A New Frontier: Absolutely Revolting – The Impact of Aether Revolt

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.

Going into Aether Revolt, I knew that fresh cards in standard would revitalize the metagame and take people away from Frontier for a time. This is going to happen pretty much whenever a new set is released until Frontier is able to distinguish itself from standard. Right now the format shares a lot of players with standard, so you’ll see a lot of see-sawing in attendance that will favor standard early on and shift back towards Frontier at the end of that season before a new set is released. I’m still psyched to play and have been updating my decks, but I’m also focusing on standard myself during the spring PPTQ season. I’ll play on the weekends when I have the time and continue to test with friends, but I don’t think I’ll be getting serious about the format until late March or early April. When everybody else is getting psyched about Modern Masters 2017, I’ll be quietly brewing new decks in Frontier and buying up cheap staples for the format.

Speaking of buying stuff up, that’s one of the reason’s I’m writing today’s article. I’d like to continue my Power Ranking articles, but since I’ve already covered what was in the format before, today will be focusing solely on Aether Revolt and how it will impact the metagame. There’s already some sweet brews being talked about on MTG Frontier’s and Frontier Bivouac’s podcasts, and a few decks are even making ripples in the modern, showing innovation in a format once thought largely solved.

Aether Revolt Power Rankings

I’ll be covering all rarities and all card types in this article, as well as the possible financial impact of Aether Revolt on Frontier cards. Just as before, I’ll be using a ranking system to categorize all of my picks.

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 Star Cards

  • Fatal Push
  • Metallic Mimic
  • Walking Ballista

fatal-push

It goes without saying that the card that will have the biggest impact on Frontier is Fatal Push. In a format full of fetch lands, it will be incredibly easy to kill anything from a Warden of the First Tree to a Siege Rhino. While it might not be a 4 of in every deck, the sheer power level of the card against fast aggro decks like Atarka Red and Mardu Vehicles is going to breath new life into decks like Esper Dragons, BW Midrange, Mardu control, and Grixis Control. Of course this also means that Abzan will play it, and I wouldn’t put it past Rally the Ancestor decks using it either. It will be everywhere, and non hyper aggro decks will be thankful for it. Midrange and control just became a lot better.

walking-ballista

Walking Ballista has already shown its worth in GB beatdown decks in standard, a deck that could easily find its way into Frontier, but it’s an incredible card to add to GW Hardened Scales. Multiple Frontier groups have discussed this card at length and how it will probably warp the format. I’m not too sure about that, but it will definitely push +1/+1 counter strategies into Tier 1 decks. I’d be picking up some of the cheaper +1/+1 counter effects now while you can. Dromoka’s Command is still only $2.50, and Hardened Scales is only $2.25. It’s yet to be seen whether a GW, GB, or Abzan Scales/Constrictor deck is the best for Ballista, but I don’t think it will stop with these three decks. You might find it showing up in a number of other decks where its damage ability is superior to Hangarback Walker’s tokens.

metallic-mimic

Aside from a wicked  “Terminator” brew based on using Constructs that the MTG Frontier guys came up with, Metallic Mimic is a bomb in any tribal deck you play it in. It turbo charges Bant Human Company or any other human deck such as RW Always Watching, it can help a human only GW Hardened Scales build go even bigger, and can even make each Goblin token created by Goblin Rabblemaster come into play as a 2/2. It’s not too popular in standard because there aren’t cards like Collected Company to break it at the moment, but in Frontier it will get broken very quickly. I think it will show up in a number of decks as a 4 of, and raise a lot of previously Tier 2 decks to 1.5. Bant Humans and Hardened scales are locks for Tier 1 now.

4 Star Cards

  • Disallow
  • Felidar Guardian
  • Heart of Kiran
  • Renegade Rallier
  • Rishkar, Peema Renegade
  • Spire of Industry
  • Winding Constrictor

felidar-guardian

While the majority of players are still unsure which version of Saheeli Combo is best (Jeskai Control, 4 Color Panharmonicon, Marvel Aetherworks, etc), I think it’s safe to say that this combo deck will be a lot more effective in Frontier than Jeskai Ascendancy. With the Saheeli combo alone it’s worth noting it as a 4 star card that will be a 4 of in those type of decks, but by and large Felidar Guardian’s potential is still untapped in the format. Who knows what combos and new decks it will create. 

