A New Frontier – So Pharaoh Way: The Impact of Hour of Devastation 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.
It’s been a while since I wrote an article about Frontier, and that’s mostly because I haven’t had much time for the format. Be it work, traveling (I went to Australia in July), or other events, I simply haven’t had the opportunity to play. I did, however, start a little side project for Frontier.
Since most of my friends play modern, legacy, or other casual formats, I felt like I had to take it upon myself to build a Frontier cube to introduce people to the intricacies of the format. It’s been fun putting it together so far, but it’s been put on the back burner over the last month so I could focus on standard for Nationals coming up next weekend. Another reason for the delay is that I haven’t taken the time to go through Hour of Devastation to see how it could impact Frontier. That’s what I’m looking to do today. With only about a month left for Battle For Zendikar and Shadows of Innistrad block, I’m rather confident that some of the current standard players that don’t have the money/confidence to build modern decks yet will instead try out Frontier. As soon as Nationals are done, I’ll be back into it for sure.
There have been quite a few tournaments since my last post, including the Frontier North America championships at GP Toronto. Hareruya continues to offer large events like the God of Frontier series, and you can find quite a lot of information in English on MTG Goldfish’s tournament results page. Their 9th God of Frontier Cup tournament brought in a healthy 87 players, which goes to show that the format can definitely survive in large cities. The metagame continues to be largely in favor of beatdown decks, but not all are of the same type. We have Bant Humans Coco, Atarka Red, Ensoul Aggro, and Hardened Scales decks to name a few. And don’t count out the other viable strategies such as Aetherworks or Saheeli combo. Heck, even control showed it can finish well at Frontier tournaments. I figure this current imbalance is because of Wizard’s recent power fluctuations in creatures and artifacts from BFZ to KLD. As removal gets stronger again, I think we’ll see more midrange decks be able to compete in the format.
I expect Frontier to not really catch on at any smaller local game stores until Wizards formally introduces the format (or something like it), but if you are living near a big city you should definitely try to find the players supporting it. Toronto has a nice following, as does Tokyo, and you can be sure no matter where I go that I will find a place to play as well!
Hour of Devastation Power Rankings
I’ll be covering all rarities and all card types in this article, as well as the possible financial impact of HOU on Frontier cards. Just as before, I’ll be using a ranking system to categorize all of my picks. Please keep in mind I’m not talking about cards that will be only in Tier 1 or Tier 2 decks, but that could fit into a variety of strategies.
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 main boards, 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.
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
- Supreme Will
- Ramunap Ruins
While it won’t be slotting into multicolor Atarka red decks, Ramunap Ruins brings a lot to the table for mono red aggro, as well as other 2 color strategies such as UR Alchemist, burn, and even BR aggro decks. While you won’t be comboing out quickly with a Become Immense, it does offer your some varying angles of attack. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see various Eldrazi lists pop up now that there are better lands to support them. RW, BR, and mono red Eldrazi lists had a decent following a few standard seasons ago, so there’s a possibility they could make a comeback.
I wasn’t convinced this was a 5 star card at first, but after hearing a few people’s arguments I think I’m fine with putting it here. It’s a great card for any blue deck in Frontier, be it Jeskai tempo, Esper Dragons, or anything else that previously used cards like Anticipate to get card advantage. The 2 modes and extra card to look at make it the premier set up card for blue decks.
4 Star Cards
- Champion of Wits
- Earthshaker Khenra
- Hour of Devastation
No hear me out on this. I realize that Champion of Wits has a much higher power level in the current standard metagame than in Frontier, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t show up in a number of slower decks that could take advantage of its skill. Rally the Ancestors is one deck that springs to mind, but also Sultai Reanimator, Sultai Control, and Sultai Delirium that have more than a few ways to slow down the faster decks. In a format where Delve is available, I can’t really see this being a bad card. It just might take some time to figure out where it goes. God-Pharaoh’s Gift might eventually make it to Frontier as well.
