Coldsnap In Limited: Artifacts and Draft Archetypes

Julien completes his look at the Limited application of Coldsnap with an examination of the Artifacts. He also runs through a number of the more powerful two-color combinations, supplying some excellent advice on picks and play strategies. While U.S. and English Nationals have been and gone (and believe me, you’ll be hearing about English Nats a lot from me…), others have still to sample the vagaries of the triple Coldsnap format. Julien’s article is a fine primer for those wishing to improve their chances.

The final installment is here, and I’m sorry for the delay, but Grand Prix: Malmo got in the way a little. Here we go!

Coldsteel Heart
Mana fixers are quite rare in this set, but they’re also less useful because the majority of decks are only two colors. Coldsteel Heart is a very welcome addition to any deck, not only because it fixes your mana but also because it gives you snow mana. It’s a card that I really like to pick up early to keep your options open; only White/Green doesn’t really want to play it, because that deck’s got too many good two-drops as it is.

Jester’s Scepter
In this drafting format, it’s true that people will have multiple copies of their spells very often, but Jester’s Scepter is still not playable. For five mana, you might counter a spell, but you need to counter more than one spell to make it worth it, and that’s just not going to happen often enough.

Mishra’s Bauble
A common misconception is that this card makes your deck “39 cards”, but it just doesn’t. Suppose, for example, you open a hand with a five-drop, a four-drop, Mishra’s Bauble and four lands, drawing first. Do you keep? I don’t think that the “deck-thinning” effect Bauble offers is often worth the loss of information, but I can imagine that in some decks you’ll want to maximize your chances of drawing a certain card – for example, decks with many copies of Surging Sentinels. In my view it’s not a high pick at all; it’s a card that you will sometimes pick up and sometimes run in your deck, be it because you’ve got too few playables or you want to draw into something.

Phyrexian Ironfoot
It’s bigger than its casting cost, which usually makes a good creature if it doesn’t have too big of a disadvantage, and I don’t think many decks will have a lot of trouble paying Ironfoot’s upkeep. Besides, if you’re not attacking, there’s no need to pay, and because of its four toughness it’s a good defensive creature, so it’s not uncommon not to attack with it. It’s a great card to pick up early, for the same reason Coldsteel Heart is, as it’s a good card in every color.

Phyrexian Snowcrusher
Six-drops aren’t the most desirable creatures in this format, but Phyrexian Snowcrusher is big enough to make up for its cost, and it’s also another good artifact to pick early on, if you haven’t settled on your colors yet. Of course, it’s worse in Green decks than in other decks, because of Ronom Hulk and Aurochs Herd, so keep that in mind when you’re thinking about picking this one up.

Phyrexian Soulgorger
Even if you manage to keep this around for a few turns, your opponent can just take damage, or sacrifice a creature himself, since it doesn’t even trample. Think about it this way: you’re sacrificing more creatures every turn, while your opponent can choose to sacrifice one guy per turn, if any.

Thrumming Stone
At first I thought this wouldn’t do much most of the time, but I’ve seen it do some pretty sick things, the highlight of course being Frank Karsten’s second draft deck at GP: Malmo, featuring nine copies of Disciple of Tevesh Szat. I don’t think it’s a high pick… it’s more a card that you’ll pick up if it doesn’t cause you to pass something really good. Try to build your deck around it a little, but don’t focus on it too much.

Blizzard Specter
In any other format, this card would be really good, and I must say that it’s really disappointed me. It’s still a great card, but sometimes a little slow for a four-drop, as it doesn’t help your defense much, and that’s what Blue/Black is about. Four-drops like Disciple of Tevesh Szat and Zombie Musher can be much better when your opponent’s got a fast start, as they don’t need to attack to affect your opponent. Still, its sheer power makes it a great card to play.

Deepfire Elemental
Red/Black decks often lack good offensive creatures, and Deepfire Elemental is a good attacker while it allows you to kill some smaller creatures as well. The downside is its mana cost, but the top of the mana curve in Red/Black usually ends before the six-drop, making it a welcome addition.

Diamond Faerie; Tamanoa; Garza Zol, Plague Queen; Sek’Kuar, Deathkeeper; Zur the Enchanter
Some of these are bombs and some are just playable, but they all have in common that they’re three colors, and I’ve never had a deck yet that could support them. In some rare cases though, when you’ve got some of the rare mana fixers, you can pick one of these up and they might win you a few games, but they’re definitely not cards that I like to start off my draft with.

I’m not giving a rating – of course, sometimes they’re bomb but you can rarely play them.

Juniper Order Ranger
When you play it, it does slow you down. When you untap with it, all of your guys become much more impressive. Every time that I’ve had it on the fifth turn backed up by some creatures, it has greatly helped me dominate the board. Green/White is also a color combo that you will want to draft, so that’s not really a downside, and it’s not that annoying to pick this up too early in the draft when you’ve not yet decided on your colors. It’s also a great combo with Jotun Owl Keeper, and I’ve been lucky enough to have these two uncommons work together on several occasions.