I’ve already talked about how Walking Ballista will power up Hardened Scale decks, but both Rishkar and Winding Constrictor will super charge them. Constrictor will probably only end up seeing play in GB beatdown or GB Hardened Scales, but for Rishkar “the world is his oyster”. He’ll make an impact in GB Elves, in GW hardened scales, and any other green deck that’s looking to ramp into something quickly. The Peema Renegade is incredibly close to being a 5 star card, but I’m not quite sure if he’ll be showing up as a 2 or 3 of in those decks. It’s quite possible that he’ll be elevated to 5 star power eventually, but for now I’m saying he’s a 4 star.

The most immediate impact of Heart of Kiran and Spire of Industry is going to be felt in Mardu Vehicle/Ensoul artifact decks. Frontier still has access to Smuggler’s Copter, which will only become emboldened by its new 2 drop friend Heart of Kiran. Spire of Industry makes it possible to play 3-4 color vehicle decks much easier. If you want to splash Tezzeret’s Touch, Unlicensed Disintegration or any other card Spire of Industry is going to make it a lot easier to do so. Heart of Kiran should also make GW Tokens slightly better as it now has a big blocker to stop fast decks early on. While I don’t think ‘Superfriends’ planeswalker decks will reach tier 1 status, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few show up thanks to Heart of Kiran’s protection.

renegade-rallier

Renegade Rallier is another card with a lot of potential in the Frontier format. If it isn’t obvious enough from his name, he’s great for Rally the Ancestor decks and if you told me he’d become a 4 of in that deck I’d believe you. Being able to bring back a Satyr Wayfinder to the battlefield to give you some extra targets for Rally, or bringing back a Jace to flip him and use his -3 for an extra Collected Company or a Rally in your graveyard can be pretty strong. However, I think fetchlands will also enable you to get a lot of value out of him alongside other Revolt cards like Greenwheel Liberator or Solemn Recruit. If Rally decks get hated out, I could see some of those players switching over to a Revolt deck instead.

disallow

Control decks were really hurting in Frontier against a bevy of threats and not being able to react to them once a card was on the battlefield. Having an Aetherworks Marvel hit an Emrakul or somebody transform a Westvale Abbey into Ormendahl usually meant a death sentence, but the power of Disallow can shut down those powerful effects that slipped through on a turn where you didn’t have a counterspell. Disallow will probably become a 3-4 of card in every blue control deck, even in Esper Dragons which already plays 4 Silumgar’s Scorn. I’m not sure control is tier 1 yet, but it’s getting damn close (especially with the help of Fatal Push).

3 Star Cards

  • Aethersphere Harvester – I’m not sure if this card will see more play than Heart of Kiran or Smuggler’s Copter in vehicle decks, but it’s a possibility in others. Those decks wanting to stop the aforementioned cards might start sleeving up some Harvesters in their sideboards.
  • Oath of Ajani – good card for GW tokens and GW Hardened Scales, also could show up in Super friend decks. Still untested but has potential. Probably a 3 of card.
  • Sram’s Expertise – I really like this card in standard and I don’t know why there isn’t a deck playing it yet. Definite player in Token decks like GW, Mardu, Jeskai and RW. Might show up in some slower midrange decks too. The double symbol makes it tough for 3 color decks though.
  • Tezzeret’s Touch – an supplement for Ensoul Artifact in vehicle/ensoul artifact deck. Will see play, but probably only 2-3.
  • Yaheeni’s Expertise – Languish is still the better 4 mana “board wipe”. -4/-4 is so much better in Frontier than -3/-3, even if you get a free card. Taking out an Anafenza, the Foremost is more important to me. Might fit in some control/midrange decks but not all.

