Drafting Coldsnap at U.S. Nationals

Ben, the writer behind the Definitive Coldsnap Draft Primer, takes a long look at the decks that posted a 3-0 record in the Coldsnap Draft portion of U.S. Nationals 2006. He shows us why they were strong, and what could be done to improve them further. This excellent article also sees him share his views on some of the more intricate Coldsnap Draft strategies. Looking for an edge in triple Coldsnap? Look no further…

A little while ago, the United States National Championships took place, and I was at home rooting for my friends. I was at home rooting because, for some unknown reason, I had decided to un-qualify myself. I was qualified via rating after bombing out of both Prague and Toronto, and even after running blocking duty for some friends in a Grand Prix Trial. But then I decided to play in a Kobe PTQ, and the resulting one loss was enough to knock me out of Nationals.

I may not have played in Nationals, but all is not lost. Luckily, the Wizards coverage includes decklists for the Coldsnap draft decks that 3-0’d their pods. In my last article, I explained my thoughts on pick orders and card evaluations in CCC draft, and this week I’ll be picking apart many of the decks that went undefeated at U.S. Nats, explaining their strengths and weaknesses.

Archetype: Snow Control

Deck #1:

7 Mountain
6 Swamp
1 Snow-Covered Island
1 Snow-Covered Mountain
1 Snow-Covered Swamp
1 Mouth of Ronom

1 Gutless Ghoul
1 Stromgald Crusader
3 Zombie Musher
2 Goblin Rimerunner
1 Karplusan Minotaur
2 Martyr of Ashes
1 Stalking Yeti
3 Thermopod
1 Deepfire Elemental

1 Chill to the Bone
1 Soul Spike
3 Skred
3 Surging Flame

The strength of R/B snow control is easy to see: infinite removal. Every non-creature spell in this deck is a removal spell, and plenty of the creatures are removal too. Even one of his lands is a removal spell. With, depending on how you count, between 13 and 16 removal spells in 40 cards, all a deck like this needs is a good finisher. Enter Thermopod, Deepfire Elemental, and Stromgald Crusader. All of these will end a game fast on an empty board, and BR snow control has no problem creating this game-state. In addition, this deck has 3 Zombie Mushers, who can end the game on a stalled board, or hold the ground while the rest of the deck cleans up.

The Karplusan Minotaur is a card that I personally feel should have been left on the sidelines. A third Red Martyr, a single Chilling Shade, or a splashed Ronom Serpent are all options that stayed in the sideboard. There are two ways of looking at the Minotaur: either the coin flips are essentially neutral, since you should win as many flips as you lose, or the coin flips are something to worry about, since you stand to lose some of your own creatures. If you want to ignore the coin flips then you have to ask yourself if a 3/3 for 2RR is really what you want, and if you’re worried about them, then you shouldn’t run him at all. Either way, I think that a pumpable flier or a potential board-sweeper are better choices.

Deck #2:

1 Frost Marsh
4 Island
5 Swamp
3 Snow-Covered Forest
1 Snow-Covered Island
1 Snow-Covered Mountain
1 Snow-Covered Swamp
1 Scrying Sheets

2 Adarkar Windform
1 Balduvian Frostwaker
2 Rimewind Taskmage
2 Ronom Serpent
1 Chilling Shade
2 Disciple of Tevesh Szat
3 Gutless Ghoul
1 Krovikan Mist
1 Rimebound Dead
1 Zombie Musher
1 Deepfire Elemental

1 Deathmark
2 Coldsteel Heart
1 Frozen Solid
1 Thermal Flux
1 Skred

The U/B snow control deck will not often showcase the same brute strength as R/B, since you may not have every Skred or Surging Flames you see. On the other hand, your creatures tend to be much stronger, and you have better evasion. Three non-creature removal spells are supplemented by two Taskmages and two Disciples, who can tag-team to take out your opponent’s entire board in a few turns, You have huge creatures in the form of Ronom Serpents, who can either hold the ground for your Illusions, Shades, and animated lands, or who can just swing in for tons of damage.

