Atop the Frontier: UW Humans

April 1, 2018

In a smaller format like Frontier people can forget about a deck. Similar things have happened in larger formats - look at how long it took for people to understand how great Lantern Control was in Modern, or to find the correct home for Death’s Shadow! I think this is the case for UW Aggro in Frontier.

 

I’m not talking about the spirits lists Hayato Sukegawa has been piloting at Hareruya. I don’t mean UWx Vehicles, which is also a great deck. Rather, I’m thinking of the archetype Matt Mealing took to a second place finish in the September 2017 Showdown. In online leagues, like the Untap Open League, the list has been affectionately dubbed “Wumans.”

 

Historically, the advantage of white aggressive strategies has been its incredible matchup against Sligh strategies (red aggressive strategies). Why is that so important? As I’ve written elsewhere, Sligh decks are one of the most powerful things you can be doing in Frontier. While the metagame has predictably warped itself around Atarka Red, it still shows up and it continues winning. In Tokyo it most often takes the form of Ramunap Red . In the last Untap Open League we saw a more combo-heavy version and in Toronto it has always been just straight Atarka. Whichever form it shows up in, it’s the first deck I always have in mind when I test, and beating it is an excellent starting point for any competitive list.

 

White aggressive strategies also answer Frontier's other turn four kill deck: 4c Copycat, the format’s Splinter Twin. The list is particularly effective against the combo because of its ability to maindeck clean answers to the combo in Archangel of Tithes and Thalia, Heretic Cathar, alongside instant speed removal and sideboard copies of Negate.

 

 

While combo in general has fallen off a bit in Frontier, you have to respect the archetype. These lists may have a bad Sligh matchup, but people like to play combo, and have a variety of options: Copycat, Marvel and Rally have all been considered tier one at some point. The best combo deck, I believe, is still just the 4c Cat list Kevin Handlon wrote about last year. As the fastest of the combo decks, it beats Marvel and Rally while also being able to grind with midrange strategies thanks to Planeswalkers and Dig Through Time.

 

Given a good matchup against two of the top strategies in the format, you can see the appeal to Wumans. Let’s start with an old favorite of mine, Peter DeVries’s mono white humans list, before turning to an updated version of Matt Mealing’s list which I would recommend for the upcoming  God of Frontier event at Hareruya.

White Aggro by Peter Devries

Creatures

3 Kytheon, Hero of Akros

4 Mardu Woe-Reaper

4 Thraben Inspector

4 Glory-Bound Initiate

4 Knight of the White Orchid

2 Thalia, Heretic Cathar

4 Archangel of Tithes

 

Spells

2 Declaration in Stone

1 Valorous Stance

 

Artifacts

4 Smuggler’s Copter

 

Enchantments

3 Stasis Snare

3 Always Watching

2 Cast Out

 

Lands

19 Plains

1 Westvale Abbey

 

Sideboard

4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

2 Mastery of the Unseen

2 Hallowed Moonlight

2 Blessed Alliance

2 Hushwing Gryff

3 Dusk // Dawn

 

Devries took down the June 2017 Showdown with this list. Devries win was a long time coming, as he had done well in these events previously and the archetype was ripe for a win. Caden Armstrong had just missed on White Humans, getting a second place finish in the January 2017 Showdown. Both lists were indebted to Daniel Armchuk’s third place list from the November 2016 Showdown and on and on. The deck truly was a force in the Toronto metagame.

 

Some prefer lists like those championed by Satoshi Hashimoto and Hiroyuk Kagai in the early days at Hareruya. Those lists were essentially just Tom Ross’ Standard list ported over to Frontier. Hashimoto ran twenty-two one drops, zero Smuggler’s Copter, and tried to race, well, everything.

 

While I respect the all-in approach, I think that not running Smuggler’s Copter is just a mistake. The card is extremely powerful even if it doesn’t synergize with Thalia’s Lieutenant, and it also adds reach, which allows decks like this and Atarka to convert on their early aggression.

 

Instead, DeVries managed to turn a twenty land list into something that can last against Midrange decks, while maintaining the deck's aggressive element with eleven one-drops and Smuggler’s Copter. While it’s no surprise that Smuggler’s Copter has defined aggressive decks of the format, it’s another two drop that allows a twenty land list with multiple four drops to work: Knight of the White Orchid.