The Best of the Rest

  • Baral’s Expertise
  • Gifted Aetherborn
  • Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
  • Greenwheel Liberator
  • Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
  • Metallic Rebuke
  • Reverse Engineer

I’m not sure how good Improvise decks will be in Frontier, but they could be good in the future. Whir of Invention could end up being broken and we could see more cards devoted to the keyword. However, I think only Reverse Engineer and Metallic Rebuke will see any play. Rebuke is very easy to cast in a Ensoul Artifact/Vehicle deck, while Reverse Engineer is basically Treasure Cruise for artifacts.

Kari Zev seems to me like she’d be good in RW human aggro or a RW token build. She won’t stop any Siege Rhinos, but with an Always Watching in play she becomes formidable. Greenwheel Liberator on the other hand works well with Rallier and the other Revolt creatures in the set. The deck is untested, but could end up being really strong.

The 2 black creatures, Gifted Aetherborn and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, could end up seeing some play in a BR aggro deck or Abzan aggro, but there are so many other value cards in those decks that it will be hard to decide what to cut for them. Like most of the other cards in this list, they have potential but I’m not sure of their current role.

As for Baral’s Expertise, I like the bounce effect and putting a 4 mana card into play. If you’re playing Jeskai Dragons this could mean playing a Thunderbreak Dragon. If you’re playing UB control this could mean playing a Yaheeni’s Expertise for double value. Yes, it might be slow but playing a card for free and bouncing 4 creatures/artifacts is a power effect. If your deck can survive to play Baral’s Expertise, it’s a huge tempo swing.

God of Frontier

I recently haven’t played that much Frontier, but since my last post I did end up going to the God of Frontier Tournament at Hareruya in Tokyo, Japan. As many of you probably know, more than 230 players showed up for event. At first I wasn’t going to go because of the cost, but considering how big I was expecting it to be and how  much I enjoy playing Frontier, I felt like it would be my only chance for a long time to play in such a large event.

I left at 6:49 in the morning from Nagoya on the bullet train and arrived just as registration was starting at Hareruya. I hadn’t been able to play much leading up to the event due to the slow pick up of the format in Nagoya (just two 4 and 5 player tournaments the day before), but I did know that BW tokens was my best chance. I had been playing it for a while and it had been doing very well against the metagame in my town, but I knew that my chances of making top 8 were low. I wanted to go more for the experience.

I actually ended up doing a lot better than I thought I would, but fell short due to being unprepared for the level of speed of the format.

  • Round 1: Abzan Blue (lost 2-1) – I didn’t draw too well and my sideboard wasn’t optimized for this build of Abzan, but I actually came pretty close to winning this match. His counterspells are what finished me in the end.
  • Round 2: Abzan Red (won 2-1) – Early Smuggler’s Copters in both of my wins gave me an edge in this match up. They allowed me to attack while I blocked with tokens on the board and chipped away at his force with removal. Hushwing Gryff was decent in this match up.
  • Round 3: Jund Delirium (won 2-1) – Kozilek’s Return and Kolaghan’s Command were difficult cards to deal with in this match up, but I managed to build up my board and play around his removal. Sorin and Gideon both one me a game apiece.
  • Round 4: Abzan Aggro (won 2-1) – Voldaren Pariah’s ability made a huge impact in this match in game 2, and Gideon was able to put pressure on him in my other win thanks to well timed removal from the sideboard.
  • Round 5: Mardu Vehicles (lost 0-2) – I was pretty exicted to be 3-1 going into round 5, but this is where the speed and competition really increased. I couldn’t stabilize or find enough removal quickly enough in either of these losses to Mardu Vehicles. Too bad I couldn’t use Fatal Push in this match up or else I might have done better.
  • Round 6: Jeskai Tokens (lost 0-2) – I wasn’t prepared for this type of match up and quickly fell behind to his card advantage. I couldn’t play enough creatures fast enough or draw my removal when he flooded the board with Goblin Tokens. Should have gone wider instead of trying to win the damage race.
  • Round 7: Rally (won 2-1) – Any outside chance of making top 8 evaporated with that 3rd loss to Jeskai Tokens, yet I still kept fighting. I manged to land a Kalitas early in game 1 which locked him down when he couldn’t find removal for it, and I simply took over the game with Sorin + tokens. Thought I was in trouble game 3 when I mulliganed to 5, but I drew Smuggler’s Copter and double Secure the Wastes to race him for the win.
  • Round 8: Grixis Prowess/Alchemist (lost 1-2) – This was an incredibly close game and I could have won if I had found a little more damage to push through somewhere, but I simply ran out of gas. I didn’t help that I mulliganed to 5 game 3 either.
  • Round 9: Abzan Superfriends (won 2-1) – My day was almost over. My last opponent was playing an Abzan Planeswalker deck centered around Ajani Steadfast using his ability to help Liliana, the Last Hope ultimate as quickly as possible. He managed to kill me game 1 with this combo, but constant pressure in the next two games from cards like Secure the Wastes and Phyrexian Revoker helped me to seal the win and finish at 5-4.

