The State of Frontier

Good morning everyone, it's Matthew again with Frontier Friday! I've been doing deck techs the past few weeks and wanted to take this week to break down the format itself a bit. If you're on the fence about playing Frontier or are worried about its longevity, this article is for you.

Frontier's Beginnings

Frontier was first announced as a new, locally-supported format by Hareruya (http://www.hareruyamtg.com/jp/pages/format_frontier.aspx). For those who don't know about Hareruya, it is one of the largest gaming stores in Tokyo. They fire over a dozen events daily—with a 300-player cap for each event—ranging from Standard to Legacy; they're arguably the largest gaming store in the world. Taking a look at their event calendar, Hareruya currently offers seven Frontier events per week. With this much foot traffic and following, a store this size has the power to self-sustain a format in this way. At the very least, I don't think this format will die anytime soon in Japan.

Hareruya listed the following reasons in the above announcement for their support of the Frontier format:

  • Standard's rotation leaves many players feeling like they can't keep up
  • Card prices for Modern decks were a large barrier of entry for new players
  • Brewing in an "unknown" format has its own novelty to it

Touching on the first two points, this is what impacts the more financial aspect of Magic for collectors and vendors. Rotation and picking up expensive singles can hurt stores. While selling "new product" for Standard is a good way to support a business, keeping a couple decades' worth of cards in stock for older formats is a large investment that isn't even guaranteed to pay off. Let's use the card Scapeshift as an example—it is an incredibly powerful Modern card that sees regular competitive play, but only in one deck. If your local game store wanted to keep these in stock, they'd have to shill out about $25 each (if you're going by SCG's current buylist) to pick this card up. It would then sit on their shelf until someone in the area who wasn't already invested in the deck decides to build it, and wants to spend $37 each to own the card for only that deck. Multiply this issue across the thousands of Magic cards played in Modern and Legacy and you can understand why stores have difficulty justifying a large selection of Eternal singles.

Frontier is a great way for shops to move product that they invested in and can no longer sell after rotation. Most Frontier singles are cheap, and in one way or another help local stores, players, and traders move product that would otherwise be a loss to them. The same goes for players with a Standard deck after rotation. Frontier creates a lasting demand for these cards, which backs players' investments into Standard staples by retaining their value past the two-year mark. Knowing your Gideon, Ally of Zendikar may still be worth something next year makes picking up a couple copies a safer choice for your overall collection.

The third point, brewing, is what appeals the most to players. At the time of Frontier's inception, Standard was incredibly stale. FNM numbers were dwindling, professional players and Magic: The Gathering personalities were bashing the meta, calling cards like Emrakul, the Promised End and Smuggler's Copter a mistake. We now know that these cards—along with Reflector Mage—would later be banned in order to shake up the stagnant format, but at that point stores were hurting enough for Wizards of the Coast to notice. This led to many players abandoning Standard altogether for other formats—like Modern—or for other games altogether—like Hearthstone.

Frontier opened a larger pool of affordable cards to players, allowing them to recreate old decks or brew new ones with cards they likely already had if they'd been in the game the past few years. While the pool was only slightly larger than Standard, it added cards and effects that were needed to crush the oppressive strategies that were overwhelming the Standard meta. Multiple fun build-around cards—like Starfield of Nyx and Demonic Pact—got a second chance to see the limelight. Many people had cards like Dig Through Time, Siege Rhino, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, and Zurgo Bellstriker sitting in a box at home after rotation, waiting for their day to see the light of day again; Frontier gave players a way to keep using cards that they went through the trouble of acquiring.

