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Frontier Finance: Cards to Watch


In just the past week or two, we've started to see signs that the Frontier format is having a significant impact on the prices of some cards. Perhaps the best example of this is Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, which had been steadily falling in price since the rotation of Magic Origins until a couple weeks ago, when it suddenly climbed from just over $20 to its current price of $33.50. While I've heard some people say that this could be attributable to other factors, for me, nothing but Frontier makes sense, especially considering that the Magic Online price hasn't really moved at all (which makes sense if Frontier is driving the increase, since the format isn't currently supported on Magic Online). While it's true that Jace, Vryn's Prodigy does see fringe play in Modern, Legacy, and Vintage, Frontier is the only format where the flipwalker is a true staple. In fact, it's currently the single most played card in the format. 

More importantly, it appears that there is real demand for Jace, Vryn's Prodigy at its new price point. When a card gets bought out for financial purposes, most often the TCG Market price lags behind the retail (or TCG Mid) price, but in the case of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, the current market price (which represents completed, real transactions rather than the sellers' asking price) is just a hair under $30. This suggests that players are actually buying copies of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, rather than it being a financial play by speculators. While Jace, Vryn's Prodigy may be the flashiest example of the impact of Frontier on card prices, there's actually another blue card that may exemplify the new format's influence even more.

For some reason, Dig Through Time's price chart isn't really doing it justice at the moment. While TCG Mid is listed at $1.38, the cheapest near mint copy available on the site is $1.74, and the cheapest near mint playset is $1.94 per copy. More importantly, in just the past week, most of the big sellers—ChannelFireball, SCG, and Card Kingdom—upped their selling price to $1.99 when you could get copies for $0.79 as recently as October and for about $1.25 as recently as a week ago. In fact, the buylist price for Dig Through Time is currently $1.00, more than its retail price in the not-too-distant past. 

While this movement isn't flashy, it's hard to argue that it's based on anything but Frontier because Dig Through Time is banned in every other tournament format. So, while you can formulate an argument that the Jace, Vryn's Prodigy increase is about Modern or Legacy (even though I don't see it), Frontier—where Dig Through Time is the ninth most played non-creature spell—seems to be the only reasonable explanation for why Dig Through Time costs nearly three times as much as it did a couple of months ago. 

While not changing as massively as Jace, Vryn's Prodigy or Dig Through Time, many of the other important cards in Frontier have started to show signs of the format's influence as well, with many cards either suddenly stopping their post-rotation price decline or even starting to tick up slightly. As a result, I'm starting to think that the correct time to get your Frontier cards is now, whether the format ends up being successful or not. So, today, we are going to take a few minutes to talk about the reasons why now could be the time to get your Frontier staples and then talk about the cards I'm most interesting in having for the format.

Why Buy into Frontier Now?

This will probably sound strange, so let's get it out of the way first: I'm still not convinced that Frontier (at least, in its current state) will be a successful format over the long haul. While it's certainly possible the format has legs, and having support from big stores increases its odds, it's still very much a possibility that the format ends up fading away like Tiny Leaders rather than turning into a supported and extremely popular format like Over Extended (which became Modern). So, why—with full knowledge that the format could end up falling flat—do I want to buy Frontier staples now rather than waiting to see how things shake out? Several reasons. 

First and most importantly, I don't believe that the current version of Frontier needs to be successful for the format staples to be good purchases because I believe that, even if Frontier fades away, Wizards will support a format that is similar to Frontier in the not-too-distant future. Maro himself talked about the likelihood of a "post-Modern" format, so we know that, at the very least, the thought of something similar to Frontier has crossed Wizards' mind. Plus, after talking to a lot of people, it does make a lot of sense that Wizards will want to make a non-rotating (or maybe slowly rotating) format that consists solely of cards made with modern design principles in mind. The barrier to entry for Modern for new players isn't just the price. Actually, price may not even be the primary barrier. Instead, the barrier is style of gameplay. It's asking a lot for someone new to Magic who's used to slamming midrange creatures into each other to play in a world of Blood Moons and Turn 2 Infect kills. A format like Frontier solves these problems, and now that Wizards sees that major stores (and at least some portion of the player base) will be willing to support the format, it's only a matter of time until it will cash in. Whether the format will be called Frontier or have the exact same card pool as current Frontier doesn't really matter, because the cards we'll be talking about today will likely be staples in the format, no matter what it's called. 

