A New Frontier – I’m not your Mummy: The Impact of Amonkhet on Frontier
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.
I’m starting to get kind of excited to see where Frontier is going. It’s growing ever so slowly, but it’s growing organically. People aren’t coming and going after a week, but we’re adding a few people here and there and those people are sticking around. It’s like we’re a mad scientist watching their creation grow day by day in a vat of mysterious liquid. One day our monstrosity will explode outward and consume everything in its path, but for now all we can do is watch with morbid curiosity. The closer we get to rotation at the end of the summer and the more cards we add to standard/Khans Block/M15/Origins, the more excited I get. Today I’ll be taking a look at all the cards that Amonkhet has to offer the Frontier format and go over how I think they’ll impact the format over the next few months. Will zombies be a thing? Can control cut it? What creatures will shake the format? I hope to answer these questions in this article.
Amonkhet Power Rankings
I’ll be covering all rarities and all card types in this article, as well as the possible financial impact of Amonkhet 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.
As a new feature, at the end of the article I’ll also be discussing which cards in Frontier become stronger as a result of cards from Amonkhet, and I’ll speculate which archetypes will see an increase in power.
5 Star Cards
- Rhonas the Indomitable
It was really card to come up with any 5 star cards in Amonkhet. The set does a great job of supplementing existing strategies and making them stronger, but there really aren’t any cards that could see play in a wide variety of decks. The only one that comes anywhere close to being playable in a large number of decks is Rhonas the Indomitable. The card needs to have big creatures to be relevant, so I think you’ll find him in Abzan decks (Rhino, Anafenza, etc), GR beatdown decks (Lambholt Pacifist, Bloodrage Brawler), and possibly some Collected Company decks that can make creatures quickly (Bant Humans perhaps?). Out of all of the cards in AKH, Rhonas as the most potential.
4 Star Cards
- Bicycle Lands
- Dread Wanderer
- Lord of the Accursed
- Pull From Tomorrow
While Frontier has some very dangerous aggro decks like Atarka Red and Ensoul Vehicles already, I think it’s safe to say that some build of Zombies is going to crack at least Tier 2 of the format. It will only get stronger with Hour of Devastation. There also isn’t that much more mass removal in Frontier than there is in standard at the moment. Cards like Sweltering Suns will weaken some of the super aggressive decks like Atarka red, but it won’t have as much of an effect on zombies which can bring cards back from the dead with Relentless Dead and Dread Wanderer. Cards like Duress and Despise also give the aggro deck much more hand disruption and insulate the strategy from the crippling mass removal effects. Sadly Khans of Tarkir doesn’t add much to the tribe other than the Sidisi tutor effect and the 4/3 Lord which is a bit too slow, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see some kind of Nantuko Husk/Plague Belcher Rally of the Ancients combo sometime in the future, even it it’s only some cool sideboard tech.
So why would anybody want to play these cycle lands in a format of fetchlands? Well if you’re playing the Approach of the 2nd Sun combo you’ll want them, and in control they are pretty good as sources of card draw (such as in Esper Dragons), and they should also be worth playing in any delirium deck you decide to play (Jund or Sultai) as a source of card advantage and ways to get delirium faster. Not to mention they can all be found with fetchlands as well. Some midrange decks might use them as well, which places them firmly in the 4 star range.
Everybody seems to think it’s cute how you can use Always Watching with Glorybringer to blast one of your opponent’s creatures every turn, but do they remember the UW Dragonlord Ojutai Always watching deck back during SOI standard? Adding Glorybringer to the mix makes a big case for playing a Jeskai version along with Mantis Rider, Reflector Mage, and any other Jeskai colored spell. Aside from Jeskai Dragons, Glorybringer would also be sweet in a Mardu or Temur dragons deck. Thankfully Haven of the Spirit Dragon lets you play him in any color combination you want. The decks might not be Tier 1, but this new dragon will make them a lot more fun to play.
While Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time gave control decks some cheap powerful effects, neither of those come close to the sheer drawing power of Pull From Tomorrow. I would expect that every control deck will run at least 2 of these, if not more, alongside another card drawing engine like Dig Through Time. I especially like this in Sphinx’s Tutelage decks. It just might be the card that deck needs to break free from the fringes.
3 Star Cards
- Aven Mindcensor
- Sweltering Suns
- Vizier of the Menagerie
- Approach of the Second Sun
- Liliana, Death’s Majesty
- By Force
- Gideon of the Trials
- Harsh Mentor
- Hazoret the Fervent
- Kefnet the Mindful
- Nissa, Steward of Elements
- Prowling Serpopard
I won’t be going over all of these cards in depth, but there are a few that I think will make an impact in Frontier. First off I’d like to talk about all the ‘Hatebear’ type cards that Amonkhet brings us.
