Wizards recently made it known to the general public that approximately five Planeswalkers per block will be the norm. Set-specific design or other factors may effect this, but generally, we should expect to see five ‘walkers per block. By having this many available in upcoming sets, along with those already in the Frontier format, it is no surprise that they will become a cornerstone of tournament play. Planeswalkers can be more general in their use / appeal or have niche uses. It is hard to say which ‘walkers will have an impact on the format in the long term. I think they can be roughly split in three categories: early, mid, and late-game ‘walkers. These categories are entirely determined by the converted mana cost.
Early ‘walkers have a converted mana cost of two-to-three mana and will usually hit the field in the opening turns of the game. Very few walkers fall into this category. The Origins “flip walkers” and Liliana, the Last Hope are the only real relevant examples in Frontier. Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Liliana, the Last Hope are by far the ‘walkers with the most potential and power in this category. Both transition well from the early to late game by having ultimates that can win games. More than any other walker in Frontier, I believe Jace will be of seminal importance. When Jace was standard legal he was a four-of in multiple decks across several archetypes. His ability to sculpt hands in the early game, and flashback spells in the late game, make him extremely powerful. In fact, his price has already begun to fluctuate again in anticipation of his role in Frontier. Liliana also has that same level of impact that Jace has in the late game. She either gets to re-buy value creatures later in the game or threaten an ultimate.
Mid-game Planeswalkers have a converted mana cost of four-to-five mana and usually help decks move from that mid-game into their powerful endgame cards. Although this is not the only function of mid-game walkers, it is a theme present in several of the most powerful ones. This category will be the most popular in the format, and as a result it will be difficult to examine all the relevant examples here. I will, however, take the time to look at one special case: Nahiri, the Harbringer. Hitting land drops is of the utmost importance in mid-range decks and Nahiri gives a player the tools they need to achieve this. Her rummage ability smooths out draws and leads to an ultimate that can help to stabilize a board. Nahiri is also a form of removal which can help players stabilize board states. The card draw effects attached to mid-game ‘walkers is very necessary to help decks continue to have fuel in the later portions of the game.
Late-game ‘walkers have a converted mana cost of six or more and tend to completely warp board states once they have resolved. There are currently four walkers that fall into this category in Frontier:
Sorin, Grim Nemesis
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
Garruk, Apex Predator
These four can reset boards, accrue card advantage, and simply win games all on their own. Ugin is the most apt example in this group, by a wide margin. Resolving an Ugin can, and will, end games. In Standard, Ugin was the penultimate threat and he is just as potent now. He can act as a safety net against mid-range decks and he is a trump card against control decks. The other late-game ‘walkers have similar uses but they will only ever be seen in limited number. Unless your deck is designed with ramp in mind, this type of planeswalker will only be seen in decks as a 1-2 of and sometimes only in sideboards. It takes time to work up to six mana, and these walkers can rot in a player’s hand for many turns.
Creatures are the one category that is highly variable in Frontier. In Legacy and Modern, several creatures come to mind that define the format: Stoneforge Mystic, Tarmogoyf, Delver of Secrets, and Goblin Guide. Although Frontier has a few creatures that spring to mind, the staple creatures are still very much up for debate. Some examples of the format defining creatures include:
This list is a sampling of the creatures that a few decks may run in the format and is by no means exhaustive. It remains to be seen if Siege Rhino will be as represented in the Frontier meta as he was in the Standard meta. He is still a strong creature that will see play in many mid-range decks but will not be format-warping. I believe the format has a healthy mix of aggressive, tempo and controlling creatures in addition to mid-range. Each strategy has its strong candidates and several of the choices are valid. One factor to keep in mind is the presence of Collected Company in the format. By having company in the format creatures with converted mana cost of 3 or less will have additional value, as well as scrutiny, ascribed to them as the format matures.
Rather than speak about archetypes, I believe this format has several non-creature spells that will shape and define the format moving forward.
Each of the above spells is a core card in a powerful deck in the Frontier format. It is encouraging to see that the cards speak to combo, control and mid-range. In some cases these cards are so powerful that they made inroads into Modern.
Collected Company was a dominant force in standard the entire time it was legal. Several decks were created and made competitive during company’s duration in standard. For the most part, two variants of Company decks will see the most play in Frontier: Bant and Rally. Bant Company is a tempo-and-value based deck that really made a name for itself after the release of Reflector Mage and Spell Queller. The deck can play at instant speed and generate so much value off casting Collected Company. Games are frequently won off bouncing, exiling, or tapping down creatures on the opponent’s side of the board for the last few points of damage. On the other side of the spectrum, Rally is a slightly more combo oriented deck. It is a unique mix of Aristocrats and sacrifice effects that gradually pick away at an opponent’s life total. Rally itself enables a massive combo turn and speeds up the clock significantly.
Jeskai Ascendancy works as a token and combo strategy depending on the build. The combo form of the deck is much more radical in its design but can be much more fun to play. In this form of the deck you are trying to kill your opponent in one turn by either pumping up one creature or increasing the power / toughness of your entire team. In the token version of the deck burn spells are combined with token creators. The mix of burn and pumping up tokens through ascendancy means that an opponent is facing down a quick clock.
The last spell I wanted to touch on was Aetherworks Marvel. This powerful artifact from Kaladesh is as impactful in Frontier as it is in Standard. Marvel in Frontier is almost entirely the same deck that it is in Standard with one big difference. Ugin is added to the deck and that is a huge pickup for the deck. Players can also choose to include Dragonlords in the deck but they will not have as large of an impact as Ugin. This deck was already very powerful but, the new threats it gets from Frontier really brings up the threat density and diversity in Marvel decks.
Weaknesses in the Format
Frontier is not an official format and is the creation of a game store. A large number of people are unwilling to invest, brew, or play in a format that will not have any impact on Grand Prixes or Pro Tours. The format may be enjoyable and interesting but at the moment it does not end in a path that allows a player to make the Pro Tour. Professional players and grinders will not embrace Frontier in its entirety as long as the format is deemed “casual”.
For better or worse, Frontier has no ban list. Everything printed from M15 forward is legal to play in the format. This means that cards such as Dig through Time and Treasure Cruise, which are banned in Legacy and Modern, are still legal in Frontier. It is difficult to create a ban list so early in a format’s conception with only a minimal amount of data and tournament results. By having a format with no bans players may complain about the “fairness” of certain cards and how they are supposed to answer certain threats.
Hate cards are an important part of non-rotating formats and help establish healthy meta-games. The type of hate cards being printed in the current standard legal sets are nowhere near as powerful as they used to be in older sets. Cards like Stony Silence, which shut down certain strategies if drawn, are not present in Frontier. One of the most glaring problems is the fact that the format has no way to disrupt mana. Frontier does not have Blood Moon, Tectonic Edge, Ghost Quarter, or Fulminator Mage, and the chances of those seeing a reprint in a Frontier legal set are marginal. As a result Frontier will continue to have a high saturation of 4-colour decks as the format grows.
[Editor’s note] Well that wraps up our first multi-part article series by Les. If you want to learn more about the Frontier format, we hold Frontier events every Sunday at 3pm at Hairy Tarantula North. 6979 Yonge Street, lower level. As a last note, congratulations to Les for winning not one, but two Aether Revolt Game Days this past weekend. We will touch more on that later.
Frontier: Overview of the Format Part One.
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