I wanted to rank it as a 5 star at first, but then I was reminded by a number of people that both Lightning Strike and Kolaghan’s Command are strictly better. However, it’s still a great sideboard card and could become very good if Ensoul or other Artifacts start to dominate the metagame in the future. One of the biggest draw backs is not being able to stop Saheeli Combo I’m told.
Earthshaker Khenra put mono red back on the map in HOU standard, and it has a rather bright future in Frontier as well. Any red aggro decks would have to use a play set of these. While they haven’t shown up a lot in the format just yet, as the metagame evolves I believe Earthshaker will become a staple in red beatdown decks.
Grixis and 4 Color control have shown up from time to time near the top of the Frontier metagame, and while they already have an impressive list of usable wraths at their disposal (Crux of Dragons, Languish, Bontu’s Last Reckoning, etc), Hour of Devastation gives them something that greatly expands their number of targets. We don’t see too many planeswalkers due to the speed of the format, but suddenly we have a card that can hit Gideon in Vehicle decks, Nissa in GB decks, and also take out cards like Darksteel Citadel that have an Ensoul Artifact on them. Probably too slow to be main deckable, but something that could help out non-tiered decks like UR Sphinx’s Tutelage or GR Eldrazi Ramp.
3 Star Cards
- Sunscourge Champion
- Nimble Obstructionist
- Nicol Bolas, God Pharaoh
- The Scarab God
- Bontu’s Last Reckoning
- Hour of Promise
- The Locust God
- God-Pharaoh’s Gift
- Scavenger Grounds
While there aren’t any strategies that you can slot these cards into, you can’t deny the power level of each of these cards. Nicol Bolas might seem slow in this format, but as control finds its footing you can be sure people will start to look his way. Sure Ugin, the Spirit Dragon can sacrifice himself to exile Bolas, but Bolas can also deal a death blow to the Ugin as well. From a control perspective, Bolas’ plus abilities are much better in the long run.
As for The Scarab God, I think zombies will eventually find their way to Tier 2 status, and Dredge/Emerge is also a good deck. This card would fit rather well in the sideboard of these decks, but I don’t expect it to shine until we have more midrange and control deck sin the format.
The Locust God seems like a fun card for UR Sphinx Tutelage decks, as well as UR beatdown decks that lacked a strong top end. Having another card that can finish an opponent in Tutelage decks will become indispensable. Your enchantment gets blown up? Ok, draw 10 cards and hit with 10 locusts.
I’m not quite sold on these being 4 star cards that will be 4 ofs in Frontier decks, but I can at least understand where people are coming from when they sing praises of both Claim/Fame and Driven/Despair. Both cards are supposedly showing up in Dark Atarka red builds, but I can’t really see them being a playset in the same deck which makes me drop them down to 3 stars. Driven/Despair seems like it would be really good in a GB Constrictor deck.
The only ‘true’ reanimator deck in Frontier right now is Rally the Ancestors, but I think God-Pharaoh’s Gift could shake things up in the near future. We’ve seen a lot of different builds already with the deck, and just as players found the optimum Aetherworks Marvel build that broke that card, I think Gift receive similar treatment sooner or later. There are plenty of cards that put cards into the graveyard, and plenty of strategies that use the graveyard (GB Delirium, Rally, Emerge). I don’t think it will reach tier 2 this season, but I think Gift has a lot of potential. Scavenger Grounds, on the other side of the coin, is a great card to have as a one off if you don’t have many spots in your sideboard to take care of Delirium and Rally. One of the better colorless non-basic lands in the format.
As for the last 4 choices I see as 3 Star cards in the format, I think Hour of Promise helps mono green and GR ramp decks a little, Bontu’s Last Reckoning gives black midrange and control archetypes an earlier board wipe against beatdown, Sunscourge Champion could fit into the SB of Bant humans if it struggles against aggro/beatdown decks, and Nimble Obstructionist would come in handy against Aetherwork Marvel or Elf combo decks when they search for their Shaman of the Pack to win the game. Not sure where it would fit just yet, but I can’t deny it’s versatility.
