Coldsnap In Limited: The Blue Cards

ColdsnapWhile Jeff dallies with the goblins and the machines, Julien dives straight into the Blue. Does Magic’s trickiest color have the stamina to stand up to the Reds and Greens of the Coldsnap killing fields? There are fliers, and removal spells, and a plethora of Snow Matters cards… but is this enough to shine?

Blue’s up next, and it gives us the more defensive cards along with some flying creatures, as usual. Here goes!

Adarkar Windform
A 3/3 flying creature for five is big enough for its cost, and Adarkar Windform’s ability is quite useful. Not only in offense, to break through any flying creatures your opponent might have, but also to make your ground defenders that much better against other Blue and/or White decks when you’re keeping two mana open. It’s a fine guy, with a good ability, and Blue’s best five-drop.

Arcum Dagsson
In Limited, you’re looking at a four mana 2/2 with no ability whatsoever. Whether or not this card will do something in Constructed, I’m not sure. I don’t think it’s good in the current Standard, because you can’t really get anything impressive, but in Extended it should be a lot more interesting. The cost to activate it can be neglected because you can just run a lot of cheap artifact creatures, and cash them in for multiples of Mindslaver. It’s still just an overcosted 2/2 creature though, making it very easy to kill, but it might just become the key card of some wacky Extended deck.

Balduvian Frostwaker
If they’d made this guy a little bit bigger, like 1/3, then it would have been a fine card for Limited. Now it’s only going to do something in the very long run, unless you have drafted a lot of snow lands… but that’s unlikely, since you often have to pass spells if you want to pick those up. It’s a way to gain card advantage in the late game, and card advantage seems to be hard to get with the cards available in this format.

It’s very rare you’ll be able to cast this by paying seven mana, and while the effect can be disastrous for your opponent, it’s much more likely to not be worth pitching two spells for. It can win you games, but so can every card in Magic, this card will help you lose a lot more games than it will win for you.

The same rule for counterspells in Limited applies here: unless it’s very cheap or gives you card advantage, I try not to run countermagic. You just can’t keep mana open for it often enough, let alone recover it, as you’ll want to use your mana in your own turn casting spells that directly do something. The only case in which I might play a counterspell as expensive as this one is when I’m sideboarding against a deck with very expensive game-winning spells like Sunscour, and I think I’ll be able to control the board so I don’t have to cast any more spells in my own turn.

Spell Snare under the Power Hammer

For this to be worth it, you need to hit at least two times per game, and in Limited that’s just not going to happen often enough. In Constructed though, this card has amazing potential. Cards like Sensei’s Divining Top – or even Telling Time – are great with this card. The ability to counter spells without paying mana for it allows you to keep your hand filled with card-drawing spells while keeping the board under control… all it needs is a little maintenance. It’s terrible for Limited, but look out for this card when the Constructed season comes round again.

In Blue decks, your offense relies mostly on creatures with evasion, and while Drelnoch’s ability isn’t exactly evasion, it can function in a similar way. The point of evasion is that it denies your opponent to block entirely, forcing him to alter his game plan. That’s why Drelnoch isn’t nearly as good as, for example, a five-mana 3/3 flyer: your opponent can just give you one extra card if he wants to, so it’s not that good as an attacking force. As a ground defender, Drelnoch is just too weak for its price. All in all, it’s still playable, but you’d rather have real evasion creatures.

Flashfreeze is a counterspell effect that I do like, simply because it’s a cheap hard counter against decks with big guys that you need to take care of. Sideboard cards against specific color combinations, and therefore specific decks, are hard to pick up in the draft as you’ll often see them with another playable card in your colors and opt to take the card you might play in your maindeck. Red/Green is definitely an archetype that will be in your draft, and if you manage to pick up a Flashfreeze without sacrificing too much in maindeck cards, you should be happy to sideboard it in when you get the opportunity.

Frost Raptor
Blue decks always need flying creatures, and Frost Raptor is about as good as it gets in this expansion. Cheap, efficient, and a decent ability that you’ll be able to use more often than you think because Blue decks need more snow mana than other decks, mainly for Rimewind Taskmage.

Frozen Solid
Removal effects of any kind are usually playable, so is the case with Frozen Solid. Blue really needs some way to permanently deal with big creatures and pingers, and the best it’s got is Frozen Solid. It’s not high quality removal, since your opponent will be able to use his creature once before it takes effect, but you need something to fill out that function.

Ice Ice Baby

Heidar, Rimewind Master
If you get this up and running, it’s a card your opponent needs to deal with 95% of the time, otherwise it’ll win you the game easily. A trap I’ve seen beginning players often fall into is to be afraid to use its ability, thinking they might lose it to some removal spell their opponent has just drawn. Don’t be afraid to use it, just try to take full advantage of it when you can, otherwise it’s not going to win you the game anymore.

It’s not that expensive for such a big creature, but far too risky for my taste. Most players will try to get their hands on some removal, and if they hit you with that, you’re in big trouble unless the board position is very favorable for you already, in which case you didn’t really need the Jokulmorder because you were already winning. The only good reason to run it is true desperation, if you’re really in need of a way to win and your deck is terrible.

Krovikan Mist
The only other Illusions in the format are Adarkar Windform and Phobian Phantasm, but the latter is an uncommon so you can’t really count on that being in your draft. The commons you will often see three or more times per draft though, so if you’ve already got some Krovikan Mists and Adarkar Windforms, you can decide on picking them higher than other creatures that you would normally prefer. The good thing about this strategy is that the cards are fine by themselves (Krovikan Mist is often a bit marginal though), meaning that if the draft is letting you down a bit, you won’t lose too many playable cards.

