Jeff Cunningham’s Coldsnap Review, Part 5: Blue and Wrap-Up

ColdsnapJeff concludes his in-depth look at the cards of Coldsnap with an inspection of the Blue offering. Will Vexing Sphinx take flight in the Standard metagame? Will Martyr of Frost find a home? Jeff also shares his thoughts on the set as a whole, and its place in the Magic archives…

It’s been a hell of a ride, hasn’t it?

I wanted to say a few words on the conceptual aspects of the set — i.e. what I think of it on the whole. Feel free to skip ahead if you prefer boom-booms.

One of the aspects of Magic that interests me the most is the structural design of sets. For instance, the idea of an all-creature set, or an artifact-themed Block, or the design of the Guild-structure in Ravnica. To me, the concept is much more exciting than any individual card.

I am a Film Production student. Sometimes I see similarities between the structural elements of Magic and the things I study. For instance, the three-act structure of Film finds obvious parallel with the Block structure; introduction, continuation, and conclusion. It’s not quite the same; Magic’s a bit more “big, small, small” than it is “one, two, three,” but the idea is there.

Another similarity is found in the artistic theory known as Structuralism. This is a method of artistic organization that takes place on the conceptual level. For example, in filmic terms, pre-character, plot, etc — “what does the texture of my movie feel like if I start from a place of happiness, and move to a place of sadness? What if I start happy, then get even happier, then move to sadness? What about happy, sad, then happy again?” – that sort of thing; working with basic contour. This can be approached on many levels of complexity.

I consider what R&D does to be a sort of Structuralist art. Magic design has evolved considerably over the years, with an increasingly developed, and well-rounded color pie, and a better understanding of cards’ inherent power levels. For instance, R&D has raised the bar on creatures, and pulled back on land destruction and counterspells. There has also been increased innovation with Block structure. Instead of just the traditional “introduce a mechanic, develop it, and take it further” trajectory, Ravnica introduced a lateral approach, that made the set play uniquely.

I think R&D is on a fantastic track, and that the most exciting innovations are on the way with Time Spiral and beyond.

How does Coldsnap stack up in conceptual terms?

First, the “long lost set” thing. They fooled me and most others too, but eventually revealed the truth – that it was nothing more than a concept. This was disappointing, since the initial explanation was so much more exciting. Strikes here.

Second, what they had really meant – plays like Ice Age. Do we even want it to (now that it’s not authentic); is this attractive? The reprint of Mirage on MTGO clued a lot of players in, myself included. The old sets play in far more basic way, like a core set. Creatures, tricks, removal. Contrast that with stuff like Morphs, or the complex Guild structure, and you’re talking about a serious regress. For players, it’s a little bit like going from High School back to Grade 2.

This is compounded by the fact that this is a small set, that will only ever be drafted by itself, making it the most shallow mainstream format ever. Not as bad as something like triple Dissension, since it’s at least designed to be played on its own (the commons go deep in every color, there are “gambits” – going after multiple Ripple spells, etc), but, on paper at least, it still seems a little too simple.

Another question raised is why do we want the third set of the Ice Age Block, if we can never play it with the first two? What’s the point of having Dissension without Ravnica and Guildpact? I know this isn’t really feasible, but not having them still definitely saps some of the fun from it.

Third, the Constructed player is discouraged to explore Coldsnap’s peripheral cards – unfortunate, since searching for, and finding these gems is part of what makes Constructed interesting. The main reason for this is that there is no Block season, which is where those little cards often see the light of day. Another factor is that Coldsnap will always be part of a big Standard. It will, however, be around longer than any main Block set (and about a year longer than your average third set of the block), so maybe it will have time to get explored.

There is also the problem, though, that many of the sets mechanics are inherently insular (Snow-Covered this and that) – how are these narrow Snow-hosers going to see play in the vast fields of Standard? Isn’t Snow-Covered going to be just the same as it was the first time? Not delicately considered, but either exploited or not on the backs of single cards (Withering Wisps, back then)?

Fourth, some of the set’s faults are also what make it unique and interesting, if we just forget the Ice Age/Alliances line and examine Coldsnap as a small-set standalone. That’s never been done before, and does lead to new play experience – the shallow structure/shallow cards/deep design thing going on. The fact that it exists out of the Block structures also makes it an intriguing little curiosity. Perhaps players won’t need to plumb it often to plug holes in their Standard decks, but when they do, it will have remained fresh and mysterious.

I’ll refrain from commenting on Flavor, and Casual implications, etc, since that isn’t really my forte.


