One thing about me that you may not have known is that I’m a pretty big baseball fan, and therefore have always associated “winter” with “offseason,” and it currently feels applicable to the Magic world as well. There aren’t any big tournaments currently with the Holiday Season in full swing with the New Year rapidly approaching.
Aether Revolt will shake up a Standard format that looked to be only B/G Delirium and W/U Flash a couple of months ago but is now dominated by Aetherworks Marvel. Modern players are also holding their breath as a new set also means an update to the Banned and Restricted list, and it wouldn’t be too shocking to see many cards banned and unbanned, nothing happen, or anything in between.
While the two largest Constructed formats are eagerly awaiting Aether Revolt to see what the future entails for them, a brand-new format has started to emerge from seemingly out of nowhere, Frontier.
As it stands now, Frontier is a non-rotating format that has been designed to be a bridge between Standard and Modern, the latter of which now includes expansion and core sets from the last thirteen-and-a-half years. Frontier encompasses expansion and core sets that have the Magic 2015 card frame, which currently includes Magic 2015, Khans of Tarkir block, Magic Origins, Battle for Zendikar block, and Kaladesh block.
Now there are plenty of reasonable questions that many, including me, have about the future of Frontier. As currently constructed, it’s designed to fill the same role that Modern was when it came into existence five-and-a-half years ago. Some questions that I currently hear often when people discuss Frontier’s future include:
- Will Frontier face the same problems in five years that Modern has now as far as high monetary barrier to entry costs?
- Will Frontier be “solved” too easily when more people try to break the format?
- Will Wizards of the Coast recognize and support Frontier?
- Is Frontier just the newest fad that will disappear in a couple months a la Tiny Leaders?
- Will Frontier need a Banned and Restricted list as well?
And many more, but to be honest, I don’t have any answers to these questions, and I’m not here to dwell on them today. I think the more ways to play Magic, the better, and instead of focusing too much on what may happen way down the line, I’d like to see what Frontier is currently like. So let’s first dive in and see what the very preliminary attempts at deckbuilding for the format looks like. With a format this new there isn’t necessarily a lot of data, but let’s take a look at this wide-open format.
- 4 Nantuko Husk
- 3 Elvish Visionary
- 4 Satyr Wayfinder
- 4 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
- 2 Catacomb Sifter
- 3 Zulaport Cutthroat
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 3 Spell Queller
Let’s start off with what is perceived by some to be the best deck in the format, Four-Color Rally. There hasn’t been very much graveyard hate printed in Frontier’s timespan, and Four-Color Rally aims to take full advantage of that. Satyr Wayfinder is the big addition to the deck that wasn’t legal when Rally was one of the most popular Standard decks early in 2016. Wayfinder is an incredibly efficient way to fill the graveyard, so much so that being able to play Dig Through Time is an option. Spell Queller is also a nice addition to the deck, providing another way to interact with your opponent’s spells while comboing with Nantuko Husk quite nicely. You can sacrifice the Spell Queller with the exile trigger on the stack, exiling their spell forever.
Four-Color Rally is definitely one of the early leaders in the clubhouse as being the best deck in Frontier, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have predators. Both Goblins and Atarka Red are aggressive options that have the ability to go under Four-Color Rally, and control decks such as Esper Dragons have the ability to grind through Four-Color Rally with the use of efficient counterspells.
- 3 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 4 Monastery Swiftspear
- 2 Lightning Berserker
- 2 Zurgo Bellstriker
- 4 Abbot of Keral Keep
- 2 Reckless Bushwhacker
It pains my heart to only see three Goblin Rabblemaster in this list, and the first thing I would (probably wrongly) do is find room for the fourth. The rest of the list resembles good ol’ Atarka Red we all remember, dealing unheard-of amounts of damage with little 1/1s, until seeing those four Smuggler’s Copters. To be fair, Smuggler’s Copter is a wonderful addition to this strategy, with “Crew 1” being the perfect number and allowing the deck to find the final Atarka’s Command or Stoke the Flames to finish off the opponent. We have two Tormod’s Crypt in the sideboard, which is the most commonly used graveyard hate card in the format as of now.
- 4 Goblin Piledriver
- 4 Foundry Street Denizen
- 4 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 2 Goblin Glory Chaser
- 3 Reckless Bushwhacker
There isn’t too much difference between Atarka Red and Goblins, mainly the Foundry Street Denizon, Goblin Piledriver, and Obelisk of Urd. Thankfully Joe found room for all four Goblin Rabblemasters, but only three Stoke the Flames? C’mon! At least I’m a fan of the singular Become Immense that both lists have; I think one is the perfect number for that card. Over in the sideboard I like the three Blossoming Defense, especially if it means I have a better chance at untapping with a Goblin Rabblemaster.
