Coldsnap In Limited: The White Cards

ColdsnapWith ffeJ examining Coldsnap with a mainly Constructed eye, we’ve tasked Julien with the job of examining the set from a Limited standpoint. Today he tackles the White cards, with particular reference to the triple Coldsnap draft format that features in the majority of the approaching Nationals tournaments. He identifies two clear directions a White drafter can take, and rates the cards accordingly.

Coldsnap is almost upon us, and it’s a very big change from Ravnica block draft. You no longer need to worry about what you’re going to get in packs two and three after the first pack… you just decide on your colors in the first few picks and start drafting a deck with a tight mana curve. Although I’m not a particular fan of triple-Coldsnap draft, I do like that we’ve finally moved on from the Ravnica format. Coldsnap is a little bit too random for my taste; not only is it a small set, Wizards have put countless cards in the set with an effect that gets much better when you’ve got multiple copies of that card, and you just can’t be certain how good your card will be when you pick up the first copy because you can’t say how many you will get. Before I start analyzing the draft format itself, we need to look at what each color offers and evaluate the cards separately. Today I’ll start with white, rating the cards from one to ten, but remember that the card evaluation changes greatly, depending on what you already have, so it’s just an indication of what I think about individual cards. Here goes!

Down from the Heavens descended Chuck Norris...

Adarkar Valkyrie
Bomb rares just don’t get much better than this one: untap with this in play and you should be able to win 95% of the times. This is true with a lot of rares, but usually they don’t come down as early as the sixth turn. The removal available in the format is mostly damage-based (or Chill to the Bone), making it hard to handle; the only common that consistently deals with it is Gelid Shackles.

Boreal Griffin
Flying creatures have always been good in Limited, as long as the cost is somewhat reasonable, and with Boreal Griffin that’s the case. When you’re playing Green as well, there’s a much better common five-drop that you should be trying to get: Ronom Hulk. Most decks have a lot of other stuff to do on the fifth turn, so while it’s always a fine addition to your deck you shouldn’t pick it up too early as your five-slot will often be overpopulated if you do.

Cover of Winter
Its effect in itself can be very powerful, but you do need creatures to support it, and having to pay a cumulative upkeep doesn’t help you in that aspect. Moreover, a cumulative upkeep of a snow mana is very hard to maintain in Limited, and only in very rare cases can this ever make your deck, if ever.

Darien, King of Kjeldor
The key of success for this card is to be on a high life total when you cast it. Unless your opponent has already put you on a short clock, this guy will stop all the attacks, allowing you to win in the long run with White’s tappers and evasion creatures. While it’s true that this format is very fast and all about curving, there aren’t many ways to get burnt out or many big trampling creatures, often resulting in Darien being a must-kill for your opponent to continue his game plan. Flying creatures do get around him if they kill you fast enough, but when you’re playing White, flying creatures are not often hard for you to deal with.

Field Marshal
To analyze the quality of this card, obviously you should look at the number of good soldiers that you might play in your deck. White has two common soldiers that are playable: Kjeldoran Outrider and Surging Sentinels, while the other colors don’t have any. If you’re drafting ripple/Sentinels, which probably isn’t often, this is definitely a high pick. Otherwise it’s hardly useful.

Gelid Shackles
It seems now like every set gives white a Pacifism-like effect; the last few sets had Pacifism, Arrest, Faith’s Fetters, and now Gelid Shackles. The two most common White decks, White/Blue and White/Green, should both value this card very highly but for different reasons. White/Blue doesn’t have access to a lot of removal spells, and having the ability to knock out the occasional Disciple of Tevesh Szat or Orcish Bloodpainter is crucial, as they tend to nullify most of your utility creatures. Green/White wants to play big creatures as fast as possible, and follow it up with some tricks and removal. Again, Shackles is the closest thing it has to a real removal spell. It’s at the low cost of one White, as you’re often the one taking the role of the beatdown.

Glacial Plating
The upkeep cost might scare you, but its effect can really turn games around. If you can consistently keep this around for three turns, it’s worth the price, but I haven’t seen a deck that can really justify playing Glacial Plating. Apart from this, it’s still a creature enchantment that exposes you to easy 2-for-1 trades, and should only make your deck if you really need a way to win and you think you can support it.