While Prowling Serpopard might be a good sideboard card against control decks in the future, I don’t think control has enough strength yet in the format to devote sideboard slots to it. The control-like decks such as Sultai Delirium are more about removal for any occasion than countering everything you play.
No, the 3 cards that I’m excited to play with in Frontier are Harsh Mentor, Aven Mindcensor, and Manglehorn. To start off, both Aven Mindcensor and Harsh Mentor punish those 3-4 color decks relying heavily on fetch lands. Mindcensor also stops Rally/Collected Company decks to an extent as well if they are playing Chord of Calling. Stopping an Elves player from searching for a Shaman of the Pack or a Bant Humans player from searching for Reflector Mage are a couple of uses for it. Harsh Mentor, on the other hand, also hurts decks playing Heart of Kiran or Smuggler’s Copter and makes players think twice about playing creature abilities such as Tasigur’s, Warden of the First Tree’s, or Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy’s.
Manglehorn is probably more of a sideboard card to bring in against Temur Marvel or Ensoul Vehicle decks, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a strong card. Its ETB might not be as strong as Reclamation Sage’s, but it stops Ensoul decks dead in their tracks.
The next batch of cards I think will have a big impact in Frontier are these 3 pieces of removal. At 3 mana, the only board wipe we’ve had access to thus far is Kozilek’s Return. While it’s great if you’re playing an Eldrazi ramp or Temur Marvel deck, otherwise that 2 damage at instant speed just isn’t enough to kill the majority of 3 toughness creatures you’re going to find in most beatdown decks like Bant Company. Sweltering Suns fills a much needed role against Atarka Red, Bant Company, Humans, and Elves. Sometimes Languish is just too slow, and Sweltering Suns can also draw you a card if it’s wasting away in your hand. I expect it to give a lot more power to red based control decks like Jeskai or Mardu.
Never/Return seems like a distinct upgrade to Ruinous Path, but I feel like it will be more of a metagame call on which to use. Never/Return works better in and against Delirium style decks, but if you’re looking for more finishing power then Path might be better for you. Cut/Ribbons has a lot of potential though. While it won’t be killing a lot of Siege Rhinos or Tasigurs like Roast can, it does hit flyers as well which is great when you’re facing down a UW spirits deck with Spell Queller or an Archangel Avacyn after the indestructible as worn off. The Aftermath effect makes this seem like a great card for BR beatdown/Madness decks, and also not a bad choice for Jund delirium builds. If Abzan beatdown decks are on the wane, I would definitely switch all of my roasts to this card, especially if I could cast the Aftermath effect.
BR Madness and GR beatdown decks just might have the what they need to be competitive in Frontier now thanks to Hazoret. Along with Smuggler’s Copter and Key to the City, I think we could see the decks move away from some of the madness theme and add in some of the cycling effects to double it’s effectiveness. Kefnet could possibly see play in a Dragonlord Ojutai deck as another finisher, but I think it is just what Sphinx Tutelage decks need to deal with troublesome cards they don’t have removal for. Between Treasure Cruise, Fevered Visions, and Pull From Tomorrow, it should be no problem to get Kefnet the Mindful on line early to deal with nasty creatures until you can mull your opponent out.
While Kytheon gives you another Gideon to play with technically, I don’t think you’ll see many Gideon Planeswalker decks in Frontier. However, Gideon of the Trials seems like a decent card to play in control match ups either in the main deck or sideboard to stop damage and put pressure on opponents, and it should be somewhat easy to protect. Yes there are slightly more exile and destroy effects in Frontier such as Utter End or Crackling Doom which could deal with it, but it gives you a few more options than you had before.
Both Liliana, Death’s Majesty and Nissa, Steward of Elements are interesting cards, and I can’t quite say where they’ll fit in just yet. I kind of like Nissa next to Savage Knuckleblade and other cards from that DTK standard beatdown deck. She gives you the ability to throw a big creature onto the battlefield each turn, and also becomes a great finisher once you get enough loyalty counters on her. She could also be a good SB card for Collected Company decks that run into counter magic and still want to pump out creatures with amazing ETB effects like Reflector Mage. Liliana could be great in both Delirium and a midrange Rally the Ancestors type deck. Sultai Delirium gets a huge threat thanks to her and she also lets you get out a Emrakul the Promised End if it’s been put into your graveyard. Sure you don’t get the cast trigger, but it’s still a huge threat.
Approach of the Second Sun just might be playable in Frontier considering there are no true control decks in the metagame right now. Sure you might have to watch out for a Stubborn Denial or Disdainful Stroke from some decks, but playing the Turbo Fog version or straight up UW control version might serve you well. Most of the decks in Frontier are aggro which means unless you end up in a match against Rally the Ancestors or GB Cryptolith Rites with Zulaport Cutthroat, you should be fine.
