Last week, Corbin Hosler wrote a great introduction to Frontier, the new player-created format that started at the Hareruya store in Japan but has begun to spread around the world. Corbin went into great detail sharing the details of the short history of how Frontier came to be and explains what the format might become in the future.
I have also been following the development of Frontier, so today I'll dig deeper into the format, specifically into the huge variety of decks that have appeared in the Frontier tournaments held thus far. I'll highlight the strategies that have emerged as early frontrunners in the metagame, and I'll explore some of the more creative decks that Frontier makes possible.
One feature of Frontier is that is melds Standard with sets from the recent past, so the best Standard cards will make their way into the format. The Kaladesh Standard metagame has been defined by Smuggler's Copter, and Smuggler's Copter already established itself as a premier Frontier strategy. The largest Frontier event so far was its marquee event at Hareruya, and the champion was piloting a Smuggler's Copter deck.
This deck takes the best cards from Standard White-Blue Flash and applies the same strategy to Frontier, except it's powered-up with red cards including Mantis Rider and burn spells to create an even faster and more potent aggressive deck. Lightning Strike is the gold-standard burn/removal spell in the format, Frontier's equivalent to Lightning Bolt. It's renowned for its versatile ability to destroy a creature or be turned against an opponent or their planeswalkers, so splashing it into decks will be a common sight in the future.
Siege Rhino was a dominant presence in Standard's past, and Frontier offers it new wings with an opportunity to join forces with Smuggler's Copter. Check out the Abzan Aggro deck Matt Mealing used to win the Face to Face Games' Sunday Showdown, which marked the format making the leap out of Japan and into North America.
Smuggler's Copter requires one-mana creatures in the deck to be reliable. Warden of the First Tree is exceptional, but this deck also relies on Elvish Mystic. Elvish Mystic takes the forefront as the format's mana acceleration creature of choice, effectively Frontier's version of Modern's Noble Hierarch, and it will be used to power all variety of green creature decks.
One could argue that another Kaladesh artifact, Aetherworks Marvel, has been even more influential in the development of the Standard metagame than Smuggler's Copter, given that it was the most popular deck of the Pro Tour and has now surpassed White-Blue Flash as the most popular deck on Magic Online. It could have the potential to be a major Frontier presence too, because it finished second place in a player-sponsored community tournament on Magic Online.
Aetherworks Marvel doesn't gain any sort of energy support from older Frontier sets, but it does gain additional power cards to find with its ability. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon goes over the top of the other decks in the format to take over the game and effectively win the game as an Aetherworks Marvel hit, but it's also reasonable to cast and gives this deck a very sound back-up plan.
Panharmonicon hasn't had quite the same competitive impact on Standard as other Kaladesh artifacts, but its slow start has reached a crescendo with Seth Manfield cracking into the Top 8 of Grand Prix Denver with the deck. His white-blue deck was built to maximize the card's value-generating effect with an assortment of creatures with come-into-play abilities, and this Frontier deck that has won multiple eight-player events at Hareruya seeks to do the same thing with elves.
The elvish tribe has a lot going for it in Frontier. It makes fantastic use of the Elvish Mystic, but it even gains an additional one-mana acceleration creature in Gnarlroot Trapper. Enemy-colored decks have superior mana bases to allied-colored in Frontier, so black-green is a desirable combination. The tribe has even gained a new member in Servant of the Conduit, which further helps to fix mana. More importantly, it accelerates into Panharmonicon or into the cards that help to give green an identity in Frontier: Chord of Calling and Eldritch Evolution. These tutors allow green decks like Elves to incorporate a toolbox of one-of creatures to help it navigate specific situations, like Reclamation Sage or Hornet Nest, or even Woodland Bellower as a source of value. The most common target for tutors might be Shaman of the Pack, which is the deck's primary win-condition and a potent payoff for Panharmonicon.
Another classic Magic tribe that has a foothold in Frontier is Goblins, which finds itself with an assortment of unique payoff cards and tools at its disposal.
The core of the goblin tribe can actually be found in its spell package: Dragon Fodder and Hordeling Outburst. The token spells can build the army of tokens upon which the rest of the deck relies. For example, they are fantastic with Reckless Bushwhacker, which gives the deck an extra dose of power from a goblin familiar to the current Standard metagame. The token-spell combination forms the core of other non-tribal red decks, like Atarka Red, so there's a unique advantage to playing a tribal strategy that utilizes the tokens' goblin status. There is some synergy, like supercharging Goblin Rabblemaster or enabling Goblin Piledriver as another huge threat, but the biggest payoff for staying tribal is Obelisk of Urd. It turns each tiny threat into a significant one, and convoke makes it easy to cast. The deck also uses the convoke spell Stoke the Flames as its go-to removal spell and reach to end the game if creatures can't finish the job.
