Snow Plow

Once upon a time, Mike told us that Sakura-Tribe Elder was the best card in Standard. Today, however, he reveals a new love… one that, he believes, will warp the Standard metagame for as long as it’s available. He supplies decklists and analysis to reinforce his claim… and one deck is heralded as both competitive and hideously fun to play. Intrigued? Then read on…

Once upon a time we had this awful year (two years of Standard really) when Wizards of the Coast released a

sequence of dizzying sets called Invasion Block. At the time single Invasion was released, noted deck builders like

Brian Kibler and Zvi Mowshowitz were saying it was the best set for Constructed of maybe all time, Gary Wise was extolling

the virtues of breaking the two-color mold in Limited with Harrow for added flexibility, we all laid garlands and leis and

ceremonial headdresses on one another while braiding each other’s hair thanks to the reprinting of Lobotomy (which had

apparently Addled us all, no relation), revelled at the impending cleverness of a kicked Probe, and all in all were very

excited. However, once the juggernauts of Planeshift and Apocalypse were released in full, especially in Block Constructed,

I personally observed all this invading to be a cluster bomb of color-screwed good players killing themselves with Yavimaya

Coast taps while being overrun by God knows what small children.

I was particularly frustrated at how the power level of the multicolored cards dictated Standard deck design choices

with some kind of martinet’s crop, epidemically stifling the ability of, say, Black decks to react in any wise to Red/x

starts beginning with Llanowar Elves. It was a testament at the time that the rogue decks that stood out like sore thumbs

were Dave Price’s mono-Red beatdown deck (a version of which eventually took Mike Turian to his World Championships Top 8)

and Adrian Sullivan homage to Alan Comer, Manascrew Blue (a mono-Blue deck so named by Adrian’s friend Brian Kowal

because, as you can probably figure out, anyone playing it was always manascrewed because it had, how shall we say, no


I am not just randomly hating on Invasion Block because I didn’t “do well,” by the way. While Invasion Block

was relevant and in print, I actually personally took my greatest concentration of money tournaments maybe ever,

effortlessly won a sequence of PTQs – including an Extended one with Spiritmonger-powered The Rock (thanks Sol!) – and had

my best Pro Tour finish to date, in Limited. I just hated the mana situation and design constraints, and to this day will

cry out that the naked efficiency of the multicolored cards over everything but Flametongue Kavu and Fact or Fiction (the

paragons enabling the single-color Price and Sullivan decks) made deck design very stagnant and tournaments – in which I

participated on a weekly basis, at least – less fun (I don’t complain about sets very often, but personally I would much

rather figure out Red Decks and the G/W Deck to fight full-on Ravager Affinity with Disciples and Vials and play Mirrodin

Standard than Invasion Standard). There was a reason why every little kid won with Fires… Fires of Yavimaya was that

good, and not playing it – specifically with certain fading cards – was folly (I was very apprehensive about

Ravnica Block because of these multicolored strictures, but Ravnica Block in each and every iteration has turned out to be

awesome). Deck designers were faced with a one-two punch of a) playing or not playing the most powerful and synergistic

available multicolored cards and b) having to stop such combinations and synergies with relatively underpowered strategies,

unless they adopted similarly scripted multicolored anti-strategies.

Now Invasion Block, for its quirks and color-screws, was full of flashy cards that people loved and even I remember

fondly, like Gerrard’s Verdict, Goblin Legionnaire, and Terminate. These cards just have the word awesome stamped

on them in giant letters. They aren’t Time Spiral or Yawgmoth’s Bargain, but they are good for what they cost and you know

you are supposed to play them and they help make good decks that could compete with Fires (okay, so Terminate couldn’t, but

it was still cool). Because of their color requirements, certain elements of your deck would always be dictated for you if

you wanted to play cheap and beautiful cards like these, so you ultimately accepted certain patterns based on the previous

Block or Standard, meaning that you might simply miss or dismiss new cards because they didn’t fit into those patterns,

despite also being good.

“It probably could have been a pretty good tournament card, except they printed a different creature in the same

set for the same mana cost that is basically better in every way.”
Jon Finkel

Everyone knows that Shadowmage Infiltrator, It! Girl! of early Odyssey was quickly overshadowed by the Greatest Creature

of All Time ™, but do you realize that the flashy Green spells in Odyssey were Call of the Herd and Beast Attack?

People kind of saw Wild Mongrel as a potentially powerful card, even extolled it as such, but the Savage

Bastard didn’t end up in Tier 1 decks for months. Judgment was almost on us before Deep Dog as we know it showed up in

Standard – and Ken Ho had already won the Block Pro Tour with his Tarnished Citadel deck!