Vanish Into Memory
At the first few drafts that I did, I got this card very late (after 10th pick), but I didn’t think it was that bad and I gave it a go. I’ve really been impressed by it: four mana seems quite expensive for a trick like this, but its card-drawing ability sometimes gives you so much card selection that you can easily catch up on lost time. I wouldn’t say that it’s a very high pick, but an all-round decent trick that against some decks can be great.

Wilderness Elemental
The snow lands aren’t even non-basic, and you’ll be lucky if this guy is a 1/3.

Dark Depths
I’m sure many of you have missed a big part of this card; I missed it too: it doesn’t even give you mana! If you’ve got a deck that can stall games, and you’re really desperate for a winning condition, you can run it… but I hope I’ll never be that desperate!

Mouth of Ronom
I’m a big, big fan of this card. It gives you only colorless mana, but you’ll have two-color decks most of the time anyway so that shouldn’t be that much of a problem. It’s a removal spell that doesn’t cost a slot in your deck, and it’s a land as well, meaning that it gives you card advantage in a way, since after the land has become useless, you’ll just kill a guy with it. On top of all that, it doesn’t commit you to a color. It’s a card I’ll pick only a few cards over.

Scrying Sheets
Just like with Mouth of Ronom, the fact that this land gives you only colorless mana can’t be seen as a big downside, but the ability of this card is less powerful than the Mouth. Still, it’s a card that can really help you out in the late game even if it draws you just lands, because otherwise your draw step would have provided a useless land.

Now that I’ve looked at all cards individually and have a basic idea of how good they are, it’s time to look at which colors go well together, which game plan each archetype follows, and also which color is the best to draft. All of these are factors that influence your draft picks, other than individual card quality.

White/Blue has been a common archetype in many formats, and its game plan is mostly based on holding off ground attackers with good defenders while attacking through the air with smaller flying creatures. In this format it’s not much different; White offers good controlling spells for the big creatures, namely Squall Drifter and Gelid Shackles, while Blue’s got flying creatures with Krovikan Mist and Frost Drake. The snow theme in this archetype is very relevant, as you’ll definitely want to be able to activate Gelid Shackles and Rimewind Taskmage consistently. How highly you should take the snow lands in this deck depends on how many copies of those commons you’ve already got, but my main rule in snowy decks is that unless you can pick a card that you’re sure of that you’ll play, pick the snow land. In this format, the individual power level of the cards is so high that you’ll often end up with around 30 playable cards. It’s a shame, especially if you could have had 26 playables and 4 snow lands instead, as they really are very important in this deck most of the time.

There are two ways to draft this deck. Usually it’s an aggressive White Weenie-style deck, playing Red for some removal spells and Goblin Rimerunner to break through defenses more easily, but I’ve also seen White/Red decks trying to exploit Martyr of Ashes. What you try to do with this deck is to keep your creatures in hand early on, but you don’t want it to be obvious that you’ve got a mass removal spell (the Martyr). Squall Drifter is perfect in this strategy: it doesn’t get killed by the Martyr and can always hold off your opponent’s biggest guy.

The problem with this deck is that you’ll have trouble in dealing with Blue decks, since the Martyr isn’t so impressive if your opponent has lots of flying guys. The big Green decks can also give you hard times. Simian Brawler, Ronom Hulk, and Auroch Herds are examples of three widely played commons that your Martyr doesn’t do much against.

The snow lands aren’t so important in the Martyr deck, but they are very useful in the Weenie deck. You don’t necessarily need to be able to activate Shackles as early as the Blue/White deck, since you’ll be the aggressor most the time… but Skred, Ohran Yeti, and Goblin Rimerunner are all cards that you’re going to pick highly, and they’re not as good without support. Again, I follow the rule that unless you can pick up a card that you’re sure you need in your deck, the snow land is the better pick.

A deck that’s been drafted by a number of people is the Martyr of Sands/Grim Harvest deck. This is a nice combo that many decks will not be able to race against, giving you time to deck them with Jotun Grunt or just attack with flying creatures. Grim Harvest is also much better than I originally thought, especially in Black/White. It combos with Gutless Ghoul and the White Martyr, and is essential in this deck, otherwise you’ve just got weak creatures that will gain you some life, but you’ll lose eventually anyway.

The snow lands are very important in this deck, because most of your defense relies on snow mana: Rimebound Dead, Zombie Musher, and Gelid Shackles are all cards you’ll be looking to play in your deck, but you also need to be able to activate them. The more snow lands, the better.

In most drafting formats, White/Green hasn’t been the most powerful of color combinations because of the lack of available removal spells, but in such a small set you can easily pick up a few copies of the rare removal effects. Your creatures are huge in this deck, and most of the time you will be the one attacking, therefore drafting a good curve is critical. Being able to break through your opponent’s defenses with Squall Drifter and Gelid Shackles is also necessary. I believe Shackles is much better in this deck than Squall Drifter, because you won’t be able to keep mana up all the time, and making a creature not block or use its abilities is often enough for the early game. After that you’ll probably be able to keep some mana open.

