Gradually, Modern is developing a financial barrier to enter, like that of entering Legacy. In Modern’s infancy, it was a budget form of Legacy that was more approachable by new players. Although Modern does not have the same breadth and scope of cards that are available in the Legacy card pool, its power level and interactions still attract many players. Over time, the mana base, creatures and vital spells began to rise in price as Modern become more and more popular. The endless cycle of supply vs. demand has progressively driven up staple card prices of the format. It is important to understand that a card can see exclusive play in the Modern format and still command a hefty price tag. For example, Path to Exile, sees very limited Legacy play but is a staple card in Modern decks that contain White. When the card is played, it is generally played as a four-of, and commands a price of $10+ on the secondary market. Getting a playset of the removal spell would then cost $40+ depending on the current market. These prices become even more extreme when it comes to important lands and creatures which only receive limited print runs such as Tarmogoyf.
Seeing the rise in popularity of Modern and the demand for the staple cards, Wizards made strides to reprint cards when they could. Since Modern’s card pool is entirely made up of cards that are not on the reserved list, any of the cards could be reprinted. Wizards took a gamble and released the Modern Masters reprint series. Core cards saw limited reprints and drove down prices temporarily. Unfortunately, Modern Masters ended up causing issues in the long term. Prices on the reprints did temporarily drive prices down but, over time, those prices stabilized to approximately their pre-masters reprint pricing, or in cases even higher. For example, Kitchen Finks (a modern staple), saw a reprint in Modern Masters. Before the reprint Finks was $8-10. Once the card was reprinted, it saw a dramatic price drop to about $2-4. Now, the card is floating around $13 on the secondary market: higher than before it was reprinted. The reprint set also drove up the demand for cards that were not reprinted, like fetch lands. Ultimately, the Masters series got more copies of needed cards into the general player base but really did not make it much easier for new players to enter into modern.
Entry into Modern is not unattainable, but players were crying out for other options. Hareruya, a major store in Japan, is attempting to fill this gap with a new format of their own design: Frontier. Japan is a large market for Magic but they do not have access to the volume of modern and legacy cards that are available in North America and Europe. Japanese players that wanted to play a powered up non-rotating format were searching for some alternative. Hareruya hopes Frontier is the solution, not only for their players but for the magic community at large. Frontier, like Modern, is a non-rotating format that draws a line in the sand where players can only play cards from a certain set forward. Frontier only includes new frame cards with the hologram sticker incorporated into the frame. The card pool is:
Shadows over Innistrad Block
Battle for Zendikar Block
Khans of Tarkir Block
The different card frame acted as an easy way to divide what is Frontier legal and what is not; similar to the method that Modern established. By marking such a recent legality point, deck cost should be a non-issue for the Frontier format. It is also important to keep in mind that post-Return to Ravnica sets all had very high print runs compared to many other sets in Magic’s long history. Having these higher print runs means that card availability and price should be less restrictive for the format, even if demand increases.
