Surely, Magic the Gathering readers, you have heard about Frontier? The “new format” being pushed by fans of MTG.
MTG seems to be struggling recently. The Wizards made a mis-step in messing up the way Standard rotates, in an
attempt to grab more money be more creative. Something. Regardless, fans dropped out of Standard, and effectively out of the game, because of the raw expense that the new 18 month schedule would demand. Throw in that Modern has been discontinued on the pro tour level, and lots of fans are finding distaste for what is going on.
They posted apologies, and fixed the rotation after they realized the fans were voting with their wallets.
The wizards brought back “player rewards.” (NOT). They started something called “Showdown” which rewards winning players with a booster pack that guarantees three cards, two of which are definitely rare, and the other is “premium foil.” meaning Expeditions and Inventions are included! However, I have yet to see someone open one of those high-dollar cards.
It seems the fans are doing what the fans do…promote something new as a suggestion for saving the game. Commander was the first example of a fan created format. And the Wizards have done the best job of supporting that format. Commander lives and thrives as maybe the second most popular MTG format after Standard. The only problem is that tournaments are a rare thing to come by. Other fan efforts haven’t fared as well. Do you remember Tiny Leaders? It seemed to be a blip on the radar around here. I think Frontier might meet a similar end…Keep reading to find out why.
I first heard of Frontier at a Modern tournament at the Tangled Web. The store owner and tournament organizer asked for a vote if we were interested in them scheduling an event. Most of the people in attendance were in agreement. So late January/Early February is when it will be happening, apparently. This kind of reminds me of exactly how the Tiny Leaders thing went down. After playing in one tournament, where only a handful showed up, I have never seen another scheduled. I put a ton of effort into making that deck…I even over-paid for some cards (that were inflated because of the sudden demand…”Abrupt Decay” for $35 anyone?) Tiny Leaders was an Epic Fail…it was a fad. Maybe there are some people out there still playing that? But even the “Sultai” colored tiny leaders general printed in Conspiracy: Take the Crown didn’t revive interest. Will Frontier meet a similar fate?
WHAT IS FRONTIER ANYWAYS.
I suppose I shouldn’t assume you know what I am talking about, reader. So here goes. Frontier is a fan created, non-rotating format, that allows all cards printed for Standard since M15, which was the advent of the current MTG card frame. (A black border with holofoil stamps on rares and promos.) There is NO BAN LIST currently.
Read that again, and think about it.
Keep thinking. Recent cards. No Ban List. Did you arrive at what I arrived at?
All sets since M15 are…
M15 (core set)
Khans of Tarkir
Dragons of Tarkir
Origins (Core set)
Shadows Over Innistrad
Jeskai Black and all varieties of Azban are now going to be front and center again in the Frontier format. Those two strategies were so good, they aren’t going to get any better. Abzan was good at control, mid-range, and aggro levels. Jeskai Black is a control deck that wants to combo off. We will also have the Eldrazi strategy rear its head again.
Why won’t some of the current decks in standard work? Let’s take SuperFriends as an example…”Ruinous Path.” “Utter End.” “Anguished Unmaking.” Three ways to remove Planeswalkers.
Throw in amped up token makers that improve Jeskai Black…”Hordeling Outburst” “Raise the Alarm”…See where I’m going.
These decks were crushing in Standard, and Abzan made Standard very stale…so stale even the SpartanNerd was turned off from it for awhile. But these decks only get more tools to work with by adding in sets that rotated before they actually became a thing.
BUT WHAT ELSE.
Frontier aims to solve one of the problems that Modern has. Card prices.
After-market, MTG cards gain value because of the economic laws of supply and demand. “Liliana of the Veil” and “Damnation” cost so much ($100) because they have only ever received one printing, and both cards are sought after and useful in certain Modern decks. On the other hand, no one cares about “Path to Exile,” which is a useful enough card in some of those same decks, but it has been reprinted eight times. Path costs about $10 on a good day.
But if we keep on this line of thinking…Frontier will end up in the same place soon enough. Fetch Lands…Frontier now only has half of the fetches that Modern has. Modern’s fetches cost $50-$75 for the oldest lands. Won’t Frontier’s fetches reach that level in a few years?