Second, many of the Frontier staples are at their price floor, and this may be the best reason to buy these cards now. When you see cards like Anafenza, the Foremost—a mythic that sees fringe Modern play and has some amount of casual demand—at literal bulk prices, the risk to buying copies is incredibly low. There's a reasonable shot that these cards are going to increase in price with or without Frontier (for a more in-depth breakdown of this idea, check out my articles on the three-year plan). As a result, even if Frontier did not exist, I'd still like many of these cards. The fact that they could see a big price spike from Frontier demand is simply a bonus that pushes me toward buying in sooner rather than later, just in case. 

Third, and related to the first two reasons, I see very little risk in buying Frontier staples now. While this is partly because I believe Frontier (or a Frontier-like format) will eventually be supported by Wizards and partly because I think these cards are about as cheap as the can possibly be, there's another reason as well: the risk of these cards being reprinted in the near future is comparatively low. Since Frontier is so new, and knowing how long it takes for Wizards to start reprinting cards specifically for a format, it seems unlikely that many of these cards are on Wizards' "must reprint" list. In fact, it benefits Wizards to not reprint Frontier staples, let them simmer for a couple of years and grow in price, and then print something like Frontier Masters as a way to monetize the format. While Modern cards are always at risk of being reprinted, and with the birth of Eternal Masters, non-Reserve List Legacy / Vintage cards being at risk as well, Frontier staples seem safe. While a few could show up at random in supplemental products, it should be years before these cards are specifically targeted with a reprint. 

The last reason I want to be early rather than last on Frontier staples is that I lived through the birth of the Modern format. Buying in on Modern staples early was basically the Magic equivalent of buying stock in Google or Apple back when the companies where completely unknown start-ups. The returns are absolutely staggering. Today, we are used to Modern staples being extremely expensive, so it's easy to forget that this wasn't the case back in 2011. Fetch lands that are $40–$80 today were easily available for $10. Noble Hierarch, currently $65 (even after a reprinting), was $12. Thoughtseize went from $15 to $65, Dark Confidant went from $15 to $85, Goblin Guide went from $4 to $40, and Death's Shadow went from $0.50 to $5 and then $10. I could go on, but the point is simple: whether your goal was to have playsets of cards to play with or to increase the value of your collection, the single best decision you could have made in the modern era of Magic was to buy into Modern as early as possible. If Frontier ends up having one-quarter of the impact on prices that Modern did, buying in now is the best decision you can make. 

When we take these for factors together, here's the equation I see for buying Frontier staples: the risk is incredibly low, since these cards are at their floor; many of these cards could end up being good buys over the mid-term (say three years), even without any help from Frontier; and if Frontier (or a similar format) does "hit" like Modern, the potential of these cards is immense. Will I end up loving Frontier and playing the format all the time? I have no idea, but I want these cards in my collection just in case. If the format breaks out, I'll be thankful I have the staples before they become prohibitively expensive. If the format fails, then I expect I'll be able to cash out the cards for at or above their current prices a couple of years down the road. 

Frontier Finance: Set by Set

Before talking about individual cards, we need to talk briefly about the Frontier card pool. Apart from Magic 2015, Magic Origins, and Khans block, all of the cards in Frontier are currently Standard legal, and even though many Standard cards are Frontier staples, buying these cards now is likely a bad idea because their prices are inflated due to Standard demand. Meanwhile, the older (non-Standard) sets are at all-time lows thanks to their recent rotation from Standard, so this is where we'll focus our attention for the time being. We'll also be dealing mostly with mythics and a few select rares, because it is true that all of the sets in Frontier are relatively high in supply, which means it will be hard for second-tier rares and any uncommon / common to see significant price increases. Anyway, let's look at Frontier buys on a set-by-set basis.

Magic 2015

$ 0.00 $ 0.00

Magic 2015 is likely one of the worst sets in Frontier, with very few cards that can really be considered format staples. However, there is one big exception in Goblin Rabblemaster. Right now, the best buylist price for Goblin Rabblemaster is $2.20, while TCG Mid is only $2.30, and this strong spread (combined with recent buylist price increases from $0.50 in September and $1.25 less than two weeks ago) suggests that the retail price is about to increase. In fact, if you shop around, you can find vendors that are selling copies right now for below the best buylist price by as much as $0.41. The card is currently the ninth most played creature in Frontier and sees very fringe play in Legacy and Modern as well. While the Goblin is very reprintable, it's also—by far—the best buy out of all the Frontier cards in Magic 2015