Here the suspicious card is Thermal Flux. This time the sideboard contains a single Feast of Flesh, a Magmatic Core, or a second Rimebound Dead. With ten sources of snow mana, having two Dead will consistently help you to the late-game where the Taskmages, Disciples, Windforms, and Serpents can take over. The Feast of Flesh could be used to take out an opposing Disciple, Bloodpainter, or Squall Drifter, who are all potential problems. The interesting possibility is Magmatic Core. With one Snow Mountain and two Coldsteel Hearts, you could theoretically assemble 2RR, given enough time. However, with Taskmage out, this deck can cast the Core as a 4R spell, using the Taskmage to untap the Mountain or Heart. Once in play, the Core can wipe out the opponent’s board and then stick around, constantly shooting Rimebound Dead or Zombie Musher.

Archetype: Green Aggro

Deck #1:

12 Forest
5 Mountain

5 Aurochs Herd
3 Boreal Druid
1 Bull Aurochs
1 Karplusan Strider
1 Martyr of Spores
2 Ronom Hulk

1 Resize
4 Sound the Call
3 Surging Might
2 Surging Flame

This Green deck successfully obtained two “collector” cards, in Sound the Call and Aurochs Herd. Chaining the Herds into the Bull and attacking will deal twenty-two base damage, plus thirty Aurochs-Bonus damage. Fifty-two trample damage is quite likely to kill anyone, no matter how clogged the board is. Sound the Call can also get quite out of hand, since all but the first Call make monsters that are genuinely difficult to deal with profitably. Not much needs to be said about Ronom Hulk; it is cheap, huge, and hard to deal with. The common answers to it are a very large Skred, a sacrificed Disciple, Chill to the Bone, Frozen Solid, and Rimewind Taskmage. While you may make the payments and get hit by one of these, a non-Green opponent without them will be dead very fast.

In addition to those threat elements, this deck is packing the best acceleration for a Sound the Call deck. Boreal Druid lets you start making Wolves on turn 2, and jumps you to Ronom Hulks and Aurochs Herds a turn ahead of schedule. Three Surging Mights give you about a 25% chance of Rippling on turn 3, and while a 4/3 trampler coming in on turn 3 is nothing to sneeze at, the slim chance of a 6/5 is an exciting one. Two cheap removal spells will keep the opponent off-balance by dealing with their utility creature or chump-blocker, and Resize will solve nearly any problem on the other side of the board.

However, I think that a great opportunity was missed: two Goblin Rimerunners in the sideboard. With a little bit of work on the manabase (an extra mountain or two), the Green Martyr or Surging Mights could become a potentially hasty creature that doubles as blocker removal whenever this deck goes on the attack. The Druids turn on the Rimerunner’s haste and pump him out faster.

Deck #2:

10 Forest
6 Swamp
1 Snow-Covered Swamp

1 Disciple of Tevesh Szat
1 Krovikan Scoundrel
3 Aurochs Herd
3 Boreal Centaur
1 Boreal Druid
3 Bull Aurochs
1 Ohran Viper

1 Mishra’s Bauble
5 Feast of Flesh
1 Grim Harvest
3 Surging Might

Again we see the trademark Herds, though only three make the alpha-strike turn a little harder to pull off. On the other hand, the additional Bull Aurochs make the dream a reality, since three Herds and three Bulls still attack for forty-eight trample damage. More early drops and Ohran Viper out of this deck also make Surging Might more attractive. The Viper is good enough on his own, since he’ll usually be a removal spell or better, but when you make him a 3/5, things can get out of hand very fast.

The real eye-catcher here, however, is the removal. Five Feast of Flesh is fairly absurd, especially since they can cheaply clear the way for a Bull team attack in the early turns of the game. As the game goes long, x/3s and x/4s aren’t out of reach of these spells, and the lifegain attached to them makes living an easy task.

So, the required problem with the deck? Mishra’s Bauble. The idea behind the Bauble is that you would play a 39-card deck instead of a 40-card one if you could, since there’s always one “worst card” that you could cut. However, the difference between an immediate cycler and a delayed one is very pronounced in certain situations. If you draw the Bauble when you’re in topdeck mode, and it cycles into a land you needed or any sorcery-speed spell, you’ve just cost yourself a turn. Less dramatic is the way it messes with mulligan decisions. Since you don’t know what’s coming, a Bauble in hand may lead you to make the “wrong” call on a borderline hand. The options in this deck’s sideboard are a second Krovikan Scoundrel (fine with Surging Might), Steam Spitter, or Stromgald Crusader. None of these is particularly amazing, but I feel that either of the non-spider options are stronger cards than the Bauble.