Coldsnap seems a little conceptually confused to me. The pitch of being the third set of the Ice-Age/Alliances Block is an interesting idea, but isn’t relevant in practical terms. You can’t draft with those other sets, and you can’t play with them in Constructed. For design, one can’t be truly faithful to Ice Age since subsequent innovation has revealed that creatures can be better, counters and card drawing ought to be a little worse, and that players cam appreciate more complex gameplay. Flourishes are made – cantrips on upkeep, non-basic lands that don’t tap for mana – but they seem so minor that they’re purely superficial. The result is a set that has one foot in each camp, and neither feels authentically retro or modern.

Regarding it on its own, as a standalone small-set, I will say that drafting it will definitely be a new play experience, but I’m yet unconvinced that it will be a thoroughly satisfying one.

All I’m saying is that I would’ve used the extra set to do something new and make a four-set block, “Seasons: the Forever War”. (Copyright 2006 Jeff Cunningham.) And they could reprint one Mishra’s Factory picture in each set.

Staple: This is going to see heavy play.
Good: This is going to see play.
Fringe: This is going to see marginal play.
Maybe: This card might see play, but probably not.
N/A: Let’s not kid ourselves.

Bomb: The only way to react to opening this card in Limited is by a comically exaggerated rubbing of the eyes.
Good: A reasonable first-pick.
Solid: Your classic good man.
Playable: Some of the time you’ll run it, some of the time you won’t.
N/A: Even a perfunctory knowledge of the game prohibits the inclusion of this card.




Constructed: N/A
Limited: Solid. She’s not quite like the other Snidds. It’s kinda Flyer-esque, because blocking this thing is going to suck. If you can keep the four-toughness guys off the table, you’re always set. Worst case, sac’ing for two cards isn’t a bad deal at all.

Frost Raptor

Constructed: N/A
Limited: Good. “Clever girl…” — Muldoon.

Frozen Solid

Constructed: N/A
Limited: Solid/Good. It’s not exactly pretty, but it’ll do, especially if you pick up a couple of tappers.

Krovikan Mist

Constructed: N/A. Phantom Warrior? Illusionary Pet? Aetherplasm? Thanks, it sounds amazing, but I think I have to shampoo my hair that night.
Limited: Solid/Good. Well they certainly haven’t given us much to work with, have they? Mist is the only Common Illusion. Uncommons has Phobian Phantasm, which you probably don’t want to be taking too many of, and Adarkar Windform, which is good but, again, uncommon. Trying to pick up a bunch of these is reasonable and very fruitful if it pays off.

Martyr of Frost

Constructed: Fringe. Man. I’m tempted to call this Good, but I’m not sure if there’s a home for it. At various formats in history this would have been an all-star. As is, it still seems quite good maybe in the sideboard of any aggro deck with Blue for control or slow matchups. It could probably exist happily in Bob the Builder if that’s still around.

You could try and put in the Scrying package, but I’m not sure if it’s worth it.

Limited: Solid. Does damage or trades early, and really sticks a Green player in those turns 5-7.

Rimewind Taskmage

Constructed: N/A. You could start Icy-ing their lands on turn 4, and late game go double duty on Sheets. Seems okay, but let’s get real. No one’s gonna play this #*(T.
Limited: Solid/Good.

Ronom Serpent

Constructed: N/A
Limited: Solid. It doesn’t seem uncommon for one side of the ability to trigger, which would leave you with, at best, an overpriced wall. Still, for the rest of the time, it’s fine enough.

Rune Snag

Constructed: Maybe. I can’t imagine someone wanting more than four Mana Leaks and four Remands, but maybe Mana Leak won’t be back, or after Remand’s gone?
Limited: Playable. It’s definitely not hot, but I would probably bring it in versus slower Green decks, or if you somehow end up with no other two-drops.

Surging Aether

Constructed: N/A – Call me old fashioned but I’ll stick with my Boomerang!
Limited: Playable/Solid. I imagine everybody and their grandmas have mad-ons for Ripple gambits; I don’t think you’re going to be scooping these up in the last three picks. That said, if you get, say, all of them, they suddenly become quite good (as long as you have a low, solid curve to support them, and not too many spells already). Jumanji: are you game?

Survivor of the Unseen

Constructed: N/A. There are more reliable and cheaper ways to get card advantage than this.
Limited: Solid. Play out everything in your hand, trading as much as possible, then drop this once you’re empty and the board’s stalled, around turn 6 or 7.

Thermal Flux

Constructed: N/A
Limited: Solid. Every now and then this will get them and get them good. If you get a read on your opponent having a Skred or Chill to the Bone, or they just have a lot of them in their deck, you probably want to slow-roll this. Otherwise it harmlessly cycles. The Runeboggle of the format.


SAN DIEGO, California. Magic legend Ben Rubin was facing off against Ben Seck (Winner GP Cape Town, Top 8 PT Yokohama) in an otherwise pedestrian practice draft for Pro Tour Prague when it happened.

