What is the best deck to play at a Frontier tournament? It’s too early to be certain, but today I will outline the case for Atarka Red.
At the beginning of a format, it is wise to hit hard with a powerful proactive strategy. I believe Atarka Red to be one of the most powerful Standard decks of all time in a vacuum, and will cite its victory in the Gauntlet of Greatness as one piece of evidence. BFZ Standard had to warp itself drastically in order to interact with Atarka Red on the multiple axes it demanded, and the combination of an unprepared metagame plus powerful new technology to increase the consistency and resiliency of the deck make it an excellent weapon on the new Frontier.
The highly efficient creatures of Atarka Red backed by fast removal means it almost always starts off ahead, which forces the opponent to commit mana to catch up by either casting creatures or removal since their gameplan is simply not as fast as ours. They end up in a sticky situation where if they cast a creature, you can remove it or trample over it to get even further ahead. If they decide to cast removal on your turn, you can punish them by pumping in response to invalidate their removal, or pumping another creature. If they cast removal on their turn, then they risk losing to an unanswered (or even hasted) creature plus the Temur Battle Rage/Become Immense combo while tapped out. This dilemma in combination with a fast natural clock puts the opponent between a rock and a hard place.
Atarka Red was not an easy deck to play against in Standard, but in frontier it will become even more powerful with Blossoming Defense, which protects your creatures and your combo while functioning as a combat trick or additional shock, all of which advance your overall gameplan for the mere price one one mana.
Despite the prevalence of Crackling Doom in control decks, Blossoming Defense is still the most busted addition to Atarka Red for a host of reasons. But that is not to suggest Smuggler’s Copter is any sort of slouch. Copter is an evasive, resilient threat that filters through the deck to find combo pieces, threats, mana, or burn to finish them off.
There are several ways to go about constructing the sideboard plan, including splashing black with Smoldering Marsh for Painful Truths, Duress, and Self-Inflicted Wound. If you choose to play Chandra, Torch of Defiance then these strategies can overlap by adding black lands to the sideboard and raising your curve to go for a longer gameplan that involves drawing cards and casting Planeswalkers.
You can’t beat Atarka Red unless you are prepared for it, and my guess is that these early pioneers won’t be.