A New Frontier – DOMination: The Impact of Dominaria on Frontier
“A New Frontier” is a series of articles based around the MTG format created by Hareruya and Big Magic in Japan 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.
Dominaria has already shook up standard with a number of strong cards. Lyra Dawnbringer has brought UW decks back to tier 1 status, and Steel Leaf Champion, the GGG 5/4 creature, has made green stompy decks an absolute powerhouse. But will they be equally as strong in Frontier? With season 5 of the Untap Open Frontier League underway, and a few small holiday tournaments in the books at Hareruya, we have an early view of just what kind of world Frontier will be in the coming months before the next God of Frontier tournament. There’s still a lot of room for improvement in these early decks, and quite a few strategies are largely untapped at the moment because people haven’t had a chance to try out all the cards yet. Hopefully this article will get some of you thinking about new Frontier decks!
Dominaria 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 DOM 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 Rivals of Ixalan, and I’ll speculate which archetypes will see an increase in power.
5 Star Cards
- Karn, Scion of Urza
- Enemy Check Lands
Karn is already all over standard, both in mainboards and sideboards, so it would be crazy that he doesn’t make his way over to Frontier soon. We’re still in the early testing stages of Dominaria, so I don’t expect too much, but before the end of Dominaria standard, I expect Karn to make quite a significant impact. Aggro, midrange, control . . . you name it and I bet Karn will be in that archetype. His colorless mana cost makes him ideal for any deck, especially those that need more card advantage. We could see him in UR Ensoul, Jeskai or Mardu Vehicles, and even a possible UB artifact/Improvise deck in the future. Keep an eye on him.
I’m not going to post all of their pictures, but I expect the enemy Check lands to start showing up more and more in the coming months. The pain lands have filled the gap nicely, but being able to switch them out for a check land will do a lot for decks that have had mana problems and were feeling the hurt against aggro because of their pain lands. Aggro decks might still want fast lands and pain lands so they don’t have to worry about slowing down, but midrange and control decks will be positively affected by further mana fixing in their colors, and without having to pay the penalty. Fetch a basic or Battle land, and you’ll be good the rest of the game. They won’t be 4 ofs in many decks, but they’ll still be showing up in a variety of builds from here on out.
4 Star Cards
- History of Benalia
- Lyra Dawnbringer
- Goblin Chainwhirler
- Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
- Llanowar Elves
Lyra Dawnbringer is another great finisher in control in a long line of finishers over the ages. Push is still the most popular removal spell in Frontier, and most other decks are either running Languish or Grasp of Darkness which she survives. I would think that perhaps Murderous Cut becomes a little bit better as SB choices for those black/x decks going forward. UB and Grixis control have been doing very well in Frontier recently, but perhaps we’ll see a resurgence in Esper, Jeskai, and UW now that Lyra can join the ranks of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Both should give people more reason to step away from the non white versions, as well as to focus more on 3 colors in order to be able to cast Lyra Dawnbringer consistently. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more control in the next few months of Frontier.
Goblin Chainwhirler should be a great addition to both Ramunap Red and Atarka red decks. Not only does he break the mirror wide open by killing all of your opponent’s 1/1 goblin tokens, but he also does a nice job against token decks like my Mardu tokens deck. I would think that he also is good to have against UR Ensoul, which plays a lot of thopters, and also against Temur Energy decks using Whirler Virtuoso tokens to clog up the board. The second question we have to ask though is, does Goblin Chainwhirler give mono red goblins enough power to break into Frontier now? Goblin Piledriver has been on the cusp of playability for a while now, and thanks to cards like Siege Gang Commander, Goblin Rabblemaster, and Reckless Bushwhacker, I think the archetype is primed for a comeback. Know what’s scarier than a format with 2 viable red aggro decks? A format with 3 viable red decks. Keep your eye out on this one.
Frontier already had Elvish Mystic as a 1 mana ramp card, but I still feel like there are some decks out there that have powerful 3 and 4 drop creatures that want a little more consistency and need that 5th or 6th mana dork to ensure a powerful start. The Jund Landfall deck I made could certainly go for two more mana dorks, and I’m sure GB Elves would much rather have these than Gnarlroot Trapper which you have to pay life to use. Speaking of elves, Woodland Cemetery should also help its mana base out a lot. Other possible uses of 6+ mana dorks could be some sort of tool box deck using Chord of Calling and Eldritch Evolution. The effect of having a total of 8 one casting cost mana creatures won’t be apparent right away, but as the metagame develops more and more, I think we’ll see more competitive lists popping up that aren’t playing only 4. Hopefully some of those brews will be able to make the jump to tier 2 or 2.5 because of Llanowar Elves help.
I’m not quite sure where History of Benalia will fit in, but I think most people will consider GW Tokens as a first stop. The tokens archetype hasn’t seen much love in Frontier yet, and I’m sure people have tried out GW Tokens but found it to be underwhelming to other archetypes running the same colors such as Bant Humans Coco, Abzan Hardened Scales, or Abzan midrange decks. However, History of Benalia brings a power level hitherto unheard of to Frontier. It could be JUST what BW, GW, and Mardu tokens needs to be more competitive in the format. It doesn’t necessarily need to be in a tokens deck, but I suspect that’s where it will start. It’s seeing a lot of play in BW vehicles in standard at the moment, as well as UW Historic midrange. Both of these decks are strong and could possibly make the jump to Frontier after another season of good cards are added.