On the play, Seck had reached turn 3 with little fanfare. After a distinctly measured pause, he laid a land, and casually passed the turn with a “go”. To Rubin’s ears, however, this “go” was a little too casual.

Untapping and playing a third land of his own, Rubin declined to play his Nightguard Patrol, simply passing instead.

Seck untapped, played another land, and then considered his options. With a full hand, he grimaced pointedly, and then passed again.

Rubin untapped, played a land, and shuffled past the Screeching Griffin in hand, to his Nightguard Patrol, which he played.

Seck played another land and then immediately passed the turn back to Rubin.

Rubin attacked, and then played his fifth land, and Screeching Griffin. At this, Seck took pause.

After a moment, Rubin asked, “resolve?” Seck looked up and, with a peculiar little grin, shrugged “can’t do anything about it.”

On the following turn, Seck played another land and, after a period of mild deliberation, settled on a Terraformer as his sixth turn play.

Rubin untapped and dropped a Barbarian Riftcutter, which prompted Seck to wince, exhale, shrug, reach for three lands (clumped together in a close triangle), and then hesitate, and compose himself. “No responses.”

With Seck hopelessly behind on tempo, the rest of the game became academic. Seck was unable to put up much of a fight even against Rubin’s subpar set of beaters.

After the game, Rubin queried Seck as to whether or not, in hindsight, he thought it was correct to sandbag the Runeboggle over the course of an entire game in lieu of playing spells. With a laugh, Seck responded, “oh, I didn’t have Runeboggle. Just lands and some double Blue spells. Probably should’ve mulliganed.” He then left to get a soda.

Seck’s hand still lay neatly piled on top of his Library.

Unable to resist, Rubin tipped them over. A near perfect curve of high quality creatures spilled neatly across the table. A holographic shimmer from somewhere in the middle caught Rubin’s eye.

There it sat. One beautifully Foiled, well-thumbed, sweat-stained, 1966, S-Series Runeboggle.

Jeff Cunningham, asc press.


Adarkar Windform

Constructed: N/A
Limited: Good. Always good, and damn good in mirror matches.

Balduvian Frostwaker

Constructed: Maybe. I can see it now. Playing against the clever Blue mage with all his Mouths of Ronoms, Scrying Sheets, and Snow-Covered basics. He plays his Jushi turn 2, and you respond with this. He leans across the table, reads it, and then untaps, plays a land and passes. Then, bam, you start using this, and… like, Shock his lands, or play a Hurricane or something. Well, whaddya think?

Jeff… you’re an idiot.

Limited: Playable. If you have five or more Snow Lands.


Constructed: N/A
Limited: N/A

I’m not even going to dignify this card with a response.


Constructed: Fringe. Interesting. Between this and a Top, over a long game, you would get a lot of free counters or, at least, seriously affect the way your opponent plays. The question is whether such a combination is more worthwhile than more conventional, quicker, cards. Something to think about.
Limited: N/A


Constructed: Fringe (sideboard). Countering a spell for one mana is a deal. That’s unusual. That’s something to think about. For two mana, though, especially against these particular colors, it seems only marginally better than Mana Leak. Who cares? That said, there will be times, and there will be formats when this thing will have its place in the sideboard.
Limited: Solid (sideboard). As with Deathmark, this only does anything versus 60% of decks, if people stick to allied combinations (which is not necessary, but the figure will remain about the same). Against R/G you’ll want it, W/G, almost certainly, R/B, maybe, maybe not – kind of like Hisoka’s Defiance.

Krovikan Whispers

Constructed: Maybe. This is a spicy brewhaha for some three-colour Ghost Dad, isn’t it? Has anyone else noticed that half my constructed assertions resolve around Ghost Dad, a deck I’ve neither played, nor like?

As far as further application goes, this card works quite well with bounce. They kill your (their) guy and you bounce the Whispers, clearing the counters and getting another creature.

I doubt this will see play, though. Cumulative Upkeep is just ugly, and people never played Persuasion when that was around.

Limited: Good (B/U). Get your aggro going in the air, and then take any defense once you’ve got a clock going. Seems fair, and maybe you have some Surges too. There’s always a reasonable chance you can just trade the creature away too, if it’s big or annoying enough. Or sacrifice it to a Bloodpainter.

Perilous Research

Constructed: Fringe. If there’s ever any deck that wants to sacrifice something, this will be in like a dirty shirt. As is, might fit in here and there – cheap instant card-drawing always piques interest.
Limited: Solid. It’s not especially hard to swing, but it’s also not that huge of a deal. I mean, for one more mana you get Counsel of the Soratami, and we all remember how exciting that was, right?