By Force is more of a honorable mention due to its power level against Ensoul Vehicles, but Commit/Memory is going to be pretty damn good in Frontier I think. Could you imagine playing this in a Sphinx’s Tutelage deck? That’s a huge late game effect that could obliterate an opponent’s library. Of course it would be great in Jeskai or Esper dragons as well, and in those decks Kefnet the Mindful becomes a lot better too if you want to play it as a threat. I’m excited to see it in action.
The Best of the Rest
- As Foretold – Definitely more of a build around card. Possibly good in combo like Jeskai Ascendancy or in UR Alchemist builds.
- Cast Out – The cycling is nice and it’s easier to cast than Utter End, but is easier to get rid of with cards like Dromoka’s Command in the format. Great for Starfield decks tho.
- Insult/Injury – Do aggro decks like Atarka red want this? I could see it as a 2 of in some decks, but 3 mana could be a little hard. Maybe better in a BR or GR beatdown build than hyper aggro like RW humans or Atarka Red.
- Start/Finish – Seems like a good addition to token decks, though nobody plays them at the moment.
- Rhonas’s Monument – Another solid card for aggro decks. Just not sure which deck would want it.
- Anointed Procession – Again, if tokens was good in the format, this would be great.
- Bloodrage Brawler – I’m sure this card will see play in BR madness or GR aggro decks, but might not be bad for Jund delirium decks either that want that extra power early on and a way to get delirium quickly.
- Bone Picker – Seems strong with Fatal Push, and Lightning Strike also gives you an early way to get it out. Should fit well in black aggro decks, though it might take some time to find a spot.
- Bontu the Glorified – I’m looking forward to seeing him in decks like Rally the Ancestors or Cryptolith Rites decks. Gives you another sacrifice outlet, a great blocker, and extra pressure.
- Fling – Considering how scary the GR energy/infect deck was during KLD Standard, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that deck show up from time to time, and I think Fling could make its way into a Nantuko Husk deck as well as extra insurance.
- Essence Scatter – Any 2 mana counterspell is welcome. Esper Dragons, Jeskai Saheeli, or any other blue control deck should be very happy to have a way to stop strong creatures early on in this creature heavy format.
- Censor – Not sure how strong it will be, but it should see some play in control or tempo decks like Jeskai Ascendancy/Tokens.
Ups and Downs: Shifting Power Levels
So how will Amonkhet affect the Frontier format? Well I’ve talked about how some of the cards up above will make an impact, but just how much of an impact will they make? Will we have a game changer like Fatal Push was against aggro? Or will Amonkhet simply help various decks improve their win percentages a few points? Let’s take a look at the most common decks and see how I think they’l fare against these new cards.
- Ensoul Vehicles – Ensoul Artifact decks should still be tier 1, but there are a number of sideboard cards now that can create a problem for the deck such as Manglehorn and By Force. Coupled with Fatal Push and other removal, it should be kept in check.
- Abzan – Not much to add to this deck, and removal gets slightly better against it with cards like Cut/Ribbons. Should still be strong, and not affected too much by AKH.
- Esper Dragons/Grixis Control/UR Control – I expect control to do a lot better thanks to Essence Scatter, Censor, and Pull from Tomorrow. Commit To Memory and Approach of the Second Sun also give them some tools that they can use win in other ways if their first strategy falls flat.
- Atarka Red – While Sweltering Sun hurts this deck early on, it’s sideboard becomes much more powerful thanks to Harsh Mentor and By Force. Insult/Injury could also end up becoming a good card that helps to speed up an opponent’s death around turn 4 or 5.
- Jund/Sultai Delirium – the bicycle lands definitely help this type of deck, and stronger early cards like Bloodrage Brawler can end up making a big impact on the strategy. Strong Tier 2 decks, maybe even 1.5 now.
- Temur/4 Color Dragons – Glorybringer is a sweet card, but still a bit slow for this format. I expect Temur and other dragon decks to remain Tier 2.
- BR/GR Beatdown – Between removal and creature choices, I think both GR and BR beatdown can start to push away the Tier 2 level and hit Tier 1.5. There are tons of great creatures to choose from in these colors at 2 and 3 converted mana cost,
- UR Tutelage – It initially saw some play in Frontier, but dropped off when it couldn’t handle aggro decks. The counterspells and cycling effects that double as removal such as Sweltering Suns could raise it’s power level quite a bit. Pull From Tomorrow is a huge boon for the strategy as well.
I don’t know if Amonkhet will lead to a lot of new brews for Frontier, but it should give new life to previous decks that were thought unplayable in the format. If you’re playing online or in some casual tournaments, try out some of these new cards and see how it handles the metagame.
I would love to hear what you think of the new set and how it effected your local metagame, or simply how you plan on using some of these new cards. Comments are always welcome and I look forward to hearing about your Frontier experiences!