A New Frontier: Power Rankings – Instants and Sorceries
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.
Update on Frontier in Japan
It’s only been 2 weeks since my last update, and there hasn’t been too much news coming out of Japan about Frontier over the last few weeks. My 3-0 BW Tokens deck did make it on Big Magic’s website finally if you want to hop on over and check it out. I’ve since changed it to optimize it even further (dropped 2 Cryptbreaker for 2 Collective Brutality, and in the SB I dropped an Ultimate Price for another Lost Legacy). With a few events coming up before the end of the year I’ll definitely be playing a few more times. With interest in standard waning before the Aether Revolt pre-release, I expect the number of players to grow. (UPDATE: There was a 16 person event in Nagoya on Christmas Day and I ended up going 3-1 for second place with BW Tokens. Deck definitely feels Tier 1. Tournament was won by Jund Planeswalkers. List in next update!).
Over in Tokyo, it seems like the format is still wide open with 3-0 winners ranging from Esper Dragons to Goblin aggro. Naysayers of the format continue to say “everybody will play Abzan decks!” but I’ve seen anything but that so far. There are so many competitive decks available that even if Abzan decks are the “strongest”, it doesn’t mean they are the best. They are only incrementally stronger than other choices you can make in Frontier and on any given day another strategy can best them. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we won’t get a true feel for the format until the “God of Frontier” tournament on January 9th in Tokyo. I expect there to be at least 100 players, but the cap is set at 330 so I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s much higher than that. First prize is 30,000 points, which I would equate to $300 in store credit, but top 8 players also Rob Alexander playmats on top of that. The prize support is there, so I think we’ll get a lot of great data the week before Aether Revolt is due out.
I’ll be going over the best instant and sorcery spells in the frontier format today, and I’m sure a lot of you have been waiting for this article. No doubt there are some cards that have already made themselves known in the format such as Dig Through Time and Rally the Ancestors, but there are so many other playable cards in the format it’s not even funny. This time I’ll be skipping the uncommons because the list would become unmanageable. You’ll be able to see them all in my final article about Lands and uncommons (coming early 2017 after the God of Frontier tournament).
The highest level, 5 stars, 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.
1 star 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 Stars Instants – Almighty Incantations
- Dig Through Time
- Collected Company
- Secure the Wastes
We all know how good Dig Through Time ($1.50) was. It was a 4 of in pretty much every control deck in Khans block standard, and it was also a great card to have in combo decks such as Jeskai Ascendancy. In early Frontier decks, it’s even shown up in Rally the Ancestor decks to get the card they need to win as fast as possible. It’s an amazing card, and when fetch lands, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, and other effects put things in your graveyard, it’s only going to get better. This card will become a format staple and easily hit $5-6 down the road.
Collected Company has already proved its worth in modern, but it was a powerhouse in standard last season with Bant Humans. I expect that deck do do well in Frontier, but Elves, Warriors, and a number of other tribes can be expect to take advantage of Collected Company as well. It’s already back up to about $15 from a low of $9, and I expect that price to hold.
Secure the Wastes ($1.25) is probably more of a 4.5 star card, but don’t overlook it. It is a powerhouse card no matter how you look at it. It gets foiled easily by cards like Virulent Plague, but if your opponent doesn’t have an answer for 5+ warrior tokens coming into play at the end of your turn they’re going to be in trouble. It can be devastating with Gideon and Nissa in GW token decks, and is also pretty nasty in BW Tokens alongside Voldaren Pariah. This card also showed up a lot in some UW based control decks, as well as Jeskai Ascendancy tokens. It might not be as popular as the other 2 cards above,but it’s definitely in the 5 star family. Lots of decks can use it, and it’s always a 4 of. Shouldn’t go over $4 though.
4 Star Instants – Powerful Hexes
- Rally the Ancestors
- Atarka’s Command
- Dromoka’s Command
- Crackling Doom
- Kolaghan’s Command
- Ojutai’s Command
- Kozilek’s Return
- Chord of Calling
Rally the Ancestors ($.50) is a great combo card but really only fits in one deck, so it’s price shouldn’t really get out of hand if Frontier makes it big. It’s deep in bulk right now, and even if it becomes a tier 1 deck I can’t see it being more than a $3 card like it was before. Crackling Doom ($.50) is another card that see’s quite a bit of play in Mardu, Dark Jeskai, and Abzan Red decks, but with a fresh reprint in Commander 2016 I don’t see that price going anywhere. Ojutai’s Command ($1.25) was a solid card in UW tempo decks as well as in control and I could see the card doing well in the format, but I don’t think there will be enough demand to push its price anywhere.
