A New Frontier – Working the Core: The Impact of M19 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 that people casually play.
First things first! I wanted to let you all know/remind you that I’ve joined the team over at MTG Final Frontier and have been helping to produce their Podcast the the last few months with the amazing Kevin Finkle and Matt Murday. We’ve been pumping out some great content about Frontier over there so I recommend checking out our Podcast Section. You can also find us on Itunes if you search MTG Final Frontier.
I’m trying something a little different this time around. Before I have always made my picks at the beginning of the new Frontier season when a new set is released, but this time around I’ve waited until a few tournaments had been held at Hareruya, as well as the completion of the Untap Frontier league. This gives me a lot more data to work with as far as making predictions for the long-term future of Frontier. I’m sure it won’t be as exciting as brewing and imagining how cards could be used at the start of the season, but results are results.
Since the last time I wrote about Frontier wayyyy back in the middle of May after Dominaria came out, there’s been a huge amount of events and happenings in the format. WR Control, Mono Black Control, UR Prowess, Esper Control (twice), GB Aggro, and Mardu Vehicles all won double digit player events at Hareruya. While Control seems to be doing well in the format, the metagame is still wide open with a good balance of control, aggro, and combo strategies. Players are continuing to push the format in new directions and are coming up with some great new ideas.
Hareruya also held a special event the other week that pitted their previous Gods of Magic against this year’s Gods of magic. There were winners for each format, and the Frontier format pitted Ishiwata Kouchi Vs. Kihara Atsuki. Both were on a 4 Color control deck and played a best of 5 game to see who would be crowned the reigning God of Frontier. You can watch the video on YouTube if you’re interested in seeing it. There were some really good plays that kept me glued to my seat.
On top of the Hareruya events, the Untap Open series has also been going on. Season 5 was still going on last time I posted about Dominaria, and as I write this season 6 is winding down. I don’t think I’ll get around to the details in this article, but in the near future I hope to get you all caught up on what’s been happening over here in Japan. I’ll have a metagame break down, deck lists, top 8’s, and a variety of other information available! Well, I think it’s time to give you what you came here for.
M19 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 M19 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. An example would be a creature that gains you tons of advantage or a spell that locks down an opponent for the remainder of the game like Ugin.
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. A good example would be spells like Chord of Calling or creatures like Siege Rhino.
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. I see cards like Thalia, Heretic Cathar in this spot.
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
- Stitcher’s Supplier
M19 got a lot of great rare reprints, but I don’t think any of them will have as much of an impact as Stitcher’s Supplier will. This card is an amazing enabler for so many decks in Frontier. Delirium, Dredge, Zombies, Gift, and especially Rally the Ancestor decks are going to absolutely love this card. It’s also going to work great with the new “Undergrowth” mechanic in Guilds of Ravnica and will fit in perfectly next to other graveyard abilities like Delve. We might not see the impact right away, but this card is going to be huge in the future as the metagame develops.
4 Star Cards
- Death Baron
- Supreme Phantom
- Elvish Clancaller
- Nicol Bolas, the Ravager
Zombies got a nice little bump from the Amonkhet block, but it wasn’t enough. It was stuck in that tier 3 position and didn’t seem to want to budge. Enter Death Baron. Including Lord of the Accursed, the archetype now has 2 lords. I think the strategy has potential to become a tier 2 deck now if 4 of these find their way into it, but finding the correct OTHER 56 cards is going to be a challenge. Do you play mono black? Black and white? Black and Blue? Heck, even Golgari is giving zombies some cards to play with, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see the archetype get much better in the coming months.
Supreme Phantom has already proven itself in UW Spirits in modern, and it’s shown up in Frontier a little bit as well. A UW Spirit deck made top 8 of an event at Hareruya at the start of the M19 Frontier season, and I think the deck has a lot of good tools to do well in the metagame. Spell Queller is never going to NOT be amazing in the format, and Supreme Phantom turns it into a rather strong beater when it’s in play.