Holy crap. 9 rounds? This was like a Frontier Grand Prix. I loved every second of it though. The experience I gained was priceless. I learned that while my deck had good match ups against slower aggro decks like Abzan Red and Rally the Ancestors, it wasn’t set up to deal with the hyper fast decks like Vehicles. My deck wasn’t anywhere near being fully optimized, but it still has the potential to be a tier 1 deck in my opinion. I’ve reworked the deck to focus a little bit more on those aggro match ups while still retaining the feel and benefits of the previous version, and I’ve also added in much better removal.

BW Frontier Tokens
60 cards, 15 sideboard
5 Plains
5 Swamp
4 Concealed Courtyard
4 Shambling Vent
4 Caves of Koilos
3 Westvale Abbey

25 lands

4 Monastery Mentor
2 Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
1 Voldaren Pariah


17 creatures4 Fatal Push
4 Smuggler’s Copter
4 Raise the Alarm
4 Secure the Wastes
4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
3 Declaration in Stone
3 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
2 Sram’s Expertise


28 other spells

2 Anguished Unmaking
2 Hushwing Gryff
3 Fragmentize
2 Phyrexian Revoker
2 Hallowed Moonlight
2 Duress
2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet


Sideboard

Fatal Push should make this a lot more competitive against the aggressive decks out there, and a 3rd Sorin, Solemn Visitor will help me to stabilize better if I get into trouble early. I’ve also decided to move Kalitas to the sideboard due to the low number of Rally decks I saw in the format. This is more of a metagame call than anything else. I’m also testing out Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim as both a deterrent to attacking and a way of gaining life in pinch. It’s also worth mentioning that her ability lets you cast Fatal Push for its Revolt ability. At the moment I’m relying mostly on her and dying tokens to activate it, but I could see myself adding in some fetch lands in the future.

Another card I’m going to try out in this deck is Sram’s Expertise. I’ve been satisfied with its power level in standard so far, so I thought I’d give it a try in Frontier. Aside from the Pariah, Gideon, Sorin, and Secure the Wastes, it can put anything into play. I think it’s a good tempo card. I’ve also added more Fragmentize to the sideboard as a nod to the speed and power level of Mardu Vehicles. I haven’t had the time to test drive the deck yet due to standard tournaments and the pre-release, but I hope to get some data on the new build in a few weeks.

Leading the Revolt

I look forward to seeing new decks in a post Aether Revolt world. As I stated above in today’s article, I believe GW and GB Hardened Scale decks are on course to become one of the best strategies in the format. The deck has gotten tons of new toys to play with, and it should be able to go head to head with other aggro decks. We should start to see control decks ‘pushing’ back thanks to the efficiency of Fatal Push, and I also believe that new vehicles from Aether Revolt will find themselves in the pole position of various vehicle decks.

As the AER standard metagame develops, I think we’ll see a few new strategies find their way into Frontier, such as the Saheeli combo and GB beatdown decks. They should be able to hold their own, and the additions from Kahn’s block, Origins, and M15 will only make them better.

If you’ve been playing Frontier and have any results from the new metagame with Aether Revolt cards I’d love to hear about them. Please feel free to post them to the comments section down below, as well as any suggestions you have about my list of AER cards that will make an impact in the format. Thanks for reading and I hope to see you back here again sometime!

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