SCG Daily – Coldsnap’s Crme de la Crust, Part 1

Bennie Smith returns with a preliminary look at the more aggresively costed cards from Coldsnap. As the madness of the weekend’s prereleases begins to fade from memory, it’s time to turn our attention to the coming Constructed formats. What cards are gliding sweetly below the mana barriers? Bennie vows to find out!

We will be weathering a blizzard of Coldsnap set reviews as we do after each prerelease, and I personally love ‘em, both reading them and occasionally writing them. When I’ve done set reviews in the past, I’ve often tried to do something different than the standard approach of listing all of the cards and evaluating each one. In the context of the StarCityGames Daily series, I want to give you something short, sweet, and to the point. Let’s talk about the Coldsnap cards that Wizards has aggressively costed.

You can find these guys lurking on the lower end of the mana scale, and they will often be chock full of rules text. Creatures will often have a higher than normal power-to-casting cost ratio. These are cards that are first in line to enhance existing tournament decks or even inspire brand new ones, and many will raise the ire of casual players if they surface in “fun” decks. You look at these cards and you can see the ghosts of Wizards R&D behind them, “pushing” them specifically for Spike. Let’s take a look at the upper crust of Coldsnap, starting at one mana and working up the converted casting cost ladder.

Karplusan Wolverine
When a card immediately reminds you of a previous tournament staple, you’d do well to take a good hard look at it. This ferocious little fellow immediately brings to mind Mogg Fanatic, and even though it’s been toned down in power so that it requires attacking to unlock it’s “ping” potential, it is still a fantastic bargain. A must play in any Bloodthirst deck and a natural complement to Frenzied Goblin.

Martyr of Ashes
The beauty of all the Martyrs is the lack of tapping in their activation cost, which means that you can play them and get immediate use from them, as well as go on the offense and still have the ability to pop them off at instant speed. Ashes will immediately cause a creature-playing opponent to change his game plan, worrying about losing something valuable or overextending. Whether you play this guy early to alter your opponent’s game plan or wait for an ambush gives this card tons of depth and flexibility.

Martyr of Frost
In a lot of ways, this is a splashable and more playable Voidmage Prodigy, and much more at home in the current multicolor environment. The lack of instant-speed card drawing makes this guy a little less powerful than he would be in earlier environments, but that does not warrant dismissing his usefulness, especially given the infrequency of quality one mana Blue spells.

Martyr of Sands
Wizards has done a lot to make life gain much more respectable, and it doesn’t take too much algebra to figure out that Martyr of Sands can net you an obscene amount of life for a really low mana activation. Dropping and popping this on turn 2, revealing five White cards nets you fifteen life, and possibly even chump blocking something along the way. That sort of life boost can buy you quite a bit of time, and let’s not even get into the ridiculousness of combining this with Proclamation of Rebirth.

Giant Growth variants aren’t typically worth much attention outside of Limited but this one might deserve a second look. +3/+3 is not an insignificant boost, and since you’re already playing creatures it should be easy to pay the Recover cost in the mid-game to keep reusing the card over and over. If you can kill off your own creatures on demand it can get even crazier – imagine a Nantuko Husk with two other creatures in play and four mana (two Green) available – that’s +10/+10! Wild Cantor is an interesting thought to both activate the Recover and pay for half of it.

Stromgald Crusader/White Shield Crusader
Two power creatures for two mana have almost always been worth playing in both White and Black, and these won’t be an exception to the rule. The Crusaders have impeccable pedigree as direct descendants from the “pump knights” of the distant past (Fallen Empires’ Order of Leitbur and Order of the Ebon Hand — who were actually Clerics — and Ice Age’s Order of the White Shield and Knight of Stromgald). Back when Swords to Plowshares was the removal of choice, the Protection from White ability was head and shoulders better than Protection from Black but in this day of Mortify and Putrefy, protection from black certainly holds the edge. The ability to fly is arguably much better than the activated first strike ability of the classics. Ultimately what makes pump knights so good is the ability to turn excess mana into damage.

Garza’s Assassin
People are going to make the mistake of looking at this fellow’s recover cost — half your life?! — and dismissing just how good he is. First off, not counting the heavy mana requirements, he’s strictly better than Seal of Doom since he can actually attack or block if there are no eligible targets to destroy. Secondly, paying the Recover cost is voluntary; evaluate the board and the type of deck your opponent is playing, and you get to make the decision whether the card advantage is worth the life loss. That sort of flexibility is tournament gold. Lastly, let’s not forget the numerous ways there are for getting back creatures from the graveyard, from Zombify to Death Denied, so in the right deck you may not even need to worry about the Recover ability.

Haakon, Stromgald Scourge
Haakon is like a high-maintenance hottie – yeah, she takes some extra work to satisfy, but the love you get later is oh so worth the trouble! Getting Haakon into the graveyard isn’t too difficult with a little bit of imagination – Dredge of course immediately springs to my mind, as well as Compulsive Research, Karoo lands on a full hand, and Vexing Sphinx. Once snug in the graveyard, he’s the threat that never stays dead, an incredibly efficient 3/3 for three mana, and if you happen to be playing any Knights (the aforementioned pump knights, Court Hussar, Paladin en-Vec) that’s just icing on the cake.

We’re continuing tomorrow with the aggressively costed cards in Coldsnap’s Crème de la Crust, Part 2!