New Frontiers

Frontier is a new casual format (that is a format which has no tournaments sanctioned by Wizards of the Coast), originating in Japan, and it’s a format I quite like. Like Modern and Legacy, Frontier is a non-rotating format, a format where once a card is in the format, it stays in the format until it gets banned. Frontier runs from the M15 core set onwards, so currently legal are M15, Khans of Tarkir block, Magic Origins, Battle for Zendikar block, Return to Innstrad block and Kaladesh block.

This gives a reasonably large card pool, so there are a few viable decks across a number of archetypes. It’s also a new format, so there isn’t much of a settled metagame at this point. This means it’s a great format for brewing new decks. As it stands, the metagame such as it is very aggressive, with a former Standard format aggro deck as one of the stronger decks in the meta.

I’ll post about a few decks over time, and hopefully something like a metagame will solidify in the time it takes to do this.

Right now, I’m going to talk about the deck I played tonight, why I chose the cards I did and what I intend to change going forward.

My current deck is Abzan (Green/Black/White) midrange/control. It’s a deck which aims to stall until turn 4, using removal or chump blockers, then cast a spell which provides a large tempo swing, difficult to answer threat or both. Following this, it aims to keep removing enemy threats and grind out incremental advantage while closing out the game.

25 Lands

4 Sandsteppe Citadel

4 Windswept Heath

2 Canopy Vista

2 Blooming Marsh

2 Forest

2 Plains

2 Swamp

2 Llanowar Wastes

1 Caves of Koilos

1 Blighted Fen

3 Shambling Vents

13 Creatures

3 Sylvan Advocate

3 Den Protector

1 Nissa, Vastwood Seer

1 Tireless Tracker

4 Siege Rhino

1 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet

16 Instants and Sorceries

4 Fatal Push

2 Dromoka’s Command

4 Abzan Charm

4 Duress

1 Ruinous Path

1 Languish

6 Other Spells

2 Lilianna, the Last Hope

3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

1 Ajani Unyielding

15 Sideboard

2 Languish

2 Fumigate

1 To the Slaughter

1 Pulse of Murasa

2 Arashin Cleric

1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor

3 Murder

2 Transgress the Mind

1 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon


Some comments on the main deck: Fatal push is the best removal spell in the format, and will almost always remove the opponent’s first play. Siege Rhino is as much of an all-star in this deck as it was in Standard, providing a huge tempo swing when he comes down, and blocking a lot of the format, and buying us some valuable time against aggro decks. Abzan charm is arguably the best card in the deck, providing card advantage, removal and reach as needed. Nissa, Vastwood Seer, Den Protector and Tireless Tracker all fit the deck’s plan of incremental advantage. An unanswered Gideon basically wins the game solo, and can slow down or stop other decks attacks. Further, he can anthem and let a Den Protector slip through unblocked to provide a fairly serious clock. Sylvan Advocate and Lilianna generally fit the basic plan of the deck, and if Kalitas sticks, he can provide a large number of tokens given how many removal spells the deck has. Dromoka’s command answers enchantments and provides a way to save a good chunk of damage if a burn spell goes off. Duress gives us a way to strip away problematic spells and plainswalkers (which are our largest problem, we have no instant speed way to deal with them). 1 maindeck languish occasionally just wins against aggro decks and improves our game 1 without diluting our plan. Ajani Unyielding is the weakest card in the deck, but he can trump other midrange decks and provide a nice source of card advantage.

As it stands, the base deck is pretty good against the whole field and particularly good against other slow midrange decks.

The sideboard is primarily designed to deal with two matchups – aggro and control.

Arashin Cleric and sweepers make life difficult for aggro, and in many cases, a resolved Fumigate or Languish ends the game on the spot. Sorin can also be backbreaking, providing a huge life swing when backed up with Rhino, or giving another blocker. Pulse of Murasa buys back our best creature and gives us a big life boost.

Against control, we bring in Ugin and Transgress the Mind, as well as Pulse of Murasa and Sorin. The aim is to strip away their threats and play more threats than they can resolve. Den Protector is an all-star here.

Tonight I played:

Atarka Red (Green/Red Aggro): 2-1 win. Uncharacteristically, I won game 1, with Fatal Push being an all-star, and a resolved Siege Rhino + Liliana closing the game out. Game 2, I simply couldn’t get there in time, and I was beaten out by a smuggler’s copter. Game 3 I was very lucky, and my opponent ran out of burn spells with me at 4. I managed to claw back with a Shambling Vent to a safe life total before he was able to get enough burn to end the game.

Green/Black Hardened Scales/Snake: 0-2 loss. Game 1, my opponent built up enormous creatures too quickly for me to answer. Game 2 I kept a 6 card hand of 2 Duress, 2 Languish, 2 lands, and never saw a third land.