Krovikan Whispers
While the cumulative upkeep cost and the effect when it goes to the graveyard might scare you off, think again. Very often you’ll be able to trade off the creature that you stole, and if not it means your opponent isn’t attacking with most of his creatures, which is fine as well. If you are the aggressor, the life loss effect is negligible because you should be able to get in at least two points a turn with the creature you stole. It’s also very good to steal one of the two common creatures that often wreck Blue/White decks: Orcish Bloodpainter and Disciple of Tevesh Szat, as you’ll be able to get rid of the creature straight away if you want to.

Martyr of Frost
In some games, having this as your only early drop can be okay, but your opponent can always choose to play around it if he wants to. Most of the time you do want to use your mana in your own turn, and therefore you will often have to wait until after you’ve cast your spells to activate it. This makes it very ineffective, because your opponent won’t have much trouble keeping mana open and you won’t have many spells in your hand.

Perilous Research
The first time I saw this, I loved it. It’s been very good to me whenever I had it. In Limited games, you will often use it in the combat step to sacrifice a creature that was going to die anyway, giving you a two-card advantage, and in the late game you can just sacrifice a land you don’t need anymore. In Constructed, I definitely expect to see this played in many decks, especially combo decks that can take advantage of it as a sacrifice outlet.

Rimefeather Owl
Untap with this and a snow land in play, and you’re the favorite to win the game from there on. You don’t even need many snow lands to make it work; you can just put ice counters on your basic lands and they will give you snowy mana as well. The format is pretty fast, so it’s not as good as it would be in other draft formats, but if you manage to pick it up early you will want to try and slow down the games if you can. Change your card evaluation accordingly.

Rimewind Cryomancer
More often than not, Rimewind Cryomancer is just a 2/3 body for four and that’s just not going to make the cut. There’s also no Timberwatch Elf in the format you would want to board it in against, since most of the creatures with activated abilities don’t necessarily need to resolve in that particular turn. For example, this ability is not good against Disciple of the Tevesh Szat, as your opponent can just use it in your end step, the effect gets countered, untap and use it again.

Rimewind Taskmage
It’s probably not going to work in the first few turns, but that’s okay since you’d rather tap out to cast spells in those turns anyway. After that, it’s a great tapper that doesn’t get killed by pingers, a big advantage over Squall Drifter. I usually still prefer Squall Drifter though, because of its evasion and the fact that you don’t necessarily need to draft many snow permanents to make it work, but I like to have a mix of the two in my deck.

Ronom Serpent
Six mana 5/6 creatures usually come with an advantage nowadays, but Ronom Serpent lets us down in that aspect. It has a big disadvantage: having a snow land yourself isn’t normally a problem, but I’ve faced this guy without having a snow land in play too often. It’s playable if you really need something big with which to finish the game, but I much prefer something like a Kjeldoran Gargoyle.

Rune Snag
By now you should know that I’m not a fan at all of countermagic in Limited, and Rune Snag is also too weak for my taste to make up for its disadvantages. It becomes better when you have multiples, but you don’t really want to play a lot of counterspells in Limited decks as there’s simply no room. It’s not a consistent enough strategy. The only reason to run it is if you’ve got very few two-drops, but in such a small set you should always be able to get your hands on the creatures you need.

Surging Aether
Another one of those hard-to-predict ripple spells, but this time it’s a card you do mind having an abundance of in your deck. You never want too many expensive tricks, but if you really need something, Surging Aether can fill up your deck. I would never draft ripple/Surging Aether: it’s just not powerful enough, and most of the time when you do draft four or five copies you’ll end up playing only one because you’ve already got too many tricks that are simply better than this one.

Survivor of the Unseen
This card is not as bad as it may look. In the very worst case, you’ll pay three mana to cycle it and maybe hold off an attacker in the process, but you’re probably not going to play it on turn 3 anyway. If you wait until you have a solid board position and keep this guy around for a few turns, he’ll gain you some card advantage – hard to find in this format. It’s not a great card, but don’t be afraid to run it maindeck (or board it in against slower decks).

Thermal Flux
In most situations this is just a one-mana cantrip, but if your opponent plays Skred or Chill to the Bone it becomes much more than that. It’s a reasonably good card because you can always play it no matter what your deck looks like or what you’re up against. It’s probably going to cycle for one, but it might just help you win the game.

Vexing Sphinx
If you have this guy and a few other cheap spells, you’re going to empty your hand very quickly anyway and its disadvantage is now only a big advantage. It’s not uncommon to have a Squall Drifter on turn 2, a Vexing Sphinx on turn 3 and then two more spells on the fourth turn. Your opponent will be facing a 4/4 flying that he probably has to deal with, but if he doesn’t come up with a solution fast enough, its card-drawing ability might win you the game. [Of course, if you empty your hand immediately, the Sphinx will die when you can’t pay his upkeep… – Craig, clarifying.]

I’m not a big fan of Blue in this format; compared to the other colors Blue has less card quality. Frost Drake, Rimewind Taskmage, and Adarkar Windform are fine, but nothing more than that, and the rest of the cards don’t really excite me. You do need snow lands in Blue decks, and Blue doesn’t have enough playables for you to pick up the snow lands very highly. It does offer some very interesting cards for Constructed, like Arcum Dagsson, and I expect Perilous Research to see much play.

Up next… Black!