A New Frontier: Testing Boundaries – M15
“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 following 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.
Since I’ve moved to Yokohama recently, I’ve only had a few chances to go into town to Magic shops, and I’ve only done a small number of tournaments so far (which were standard). However, I continue to play Frontier when I can on Untap.in and I stay active on the Frontier Discord channel. The creative juices and desire to play the format has definitely been rekindled thanks to the Untap Open League, with season 3 now underway.
In today’s article, which starts a series of articles, I’d like to take a look at the possibilities of a Frontier format that starts from various sets in the past. For example, we all know that M15 was chosen by Hareruya and Big Magic as the first set for the format to start from, but what if instead it started from Khans block, or Magic Origins? Just how would it change things around? Which decks or cards would get stronger or weaker? Mark Rosewater had stated months back when people asked him about Frontier that he said he probably wouldn’t have done had fetch lands in the format. With pain lands, fast lands, and check lands in the format, mana bases wouldn’t be hurting that badly, but boy would it change things up in the format.
There has also been talk recently that the new Magic Arena software will be the testing grounds for a future format like Frontier. Personally, I think starting from Ixalan block would fix a lot of the broken-ness that came from Delirium, Saheeli, and Aetherwork metagames, but in doing so it would take a lot of the fun out of the format. What people who don’t play Frontier believe the metagame to be like, and what it actually is are incredibly different. Previous broken decks from past statandards are powerful, but the balance between these archetypes has developed remarkably well since the format’s inception, in no small part thanks to various hate cards and more balanced colors.
But what if? What if Wizards finally decided to put their support behind the format but changed where Frontier started? Well, let’s do some mental exercises and figure that out. Without further ado, let’s take a look at how the absence of M15 would affect Frontier.
A Frontier Without M15
One of the biggest shocks to the system would be the loss of Ensoul Artifact. This is an incredibly powerful card in that archetype, and while the deck could still survive as a Vehicles deck and continue to be close to tier 1 in terms of power, it would slow down the deck considerably and probably also gut Shrapnel Blast based decks (which would also lose a lot of finishing power without that 5 damage spell).
Another unfortunate casualty of a Frontier without M15 would be Chord of Calling. This card hasn’t seen too much play outside of GB Elves since Collected Company was deemed enough for Rally, Humans, and a number of other value based “enter the battlefield” decks. Aside from Elves, I don’t think many other decks would be affected by its absence, but it definitely would make brewing a lot less fun, especially if you were going to play something like a Frontier ‘hate bears’ type of deck. The format could survive without it, but it would be sad not to have it as an option.
The loss of these two cards would hurt the artifact based decks a lot. I believe that one UR Ensoul/Blast deck made top 8 of the season 2 of the Untap Frontier league. That deck would definitely be unable to compete at such a high level without these cards and Ensoul Artifact. The format wouldn’t care too much overall since they are only in one deck, but the only viable artifact deck afterwards would be Vehicles (as I said about about Ensoul).
Probably the biggest impact of not having M15 in Frontier would be the loss of Elvish Mystic. This is a key card in a number of aggressive decks. Bant Company, GB Elves, heck even Rally the Ancestor decks and my GR ramp deck use it. Never being able to get a turn 3 Collected Company or getting out a Rally the Ancestors off earlier than turn 5 would be really bad for those decks. Sure there are times when these decks don’t draw Elvish Mystic on turn 1 and play through it, but NEVER having that chance to ramp early will definitely affect those decks. With Dominara as our spring set though, I have high hopes that it would get reprinted in there or at least give us back Llanowar Elves. Even if M15 were cut off, I think we’d eventually get back a 1 drop mana creature in the format.
Kinda sad that this card never saw much play outside of the initial few months of Frontier. It was considered too fragile and was hard to get much value from it due to Lightning Strike being played so much in those early days. Now that Fatal Push is the go to removal spell of decks with black in it, it’s slightly better since your opponent needs a fetchland to kill it early, but it still has trouble pushing through damage in the late game. I’d definitely miss it in my Mardu Tokens deck, but I don’t think many other people would care that it was gone from the format.