4 Colour Copycat Midrange: 2-1 win. Game 1 I kept my opponent off the combo by killing his Felidar Guardians on sight, and beat down with a resolved siege rhino. Game 2, I killed all 4 of my opponent’s Guardians, but he chipped away for damage and drew around 10 extra cards from Ajani Unyielding, and I had an active Nissa plainswalker, 7 lands, and Ugin in hand. Had Nissa revealed an untapped land, I could have cast and activated Ugin’s -X, cleared my opponent’s board and rebuilt more effectively. Sadly this did not happen, and I was beaten to death. Game 3, I again killed his combo, then used Den Protector to return removal spells to clear out his relevant threats. Blighted Fen proved its worth here, activating it forced my opponent to use Whirler Virtuoso to make a token to sacrifice, and sacrificing Blighted Fen turned on Revolt, allowing me to kill the Virtuoso.

Green/Black Panharmonicon Elves: 2-0 win. This is a fairly fun combo deck which aims to drop a Panharmonicon, drop 5 or so elves, then use Chord of Calling to get a Woodland Bellower, which then gets 2 Shaman of the Pack, and the 4 Shaman triggers kill the opponent. Game 1 I killed most of the elves my opponent dropped. I went down to 13 life, and my opponent flipped a Westvale abbey, but played into Abzan charm, and that was game over. Game 2, I again aimed to remove elves on sight, and resolved both languish and a Fumigate, and followed with a Siege Rhino to close out the game.

Going forward, I intend to switch Ajani Unyielding with Nissa, Vital Force and replace 3 Sylvan Advocates and a Lilianna, the Last Hope with 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoners, and 1 Lilianna with a Tireless Tracker. I also intend to drop the 2 Llanowar wastes, 1 caves of Koilos and 1 Forest for 4 Aether hub. Both Advocates and Lilianna have felt unimpressive in the last few games, and I’m hyped on Siphoner, and Tracker is an all-star card. I’m also dropping 2 Murder from the sideboard for 2 Ultimate Price, to improve the Green/Black matchup (and also improve the aggro matchup).

I’m pretty happy with the deck as it evolves. It seems to have better matchups each week, although the manabase is still a bit unwieldy. I’m hoping further testing will refine it.


What I’m doing with Standard

So, Standard. I’m told this is “the worst standard since cawblade!” I wasn’t playing then, so I can’t comment on that, but it certainly feels better than Khans/Origins/Battle for Zendikar standard.

For the last six or eight weeks I’ve been playing blue/black (U/B) control, primarily because I have the pieces, and Torrential Gearhulk and Confirm Suspicions are tremendously fun. I’m not sure how well placed U/B is in the current meta, however. It preys on Copycat Combo (Saheeli Rai + Felidar Guardian combo), and is ok vs. the more midrangey Green/Black Delirium builds , but is soft to faster aggro and especially decks which play Scrapheap Scrounger. So the rise of Mardu Vehicles (Red/White/Black) and the Green/Black constrictor decks makes U/B a mediocre meta choice at the moment I think.

As such, I’ve been watching out for another list that suits my play style. The Jeskai (Red/White/Blue) Copycat control deck seems like a natural fit, but I actually think the deck is fairly bad. It can occasionally steal a t4 win, but overall, I think it’s a bit easy to deal with.

Traditionally, I’m a fan of G/B/X midrange grindy decks, and at the beginning of Kaladesh standard, I tried to make a Jund (Green/Black/Red) good stuff deck work. It didn’t really and kept getting hosed by the much more synergistic decks in the format. I never quite managed to get into Delerium either, but given G/B Constrictor decks are doing well, I thought I’d give G/B/X a look.

Then I drafted the format – AER/AER/KAL and pulled a Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. Now, Dark Confidant is arguably the best black creature ever printed, and one of the best black cards printed period. Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is no Dark Confidant, but it does a decent impression. It was excellent in draft, and it’s better in constructed. So I want to be on a deck which uses this guy to the best of his abilities.

Given the rest of the format, I want a deck which can deal with Copycat, and Mardu Vehicles, and has a decent G/B/X matchup. Something with Walking Ballista is the obvious choice, but that forces me into a counters build, and makes it a little harder to make the most of Siphoner. So, instead I want to be playing premium removal. Unlicensed Disintegration is arguably the best removal spell in the format, so that suggests both red/black, and some artifact synergy for the two-for-ones. I also then get to play Shock and the other premium removal spell in the format – Fatal Push. So, Red/Black/X. I want to make the most of energy, and I don’t want to play vehicles, so Martin Juza’s Pro Tour Jund Energy deck is an obvious starting point.

