the Hareruya tournament, so I knew it could compete, I just wasn’t sure if my results from the event would translate into wins in the Frontier league. You can read a little bit more about the changes I made to the deck from my previous version in my article from November.
The strategy is still the same as before. Play lots of tokens and go wide, then use anthem effects from Sorin or Gideon to crush your opponents faster than they can stabilize. Smuggler’s Copter gives you some evasion, Reckless Bushwhacker gives you haste to mess up your opponent’s math and get around sorcery speed wraths, and Legion’s Landing can sometimes help you to power out a turn 3 Gideon or Sorin.
- Round 1: Mono White Aggro (Lost 1-2) – The 44 person League was off to a rough start. I thought I could handle the deck after winning game one by flipping a Westvale Abbey and keep my opponent from knocking my life down too much, but I got mana screwed in game 2 and a Declaration in Stone absolutely wrecked me in game 3, taking out more than half of my tokens. A couple different lines of play probably would have been able to turn things around, but I made too many bad calls.
- Round 2: UR Prowess (Won 2-0). Starting off with a loss put me in the losers bracket and meant I was always in danger of being knocked out of top 8 contention, but thankfully a win in round 2 got me back in the hunt for the playoffs. My opponent was able to burn me quite effectively in game 1, but I was able to flood the board with both Rabblemaster tokens and a big Secure the Waste, then follow it up with a Sorin, Solemn Visitor for the win. In game 2 I forced him to use up all of his removal then took over the game with Gideon, soldier tokens, and Wreckless Bushwhacker. He didn’t have any way to deal with swarm tactics.
- Round 3: Jund Delirium (won 2-1). I managed to go wide and get my opponent down rather low in life game 1, then flipped a Westvale Abbey into an Ormendahl for the win. Mana screw again reared its ugly head game 2 and his early Kalitas was impossible to deal with when I didn’t draw any removal, but in game 3 I managed to side step most of his removal by landing some Smuggler’s Copters, a Gideon, and a Sorin rather early to take over the game while my own removal kept him from putting up much of a defense.
- Round 4: Esper Tempo (Won 2-0). This deck had the potential to disrupt my plays and destroy my hands, but I had very aggressive hands in both games that simply overwhelmed him and put too much pressure on. Sorin and tokens won game 1, while game 2 was taken by double Smuggler’s Copters when my opponent stumbled on mana. Sorry about his luck, but I was happy to be sitting at 3-1 after week 4.
- Round 5: Esper Control (Won 2-1). Probably one of the most difficult match ups I faced all season. My opponent was able to get off a Liliana, the Last Hope ultimate in round 1 by countering and killing everything I played. In round 2 I landed an early Impact Tremors and Sorcerous Spyglass and chipped away at his life while letting his Lilianas rot in his hand, which ended up being all I needed. In the final game, I landed double Outpost Sieges and kept myself ahead on cards while running my opponent out of his. Gideon and Sorin did a lot of work in that final game.
- Round 6: ID – At 4-1, I was able to ID (just barely) into the top 8 with a 4-1-1 record. I ended up in 8th place, while the person I would have played in round 6 ended up in 5th or 6th place in swiss.
I would have been happy with a 4-2 finish just to show people that my Mardu tokens deck had potential, but making top 8 in this 44 person event ON TOP OF the Hareruya Frontier Trial should be enough to establish it as a viable archetype in the format.
The top 8 of the Untap League season 3 tournament was:
- Jund Delirium
- Jund Delirium
- Jund Midrange
- Mardu Tokens (Me)
- Esper Vehicles
- UB Control
- Esper Approach
- Mono Black Eldrazi
Strangely enough, no “true” aggro decks made the top 8. Both my Mardu Tokens deck and Mono black Eldrazi have the potential to hit hard early, but not fast like an Atarka Red deck could. I’d say they were more similar to beatdown strategies. Control ended up getting 2 decks into the top 8 as well, while midrange got the other 4 spots.
- Quarterfinals: Jund Delirium Vs. Mardu Tokens (me) – This had to be one of the most mindwracking matches I’ve ever played in. So many lines of play could lead to disaster, and I was playing against a very good player as well who would jump on any mistake I made. The first game was grindy but eventually won by Jund and their Walking Ballista. Knowing he’d side in lots of removal and board wipes for my tokens game 2, I sided in cards like Impact Tremors. I drew it early game 2 and managed to win easily by merely playing tokens (since he didn’t have lots of ways to gain life in the deck). My opponent got stuck on 2 land game 3 while I curve out. He managed to eventually get somewhat of a handle on the board, but I managed to win with a big Secure the Waste activation + Reckless Bushwhacker. (WON 2-1)
- Semifinals: Mardu Tokens Vs. Mono Black Eldrazi – The semifinals switched over to a best of 5 series, and I found myself facing off against a deck I had played at the end of season 2 as an Exhibition match. My deck at that time wasn’t as tuned as season 3’s and I lost that match. I started off with a win by blocking aggressively and playing a huge Secure the Wastes to flip an Ormendahl and steal the game. Game 2 went to my opponent when I drew too many tap in lands and couldn’t keep pace with his flyers and bigger creatures. I got into big trouble game 3 after my first chance at side boarding by mulliganing to 5 and getting Thought Knot’d multiple times which weakened me considerably and put me on the edge of despair. However, I fought back in game 4 and landed a huge Secure the Wastes again + Sorin, Solemn Visitor to even our match at 2 wins each. Sadly, it wasn’t to be as I couldn’t draw any removal game 5 and my opponent was able to wear down my defenses and then walk over me for the win.
