A New Frontier – Testing Boundaries: Fate Reforged and Dragons of Tarkir
“A New Frontier” is a series of articles based around the MTG format created by Hareruya and Big Magic in Japan that uses only cards with the new border from the M15 set and onward. In these articles I plan on follow 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 promised that I’d do another article about the possibility of starting Frontier at a later time, but it’s been months since I’ve followed up on it. The last one I did focused only on Khans of Tarkir being cut, mainly because there were so many cards that would effect the format. Fetches would leave, as well as many of the powerful multicolor cards. Many of the current tier 1 and tier 2 decks like UB control and Abzan aggro would be lost to us, and we’d have an almost entirely new format based on powerful cards from the Shadows over Innistrad and Kaladesh blocks most likely. If you’re interested in reading it, please check out this link. Today I plan on finishing out the rest of the block by talking about both Fate Reforged and Dragons of Tarkir being excluded from the format. So if you’re ready for this thought experiment, please read on.
A Frontier Without Fate Reforged
Right off the bat we have the end of an archetype without Fate Reforged. Rally the Ancestors has continued to show that it’s an archetype to be reckoned with, even though it laid low for a while and doesn’t show up at tournaments all of the time. There are no cards that could replace Rally, especially since the only other card that could come close was from M15, which would also probably see the cut if FRF was left out of a ‘new’ Frontier. Zulaport Cutthroat decks would survive, but they’d probably have to move into GB Cryptolith Rites or the Eldrazi Displacer combo deck to continue to see play.
Abzan aggro was on its last legs when we took Siege Rhino and Anafenza the Foremost out of the deck, but losing Warden of the First Tree is the nail in the coffin for Abzan aggro. Abzan Aggro is incredibly versatile and a very powerful archetype, and losing it will allow a lot of the lower to the ground strategies like tokens and ramunap red to flourish. I personally don’t want to see Abzan aggro die. So many good green and black creatures in the deck. I don’t know what could replace all of these cards from Origins onwards.
Well Atarka Red would already be on its way out because it would be losing cards like Become Immense as a combo piece, but losing Temur Battle Rage would straight up turn the deck into a purely linear aggro deck. Another deck that would be punished by not having this card would be the Electrostatic Pummler energy ‘infect’ deck that pumps up the Pummler and then gives him double strike and a trample. Both of these strategies could survive in a post Khans block Frontier, but would be a lot less explosive.
There aren’t too many decks currently using Tasigur in Frontier, but that’s not to say that his presence wouldn’t be missed. Getting rid of fetch lands would have already weakened him considerably, but I’m sure he would have found a spot in Sultai or GB Delirium decks which have an easy time putting cards into the graveyard.
One of the reasons decks like 4C control works so well (aside from the fetch lands) is that cards like Soulfire Grand Master keep you alive and let you keep cycling your spells back into your hand over and over again. 4 mana buyback for all of your spells was great, and while it didn’t see a lot of play outside of control decks like 4C, mardu, or Jeskai, losing it will definitely hurt control decks playing white and make them more vulnerable to aggressive decks like Vehicles or Ramunap Red.
Monastery Mentor is another potentially powerful card that nobody is playing in Frontier at the moment but could become incredibly powerful. Decks like UW Cheerios with Sram would be a great fit for him, and if Jeskai Tokens ever finds its footing again I would expect this card to be front and center. But if FRF is cut we’ll never find out. Not a huge impact on the metagame, but big impact on brewing.
If GR Ramp were to ever become good again, it would probably need all the help it could get in the boar wipe department. Kozilek’s Return and Chandra, Flamecaller are good starts, but Ugin, the Spirit Dragon was absolutely backbreaking if it resolved. If it’s cut I think Eldrazi ramp would never be able to break into tier 2 status, but would still be a decent Tier 2.5 deck. There are still lots of possibilities like Hour of Devastation, but nothing that could straight up win the game for you by itself. Losing him would also hurt Esper Dragon’s chances of becoming a tiered deck again, but that would be a moot point because all of the other dragons would be lost from Khans block as well, leaving us with only UB Control, Esper Approach of the Second Sun, or Grixis Bolas decks. Would be quite the flavor loss not to be able deal with Bolas in this format with his equal.
Other Cards that Might Be Missed
- Arashin Cleric – Great sideboard card for white decks against aggro decks like mono red. Weakens white based control and midrange decks a bit.
- Crux of Fate – Black needs a board wipe that hits anything and doesn’t punish you like Bontu’s Last Reckoning or leave things alive like Languish does. Not having it would hurt Grixis and UB control decks.
- Flamewake Phoenix – It’s only just starting to see its brew potential thanks to modern’s success with Hallowed One decks. I’m sure people would eventually brew up a Frontier deck with it.
- Gurmag Angler – Good in zombie dredge type decks such as Eldrazi Emerge, also not bad in Delirium builds. Makes both strategies a little bit weaker, but not unviable.