Atarka’s Command ($5.50), Dromoka’s Command ($1.50), and Kolaghan’s Command ($5.75) a whole different ball game though. Both the Atarka’s and Kolaghan’s command see play in eternal formats (burn, Grixis Delver, etc) and the added demand from Frontier for Atarka Red and Mardu/Grixis decks could push their prices a little higher. I could see them easily hitting $7-8 during modern’s off season, and even hitting $10 when there are big eternal format tournaments happening. Dromoka’s Command might be a little cheap now due to its extra supply from the Event deck it came in, but if Abzan’s popularity is to be believed in Frontier, this could easily double or triple to about $5. It works in GW Tokens, any abzan deck, and is also good for Hardened Scales. Out of all of the commands, I think Dromoka’s has the most to gain from Frontier.
Kozilek’s Return ($8) won’t be as strong as it is in the current standard environment because of Rally the Ancestor decks, but it’s still going to be a pretty good card against Ensoul artifact, White weenie human, and Atarka Red decks. It fits well in to Eldrazi ramp, Aetherworks Marvel, and Emerge decks that can be played in this format, so I would expect it to be one of the more popular board wipes in the format. It’s also pretty good against tokens and Secure the Wastes. I don’t expect it’s price to change much. As for Chord of Calling ($7.50), it really only sees play in GB Elves at the moment but I believe it could easily see more play in the future in some kind of Chord/Evolution deck that takes advantage of ETB effects. If Rally decks get hated out, I could see this type of deck gaining in popularity.
3 Star Instants – Magical Charms
- Silumgar’s Command
- Anguished Unmaking
- Hallowed Moonlight
Silumgar’s Command ($.50) was a pretty good sideboard and tempo card for Sultai and Esper control decks, and while those strategies will most likely be Tier 2 in this format, it doesn’t mean we won’t see a return of this powerful tempo card. Two for One instants are always popular, even if they’re 5 mana.
I’ve played with this a little bit in my BW tokens Frontier deck and I think it’s a good “catch all” card to have in your main deck. It stops combo pieces from ending the game, it gets rid of dangerous cards like Ulamog in ramp decks, and also handles planeswalkers like Gideon. I expect to see it in control decks, but it should also show up at the very least in BW/x midrange decks as well such as Abzan.
Hallowed Moonlight ($.75) should be a good sideboard card too since it deals well with token decks (nerfing Secure the Wastes), as well as hitting Rally the Ancestors decks pretty hard and blanking Collected Company. Not a bad choice.
Best of the Rest
- Utter End
- Fall of the Titans
- To the Slaughter
- Summary Dismissal
To a lesser extent, Utter End is the same as Anguished Unmaking. The problem is the 4 mana casting cost. If your deck doesn’t mind that extra mana or can’t handle the 3 damage, this is your card. Does all the same things that Umaking does. Fall of the Titans could make a comeback if Pyromancer Goggle decks get big, while to the Slaughter seems like an alright sideboard card for delirium decks.
The card I’m scared about the most in Frontier is Summary Dismissal. This is going to make blue decks incredibly hard to deal with, especially if you’re counting on a Aetherworks Marvel or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon activation to save your butt. Going up against Abzan blue or Jeskai black would suddenly be a crap shoot if I had to play around this card. I mean, Stubborn Denial is already a hard card to play against, but if I somehow managed to get my answer on the board and had it countered, there would be a lot of feel bads.
5 Star Sorceries – Paralyzing Jinxes
- Painful Truths
I expect Languish ($1.50) to show up a lot in the future Frontier metagame. There are a lot of aggro/bant company decks out there currently and Languish gets around trouble some cards like Archangel Avacyn. It’s also easier to play than most of the other board wipes in the format (which are mostly 5-6 mana). The only way this drops from 5 stars to 4 or 3 is if the new Yahenni’s Expertise takes its spot. The -3/-3 might be enough, but I think a split is more likely to happen. The added bonus of casting another card from Expertise is also pretty tempting. This card works well in a wide variety of control decks, as well as some midrange ones. It was very popular in Sultai control, as well as a few other similar decks. It might not be too popular right now, but once control finds its footing I could see it being pretty widespread.
The other card, Painful Truths ($.50) is an incredibly powerful card drawing engine that is insane in decks like Abzan Red, Mardu midrange, Esper control and other multicolor decks. This card is going to get popular again real quickly, and I expect it to see a slight increase in value.
4 Star Sorceries – Mysterious Witchcraft
- Radiant Flames
- Crux of Fate
- Declaration in Stone
- Traverse the Ulvenwald
Like Painful Truths, I expect Radiant Flames ($1) to show up in Temur and other multicolor red decks that don’t have easy access to board wipes. It’s been showing up in a lot of sideboards of non-Abzan decks I’ve come up against. I faced a very effective Jund Planeswalker deck at a recent tournament and it did a lot of damage to my tokens deck. Flames should become more popular in parallel to the multicolor decks. I think it will end up being a staple in these type of decks.
I’m not too surprised to see Declaration in Stone ($5) showing up a lot in this format. It’s pretty strong against Delirium, token, and Rally decks (when you take out their key cards early on). It hasn’t shown up too much in main decks, but it seems like a common sideboard option for decks like Abzan and Bant Human Company. I expect it to show up in about 25% of the decks in the format.
