Dont you think you see this a little to black an white?
As a 2 years ftp I dont feel left behind. That might be because I am not in a top alliance and my roster so far allows me to finish any quest / content the game presents.
Will see about that in the hard stages of season 3 but so far I am doing ok.
So you might be right for the idk players in top 100 maybe 1000 alliances but from there downwards you can get by without paying I would say.