Ideas on Triple Coldsnap

Josh presents an overview of triple Coldsnap draft. This past weekend saw fireworks at both Grand Prix St Louis and Grand Prix Malmo, the first events to see the format in high-level action. With US Nationals on the horizon, the format is open for examination. Josh shares his picks for the top cards in each color, and discusses a number of interesting archetypes presented by the fabled Lost Set of Ice Age Block…

By now you’ve probably read anywhere between one and one and a half Coldsnap reviews pertaining to Limited, Constructed, or both — luckily then, for you, this is not another Coldsnap review. This is instead directed primarily at the set as it applies to draft. This is, of course, relevant because the upcoming Grand Prix Day 2s are Coldsnap Coldsnap Coldsnap draft, and half of the Nationals Limited portion is the same. It’ll also come out on Magic Online during the third week of August, which means it will probably matter, at some point, to most of you.

The Set Itself

The set is 155 cards, and you draft three packs of it. You’ll never draft anything other than Coldsnap Coldsnap Coldsnap. To give you some idea of what this means, Ravnica was a 306-card set, nearly twice as big. The best deck was Selesnya in triple Ravnica, and at Worlds I still lost to a deck with 3 Faith’s Fetters and 3 Selesnya Evangels — my opponent told me afterwards that he thought his deck was bad because his last deck featured 4 of each, but I digress.

What does that mean to you? It means you’ll see a lot of the same cards, in multiples, maybe even the same rares with so few of them in the set itself and so many packs being opened, relatively. When people discuss archetypes, they tend to include a rare or two as a hope-for card to open, well, in Coldsnap draft, it’s that much more likely that you’ll see the rare — with only 40 rares in the set, and obviously three packs being opened. This also adds a new dynamic to playing, because (e.g. in Ravnica) your opponent probably won’t have Hour of Reckoning, but in this format Sunscour is going to be seen much more frequently.

A crippling ripple

Also, one of the Mechanics in this set is “Ripple.” Specifically Ripple 4, though I suppose it could later be reintroduced with any number, upon playing the spell you trigger the Ripple and you reveal 4 cards, of them you play any with the same name (repeating the Ripple effect) until you have no more left to play, and the original spell resolves. There are only five Ripple cards but because of the size of the set, you’ll probably see them all in each draft you do; the Red one is a two-mana Shock, and people obviously will be less inclined to pass that one. However, a card like Surging Sentinels (which is very unspectacular until you get about six of them in your deck) is a card you could potentially draft a deck around, mostly this is made possible because of the size of the set, and thus I’m mentioning it.

Besides the set being particularly small, it also seems abundantly playable. An open-minded outlook on what cards are playable — that is to say, not forcing a particular strategy — will leave you with playables well past 10th pick in each pack. That means your sideboard will usually contain some playables, even if they aren’t in your colors (i.e. hatedrafts.)

That’s very important, probably even intentional. Those Wizards are quite crafty.

Snow defines and dominates the format. Before I get too far off-base, I’d like to say that Snow Lands are very important, and are easily some of the very best commons in the set. A lot of cards count snow permanents — especially the better ones, so you want to be able to take these early and often, without being punished by not having enough playables. Some of us have been known to go overboard (first 10 picks contain 7 or 8 snow lands, etc…) but they are very good. This directly relates to the last thing I was saying about card quality being, on the whole, high.

Ideally you’ll be taking snow lands over anything but the very best commons in each color, and taking any bomb rares and uncommons you see along the way. This is similar to artifact lands when you were drafting Affinity, except this is going to be done on a much more frequent and common basis. Everyone is going to want to have Snow Lands… as opposed to Artifact Lands, which were desirable but not necessary to each deck.

The colorless snow lands don’t hurt that much, since they still produce snow mana. They can contribute to color screw if you’re spread too thin, but ordinarily they’re a pleasure to have, even if they are uncommon and rare — when you see them, you should probably take them if there isn’t something much better – Dark Depths being the exception, as that card isn’t too good.

I figured I’d talk about the very best cards (2) in each color, to emphasize my point and to give you an idea of what to expect when drafting the set.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

The very best common in the set is Ronom Hulk. It’s a big Green creature, it’s splashable (if you are low on playables somehow), and it will kill whomever it is attacking more often than not.

The best strategies seem to be centered on snow, snow creatures, snow lands, etc, but a snow deck will obviously have nightmares with a Protection from Snow creature. This guy is quite big – only against another green deck will dying in combat be a consideration. The other colors have ways to contain him, but if they don’t see them, they’re in for it.

The next best Green card is an inconspicuous one. Boreal Druid allows you to effective skip your two-drop, but in Green that doesn’t mean much. Green’s three drops are limited to the offensively-challenged Frostweb Spider, and Sound the Call (which may or may not be in your deck). Your other color likely filled out your curve for three-drops. The truth of the matter is Green’s high end is so good that you really want to get there. The problem, of course, is that the Hulk has cumulative upkeep, which means you need to be ahead when you play it (unless it outright kills them before it dies, and it very well might). The Druid helps a lot in that department, and in combination with Ronom Hulk these two cards make up the base of any competitive Green deck.

Next, the second-best common in the set is definitely (apparently) one that could be mistaken for chaff… a card called Skred. Skred routinely goes too late in drafts because, I guess, it’s not obvious enough. That’s okay, I’m letting the cat out of the bag. Skred eeks out Surging Flames by doing three damage, usually, and for one less mana. This card will obviously be splashed in decks and needs to be taken early, like any good removal spell. Surging Flames is the same way, and if you choose to ripple – it’s optional, and in most cases you probably don’t want to Ripple without having another creature to kill with the extra copy — then Surging Flames probably is better than Skred. In any case, take these when you can, and play them. Good removal, etc.

