Bannings are tricky things. A ban in Standard is different than one in Modern or Legacy, both in terms of tone and player response. “Older” formats inherently carry the risk of bannings as a check against unforeseen interactions between new and old cards (this is the essential crux of the Golgari Grave-Troll re-banning, new cards like Cathartic Reunion just made Dredge “too good”). It’s possible that this is because formats like Modern are created with some bans already in place, so some of the bloom is off the rose from the get go. Standard, however, is a much more volatile situation. Standard is sold in part as a balanced environment, and bannings, even intended to preserve the greater good, are considered in part a failure.
BRIEF COMPARATIVE ASIDE: The immediate aftermath of a Standard ban kinda feels like when an interim head coach takes over a football team. Yes things are different with Umezawa’s Jitte gone, but nobody thinks that Dan Campbell is really going to stick around. Then again, the Jags hired Doug Marrone, so who knows?
My guess is that bannings in Standard ultimately take some of the romanticism away- players (bad ones) assume that THEY will find the missing piece of the puzzle and vanquish the scourge of whatever deck they keep losing to at FNM and then some how win a Pro Tour. I want to get to the meat of these particular bans (the Standard ones, mostly), but I will say that the addition of a second B&R announcement is an early check against Saheeli Combo disguised as a good idea. I don’t know how the Magic population writ large will respond to the idea of a more policed format philosophy, but I do think it will help prevent player bleeding in the event of a broken format.
Emrakul, the Promised End: This is quite possibly my favorite ban- Emrakul was the de facto top of the format in terms of size and effect, and it warped card choices and game plans towards it. Killing Emrakul (or rather, imprisoning her on the moon) opens up endgame opportunities for cards like Ulamog, Kozilek, or new cards like Herald of Anguish. More importantly, decks that were homogonized in certain forms can now branch out and specialize- Green Black doesn’t NEED to be Delirium anymore, if they find a finisher better than Traverse for the next best thing to Emrakul, although that’s still an option. That trickles down to mean that early game plans don’t have to be the “self-mill while trying to stay alive” tactics that they were before. I don’t know if there is a clear best winner in this situation, but there are several smaller ones.
Smuggler’s Copter: Actually, this might be my favorite ban. Copter had the same deck-building effect as Emrakul, but on the exact opposite archetypes. There will continue to be decks that want to include a mix of Vehicles and creatures, but I don’t expect there to be a 1-for-1 replacement (not even the impressive-looking Heart of Kiran).
Golgari Grave-Troll: Dredge is tough to balance, and GGT is just way too good to exist in Modern. Early impact has been a spike on Golgari Thug, although that card doesn’t have the potential to close out games like Troll does. The only Dredge cards that should be allowed in Modern are Life From the Loam and Moldervine Cloak, as they are the ones I like best.
Reflector Mage: The UW decks have a lot of congestion, and so losing Reflector Mage makes the construction of those decks more streamlined. That’s to a degree the opposite effect that the other bans are expected to have, but it also eliminates some of the weird issues that Reflector Mage had on the formats it was in (namely, Eldrazi Displacer). I think UW is still a deck after losing Mage and Copter, but I don’t think it’s a major player.
Gitaxian Probe: I can’t pretend to know everything about how this impacts Modern, but I definitely get that it’s a big deal. I’m going to pass on this as there’s way too much contextual determination on what replaces it where, and I’m not sure that there is much financial upside given that most of the replacements are things like Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand. Combo decks get some degree worse, although mostly because they can’t have a Peek before attempting to go off.
To close, here are my favorite cards ahead of this weekend’s prerelease!
Yahenni’s Expertise: I think there is a real possibility that the next few months are dominated in part by Liliana, the Last Hope. That’s not to say that there won’t be other decks (we know Saheeli Combo will be a possibility for at least the first eight weeks), but I do think that Lili could stand to serve as a pillar of the format. In that situation, Yahenni’s Expertise seems INSAAAAAANE. Planeswalkers are graded in part on how well they can defend themselves, and having the opportunity to package a Languish in for  seems incredible. At $6 I still really like these, but I would rather trade for them than buy them outright.
Sram, Senior Edificer: Big IF here, but if Puresteel Paladin Combo is a deck, then this feels like a critical 4x. Definitely a high-risk situation, but Modern has been shaken up considerably. I don’t think THIS is the card that sees a tremendous price spike, but I think this is the card that makes the deck work. Key pieces that COULD see an increase include Mox Opal, Monastery Mentor, and Puresteel Paladin itself.
Greenwheel Liberator: I read this a few times to make sure that it counted my Windswept Heaths. It does! Definitely going to try this in Modern with Experiment One and Burning-Tree Emissary. Hidden Herbalists and Narnam Renegade are interesting options also- although these are all pretty narrow.
Lifecrafter’s Bestiary (foil): These feel like a sneaky-good pickup, but definitely for the long term. Most of the decks that want this have access to green already, so color identity isn’t an issue. Long term hold.
That’s all for today, good luck at your prerelease!
Today we are going to talk about Frontier, and I am going to be VERY critical of it. I want to state a couple things off the bat, in hopes that it will help both of us take the most from this that we can:
I have long been advocating for a reboot of Extended. However, I have no financial interests in that “format” outside of the miscellaneous cards acquired as a consistent Standard player of the last several years.
I do not want Frontier to fail as some sort of emotional vendetta. I believe that Magic is good when there are lots of popular formats, and tournament-level constructed Magic TRULY needs more options to cast the wide net that Organized Play wants.
Similarly, I do not intend to target Frontier as either a boon or detriment to Modern. I’ve been pretty vocal in my complaints with that format, and (spoilers!) they are present in my assessment of Frontier’s flaws.
I flew on Frontier Airlines once, and it was a pretty subpar experience, and if we are being totally honest, like 8% of my dislike of Frontier comes with mentally auto-associating it with crappy flights.
Let’s start by describing what Frontier actually is. Frontier is a format that started popping up in Japan several months ago, and began to gain traction there as an alternative to Modern. The starting point here is M15, in part because that set introduced new card frame changes (including that little holographic oval on rares/mythics). The similarities to Modern don’t stop there, however- Frontier is non-rotating, so the cards that are already in are only leaving through bans. It also only includes Standard-legal expansions, so things like Commander products don’t have a significant impact. Let’s talk about what the selling points of Frontier have been so far:
CARD ACCESSIBILITY: In this sense Frontier is advertised as a cheaper alternative to Modern, rather than a new experience. Some Modern cards, like Blood Moon and Dark Confidant, have not been made easily available since they were last in Standard. Things like Tarmogoyf serve as permanent representations that if you haven’t been playing Magic for a very long time, you will have a harder time participating now.
This is something that I definitely sympathize with, and I don’t think that making the jump from Standard directly into Modern is feasible anymore (if it ever truly was). The problem, of course, is that Frontier only solved the symptom, not the cause. If Frontier is still around in ten years, then cards from M15 and Tarkir will still be old cards. They are accessible now the same way Cryptic Command was accessible when Lorwyn was the newest set out. It is mistaking recency for availability, and that’s a long-term issue.
One of the problems with Modern is that it has baked-in issues created by turbulence in Magic’s past. Tarmogoyf’s price is reflective of the fact that it was printed at a time where Magic’s active player population was possibly a third (or less!) of what it is today. Modern is a set of rules for play but not a means of itself providing for that play. If Magic’s boom times are coming to an end, or we see a large enough shrink in players that print runs decrease, then those fluctuations will be forever encased in amber in Frontier’s availability. The graph below represents Modern’s accessibility problem because that inequality is unchangeable (reprints that aren’t in Standard legal products have yet to meet the required numbers to address this issue, by virtue of their scale).
THAT LITTLE FOIL OVAL: It’s not a major selling point, but it’s nice to know that there is an extra security measure against counterfeit cards. I don’t actually have an argument against this, so I’ll give them points for this. See? Fair and balanced.
DESIGN PHILOSOPHY: Modern’s tentpole exists on the basis that the card frames changed, not a clear and consistent development philosophy. Modern simultaneously operates in a reality where Blood Moon, a rare originally printed in THE DARK (!!!!), exists alongside several sets where Stone Rain was deemed “too good to exist anymore”. Magic design and development is not static, and so effects and functions evolve over the course of time. This is why some effects, like “Destroy all creatures” (originally found on Wrath of God), have crept up in cost and mutated in functionality. These fluctuations serve as a complex system of balance beams in Standard, while at the same time narrowing in on theoretical ideals of cards/effects (Day of Judgment probably costs a theoretical 4.5 mana). Of course, when you compare these new cards to Blood Moon, a card so old that “The Adventures of Pete and Pete”WAS STILL MAKING NEW EPISODES, they fail to come close to making an impact.
The assumption Frontier makes is that Magic is in a much healthier place now than it was when 8th Edition came out, and in that respect they are correct. The crux of that argument is backward-facing however, rather than anticipatory. Frontier, by never rotating, is cementing its own roster of “Best Available”- sure, that new card is good, but is it better than Siege Rhino? Is that new one drop really better than Monastery Swiftspear? If WotC ever decides to get aggressive with certain reprints (think Lightning Bolt in M10), then you have that card in Frontier FOREVER.
