In July 2014, Wizards released a core set that seemed just like any other that had come before it. As it turns out, this set would forever alter the landscape of our great game of Magic. M15 introduced the templating that contains the anti-counterfeiting symbol at the bottom of each card. Just like 8th Edition did for the Modern, so has M15 done for the fledgling Frontier format.
About a month ago, I heard about this new format called Frontier. There were some budget players discussing it at my shop, and I dismissed the credibility of the format almost immediately. Just like with any news in Magic, though, there can be financial implications from flash in the pan formats, like Tiny Leaders, just as there are in established formats like Standard, Modern, and Legacy. This is a principle I need to remember in the future. Just because I don’t think a format will survive doesn’t mean that others won’t invest their time and money in it.
Frontier is not an officially sanctioned tournament format yet, but from all the attention it’s getting lately, I suspect it will be added to the increasingly long list sometime in the near future. In case you aren’t up to speed yet, here are the list of sets that are legal in the format:
Khans of Tarkir Block
Battle for Zendikar Block
Shadows Over Innistrad Block
With only eleven sets legal in the format right now, the card pool is relatively small. Basically we are talking about only two years of cards to build from. While there will be some powerful interactions from multiple Standard formats overlapping, there is nothing degenerate happening just yet.
Adding another non-rotating format to the mix could make the finance scene interesting. Modern is already similar to Legacy from a financial investment standpoint anyway. Many players still have a hard time breaking into Modern because of the price barrier. Wizards will continue to try to fix this problem with reprints and Modern Masters sets, but I think Frontier might be a better way to bridge the gap between the formats.
From an owner's perspective, I think this format is a genuinely great idea. Players who want to play frequently could run their Standard deck multiple times per week, and while that’s not ideal, they wouldn’t be completely outclassed like if they went up against a Modern deck. Additionally, many players have been around for the past couple formats and still have some powerful cards lying around that they could build from. My store is even thinking about hosting tournaments in this format because we have already generated a lot of interest from our player base.
The other reason that Frontier is great is because of the financial implications. These past two years' cards are mostly gathering dust around the shop because they don’t have a specific purpose. Many of the most powerful cards in this format are not quite good enough for Modern, and so they have fallen into the post-Standard price decline that cards normally follow. With a reignited need for these cards, prices have already started to change. If Wizards formally backs this format, we will be looking at a big bump to many cards from these sets.
In addition to discussing the basics about this format, I also wanted to identify some great financial targets as well. Take a look at what I’ve dug up so far.
We all know that getting banned in Modern is an indication of power level. Unsurprisingly, Dig Through Time is one of the most powerful things you can be doing in Frontier. As of now, there is no banned list for this format because no one formed one yet. I think Dig would be one of the first cards on the chopping block, though.
There has been some initial demand already for this card. Recently, we sold all available copies on TCGplayer. Although the price hasn’t risen dramatically, it has already gone up with the limited demand Frontier has brought to the community.
Hangarback Walker is the real evidence that credibility is being given to this new format. Formerly a slightly better than bulk rare, Hangarback has already quadrupled in price! Even the market price hasn’t adjusted to this new price point. The lowest copies available right now are $6 if you include shipping. That’s a lot for a card without a home. In Frontier, though, Hangarback is an all-star just like it was in Standard.
I don’t think this artifact creature has what it takes to get banned from the format, but I do think it will be a staple as long as the format exists. So, if you want to play this guy, $6 each might not be too much to ask for your copies. I think it will take a while before it climbs much higher in price though.
One of the most potent decks we’ve seen in the past couple of years was Abzan. There were many varieties of this deck including multiple versions of aggro and midrange/control.
Just like in every format, there will be some shenanigans from decks utilizing their graveyard. Anafenza, the Foremost does a great job at shutting down all of these synergies. No matter what your opponent is trying to do, she prevents all of it as long as they are creatures.
So the previously mentioned Hangarback Walker, gets to make no tokens when she’s around. This doesn’t do much to stop the cost altering for Dig Through Time though unless they are using creatures to fuel their Delving.
Abzan was a powerful color combination during its reign in Standard and it should continue its dominance in frontier as well. Anafenza is already up to $5 as well and it’s no surprise considering how well she pairs against the next card.
If you were looking for a better Abzan card to invest in, you might want to look to Warden of the First Tree. This green mythic rare is still bulk and should be able to be acquired on the cheap right now. Assuming a lower mana cost is preferable in Frontier just as it is in Modern and Legacy, Warden would be a premier threat in the format.
Although Abzan controlled the format for most of its time, many considered Rally the Ancestors to be the true best deck in the format. This one card combo, allows you to drain your opponent for all their remaining life points thanks to triggers from Zulaport Cutthroat.
As one of the best combo cards legal in the format, I expect Rally to adopt a strong following. I like this card a lot as a bulk spec. With a larger land selection to build with, the deck will now have better mana than it had previously as well.
Speaking of combo, what better way to kill your opponent than with tokens fueled by Jeskai Ascendancy? Whether your pairing Ascendancy with Hordeling Outburst or another awesome financial target like Goblin Rabblemaster, this deck should be the real deal.
This strategy was top tier when it was in Standard and now it should theoretically have more tools than it did before. One of the difficult initial aspects about Frontier is that we don’t really have a metagame yet. There are some results to base our initial thoughts on, but there are not enough of them yet to guide the format in one direction or another.
Even though its not clear yet where these decks stand in relation to one another, Jeskai Ascendancy is powerful enough that it should be a reasonable deck choice. I think that right now, the fact that you can basically play whatever strategy you’d like is a huge bonus for the format. You can’t play whatever you’d like in Modern or Legacy because some strategies are just outclassed by the power level of those formats. With Frontier, the power level is lower as is the card pool so everyone should be on more even footing.