Snapcaster Mage. He is about $50-$65 because of demand in Modern. Jace, Vrynn’s Prodigy remains at $40, post Standard rotation. In Frontier, he is bound to become the next Snapcaster. Liliana, the last hope is currently $40 in Standard. Won’t she become another Liliana of the Veil in Frontier if we give it a couple of years?
Frontier might currently be cheaper. But that won’t last. So that makes it a “Band-Aid” for this problem that MTG is facing.
Remember, NO BAN LIST
Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time. Yep. They are legal in Frontier. Good thing I held on to my copies after the bannings…These will be Power Nine style cards in Frontier. if the format catches on (which I doubt,) these will surely be the first cards banned.
Fans don’t have “market research.” The Wizards test and test and test for Standard. They admit they test much less for Modern, but they let Modern figure itself out, mostly. Their Commander products work so well because they test them in a lab over and over, and see how new cards work in different situations before unleasihing them on the world.
But fans lack all that research, and that is another reason why this experiment is set up for failure. The Wizards timed cards to rotate out before introducing new cards. This can be EASILY SEEN if you read any of their “Making Magic” and “R & D” articles online. And I am going to walk YOU through an easy to see one.
Back in Khans of Tarkir block, “Morph” was brought back. As a returning mechanic, old fans were sure to know how it worked, and welcome its return. New players might not “get it.” When Fate Reforged came out, they added Manifest, which was an expansion on Morph. But now the top card became a 2/2 creature, and that card could be anything. A basic land. A spell. A bomb. Or a 1/1 shrimp. Who knew? But this was an added layer of complexity to what is actually a pretty simple mechanic. Finally, when Dragons of Tarkir came out, they added Megamorph. Just Morph with the creature getting a counter when it flipped.
You see a smooth evolution here?
And during this time the fans are starting to hear about the Origins Planeswalkers. There was going to be a concrete way for us to see them “gain their spark.” That turned out to be the “flip” walkers. And an article surfaced explaining how this mechanic flowed smoothly from Khans block to Origins, and connected to the block afterwards, Shadows Over Innistrad. (I have been trying to find that article. That would be helpful!)
The Wizards had to be sure they could teach players how to flip their cards in a non-confusing way. Never mind that some players were playing when Morph was first introduced, or some players played during the first Innistrad block, where double-sided cards were introduced. They had to capture the new players for standard, and teach them all about flipping cards, and how that doesn’t use the stack. (Flipping a creature to a Planeswalker worked differently, exiling the card and then returning it transformed.)
All the while, from a business point of view, I can see them printing double sided tokens way out ahead of time. And I know now that it has something to do with contracts at the factories that print their cards.
The point is…there is tons of logic to what the Wizards have done in designing the game called Magic the Gathering. And there is tons of logic so that each new expansion can come out as its own individual game. And as a standalone game, it has to be able to be fun for established players as well as accessible to new players.
And when fans say something like, “Lets make a NO BAN LIST MODERN.” or make a thing called “FRONTIER: NO BAN LIST RECENT SETS,” they are defying some of the research and development work that the Wizards used when they invented the cards.
A format like Modern makes sense. It is curated. It allows almost any card when you look at it as a whole, as long as it was printed for Standard during Eighth Edition or later. When a deck like Splinter Twin or Amulet Bloom or Caw Blade or (insert busted deck here) takes over Modern, they ban the most offensive card to nerf the deck, in a way that doesn’t have a huge impact on the rest of the game. Hence, Summer Bloom was banned, not Amulet of Vigor or Primeval Titan. The ban list is full of cards that seem inoccuous. Summer Bloom seems kind of harmless to a person with no experience tapping lands for double manna and bouncing them back. And once in awhile, a Stoneforge Mystic or Jace, the Mind Sculptor comes along…But still, the wizards have kept the format going and healthy for the most part.
There is a definite attractive “punk rock” element to fans wanting to make a new Modern. The format could be better, if they allowed more sets. Maybe go back to the first Innistrad block. Imagine playing a competitive all-innistrad deck. That would be fun! Imagine getting to mess with Devotion again, seeing how the gods of Theros worked with cards from all of these sets that they rarely see a competitve play with?
I am all for Frontier. I hope it does revitalize the game. I just don’t see it happening.
And that’s my two cents about Frontier. Do you agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments!