The Rise and Fall: An Overview on the Current Frontier Metagame, Part 1 – The Kings of the Hill

06 June 2018, Wednesday

The King is dead, long live the King. Frontier is one of the most cyclical formats I have ever played thus far. The amount of viable tiered decks with polarized matchups means that a resurgence of a certain archetype will almost certainly be met by a future rise of a foil to said deck.

With that being said, the metagame is always going to have decks that made their way onto the top, decks people will be playing to knock down the king of the hill, and decks that have fallen to the wayside. This is going to be quite a long discussion, so I’ve decided to divide this article into four parts. Without further ado, let’s get right into it!

The Kings of the Hill (Tier 1)

These decks are currently what I, and most of the Frontier community, would regard as the most powerful and well-positioned decks right now. If you’re looking for a deck to play, don’t choose one that can’t beat either of these unless you’re looking for a bad time.

Atarka Red
list by loopholbrook (Untap Open League Season 5)

Creatures (17)
Smuggler’s Copter
Soul-Scar Mage
Monastery Swiftspear
Zurgo Bellstriker
Hazoret the Fervent

Spells (22)
Stoke the Flames
Lightning Strike
Atarka’s Command
Wild Slash
Become Immense
Dragon Fodder
Exquisite Firecraft
Lands (21)
Wooded Foothills
Bloodstained Mire
Cinder Glade
Ramunap Ruins

Sideboard (15)
Aethersphere Harvester
Rampaging Ferocidon
Goblin Chainwhirler
Blossoming Defense
Scavenger Grounds
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Kari Zev’s Expertise

The deck that faded into obscurity for quite a few months, Atarka Red made its comeback in surprising fashion, taking up roughly half of the online metagame, right after the preceding season had almost none of the archetype present. The deck aims to take its opponent’s life total from 20 to 0 in as few turns as possible, and such a strategy has been perpetually viable in the format since its inception.

This particular list is one that deviates from the classic Hordeling Outburst variants, instead going for a more burn-heavy strategy with maindecked copies of Exquisite Firecraft. To add to the deviation from stock lists, this particular variant runs Hazoret the Fervent, a card often relegated to Atarka Red sideboards, as a 3-of in the mainboard. Both of these changes are trading some of the potential Turn 4 kills in order to add an additional element of reach to the deck, as well as rendering traditional cheap sweepers such as Radiant Flames and the like less effective against the deck than they would be in comparison against the stock variants.

With the number of people playing it, and with both stock and burn-heavy variants putting up great results in the online leagues thus far, Atarka Red is once again looking like the deck to beat.

The most common plans of attack used to foil the deck come in cards that can stall their aggression long enough for the more expensive haymakers to come online; some of the best examples of those are Radiant Flames, Arashin Cleric, and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. This is theoretically an effective strategy because Atarka Red fights best on the axis of speed, and is less effective in long,  drawn-out grinds.

It is not always that simple though, as some versions of Atarka also bring a plethora of tools to have some diversity in their threats. Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and Hazoret the Fervent are both very potent threats that can end the game in quick fashion. However, there are answers for them if the opponent is prepared. The strength in this sideboard plan is how your opponent will have to prepare for two angles of attack; the fast and aggressive starts, and the bombs that can dominate the mid-game. Kari Zev’s Expertise is also yet another neat tool they can use to come in swinging just as you thought you’ve stabilized as you dropped something like a Lyra Dawnbringer.

Learning how much you can afford to dilute your game plan against this deck, especially post-sideboard, is the key to playing against this matchup optimally. If you’re looking to build and play a deck, make sure you have a coherent plan to beat this menace.

UBx Control
list by Cherkbutt (Untap Open League Season 5)

Creatures (3)
Torrential Gearhulk

Spells (31)
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
Cast Down
Cast Out
Dig Through Time
Essence Scatter
Fatal Push
Hieroglyphic Illumination
Search for Azcanta
Liliana, the Last Hope
Lands (26)
Isolated Chapel
Drowned Catacomb
Flooded Strand
Glacial Fortress
Polluted Delta
Prairie Stream
Sunken Hollow
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Sideboard (15)
Arashin Cleric
Arguel’s Blood Fast
Flaying Tendrils
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Settle the Wreckage
Sorcerous Spyglass
Sphinx of the Final Word

A pillar of the format, and regarded by many as the singular best deck in Frontier for a long time before the recent Atarka Red resurgence, UBx Control’s history of success cannot be denied. The deck is highly adaptable, and can be customized to beat the matchups that appear most relevant to the pilot.

Dominaria brought UBx a plethora of new tools such as Cast Down, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Karn, Scion of Urza, Isolated Chapel, and more, thus giving the already-powerful control macro-archetype even more options to choose from. This particular version splashes White for the new and powerful five-mana planeswalker, as well as a potent sideboard tool against aggressive strategies in Arashin Cleric.

As with most Control decks, you can only fit so many answers in your 75. With that in mind, it is important to correctly identify which threats are going to be most prominent in order to create a Control list that is even remotely capable of competing. You needn’t have answers for everything; you just need to make sure you’re bringing the right answers for your opponents’ questions.

Most commonly, people side in disruption cards such as Duress, Transgress the Mind, and Negate, hoping to disrupt the control player long enough to win the game as they try to reestablish their choke hold. This plan, however, only works if you have a reasonably fast clock to back up the disruption, as this deck will inevitably regain control of the game if it goes long enough.

Older, often straight Blue-Black versions used to lose to extraction effects such as Infinite Obliteration, which Black decks still keep around as a one or two-of inclusion in their sideboards. Other common sideboard tools also include a plethora of card advantage-oriented planeswalkers, all of which will give Control nightmares if left unchecked, as well as yet another angle of attack for them to prepare for, recursive creatures such as Scrapheap Scrounger, and card advantage engines such as Lifecrafter’s Bestiary, which can bury UBx in cards in a long game.

To sum it up, you can beat this deck by either breaking through their defenses in blistering aggression backed up by disruption, or by grinding right through all of their cards, eventually burying them in advantage. Playing against this deck effectively requires knowing how you plan to win through all the control elements your opponent will bring.


Stay tuned for the next installment, where we will delve into Part Two, featuring the decks that are looking well-poised to topple either, or possibly even both of these Kings of the Hill: the Instigators.

If you made it here, thank you for reading this article! Make sure to check back every Wednesday, where we will always have high-quality Frontier content for you right here, on MatchupGuru.

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