All three of the good Commands seem like great investments. Atarka's Command and Kolaghan's Command already see play in Modern, so adding another Format to their viability would do a lot to increase their prices. Dromoka's Command is still great, just like it was in Standard, but it doesn’t really have a home in Modern yet. It’s powerful and versatile enough for that format, but there isn’t a deck that really wants to include it. Many Frontier decks could slot it into their build quite easily and it would be one of the best cards in the deck.
Frontier doesn’t have many good one-mana removal spells, if any, so these two and three mana spells are what the format will rely on for keeping the board in check.
I especially like Atarka's Command because it could be the centerpiece of Atarka Red once again. Frontier, just like every other format, is likely to contain a red aggressive deck who’s goal is to burn you out after using some cheap creatures to lower your life total. This time around though, we can base our strategy entirely on Goblins and add Goblin Piledriver to the already formidable roster. The deck might stick to just playing the most powerful creatures like Monastery Swiftspear, but it could also go in a tribal direction. No matter which way the deck sways, Rabblemaster will be a prominent inclusion.
Standard will give us some great cards for this format as well. Spell Queller and Smuggler's Copter come to mind as great potential cards to play in our bridge to Modern format. We all know how great these cards are because they are seen all over the tables at events from an FNM to a Grand Prix.
The main reason I wanted to include these cards in this article is to show that the best Standard cards should frequently turn into format staples in Frontier. This is not always the case with cards transitioning to Modern, but for a while, it should hold true for Frontier. So, hold onto those Standard staples or get the most out of them. Don’t automatically devalue them because they are rotating out of Standard.
Blue based decks are a favorite of tournament players and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is one of the cards at the top of that list. The Snapcaster Mage like ability to recur your powerful interactive spells only gets better the more options you have. This Jace works best when paired with powerful Sorcery spells that you can utilize on your own turn. He also can do a great job enabling potential graveyard synergies.
We saw Vryn's Prodigy be valued more highly than any other card since Jace, the Mindsculptor. He already sees modest play in Modern but that adoption seems to have been severed for the most part. In Frontier though, he should be under consideration for best card in the format. I know I still have my copies from Standard to potentially use in Modern, hopefully you do to.
Jace is the prime example of real demand existing due to the influx of players looking for Frontier cards. His value a couple months ago was half of what it is now. If Wizards supports this format though, I think he could continue to climb even higher towards his Standard peak.
This past year was dominated by a green instant that let you cheat creatures into play for less than what they cost. Collected Company is good enough for Modern and certainly for Frontier. With how dominant it was in Standard, I’m not sure Frontier is ready to face this level of power.
I know I would be very excited to play with this card once more as would many other players who piloted any versions of the deck when it was in Standard. The Bant version would still be a strong choice, but I’m more interested in trying out different variations that utilize the entire card pool.
Before everyone was playing Bant Company, I was having a blast and crushing the competition with Temur Company and Savage Knuckleblade. My very first thought about Frontier was that I could revamp that deck and that thought got me hooked on the format. I think many players who like to build decks would have similar thoughts and that will quickly bring them into the format as well.
Since their time leaving Standard the Fetchland reprints in Khans of Tarkir have not gained any value. In fact, most of them have dropped from their heights while they were there. With another format adding demand though, the Fetches should start their incline in the near future. Right now, these lands range only from $11 to $15 which is very affordable for multi-format land staples such as these. If you were planning on ever getting Fetches, unless we get a large reprint, like having them again in Standard, this is likely the lowest they'll ever be.
We know we have the Battle lands like Canopy Visa to pair with the Fetch lands as well as any future lands with basic land types. Most manabases should include Wooded Foothills and the rest of the Khans Fetches. Khans block has the best mana that this format has to offer and I'm sure every deck will take advantage of it. The lands available in a format really dictate the tempo in which decks can operate, but with the amount of sets legal in Frontier, we already have enough tools to work with to make consistent three color decks.
Lastly, I wanted to finish up by reminding us all, via Smother, what happened last time. When Tiny Leaders popped up, that format gained a lot of momentum in the community in a short amount of time. I think at this point we can safely say there’s no long-term future for the format, and for the most part, players have abandoned it altogether. Even with the validity of the format in question, tournament organizers still scheduled tournaments for the format and players still invested in it. I know I dove right in and made a bunch of decks as well as speculating on potential financial targets.
One card I identified early was Smother. With one of the main limiting factors in the format being converted mana cost three or less, it’s easy to see what an all-star Smother would be. Even though it’s not as efficient as a one mana spell like Swords to Plowshares, killing any creature for two mana is still powerful.
When excitement for this format was in full gear, Smother foils were selling for $15 or more and climbing. I accumulated a nice pile of foils from various sets and was able to buy list them all for $8 to $10 each. Now the sell price has dwindled down to around $3, but I still made money from these removal spells.
My point is that even if Frontier never gets adopted as the next big format, players will still invest in cards from this era. With the prices on these cards being so low, if any demand pops up for a sustained amount of time, these cards will definitely increase in value. Some shop owners might even preemptively pull these cards and reprice them in anticipation of the future price increase.
Right now, players are jumping straight to previous archetypes, and that’s a normal starting point. I want to play Temur Company or maybe another color combination with the card. Other players will be looking to advance their favorite strategy from the past two years as well. Once we get past this first initial stage, players will begin to mix the cards in new and interesting ways. This is when the real fun begins and the format will shape itself into a true metagame. There will be strategies that combine cards from multiple blocks that never had a chance to exist together before. What an exciting thought!
Until next time,
Unleash the Frontier Force!
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