Drafting Icefall

According to Josh, Coldsnap is “a Constructed format in which you have to draft your decks.” With many broken strategies made possible by the odd slanting of card numbers, it is hard to disagree with his convictions. Today, he examines one such Constructed Draft archetype – the Icefall deck. This strategy has reaped rewards on Magic Online… can it do the same for you?

While Coldsnap is making its final Limited appearances across the board in terms of tournament play, it will exist on Magic Online for quite a while. Love it or hate it, you’ll have access to this draft format for the foreseeable future, up until it rotates out of Standard.

I wouldn’t classify myself as being part of the “love it” group… no, I’d say I lean as far towards the “hate it” side as I could possibly come. The thing is, I’ve actually found a deck I really like.

Coldsnap draft is basically a Constructed format in which you have to draft your decks. That’s an odd concept, and certainly a new one; it’s a one-set-draft with a set-size half the typical size of the usual one-set-draft-format. Everyone gets multiples of cards; sometimes, absurd amounts. One player in Phoenix had ten Surging Sentinels in his deck. If you know anything about the format, you quickly realize that without access to Martyr of Ashes that is basically unbeatable. Of course, he had the foresight to counter-draft three of said Martyr of Ashes and 3-0ed the table, but I digress.

In the past, the versatile drafter was rewarded. Adaptability is ordinarily valued very highly, and those with experience are generally able to outmaneuver those without. I’m not saying this doesn’t hold true in Coldsnap – the latter part, at least – but versatility is certainly not rewarded.

When Coldsnap was released, very few people (me included) were winning. Sure, Richie would win every release event, but no one really won the drafts. My decks sucked, theirs were probably better. Once I tagged in for Jelger and he handed me Black/Red splashing Green for four Into the North and Ohran Viper, I don’t know if he expected me to win, but alas. Being unfocused in a new draft environment is hardly a crime, so I set about experimenting, but every time my deck was good it would get beaten by whatever cards were a nightmare for it.

Tim Aten described the format as rock-paper-scissors; I don’t think he was far off.

Numerous failed attempts at cracking the code, similar to trying to actually beat rock-paper-scissors later, and I was pretty much MTGO-broke. Worse, I was in debt. I decided I’d try the deck I wanted to try with my last borrowed packs. This worked out pretty well, I quickly 2-0ed and drafted again. After 2-0ing there, I decided to call it a night. Tomorrow would ultimately yield more of the same, no need to rush it.

You see, the plan was to break the format so that I could Top 8 Phoenix, should I make Day 2. Of course, I continued my miserable streak of sucking this year and didn’t make Day 2, though that is neither here nor there.

The next day I 2-0ed, 1-1ed, and 2-0ed twice more, leaving the overall record at something like 11-1 (not counting a draft that crashed). I had to stop playing at this point in order to research last week’s article, but I learned a lot about how to win in this format, if you’re willing to hear me out.

53 Icefall
47 Martyr of Ashes

Those two cards are, by nearly a two-to-one ratio each, the most drafted cards I have from Coldsnap. My decks seem to average about four of each, so that’s to be expected.

Drafting the Deck

Three variations exist. Mono-Red, which is attainable should your draft go smoothly… Richie posted a deck with Stalking Yeti, Rimescale Dragon, and three Skreds, where he was mono-Red. That’s pretty good. I don’t think I ever had a deck that good. More commonly, my decks would be Red with a touch of Black. Black provides additional removal (Chill to the Bone and Krovikan Rot, which, despite its uncommon status, is easily picked up – sometimes in multiples) and some of the best finishers for your deck, namely Gristle Grinner and Balduvian Fallen. You wouldn’t know without playing him, but the Fallen is insane. Additionally, and confirmed by Gadiel at the GP itself, Disciple of Tevesh Szat makes a fine addition to the deck, despite its nonbo-status with Martyr of Ashes. Finally, I’ve had a few decks splash Blue for Heidar, Rimewind Master and two Survivors of the Unseen. Both cards are excellent in the deck.

So with all of that in mind and the assumption that you’ll be drafting on MTGO rather than at a premiere level event such as a Grand Prix (since I don’t think any are left), let’s talk about drafting.

You’ll want to spend your early picks on removal and snow-lands, just like everyone else. It’s important to note that, except for Rimescale Dragon and Stalking Yeti, you should never ever pass Coldsteel Heart when drafting this deck. Skred, Surging Flame, and Lightning Storm all excel here, particularly Lightning Storm, which really shines against Icefall-induced mana-screwed opponents. Your next priority is to pick up Snow Lands when you can, only in-color ones and in-color Red-duals if possible, especially Tresserhorn Sinks when you’re Red/Black. Your deck needs so much Red mana (more later).

After that, you need to secure the rest of your deck. Icefall and Martyr of Ashes are a top priority overall, and I wouldn’t want to pass them after around sixth pick if I could avoid it. Thermopod is good in this deck, even though it’s nothing special. Orcish Bloodpainter, which I liked from the start, is good in this deck as it kills Squall Drifter and small Krovikan Mists, and improves combat as well as giving you a way to recur Icefalls should you need one. Though the very best creatures, which I take even over Martyr and Icefall if it’s early enough (or I’m doing well enough in that department) are both Deepfire Elemental and Greater Stone Spirit. They are both completely board-dominating in a deck like this, allowing you to gain further advantage and eventually devastate your opponent. Phyrexian Ironfoot is also one of the best men for the job, as it is so large that it often forces your opponent to commit more to the board, making your Martyr engine even better.