A video of the match can be found on YouTube if you’re interested in watching it. My lack of experience against the Eldrazi deck showed in the video as I made multiple mistakes and chose wrong lines of play, and my side boarding also could have been a lot better. Still, a top 4 finish and a 5-2-1 record is remarkable considering it was only my 2nd ever league on Untap. I’ve since made a few changes to the deck, adding in more Fast lands and an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth to help with the mana problems, and also going for more versatile removal. The Esper Vehicles deck ended up winning the entire league last season in case you were curious
Recent Frontier Results in Tokyo
There wasn’t much in the way of Frontier events at Hareruya in December after the trial I participated in, so I had to wait until January for my next event. Sadly I missed the large “Win a Switch” tournament during winter vacation since I was out of town. It had an amazing 57 players, and ended up being won by Mono red. There were some rather interesting decks that showed up there, such as RW Control. You can see a full list of the top 8 deck lists on Hareruya’s website.
My next chance to play wasn’t until January 7th. A healthy 18 players showed up for a bi-weekly Frontier Cup. I once again took my Mardu tokens deck to this event, since there hadn’t been any reason to switch away from it yet.
My first match was against a Temur Assault Formation deck that used Baral, Chief of Compliance and other high toughness cards. He had some interesting interactions but pretty much all of his removal was spot removal, and all I had to do was go wide to wreck him. In round 2 I faced the RW control deck that finished 2nd at the 57 person tournament the week before, and I gotta say I was impressed. The deck had answers for everything and it was very tough for my deck to deal with. Boards wipes hurt a lot, especially Settle the Wreckage, and I got crushed by the sheer number of planeswalkers he put on the board. My poor little Sorcerous Spyglasses couldn’t do a thing.
I bounced back round 3 with a win against Esper Approach by playing around my opponent’s removal and counterspells. Instant speed spells like Raise the Alarm and Secure the Wastes were key in the win, as well as landing a Gideon early in game 2. In round 4 I faced a Sultai Control/Delirium deck and thankfully he was playing more removal than counterspells which allowed me to put pressure on him continuously while not using up all of my resources. Impact Tremors did a lot of work in game 2.
I felt rather good at 3-1 in at the end of round 4, but I really got thrown for a loop in the final round. I faced up against an Abzan Zulaport Cutthroat, but it ended up NOT being Rally the Ancestors based to my surprise. Although I had sided in for that type of deck, I ended up losing 1-2 to Zulaport Cutthroat and cards like Eldrazi Displacer and Brood Monitor. My opponent basically went infinite and killed me by repeatedly blinking Brood Monitor. Interesting enough, this deck was stock full of tutor effects like Growing Rites of Itlimoc, Collected Company, as well as Chord of Calling. It was very interesting to play against and ended up 3rd place of the event. Bant Humans won this tourament, but if you’re interested in what else showed up then follow this link to the other tournament results.
There have been a few more tournaments since then, but due to the new standard format and other various events happening at Hareruya, most have been rather subdued. There was an 8 person Frontier Cup that was one by Jeskai Tempo, and a 16 person God of Frontier Cup trial that was won by Aetherworks Marvel at the end of January. There was also another tournament this last weekend but only 10 people showed up due to a packed tournament center with everybody gearing up for the God of Standard tournament happening soon or the Valentines Day 2 Headed Giant special. Quite a few of the usual Frontier players were playing in those other events instead.
(Land)Falling in Love
I stated up above that I was slowly falling out of love with Frontier before I moved to the Tokyo area due to lack of chances to play, but since then I’ve fallen for the format pretty hard. I haven’t enjoyed a format like Frontier since I first started playing Pauper. While standard has been fun in the past, the last few seasons have been anything but and I’ve felt like it has become more like a chore. The last standard I wholly enjoyed was probably Dragons of Tarkir block. Since then it’s been in steady decline. There have been some interesting decks to be fair, but nothing has pulled me to the format like Frontier has.
After I found success with my Mardu tokens deck I thought I was pretty much done with brewing Frontier decks, but all it took was one spark to light my fire once more. The release of Rivals of Ixalan hasn’t had too much of an impact on Frontier just yet (I’ll go into depth more about that in a future article), but one card caught my eye.
Wayward Swordtooth was panned by many a pro and semi pro as being unplayable in standard and pretty much every format, and even a lot of the players in Frontier wrote it off at first.
But not me.
