Removed From Game – Rotation Retrospective Part 1

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Wednesday, September 3rd – While our attention builds towards the arrival of Alara, savvy deckbuilders know the importance of learning the lessons of Yesterday before looking to build the future of Tomorrow. Combining historical perspective, anecdote, and trading advice, Rich Hagon brings us a long hard look at the 907 cards that are going to leave Standard in just a few short weeks. What should you hold onto and why? Coldsnap launches the series.

Every. Single. Year.

In September 1998, when I completed my first year of playing MTG, I promised myself that I would painstakingly look back at all the sets that were rotating out of Standard that coming November, and look at all the cards that made their mark across multiple formats. When I started the previous Fall, Tempest was just about to make its debut, and that meant the Standard pool was chock full of Ice Age, Alliances, and even Homelands, together with Mirage, Visions, and Weatherlight, not forgetting the powerhouse of glory that was 5th Edition. Of course, I had set myself a near-impossible target for a new player who knew nothing of the wider world of the game, and with minimal Internet access. As the years have gone by, I’ve reached this point in the calendar where everyone in Magic is starting to focus all their energies and hopes and expectations on the unveiling of The Next Big Thing, which this time around means Shards Of Alara. That forward-looking focus is even more pronounced now that the whole month of September either is or can be dedicated (depending which websites you read) to finding out new information about Shards.

So why would I waste my time, and not coincidentally yours, by looking back at Time Spiral and its Timeshifted companion ‘set,’ at Planar Chaos, at Future Sight and yes, even at Coldsnap? I could tell you that nostalgia plays a part, and while it’s true that I’ve enjoyed turning the pages of my collection to find many old and loved friends (as well as some criminally rubbish pieces of tat) there is a compelling reason for doing so on a strategic level. Quite simply, all the good decks of right now are built on the foundation of all the good decks from Ago. Each Block Constructed season provides us with the default setting for the forthcoming Standard. As sets rotate out of Extended, we need to know where the possible replacements are lurking. When it comes to downsizing your collection as the Time Spiral block vanishes from Standard, what should you be holding onto, and what cards should you have traded away months ago? And while we’re looking at the past, what lessons can we learn about the future, about the way in which we correctly evaluate that precious Shards Of Alara spoiler when we finally see it a few weeks hence?

Over the next three weeks, I’m going to take a detailed look at the cards that are waving goodbye to Standard, many of them never to be seen again outside Retro Booster Drafts at U.S. Nationals 2014. What were the stories of the 907 cards that are about to bite the dust? Well, I can’t promise to bring you stories for all of them, but probably a couple of hundred or so will get a mention. This week I’ll look at Coldsnap. Next week there’ll be a bumper crop of cards to wade through as I tackle Time Spiral and the companion Timeshifted cards. Then, after a long lie down in a darkened room, it’ll be time for Planar Chaos and Future Sight to round out the review. So let’s get to it, and get back in time to the middle of 2006, when Coldsnap came to town.


Let’s not be coy… the announcement of Coldsnap wasn’t exactly heralded with unbridled joy around the Magic world. What started out as a fun story about ‘finding a bunch of card ideas left over for a proper completion of the Ice Age block’ quickly became, in the jaundiced eyes of many in the community, a simple marketing exercise to drum up excitement for a Summer set that nobody really wanted. For most long-term players, the ability to largely ignore the Summer offering of 7th, 8th, 9th, Whatever Edition was a given. You simply put your Wraths into an Extended-only pile if it wasn’t in, and maybe bought some random niche rare or two that you didn’t have four of, and waited for the excitement of October. Even with the Un-sets, the option to sit and watch from the sidelines was automatic. Coldsnap, with its inclusion in Standard all the way from the Summer of 2006 to Fall 2008, afforded players no such luxury. In that context, many were hoping that the set would have very little Constructed application, and that after a few beer-fuelled drafts, the icy set could be given the cold shoulder and left to quietly rot. Turned out that wasn’t really an option, as there were plenty of cards with impact…


Adarkar Valkyrie was a 4/5 flyer, but more importantly it had an ability that was a great safeguard against opposing removal spells. Jotun Grunt featured heavily at Worlds 2006 in Paris, and plenty of copies turned up in Extended at Pro Tour: Valencia, where its considerable power (4/4 for 2 mana) coupled with graveyard disruption in a field where Dredge was the big beast in the room made it a card many were scrambling for at the dealers the night before the PT Day 1 That Never Was. Also popular at that Pro Tour was Ronom Unicorn, largely due to the emergence of Enduring Ideal decks in the weeks and days leading up to the event. The Unicorn could get into play early and wait to blow up an enchantment, and also had the benefit of getting round Dovescape, a key part of the lockdown process for the Ideal decks. Comfortably the most/least entertaining white spell though was Martyr of Sands. A card that initially looked like it was destined for Casual fun (where the definition of fun included gaining a ton of life and then being pummelled to death by your friends), Martyr was the cornerstone of the deck that took French superstar Gabriel Nassif to the very edge of Worlds success in 2006. Tiago Chan of Portugal isn’t someone who gives up, but that he and Frank Karsten managed to concoct a scenario whereby he took one game off Nassif in the quarter finals with his Lightning Angel-led deck was actually one of the more amazing outcomes seen on a Pro Tour Sunday in a while. Nassif went on his merry way, with Proclamation Of Rebirth reducing many onlookers, never mind Tiago, to hair-pulling suicide watch. Even the web coverage looked in danger of being defeated, as there was a question as to whether the score graphics could cope with a life total in the high hundreds. Martyr has continued to make niche reappearances around Standard Metagames throughout its two-year lifespan.