Magmatic Core is good in this deck, though it isn’t particularly great as a card. You can often afford to keep it around for a while, and it kills flyers (which are one of the very few ways you can actually lose a game even after blowing up their lands).

Grim Harvest is good in this deck. If I’m Black, I want at least one… and no more than two. It is a very difficult lock to break when combined with Martyr and Icefalls and lands. It isn’t hard to set up, either, despite how slow it might seem.

Karplusan Minotaur, which looks awful, isn’t that bad in this deck, because any early flips you win will pick off annoying 1/1 flyers, and any flips you lose probably won’t hurt you too badly – when it’s all said and done, let it go and get an Icefall back.

Ideally, the deck is around 17/5 Red/other. You need to be able to Martyr for a lot early and often. This is where having a lot of Red mana comes into play. Your ideal sequencing starts on turn 4, or turn 3 if you have a Coldsteel Heart. That turn you cast Icefall, and on the following turn you tap a Mountain, cast Martyr, and buyback Icefall when it triggers from sacrificing the Martyr. That requires three Red mana on turn 5, which isn’t unwieldy, but you really want to be careful going overboard with the splashes if you can avoid it. I always run eighteen lands, because having a mana advantage is what this deck is really all about. You can never have too many lands in play once you get going, which makes running less lands than eighteen foolish, even with the presence of Coldsteel Heart. Of course, I do draft cards like Mouth of Ronom above all the other removal, so that goes into making having eighteen lands easier to deal with.

Also of note, you shouldn’t worry about having few guys. Having cards like Goblin Rimerunner in your deck isn’t actually advantageous. Sure, you can play it early as a speed bump or reveal it to Red Martyr, but just about any Red card will fit the latter bill, and playing it early might backfire and cost you a card. I do frequently side in Goblin Furrier against aggressive decks to stem early bleeding while I set up for turns 4, 5, and onward, but otherwise bad Red creatures serve no purpose in this deck… except Thermopod, but he helps with the recovery cost of Icefall and ensures that you never run out of gas while he’s around. Ohran Yeti is pretty much your bread and butter creature; he does a lot at very little price, and is conveniently large enough to survive most combats and most Martyrs (against non-Green, at least.)

I know, it seems like there are a lot of small details that make or break the deck, but it really is quite robust. Of course, the first few times you draft it you might get the table-read wrong. The times I lose are when, generally, my deck sucks (not enough Icefalls or Martyrs or both), or to very aggressive Blue decks where my draw is either wrong, bad, or light on removal. Decks that cannot beat you in the air typically cannot beat you in this format, which is why this deck is so good. It obviously also destroys most opposing control decks through mana denial, which is disruptive to their spell-casting… and taking away an opponents Snow-lands in this format is pretty absurd.

Ah, right, so, I didn’t make Day 2 of the GP. This was disappointing to me for many reasons, especially since I messed up not to get there. Unfortunately, I don’t know if I even expected to make Day 2. I haven’t been terribly pleased with my game in… a year or so, but I did feel like I knew what was good in the Day 2 metagame, so I shared. Gadiel didn’t know what to draft and, as I’m sure he’ll tell you in a report, I told him to draft Icefall. While his first deck was a bit bumpy, mustering merely a 1-2, his second deck was quite saucy, allowing him to secure Top 8 with a 2-0-1 record, where he didn’t draft Icefall and promptly lost. Raphael Levy either 2-0-1ed or 3-0ed with an Icefall deck during the second draft to secure his Top 8. Gabe Walls 2-1ed his first draft with one of the very best examples of the deck that I’ve ever seen, disappointingly losing the third round to mana screw and flood, or a poor mulligan decision, depending on who you ask.

Overall, I felt like had I made Day 2 I would have been in good shape to make Top 8. Even if people learn of your strategy and intend to cut you, you can abandon the early snow-land picks and secure the core of your deck, filling out with whatever you can get. As long as you have enough Martyrs and Icefalls, the deck should purr no matter what else you have in it. I momentarily debated including sample decklists or a draft walkthrough, which I didn’t have, but all of the decks I draft look pretty much the same. Some of them are really bad, with maindeck singleton Rite of Flame being the worst example when I was short on cards, but I still managed to make the finals with that deck. I often get cards like Cryoclasm and Deathmark, which I freely include in my maindeck as they definitely enhance the deck a good amount. Deathmark is one of the best removal spells (period) we’ve seen lately, and Cryoclasm just fits the theme. Games where you are on the play and start with Cryoclasm and Icefall are never really much of a contest.

I do hope you’ll give the deck a try, and that you liked reading about it. My only regret is that if everyone starts drafting it, I don’t think anyone will end up with a good deck, but I suppose you’ll cross that bridge when you get to it.

Thanks for reading, and good luck in the drafts.

Josh Ravitz