A New Frontier: Power Rankings – Creatures

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 at least an article each month with updates on the format, results, as well as the current status of its popularity. Please keep in mind that these are merely exploratory articles and that the Frontier format is still trying to find its footing. It could end up doing very well and develop a following like EDH has, or become just another footnote like Tiny Leaders.

The Current State of Frontier in Japan

Frontier seems to be building steam and players are getting interested, but this doesn’t seem to have translated into tournament numbers yet. Most of the ones I’ve seen or been to here in Nagoya have only had about 6-7 people total. However, Hareruya has been doing a pretty good job of stoking interest in Tokyo. They recently held a Frontier Challenge Cup tournament at the end of October and 300 people showed up to play. That’s pretty impressive for a new format, but what makes it even more interesting is that the top 8 was filled with 8 different decks:

  • Jeskai Aggro (Champion)
  • 4 Color Control (runner up)
  • Abzan Blue
  • Rally Combo
  • Abzan Red
  • Grixis Dredge
  • Mardu Green
  • Grixis Control

You can see all of the deck lists on Hareruya’s website. Most of the other tournaments being held at Hareruya have garnered around 20 players on average, and as we get further into the standard season and towards the end of PPTQ season, I think we’ll see a lot more people picking up the format.

The big news is that Hareruya is continuing support of the Frontier format with another large tournament in January of next year. They’ll be having a “God of Frontier” tournament like they do for Modern, Standard, and Legacy, and it’s sure to draw a lot of players I think. Big Magic also seems to be putting more support behind the format as well, with tournaments finally starting up weekly at all of their stores around Japan (I’m guessing). The first one at the Nagoya branch had 5 players and followed a standard tournament, but it was competing against a PPTQ, 2 other Frontier tournaments, and multiple standard tournaments around the area. I’m sure more seats will be filled in the coming weeks. The winner of this event was UR Ensoul Artifact. I look forward to getting some more games in after next weekend’s PPTQs, and will be attending each subsequent tournament looking forward.

Power Rankings – Creatures

Today’s article is going to be pretty long, I can just feel it right now. There are so many good creatures from the Tarkir block alone, and with the amount of viable decks in Frontier, there are definitely more playable creatures than you might think. Down below you can find my explanation for my rankings.

The highest level, 5, are strong cards that you’ll see all around the Frontier format in various decks. These are probably 4 ofs, and will probably be the first cards to see a spike this format takes off.

At 4 stars, we see cards that are still powerful but are usually confined to 1 or 2 decks. This could be a combo piece that only fits in one deck (but is incredibly powerful), or a card that can only reach it’s full potential with a deck built around it to support it. Once it gets going though it’s almost impossible to get rid of.

For 3 stars, we have cards that are showing up more in the sideboards than the mainboards, but depending on the metagame they could show up and be potentially good against a large variety of decks. These are cards that could be silver bullets against certain strategies, but also be weak to other cards unintentionally.

Once we get to down to 2 stars, we start to see fringe playable cards that are good in the lower tiered decks, but probably not a first choice or even the best choice for that deck. You’ll rarely see these 2 star cards played.

One is a card that will probably NEVER show up in the format. For the sake of time, I will be focusing mainly on 3-5 star cards and only briefly touching on 1 and 2 star cards when they become relevant.

5 Star Creatures – All Star Supermen (and women)

  • Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
  • Goblin Rabblemaster
  • Siege Rhino
  • Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
  • Tireless Tracker
  • Hangarback Walker

It was really tough to make this list. I mean, there are a lot of creatures that are pretty freaking strong, but when you think about which cards will show up in a variety of decks and be more than one offs, these are the cards that will be out in the biggest numbers.

