A New Frontier – Exploring the Impact of Ixalan 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 was actually planning on writing another article on Frontier before writing this one, but due to the amount of time I have to put into the other one, this seemed a lot easier. While I haven’t really had a chance to put the beat down on anybody in Nagoya other than store staff (I was the only person showing up recently), what’s kept me going in Frontier has been the introduction of the Untap Online League. Just what is Untap?
Quoting from their website (www.untap.in) explains it best.
Welcome to UnTap.in, the multiplayer CCG deck tester you can play in your web browser! UnTap runs completely in your browser. No downloads, installations, or plugins required!
We are community funded and rely on your help to keep going. You can fund by clicking on your account panel in the top right corner.
Offically we only support the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox and Safari. Other browsers such as Internet Explorer, Edge, and Opera will most likely have broken features as we don’t have the time to fully support them.
I’ve been a fan of Frontier forever, but I don’t have a new enough computer to run Cockatrice, and MTGO isn’t on Mac OS. Without these web based software programs, there was literally no way for me to fire up a game other than real life. That all changed when I was introduced to Untap by the organizer of the Frontier Untap League. Also, just to be clear, Untap is for various types of CCGs, not only Magic the Gathering, and it can run all formats. There are tons of details to get into as to how to use the software, but I’ll have to leave that for another day. Today, I’d rather talk about how the Untap Frontier League has been a boon for helping me to put together this article about Ixalan’s impact on the format. Before I had to make guesses myself or use data from small tournaments to evaluate cards, but with the league it’s become a lot easier.
Hareruya Frontier Challenge #10
Lucky for me, Hareruya’s 10th Frontier Challenge happened last weekend in Tokyo and it gave me a lot of data to work from on top of the league information. If you want to read over the results, you can find them here. The tournament scene continues to be strong (but not great), with 72 players attending this recent event.
The Top 8 was:
- UR Ensoul
- 4C Rally x2
- Dark Jeskai/4C Control (Champion)
- Ramunap red
- UR alchemist/burn
- Bant Human Company
- Esper control
And the decks from 9-16 were:
- WR Control
- Mono Red
- UB Control x2
- Bant Human Company
- 4C Rally
- Planeswalker Control
- 4C Control
While aggro gained the upper hand in the top 8, you only need to look as far as the top 16 to see how close control was to taking over. In reality, it was 2 aggro decks in the top 8, a burn deck, 3 Combo decks, and 2 control decks. If you add those to the top 16, you have 7 control decks, 3 Aggro, and 5 Combo decks. When it comes down to consistency, aggro decks might have the slight edge, but control has an incredible amount of answers to deal with various parts of the meta game. Considering just a few seasons ago control was non-existent, It’s amazing to see how well its done for itself. The format is incredibly deep now, and there are dozens of playable choices if you’re looking to get into it.
The Online Metagame
The online metagame of the Untap League is a little bit different from the one in Tokyo, but not by much. Control has a solid foothold in the 36 person, season 2 tournament currently going on, and there is also a solid number of red based aggro decks vying for the top 8. Saheeli Combo decks seem to be about even with Bant Company decks, but Rally decks are nowhere to be seen. It’s still a little too hard to guess which decks will come out on top, but with an ever increasing number of participants, the metagame is getting better and better. Now that I’ve introduced you to my sample sizes, let’s take a look at how Ixalan could and has impacted Frontier this season.
Ixlan Power Rankings in Frontier
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
- The Check Lands
Opt has seen some play in a few blue decks in both Hareruya’s tournament and in the Untap Frontier League, but whether it’s a control or tempo card is yet to be seen. I personally think this card belongs in UR Prowess decks with cards like Monastery Swiftspear and Stormchaser Mage. It’s a great cantrip and in a deck full of cantrips you can easily activate prowess cards multiple times in a turn. It makes Thing in the Ice better as well, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see people give Jeskai Ascendancy another look due to the sheer number of cantrips available to them. Perhaps this is the card needed for Jeskai tokens to rise to tier 2?
The Check lands are a huge asset to a large number of decks, but none more so than Drowned Catacomb and Glacial Fortress. Having these cards along with Battle lands from BFZ and Fetchlands from KTK means that you can fix your mana incredibly easily if you’re playing Esper, Grixis, Bant, or any of the color combination you might need. While I love the Fast lands from Kaladesh, I’d much rather be playing these in Frontier. Jund especially should get a nice boost with both Rootbound Crag and Dragonskull Summit.
4 Star Cards
- Hostage Taker
- Unclaimed Territory
- Rampaging Ferocidon
- Settle the Wreckage
- Search of Azcanta
These cards haven’t shown up too much in Frontier yet, but they have the potential to make a huge impact. I’ve seen an Esper Tempo deck in Frontier that not only takes advantage of Hostage Taker, but also cards like Reflector Mage and Spell Queller to lock down your opponent and give them fits. Esper God Pharaoh decks have also seen some play on the fringe, and it seems like it would work well in Sultai control builds as well. It might not happen in the current season, but I think players will start to open up to her before the next set releases.