Seriously Wizards. Stop with the tribal support already! GB Elves was already a decent deck and had gotten even better with the printing of Steel Leaf Champion in Dominaria, but Elvish Clancaller successfully changes the archetype from combo to beatdown. Sure you can still win with a Shaman of the Pack, but now you can just straight up wreck your opponent with 2, 3, and 4 power elves with a few of these in play. GB Elves also gets much better with the new GB elves in Ravnica, so I expect this card and strategy to show up more at future events.
I’d be really surprised if Nicol Bolas, the Ravager didn’t find a home. Sure 4 color control is the strongest control deck in Frontier right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Grixis fighting back hard in the next few months as the Red/Black/Blue shard gets a number of new spells as well as shocklands in each of its colors. It won’t be a 4 of, but I could see it having equal value to an Emrakul or Teferi if it hits the board. It will gain you so much value and become a huge threat in a very short amount of time.
3 Star Cards
- Militia Bugler
- Remorseful Cleric
- Resplendant Angel
- Sai, Master Thopterist
- Graveyard Marshal
- Chromium, The Mutable
Militia Bugler has quite a few applications. It’s great in mono white humans as it lets you grab just about every card in that deck and dig through your non creature spells, but it’s also been showing up in some Bant Human Coco decks as well. It won’t fit everywhere, but when it does see play it has quite the impact. Grabbing 2 humans with Collected Company and then adding a 3rd when Bugler enters the battlefield can have a HUGE impact.
Unlike Supreme Phantom (which will see play only in Spirit decks), Remorseful Cleric should see play in a number of decks, especially in their sideboards. If you’re going to play cards against graveyard strategies like Dredge/Delve/Delirium, Remorseful Cleric can shut them down as well damage your opponent in the air. It’s a great support for decks that want Revolt effects to play cards like Fatal Push or Renegade Rallier.
Frontier doesn’t have a Soul Sister’s type deck yet, but it does have some damn good Angels. I built BW Angels for season 6 of the Untap League and managed to take it all the way to a top 8 finish out of 37 people. Resplendent Angel was a key card in securing a large number of my wins. Works great with Lyra Dawnbringer and Linvala, the Preserver. It could show up in UW Flyers alongside of Archangel Avacyn, Smuggler’s Copter, and Spell Queller and feel right at home. I don’t think people will play it too much at first, but it should end up being a strong card in the format.
Sai, Master Thopterist has a few different applications for Frontier. First off, we could see him as a 1-2 of in UR Ensoul decks, especially in the sideboard, to help the deck go wide as well as get card advantage when it needs it. Another possibility is the Frontier ‘storm’ combo deck that uses Sram Master Artificer, Aetherflux Reservoir, and tons of cheap artifacts to go off in one turn and win the game. Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain has shown up in some of these decks, as well as Danitha Capashen, Paragon. Adding Sai, Master Thopterist into this build not only makes Mox Amber a lot more consistent, but it also gives the deck another way to win the game. Play a bunch of 0 mana spells, bounce them, play them again, and get an army of thopters to finish the game with the following turn.
Another reason to play zombies in Frontier. Sure there are a lot of zombies that can be returned from the graveyard with Relentless Dead, but Marshal can also fit well into Dredge decks or these new GB Zombie decks that will most certainly “sprout” up from Golgari’s support in Guilds of Ravnica. The same can also be said for Delirium decks.
Control decks have creatures with flash that can in the game. They also have creatures that can’t be countered, and flyers as well. But do they have one that has all 3 of these abilities and can also become a hexproof creature to protect itself? Holy crap. If you’re not playing Chromium in a Frontier control deck you’re doing something wrong. This kind of card breaks the mirror match wide open. Don’t believe me? Just go watch that video of the Gods of Frontier battle from August.
Best of the Rest
- Tezzert, Artifice Master – I’m not sure where he fits just yet, but he could end up being a very strong card for decks like Jeskai or Esper Vehicles, especially against control.
- Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants – I’ve seen Ajani showing up in some people’s mono white aggro decks in the sideboard to give the deck more staying power against control strategies, but there is the possibility he could show up other white based strategies like Rally the Ancestors as a way to get your key cards back.
- Cleansing Nova – While the aggro leaning meta of Frontier tends to favor board wipes like Fumigate, I think Cleansing Nova will show up in a few sideboards. Meta dependent though.