3 Star Cards
- Benalish Marshal
- Shalai, Voice of Plenty
- Cast Down
- Song of Freyalise
- Sylvan Awakening
- Adeliz, the Cinder Wind
- Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain
- Raff Capashen, Ship’s Mage
Benalish Marshal seems like it would work really well in tokens alongside History of Benalia, but it’s draw back is the triple white cost. Therefore I think GW or BW tokens would be the best choices for that archetype. Another possible inclusion could be in the UW humans, or “WUmans” deck. Bant might be a little too hard for it to cast, but UW Humans shouldn’t have that much of a problem. It’s a great card to have on top of Thalia’s Lieutenant, making your humans absolutely huge in a short amount of time. Heck, it might even give RW Humans the push it needs to become viable again. RW Humans uses to be a good standard deck back during Eldritch Moon standard, so it’s definitely a possibility. I also like Benalish Marshal in mono white aggro decks, regardless of whether their human or not. Having Marshal and Always watching in the same deck would be absolutely brutal, and Karn could even give the deck the card advantage it’s always needed ^_^.
Adeliz, the Cinder Wind is quite the unsuspecting card and it hasn’t shown up in standard at all aside from a just for fun budget UR Wizards deck promoted by the professor at Tolarian Community College, but it’s already starting to take Frontier by storm, literally. Adeliz has joined forces with Soul-Scar Mage and Stormchaser Mage to hit for huge swathes of damage in single turns thanks to the ‘double’ Prowess effect Adeliz gives to wizards. The deck also shown up with Monastery Swiftspear and Umezawa Tetsuko tech to give it slightly more evasion. It can be scary if you’re not ready for it, and I think the deck has potential to reach tier 2 in the near future. Perhaps she could help Jeskai Ascendancy tempo make a comeback as well?
Syncopate has been showing up in a number of control decks decks as a better Dissipate type effect which is to be expected, but the real surprise at recent Hareruya tournaments here in the Tokyo area has been Raff Capashen. While meaningless in most of the traditional control decks, Raff Capashen, Ship’s Mage has breathed new life into Jeskai and Esper dragon decks. Those decks are chock full of historic spells like Silimugar and Ojutai, and playing them at instant speed at the end of an opponent’s turn can be downright nasty. The deck was also playing Teferi and other planeswalkers at flash speed, which created an entirely new dynamic for control decks to explore. It should be a fun next few months in Frontier with Raff!
While somewhat heavy at 4 mana each, I think Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain and the Weatherlight itself could both lend themselves well to UR ensoul decks. Jhoira helps UR Ensoul in the long game by letting you draw cards whenever you play an artifact spell (of which there are a lot of), and Weatherlight is another good target for Ensoul Artifact since it lets you grab a new Smuggler’s Copter, Ghostfire Blade, or even a Darksteel Citadel if you need land. Jhoira could also show up in Jeskai Cheerios along with Sram, Senior Edificer and Danitha Capashen, Paragon to draw a crap ton of cards. That deck was always on the fringes, but with 2 new pieces being added from Dominaria it might have just what it needs to become competitive.
I was incredibly excited about Sylvan Awakening when it was spoiled. It fits perfectly in my ‘Jundfall’ deck that vomits lands into play and then can hit for huge amounts of damage if Sylvan Advocate is in play. I think people might actually look into this for ramp decks in the future as an alternate win condition outside of your giant Eldrazi or dragons. I don’t know if ramp decks still have enough to be on par with Aetherworks Marvel decks, but this card should go a long way in helping it compete. Another use it’s found has been in Jeskai Ascendancy decks. What made Ascendancy decks work so well before was that cards like Sylvan Caryatid made it impossible to interact with the combo outside of taking out Ascendancy. Sylvan Awakening turns ALL of your lands into Sylvan Caryatids of sorts, giving them hexproof and indestructible. All you need to do is leave one mana open for a spell and you can untap all of your lands and go off on the combo, pumping up your lands with a +1/+1 trigger each time you play a spell. The deck needs some more testing, but I think Jeskai Ascendancy is back in the running as a tiered deck. I expect it to be tier 2 by the end of the season.
Ultimate Price used to be a good removal spell when Theros’ mono colored decks were in power, but Frontier is all about powerful multicolored cards like Mantis Rider, Siege Rhino, and Anfenza, the Foremost. Cast down is a good card to supplement your Fatal Pushes with, and I would expect it to be in a lot of main boards as a 2-of and show up in sideboards even more. In some cases I would expect it to supplant Murderous Cut as well, especially in aggro decks where low mana cost is king.
