A New Frontier – Welcome to the Wild West

‘A New Frontier’ is a new series of articles based around the recently created MTG format that uses only cards with the new border from the M15 set and onward. In these articles I plan on follow the results from tournaments, talk about viable decks in the format, as well as powerful cards. I hope to do an article each month with updates on the format, results, as well as the current status of its popularity.

The Dawn of a New Age

On September 26th, 2016, Hareruya and Big Magic of Japan announced the creation of a new format: Frontier. It uses cards from the 2015 Magic Core set and onwards. These cards are easy to notice because their borders are different than those before it. The new cards now have the set they are from, card number, language, and rarity on the bottom left side, and the rares and mythic rares have a foil hologram in place to help reduce the risk of counterfeits.

It should be noted that during this period of Magic the Gathering, the number of cards printed is higher than anything before it. There is an extremely large amount of copies in circulation, and aside from cards like the fetch lands which see play in other formats, most cards can be had for pennies on the dollar. In this and future articles, I hope to follow the progress of this fledgling format and to see how it transforms with the addition of each future set from here on out.

With any new format, there is always a period of trial and error, as well as a length of time where people try the format and decide if it’s for them or not. Sometimes they fail like Tiny Leaders, other times they become niche like Pauper, and and some cases they slowly gain steam and reach a critical mass years down the road like EDH (which is now the most popular multiplayer type of Magic). How will Frontier fare? Will it gain popularity slowly, become niche, or fade from memory as another failed format? I’d like to explore these possibilities and also talk about what the format needs to do in order to build interest and stay relevant.

The Current Situation

Being only a month into the new format, there is very little data to go on as far as tournament results are concerned. Some local game stores have put their feelers out to see who is interested in it, and Hareruya is holding tournaments at their store depending on if there are enough people interested to have an event fire. The first few weekends seemed promising, if not in Tokyo but around the MTG community. I managed to partake in 2 small 6 person tournaments here in Nagoya, going 1-2 at the first one and 3-0 at the second one with GR Eldrazi Ramp.

GR Eldrazi Frontier
75 cards, 15 sideboard
10 Forest
4 Cinder Glade
4 Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
4 Sanctum of Ugin
2 Mountain
1 Haven of the Spirit Dragon

25 lands

4 Rattleclaw Mystic
4 World Breaker
3 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
2 Dragonlord Atarka
2 Elvish Mystic

15 creatures

4 Oath of Nissa
4 Nissa’s Pilgrimage
4 Explosive Vegetation
4 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
2 Chandra, Flamecaller
2 Nissa’s Renewal

20 other spells

3 Natural State
3 Kozilek’s Return
2 Nissa, Worldwaker
2 Whisperwood Elemental
2 Tormod’s Crypt
3 Hornet Nest

15 sideboard cards

Eldrazi Ramp with Ugin, the Spirit Dragon was one of my all time favorite decks, and I was really excited to play with the god-like dragon. Lots of people thought that the format would be full of Rally decks and Collected Company, but they forget just how powerful a turn 4 Ugin can be on a board full of multi-color creatures. It’s also pretty strong against control decks, as your threats usually give you value even if they are countered.

In the initial tournament I won my first game against a 5 color Bring to Light (or Rhino as it was known in some circles), but lost my next two against an aggressive GR deck full of Goblins and Goblin Rabblemaster and a Jeskai Ensoul Artifact deck playing the signature card as well as Toolcraft Exemplar and Smuggler’s Copter (on top of Chief of the Foundry and Ornithopter). I have to admit that I was a bit rusty. I had kept questionable hands and probably sideboarded incorrectly, and I had kind of forgot how to play against those strategies. I think with more practice and proper sideboarding I can beat them though.