- Mentor of the Meek – Mono white humans probably wants this main or sideboard as a source of card advantage, but it would also fit into token strategies well.
- Suncleanser – If energy decks become a problem in Frontier, this will definitely show up in a lot of sideboards. Fits into Mono white, Abzan, and Bant Company.
- Psychic Corrosion – Will UR Tutelage ever be able to compete? Eventually, but for now it’s still a favorite casual deck for tempo/mill players.
- Goblin Trashmaster – Goblin Tribal will probably never be a thing because Atarka red is so much better at aggro and Humans do tribal so much better, but Trashmaster will be there when it does happen. We’re really close to being able to field a Goblin tribal deck but it needs more incentives.
- Guttersnipe – We haven’t seen UR Alchemist/Turbo burn decks a lot lately, but UR Wizards and UR Prowess are both decent decks in frontier. Guttersnipe gives the Alchemist Burn deck a little more speed and inevitability, and it dodges Fatal Push too.
- Sarkhan’s Unsealing – Green stompy could become a thing now that Frontier has access to 2 one mana cmc mana dorks for a total of 8 in any green deck. Pumping out cards like Steel Leaf Champion become rather easy, and there are tons of green fatties in the format that can easily activate the ability on Unsealing. One such deck made top 8 of last season’s Untap league!
- Vivien Reid – In some instances I see this being better than Vraska and Nissa’s recent iterations. It will add to the versatiliy of your green deck, and help you against control, but at the same time Nissa, Vital Force can do that too. It will be a hard pick.
- Thorn Lieuteant – I’m not quite sure if this fits in GB elves or if it fits in more of a green aggro shell like Abzan aggro, but Thorn Lieutenant has a lot of potential, especially in removal heavy metagames.
- Arcades, the Strategist – While it might not be a tier 1 or 2 strategy, the Assault Formation deck is a blast to play, especially against an aggro heavy metagame. Umezawa Tetsuko gave the deck a lot more finishing power, and Arcades gives the deck more card advantage.
Shifting Power Levels
So what does this all mean for Frontier? What decks will get better and which will lose some power?
- GB Elves – UP. Big winner here. Clancaller will do a lot of work in the deck and make it quite fearsome. You either win with the Shaman combo, win with an early Steel Leaf Champion, or win by going wide and playing multiple Elvish Clancallers. Could be tier 1.5 now.
- Human decks – UP. White and Coco both get access to Militia Bugler which helps keep the pressure on your opponent. Mentor of the Meek also helps out mono white a lot.
- Zombie decks – UP. They haven’t put up any good results yet, but there are so many possibilities with the archetype that it’s only a mater of time. It went from Tier 3 to at least Tier 2.5 with M19. Death Baron + Lord of the Accursed alone makes it worth considering.
- UW Spirits/Flyers – Up. So many new cards to add in from this set. Spirits has already shown it can “fly” with the big boys. Great tempo, evasion, and power.
- Dredge/Delirium and other graveyard strategies – Up. I can not overstate how big of an impact Stitcher’s Supplier will have on the format. We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on its applications yet. You better be packing graveyard hate next time you play.
Until Next time
Well I hope you’ve enjoyed thinking of the possibilities of a new Frontier as much as I have. With the growing card pool it gets more and more difficult to fully explore all the viable archetypes and revisit old ones that are in need of updating, so it’s quite possible that when you start brewing up decks in Frontier that you can stumble onto something nobody else has thought of yet!
Also, what did you think of doing the article at the end of the season instead of at the start? Is it better to hear about cards and combos after they’ve had time to develop? Or do you prefer thinking of all of the possibilities? Guild of Ravnica is going to shake Frontier to its core thanks to multicolor cards and shock lands. Most likely we’re going to see a lot of new aggro strategies and improved midrange, but at the same time hyper aggro like mono red and even burn will get better. I’m not sure when my next article will be, but it will be at least a month, or a few weeks after the pre-release when I do it.
As always thanks of reading and supporting the Frontier format! I hope you enjoy brewing and playing it as much as I do. If you can’t play it at your local game shop, remember you can always join the discord Frontier channel to chat about it, as well as play it on Untap, Cockatrice, or Xmage! We look forward to having you join the community!