Traverse the Ulvenwald ($2.75) is in this list because Delirium decks have been showing up a lot in Frontier, mostly direct ports from standard. While they aren’t as powerful in this format, they can still go toe to toe with the top tier decks. The choices for Grapple with the Past are only going to get better with time, and it should be easier to get Delirium as well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Delirium become a 3 color deck with fetch lands making it incredibly easy to do so. Traverse will be a solid card to have in those decks. The last card was big in Esper Dragons (control). Crux of Fate ($.75) was a 4 of in the dragon decks from Dragons of Tarkir standard, and I think the strategy will end up being one of the better control choices. Between Crux and Languish, that deck is set.
3 Star Sorceries – Binding Curses
- Dark Petition
- Exquisite Firecraft
- Crush of Tentacles
- Nissa’s Renewal
- Collective Brutality
- Ruinous Path
- Descend Upon the Sinful
- Lost Legacy
I’m not quite sure how popular these cards will be, but I thought they have potential regardless. The best card of the the lot is Lost Legacy ($.50). It’s going to end up being a great sideboard card in this format, stopping decks like Aetherworks Marvel, Rally the Ancestors, and even Sphinx Tutelage. It targets ANYTHING other than artifacts, which means that no combo or planeswalker is safe. Much better than Infinite Obliteration.
I think Ruinous Path ($1.50) will be a good sideboard, and in some cases, mainboard card. If planeswalker decks get popular due Oath of Nissa and Oath of Ajani, the best way to deal with them is going to be Ruinous Path.
Crush of Tentacles ($2.75) could see play once more in Demonic Pact control decks, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see it show up in an Aetherflux Reservoir/Paradoxical outcome deck as another way to bounce your cards back for a combo while also hitting your opponent’s creatures and slowing down their attack. I think Dark Petition ($1.50) is in the same boat as Tentacles. It saw a lot of play in control decks towards the end of Origins being in stanard, so I wouldn’t count it out just yet.
The only other card to talk about here is Exquisite Firecraft ($1.50). Burn was a thing back during Kahns of Tarkir standard, and it also saw some play in Pyromancer Goggle decks. Recent standard cards have lost the ability to hit opponents directly, so I could see Firecraft becoming the go to card for red/x beatdown decks like Atarka Red, UR spell, or Goggle decks. Three mana is a little high for an aggro deck, but being able to get around counterspells is good. Four damage is also pretty good in this format.
Best of the Rest
- Return to the Ranks
- Tragic Arrogance
- Bring to Light
- Crater’s Claws
- See the Unwritten
- Collective Defiance
Tragic Arrogance was a great sideboard card when it was standard legal, but I think it will be metagame dependent. It’s superior to Cataclysmic Gearhulk since you get to choose what your opponent sacrifices. Good way to get around Archangel Avacyn and to deal with lots of planeswalkers.
Bring to Light could see a comeback since 5 color decks aren’t hard to build at all (do you remember 5C Come to Rhino?), but I don’t think this will be a tier 1 deck. Most likely for fun. Crater’s Claws was another card that saw play as a 4 of in Temur Beatdown decks with Savage Knuckleblade, but I haven’t seen that deck much yet. I’m guessing it has potential, but isn’t going to see play anytime soon.
See the Unwritten ($.75) had a slick deck built around it in Khans/Theros block when your had access to Xenagos to go big and hit hard, but I think there are still some ways to break this card. The combo will need Surrak, the Hunt Caller in order to go off, but if you can keep him in play and play See the Unwritten around turn 5 and hit a Dragonlord Atarka you’d be in great shape. There are plenty of options for this deck such as Emrakul, the Promised End, Combustible Gearhulk, or Verdurous Gearhulk, but getting the core of the deck to work consistently is going to be the big challenge. I don’t know if playing a Delirium deck would be better, but I think this KTK mythic has some build around potential.
Outside of Japan, the buzz of the format continues to grow. More people are picking it up on MTGO and playing casual tournaments, while lots of big websites are giving the format more face time as well. The overall sentiment seems to be that of cautious optimism. Most of the people who are worrying about don’t seem to have played that many (if any) games of Frontier yet, so I would take everything they say with a grain of salt. What I believe will happen is that many people will pick up the format and there will be a spike in players over the next month or so, but not everybody will stick around. There will definitely be an increase in Frontier players from the current numbers, but I expect tournament results to fluctuate when everybody plays standard again.
Frontier will be a great format to play in between new set releases, and I expect that month or so before a new set comes out to be the best time to play some tournaments. By the time the dust settles I think the format will have a solid number of casual players. While we’re not talking standard tournament numbers, I could see Frontier attracting the same number of players that Legacy gets for local tournaments on average (about 10-14). As long as the prize support continues, I think the players will be there.