Ixalan & Frontier: Early Impressions & Three Standout Cards

Rampaging Ferocidon Artwork

Hello! My name is Matt McTavish and I’ll be contributing some Frontier content here on MTG.one. This short article was written with the help of my friend Rasmus Enegren. We hope you’re enjoying the Ixalan spoilers as much as we are. Today we’re going to look at some of those cards and wildly speculate about their impact on Frontier and where they might fit in.

Quick Frontier Recap

Just for a brief recap, the “tier one” decks in Frontier should be considered a trio of sorts: Atarka Red, Saheeli Combo, and Abzan. Some other decks that also seem viable are Grixis Control, Elves, Aetherworks Marvel, Bant Humans, and Hardened Scales. There’s probably a few others, like White Aggro, but I would be looking to pick from one of those for the 1K being played this weekend in Toronto.

It’s worth noting that there’s multiple decks right now that can pull off turn four kills. This keeps some strategies held back, like decks looking to abuse Emrakul, the Promised End. 4 Color Saheeli plays a similar role that Splinter Twin use to play in Modern – you’re forced to interact or you just risk dying turn four. Not very much has changed since it was banned out of Standard other than some versions play Dig Through Time, while others opt for a Renegade Rallier value gameplan. Atarka Red, Elves, and Marvel are also all able to effectively win the game by turn four as well.

Against a lineup of decks that are all capable of killing you so quickly, we need interaction with our opponents, and lots of it. Keeping all of this in mind, let’s dig into my top 3 cards for Frontier so far.

 

Ripjaw Raptor

The first card I see making an immediate impact is Ripjaw Raptor (It also made an appearance in..the Ixalan Modern Watchlist?). Stat-wise the raptor is already good as it beats cards like Anafenza, the Foremost and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet in a straight up (vanilla, to be fair, both of those creatures can grow themselves) fight, and bounces off other large aggressive threats like Siege Rhino and Tasigur.  The enrage ability is great against any deck relying on red removal or creature combat as well.

I think with the addition of checklands, alongside Ripjaw Raptor, should allow for some Green-White strategies to re-establish themselves, such as GW Tokens. Or – and now hear me out, come on – Naya Dinosaur Ramp. It could totally be a thing, right? Right everybody? Alright, we’ll save that one for Friday Night Magic. At the end of the day, Ripjaw Raptor could end up as a mono-green Siege Rhino with no upside after it eats a Murderous Cut or something, but I believe it’s got enough potential to make a splash in Frontier.

 

Sorcerous Spyglass

Sorcerous Spyglass has the potential to be the most impactful addition to Frontier from Ixalan. This Pithing Needle variant preys on a lot of the prominent strategies of the format, which includes the combo decks like Saheeli and Aetherworks, as well as stopping the numerous fetchlands and our old friend Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy.  Needle sees play across all formats where it’s legal, so this seems like a very easy inclusion to Frontier sideboards.

However, unlike Pithing Needle, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for some decks to play this in the maindeck.  This is because of the Peek effect and the ubiquity of fetchlands in Frontier.  You can imagine circumstances where it becomes a double Stone Rain, or shuts off someone’s combo game one with it. The card looks pretty bad against aggressive strategies like Atarka Red and White Aggro,  but I don’t mind this in my sideboard and it’s pretty easy to make a case for it in the main 60. The fact that it’s OK to play 4 copies of Hushwing Gryff in Abzan decks right now should at least make us consider a wide, generic hate effect for a significant portion of the meta.

Checkland Reprints

While checklands aren’t able to be fetched they’ll still play some role in the format. Checklands don’t feel the greatest on turn one, but there’s a high percentage chance that it’s coming down on turn two untapped. I believe the addition of checklands will help a lot of strategies, but the biggest beneficiaries should be Grixis and Esper Control. Esper has a decent shell, but the mana base was often difficult to work with, so Glacial Fortress and Drowned Catacomb should give it a bit of a boost.

 

Ruin Raider

Ruin Raider is rather exciting and will be a welcome addition to a lot of aggressive strategies.  It’s not the most exciting thing on paper, a 3/2 for three mana isn’t setting the world on fire. However, aggro decks should have absolutely no problem triggering Raid on this card. You could think of it as 3/2 for 2B that draws you a card the same turn you play it. Is this the brother-from-another-mother of Rogue Refiner? Well, not really, it could just eat a piece of removal before you get to your end step, but it’s worth thinking about. Raider also slots right into Mardu Vehicles and could give decks like Mono-Black Aggro or Jund the ability to compete with the major players of the format.  It’s a fantastic follow up to a turn two Heart of Kiran or Smuggler’s Copter, and while most Dark Confidant variants have not been playable, I think this one has potential.

So what’s next?

Well we need to wait for the rest of the spoilers first. But from what we’ve seen so far, I’m predicting a shift towards more midrange, and less combo. It’ll be a brewing season upon set release like usual, but nothing we’ve seen so far makes me think we’ll see a completely new archetype emerge. Magic players are historically bad at predicting metagames (unless your name is Brad Nelson) so just keep that in mind as things progress.

gideon of the trials

The last thing I’d like to touch up on is the new planeswalker rules should have an impact on Frontier. I’d expect decks to be abusing both Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Gideon of the Trials together. I’ll touch up on this next week after the Frontier 1K I’m attending this weekend in Toronto. Wish me luck!

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