 

Knight is not a fair magic card in this list. With Always Watching, it’s rarely just a 2/2 first strike. The power of a two mana rampant growth on top of a reasonably-rated body is hard to overstate. We just don’t get that effect in the format, especially outside of green. By pushing his curve all the way to Archangel of Tithes, DeVries takes full advantage of the card in ways other humans lists cannot.

 

While I think that the resurgence of Control and Abzan has made DeVries’ list a little bit outdated, this deck is at its best against the decks we discussed earlier, Sligh and Copycat. Now, let’s turn to Mealing’s Blue White list, which remains the reference for contemporary takes of this strategy.

 

 

UW Aggro by Matt Mealing

Creatures

4 Thraben Inspector

4 Mardu Woe-Reaper

3 Kytheon, Hero of Akros

3 Thalia’s Lieutenant

3 Glory-Bound Initiate

4 Knight of the White Orchid

3 Reflector Mage

1 Thalia, Heretic Cathar

4 Archangel of Tithes

 

Spells

1 Declaration in Stone

1 Valorous Stance

 

Artifacts

4 Smuggler’s Copter

 

Enchantments

3 Always Watching

1 Cast Out

1 Stasis Snare

 

Lands

4 Flooded Strand

4 Windswept Heath

1 Prairie Stream

8 Plains

2 Shefet Dunes

1 Westvale Abbey

 

Sideboard

3 Authority of the Consuls

1 Declaration in Stone

1 Dusk // Dawn

2 Fragmentize

2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

4 Negate

1 Stasis Snare

1 Valorous Stance

 

Mealing has said elsewhere that the blue splash was mainly to shore up the deck's weakness to sweepers. It also has the happy side effect of giving us four negates against combo decks. While Copycat has always been a favorable matchup, Marvel or Rally were a pretty terrifying race previously. You were pretty vulnerable to Marvel’s sweepers, or to their most busted draws. Negate gives you real interaction here, as well as an answer to Rally the Ancestors or Collected Company.

 

I also think this list is more balanced than DeVries’ list. The return of Thalia’s Lieutenant is a boon to the list, as we still want to have some number of hyper-aggressive draws. The addition of Reflector Mage should not be understated either as it gives you game against slower threats. This is especially the case if people continue to imitate Standard with inconsistent threats like Thought-knot Seer or Hazoret maindeck.

 

I think going into today’s metagame I am going to make a few subtle changes, but largely stick to Mealing’s list. I will go up a Lieutenant, as I found myself taking the aggressive role more often in testing than in previous iterations of the format. The rise of Field of Ruin means we absolutely need an Island in our list, so I cut the Abbey which was a little greedy in a deck which at times goes WW into WWW into WWW1. I also modernized the sideboard for a metagame with more UBx Control and Abzan.

 

 

Wumans by Thomas Snodgrass

Creatures

4 Thraben Inspector

4 Mardu Woe-Reaper

3 Kytheon, Hero of Akros

4 Thalia’s Lieutenant

3 Glory-Bound Initiate

4 Knight of the White Orchid

3 Reflector Mage

1 Thalia, Heretic Cathar

4 Archangel of Tithes

 

Spells

1 Declaration in Stone

 

Artifacts

4 Smuggler’s Copter

 

Enchantments

3 Always Watching

2 Stasis Snare

 

Lands

4 Flooded Strand

4 Windswept Heath

1 Prairie Stream

1 Island

8 Plains

2 Shefet Dunes

 

Sideboard

1 Valorous Stance

1 Declaration in Stone

3 Dusk // Dawn

3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

4 Negate

1 Fragmentize

2 Aethersphere Harvester

 

Notable Cards

 

 

 

Thalia's Lieutenant: Mealing shaves one, or goes up to three from DeVries’ list, depending how you look at it. Previously, we see this card as a four of in Armchuck’s 3rd Place Finish and in Armstrong’s 2nd Place Finish and clearly is a huge payoff for white aggressive strategies. I personally think the playset is where I want to be into most fields, but this is probably the most important decision in how you build your Humans or Wumans list.

 

Glory-Bound Initiate: Glory-Bound Initiate is a really strong beater, as a two drop that can swing for four lifelink matches up against almost everything in the format. The lifelink is great against aggressive decks, especially in tandem with Always Watching. 

 

 

Thalia, Heretic Cathar: Thalia stops the Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian combo, she punishes greedy manabases, and the 3/2 first strike body isn’t bad either. Devries runs two which made sense given how prevalent the combo was at the Showdown he won. Mealing shaves one for a Reflector Mage and I think that’s a fine trade. In mono-white I would always run two though.