Bant Humans has been awesome, as well as GB Elves, but how many other tribes have been sitting in the woodwork, waiting for some better mana fixing to help them to take advantage of cards like Collected Company and the like? Abzan Warriors? Esper Zombies? Mardu Vampires? The mana is now there, thanks largely in part to Unclaimed Territory and the Check lands.
Frontier is a fast format, but it’s also full of combos that can win a game in the blink of an eye. Rampaging Ferocidon seems like an amazing card against Saheeli Combo, Elves, and Rally the Ancestors. It hasn’t found a spot yet, but damn could it end up being really good in this format. I’m surprised some form of Hatebears hasn’t shown up yet, but between Hushwing Griff, Thalia, Harsh Mentor, and a number of other cards, it’s incredibly close to being complete. I expect this to be in a lot of sideboards and some mainboards in the coming months.
The last 2 cards I’d rank at 4 stars are Settle the Wreckage and Search of Azcanta. Both are amazing in control decks, but Settle the Wreckage can also “wreck” opponents in non control decks as well. It’s a good card to play against Saheeli Combo, Atarka Red, and swarm strategies like tokens as well. You can’t really go wrong playing it, be it Mardu control, UW control, Bant Control, or in a white midrange build.
Search for Azcanta, on the other hand, is probably best in a control deck. Sure you can use it in Jeskai Ascendancy to find your combo piece, or in a Sphinx’s Tutelage deck to find your win condition, but it’s probably best alongside Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy in a control deck so you can look for your board wipes, counter spells, or other removal. As we saw at the Hareruya Frontier Challenge, there are tons of control decks that are eager to use it.
3 Star Cards
- Carnage Tyrant
- Ripjaw Raptor
- Field of Ruin
- Fiery Cannonade
- Jace, Cunning Castaway
- Kinjalli’s Sunwing
- Kitesail Freebooter
- Sorcerous Spyglass
- Legion’s Landing
- Walk the Plank
I won’t go through all of these, but I will cover the ones that will have the biggest impact in Frontier.
If control truly is taking over, I want a card like Carnage Tyrant on my side. You won’t be able to really play it outside of ramp or Aetherworks Marvel decks, but landing one of these against any non-white control deck is probably a game winner. It doesn’t die to Languish, Hour of Devastation, or Murderous Cut. Without a card like Fumigate or Bontu’s Last Reckoning, your opponent will be in for a world of pain.
As for Ripjaw Raptor, it could be a good substitution for Siege Rhino in non Abzan color decks. Sure you can play 3 or more colors in Frontier if you want, but if you’re feeling 2, Ripjaw could be rather good, especially if you have Walking Ballista in a GB Hardened Scales/Constrictor deck.
Fiery Cannonade and Walk the Plank are both pretty darn good removal spells, but Fiery Cannonade lacks the flashback ability of Kozilek’s Return, and Grasp of Darkness will probably get the job done most of the time if you’re playing double black instead of Walk the Plank.
I’m excited about the possibilities of Legion’s Landing in Frontier tier, first and foremost because of my aggressive Mardu tokens deck. I’ll have no probably flipping this card, and the extra creature later on in the game will help me a lot when I lose steam. This card should also help out Jeskai and GW tokens, and mono white Always Watching decks could get some value from it as well.
Speaking of tokens, Jace, Cunning Castaway should find himself in a good spot in “Jacekai” tokens which can make tons of creatures to go wide with, and use Jace’s +1 ability to draw cards as well. As for Kitesail Freebooter and Kinjalli’s Sunwing, both look good in Collect Company type decks, possibly in a sideboard function. Freebooter could also show up in God Pharaoh’s Gift decks if they ever become a thing.
Frontier finally has it’s own Pithing Needle effect, but you have to pay an extra mana for it. Considering you get to look at your opponent’s hand, I think it’s pretty good as far as sideboard cards go. Whether this card ends up being good in the format will depend on the metagame. It does a great job of stopping Search For Azcanta/Azcanta the Sunken Ruin against control, as well as stopping Westvale Abbey/Ormendahl in token decks. In fact, there are a lot of targets for the card, but the problem is that many of those cards aren’t in tier 1 or tier 2 decks so until Aetherworks Marvel starts putting up top finishes, Sorcerous Spyglass will probably be left out of most decks.
The Best of the Rest
- Burning Sun’s Avatar – I think this could be a very fun card in Aetherworks/Ramp decks, especially if you’re playing Panharmonicon. Great choice if you’re looking for a finisher in a See the Unwritten deck.
- Daring Saboteur – Depending on the metagame, I think the Sabateur could its way into Bant humans company. The unblockable ability, plus looting effect, could really help out in mirror matches or against other decks when the board stalls.
- Deadeye Tracker – It could possibly be good against rally, but in what deck I’m not sure. Abzan Company? Mono black aggro might be able to use it as well.
- Deathgorge Scavenger – Another good card against rally, maybe in a Coco deck? Just not sure if the non-human Coco decks are ever going to be as good the Bant humans version.