- Kolaghan, the Storms Fury – Mardu midrange never really took off in the format because midrange decks are at a disadvantage against both control and aggro unless they are Abzan. Kolaghan would have been a good finisher in RB beatdown decks.
- Mastery of the Unseen – Nobody has played the GW Megamorph deck from past DTK standard format, and sadly that deck would be lost to us without Mastery of the Unseen and all of the megamorph cards in Dragons of Tarkir.
- Outpost Siege – Vance’s Blasting Cannon’s is somewhat of an upgrade to Outpost Siege aside from choosing Khans and wiping your board to kill an opponent in a tokens type deck. Not a big impact, but hurts brewers the most.
- Silumgar, the Drifting Death – No more Dragon control decks; bottom line.
- Soulflayer – With the printing of some interesting dinosaurs in Rivals of Ixalan like Zetalpa, Primal Dawn, it seemed like Soulflayer finally had some fun decks to work with, but if we lose Fate Reforged you can say good bye to that sort of deck.
- Wild Slash – Not a huge loss to UR Alchemist and mono red decks, but makes those strategies a little bit slower since they’d only have Shock to work with.
- Valorous Stance – Blessed Alliance is probably better in a variety of situations, but Valorous Stance would have been really good in a midrange heavy metagame.
We’re not done yet, we’re only at the midway point. For those of you keeping score, the biggest losers from cutting Fate Reforged would be Rally the Ancestors, Abzan Aggro, and white based control decks. Esper Dragons is also pretty much gone going into Dragons of Tarkir because there will be no more dragons left.
I know what you’re thinking. Please make it stop. I can’t take seeing all of my favorite archetypes suffer like this, even if it’s just a thought experiment. Sorry, but we have one more set to check out before I can put this series of articles to rest: Dragons of Tarkir.
A Frontier Without Dragons of Tarkir
The pain just doesn’t stop. One of the cards that has DEFINED Frontier being cut from Frontier would be a huge loss for the format. No more Elves, no more Bant Humans, and not to mention the countless other decks that use it like UG Merfolk, Rally, and GB Rites for starters. Losing Collected Company makes it incredibly hard for creature based decks to gain any kind of traction or presence against control decks. Sure, Control might be losing Dig Through Time, but if CoCo decks are no more, suddenly all of your non red aggro decks become incredibly weak. Lots of 2 for ones, counterspells become incredibly powerful . . . I don’t think the format would be that much fun to play without Collected Company.
Losing the commands will be pretty bad for the format as well. Atarka’s Command pretty much defines an entire archetype, so no Atarka’s Command would mean that most players would have to play Ramunap Red as their aggro deck of choice. Having lost Swiftspear and various other red pieces already, red becomes a lot less scary. Mono red goblins might still be playable though.
As for Kolaghan’s Command, it’s an amazing card and an all around good answer against a lot of the format’s boogeymen: Aetherworks Marvel, Smuggler’s Copter, Torrential Gearhulk . . . it does so much and keeps so many decks in check. I don’t think people care so much about the 2 damage effect or discarding a card, but having a card that gives you card advantage and is a main deckable hate card is going to be a huge loss. All of those aforementioned cards suddenly become a lot better in the format.
Dromoka’s Command, and to a lesser extent Ojutai’s Command, are solid cards that will be missed but shouldn’t create too much of a ripple if they were cut. Dromoka’s Command was really good in Abzan aggro and Hardened Scales decks, but since both of those decks would be killed by Khans being cut anyways, it wouldn’t hurt too much if they weren’t part of a FRF or later format.
Losing Explosive Vegetation would cause ramp strategies to take a hit, but due to new cards like Hour of Promise being printed, the deck could still survive but it would be a lot harder to get out those early game changers. Aetherworks Marvel would become the defacto “ramp” deck because most other ramp strategies wouldn’t be able to compete. No Rattleclaw Mystic, no Elvish Mystic, no Explosive Vegetation? No ramp. It would be confined to tier 3 or worse forever. GR Eldrazi Ramp never recovered when DTK rotated, and I would expect the same to happen if Vegetation goes.
There were times when Secure the Wastes was a good finisher for control decks, but pretty much the only place you’ll find it is in token decks now. It’s great in my Mardu tokens list which has proven itself to be a contender, but it is also really good in the traditional GW tokens build as well from a few standard seasons ago before Origins rotated at the end of Shadows Over Innistrad block. There are lots of token effects like Sram’s Expertise, but nothing as scary as a 5 or 6 mana Secure the Wastes at the end of a turn. Westvale Abbey based decks become worse without it, and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar loses a great support card too.
Atarka Red has already taken quite a few hits, and losing both Swiftspear AND Zurgo Bellstriker would make it pretty hard for the deck to survive. This would mean that the previous standard seasons Ramunap Red deck from before the standard bannings would probably be the defacto list in the format. At the moment, we have anywhere from 3-5 viable red aggro decks, but if DTK is cut we’d be lucky to get 2.