Jace, Vryn's Prodigy

Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy will see play in just about any blue deck you can think of: Bant Humans, Grixis Control, Esper Dragons . . . the list goes on and on. Thanks to fetch lands and the amazing Delve cards like Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise, he’ll feel right at home in this format. Still holding onto a $25 price tag even after rotation and seeing play in both modern and legacy, if Frontier becomes popular I wouldn’t be surprised to see him double up to $50. There would just be so much more demand for him in this format than there would be in anything else. I don’t think he’d ever hit $100+ again, but he’ll definitely be pricey.

Siege Rhino will also be popular. It shows up in every Abzan deck imaginable (aggro, midrange, 5 Colr Bring to Light, Abzan Red, Abzan Blue), so you can expect to see it every tournament in large quantities. It was once Modern playable at one time in Abzan, but that deck has since been eclipsed by Jund again. It has a bright future in Frontier though. I expect it to hit $4-5 if lots of people end playing the format, which is a nice improvement from it’s current $1.25 price.

Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is also a given 5 star in this format because of how well it stops Artisocrat/Rally decks and a wide variety of other threats like any kind of Dredge deck the format can through at you. I expect him to hold his value, as I do with Tireless Tracker too. Tracker is one of those utility cards that can show up everywhere. I expect it to be in Abzan midrange decks, Bant Human Company, and even in Hardened Scales decks.

Goblin Rabblemaster

In case you forgot just how brutal Goblin Rabblemaster could be on an open board, let me remind you to kill it as soon it hits the board. Removal is pretty good in Frontier, but you’re not always going to have it when you need it. All it takes is untapping one turn with Rabblemaster to put you in a world of hurt. You’ll find it in mono red aggro decks, Atarka Red, Jeskai Tokens, Mardu Tokens, a number of other red decks that need an aggressive 3 drop. If the format takes off, I don’t expect Rabblemaster’s $2.25 price to remain that low for long. I see it doubling or tripling up to $6-7 easily. Seems like a great card to play after a Smuggler’s Copter.

I’m a little more wary about just how much play Hangarback Walker will see due to cards like Kalitas and a number of other exile effects, but considering how good it was in both Hardened Scales and GW Tokens decks, I think it will show up in a number of decks either in the main or sideboard. It might not be as much as the other cards I’ve mentioned above, but it should still hold its own.

4 Star Creatures – Heavy Hitters

  • Nissa, Vastwood Seer
  • Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
  • Emrakul, the Promised End
  • Grim Flayer
  • Ishkanah, Grafwidow
  • Anafenza, the Foremost
  • Den Protector
  • Dragonlord Atarka
  • Dragonlord Ojutai
  • Mantis Rider
  • Monastery Mentor
  • Soulfire Grandmaster
  • Archangel Avacyn
  • Tasigur, the Golden Fang
  • Thalia’s Lieutenant
  • Thing in the Ice
  • Torrential Gearhulk
  • Thought-Knot Seer
  • World Breaker
  • Rattleclaw Mystic
  • Sylvan Advocate

Dear god they just don’t stop. So many playable cards at the 4 star rating, It’s going to be hard to talk about all of them. I think what I’ll try and do is bunch them into similar archetypes so I can talk about them together and save some time.

Starting off we have Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger ($14) and Emrakul, the Promised End ($19) which appear mostly in Aetherwork Marvel decks and G/x ramp decks. Along with Ugin, both are incredibly strong once they are on the table. Emrakul will probably show up in delirium decks which should help it to hold value longer, but I expect Ulamog to be a little cheaper the closer it gets towards rotation next fall and becomes a Frontier only card. I think World Breaker ($3.50) also deserves a mention. Both it and Ulamog are great at taking care of dangerous cards like Ensoul Artifact, and also prey upon 3+ color decks that rely on a certain color too much (like black). Won’t see heavy play, but also won’t lose their value I think. All 3 of these are likely to be 4 ofs in any deck they’re in. If you’re playing ramp you’ll probably want to play Rattleclaw Mystic ($.50) which is absolute steal right now. The card will also definitely see play in Jeskai Ascendancy decks since Sylvan Caryatid won’t be in the format. It’s the best mana creature in Frontier and think now’s a great time to get 4 if you don’t.

