I hope everyone had as much fun at their Coldsnap prerelease as I did. I won all four drafts I played in, never losing a single match, and though the competition was casual, the lessons learned were far from it.
The Most Powerful Colors
The best cards (and, hence, best archetype) in Coldsnap draft are White, Blue, and Green. Period. Black is absolutely horrible. Red is good, but takes a lot of good cards (or multiples of the Ripple burn spell, Surging Flame) to make it playable.
Black is the color that is only good when you’re the only player drafting it. Remember when Orzhov got ignored in Ravnica draft when Dissension was released, then everyone woke up to the fact that if you got all the Orzhov, you’d have an incredible deck? Yeah, like that.
The Flake Stakes
Snow lands, particularly the snow dual lands (Arctic Flats, etc), are not worth first picking, and I don’t think they ever will be. They’re solid, and they power some solid strategies, but on the whole the snow mana based cards are never “that” much better with snow mana (Rimehorn Aurochs and Stalking Yeti notwithstanding), and some cards are nearly unplayable due to their heavy reliance on snow mana (Glacial Plating).
The snow lands are much like Karoos – you’ve seen people first pick them to “keep their options open,” so much like Ravnica, when in doubt, pick the snow land.
The fact is, your deck really is better when it has a lot of snow lands and permanents to work with. Skred is a great card, a very splashable card, one that rewards you for simply playing the cards in the set. Hard to go wrong there. A lot of snow cards, a very efficient piece of removal.
Fliers Define The Format…Again
Evasion is at a premium in Coldsnap and as a result the following fliers are what will win you games time and time again:
If in doubt, pick a flier. You can’t go wrong. There are very few ways of blocking them (besides the two Green spiders) and very few ways of destroying them (they aren’t viable as a target with Martyr of Ashes, etc).
Ripples In The Mist
There are five ripple cards, one for each color. Allow me to help you:
Gasp! The White Ripple spell is terrible! Yes, yes, I know it’s a shock. The problem is this: Those 2/1 guys simply can’t take down 3/3 creatures.
I played against a ridiculous draft deck that had five Surging Sentinels and four Surging Mights. I beat that deck with ease. Why? Because all of my huge Green monsters could easily stop a measly 2/1, and my White creatures (Boreal Griffin, Kjeldoran Gargoyle) had the ability to match their first strike ability with their own.
The Black one is obviously terrible, since it requires you to draft Black (dangerous to begin with), then waste picks on the possibility of making them discard two cards instead of one. The percentages just don’t add up folks, stay away from these two.
This set has very little removal. Even Black, what should be the gold standard of removal colors, has little to do beyond Chill to the Bone and Krovikan Rot, with the awkward Feast of Flesh and Disciple of Tevesh Szat bringing up the rear. Deathmark is worth main-decking, since every deck is trying to get the big Green splashable fatties in this set, and if you really (really) must go Black, or splash it, this is definitely a star.
Disciple of Tevesh Szat, in particular, is misleading. This entire format is based on 3/3’s and this -1/-1 master does little to stop all but the most important tapper (Squall Drifter) and a few solid utility creatures (Boreal Druid, Bull Aurochs). This makes it sound like having a -1/-1 on your side is great, but it’s not – by the time you can actually take advantage of this ability, you’re too far behind. Ugh.
As for Blue, they got their basic bounce spell (Surging Aether), their standard doesn’t-untap-spell (the returning Frozen Solid—which is so meh it’s frightening…), and counterspells which are just too expensive (Controvert) or narrow (Rune Snag, Commandeer) to really keep them in the game. No, Blue is ahead in creatures, and with such little removal in this set, the best creatures decide the best decks.
Staying on track, White has their pump spells (Kjeldoran War Cry), prevention spells (the excellent Swift Maneuver, the narrow Luminescence), and mass removal (Sunscour). Beyond this, their removal is more based on evasion (flying, tapping opponent’s creatures), which again brings us to the superior creature comparisons.
Red, the color that should be keeping all others in line, is showing the confines of such a small set.