The Best of the Rest
- Gideon’s Defeat – Now that the planeswalker rule has been changed to let you use same character planeswalkers as long as the names are different, you can expect mono white to show up with lots of Gideons. Not to mention this hits Seige Rhinos and Mantis Riders as well.
- Fraying Sanity – Fun jank card, possibly helps out UR Tutelage decks against slower opponents? Mill could be a thing in the future, especially with Startled Awake.
- Chandra’s Defeat – You won’t have to worry about any Chandra’s in frontier, but there are lots of deadly red creatures that want to destroy you. Good sideboard card against Atarka Red, and also not bad against Ensoul Artifact.
- Liliana’s Defeat – Again, probably not going to kill too many Liliana’s with this card, but there are plenty of black creatures to kill. Siege Rhino, Anafenza the Foremost, Winding Constrictor, etc.
- Hollow One – This card has been underrated in standard, but finding its way in Modern. I’m sure it will find a place in Frontier eventually. Remember when people thought Dark Deal might be good? Hmmm.
- Hostile Desert – Ever wanted to use a man land in your Frontier deck but either didn’t have one in your colors or it wasn’t feasible because you were 4 color? Hostile Desert would love to eat your fetch lands and become a 3/4 when you need it to.
Ups and Downs: Shifting Power Levels
I thought that Amonkhet would have had a bigger impact on Frontier, but I guess the lack of large amounts of people trying to break the format has slowed down innovation considerably. However, I think Wizards is on the right path now, and that the cards we see now from Hour of Devastation will fit in to more powerful strategies in the future that could break wide open with the card pool available in Frontier. Down below you can see how I view HOU’s impact on various strategies in Frontier. As I stated above, it’s not only the Tier 1 and Tier 2 decks, but also other viable strategies that are getting closer to playability.
- Mono Red aggro/Burn – UP. Ramunap Ruins will help give these archetypes some reach. Not quite tier 1, but getting there. Abrade and Earthshaker Khenra will see play in these decks too eventually.
- Jeskai Tempo/Dark Jeskai – UP. Sideboard cards like Chandra’s Defeat, and Nimble Obstructionist should make this deck even more of a headache to play against. Tons of great flyers now.
- Atarka Red/Dark Atarka – UP. As I was told repeatedly, Claim/Fame and Driven/Despair could end up making a big impact on this deck, giving it more reach and speed than before. A very dangerous deck indeed.
- Ensoul Artifact – DOWN. Between Abrade, Kohlaghan’s Command, and a number of other pieces of artifact hate, I think Ensoul decks are going to start to struggle. A drop to Tier 1.5 perhaps?
- UR Sphinx’s Tutelage – UP. It’s still not quite Tier 2, but between The Locust God, Sweltering Suns, and Hour of Devastation, this deck has a lot more ways to win. One of the better rogue decks, but still too slow probably.
- Rally the Ancestors – DOWN. between Crook of Condemnation and Scavenger Grounds in HOU, Wizards certainly isn’t making it easy for this archetype to fill up their graveyard for a big win.
- Saheeli Combo – UP. Supreme Will is a big help to this deck since it can search up Felidar Guardian, although Chandra’s Defeat is another 1 mana card Saheeli will have to watch out for.
- Aetherworks Marvel – Down. More Artifact hate in Abrade, as well as Nimble Obstructionist being able to counter its activated trigger could make it hard for Marvel to go off.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve played Frontier, so I might not be on point for all of these speculations. I welcome any other suggestions that you might have regarding HOU on the impact of the Frontier format, as well as any changes you might make to list I posted today. I look forward to your feedback and hope that I’ll be able to get more involved with Frontier this fall! See you again during Ixalan!