The Mana Base
Mana bases are by far the most expensive part of any non-rotating deck and help to define older formats. In Legacy, dual lands are hundreds of dollars each and allow players to create painless, perfect multi-coloured mana. While in modern, mana bases are created around shocklands: a painful yet more economical mana base. Shocks average between $10-15 apiece. Modern and Legacy both make use of fetchlands that only serve to further increase the price of mana bases. Playsets of the original Zendikar fetchlands go for hundreds of dollars on the secondary market. Compromises can be made, but that drives down the consistency and power level of decks. Frontier has created a card pool that avoids many, if not all, of these expensive lands. Legacy has the true dual lands, modern has shock lands, and Frontier has a combination of battle and shadow lands. The frontier land suite includes:
- Five allied fetchlands (Polluted Delta, Flooded Strand, Wooded Foothills, Bloodstained Mire, and Windswept Heath)
- Five enemy manlands (Needle Spires, Wandering Fumarole, Shambling Vent, Lumbering Falls, and Hissing Quagmire)
- Five allied battlelands (Canopy Vista, Prairie Stream, Sunken Hollow, Cinder Glade, and Smoldering Marsh)
- Five allied shadowlands (Choked Estuary, Port Town, Fortified Village, Foreboding Ruins, and Game Trail)
- Five enemy painlands (Yavimaya Coast, Battlefield Forge, Shivan Reef, Caves of Koilos, and Llanowar Wastes)
- Five enemy fastlands (Inspiring Vantage, Botanical Sanctum, Concealed Courtyard, Blooming Marsh, and Spirebluff Canal)
- Five wedgelands (Sandsteppe Citadel, Opulent Palace, Nomad Outpost, Frontier Bivouac, and Mystic Monastery)
- Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
There are other minor lands available to the Frontier pool, but the ones listed above are the most important. Lands like Darksteel Citadel and Sanctum of Ugin are more of a niche importance. Few ways exist in Frontier to punish greedy manabases. The manabases are also much less painful than modern mana because they are not centered on shocklands. While not being painful, the mana is much slower and more difficult to sequence / balance correctly. Players can easily construct four-colour decks but the mana base would be difficult and mentally taxing to create. This type of mana harkens back to the time of 4-colour Mardu Green midrange and Jeskai Black Control decks. Consistent mana is available in the format, it just requires a careful balance. For example, the following is a version of the Jeskai Black manabase; a four colour deck:
An elegant balance is struck between the different types of lands available. As with all the other non-rotating formats, fetchlands play a vital role in anchoring the mana and making the delicate manabases possible. Poor sequencing in the early game will lead to slower mana, lands coming into play tapped and hamper board development. Time and effort needs to be expended on creating the correct and balanced manabase in this format.
Efficient and powerful removal is a necessary component of a non-rotating format. The Mardu wedge of colours makes up the space where removal exists in magic. It is hard to form an exhaustive list of staple removal in Frontier but, the following is a starting point:
- Crackling Doom
- Murderous Cut
- Ultimate Price
- Ruinous Path
- Declaration in Stone
- Utter End
- Anguished Unmaking
- Fiery Impulse
- Galvanic Bombardment
- Lightning Strike
- Harnessed Lightning
- Valorous Stance
- Stasis Snare
- Stoke the Flames
- Blessed Alliance
Frontier removal is pushed much more to the situational spectrum. Unconditional removal does not exist in the same way that it does in Modern or Legacy. Sorcery speed removal and higher converted mana casts are both hallmarks of Frontier removal.
Unlike the older formats there is no premium one-mana removal spell. Legacy has Swords to Plowshares, Modern has Path to Exile and both formats have Lightning Bolt">Lightning Bolt. Frontier, by contrast, has a lesser parallel in the form of Fiery Impulse / Galvanic Bombardment. These spells are not like Bolt: they cannot act as burn spells in the late game. One-mana removal helps midrange and control decks address the early game and are a crucial component of an effective deck. Besides one-mana removal, decks also need access to unconditional removal and removal that can destroy / exile permanents other than creatures. This is the space that Anguished Unmaking and Utter End">Utter End occupy. These cards are main deck answers that can remove a singular problem from the game. In Modern, cards like Abrupt Decay and Maelstrom Pulse exist to fill this role, but Frontier functions without those older, more powerful cards.
Low-mana and unconditional removal are both vital, but I also wanted to address a favourite piece of removal I have in the format: Crackling Doom. On the negative side, Crackling Doom has a very restrictive mana cost and is rather expensive at three mana but, that is where the downsides end. Doom is perhaps one of the best removal spells in the format. Edicts help decks handle hexproof and indestructible creatures. This removal spell also has a small amount of burn attached to it that can be redirected to Planeswalkers. On top of all of this, the spell can be “flashed back” by means of Jace, Torrential Gearhulk, or Goblin Dark Dwellers. If you are playing the Mardu colours in Frontier odds are this is one of the reasons you are in those colours.
This concludes Part 1: This is only the first part in a two part series giving an overview of the Frontier format. There was simply too much information to go into in one article. In next week’s article I will explore the Planeswalkers, creatures, major spells, the format’s weaknesses, and sample deck lists.