Earlier this evening I went out to a local bar for dinner, drinks, and to watch the Lions get embarrassed at home with a few of my Team Ann Arbor friends. One of the primary objectives was to discuss topics for our podcast on Wednesday. As we began discussing some of the basic ideas we wanted to work into our cast, I made what I believed would be a bold claim.
"Frontier is the hottest thing going on in Magic right now." A hot take that I thought would really sizzle. After a brief pause as my friends considered my statement, everybody quickly agreed that we should talk about Frontier and that it was indeed the biggest thing currently happening in MTG.
So let me get this straight... At a table full of pro players I said that an unsanctioned casual format is the most significant thing going on in the world of MTG and nobody even objected to it? Has the world gone completely mad!?
Frontier: Bark or Bite
As finance people, the biggest question most of us have now is how to capitalize on the Frontier phenomenon. The most obvious way would be to speculate on which cards will have an increased demand because of Frontier, and target those cards before they spike: Siege Rhino, Dig Through Time, Goblin Rabblemaster, etc. The cards that had very little value before Frontier existed but in a post-Frontier world are once again desirable.
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound is a card that has notably spiked way up in value because of Frontier demand. But be careful. Is it really "Frontier demand" driving the spike? Not hardly. Droves of people didn't suddenly rush out and all try to buy Jace at the same time because they wanted to buy into Frontier. The spike is speculative. The spike is people betting that Frontier will take off, and that when it does, Jace will be the new Tarmogoyf.
It isn't a bad bet to make. However, I'd say if you didn't buy your Jaces when they were $16, it's probably not great to buy in now that they are twice that price.
The other question we should be asking is whether people will actually play Frontier. Are people going to invest their time, energy and money into the format?
Right now, Frontier is a bright, shiny object that seems fun because it's new and different. People like to think about new iterations of things they already know a lot about. As a Magic fan, it's easy to want to learn about Frontier and theorycraft about different decks and ideas that could be good. The big issue is what happens after all the reading and discussion. Will they actually show up and play?
Do Frontier Players Dream of Electric Rhinos?
I'm not actually sure the analogy works properly, but it's snappy and I kind of like it. How committed are Frontier players to actually creating events and playing Frontier? It matters for the sustained playability of the format.
The biggest problem facing Frontier is that it isn't actually supported by the DCI. There are no "real" events which makes it complicated to get tournaments off the ground. Basically, in order to play Frontier you already have to have a core group of players who want to play and then request that your local game store (LGS) run an unsanctioned event for you.
The whole process seems like a gigantic pain in the butt—and it is—but here's the freaky thing: the format is thriving in spite of that. Unbelievable.
I know for a fact that multiple LGSs in my area offer weekly Frontier events and get 15-plus players to show up and play a format that doesn't even exist. The question becomes: if the format has already made it this far, can it keep going?
For what it's worth, I'm creating more Frontier-based content on Channel Fireball in the coming weeks, and multiple other writers are also covering the format. Between QS and CFB, this is the fifth article I've written about a format that technically doesn't even exist!
With that being said, I'm not sure how much bigger the format can or will get beyond where it is right now. I think the next two weeks are going to be huge in determining the course it will take. Will Frontier be the next EDH or the next Tiny Leaders?
The Best-Case Scenario
From the perspective of a finance person, the best possible scenario would be that after we invested in Frontier staples, Wizards of the Coast announced that Frontier would become a real, sanctioned tournament format with Grand Prix and PPTQs.
Personally, I think they should. The format feels fun enough and they could really capitalize on the momentum that has been building. I love the idea of a brand that acknowledges what their customer base wants and delivers it, and Wizards has responded to player initiative in the past: both Commander and Modern are examples.
The problem is that that would be a risky move. Frontier could compete with Standard and/or Modern. Modern is great and super popular and I can see not wanting to mess with a good thing. Standard is beyond terrible (one of the main reasons Frontier is so appealing right now) and making a format that competes against Standard for attention could be unfavorable for them.
Either way, if Frontier (or some other iteration of a Frontieresque format) were to be officially created, it would significantly spike the price of staples. This is the biggest incentive to invest in Frontier: if you believe it will become a legitimate format down the road.
Capitalizing in Spite of Uncertainty
I have serious doubts that Frontier will become a sanctioned format. However, I still think there are ample ways to cash in.
In particular, I think there's still room for the format to grow in the coming month or so. People are very actively consuming the content. You are, after all, reading yet another article about the format yourself. It seems very likely that if enough people are reading the articles and learning about Frontier, eventually they will want to throw a deck together and play some games.
I predict there will be an opportunity to sell cards into the bubble that is apt to be created. Look for the prospective staples that players are likely to have gotten rid of since they considered them worthless. Siege Rhino is actually a bad example because the card is so obviously good in Modern. Here are some better suggestions:
Dig is banned or restricted in every sanctioned format, which means that there's no reason for people to own the card. If you want to bet on Frontier, this is exactly the kind of card to target. People don't have it and it is format-defining.
Collected Company is already a great Modern staple in addition to being one of the most powerful cards in Frontier. I'd be likely to target CoCo even if Frontier were not happening right now, so it feels like a double dip.
Atarka's Command has already begun to creep up, but it feels a lot like CoCo in terms of a Frontier investment. It is already great in Modern and the Frontier hype can't possibly hurt. Atarka Red would clearly be a format-defining archetype in Frontier.
Basically, a card that has very little value right now but could be good in some version of Frontier. Goblin Rabblemaster is a heck of a card, and Piledriver seems sweet alongside it. It always seemed weird to me that Piledriver was in Origins. Perhaps, having a Goblin deck for a format in between Standard and Modern was something Wizards already envisioned.
Another card that shows up in a ton of Frontier decks but which is basically a glorified bulk rare in Standard. It is also worth noting that the card is great with Ancestral Vision and Boom // Bust in Modern. Overall it's a card ripe for speculation.
The battle lands are the shocklands of the Frontier. If you can pick them up cheap it might be a good place to be for a couple of reasons. First, if Frontier takes off. Second, nobody is playing Standard right now but if Wizards manages to "fix" it or create new demand to play the format, there could be some gains as people rush to make decks after Pro Tour Aether Revolt.
The Modern-playable Zendikar block creature lands are great investments regardless of whether or not Frontier is here to stay. Good cards are good. The smaller the cardpool, the better and more important cards like these become.
The key here is to identify cards that have some application beyond just Frontier as a way to hedge in case Frontier doesn't make it. I'm not saying it will or won't, but if interest starts to wane at some point I don't want to get caught holding the bag on a bunch of Siege Rhinos I paid $1 a piece on.
The other thing to keep in mind is that selling into the spike is very real. You can't control what the market will do indefinitely, and selling high is always a good option.