Jotun Grunt
While it could possibly be a good sideboard card against Friggorid decks – but I doubt even that – Jotun Grunt rarely works in Limited and thoroughly deserves the unplayable mark; all it might do is stop an attack for one, maybe two turns, then it dies.

Jotun Owl Keeper
An awesome three-drop: early on he gets in for a few points, and then when it’s lost its use it’ll give you a lot of 1/1 flying creatures to work with. It’s big for its cost, so you’ll often run it into your opponent’s four-drop, but that’s not a big deal as it gives you more creatures when it dies. Remember that if you decide not to pay the upkeep, you’ll get to add a counter before sacrificing it, so when you’ve paid the upkeep three times and then choose to sacrifice it, it’ll net you four tokens.

Kjeldoran Gargoyle
As said before, any flying creature that’s not overcosted is worth playing, and so is Kjeldoran Gargoyle. It is definitely not a high pick though, as you’ll only want to play about two six-drops and when you’re Green/White. Your six drops should be better than this.

Kjeldoran Javelineer
It may look cheap, but for the effect to be powerful enough it’s going to cost you lots of mana every turn, stopping you from playing your spells. This gives your opponent time to build up a good board position because eventually you’re going to have to let go of your Javelineer. Even when you do have it in play, you probably have little else in play (because you’re spending all your resources on keeping this one in play), and your opponent can just attack you with everything he’s got, trading one of his guys for a lot of damage.

Kjeldoran Outrider
Any 2/2 creature for two mana is playable and will be played. Kjeldoran Outrider dominates all of those two-drops and a few three-drops as well, and is very useful later in the game as a big blocker. While most two-drops are only good enough in the early part of the game, the Outrider can do a lot more, making it one of my favorite creatures in the two-slot. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t pick it too highly, just because of the high number of two-drops white has to offer; you’ll only want a total of about four or five in most decks.

Kjeldoran War Cry
I’ve never drafted a White deck yet that could optimally use this card, probably because I’ve not drafted the Surging Sentinels/Ripple deck. When you’ve picked up one of these, you shouldn’t focus on getting as many of them as possible, since playing too many of these means you’ll be able to play less creatures. In Green/White decks, this trick is often not quite worth it because you don’t have that many creatures, just a bunch of big guys that don’t really need another +1/+1. Blue/White is a more defensive deck because of all the tappers, and you’re not likely to engage in creature combat because your offense is based on evasion creatures.

A reasonable trick for the sideboard, but in draft you almost always want to draft cards that you might play in your maindeck over reasonable sideboard cards like this one. That’s why Luminesce is such a late pick, and you should only sideboard it in against decks with both Red and Black if you need another trick in the deck.

Martyr of Sands
1/1 creatures for one mana need a very useful ability for them to be playable in draft, but Martyr of Sands doesn’t quite meet that requirement. You want to use its ability in the early game, before you play all of your white spells, but then you probably won’t have more than two, sometimes three white spells since you’re almost always playing two colors. Against the more aggressive red/black decks though, it can be a fair sideboard card, but only if you’ve seen a lot of Krovikan Scoundrels.

Ronom Unicorn
Of White’s three common two-drops, this is the worse one. Squall Drifter is just more powerful, and there aren’t enough good targets for the Unicorn’s ability to make up for its loss of toughness compared to Kjeldoran Outrider. Still, it’s a decent two-drop, but it’s not a high pick because of the high number of better alternatives.

Squall Drifter
Master Decoy’s back, with a few slight adjustments. The loss of toughness is actually quite relevant, because of the pingers in the format like Disciple of Tevesh Szat and Orcish Bloodpainter, but its advantages definitely make up for that. Being a snow creature in a Blue and White deck is a big advantage, and its evasion allows it to attack in the early turns when you don’t want to spend mana. A great utility creature, and White’s best two-drop.