Rimewind Cryomancer

Constructed: N/A
Limited: Playable… in virtue of its 2/3 body. The ability seems pretty narrow, as you can’t consistently counter an activated ability that they can use at end of turn, since they’ll just untap and do it again while the ‘mancer’s tapped.


Arcum Dagsson

Constructed: Maybe… in Extended somewhere – the card’s powerful, but the means just aren’t there in Standard. All you’ve got is Ornithopter, pretty much. And then sac it to go get… Hair-Strung Kyoto? Aladdin’s Ring? Wurm’s Tooth?
Limited: Playable. Hey, we’ve all been there.


Constructed: Maybe. In the sideboard of a Blue deck. If you’re going to have juicy targets, and you’re tapping out, and you’re drawing cards, why not? I can’t think of any juicy targets, but…
Limited: Playable. I guess?

Heidar, Rimewind Master

Constructed: Maybe. Temporal Adept seems much more powerful, and that card ends up only being marginal in Standard. Maybe has application with land destruction, etc, that I’m not appreciating.
Limited: Good/Bomb. This seems like a nightmare to play against if they get it going.


Constructed: Maybe. Man, we used to pay nine for our Leviathan and were happy about it. It’s cheap, big, and the drawback is reasonable enough that I can see it as a potential sideboard card in a mid-range Blue deck, against something that absolutely has no spot removal.
Limited: Solid. Yeah, you’re not going to want to run this out willy-nilly, but 12/12 is pretty freakin big, and you’re always going to hit seven mana. If things get to tense, press the button and cross your fingers.

Rimefeather Owl

Constructed: Fringe. Yeah, it’s big; probably a 9/9 the first time you attack with it. Still, how good was Nightmare in mono-Black? Did anyone care? Anyway, it’s definitely reasonable and will probably see play in the Blue snow control decks (where Sheets, Mouths, etc, are at their best).
Limited: Good/Bomb. Even if it’s not big when you drop it, it’s going to get real big, real fast.

Vexing Sphinx

Constructed: Fringe. I remember the first time I read Saprazzan Raider. I had to read it three times. “What am I missing?” Nope, it’s just really that bad.

This is kind of the reverse. It’s a 4/4 flyer for three… what’s the catch, oh this is oughta be good, does my opponent gain control of 2 of my lands? No… well, I just discard some cards, but then I draw a bunch when it dies. Okay. Hmm.

That was the first impression. There is still reason to be wary. In a beatdown deck, it’s unpleasant to invest mana in a creature that’s on a clock to die. If they aim for your other creatures, then when the Sphinx dies you’ll be left with no board, and even with cards in hand, you may just be too far behind to outrace a control deck.

Still, it’s big. If this doesn’t reinvigorate some sort of Pride of Clouds skies deck, nothing will.

Limited: Good. No matter what, you’re always going to filter a bunch of cards. Absolute worst-case scenario, Vexing Sphinx replaces itself next upkeep. If you play it turn 3, on the play even, you can hit for eight, and then filter three for three. Even hit for twelve if you want.

Notable Blue Cards — Constructed
1. Martyr of Frost (Common)
2. Vexing Sphinx (Rare)
3. Flashfreeze (Uncommon)
4. Rimefeather Owl (Rare)
5. Perilous Research (Uncommon)
6. Counterbalance (Uncommon)

Blue Common Pick Order — Limited
1. Frost Raptor
2. Krovikan Mist
3. Frozen Solid
4. Drelnoch
5. Thermal Flux
6. Martyr of Frost
7. Survivor of the Unseen
8. Ronom Serpent
? Surging Aether?
9. Rune Snag

Top 10 Coldsnap Cards — Limited (just for fun)
10. Jotun Owl-Keeper
9. Rimefeather Owl
8. Garza’s Assassin
7. Ohran Viper
6. Juniper Order Ranger
5. Deepfire Elemental
4. Stalking Yeti
3. Garza Zol, Plague Queen
2. Adarkar Valkyrie
1. Rimescale Dragon

Snow-covered Basics, Mouth of Ronom, Scrying Sheets: I underrated these. I expect them to be popular in Standard, and to see play in Extended. A card-advantage engine built into lands is too much to pass up.
Thrumming Stone: is probably closer to Fringe. There’s combo potential (Rats in Extended? Maybe something else?), and it seems worth thinking about in a four-of control deck with Tops. Gives you a lot of free chances.

Top 10 Coldsnap Cards — Constructed
10. Into the North
9. Adarkar Valkyrie
8. Stalking Yeti
7. Wall of Shards
6. Ronom Unicorn
5. Deathmark
4. Ohran Viper
3. Snow-Covered Basics
2. Mouth of Ronom
1. Scrying Sheets

Until we meet again,

Jeff Cunningham