Other Cards that Might Be Missed
- Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit – She was a fun card to have in that Abzan Falconer deck back in standard as a way to get counters on all of your creatures. Before Constrictor took over the Hardened Scales game, she was also a good card in the GW version. No Anfenza means no form of Scales survives.
- Assault Formation – A jank deck, but fun for casual players in the format.
- Avatar of the Resolute – Another card that works really well in the Hardened Scales strategy, but only the GW one like Anafenza.
- Blood-Chin Rager – Once, there was a Warriors deck. Not the greatest of the Collected Company strategies, but decent, and we could always expect more warriors to show up in future sets.
- Den Protector – Part of GW Megamorph in the past, and also good in various other past standard decks, she never took off in Frontier but that doesn’t mean she couldn’t be good in the future.
- Draconic Roar – Good in Jeskai, Mardu, and Grixis Dragons, but if all the dragons are gone, what’s the point?
- Dragonlord Atarka – I personally feel like Atarka is the best dragon out of the bunch. It doesn’t need a Dragon themed deck to be considered good, fitting into Eldrazi Ramp and a number of other top ends of Jund, GR, or Naya decks. It’s just too bad that midrange isn’t a thing or else she’d make a bigger impact.
- Dragonlord Ojutai – Ojutai saw some play in UW flyers with Always Watching at the end of SOI block, and it was a cornerstone of Jeskai Dragons as well. UW Flyers can find a substitute, but Jeskai dragons would bite the dust.
- Dragonlord Silumgar – Good sideboard card for some UB control decks, but Esper dragons would become non-existent with DTK getting the axe.
- Dragonloard Dromoka – Another great sideboard card for decks like Abzan Aggro/Midrange, but wouldn’t be missed too much I think if it were to go.
- Narset Transcendent – Another good card for control that has largely gone unused and untested in Frontier. Sure she’ll show up as a 1 or 2 of from time to time in a control deck, but not as much as Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. Bad for brewers, but not too bad for the format if it’s cut.
- Roast – Sure it doesn’t hit flyers, but Roast is one of non-aggro red’s favorite sideboard cards. It hits Tasigur, Siege Rhino, and a large number of other creatures and only costs 2 mana. Great cost performance.
- Thunderbreak Regent – Outside of dragon decks, Thunderbreak Regent had a few spots in red midrange decks like Grixis and Jund, but it was more of a metagame call and didn’t always show up in lists. I still find it to be one of the best 4 drop flyers in the game, it’s just that it easily gets outclassed by cards like Avacyn, and also gets stopped by Fatal Push or Spell Queller.
- Virulent Plague– The last card that I think would make a rather big impact by leaving would be Virulent Plague. Sure there will always be board wipes, especially instant speed ones like Kozilek’s Return against token strategies, but nothing hoses it as much as Plague does. If this enchantment were to disappear, I would expect token strategies to get much better in the format.
I was seriously depressed when I went through all of these cards and archetypes we’d lose for this article. These are the decks that brought me and keep my playing the format, and without them I don’t think I would continue to play Frontier, or if I did I’d have to wait another few years before Wizards of the Coasts printed something worthwhile. Here’s exactly WHAT we’d lose if both Fate Reforged and Dragons of Tarkir were cut from the Frontier format and it started from Magic Origins:
- Collected Company decks (Humans, Elves, Warriors, Merfolk, etc)
- G/x ramp decks (Eldrazi ramp, etc)
- Atarka Red (though Ramunap Red would survive)
- Rally the Ancestors (Zulaport decks would survive, but be weaker)
- Abzan Aggro/midrange
- 4 Color Control
- Jeskai Tokens
- All dragon decks
- Hardened Scales (with only snake, I don’t think it would still be competitive)
Losing Khans of Tarkir might be bearable, but losing the entire block would absolutely destroy the format and make it incredibly unfun to play. It would become the horrible “battle cruiser” standard format all over again, with cards like Aetherworks Marvel (Energy decks), Emrakul the Promised End (Delirium), and Vehicles taking over everything. Sure we’d have a large variety of decks to choose from, but given that the recent standard seasons have been absolutely miserable, I think any plan by WoTC to start Frontier AFTER Khans block would be ill advised.
The Khans block balances out so many decks power levels and makes so many decks viable that I couldn’t imagine playing any eternal format between standard and Modern without it. If they don’t want Fetchlands in the format in the future, ban them, and if they don’t want to start at M15 then that could be dropped too without too much of an impact, but if Wizards wants to start a new eternal format, then I BEG of you to either do it FROM the Khans block, or even consider doing it from Theros block.
That will do it for my thought experiment on what Frontier would look like without certain sets, and hopefully you’ll agree that in order to keep it fun interesting we need to have the Khans block in there. If you have any comments or ideas, please feel free to leave them down below. Thanks for reading and I hope to see you around! Be sure to check back from time to time!