Where Frontier is Now

With all the hustle and bustle of recent Magic announcements, the Frontier buzz has supposedly died down, but looking at event postings, we can see that this isn't true. Multiple 1Ks (competitive tournaments offering a Top 8 prize pool of $1,000 or more) are firing around the U.S. In my stretch of Texas near the Austin area, A Kid at Heart Games hosted a Frontier 1K last month and it was successful enough to justify hosting another next weekend! For those who aren't familiar with the logistics of hosting a 1K, breaking even can be difficult to do without enough of a player turnout and can easily end with the store running the event at a significant loss. Compensation for a Judges can often eat into these profits as well, often costing around $180 (or two booster boxes) for a Head Judge and $90 (one box) for a Floor Judge. Hosting large cash-prize tournaments aren't something a store can do without knowing it will pay off financially, meaning Frontier 1Ks are firing because the demand for competitive events is there and people are willing to travel to compete.

I've also had people reach out to me about the lack of Frontier side events at Grand Prix (GP) Pittsburgh, which was hosted by Channel Fireball. Channel Fireball came out of the gate early in the Frontier craze and declared that they would host Frontier side events at their tournaments. After some research, many of the side events weren't firing that weekend, not just the Frontier ones. One was able to fire Saturday, but I wasn't able to find numbers for it. During the coverage for Star City Games (SCG) Columbus, I also tweeted out when Cedric Phillips mentioned on camera that SCG may feature some Frontier Challenge events in the future. We haven't had any other elaboration from SCG on Frontier events, but knowing that the large event coordinators have the format on their radar is a good sign. I'm personally attending the Channel Fireball–hosted GP Vegas, with high hopes that there will be more than enough people present to fire Frontier side events.

Frontier Going Forward

Frontier has often been compared to Tiny Leaders, but it has one major difference which is why I believe the format will stick around: Standard rotation. Tiny Leaders has a major hurdle for new players who want to enter the format in the form of hard-to-acquire singles and a large card pool that most players do not already own. Frontier allows a post-rotation Standard player to keep using their deck, rather than having to start over with a pile of now-worthless cardboard. Players can now play their decks until rotation day, without fear that the deck will become worthless. They can even use that time to pick up new cards to make the deck more Frontier-friendly post-rotation, rather than trying to sell out of the deck early to avoid being burned. Every rotation or banning creates an opportunity for new players to join the Frontier.

The format is also relatively cheap, and has a lot of overlap between decks. After picking up the more costly staples—like Flooded Strand or Jace, Vryn's Prodigy—you have already cleared the biggest hurdle to enter the format. Unlike decks in Modern where your UrzaTron deck has no crossover with Scapeshift, Merfolk, or Burn, most cards in Frontier can be used to make several decks. Fetch lands are also at the cheapest they have been for quite some time, even after the initial burst of buyers trying to get into Frontier. They're also a good gateway card into other Eternal formats if you want to play them down the road. Owning playsets of Wooded Foothills and Flooded Strand is never a bad idea, as they get you into multiple Legacy and Modern decks as well. All-in-all, Frontier is a low-risk format that offers players more card longevity, sound card investments, and a bigger brewing environment than Standard can offer.

If you like Frontier but don't have it in your area, reach out on social media groups for Magic players in your area and see if others are interested. If you can get a good group of people—even if it is only a little over a dozen players—to play and brew with, you can reach out to your local gaming stores and let them know you have a group of X players who are interested in playing the format and would like to play in events at their store. This is a great way to expand the player base, make new friends, and support your local businesses. People in your area could also be interested in Frontier and just need a local store to host events to get the ball rolling.

Wrap Up

I'm lucky to live in a city that offers four different weekly Frontier events at separate shops within a 30-minute drive of my apartment, and I look forward to continuing to play this fun format and provide you with weekly content! If you have any questions on what I've talked about today, or want to elaborate one some of the events I couldn't find information on, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @MattPlaysMagic!

Dillon Matthew Baca, "Matt", is a Magic: the Gathering judge, modern grinder, and the president of MTGDreamTeam. He has been playing Magic on-and-off since Onslaught, joining the competitive scene in Innistrad Block. Matt enjoys brewing control shells and toolbox midrange lists. "Why win the game when I can draw more cards?"

 

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