Monastery Mentor

I expect Jeskai tokens and Jeskai Ascendancy to show up alongside Jeskai Black decks eventually, and therefore it’s a good idea to have your playset of Mantis Rider ($0.50) if you don’t. It’s incredibly cheap and should be a good supplement to Rabblemaster and Monastery Mentor ($10). I think Mentor is an incredibly good buy at the moment, if only because it sees some play in eternal formats from time to time and the added demand from Frontier could easily push it up $15 in the future. Soulfire Grand Master ($2.25) could also show up in a lot of Jeskai and Mardu decks as well to counteract super aggro decks like Vehicle/Ensoul decks. It was one of the key cards in past Jeskai/Mardu decks so I think it could end up doubling up in price within a year when more people start playing the format.

Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Tasigur, the Golden Fang has A LOT of potential to explode in this format. I’ve seen it show up a few times already in some Abzan decks, but we haven’t even scratched the surface with this card. Of course we’ll have fetches to help with the delve, but Tasigur seems like an amazing addition to GB delirium decks, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it showing up in BUG Control alongside Jace either. At $2, it’s a great investment as it will most likely be a 3-4 of card in many black decks playing either green or blue. It will have no problem tripling up when the format gains steam. Speaking of Delirium decks, I think Ishkanah, Grafwidow ($8) and Grim Flayer ($20) should both find a place in this format and hold their current values.

nissa-vastwood-seer

It’s kind of hard to categorize the last few cards, so I’m just going to do them one by one. The most notable  of the remaining 4 star cards is Nissa, Vastwood Seer. She saw a lot of play during her time in standard. She was in ramp, Collected Company, even the shortlived Elves deck during Origins standard. There are many places Nissa could fit into this format, and I think that she’ll be a 3-of most of the time. Very versatile, but I’m not sure if that will put any upwards pressure on her current $9.50 price.

Sylvan Advocate ($3.75) should is rather meta dependent but could show up in Abzan aggro, various Collected Company decks, and even ramp decks as an early beater/blocker that quickly turns into a 4/5. It will definitely find a home down the road. Anafenza, the Foremost will probably be in a similar position. It’s an extremely strong card in Abzan Human company, but also good in just about every other Abzan based deck. If you can’t afford a Kalitas, Anafenza ($1.50) should do the job just as good. She has a lot of potential upside at such a low price, and I’d expect to see her in a number of decks. Not as a 4 of, but still in large enough numbers to cause a surge in demand. Good investment. Den Protector ($1.50) is another card that could see play here and there in Frontier. GB Delirium, Hardened Scales, Rally, GW megamorph, you name it. It will depend on the whim of the players but there’s no denying DenPro’s utility. There will definitely be demand for it, but I’m not sure if it will be a lot of a little.

Dragonlord Ojutai is only $3.50 which is insane considering it was a $40 card at one time. Esper and Jeskai Dragons could be a good deck somewhere down the road, especially with the addition of cards like Spell Queller. Heck, Ojutai could even fit into the newer UW Midrange lists. It was a powerful card, and would do well in Frontier I think. It hasn’t shown up at all yet, but it has the potential. Archangel Avacyn is in a similar vein to Ojutai, but also fits in with UW flash and GW Token decks. While strong in the current standard environment, I think she won’t be as popular in Frontier so her price should drop the closer to rotation next fall. Still worth having for the format though, so look for an opening around $12 or so.