Think of it this way: In Champions of Kamigawa, a very large set, we had two excellent burn spells in the common slot: Glacial Ray and Yamabushi’s Flame. In Betrayers of Kamigawa, this was joined by Torrent of Stone. Finally, in Saviors of Kamigawa, Barrel Down Sokenzan was perhaps the best Limited burn among them, able to take down huge monsters and fueling the last set’s mediocre theme.
But Glacial Ray was the real star of Champions of Kamigawa. You could string two on one copy, or you could stick the spell on another arcane spell… what a great piece of removal!
Let’s compare this with the Red burn from Coldsnap:
Lightning Storm (Uncommon) – A spell that can backfire, but an important amount of damage: three toughness is incredible relevant in this format. But still, if they have plenty of cards in hand and you have no idea how flooded they may or may not be, this could stay in your hand longer than it probably should have. Lightning Storm remains a great spell, but not without its dangers.
Magmatic Core (Uncommon) – Not as good as you think. This takes a long time to get going, and since three toughness is the watermark for creatures, it will be three full turns before it does anything… and takes your mana along for the ride.
Martyr of Ashes (Common) – Solid. A scary little creature. If you’re heavy Red, then you couldn’t have a better creature on your side. I’m always on edge playing against this creature, as by letting me commit more to the board they’re simply fueling Martyr by not playing spells. Not to mention it can fire off at instant speed with damage fully on the stizzle…’tis not a good place to be many times.
Skred (Common) – A good burn spell if you drafted multiple snow lands, and most Red creatures are snow anyway. This is a spell that will probably go underrated for some time until it begins to break open Coldsnap games one by one.
Surging Flame (Common) – Ah, the quintessential. The little mechanic that could, Ripple, tries its best to show that little sets can do just what the big sets do: Provide players with a burn spell that works best in limited environments (i.e. the likelihood of drawing multiples) and gives us a heavy dose of flavor for the set. This one does well in both accounts. One of my friends got four of these in his final draft of the day.
Ah, those dreamy prerelease drafts.
Moving on, Green has no removal. What they do have is beef. Lots of beef. Which leads to…
The Creature Feature
3/3s rule this format. Why?
Most removal is two damage or “two” based.
What does that mean? That means that Surging Flame and Krovikan Rot are based on “two” values. Flame only does two damage, Krovikan Rot kills creatures of power two or less. Small creatures in the set normally only manage two damage by themselves (Krovikan Scoundrel, Bull Aurochs), but others get better with a little resource help (Boreal Centaur).
The Best Creatures in the Set are 3/3s
Let’s take a look at the most influential and powerful 3/3s in the set:
Drelnoch – A defining creature for the format. Practically unblockable, this creature gets very dangerous with any sort of boost effect (such as Surging Might). This is a creature that is not only incredible at bringing the beats, it creates a link to the G/W/U archetype with one of the most synergistic 3/3 creatures available for it…
Rimehorn Aurochs – One of those creatures that makes you really appreciate snow lands. This guy can bring the game to a grinding halt or force your opponent into attacking when they would normally hold back.
Jotun Owl Keeper – Holy cow, I thought this guy was rare. An unbelievable creature. Better than its pathetic Black cousin, Phobian Phantasm (which is nowhere near as good, since it doesn’t leave you with chump blockers/evasion attackers when it dies). He replaces himself and then some – he provides that ever-important three power/toughness and one more bird than you last paid for when you finally decide to get rid of him.
Kjeldoran Gargoyle – A Super. Huge. Bomb. Wow! This guy can takeover games all by himself. Matched only by Boreal Griffin in terms of a First Striking Flier, and negated only with the expensive Tresserhorn Skyknight, this unstoppable beast gets scarier with any sort of boost (Juniper Order Ranger, Surging Might). First pick it with pride.
Adarkar Windform – Another great creature that rewards those who play with Snow lands. This creature picked in the first few packs can (and should) influence how highly you pick snow lands. The ability to remove evasion in a deck packed with huge Green creatures is music to any player’s ears. It makes itself unblockable and it stops them from attacking. First pick much?
Ohran Yeti – Like I said, I’m not a huge fan of the Red cards in this set, but this guy is exceptional. He rewards snow land use, he is a solid beater, and he can wreck combat steps. This is the more homely sister of Rimehorn Aurochs.