Frontier’s fatal flaw, as you may have pieced together by now, is a small thermal exhaust port right below the main port with a shaft that leads directly to the reactor system that it does not rotate. That is ultimately a long-term problem. If Frontier goes the way of Tiny Leaders and fails to mature into its role (that’s my bet), then that won’t be an issue ever- but if it succeeds, then it is going to be the crux that makes some hard to reprint cards mini-Tarmogoyfs. I’m going to close with some of the cards that stand to benefit from Frontier’s success- but be aware that buying into this format is definitely risky at this point.
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy: This guy has to be the most obvious starting point. Well actually, my instinct was to start with Thoughtseize, until I realized (for like, the hundredth time) that Theros isn’t in this format. Jace is #1 because he is insanely difficult to reprint- he’s a flip card (expensive on the production side, requires a product with enough flip cards), he’s a specific character (can only appear in a set where Jace makes sense OR is flavor-neutral), and is a narrow iteration of said specific character (can only appear in a setting where Jace gets his spark like Origins OR is flavor neutral). Essentially, “Baby Jace” is going to have to be in a supplemental product that can afford the front end cost of including flip cards, even though almost all of the flip cards are from Innistrad, so there is no flavorful throughline for something like a Duel Deck. The best case scenario is the Modern Masters iteration that goes up to Origins, which is going to be several years away. Even if Frontier died tomorrow, it’s easy to see why this is a steady play at $45. Oh, and the Grixis/4c/5c control decks love this card, so it’s actually pretty good in the format. I’m not going to cite too much in terms of past results, but there are some decklists at mtgdecks.net that I’ve been scoping out. It’s too small a sample size to say what decks are “best”, but it’s still real data. If you have an appetite for more expensive “specs”, this is a good one even if you don’t like Frontier’s outlook.
Collected Company: If Jace is #1, then CoCo is #1A. Company gets better any time a creature that costs 3 or less is printed, and is easy enough to splash in any color aggro deck (we have literal fetchlands). These are down at about $10, which may be the lowest since DTK came out- this card is good in Modern and (very) fringe in Legacy, so snapping some up in trades is extremely appealing. This will be a pillar of the format if Frontier blossoms.
Emrakul, the Promised End/ Ugin, the Spirit Dragon: These two are roughly the tied for best in the “biggest thing” category, so I could see either (or both!) being the premier topper of the format. Emrakul is still in Standard for a while, but Ugin is pricy despite being playable in almost nothing else. I say hold off on both of these, but watch them- the success of either one (if any) will help dictate which playable support cards may see secondary spikes.
Dig Through Time: LOL there’s no way this format makes it. But this frustrating garbage is apparently legal, so expect at least modest gains if Frontier survives.
Obelisk of Urd: Elves is a deck, and there is probably some tribe (humans?) that is on enough of the white weenies to make this functional. Goblins is close but probably not close enough.
These are the sort of “Level 0” cards that caught my eye, because I’m not sure if we have a stable enough environment to begin metagaming off of it. The issue will for now be supply, because everything (other than maybe M15 and Origins) has pretty big market saturation. Things like Kalitas that are currently good in Standard AND Modern are interesting plays, but probably won’t see too much percentage increase as people who already play Modern won’t have much issue oscillating to Frontier.
That’s all for this week, let me know your thoughts on Frontier, my assessment of it, and what cards you like, if any.
Welcome back everyone to the annual Accumulated Knowledge Snarkmas Spectacular! The holiday season has arrived, and not a moment too soon. Quite frankly, 2016 can’t end soon enough- we are running out of likeable musicians and it was getting to the point where I wanted to move George Clinton to a bomb shelter to ride this thing out. So let’s bid farewell to this year together, as we look ahead to the ultra-nationalist hellscape that waits ahead with Snarkmas 2016.
This is going to be a “best-of [YEAR]” style article with my own brand of edgy but accessible humor, as well as some holiday treats and even some musical guests! Honestly, if you’ve made it this far you’re probably going to read the whole thing regardless, so let’s get started!
I’ve also made this article free for everyone, because pageviews are my lifeblood I’m a kind and generous hero! Hooray for me!
BEST NEW STAR WARS MOVIE
“Rogue One”- I have to shuffle around some of the categories from last year, but this one feels pretty safe to last for a few years. I promise I won’t spoil anything for you here, but this movie was really fun. There were definitely some bumps, and it’s not going to be anyone’s all-time favorite Star Wars movie (“The Empire Strikes Back”), but for Disney’s first foray into what are basically Extended Universe movies,it was a home run. Some of the Easter Eggs in the film were the right balance of fun and inconspicuous, others were much more blunt and jarring1.
CHRISTMAS MOVIE THAT YOU SHOULD WATCH
Rogue One. Then go back and watch “A New Hope”. Then hell, you might as well watch “Empire”… and “Jedi”. You can do “Force Awakens” if you want, or just save it for tomorrow. I’m pretty wiped.