First, a couple of niche players. Commandeer was used by German Max Bracht in his innovative Walk the Eons/Locket Of Yesterdays deck at Worlds 2006, while Flashfreeze has seen plenty of sideboard action, as you would expect from such a straight-forward role card. The big two here were Rune Snag and Counterbalance. Rune Snag is a very interesting card, as it shows the critical need for a counterspell at 2 mana, even if it wasn’t strictly Counterspell, and initially worse than Mana Leak (while subsequent copies were better). As recently as Grand Prix: Copenhagen, you could see players paying 2, then 4 mana with a spare storage land or two in order to get rid of two theoretical counterspells from control player’s hands. Meanwhile, Cancel was freely available, but for all its actual Gods-honest Counterspellness, it still cost 3, and that meant that Rune Snag has been a staple in Blue decks throughout the last two years. And then we have Counterbalance, a card of near-infinite tedium when combined with Sensei’s Divining Top. I say this, not to imply that there was anything wrong with the card, but simply to point up the fact that the Counterbalance/Top/’Goyf mid-range control decks that littered the top of Pro Tour: Valencia last year were grindingly slow to play. That is to say that the physical demands of the constant rearrangement of the deck just made games go long, almost regardless of actual turns taken. That Remi Fortier, an unheralded French 16 year old, had the guts, tenacity, and powers of concentration to get past successes opponents by 3-2, 3-1 and 3-2 again, speaks volumes for his talent. That talent has subsequently been shown to be no fluke of fewer rounds played in Valencia than normal, nor a Metagame-defeating decklist, but simply a reflection that he deserves his place in the group of French Pros that rightly stand at or near the head of the world game at the moment.


No Black spells had a major impact on Constructed play across the two years. By virtue of only costing a single mana, Deathmark found a home in some sideboards, and in a set that positively screamed Limited abuse, it turned out that Grim Harvest was a quality card in Sealed and Draft. The best Black story I can relate from Coldsnap comes from Grand Prix: Malmo in Sweden. Frank Karsten, a man who enjoys winning, but enjoys simply playing more, had gone into Day 2, which featured Coldsnap Draft after a Day 1 of Ravnica Block Sealed, with the intention of having some fun. From an early Thrumming Stone, which I’m sure you’re eager to learn grants your spells the Ripple ability, Karsten was able to draft somewhere in the region of nine copies of Disciple Of Tevesh Szat, and that my friends is a deck right there. Rarely have I seen a crowd around a non-Feature Match larger than that for Karsten as he demonstrated what happens when you take a perfectly innocent mechanic like Ripple and utterly destroy it. To be fair, that deck didn’t 3-0, as without the Thrumming Stone it was a collection of four-mana one-toughness monsters. The other lack spell of note was Haakon, Stromgald Scourge. Haakon never really truly made it to Tier 1 deck status, but plenty of people found ways to do naughty things with him in a slightly less refined setting. In particular, the joys of finding that Nameless Inversion was, as far as Haakon was concerned, a Knight, enabled all sorts of shenanigans to ensue.


I’ve mentioned before on the site that one of my trader friends reckons that the real money to be made, relatively speaking, is with unexpectedly powerful uncommons. Nowhere was this more ably demonstrated than at Paris Worlds 2006, where the highest demand card in the entire room was Cryoclasm, a niche role-player that destroyed Plains and Islands, and more importantly dealt three damage right alongside. Remember, at that point Cryoclasm wasn’t available in 10th Edition (which would follow in the Summer of 2007), and relatively few packs of Coldsnap had been cracked, at least compared to a major ‘regular’ expansion. Prices skyrocketed for this one, to the point at which one dealer was contemplating returning to the UK overnight from France just to bring a bucketload more back the next day. The other Martyr to have some impact was the red Martyr of Ashes, since it acted as a pretty efficient boardsweeper. The two big splashes from Red only cost one mana. Skred made up for the fact that it couldn’t hit players by generating enormous amounts of creature point removal via snow-covered mountains. Skred Red became a name deck that did well at Grand Prix: Krakow in the Fall of 2007, once Stuffy Doll was on hand to make that ‘can’t hit players’ bit of Skred irrelevant. But overall, one of the great cards in the set for Constructed play was the apparently innocuous Rite of Flame. Four of these quickly appeared in the infamous Dragonstorm decks that came to be such a feature of the Constructed landscape.