- Deeproot Champion – I believe MTG Goldfish said this is the second coming of Quirion Dryad, and what better deck could take advantage of its ability than 4C Jeskai Ascendancy? Temur prowess might be possible as well, but I think drawing and untapping multiple times in a turn with double triggers from Ascendancy to the Champion could create some huge attacks. Also makes it easier to Fling for a kill or use Temur Battle Rage.
- Favorable Winds – Could be a sweet card for UW flash/UW Spirits. Pumps up your Spell Quellers, Mausoleum Wanderers, and Rattlechains and makes for a quick finish.
- Ixalan’s Binding – Seems a bit slow, but it’s a great addition to Starfield of Nyx decks to stop opponents’ Siege Rhinos, gods, and vehicles from flooding a board and overrunning you.
- Sentinel Totem – Is this better or worse than Tormod’s Crypt? Would you pay the extra mana for the scry, or just use Crook of Condemnation instead to target things? Rally is back in case you didn’t look at the results from the Hareruya tournament. We got lots of hate cards for it, but it depends what you need for your deck.
- Tocalti Honor Guard – It’s just like Hushwing Gryff, comes down a turn early, and has better overall toughness, but wouldn’t you rather have a 2/1 flyer with flash instead? Great card against Company decks like Elves and Bant Humans. Also stops Saheeli + Felidar combo. Possible Naya Hatebear deck candidate.
- Vraska, Relic Seeker – Sultai Control and Sultai Delirium/Delve decks have done alright for themselves in Frontier, and I think adding a few Vraska, Relic Seekers to the mix could really help them out as a finisher. Jund Planeswalker also could also get a shot in the arm from her.
- Vraska’s Contempt – There are a number of other exile permanent effects in Frontier like Anguished Unmaking, Utter End, and Cast Out, but none of them give you life when you exile a creature or planeswalker. It stops combo cards like Saheeli and also works well as removal against gods like Hazoret in red deck, but that double black cost will probably keep it relegated to UB or Grixis Control.
Shifting Power Levels
So what do all of these new cards mean for Frontier? Which decks get better and which get worse? Well, here’s how I see things getting shook up.
- Prowess/Ascendancy – UP. Opt and check lands help these strategies out, but they aren’t quiet tier 2 yet.
- Esper/UW control – UP. Settle the Wreckage is pretty freaking good for these decks, which already had Fumigate to battle against all the creature based decks. Settle can be played a turn earlier, stops both Saheeli Combo from winning that turn, and also deals with Aggro well. Torrential Gearhulk can also cast it, which is sweet. When you add in Search for Azcanta, white control decks become Tier 2.
- Grixis/UB Control – UP. Check lands and Search for Azcanta help out a lot in these decks as well, especially if you’re playing The Scarab God now. Dark Jeskai/4C control won the last Hareruya event, so I’d say that control is now Tier 1.5.
- Bant/Abzan Human Company – UNCHANGED. Unclaimed Territory helps these tribal decks the most, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see other tribal decks start to show up as well in Frontier. The check lands also help. Bant Humans is still at top at Tier 1.
- GW/Jeskai/Mardu Tokens – UP. Legion’s Landing is a great turn one spell for token decks and gives you some late game as well if your board gets wiped. Jace, Cunning Castaway could be good in Ascendancy/Token decks as well.
- Dark Jeskai/Jeskai Skies – UP. Hostage Taker, check lands, Stormcaller Siren and Favorable Winds could benefit this deck a lot.
- Ensoul Artifact – DOWN. Between Hostage Taker stealing your Heart of Kiran and playing it and Settle the Wreckage exiling your creatures at instant speed, I think it’s going to become difficult for Ensoul in the coming months.
- Sultai Control/Delirium – UP. Vraska, Relic Seeker, and Vraska’s Contempt help out these decks as well, just as with UB and Grixis.
- 4C Rally the Ancestors – DOWN. I know it did well at the last big event, but that’s because nobody was ready for it. It will get hated out more quickly now, and there are more ways to do it.
- Atarka Red/Ramunap Red – DOWN. Control has more removal and board wipes, tokens gets more life gain . . . sure the decks can now use Rampaging Ferocidon, but there is so much removal out there, and it’s only getting faster.
- Abzan Aggro – UP. Cards like Deathgorger, the check lands, and possibly Deadeye Tracker could make this deck better. It had lost some power recently, but it still one of the most versatile strategies out there. Not quite Tier 1 like before, but almost.
If you don’t agree with some of these evaluations, then please let me know what you’d change any why down below in the comment section. Control has made a big splash in the new Frontier metagame, and I’d expect decks to either try to get a lot faster (if they can), or to go bigger into midrange. This could mean more planeswalkers or bigger creatures. Heck, Ramp, Delirium, and Aetherwork decks just might even be able to compete if the format continues to lean towards control. The Untap Frontier season is still rather young, and we haven’t even seen how to abuse some of the new cards in standard, so keep your eyes peeled after the Pro Tour to see if it could make waves in Frontier as well. Thanks for reading as always, and be sure to stop back in a week or so to see how the Untap League is going, as well as how to use the software in my “How To” article coming up! Until then, sayonara.