A more traditional take on the Frontier red deck is a return to Atarka Red, which plays a hyper-aggressive game with a critical mass of cheap creatures backed up by Atarka's Command as a mini-anthem and burn spell.
This deck uses Abbot of Keral Keep as a great source of card advantage in decks with a very low curve. These low curves also tend to produce the stocked graveyards that can support delve spells like Hooting Mandrills. A similar style of deck could just as easily use Become Immense as a way to build a large creature, and then combine it to Temur Battle Rage to create a deck that showcases that combination, which as a competitive Modern strategy central to decks like Death's Shadow Zoo, will surely prove viable in Frontier.
Delve spells are among the best cards in the entire Frontier format, so it's no surprise players use them in any deck that can support them. The best of them all may be Treasure Cruise, and history shows that its power level can approach broken when used in a deck dedicated to making it so. There will be no shortage of Frontier decks seeking to do that, but this Blue-Red Prowess deck pays fantastic homage to the Modern decks that got the card banned.
Making the most of Treasure Cruise means playing a very low curve of cards that can not only fill the graveyard for delve, but are also easily cast after refueling. Cheap spells like Wild Slash and Lightning Strike lend themselves to aggressive decks that use cheap prowess creatures like Monastery Swiftspear and Stormchaser Mage, and even Standard staple Thermo Alchemist. Slip Through Space and Expedite fill in the gaps as great enablers for the strategy, where they pad the graveyard, trigger prowess, and help get creatures through the red zone simultaneously. It all comes together to make a sleek and consistent package that threatens to get in under other decks and kill them before they get going, but with the card advantage to fight the good fight no matter how long the game goes.
This decklist splashes into black for the extra card advantage of Painful Truths and Kolaghan's Command, because Frontier's fetch land-dual land mana base makes it essentially free to support. The propensity for fetch-dual Frontier mana bases to incorporate extra colors also lends itself to four-color decks. A common strategy is the "Abzan Red" or "Mardu Green" deck, the quintessential midrange "goodstuff" deck that combines the best creatures, card advantage and disruption available.
A more focused example of what Frontier's four-color mana bases make possible is the Rally the Ancestors deck that has emerged as one of the format's best strategies. Check out this list that won a side event at Grand Prix Chiba:
Familiar to anyone who played Standard a year ago and into this previous spring, Four-Color Rally takes the best creatures and cards from across the color spectrum to create a powerful amalgamation that threatens to win the game in spectacular combo-like fashion, but can comfortably play fair as a midrange creature deck. A new innovation is the inclusion of Spell Queller, which doesn't do anything fantastic with Rally the Ancestors but is a great way to disrupt the opponent and make it more likely that a fair game plan will beat them. It's also a game-breaking hit off Collected Company, one of the best cards in Frontier and one that this deck seeks to take full advantage of.
This particular version of the deck uses a pair of Dig Through Time, one of the best cards in Frontier, and one that can turn the fetch lands and other chaff this deck accumulates into cards. It's an interesting selection, and a slot I have also seen filled with Tamiyo, Field Researcher to support the midrange plan. The sideboards of Four-Color Rally decks are of note because they allow the deck to shift further away from combo and towards aggressive with cards like Anafenza, the Foremost and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Four-Color Rally decks like this one are my pick for best in the fresh format, and it will interesting to see how the metagame adapts as Frontier grows.
Among the most frightening Frontier decks I've come across does a scary imitation of the Modern Dredge deck. While it lacks the actual dredge cards that make the Modern deck so powerful, it does get access to Treasure Cruise.
At heart this is an Elder-Deep Fiend deck, so it plays the familiar Standard core of Haunted Dead and Prized Amalgam. Minister of Inquiries is another graveyard enabler, but the deck is certainly powered up from its Standard iteration. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy helps it fire on all cylinders as a source of card selection that fuels the graveyard. It then transforms and casts cards for value, or in a pinch it's a fine sacrifice to Emerge.
One of the most fun Standard decks in recent memory was the Green-White Hardened Scales deck that appeared earlier this year, but it didn't have much time to shine before the format rotated. The deck has gained a very exciting new card in the meantime, Animation Module, which works as a perfect addition to a strategy centered around +1/+1 tokens, and could help breathe life into the deck as a competitive Frontier option.
Exploring Frontier has revealed that there is a wide variety of different decks playing all sorts of strategies, and I have really only begun to scratch the surface. It would be a mistake not to mention the potential for true blue control decks to be a presence in Frontier, as this Grixis deck proves.
There may quite literally be something for everyone in Frontier. For instance, Craig Wescoe will certainly find the cards he needs to carve himself a fantastic white weenie aggro deck.
What's your Frontier deck?