As you might expect from Green, two of the three spells of significance involve mana. Boreal Druid went into mana-hungry decks, not least to help generate snow-related effects, while I must confess to nearly falling off my chair in surprise at Grand Prix: Copenhagen when I found that Into The North was still being used in Standard as a mana accelerant. The third Green card that players actually wanted to see in their boosters when they somewhat reluctantly forked out for them was Ohran Viper. This was very much one of the hyped cards in advance, which isn’t necessarily a good sign. However, the ability to combine with assorted cards from the Ravnica Block to form the basis of a Blue-Green control deck, with the Viper generating card advantage at every turn thanks largely to its ‘Deathtouch’ ability. Ophidian eat your heart out (does Ophidian have a heart?)


I’ve been looking to use the word ‘quixotic’ for a while now, since I like to make sure it’s in use somewhere on the site every five and a half months or so (feel free to check the exact time and place.) Today I’ve decided to use it to describe Patrick Chapin. One of the certainties with the Innovator is that he will present you with options you just didn’t see coming in any way at all, and Juniper Order Ranger certainly qualifies as a card that not many other people are going to see the potential for. For the casual crowd, or at least the non-Tier 1 crowd, Zur The Enchanter had plenty of legs, while another card that waited until the absolute last gasp of its Standard life to put in an appearance was Tamanoa, which turned out to be quite good times for base-Red decks in a sea of Red decks.

Artifacts and Land

Like many cheap artifact mana-boosters, Coldsteel Heart slid into plenty of decks. At Grand Prix: Krakow we saw that Phyrexian Ironfoot had plenty to offer at 3/4 for 3 mana. Dark Depths had fantastic flavor, but it was a card that almost everybody understood was something that won you games about as often as you won the National Lottery, i.e. never. Two non-basic lands did see action in Constructed, however. Mouth Of Ronom is very much a part of the Standard scene, while Scrying Sheets was a nice take on a card-drawing engine. As for the non-basic ‘basics,’ all you really need do is say them aloud. Snow-covered Swamp? Snow-covered Plains? Snow-covered Forest? None of those exactly roll off the tongue from major usage. Snow-covered Islands and snow-covered Mountains? Definitely.

Coldsnap in Retrospect

As a player who likes to win but understands that the higher the skill level of the format the less chance I have of success, I enjoyed the ‘swingy’ nature of Coldsnap Limited. Sound The Call gave great satisfaction in numbers, and for drama the Ripple mechanic was like a shooting gallery version of Clash. While I appreciate that neither of these mechanics were warmly supported by the community at large, the fact that Ripple was going to be with us for such a short time as a Limited-only mechanic felt fine to me then, and still does in retrospect. Having lost the final of a Pro Tour Qualifier to a certain Editor of our mutual acquaintance, I can’t pretend I enjoyed reviewing Rimescale Dragon, a card that was spectacularly unfair in a tiny environment, but by and large I found it pretty easy to find things to like about the set.

So, to conclusions. What should you keep by your side through those lonely Winter nights from Coldsnap, and what can safely be jettisoned? This touches on a wider subject I’ll be tacking later this year, that of putting together a Working Collection, that balances portability, practicality, play preferences, and size of wallet. I vary between suggesting 4 or 8 copies of a card, based largely on the possibility or either (a) the likelihood of two decks you want to playtest both needing a card or (b) the chances of you wanting to play one deck and lend another playset to a PTQ-bound travelling companion. You of course only need four of anything for your personal needs, but having something to share tends to make the world a better place, unless you’re sharing a communicable disease. But for now, here’s what I’ll be laying aside for possible future use:


8 Boreal Druid
4 Grim Harvest
4 Into The North
4 Martyr of Ashes
4 Martyr of Sands
8 Rite of Flame
8 Ronom Unicorn
8 Rune Snag
8 Skred
30 Snow-Covered Forest
30 Snow-Covered Island
30 Snow-Covered Swamp
30 Snow-Covered Plains
30 Snow-Covered Mountain


4 Arctic Flats
4 Boreal Shelf
8 Coldsteel Heart
8 Counterbalance
8 Cryoclasm
4 Deathmark
8 Flashfreeze
4 Frost Marsh
4 Highland Weald
8 Jotun Grunt
4 Juniper Order Ranger
8 Mouth Of Ronom
4 Perilous Research
4 Phyrexian Ironfoot
4 Tresserhorn Sinks


4 Adarkar Valkyrie
4 Commandeer
4 Haakon, Stromgald Scourge
4 Ohran Viper
4 Scrying Sheets

That’s really not a bad balance, given that I’ve been pretty liberal in my selections, trying to cover plenty of likely player preferences. That said, there’s room to be a lot more ruthless than this, so I’ll leave you this week with The Essentials, that you really shouldn’t be without (or at least without access to).

The Essentials

Boreal Druid
Martyr of Sands
Rite of Flame
Ronom Unicorn
Rune Snag
Snow-Covered Forest
Snow-Covered Island
Snow-Covered Plains
Snow-Covered Mountain
Coldsteel Heart
Jotun Grunt
Mouth Of Ronom
Phyrexian Ironfoot
Ohran Viper
Scrying Sheets

With only two rares on the list, the only indulgence in this list could be the lands, which getting 30 of each is a big chunk of the cost of your total Coldsnap collection. Even with these, however, you’re looking at an outlay of roundabout $150.

Until next time, as ever, thanks for reading.