Stalking Yeti – A bomb. Why? Because it can destroy all of the most important creatures in the format! However, with this bomb comes a price – you must play heavy Red. This means giving up White’s utility or Blue’s fliers and bounce. Green is simply too good to ignore, so if you get this guy expect to go R/G/x. Still, this guy is nuts!
Simian Brawler – You laugh, but this guy is great. A simple Hill Giant with a good (if not underused) ability, he is simply a cheap 3/3 when most other 3/3s on this list are five mana or more. Coldsnap mana curves tend to be heavy, and getting this guy down early with something like Boreal Druid or the excellent Coldsteel Heart is a big leg up on the long game.
Special Mention – The Uncommon Bomb
The best and most important creature to get in an aggressive G/W/U build is Juniper Order Ranger. This guy is absolutely unfair, and no other non-rare creature does anything remotely as powerful.
Not only does he pump every creature you play from them on out, and not only does he pump himself when that happens, he does so without a may effect. This is a required ability that only makes your game (and lack of memory) better!
Another important, but certainly less powerful, uncommon is Phyrexian Ironfoot. This guy is basically a 3/4 for three mana with absolutely no drawback in this format.
Green is the Best Color in Coldsnap
Green has the largest creatures, the most relevant abilities (protection from snow, trample), and an important three-plus toughness on almost every creature they have available. I firmly believe that no successful Coldsnap draft can ignore Green. That sounds like a straw man argument, but after a day’s worth of drafting that’s what I’m thinking.
Let’s take a look at these important creatures and spells in Green:
Arctic Nishoba – An unbelievable beast whose cumulative upkeep is easily paid with the W/G/U archetype, and a 6/6 trampler in this format is damn near unstoppable. This was a creature that wasn’t on the spoiler before I left for the prerelease, and couldn’t believe its stats and abilities when one was passed to me.
Never ever pass this guy.
Aurochs Herd – A little expensive, but this entire format is based on five-and six-mana drops. A definitely one- or two-of per deck, this guy let’s you tutor up your real powerful Auroch, the Rimehorn.
Boreal Centaur – A solid beater that can most importantly be pumped to 3/3 status.
Boreal Druid – Amazing. Expect to begin picking this guy second or third depending on your mana curve. He can provide snow mana, he accelerates the incredibly important five-mana creatures, and he can pay for cumulative upkeep. A great package, a solid creature that should never be passed unless uncommon bombs are there to trump it.
Karplusan Strider – Really, really good. He can’t be killed with any Black or Blue spell (such as Chill to the Bone, or stopped via Frozen Solid) and his 3/4 stature makes him incredibly difficult to block or attack into. Should be picked very highly.
Resize – Again, the 3/3 thing rears its head, except this time it’s the important +3/+3. This means that your double-blocked Karplusan Strider, for instance, can suddenly make Resize a two-for-one. Pick these extremely early (first through third) – you won’t see them again.
Rimehorn Aurochs – I’ve already praised this guy enough.
Ronom Hulk – Incredibly powerful against Red and Black. This creature alone negates the “coolness” of Stalking Yeti, the “power” of all of the regenerating Black creatures, because they’re all Snow creatures. His cumulative upkeep is easily paid and his effect on the board is significant. A great early pick.
Surging Might – The Ripple spell that truly shines. Expect to see very few of these, because a “minimal” boost of +2/+2 can wreck an entire board position. Take these highly, but not above other Uncommon bombs (Arctic Nishoba, Juniper Order Ranger).
And that’s about it for the Green all-stars in this set. One creature that underwhelmed me to an extreme degree was Sheltering Ancient. What a horrible card. It’s one of those guys that looks nuts, but ends up being complete trash. Pass this with impunity.
What Happens Next
Next I head to Grand Prix: St. Louis. I won my 3 byes at the Nashville Grand Prix Trial (17 people, woo! Thanks, Pro Tour: Charleston!), and my friend James Norris will be there with his 3 byes he attained in Knoxville, TN (which I didn’t attend, natch). Wish me luck!
Until next time, G/W/U FTW!