The last two cards that I think could make an impact in Frontier are Shalai, Voice of Plenty, and Song of Freyalise. I’d like to start with Song, because there have been decks based around Cryptolith Rites in the past, be it the GB Zulaport deck that ramped into an early Ormendahl with a critical mass of eldrazi spawn, or even the Brood Monitor/Eldrazi Displacer deck that could go infinite and kill people with a Zulaport Cutthroat in play. We might see more creature based ramp decks in the future, foregoing the traditional ramp spells in favor of powerful value creatures that can take a hit like Sylvan Advocate to bring out bigger creatures.
As for Shalai, I think she has a lot of potential. I don’t foresee her making an immediate impact, but decks like GW tokens might be made better by her, as would GW Toolbox/Coco, GW Scales/Counters that wins with Abzan Falconer, or any of those other white based decks that need protection. Adding Lyra Dawnbringer into the mix gives Frontier a lot of playable Angels now (Linvala & Gisela for example), so I wouldn’t be surprised to see some kind of Angel midrange deck in the future as well. It also makes Superfriends/Planeswalker decks more viable.
Best of the Rest
- Merfolk Trickster – UG Merfolk gets ever closer to becoming playable in Frontier, but it still needs a few more high impact cards to set itself apart from other Collected Company decks.
- Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive – it’s already shown up in some top 8 lists at small tournaments at Hareruya in Temur Collected Company Assault formation decks, and should work well in Prowess decks too.
- Zahid, Djinn of the Lamp – I wouldn’t be surprised to see this show up in Ensoul Artifact decks, or even Jeskai Vehicles. A very strong flyer that can be cheated into play in an artifact heavy deck.
- Vicious Offering – I think this is just the kind of card that black token based decks like GB and Mardu needed. Grasp of Darkness was always decent, but being able to kill a Siege Rhino or Lyra Dawnbringer makes it much better removal in the right deck. Heck, even Zombie decks could probably benefit from it.
- Wizard’s Lightning – It’s shown up in UR prowess, which has a lot of Wizards to help you cast it for 1 mana.
- Marwyn, the Nurturer – Possible inclusion in Elves? Maybe a 2-3 of, but not sure how effective it will be and how it will match up against other decks.
- Multani, Yavimaya’s Avatar – Absolutely love it in land based ramp decks as another possible win condition. Just gotta worry about those exile effects.
- Mox Amber – Mox Amber seems like it would be great in a Jhoria/Sram Cheerios type deck that lets you play your artifacts over and over again after bouncing them to your hand so that you can draw your deck.
- Seal Away – White has been needing some instant speed exile effects for a while, and I think Seal Away will be serviceable, but probably not enough against an aggro heavy metagame, especially with cards like Mantis Rider that can’t be targeted with it, and Dromoka’s Command to get rid of it in Abzan/GW decks.
Shifting Power Levels
We’ll be feeling the effects of Dominaria in Frontier for months to come, but I think there are some decks that will be more immediately effected. Here’s what I think will both gain and lose power from the new cards.
- Jeskai/Mardu Vehicles/UR Ensoul – UP. Cards like Karn, Scion of Urza, Zahid, Djinn of the Lamp, the Weatherlight, and of course the enemy check lands will make this deck more competitive. Karn is much easier on the mana than Chandra in the 3 color decks, and his constructs become incredibly powerful in artifact based decks. The decks should have more of a long game now.
- UW/Esper Control – UP. Teferi, Hero of Dominara gives white based control decks another win condition in a long line of win cons, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lyra Dawnbringer show up in some builds too. Raff Capashen brings an entirely new way to play control to the format, as his ability to flash in historic spells could possibly make decks like Jeskai/Esper dragons playable again. Of course flashing in your Narset Transcendent or Lyra would also be nice, but decks deemed too slow for the format might have another chance.
- Jeskai Ascendancy/Sram’s Cheerios – UP. Thanks to Mox Amber, Jhoira, and Sylvan Awakening, both combo decks gets a few more tools to help them combo off earlier and more consistently, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them show up at tournaments in the future. While not Tier 1 or Tier 2 like the Saheeli combo strategies, if you don’t respect them you’re going to feel the hurt.
- BW/GW Tokens – UP. Just how much of an impact History of Benalia and Benalish Marshal are going to make is yet to be seen, but they should both help out token decks tremendously. Tokens needed a little bit more power to finish games out quickly, and I think it might finally have enough to mount an attack against this hyper aggressive meta as strong midrange contender.
There are probably going to be a few more changes to the metagame as people explore the new interactions between Dominaria cards and the previous Frontier card pool, but with a limited amount of Frontier events happening it’s probably going to be a while before we see a large number of new decks/archetypes. If you’ve been brewing and have some ideas you’d like to share, please feel free to share them down below. As always, thanks for reading and if you’re ever in Tokyo be sure to stop by Hareruya for some Frontier action and say hello!
I’d also like to recommend the MTG Final Frontier website. They have great Frontier content and do a weekly podcast about Frontier. I became part of the podcast team last week and you can listen to my debut in episode 27 as a host of the show as we talk about cards and strategies you’ll only find in Frontier! You can listen to it on their website, as well as on iTunes if you look for Magic the Final Frontier