Now Martin Juza doesn’t play Siphoner, and his deck is pretty damn aggressive. I think I want to aim for a more aggro-midrange build, playing the classic midrange strategy of “kill all your stuff, ruin your plan, have better cards than you, draw more of them”. A strategy it has to be said, I’m pretty fond of. So, working with both the cards I have (or am willing to pick up), I have this list:

21 Land

4 Aether Hub

2 Game Trail

2 Blooming Marsh

1 Smouldering Marsh

2 Foreboding Ruins

3 Swamp

4 Forest

3 Mountain

20 Creatures

4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner

4 Greenbelt Rampager

3 Scrapheap Scrounger

4 Voltaic Brawler

2 Tireless Trackers

3 Pia Nalaar

16 Spells

4 Attune with Aether

4 Fatal Push

2 Harnessed Lightning

4 Unlicened Disintegration

2 Shock

3 Other

1 Nissa, Vital Force

2 Aethersphere Harvester


2 Lost Legacy

2 Shock

2 Harnessed Lightning

1 Tireless Tracker

1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship

1 Chandra, Flamecaller

2 Liliana, The Last Hope

1 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet

1 Appetite for the Unnatural

2 Lifecrafter’s Bestiary

Notable exclusions – no Heart of Kiran. It’s a great card, but I’m not willing to pay the absurd premium it costs at the moment. Chandra, Torch of Defiance. I think, for this deck’s plan, maindeck Chandra isn’t quite worth it, and post sideboard, Chandra, Flamecaller is incredible in midrange mirrors, and in the control matchup.

The plan is to keep making relevant creature threats while killing the opponents threats and trading one for one, and drawing better and more cards than the opponent.

For the control/copycat matchup, Fatal Push gets dropped, shock and Lost legacy come in. Harnessed Lightning gets dropped, Lifecrafter’s Bestiary comes in. 2 Pia Nalaar and 2 Aethersphere Harvester come out for 2 Liliana, the Last Hope, Chandra and 1 Tireless Tracker. The plan being to overwhelm their control with threats in typical midrange fashion.

For Vehicles/aggro, Nissa, Vital Force comes out, 4 Siphoners come out, 2 Shock, 2 Harnessed Lightning come in. Scrapheap Scroungers come out, 1 Kalitas, 1 Appetite, 1 Skysovereign go in. Plan is blunt their offence till I can make something stick and ride it to victory.

For G/B/X, if I’m the beatdown, Nissa goes, Kalitas comes in. 1 Unlicensed Disintegration, 1 Aethersphere Harvester go out, 2 Harnessed Lightning come in.

If I’m the control, both Aethersphere Harvester go for Lilianna. 2 Scrounger goes for Kalitas and Chandra. 2 Pia go for Lifecrafter’s Bestiary and Tireless Tracker.

These seem like relatively solid plans for the majority of games. We’ll see soon whether it pans out in practice.

Late edit: It’s been pointed out that I should say something about why I’m not on other meta decks.

Mardu Vehicles: This deck has a great Copycat matchup and is likely favoured against B/G Constrictor. It’s also looking like the bogeyman of the format, and I think the deck I have above is slightly favoured against it, while retaining a good copycat matchup, but trading in a worse B/G matchup. I also think Siphoner is criminally underrated, and this is the shell to play it in.

B/G Constricter: I want to play something which makes the most of Siphoner, and is low enough to the ground to have good matchups across the board. I might well shift toward something more like the B/G list, but I want to play the premium removal and voltaic brawlers red gives me. Brawler is enough to win the game alone if unanswered, and I should have better answers than my opponents.

4C Copycat: I’m not enough of a fan of this deck to play it, simply. It’s a bit janky for my liking despite occasionally winning on the spot and playing a nice value grindy game.

Why am I doing this?

Why am I writing a blog about Magic: the Gathering? Not least because I love the game. Also, I’m aiming to improve my play level over the next year from FNM player to PPTQ grinder.

Why “Philosophical Magic”? I’m a philosophy PhD student, and doing philosophy has influenced how I think about magic. What do I mean by this? I think about the game in analytic terms, and fundamentally treat it like a puzzle to be solved. This is by no means uncommon, of course, and I don’t even think my training as a philosopher helps to do this more than any other analytical profession. It’s still how I structure my thought about the game though.

I also play primarily to win the game in the most efficient way possible. I don’t play “theme” decks, and I’ll aim to play the best deck (which fits my play style) in any particular format. I mostly play constructed, and I’m not very good at limited, but I hope to improve.

I favour grindy incremental advantage decks wherever possible, and control tends to play into that.

My current decks are:

Standard: U/B control and Jund Energy

Modern: Abzan Company

Legacy: Burn

Commander: Oloro; Ageless Acetic Stax. Meren, of Clan Nel Toth Reanimator.

Frontier: Abzan Midrange/Control. Grixis Ensoul.

I’ll be posting something about each of these as time goes on.

My goals in the next year are:

Top 8 at least 1 PPTQ

Top 16 Nationals (this was top 8 1 WMCQ, but they’re gone now)

Go positive record at GP Birmingham

Win 1 Gameday

Get better at Draft/Sealed