- 1 Silumgar, the Drifting Death
- 1 Dragonlord Silumgar
- 4 Dragonlord Ojutai
- 2 Icefall Regent
- 3 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
If aggro isn’t really your thing, how about control? The biggest payoff by going with Esper Dragons as opposed to a control deck built around Torrential Gearhulk is having access to Silumgar’s Scorn, which is the best counterspell in the format. Crux of Fate is also a quality one-sided sweeper that can take out everything from Elvish Mystic to Siege Rhino. Icefall Regent looks a little out-of-place here, but having a critical mass of Dragons to turn on your Silumgar’s Scorn is necessary. I’d probably want another Dragonlord Silumgar over one of them, but there is certainly value in having a diversity of Dragons to be able to deploy. Hallowed Moonlight is wonderful in the format as a sideboard answer to Collected Company, Rally the Ancestors, Chord of Calling, Eldritch Evolution, and even the token-making cards from the aggressive decks.
- 2 Sylvan Messenger
- 4 Elvish Visionary
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 1 Reclamation Sage
- 1 Hornet Nest
- 2 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
- 1 Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen
- 1 Woodland Bellower
- 4 Dwynen's Elite
- 2 Gnarlroot Trapper
- 4 Shaman of the Pack
- 1 Thought-Knot Seer
- 3 Servant of the Conduit
On a completely different end of the spectrum, we have Elves by Ikuta Masaya, and this deck built around Panharmonicon is after my own heart. Chord of Calling and Eldritch Evolution allow plenty of surprising one-ofs to be used throughout the maindeck and sideboard, including a Thought-Knot Seer. How about getting an instant-speed Hornet Nest to pop in front of a Goblin Rabblemaster, or casting a Woodland Bellower and searching for two Shaman of the Packs, both of which trigger twice? Sign me up!
- 3 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 2 Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury
- 3 Soulfire Grand Master
- 4 Thunderbreak Regent
- 3 Hangarback Walker
- 2 Goblin Dark-Dwellers
Reddit user Nandu has been leading the pack in a Frontier league after two weeks, with Mardu Dragons being their weapon of choice. There isn’t too much different about this list from what Mardu Dragons decks looked like during their time in Standard, but those sideboarded Hushwing Gryffs would not be welcome from the Elves player’s perspective.
Note: There was only an eleven-card sideboard submitted online.
Sphinx’s Tutelage: an enchantment that was wrongfully held back in Standard by the widespread use of Dromoka’s Command, similar to Jeskai Ascendancy. Put it in a wide-open format and add in Cathartic Reunion, Fevered Visions, and Collective Defiance, however, and suddenly we have a really interesting deck. The first thing I notice here though is the use of only two Treasure Cruise, which feels like it’s too low with all of the ways to fill the graveyard with the deck. I would like the random Ob Nixilis Reignited and Fateful Showdown to become Treasure Cruise copies three and four. I approve of a format where mill is a viable strategy, especially when good aggro decks exist.
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Hushwing Gryff
- 4 Anafenza, the Foremost
- 4 Warden of the First Tree
- 3 Grim Flayer
- 3 Scrapheap Scrounger
Let’s finish up with a first-place Abzan Aggro list, a deck that everyone playing since Khans of Tarkir remembers quite well. Especially all of those Siege Rhinos, sigh, so I guess we’ll have to deal with packs of Siege Rhinos again.
Wait a minute, what’s this? This can’t be right. Let me keep looking.
Zero Siege Rhinos? In Abzan Aggro?
I love it. Matt Mealing knew what he was doing with his list and what he wanted for the metagame, which included a full playset of Hushwing Gryff in the maindeck over playing Siege Rhinos. There are still your other classic Abzan cards with Anafenza, the Foremost; Dromoka’s Command; and Abzan Charm making an appearance, but the new additions of Grim Flayer, Scrapheap Scrounger, and Smuggler’s Copter allow the deck to be lower to the ground. Considering all the decklists we took a look at today, this looks the most promising on paper, but I think a little more sideboard help against Atarka Red would be useful.
The two words I always hear when people refer to Frontier is that it is a “brewer’s paradise,” which it undeniably is, but that is to be expected with a format that is as new as it is. Even so, I haven’t heard anything but positive words about the format from everyone that has played it, and it’s ripe for innovation.
I don’t know what the future holds for Frontier. Sure, it may be a flash in the pan, but on the other hand, maybe it’s not. If you’re looking for a fun new format to play with your friends or at your local store, go ahead and give it a try. Brew away! If you have been playing the format already, what deck(s) are you enjoying so far?