$ 0.00 $ 0.00

As for the rest of the mythics, most are already overpriced due to casual demand (like the planeswalkers from the set) or horrible (like the Soul cycle), but Perilous Vault is interesting. While its numbers (i.e., buylist price and spread) are horrible, it does offer something unique to the Frontier format in a colorless wrath. Remember: Oblivion Stone was essentially a bulk rare until Modern came along and made it part of a tier one deck (Tron), and it's not outside the realm of possibility that Frontier could have a similar impact on Perilous Vault. While it doesn't really see tournament play in other formats, it does offer a budget substitute for Oblivion Stone in Modern and can be playable in Mono-Blue or Mono-Green Commander decks as well. While I don't think the artifact is a must buy by any means, it is worth keeping an eye on. 

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

The other options from Magic 2015 are mostly fringe long shots but include cards like Return to the Ranks (can be good alongside Rally the Ancestors, which is currently the most played deck in Frontier), Phyrexian Revoker (which sees play in other formats but has multiple printings and high supply), Hornet Queen (which is popular in Commander), and Ensoul Artifact (which is the key piece of a popular Frontier deck, but I'm not convinced that uncommons are a good bet to see significant spikes because their supply is massive). 

Meanwhile, the pain lands are essentially unplayable in Frontier, based on the lists I've seen, mostly because the mana fixing (highlighted by fetches and Battle for Zendikar duals, backed up by Kaladesh fast lands) is so good, so it's probably best to just ignore the cycle, and while Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and Chord of Calling are probably playable in the format, their current prices are already propped up by Modern demand, which makes them less interesting. 

Magic Origins

$ 0.00 $ 0.00

We already talked about Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, and it's pretty clear that the best time to buy the flipwalker was a week or two ago. That said, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is the single most played card in the entire Frontier format, so if you are interesting in building a Frontier collection, you might have to bite the bullet and get your playset, even at the new higher price point. As for financial gain, I'm really not sure about the future of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. The upside is that it's playable all the way back to Vintage and, as a flip card, is competitively hard to reprint, which could mean that, over the long haul, $30 ends up looking cheap. On the other hand, $30 is a lot to spend, which means I wouldn't want to buy copies unless I knew I would play them. The opportunity cost is just too high.

$ 0.00 $ 0.00

Hangarback Walker is the other Frontier staple from Magic Origins, currently coming in as the third most played creature in the format, and its price is already showing that it's important to the format. Only a month ago, the best buylist price on the artifact was only $0.75; today, it's all the way up to $2.50. During the same time frame, many of the big vendors have nearly doubled the price of Hangarback Walker from in the $2.00 range to between $3.50 and $4 today. The good news is that if you dig around a bit, you can still find copies for around $2.75, which seems like a great price (especially considering the 11% spread) for a card that can theoretically go into any deck.

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

Magic Origins is also overflowing with bulk (between $1 and $2 retail) mythics that have extremely unique effects, casual demand, and maybe even Frontier potential. We've actually seen successful Starfield of Nyx decks show up at Frontier tournaments, all the pieces are there to make a Pyromancer's Goggles deck work in the format, Woodland Bellower gets better set by set as more three-drops are printed, it's possible that sooner or later Wizards prints a three-mana combo piece that makes Woodland Bellower the centerpiece of a powerful deck, and everyone loves Demonic Pact. These are the types of mythics I like sitting in my collection for the three-year plan anyway, so the fact that they can possibly get some demand from Frontier as well is just icing on the cake. 

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

Magic Origins also offers a bunch of interesting fringe options, which could end up being very important to Frontier depending on how the metagame shakes out. Atarka Red is one of the premiere aggro decks in the format. Abbot of Keral Keep is a key piece of the deck and likely will be for a long time. Pia and Kiran Nalaar sees Modern play but is mostly limited to being a one- or two-of thanks to its legendary status, and the same will likely be true in Frontier. This will likely keep the price from getting too out of line, especially when combined with the fact that it was an Intro Pack rare. Dark Petition is the best tutor that's been printed in a long time and is powerful enough to show up in both Vintage and Legacy, which means it has some appeal even without any help from Frontier. Finally, people have been trying out aggressive white Humans decks, and Knight of the White Orchid is typically a four-of in these strategies. 