 

Archangel of Tithes: This card also stops the Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian combo, but is mostly here to close the door on go-wide aggressive strategies like Atarka Red. And, generally, it's just a powerful card which only sees limited play because of its difficult casting cost. It’s also not particularly fair if you get Archangel in play alongside Always Watching.

Sideboard Guide

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4c Copycat

 

Against Copycat your most aggressive draws will just kill them very quickly with a Negate in hand for their gameplan of interaction into Fumigate. This is our preferred plan. We also have instant speed interaction for the combo and Archangel and Thalia to disrupt it. Be careful, though, one hatebear doesn’t always mean you are safe from the combo!

 

In: 1 Valorous Stance, 4 Negate

 

Out: 1 Declaration in Stone, 3 Reflector Mage, 1 Glory-Bound Initiate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Atarka Red

 

The only question here is how many Hazorets you think they’re playing in their 75. If you think they have three of four, you could leave in both Stasis Snares, and if they’re not playing it at all there’s no need to leave in any clunky three mana removal. The one mana 2/1s generally aren't great into tokens, but you can’t really cut them and the rest of your cards line up well enough that this matchup is quite favorable. Fragmentize is good if they’re bringing in Harvesters. Generally, though, Archangel of Tithes does a fine job of ruling the skies.

 

In: 1 Declaration in Stone, 2 Aethersphere Harvester

 

Out: 1 Kytheon, Hero of Akros, 1 Stasis Snare, 1 Thalia, Heretic Cathar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marvel

 

This is one of the matchups most improved by our playset of Negate in game two. We can usually keep them off of Marvel by going under their other gameplans. Gideon is much better in this matchup as it provides a faster clock than Archangel. I usually keep in my Stasis Snare because of how well they line up against Emrakul, but it’s ok to cut them depending on the exact build they’re playing. If they’re running Whirler Virtuoso, there is some argument for Declaration in Stone or an Archangel instead.

 

In: 3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, 4 Negate, 1 Fragmentize

 

Out: 4 Archangel of Tithes, 3 Reflector Mage, 1 Declaration in Stone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abzan Aggro

 

This matchup can be tough and you have two real options: try to go larger than them with Lieutenant and Always Watching (generally on the play), or try to take the control role. Let’s talk about the second as it’s not intuitive at all. If we cut our enchantments we can blank Dromoka’s Command. This also has the happy effect of allowing for Dusk // Dawn to often be a one sided wrath. In these games you want to play your Thalia’s Lieutenants very carefully, though, as you generally want to manufacture Dusk // Dawn blowouts.

 

In: 1 Valorous Stance, 1 Declaration in Stone, 3 Dusk // Dawn, 3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, 2 Aethersphere Harvester

 

Out: 3 Always Watching, 2 Stasis Snare, 1 Thalia’s Lieutenant, 2 Mardu Woe-Reaper, 2 Archangel of Tithes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UBx Control

 

The trick is figuring out how many creatures they’re bringing in. If they’re bringing in Kalitas and other lifelinking threats, you actually board up on removal. In the dark I might just keep in my Stasis Snares and a Reflector Mage, though. Negate means our main game plan here is pretty simple, though: go under them and counterspell their Languish. Gideon gives us a threat that can win the game on its own and I like the Harvesters here too as additional Copters.

 

In: 3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, 4 Negate, 2 Aethersphere Harvester

 

Out: 4 Archangel of Tithes, 2 Reflector Mage, 2 Always Watching, 1 Declaration in Stone

I’ll just end where I started things, by repeating myself: this deck is one of the best in Frontier full stop. It’s strange to me that it doesn’t see heavy play online and at Hareruya. Into a midrange-heavy metagame there may be some rationale for keeping Mealing’s extra Valorous Stance, or for making other subtle changes. Generally, I think playing an aggressive turn four kill deck that beats the other aggressive turn four decks is an excellent place to be going into the next God of Frontier Challenge or into the next online Open.

 

 

If you want to play a format like Frontier seriously, you need to be doing powerful things. At level one, the polarizing forces of Dig Through Time and Monastery Swiftspear give you two options: play a blue-based control deck that can answer everything (not simple), or play something powerful, with turn four kill potential. I think Wumans is the best positioned of the aggressive decks and what I would recommend to non-control players

 

 

 

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