I had better luck in my second tournament the weekend of Pro Tour Kaladesh, mostly thanks to a quick audible to 4 Oath of Nissa instead of 4 Elvish Mystics and a pair of Ulvenwald Hydras I thought would work well. I beat a mono blue Gearhulk control opponent in game 1 simply by linking Eldrazi to Eldrazi with Sanctum of Ugin and destroying his ability to retaliate, and in round 2 I was able to handle Abzan Red rather well with Ugin and World Breaker. I faced off against a player in round 3 that was using the current standard version of ramp (or so you could say), Aetherworks Marvel combo. Both of our decks started out slow, but I was able to man-handle him by getting rid of his combo piece with World Breakers and play the waiting game to get rid of an Ulamog when he cast it. Attacking with Dragonlord Atarka and World Breaker easily put my opponent in a bad position.

The Wild West

So which deck is actually the strongest in the format? I think that’s yet to be decided, but there are definitely a few contenders in the race to be the best. People are still brewing and trying out new things at every tournament, so it will be a while before there is any kind of consensus. Some decks have the upper hand already though.

The blue/x Ensoul Artifact can be built a number of different ways and still be effective. Mono blue, UR, even Jeskai all sound good. Fast decks like this should have no problem doing well in future Frontier tournaments. It’s the closest thing you’ll get to Affinity I think.

Mono red aggro decks should do well in this format as well thanks to their speed, but I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how GR Aggro with Atarka’s Command and Become Immense is better, and I’m sure that card will become the bane of many decks for months to come.

Collected Company is back as well, this time with the deadly combo of Abzan Falconer and Thalia’s Lieutenant. The archetype will have plenty of time to collect powerful 3 drop creatures in the next few sets, and I’m sure tribal decks will welcome it as well.

I’d also like to think that Eldrazi Ramp will be a force to be reckoned with in Frontier, but time will tell. The other decks/archetypes I think you’ll see a lot if you play the format are:

  • Jeskai Black
  • Abzan Red
  • Rally the Ancestors/Return to the Ranks
  • Esper Dragons/Control
  • Jeskai Ascendancy Combo
  • Jeskai Tokens
  • White/x humans
  • GB/Sultai Delirium

It’s by no means a complete list, but I think it’s a good starting point for people getting into the format or thinking about preparing a sideboard for the deck. Another difficulty players will have when playing this new format is the lack of a power rating system. In Frontier, we really don’t know how these newer strategies from Eldritch Moon/Kaladesh standard will stack up against those from Kahns of Tarkir or Battle for Zendikar standard. It could end up being a very balanced format like recent standard metagames have become. We could see a lot of rock/paper/scissor metagames that constantly change depending on what deck is popular that week or was really strong the week before. At the moment, your guess is as good as mine. I think it will take a long time for the format to be solved, at least until a few months into next year. This is a huge difference from both Legacy and Modern where the most powerful strategies are already known. The players looking for a challenge just might enjoy what Frontier has to offer.

My Thoughts

So what’s my first impression? I think Frontier is a good idea. I like getting extra play out of my previous standard cards, especially with so many of them lacking the necessary power to show up in other eternal formats such as legacy of modern. It’s also incredibly cheap to play, sometimes cheaper to play than some Pauper decks. Most of the rares are valued at under $1, and a lot of people that are showing up at these tournaments are those who have been playing standard recently and have most if not all of the cards needed to play the format.

Some of the drawbacks might be that there are only a limited number of strategies now, which are those that people played during these standard seasons, but every 2-3 months that will change as each new set brings new decks such as RW Vehicles from Kaladesh or GB Delirium from EMN. I recommend following @mtgfrontier on Twitter or checking out their website at http://www.mtgfrontier.com/. They seem to be doing a good job of keeping up with results from the format so far, and for the immediate future I’ll be using them as a source of data for my articles.

I’ve already started work on a second Frontier deck, but I will continue to test out my Eldrazi deck at future tournaments in the near future. I have a couple of ideas for future articles regarding the Frontier format, but it will probably be at least a few weeks until the next one comes out. Look for some interviews and deck ideas from local players here in Nagoya in the future, as well as my try at power rankings for the format. To those of you playing at Kaladesh Game Day this weekend, good luck, and to those of you brewing up Frontier decks and thinking about the format as well, I’d like to hear your thoughts and read your comments! Be sure to leave them down below!