Hushwing Gryff has been a long time sideboard staple for white decks against Rally, Coco, and other etb effect decks and while it could be replaced by Tocatli Honor Guard, the fact that it has flash and flying makes this card far superior to a 1/3 human. Not having it would make Collected Company decks much better in the format, which includes but is not limited to: Bant Humans and Elves. But perhaps without Elvish Mystic its loss wouldn’t be felt so much. Still a tough loss if it were to go.
Satyr Wayfinder first showed up in Rally the Ancestor decks as a way to fill up their graveyard more quickly, but since then we’ve also seen it showing up in Delirium based decks to help turn on cards like Emrakul faster, and pretty much any other graveyard based deck such as God Pharaoh’s Gift. Delirium based decks could find another way to fill their graveyard, but Rally and Gift decks would have to rely a lot more on cards like Champion of Wits to fill their yard. It would slow their combo down a bit and in those strategies, filling up the yard is paramount. Both decks would be playable, but might drop from Tier 1.5 to 2.
Another great hate card, Tormod’s Crypt is very useful in keeping graveyard strategies in check in Frontier. People thought that Rally would be dead in the current metagame, but it did very well at this fall’s Hareruya tournament. There are a number of alternatives such as Crook of Condemnation and Sentinel Totem, but nothing beats the value of Crypt. We can survive with out it, but not having it would make graveyard based decks a little scarier to play against.
While it’s not one of those “4 of” cards in Frontier, there are still a number of decks that use it to smooth out their mana so that they have black when they need it. It’s loss wouldn’t hurt the format too much though, but not having it would be an inconvenience for a handful of decks.
Other Cards that would be missed:
- Nissa, Worldwaker – good sideboard card for control match ups, also good for ramp.
- Reclamation Sage – great SB card against Ensoul decks, sees play in Coco builds such as GB elves.
- Dissipate – Seems like a great card for control decks.
- Hornet Queen – seems like a great card for Gift or other graveyard based decks. Also not bad in ramp.
- Phyrexian Revoker – if you’re looking to be more aggressive and still have an out against decks like Aetherworks Marvel, this card would be good.
- Raise the Alarm – if tokens ever becomes a thing, this will be a staple in those decks. I love it in Mardu tokens, and I’m sure it would be used in GW tokens if that deck every became competitive.
- Stoke the Flames – bye bye any chance of burn if M15 doesn’t make the cut for Frontier. It hasn’t seen much play recently, but could easily work in a number of aggressive decks.
All in all, I think M15 could probably be left out of Frontier and it wouldn’t shake things up too badly there would be a number of archetypes affected, which you can see below:
- UR Ensoul
- GB Elves
- Bant CoCo
- Green Ramp decks
- R/x tokens
- G/x delirium
- Rally the Ancestors
These decks would take some hits but would still be viable for the most part. The question is, if M15 doesn’t make that much of an impact on Frontier, why bother keeping it or cut it for that matter? If an expansion had to go in order to make the format more streamlined though, I wouldn’t be too disappointed if M15 didn’t make the cut. It’s the other expansions I’d be more worried about. In my next article on Frontier, I’d like to delve a little bit deeper into this topic and look at how things would look without Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged in the format. Flavor-wise, Sarkhan bringing Ugin back to life in the past changed the fate of the Tarkir plane, but maybe it changed the rest of the future as well in all other planes. As this new future would be a new frontier, it could be a good starting point for a new format perhaps (especially if Wizards doesn’t want a format with Fetchlands in it).
Be sure to check back in the coming weeks to see how the Untap Frontier league is progressing, as well as to see how the format would shape up without KTK and FRF. If you have any comments or any other ideas on how not having M15 in Frontier would change the format around, I’d like to hear your opinions! Be sure to post them down below. Thanks for reading and see you around.