Oh, uh… “Die Hard”. That counts, right? If not, then here is one of my favorite Muppet Christmas specials- I tried to get the John Denver one too, but the quality wasn’t great.
OVER-RATED CHRISTMAS MOVIE THAT YOU’LL PROBABLY END UP SITTING THROUGH THIS YEAR
A Christmas Story- This movie is like Christmas wallpaper. Or maybe better yet, it’s the evolution of those ‘Yule Log’ programs that nobody actually uses. A Christmas Story, as a film, is essentially just a collection of vignettes tied together by a very thin plot arc. It is, however, pretty relevant in 2016- an undereducated American white male thinks a gun will solve all of his problems, and projects that warped reality onto his religious beliefs. And it even manages to get in a pretty offensive racial stereotype right before the buzzer! The crazy part is that the cable network that has been pushing this movie for years (TBS? TNT? Whichever one doesn’t have basketball on) only started airing it so much because the rights to the movie were so cheap. Essentially, this became a holiday ‘go-to’ because literally nobody went there in the first place. Fortunately there will be football on this year, so watch that. Kudos to the NFL putting Bengals at Texans as the Christmas Eve late game, ensuring that everyone would rather go to sleep, thereby assuring Santa a quick turnaround. I would rather be beaten mercilessly by Kraumpus than watch that game.
BEST NEW MAGIC-RELATED THING IN 2016
Masterpieces! They are really cool, instantaneously recognizable, and do a really good job of impacting the Standard market without creating a new rarity involving otherwise unobtainable cards. Standard is much better off now than it was prior to the Masterpiece era. I suspect it will take a while for people to internalize how these changes affected the ecosystem, but I definitely think everyone will be better off down the road.
WORST NEW MAGIC-RELATED THING IN 2016
Frontier! I have been pounding the table for a format to exist between Modern and Standard for a while now, and Frontier is an awful solution. The fatal flaw is built in at the foundation- it is non-rotating and tries to combat accessibility problems by picking a very recent starting point. The issue is that in ten years, Khans of Tarkir or M15 or whatever really doesn’t make much sense as a starting point for your format. Some important cards will be expensive, some effects will gradually over time become too good (think Wrath of God), and the format will take on a lot of the same issues as Modern. Extended, even as just a “double” or “triple Standard” makes more sense in prolonging the shelf-life of cards, rather than trying to preserve them forever.
SYNOPSIS OF 2016’S MTG FINANCE HALLMARK CHRISTMAS MOVIE
Jace is a workaholic mind mage who spends all of his time serving as the Living Guildpact for the plane of Ravnica- and then he met Chandra. Can this Manic Pixie Dream Arsonist teach him the true meaning of Christmas? Or at least the non-religious one, which is basically just “work less around the holidays”? The answer is a very low-budget “yes”.
MY BEST DECK OF 2016
It’s probably got to be the RG Energy deck. This award will be much more exciting next year, when it essentially becomes the best of my Game Day series for that year, but I don’t really remember what I was playing prior to Kaladesh. I think it was just a bunch of crappy Jund decks. Anyways, here’s the winner (and my primary template heading into Aether Revolt!).
SIGN THAT MAGIC IS GROWING LIKE CRAZY
So not to alarm anybody, but when I return in January our first topic is going to be bracing for the end of Magic’s boom phase (something that I covered briefly a few weeks back, although with an admittedly broader theme). It’s hard to say that Magic is in a bad spot right now, but I definitely think the growth is plateauing. Maybe the movie will help?
CARDS THAT YOU’LL WANT IN FIVE YEARS
One of the most painful things in Magic is looking at prices of cards that you used to own. Here are the cards that are around $5 or so that you’ll be kicking yourself for not holding onto in a half-decade (as well as a percentage degree of confidence):
Blooming Marsh (and the rest of the cycle): So Spirebluff Canal is about $8, and while the question may be “can the other lands hit $8?”, I think it’s actually “Can Canal hit $20?”. I think the answer to both of those is yes, and that the margins will eventually narrow between the color pairs. (85% confidence)
Haven of the Spirit Dragon: Cheap and relevant to an evergreen card type. Dragons are popular outside of EDH, and some kid always wants to build a Dragon deck. This is a clear 4x in any deck allowed to play more than one. (95%)
Mirrorpool: Not as wide in application, but good in almost any EDH deck. The only issue here in several years is visibility. (90%)
Aetherworks Marvel: Higher than my usual price ceiling, but because it makes AND consumes energy, it’s not required to be in an energy-focused deck. I think it’s just a matter of what ends up breaking this, and what format that pairing is in. (50%)
Saheeli Rai: This is a super cheap planeswalker in a popular color combo that already has some very convoluted combos. I don’t expect it to ever be a $40 card, it could be $15 or $20 if things break well. (33%)