Norman's Frontier Insights

Posted by Chris Byrne on

Norman's Frontier Insights

Many of you have sent me (or have been trying to send me) articles. We are currently working on developing a streamline submission process. That being said, I've still been reading a few things here and there. I really enjoyed this Frontier write-up, local player Nick Norman sent me. Nick is a solid player, nice guy, and pretty good writer. I hope you enjoy reading about some of his thoughts regarding Magic's newest fan supported format; Frontier.



Frontier! I hope everyone is having as much fun as I am with these decks so far. We’ve had a great turnout for the past two weeks, and I look forward to everyone continuing to play or deciding to try out the new format.

I chose Abzan this week after not doing as well as I’d hoped with Four-Color Rally last week. Rally is a very skill intensive deck, especially in the mirror match. Every decision carries a lot of weight, from sequencing your lands correctly to choosing which creatures to prioritize. I wanted to play something that could have some game against Rally, considering how popular it is, while also being able to grind out games against the more controlling decks.

At first, I leaned toward the Abzan variants that were less aggressive, and played cards like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Languish. After looking at decks that have done well recently and playtesting a bit, I realized that Abzan just isn’t prepared to go super long like other decks are. You play a lot of early creatures, which makes sweepers counter-intuitive, and you don’t have an amazing form of card advantage late like the blue decks do with Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Dig Through Time. I settled on the more aggressive build with the full playset of Scrapheap Scrounger and Smuggler's Copter. There are so many excellent cards in the Abzan colors - it’s why Abzan was a tier-one deck for as long as Siege Rhino and its friends were in standard, and why I plan on sticking with these colors for the foreseeable future.

Nick Norman's Abzan Aggro

Creatures (25)

4Elvish Mystic
2Warden of the First Tree
4Scrapheap Scrounger
3Sylvan Advocate
3Anafenza, the Foremost
3Thalia, Heretic Cathar
4Siege Rhino
1Archangel Avacyn
1Wingmate Roc

Spells (11)

3Dromoka's Command
3Abzan Charm
1Declaration in Stone
4Smuggler's Copter

Lands (24)

4Blooming Marsh
3Caves of Koilos
2Concealed Courtyard
4Llanowar Wastes
4Windswept Heath
1Canopy Vista
1Flooded Strand

Sideboard (15)

1Hallowed Moonlight
1Self-Inflicted Wound
2Transgress the Mind
2Collective Brutality
1Valorous Stance
1Liliana, the Last Hope
1Reclamation Sage
1Nissa, Vital Force
1Gryff’s Boon
2Lantern Scout


Regarding card choices: I would have played two more Warden of the First Trees and cut two Sylvan Advocates, but I couldn’t find any before the tournament. Advocate actually outperformed my expectations. Vigilance is important when you have to race.

I considered creature lands, and still am, especially with more Advocates, but having lands come in untapped for the first four turns of the game is too important.

I never drew Wingmate Roc, and whenever I drew Archangel Avacyn it was better than the Roc would have been. I’m planning on changing the Roc to a second copy of the Archangel.

Turn one Elvish Mystic into turn two Thalia, Heretic Cathar or Anafenza, the Foremost makes a turn three Siege Rhino backbreaking. I only played three of each three-drop because they’re both legendary, but I’m considering the full four of each.


Round One: Micheal Eisterhold playing Esper Control

This matchup reminds me of standard of a couple years ago: Dig Through Time against Siege Rhino. Mike loves his control, and knows which cards to fight over and when to cast removal spells. Game one was dragged out, but when Dig Through Time is chained into another Dig, it’s very hard to catch up. Card advantage and discard spells are priorities after sideboarding. I took out the Elvish Mystics to make my draws later into the game more powerful. I won game two on the back of some discard and Scrapheap Scroungers, but we ended up drawing in the third.


Round Two: Dan Taylor playing GW Hardened Scales

This deck seems very real, but it feels like a good matchup for Abzan. Anafenza, the Foremost prevents creatures from dying, making Hangarback Walker and Servant of the Scale much more manageable. Similarly, Abzan Charm and Declaration in Stone exile, and it’s hard to race Siege Rhinos.


Round Three: Chris Byrne playing Four-Color Rally

Anafenza, the Foremost shines here, obviously, but Thalia, Heretic Cathar is also important, especially in the face of Collected Company. Chris is definitely one of the better Rally players, and made me earn the 2-1 win. One of the huge strengths of this deck is coming from behind. A Collected Company or Rally the Ancestors can flip a losing board state immediately, and trying to play around Chord of Calling is almost impossible. Going forward, I think I want another card or two for this matchup; Tormod's Crypt and Infinite Obliteration are considerations.


Round Four: Jeremey Donohue playing Jeskai Black

On paper this matchup feels close to even, but Smuggler's Copter and Scrapheap Scrounger do a lot of work. Copter can pressure Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, trade with Mantis Rider, and be crewed in response to Crackling Doom. Scrapheap Scrounger is one of the best cards when your opponent is making one-for-one trades while trying to stabilize, and it’s very easy to leave two mana open to bring it back. Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet was almost a problem, but it’s manageable as long as it gets dealt with before too many zombies are made.


Round Five: Adam Hernandez playing Four-Color Rally

I was paired against Adam, one of the best Rally pilots. I know he has played the deck for ages, and I was prepared for some close games. Unfortunately, variance had another plan, even though I almost punted game two (Abzan Charm has three modes. Anafenza, the Foremost has the words “tapped” and “exile” on it. Reading is important.).

I ended at 4-0-1, but there were several close games that could have gone either way.

I’ve had a lot of fun in the two weeks I’ve played Frontier, and look forward to many more.


Some notes about the format:

Dig Through Time is very good, but I don’t think it’s at a level to be banned yet.

I've missed you, Siege Rhino. Welcome back to my deckbox.

I have yet to see a true combo deck do well, but I’m sure that will change, if not for infinite cats in a couple weeks.

Fatal Push will be in every black deck.

I’ve seen very few aggressive decks so far, as powerful as they are (Atarka Red was undefeated last week). Even though it’s not popular now, it’s a great choice to deal with decks that want to take the game longer.

Thalia, Heretic Cathar was extremely impressive. With everyone playing two- and three-color decks, having non-basics come in tapped is a huge tempo swing. Creature coming in tapped also mitigates some damage from a surprise Collected Company or Chord of Calling.

Choosing what to put in your sideboard is hard, especially considering how undefined the metagame is. Cards that can fill more than one role (like Valorous Stance and Collective Brutality) are very valuable.

The format is still brand new and as unsolved as a fresh format can be, and because of that, you can play basically anything and do well. This also makes brewing a huge opportunity, since there is very little in the way of information about decks, whether it be decklists, articles, or even just archetypes that are doing well.

One of the great things about Frontier is the amount of choice in specific cards each player has. It’s the sweet spot between Standard and Modern: Not too narrow that there’s only one or two decent choices, but not so open that there’s a clear choice of which card to play that is so much better than other selections. Even with a clearly defined archetype, there are tons of important choices. For Rally: Do I play Chord of Calling? Dig Through Time? Murderous Cut? For control decks: Void Shatter? Scatter to the Winds? Dissipate? For red decks: Wild Slash? Shock? Fiery Temper? I love these small decisions that might only give or take a few percentage points in certain matchups, but can be the difference between a win and a loss.

Finding the correct mix of creatures and spells will continue to be a difficult, yet rewarding puzzle that will keep changing, especially as new sets are released, and the metagame shifts. I’m excited for the format going forward, and hope to see everyone come out and play on Mondays nights at Pandemonium!

-Nick Norman

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