I was interested in it from the start. While one of the Untap League players in Discord (Psyturkey) brought the interaction with Tireless Tracker and Clue tokens to light, I saw this card as the final piece of a Landfall deck I made back during Oath of Gatewatch standard. I really enjoyed playing that deck but I could never get it to work. After some initial testing with Swordtooth before season 4 of Frontier Untap league, it struck me to resurrect that idea and update it with a few new cards. What I came up with for season 4 of the Untap Frontier league was this:
|Braving the Elementals
|75 cards, 15 sideboard|
3 Cinder Glade
4 Wooded Foothills
2 Hissing Quagmire
3 Smoldering Marsh
4 Bloodstained Mire
1 Field of Ruin
|2 Chandra, Flamecaller
2 Kolaghan’s Command
3 Fatal Push
2 Pulse of Murasa
9 other spells
15 sideboard cards
Where the Oath of Gatewatch deck failed, this would succeed. Let’s start off with the Tireless Tracker/Wayward Swordtooth interaction. Whenever you play a land you get a clue, and when you have 10 permanents in play Wayward Swordtooth can attack and block. This can be done many ways, but the fastest is a turn 1 Elvish Mystic, Turn 2 Tireless Tracker, then play Swordtooth turn 3 with 2 fetches. You get 4 clues along with 5 lands, an Elvish Mystic, and a Tireless Tracker. That’s 11 permanents turn 3 for anybody keeping track out there. This can also be done with Tracker first if you want, and in fact I’d probably play that to dodge any burn an opponent might have.
So we have a way to not only turn on the dinosaur quickly, but also to ramp out cards and play multiple land a turn. How do we take advantage of this? Well, aside from Tireless Tracker giving you mad amounts of card draw, Omnath, Locus of Rage and Embodiment of Fury were the next two obvious threats for me.
Nobody really considers Omnath, Locus of Rage playable outside of EDH, but I beg to differ. Getting him out turn 5 wouldn’t be impossible, but what if I told you this deck could get him out on turn 4?
Turn 1 Elvish Mystic (2 mana), turn 2 Wayward Swordtooth plus extra land to play another Elvish mystic (5 mana), turn 3 Ramunap Excavator playing 2 more fetches from graveyard (7 mana), and then on turn 4 you have enough to cast Omnath, Locus of Rage plus set 2 more lands (in this case from the graveyard thanks to Ramunap Excavator) to get 2+ Omnath triggers. Is Omnath a win-more card in this deck? No, it’s win-NOW.
As for Embodiment of Fury, the past deck tried to abuse him alongside of Sylvan Advocate, which gave all land creatures +2/+2 when you had 6 lands in play. This means when you play Fury and a land, you get a 5/5 trample haste creature. This can be really good late game after a board wipe where you drop a fetch and swing for 6+ damage depending on if the elf is there for support.
In order to push the landfall theme even harder, I added in two other extra land effects: Mina and Denn, Wildborn, and The Gitrog Monster. While it might be overkill, I felt the need to try them out this season and will probably end up cutting one afterwards (most like M&D). Mina and Denn are great because you can still create multiple land fall effects by bouncing lands and playing them again, and The Gitrog Monster is a huge body that works great with fetch lands.
Speaking of fetch lands, this version has a lot. Eight total, 9 if you count Field of Ruin. This deck is also playing 26 lands because you want to be drawing lands as much as possible for those landfall activations. However, all these fetches also means a lot of damage to your life total. While I chose Pulse of Murasa for this season, I think a card like Retreat to Kazandu would have been better.
Another card that works great with fetch lands is Ramunap Excavator. He absolutely thrives in this deck as an extra source of land drops when you have them in your graveyard but not in your hand, and has amazing synergy with The Gitrog Monster. I don’t know how many times I was mana screwed and the Excavator ended up saving my life. While Pulse of Murasa limits how much you can abuse him, a deck with Retreat to Kazandu would be absolutely insane. You’d always stay ahead on life, no matter how many times you fetched a land.
While the deck hasn’t undergone enough rigorous testing to be considered worthy of a large tournament, it has reached a competitive level and can easily overwhelm unprepared opponents. I’m currently sitting at 2 wins and 2 losses in season 4 of the Untap league with this deck, but there is still a chance I can make top 8 with it if I win my last 2 games and the two decks I lost to both do well in the final rounds.
It has a decent match up against midrange and control decks like Saheeli combo or Approach of the Second sun, but seems to be struggling against decks like Abzan aggro because there simply isn’t enough removal for it. I’ll be making some changes and hopefully that will shore up its shortcomings, but we’ll have to wait and see if I was right not to underestimate the dino.
Upcoming Frontier Events
Things in the Frontier format are getting busy. Stores in Toronto are hosting events again, the Untap Frontier league is going to be starting season 5 in about 3 weeks, and Hareruya still has their God of Frontier tournament happening in March sometime. This weekend they’ll be hosting a God of Frontier Trial which should attract a decent amount of players. Non-league players are also trying out Frontier on Untap which is another sign that the format is gaining steam, and some pros have even mentioned it in their twitter feeds (both jokingly and in passing talking about how fun it is). Pauper will have its time this year and end up a very enjoyable format, and Modern will thrive, but Frontier is coming over the horizon. I hope in time, you’ll love it as much as I do.