Mankind has always dreamed of destroying the Sun

Sun’s Bounty
Cards which sole purpose is to gain life have never been any good in Limited (apart from Wellwisher, because of the enormous amount of life it gains for you), and Sun’s Bounty is no exception. While there are games in which this could be worth it, it much more often just gains you four life because it’s hard to keep enough mana open to recover it at all times.

Any form of mass removal should always be taken seriously, and a Wrath of God for a few more mana (don’t expect to use the alternative cost too often) will win you many games. Most of the time this card is a better pick than any common or uncommon, also because passing it might send out a bad signal to your neighbor. In some decks, I can imagine that you’d rather have a spell that’s always going to fit into your game plan – for example some Green/White decks that only want to curve out big creatures and follow it up with some combat tricks and removal – but even then Sunscour will win you more games than it will help you lose. I’d never pass this when I’m White, but in some rare cases you can argue otherwise.

Surging Sentinels
This card can be anything from mediocre to amazing, and apart from drafting as many copies as possible, there’s very little you can do about it… and that’s what I don’t like about the ripple cards. If you see these come round late and you’re not sacrificing a lot of card quality by picking it, you can try collecting as many as possible, but I would never try to force a ripple strategy.

Swift Maneuver
There aren’t many ways to gain card advantage in the format, but Swift Maneuver will often give you that. Withstand wasn’t that good in the previous format because it’s hard to keep three mana open for a combat trick, and the one less mana Swift Maneuver costs makes a huge difference. In Green/White, this is exactly what you want: your opponent will try to trade your bigger guy for his smaller one by double-blocking, hoping you don’t have a trick like this one. In other White decks though, there are more cards that serve similar purposes. You don’t even need combat tricks as badly in those decks, which often results in the card coming round the table relatively late. It’s a good combat trick, but because it’s not in such high demand you’ll often see it come round the table later than you’d expect.

Ursine Fylgja
As a ground defender, Ursine Fylgja is just about as good as it gets. If your opponent’s offensive plan doesn’t include evasion creatures, he’ll need to get rid of this one a lot of the time before he can continue to attack you, but if he takes too long it’ll only get bigger and bigger. As an offensive creature it’s not nearly as good, because this time it does get nullified by a four-toughness creature (in blocking situations, you can always safely double-block with the Fylgja). Still, if your opponent doesn’t happen to have a big enough creature, it’s nearly impossible to trade for this.

Wall of Shards
Unless you’re planning to win the game with some sick combo, Wall of Shards contradicts your game plan (winning on damage). Sure, you can sacrifice it when you’re beginning to attack, but in the meanwhile you’ll have given your opponent so much life that he has much more time to find solutions. In Constructed, this might see some play in combo-decks, as those decks don’t intend to win on dealing twenty points of damage. More likely it’ll be a thousand damage, or via a decking strategy.

White Shield Crusader
White Knight’s back again, only this time it’s more of an attacking creature because of its evasion and power-boosting abilities. White Shield Crusader has to compete with three good common White two-drops, and in most decks it’s second, behind Squall Drifter. While it’s a very good creature, I’ll often pass on it for another good spell, just because I know I’ll get my two-slot filled easy enough later in the draft.

Woolly Razorback
In Blue/White decks you’re always looking for big ground defenders, and that’s exactly what Woolly Razorback is for the first few turns. The first two of your opponent’s attacks it’s like a 0/7 wall, then it’s a 7/7 wall for a turn, and then you can start attacking. Don’t expect that to happen too often though; it’s unlikely for your opponent to run his guys into it for the third time unless you’re already at a very low life total. That’s good, too, though, as your opponent is now faced with a creature he has to deal with before he starts attacking again. In a defensive role against ground creatures, Woolly Razorback is pretty good, but in a more attacking deck like Green/White I don’t think I’d ever play it because you are the ground attacker yourself.

Overall, White looks to be a good color, with cards that fit in defensive strategies and cards that you want in more offensive decks… and you should keep that in mind while drafting. If your first few picks are White, try to have cards that are good in both types of decks, so you won’t have any cards that you wouldn’t want in a certain deck when you’ve pulled your forty-five select.

Tomorrow? Blue!