Thalia’s Lieutenant seems like a sweet card for a human based Hardened Scales deck, but most likely he will be showing up in Bant of Abzan humans. Not a lot, but significant play. Thanks to being able to play pain lands again, Eldrazi midrange decks with Thought-Knot Seer should see an uptick, especially decks like Mardu control or BW Eldrazi. It’s a strong card, but has a lot of competition in the 4 drop slot so I don’t think it will get as big as Kalitas or Siege Rhino. The final card in my list is Thing in the Ice. Is it just me or does this card seem absolutely BROKEN in a Jeskai Ascendancy deck? Extremely easy to finish your opponent turn 4 by flipping it and attacking with a huge creature (barring removal). I think it will be a 4 of in some decks. Also don’t overlook Torrential Gearhulk replaying cards like Dig Through Time. There are tons of targets for it in this format.

3 Star Creatures – The Backbone

  • Abbot of Keral Keep
  • Archangel of Tithes
  • Kytheon, Hero of Akros
  • Knight of the White Orchid
  • Liliana, Heretical Healer
  • Pia and Kiran Nalaar
  • Woodland Wanderer
  • Elder Deep-Fiend
  • Gisela, the Broken Blade
  • Spell Queller
  • Selfless Spirit
  • Toolcraft Exemplar
  • Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit
  • Deathmist Raptor
  • Butcher of the Horde
  • Dragonlord Silumgar
  • Eldrazi Displacer
  • Goblin Dark-Dwellers
  • Mindwrack Demon
  • Prized Amalgam
  • Reality Smasher
  • Savage Knuckleblade
  • Sidisi, Brood Tyrant
  • Thunderbreak Regent
  • Warden of the First Tree
  • Whisperwood Elemental
  • Wingmate Roc
  • Zurgo Bellstriker

At 3 stars, we start getting into the shadier area of Frontier creatures. Some of these were parts of strong standard decks of the recent past, and others will probably end up being good sideboard cards. There is definitely a gap between which ones will see play and which ones will be on the fringe, and I’m here to talk about which ones those are. Just as before, I’ll break down the cards that share a similar archetype to make them easier to talk about.

Kytheon, Hero of Akros

Kytheon, Hero of Akros ($5) was a big part of the white weenie/human aggro deck that did very well for itself for a while during Shadow of Innistrad standard. The deck could still be good, and get better as more white humans are printed in the future to supplement it. I don’t see it appearing in any other decks though, which should keep it from breaking out in Frontier. Knight of the White Orchid ($1.50) has a slightly better chance of seeing play in other decks, but it probably won’t happen in the first year of the format. I mostly see the Knight in mono white humans or a GW midrange deck. Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit ($1.25) lacks the human typing, but I think she’d fit in white/X aggro really well, especially if you’re playing with cards such as Abzan Falconer to give all of your creatures with counters on them flying. Anafenza could also show up in some GW Hardened Scales decks so don’t count her out in these first few months.

abbot-of-keral-keep

While there are a number of ways to build Red decks (Red burn, Atarka Red, Mono red aggro, UR Prowess), there’s no denying Abbot of Keral Keep ($1.25). It was a great way to give red decks gas when they started slowing down after emptying their hands, and the Prowess triggers made it as dangerous to block as Monastery Swiftspear if you could threaten with both Become Immense or Temur Battle Rage. It won’t see tons of play, but I expect it to be in a few decks. More so than Zurgo Bellstriker which might see some more life if the right red deck can start winning.

Mardu Tokens was another good deck during Kahns block, and both Wingmate Roc ($1.25) and Butcher of the Horde ($.50) saw a lot of play at the time along with Kolaghan. There is definitely the possibility of tokens making a comeback in the format (as you can know I brewed up a BW version in my last article), and I also wouldn’t be surprised to see either of these in a Jeskai/Dark Jeskai deck that’s looking to go a little bigger. With the addition of Smuggler’s Copter, tokens could be pretty darn good I think. These aren’t necessarily going to see play, but they are cards to keep an eye on. As long as we’re talking about tokens, Pia and Kiran Nalaar ($1) definitely need to be mentioned. They don’t fit into every red deck, but there are a few that would do well with them, and it could also work well alongside a card such as Decimator of the Provinces.