Snow mana isn’t that important in this deck; the only cards you’ll want to activate are Shackles and Boreal Centaur. For Shackles, you don’t need that many snow sources since you’re happy with it as it is in the early to mid-game. It’s good to activate the Centaur but you’ll have a tight curve early on, meaning that the threat of using the ability is the most relevant part. Kjeldoran Outrider is a good replacement for that purpose. You’re not likely to have a lot of copies of the Centaur too, since there are lots of two-drops in White and you won’t be able to afford to pick the Centaurs very highly. You’d much rather pick up a four-drop instead, and let the White two-drops come round late.

This deck pretty much follows the same strategy as the Blue/White deck, but the snow lands are much more important. Rimebound Dead, Zombie Musher, and Rimewind Taskmage are all essential in such decks, and they’re not very playable without being able to use their fine abilities, so the snow lands should be picked very highly.

Another possible Blue/Black deck is to draft illusions. If you get your hands on Phobian Phantasm and/or Adarkar Windform, you can try to pick up Krovikan Mist late and you might end up with a very good and aggressive flying deck. This only works if you get many copies of Krovikan Mist though, and you never know how many you’ll be able to get your hands on.

Skred fits nicely into a blue snowy deck, but other than that the synergy isn’t amazing. Goblin Rimerunner doesn’t perform to its full potential, since the point of having Blue flying creatures is that they can’t be blocked anyway. Survivor of the Unseen does work well with Surging Flames, but the same goes for every deck with ripple spells, and on average you’re going to get fewer copies of Flames than you would of other ripple cards because people will pick up Flames earlier. Rasmus Sibast drafted a good blue/red at GP: Malmo, but he had about seven copies of Krovikan Mist. The power of that deck wasn’t really in the color combination.

Apart from putting Surging Mights on Blue flyers, I can’t really see much synergy between these two colors. It’s not nearly as good as it was in the previous format. Blue/Green is not a color combo that I’d be looking to get into, but sometimes when you’re drafting Green, you’re so deep into it that you don’t really need the second color to add a lot. Sometimes your deck is more like a mono-Green deck splashing a few cards of a second color.

This is one of my favorite decks; Disciple of Tevesh Szat really shines here because almost all the removal effects are based on damage, and a Disciple activation can be just enough make all of your decent removal spells into great ones. While it’s true that they can become better when you’ve got multiple copies, a problem I’ve had with this deck is that you often get too many four-drops and too few two-drops, so keep an eye out for that when you’re drafting.

Black and Red both offer great removal spells, but I’d like to emphasize the importance of Chill to the Bone because of Ronom Hulk. Your Rimebound Dead and Zombie Musher can’t block it, and you can’t always count on Skred or Disciple to deal with it. Rimebound Dead, Zombie Musher, Skred, and Chilling Shade are all cards that you’ll want to run in your deck, and therefore I repeat: if you can’t pick up a great card for your deck, pick the snow land!

Chill to the Bone is a nice addition to a Green deck, but Black’s other good commons – Zombie Musher and Disciple of Tevesh Szat – are just not worth playing with a color that focuses on putting as much power into play for little mana. Perhaps Grim Harvest can be of good service to you if your late-game plan doesn’t involve Aurochs Herd, followed by Aurochs Herd, followed by Aurochs Herd, and so on.

Green is all about attacking and Goblin Rimerunner fits into that strategy perfectly, especially since Green doesn’t have a three-drop apart from Sound the Call, which you don’t always happily run. Most of the Green halves of the Green-based decks I’ve seen really needed something to break through their opponent’s defenses from time to time, and the Goblin Rimerunner combined with Red’s two great removal spells do exactly that. When you’re drafting this deck, remember to pick snow permanents (not just lands) pretty high, because of Skred and Ohran Yeti.

All-in-all, I think that Coldsnap draft is a relatively easy format, as all you need to do is make sure that you’re not getting cut out of a color heavily. Once you’ve settled on your two colors, you can just see what strategy fits best with that, and start drafting your deck and adjusting your picks accordingly, bearing in mind your deck’s most probable game plan. I strongly urge you to draft Green, as the overall card quality is much higher than that of the other colors, and both Green/White and Green/Red are great color combos. Green is also a safe choice, not only because the cards are very good… there are also a lot more playables in Green than there are in the other colors. Another deck that I’ve drafted and liked a lot is Red/Black – the amount of removal you can get in that deck is very high, but the creatures are a little less impressive.

There are also a few mini-constructed decks, and they’re possible to be drafted because it’s such a small set and you can be reasonably sure that you’ll get copies of the spell you need most of the time. Possible mini-constructed decks are Grim Harvest/Martyr of Sands combo, or mono-White Weenie with as many Kjeldoran War Cry as you can grab. I’m sure you can think of a few others.

Crazy things can happen in Coldsnap draft, and as a rule I say that if your deck doesn’t look like it’s really good, it is actually a bad deck – the overall card quality is much higher than any format I’ve drafted.

Good luck at your PTQ or Grand Prix, and I hope that this series of articles has been helpful!