Other long shots include Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen, which gives the popular Elf tribal deck a lord but is limited by the fact that it was in an Intro Pack. Thopter Spy Network could get more support in the rest of Kaladesh block, which has a strong artifact theme. Infinite Obliteration and Hallowed Moonlight will likely have homes in sideboards fighting against popular decks like Rally the Ancestors or possibly Emrakul, the Promised End decks that could emerge in the future, at least until Wizards decides to print better hate cards and sideboard options. Exquisite Firecraft offers a ton of damage for a reasonable cost and helps fight through the counters offered by control decks, and Goblin Piledriver could have a home if a tier Goblin deck comes to the forefront of the format. 

Khans of Tarkir

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

Khans of Tarkir is the foundation of Frontier and is likely the set that stands to gain the most from the birth of the format. The most obvious "must buy" cards are the three that come in among the 20 most played in the format. 

Anafenza, the Foremost is currently the second most played creature in all of Frontier and sees play in a handful of Modern decks as well. Despite this demand, it's pretty close to a bulk mythic, with copies as low at $1.65. While its buylist prices aren't amazing, retail prices have been ticking up over the past couple of weeks, and while the supply is high, the Khan is exactly the type of mythic I want to own at rotation. If Frontier takes off, it stands to gain a ton because the options to fight Rally the Ancestors—currently the most played deck in Frontier—are limited, and even beyond hating on the graveyard, Anafenza, the Foremost is huge for her mana cost while also offering +1/+1 counter synergies (for some reason, Frontier people love the idea of Hardened Scales). Out of all the cards we've talked about, Anafenza, the Foremost might have the least amount of risk of them all. It's hard to imagine it ever being cheaper than it is today, and even in the nightmare scenario where there's a reprinting, it will be hard for Anafenza, the Foremost to lose much value. 

The biggest issue with Siege Rhino is that the supply is massive. Not only is it a rare from a high-supply set, but it was also in a Clash Pack. As a result, even though it's currently the 10th most played creature in Frontier, it's hard to imagine Siege Rhino truly exploding in price. That said, it's hard to imagine it decreasing much either. It's a four-of in competitive Modern decks, and it's already been reprinted once, so it can't really hurt to take a flier and get a playset. Even if it never increases in price, you'll still be happy you have copies in your collection to play with, and it's not impossible that it starts a slow climb soon. Buylist prices have double over the past month, and while the spread isn't great, this could be the first sign of a retail price increase in the not-too-distant future.

Dig Through Time carries with it a lot of risk (although having a $2 retail price helps minimize potential losses) for a couple of reasons. First, since it is banned in pretty much every other format, if Frontier does fail, there will be very little demand for the card. Second, if Frontier does succeed, it will mean Wizards has taken up the format, which means we'll likely see a banned list. Based on Wizards' past banned list choices, it wouldn't be a bit surprising to see Dig Through Time banned preemptively just because it's banned everywhere else. If either of these things happen, Dig Through Time could fall back down towards $1; if not, it could easily end up being $5 as one of the premier cards in the Frontier format. 

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

Let me make this clear right away: I don't think you should buy fetch lands because of Frontier. It's hard to recommend buying cards that are $10 or $15 each for a format that may or may not survive. On the other hand, if you are serious about playing Modern, Legacy, Frontier or even Commander, fetch lands may be the most important cards to have in your collection, without exception. While some Frontier people have suggested that fetch lands should be banned, it's hard to see that actually happening, especially if Wizards picks up support for the format—it's just too awkward to ban an entire cycle of lands without any real justification. While I don't expect that Frontier will have a huge impact on the price of fetches right away, it could over the long haul, and regardless, if you don't have fetch lands in your collection, you might as well pick them up. They are near their all-time low and were just reprinted. Plus, you'll get use out of them eventually. 

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

As for the rest of Khans of Tarkir, the cards from the set are so cheap you're pretty much safe to pick up anything you think might see play. Most of the mythics in the set are less than $1, which means they literally can't drop in price. If they go up, that's awesome; if not, you should be able to get your money back out of them. All of the Khans themselves are interesting, not so much because of Frontier (although Sidisi, Brood Tyrant could be playable) but because they are fairly popular casual cards. See the Unwritten never really saw that much play in Standard, but it does potentially offer a lot of value in Frontier, especially as more huge finishers see print. At about $0.80 a copy, it's hard to go wrong. 

The rares are pretty much the same way: prices are super low, and there are a ton of options that could end up being extremely powerful in the Frontier format. Crackling Doom already sees play, Ghostfire Blade has a home in the Ensoul Artifact deck and will likely get even better with the release of Aether Revolt, while Jeskai Ascendancy will get better and better as more cards enter the format, and it could have potential to be a real tier combo deck if we get a critical mass of cheap cantripping spells. This is not to mention things like Butcher of the Horde, Altar of the Brood, Utter End, and Rattleclaw Mystic. All of these cards are currently about $0.50, so if you want a playset, you might as well pick them up—the risk is basically nonexistent.