Archetype: White Aggro

Deck #1:

4 Forest
11 Plains
1 Snow-Covered Swamp

1 Phyrexian Ironfoot
2 Boreal Griffin
3 Field Marshal
3 Kjeldoran Outrider
3 Ronom Unicorn
2 Surging Sentinels
2 Ronom Hulk
2 Sheltering Ancient

1 Coldsteel Heart
2 Gelid Shackles
3 Kjeldoran War Cry
1 Swift Maneuver

Glorious Anthem effects are everywhere in this deck. Three Field Marshals is absurd because just one will answer the main problem with a White deck: your 2/2s often get outclassed in a turn or two by your opponent’s 3/3s. Having more than one Marshal must feel like cheating, as you drop two-mana 4/4 first strike creatures that can pump. In addition to the three Marshals, this deck is packing three instant-speed Anthems in Kjeldoran War Cry. A fairly unassuming draw of four creatures in the first four turns can become lethal without warning if you draw more than one War Cry.

The Sheltering Ancients are better in this deck than in most, since you can pile the counters on to a creature with Gelid Shackles on it. However, this plan requires a lot of things coming together: you need the Shackles and you need the snow mana to activate them. While it’s true that the main point of Shackles is to be a cheap removal spell for blockers when you’re on the defensive, you have to start worrying about the attack back when you’re giving an opponent’s creature +6/+6. The two Ancients could easily become Martyr of Sands and a fourth Ronom Unicorn, making the reliance on Green even less pronounced, and giving the deck a one-drop for its War Cry draws. Still, this deck will come out of the gates extremely quickly, back up its weenies with War Cries and Field Marshals, and it still has the backup plan of Ronom Hulks and Boreal Griffins.

Deck #2:

7 Forest
9 Plains

3 Kjeldoran Outrider
3 Martyr of Sands
2 Ronom Unicorn
1 Squall Drifter
2 Surging Sentinels
1 White Shield Crusader
1 Bull Aurochs
2 Martyr of Spores
1 Ohran Viper

1 Gelid Shackles
6 Kjeldoran War Cry
1 Resize

This deck is the fastest I’ve ever seen in the format. It has five one-drops, eight two-drops, and six War Cries. Every game will play out the same: guy, guy, guy, guy, kill you. The math below shows your chances of drawing x War Cries in ten draws (meaning your 4th turn, on the play):

6: 00.0054710581%
5: 00.196958092%
4: 02.37991027%
3: 12.6928548%
2: 32.1287887%
1: 37.1266003%
0: 15.4694168%

This means that the deck has about an 85% chance of drawing at least one War Cry by then, and a near 50% chance of drawing at least two. If you wait until turn 6 to try to “go off”, the math is:

6: 00.0240726557%
5: 00.577743736%
4: 04.87471277%
3: 18.7766714%
2: 35.2062589%
1: 30.7254623%
0: 09.81507824%

Meaning that you have a better than 90% chance of drawing at least one War Cry, and almost a 60% chance of drawing at least 2. Being statistically favored to draw an Overrun by turn 5 seems like a really good thing to me, especially when you’re as good as this deck at popping guys out ASAP.

Other Notable Decks:


9 Island
7 Swamp
1 Snow-Covered Swamp

1 Frost Raptor
5 Krovikan Mist
1 Disciple of Tevesh Szat
1 Gutless Ghoul
1 Phobian Phantasm
1 Tresserhorn Skyknight
1 Zombie Musher
2 Blizzard Specter

1 Controvert
3 Frozen Solid
1 Surging Aether
1 Chill to the Bone
2 Deathmark
1 Grim Harvest
1 Surging Dementia

The Illusion deck is all about killing your opponent in the air. Only three creatures in this deck don’t fly, and they’re two utility creatures and a landwalker. This deck presses that evasion edge with six removal spells, bounce, and counters. Controvert may not be the best counter, and Surging Aether may not be the best bounce, but they’ll both answer the problem that ails you while you smash for five or more damage in the air. The Ghoul will also shine in race situations, allowing you to chump and gain to stay alive long enough to finish your opponent off.

The glaring problem here is the singleton Surging Dementia, which likely hopes to catch an expensive bomb sitting alone in your opponent’s hand. If your opponent has one card that they just need to draw another land to cast, the Rune Snag in the sideboard will do just as good there, and has the added advantage of being able to stop an on-curve spell at any point in the game.