In Blue, there’s Rimewind Taskmage, which ideally is a Puppeteer for one less, although in the worst situations he’s merely a vanilla 1/2. In most games you play this, your opponent will need to remove it before you dominate them. It trades with opposing Frozen Solids, leaving your better men to their task, and is generally very annoying to play against when active.

Frozen Solid is the second-best Blue card; I lamented its lack of snow-errata, only to be told it’s important that it can answer Ronom Hulk. While it doesn’t count for snow permanents, that will have to do. It’s an ideal spell to have in your Blue decks.

The White cards are both snow permanents, the best of which is Gelid Shackles; a very cheap way to shut down utility creatures, and for a slight upkeep cost it can stop a creature from attacking in addition to blocking and abilities. This card might be worse than Squall Drifter if it cost two, but it’s tough to say.

Squall Drifter is your typical tapper. It has flying, which makes it a better attacker, but this isn’t what you want to be attacking with. It can’t tap Ronom Hulk, which sucks, but it is what it is and there aren’t many cheap (in attrition terminology) ways to kill a creature. The only common pinger requires a creature to be sacrificed, and Black’s faux Cabal Torturer costs four and you probably need to deal with that anyway, so, most of the time this will at least be a one-for-one, if not an annoying tapper.

Finally, we have the Black cards. Black commons are difficult to discuss. There are three vying for the top spot, none of which are particularly awesome.

Disciple of Tevesh Szat: my vote for the best of the lot. This guy kills a lot of things, but he is obviously quite fragile. In the late game he is a quality removal spell, even if he does cost ten mana. With the recover Raise Dead (Grim Harvest), he is quite potent should you be given the chance to “cash in” on the card economy. There’s not much more to say about him.

The next card is Zombie Musher. This is another four-drop, and he is a monster on both offense and defense, as he’s essentially both unblockable and unkillable. As the tides turn, he will go from your defensive workhorse to your offensive frontrunner. I really like this guy.

The last card that I’m going to mention is Chill to the Bone. This card is pretty bad overall, but it kills one guy specifically (Ronom Hulk), and that alone makes this card a necessary evil. No one really wants to pay four mana for a narrow Dark Banishing, but you do what you have to.

Now that you have some idea of what cards are good (if you didn’t before), I can talk about some of the archetypes, although it is fairly mundane.

All Colors Go Together

This is interesting, but I guess it’s more common feeling coming off a gold-block like Ravnica. Each color has holes, but each color can, for the most part with the help of another color, solve those problems. Mostly, the problem decks have is that their entire deck is Snow based and thus, Ronom Hulk is a problem. Every color but White has a reasonable answer to it, besides blocking and such — there’s Skred, Chill to the Bone, Frozen Solid, and Green has a reasonable shot in combat with Aurochs, but it will probably have most of the Hulks anyway.

Typical archetypes include Red/Green, where the goal is to have all of your creatures be better than your opponents; taking advantage of cards like Sound the Call which is great in multiples; ripple with Surging Strength is reasonable here, if you get enough copies. Boreal Centaur is an all-star because he is a difficult two-drop to block, and does a lot of damage. Ohran Yeti is another excellent creature for the cost. There aren’t many Hill Giant-sized creatures outside of Red and Green, and as a result most decks will have a difficult time actually attempting to win in combat against these colors. Racing is of course, another story. Green’s defense to flyers in this set isn’t the best. The common Frostweb Spider only stops one commonly played flyer (Frost Raptor), but with a little help it could easily get big enough to make a difference. This, of course, isn’t the type of endorsement you might be looking for, but it’s all I’ve got.

In this set, White sucks. A lot of mediocre creatures, even if they are costed correctly; the Kami of Ancient Law reprint is useful, and the tapper is great, but on average, the cards themselves are very poor — or for the most part, at best, mediocre. It’s difficult to say exactly when or why you’d really want to draft White. If the entire table isn’t into it, and you know this or can see it, switching in might be beneficial. Another reason would be opening Adarkar Valkyrie or Sunscour — both of which are excellent rare cards that will make your deck good enough to compete should the rest of your picks go average or better. Lastly, there is a super defensive archetype that involves effectively drafting a soft lock combining the white Martyr, who can be sacrificed for a life gain worth three times the revealed cards. In the end, this combined with Grim Harvest is the lock. You end up gaining a bunch of life each turn, and following this up with more life gain and more, and more, until you get enough lands to gain…even more life. This isn’t unreasonable, but winning is somewhat problematic, sometimes. The ideal win condition is Jotun Grunt, which acts as a reverse Millstone and will provide an easy route to victory (depletion), otherwise you simply might not be able to win. If you lose your Grim Harvest you’ll likely lose the game, so this means you need to be extra careful to recover when necessary.

I’m not endorsing this deck, but it’s out there. The deck loses to Aurochs in large quantities, unless you were fortunate enough to get the Wrath. It can also lose single-handedly to Blizzard Specter, which is an excellent card in its own right, and even better against you, should you try this.

Finally, the best deck – the default, real deck, or whatever you want to call it – is simply a combination of Black, Blue, and Red. It’s not very exciting or glamorous, but it is what it is. The best removal spells and a creature set that is workable, with a few good evasion creatures and a few good defensive creatures, plus the few good ways to gain card advantage (Survivor of the Unseen, who is currently being very underrated). Altogether unexciting, but it’s still strong enough. It will probably be over-drafted at first, and perhaps other interesting strategies will emerge (a la White-defensive deck), but that truly remains to be seen with the format being literally just a few days old.

To conclude, I’d like to publicly apologize for my lack of response in the forums to last week’s article. I can promise better performance in the future with regards to forum responses, and I appreciate your reading and replying.

Until then,

Josh Ravitz