Fate Reforged

$ 0.00 $ 0.00

Fate Reforged really only has one card I'm interested in, because some other interesting targets were already reprinted in Clash Packs or Event Decks (like Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Warden of the First Tree), which will make it difficult for them to see any swift price increases. Soulfire Grand Master doesn't actually rank among the ten most played creatures in the format, although it is the two-drop of choice for decks like Mardu Aggro. Prices have ticked up a bit over the past couple weeks, with buylists going from under $1 to $1.50 and retail prices up about $0.50. At around $10 a play set, it seems like a worthwhile risk. Even if Frontier fails, casual players love their life gain effects, so it seems likely you'll be able to find someone to take your copies. 

Dragons of Tarkir

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

Dragons of Tarkir battles Khans of Tarkir as the most powerful set in the Frontier format, with three cards ranking among the 20 most played and several more that should be considered staples. Probably the two biggest are Thunderbreak Regent and Collected Company. As for the Dragon, the numbers aren't exciting, with retail prices at about $1 and buylists at $0.60, but at only $4 a play set, there's little reason not to pick up the sixth most played creature in the Frontier format. 

The story of Collected Company is a bit more confusing, since the green instant is also a staple in Modern, but buylist prices have nearly doubled over the past couple of months, and retail prices have started to increase, going from $9 to $10 over the past couple weeks; many big sellers are listing their copies for $12. Whether this is from Frontier or Modern, it doesn't really matter—if you don't have your playset of Collected Company and think you might want to play with the card over the next year or two, you might as well get your copies now. Since Dragons of Tarkir isn't eligible for Modern Masters 2017, it's possible we don't see a reprinting for a couple of years, which is plenty of time for the rare to push back towards $20. 

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

While only Kolaghan's Command comes in on our list of the 20 most played cards in Frontier, most of the commands have potential in the format. Kolaghan's Command currently has a tiny 10% spread, and many of the biggest vendors including ChannelFireball and Card Kingdom have recently upped their sell price to between $8.50 and $9, even though you can still pick up copies for as low as $5.64 from Isle of Cards. The buylist on Atarka's Command has been increasing as well, up from $3.00 in October to $4.50 today. As the namesake card in Atarka Red—one of the most played decks in Frontier—if the format takes off, then it stands to gain the most out of all the commands. Dromoka's Command is limited by a Clash Pack reprinting but is still an important card in various Abzan decks, and Ojutai's Command offers a ton of value for control decks, which should have a place in the format for as long as Dig Through Time is legal.

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

Meanwhile, the Deathmist Raptor / Den Protector synergy is available in Frontier, just as it was in Standard, and considering the format doesn't have much graveyard hate, it seems like, at least over the short term, there may be a chance for these cards to shine in the format. Den Protector was just reprinted in Commander 2016, which means its financial future is limited, but Deathmist Raptor is a one-print mythic with an unpopular mechanic (making it less likely to be reprinted) that's currently close to bulk for a mythic, at about $1.50. 

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

All of the Dragonlords are currently in the $3 to $4 range, and while their future in Frontier is foggy, Dragons are one of the most popular casual tribes, and they almost always end up being more expensive than you'd think they should be. As a result, these are cards I'm more than happy to hold onto in the three-year plan, and if one (or more) end up making it in Frontier, it will be a happy bonus. 

Conclusion

At this point, the future of Frontier as a format is unclear, but what is clear is that there are a lot of cards worth keeping track of, just in case the format really ends up being the next big thing, which is not outside the realm of possibility. The excitement over the potential for a new format combined with many powerful cards being at all-time lows thanks to the recent Standard rotation creates a sort of perfect storm of opportunity. Better yet, I'd want many of these cards in my collection for the mid-term, even if Frontier hype wasn't a factor, which makes the risk in picking up copies extremely low. In the best case, Frontier becomes a sort of mini-Modern: the prices of many of these cards increase, and you get your format staples for ultra-budget prices. In the worst case, Frontier flops and the prices of these cards stagnate, and all you really lose is opportunity cost, which seems like a pretty low price compared to the potential reward.

Anyway, that's all for today. Have you bought any cards specifically for the Frontier format? If so, what cards? Let me know in the comments, along with your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions. As always, you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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