3 Mountain
8 Plains
2 Snow-Covered Mountain
1 Highland Weald
1 Mouth of Ronom
2 Tresserhorn Sinks

2 Boreal Griffin
2 Kjeldoran Outrider
1 Ronom Unicorn
3 Squall Drifter
2 Surging Sentinels
1 Earthen Goo
2 Goblin Rimerunner
1 Rimescale Dragon

1 Coldsteel Heart
1 Balduvian Rage
4 Skred
3 Surging Flame

Here we have another deck packed to the brim with removal. The first deck examined in this article was fairly similar in that respect, but that deck planned on playing control, while this deck is clearly going to run the aggro plan. The seven cheap removal spells can team up with three tappers and two Rimerunners to let the fast men through, and if things go long, Earthen Goo and Rimescale Dragon can punch through a stalled board.

There is no one-card choice that I can pick on in this deck; every card does something for the gameplan. The weakest card on its own merits is probably the Goo, but like I said, it’s a good man for getting through a defensive creature. The two Feast of Flesh and the Krovikan Rot in the sideboard may be worth splashing, since we have three free Black sources built-in already, but I feel that that’s a call best left to personal preference. If I were to cut cards for them, I’d start with the Goo. After that, I don’t have an easy answer.

Bonus: Draft Combo Decks

Neither “combo” deck posted a 3-0 record at Nationals, so I don’t have decklists for them to pick apart, but I feel like I should talk about them briefly.

The first combo deck is the Grim Harvest/Martyr of Sands deck. The goal with this deck is to loop the sacrifice ability of the Martyr and the recover ability of the Harvest, gaining you 15-21 life a turn. There are a lot of decks out there that are going to have a really hard time actually dealing twenty damage a turn, so you can win at your leisure two ways: evasion and decking. Decking is a fairly safe plan, since there isn’t a targeted draw effect at common or uncommon. However, if it’s the only way you have to win, a smart opponent might mulligan you out of the game. The evasion plan is much better, since no matter how much removal your opponent has, you’re a Grim Harvest combo deck. Still, you’re going to need to take time off of gaining twenty life to play and protect your win conditions, so you’ll need to make sure you don’t die.

There are two notable rares that really help your cause when you draft this deck: Sunscour and Darien. Sunscour has the obvious application: your opponent dumps every creature he has on the board, and when he finally starts making headway against your twenty-point White Honden, you Wrath him out. Darien works much the same way, in that after one big hit, your opponent won’t be able to make another, since you’ll have twenty little men helping you out.

The big danger here is that you’ll run into a Herd deck without Sunscour in your own deck. Since the Herd player can hit you for way more than you can gain, and they can do it every turn, you’re going to have a hard time stopping them. Squall Drifters and Gelid Shackles can help you out, but the Martyr/Harvest loop costs quite a bit of mana, and both of those answers will strain your mana further.

The second combo is fairly similar in mechanics: Icefall plus Martyr of Ashes. The idea is to reset the board, blow up a few lands, reset the board again, and regrow your LD spells. If you have a good draw, your opponent will have no lands and no creatures, and you can take them out with a Thermopod or similar. However, this is the weaker combo, since you need to draw multiple copies of everything to sustain the lock. In addition, you’re not doing anything to keep yourself alive on the turns that you cast Icefall, so while you can reset the board with Martyr every few turns, you will be taking some hits.

The natural foil to the Icefall deck is a fast Blue deck. Flying creatures that cost two and three mana are a big problem for a deck packing Earthquakes and four-mana land destruction. However, nothing is stopping you from packing some Surging Flames and Skreds as the Icefall player, so you won’t be completely screwed if you run into mono-Blue aggro.

Both of these decks take a ton of mana to operate efficiently, and both set up fairly fragile locks, so they’re not something you’ll be able to draft every time you sit down. However, these decks are a part of the format, so knowing how to draft them and how to beat them is a big deal. There are also many different decks that I did not list, since this is an inherently open format. Still, the major competitors are Snow Control, White or Green aggro, and Recover Combo decks.

I hope that this overview of real-life drafts, coupled with the theories presented in my last article, allow you to be able to successfully draft Coldsnap. As always, I’ll be available to answer questions in the forums and on instant messenger.

Benjamin Peebles-Mundy
ben at mundy dot net
SlickPeebles on AIM