Today is a celebration of not just Atarka Red, but all the red aggro currently smashing face in Frontier.
From an academic standpoint I’m interested in Frontier. I know that, being a non-sanctioned format, Frontier doesn’t technically matter for the purposes of professional level play, but I find it fascinating nonetheless. Frontier is grassroots MTG and I’m intrigued about the story that unfolds.
Will it burn out quickly like Tiny Leaders? Will it be embraced and become a casual-competitive mainstay like Commander? Or, will WotC officially “put a ring on it” and make it legit sanctioned MTG?
Because if you liked it then you should have… A. Put a ring on it. B. Ignored it. C. Helena, MT D. All of the above.
When CFB asked for volunteers to write about Frontier, my hand shot up with the enthusiasm of a third grader who knows the answer to "What is the capital of Montana?" "Ooh, pick me! Pick me!"
“Helena, obv.” All of the eagerness but hopefully without the self-satisfied smugness.
I wanted to be on Frontier because the format is compelling and I hoped there were others like me who found it interesting. Needless to say, I was blown away by the tremendous response the first article got. All things considered, I believe the fan base for the format is bigger than most believe, and it's growing.
When it comes to underestimating a grassroots movement that is sick of the status quo, I’m of the opinion that where there’s smoke there’s fire. #makestandardgreatagain
Red Between the Lines
Last week’s Frontier proto-metagame primer focused on the Khans of Tarkir block decks: Abzan, Jeskai, CoCo, and Rally.
The last article was an investigation of the winner’s metagame based on the results that I could find (which were admittedly sparse)—the decks making Top 8s and undefeated finishes. The decks I discussed prompted some readers to ask, “Hey, what about red?”
I think the comments were 100% correct—the red decks are sweet and deserve some recognition. Red decks may not have turned out as many finishes as some of the more popular decks, but I believe they are every bit as competitive. In fact, I expect red to absorb a bigger metagame share as the format moves forward.
I’m not exactly sure how things will shake out, but Frontier red decks are faster and better than the versions that fought against Rally in Standard. The Standard Rally metagame was admittedly slow and grindy, so forcing players to worry about fast aggro should positively impact the diversity of the format in one way or another.
The first deck I’d like to take a look at is Mono-Red Goblins. The deck is basically a go-wide tokens strategy backed up with burn to remove blockers or close out the game.
WotC hasn't put too many good red aggro cards into the format at the same time, but pool a few Standard seasons together and you begin to amass a formidable red deck.
Atarka Red Aggro
Another way to approach the red deck is to splash a little bit of green in order to work in:
There is nothing "Cryptic" about the R/G Command… DEAL DAMAGE!
The version here doesn’t have Goblin Rabblemaster, but I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to find room for the card considering how powerful it is with Stoke the Flames and Command. It is interesting that cutting Rabblemaster keeps the curve down and decreases the chance of a clunky draw.
EFro also featured a pretty sick Atarka Red list in his Deck of the Day series last week.
Arai Yuusuke, 5-0 at the Hareruka Frontier Cup
Straight-to-the-Dome Burn Decks
The most popular versions of the Frontier Red Decks appear to be token-based, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for variety.
The deck has a built-in card advantage theme going on throughout where you can expend resources to deal with threats and still draw enough burn to win the game.
I don’t know how I feel about Dynavolt Tower, but it does fit into the deck's plan of “burn and generate more burn.”
The Tower and Alchemist create a unique dynamic where even if you are using cards to deal with opposing creatures, the deck is still generating damage that can go to the face over time. The deck also has a considerable number of ways to generate actual card advantage:
The deck seems to acknowledge that burning an opponent for 20 points before they can stabilize or kill you first is probably unlikely, so the deck functions more like the U/R Fevered Visions deck from Standard.
Vortex is a card that I keep seeing across a wide array of red decks and sideboards. It is certainly one way to mitigate drawing too many lands.
Copter a Feel the Burn
Of the dozen or so red decks that I looked over while working on this article, my favorite by far is this one:
It does all of the things I like my red deck to do, and it maintains a high card quality in the process.
This Smuggler’s Copter card is really starting to "take off."
I also like the way Copter gives the deck a consistent way to filter through excess lands to continue to draw threats. It also seems great that the card gives you some flexibility when playing around sweepers like Radiant Flames.
One of the other big points of tension in red decks appears to be the split between Bushwhacker and Rabblemaster. In general, I think that Rabblemaster is a much better card, but it can kind of get brickwalled by a fat blocker. It has upside, but a tangible downside.
Well, when you have Smuggler’s Copter in your deck, you can always use the Goblin Token created by Rabblemaster to crew the Copter. You can also crew the Copter multiple times, which negates Rabblemaster’s “other Goblins you control must attack each turn” since you can tap them all down with your own Copter. Neat.
Red decks are great and there is a lot of variation in how to build them in Frontier. Red is a major player and will only grow in popularity as the format continues to become better established.
When you think about it, most of the decks in Frontier look like Standard decks that add a few nice cards here and there. The red deck, on the other hand, incorporates a lot of spells from each Standard to simply build the best aggressive red deck possible.
And always remember, when in doubt, always go to the dome.