Thunderbreak Regent

Getting into the more midrangey/controling type decks we come back to our good friend Thunderbreak Regent. It’s a steal at $1, and could see some real play in BR flyers, Temur midrange, and other red based decks. It would work pretty well in a UR or Grixis Control deck alongside Goblin Dark Dwellers ($1.25) and Torrential Gearhulk. I think he’ll see a lot of play, and he has great synergy with Mirrorwing Dragon and Kolaghan as well.

Whisperwood Elemental

Whisperwood Elemental seems like a good sideboard card when your deck needs more bodies on the ground and card advantage, and seems to fit in decks like GW Megamorph very well.  I expect it will be in a lot of red midrange decks in the future too, but at the moment it seems to be on the fringe. I think it has the potential to find a home in a larger part of the metagame, but like a lot of the other 3 star cards it’s probably going to be one of those “late bloomers”. Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector would also benefit from this card seeing a lot of play since their synergy together is so good.

The other cards I’m just going to breeze through without much explanation. Savage Knuckleblade was really good in Temur midrange decks, as was Woodland Wanderer. Sidisi, Brood Tyrant could be good in delirium decks even though there’s no Whip of Erebos. Prized Amalgam is iffy because of all of the anti graveyard hate like Kalitas and Anafenza, but in the right metagame it could be really good since Frontier gives you many more ways to fill up your graveyard. Both Eldrazi Displacer and Reality Smasher benefit from having pain lands available again, just as Thought Knot Seer, but Displacer actually sees play in Collected Company decks as well which means it could see a decent amount of play. As for the other cards, I’ll just leave them here as hunches. They’ve seen a lot of play at one time or another and could be possible threats to the metagame in the future.

Best of the Rest

  • Genesis Hydra
  • Hushwing Gryff (sideboard card)
  • Phyrexian Revoker (sideboard card)
  • Soul of Theros (delirium or Rally?)
  • Hornet Queen
  • Yisan, the Wanderer Bard
  • Harbinger of the Tides
  • Herald of the Pantheon (Sigil/Starfield)
  • Managorger Hydra (Hardened Scales)
  • Woodland Bellower
  • Wasteland Strangler (BW exile)
  • Hornet Nest (sideboard card)
  • Voldaren Pariah
  • Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury (BR dragons or Mardu tokens?)
  • Rakshasa Deathdealer (Abzan or Sultai aggro builds)

Not all of these cards have a place in Frontier yet, but I feel like there is a brew out there just waiting to happen. I’ve heard some people have been fooling around Turbo Bard, Hornet Queen has been showing up in Panharmonicon decks, and I feel pretty good about Voldaren Pariah in my token deck as well. As for the others, just look at the notes I placed next to each card to see where I see the card fitting into Frontier.

Full Speed Ahead

That’s going to do it for today’s article, but I hope I got you thinking about some cards you forgot about as well as more viable deck ideas you might have forgotten. As always I welcome suggestions and hope you’ll leave them down below along with your reasons on your choice. I’m not perfect and some of these cards deserved a little bit more discussion time, but with the article getting as big as it’s become I think it was time to call it a day.  If you think I should change some of the rankings, I’d also like to hear your thoughts on those. FYI, I purposefully left out uncommon cards because it would have become unwieldily due to its size. You can expect a “best uncommon” card article somewhere down the road though. I’m sure you’re dying to see how good Stoke the Flames and Abzan Charm are in this format ^_^.

If you have any deck ideas or updates about Frontier in your area I’d love to hear them, or you can tag @mtgfrontier on Twitter to have them retweet the information. I hope you’ll join me sometime in the coming weeks for my next Frontier article where I’ll cover another card type and discuss what their chances are of doing well in the format. Be sure to check back from time to time to look for updates, but in reality it will probably be in the first or second week of December before I finish my next article. Until then, happy brewing and I hope you enjoy the format!