I actually talked with Mark Rosewater about the secret power of Odyssey, and he chuckled about it. The Odyssey cards

were not immediately flashy. It took a few months for people to realize how nigh-broken – not just “synergistic” –

Psychatog’s mechanics made it, or even how the then-underplayed Wild Mongrel could completely shut down Jonny Magic’s

allegedly fearsome offense. The Odyssey cards – specifically the ones that worked with Torment’s Madness mechanic –

formed an unbreakable core of synergy that led to unfair Magic: The Gathering. Regardless of the fact that individual cards

might be able to stand on their own merits, players were unable to see that they were actually more powerful than

the Invasion Block options until they were all linked arm-in-arm.

Think about it: Today we tremble at the thought of an Upheaval into Psychatog, but coming out of Invasion Block

Constructed, most players were still tuning to seven instead of nine for the Desolation Angel sequence, despite it being

more vulnerable, less reliable, and, um, not Blue. Awesome builds of U/G would eventually surface, the forerunners

of National Championship decks and Masters winners, but many of us – even very good designers – were stuck in an Opposition

alley based on Satoshi Nakamura’s deck, maybe incorporating some cool new Beast Attacks, but missing the format’s potential

speed entirely. It took months, another Block Constructed Pro Tour, and at least one Standard Masters tournament before

players realized that the brightly colored Invasion cards were in fact not the ones that were going to rule bigger formats

for years to come.

It is in this spirit that I have noticed a giant blunder being made by many if not most Standard Magic players. It took

me a while to grasp that Sakura-Tribe Elder was no longer the best card in Standard, but between Heezy and Jeroen I now buy

that it might not be Top 5 even (Jeroen made the argument that there are several very good – even polychromatic – Green

decks, and that only Heartbeat plays or even wants Tribe Elder). Okay, I’m slow and the best card from Champions of Kamigawa

no longer makes Top 1… I Josh already figured out that Spell Snare is was the best card in Standard. The reason Spell Snare is so good is that

every deck has critical two drops, from Counterbalance to Lightning Helix, and for one mana the ‘Snare can contain even the

most explosive ‘Vore opening on the draw. It is unspectacular and unassuming, but like the tiny bubbles in a

poorly-prepared syringe, it can topple a strategy fifteen turns before the end, with the opposing player maybe never

understanding why he lost. Spell Snare is the straw that broke the camel’s back, the missing scale in Smaug’s armored

underbelly, the one mana fulcrum, the tipping point. It doesn’t win the game by itself, it merely invalidates the single

Maher hand that inspired the other guy to keep, or buys the lone turn required to massage away any and all momentum from the

opponent’s planned sequence of dominoes. Still great, it is no longer the best card in Standard.

Rather than creating any more drama (and I’m sure astute readers have already figured this one out), I think that one of

the best strategies available in Standard today is simply not being played (or not being played to its potential), and that

the best card in the format – certainly the best card in Coldsnap – is Skred.

Many of you are, without even reading the next several paragraphs, moving to click to the forums. You have probably not

played enough with Skred.

Like Spell Snare, Skred is not the kind of card that wins the game by itself. All it does is completely redefine the


Since October 2005, the Standard including full Kamigawa Block and every incremental wave of Ravnica Block has been

defined by one best strategy: the Blue Legend top-end. I am not interested in arguing about the best Champs era deck. It’s

obvious on the results what the best statistical strategy was, which led to the decks that were played most in the Standard

portion of the World Championships. Come Pro Tour: Honolulu, the details changed, with UrzaTron becoming the structure by

which Blue Legends hit the board, and they hit more quickly. While it was a Gruul deck that won that tournament, many

pundits say that had Osyp Lebedowicz not “mis-clicked” against Mark Herberholz, there may have been a different

winner eating his Hawaiian chicken dinner. Meanwhile, the massive statistical success of the Owling Mine deck (never to be

seen again in the winner’s bracket) can be attributed to the predator-prey relationship keyed specifically on beating Blue

control. Past Dissension, a new coat of paint was added to the same strategies with decks as seemingly different as Solar

Flare and White Wafo-Tapa. These deck were not always “the best” each and every week – we are not saying that,

make no mistake – but instead that they were the critical tent pole that held up the structure of the metagame,

just as Kird Ape decks – and the Lantern Kamis before them – defined the equal and opposite bound. With Skred, the whole

notion of trading one-for-one with Spell Snares or Volcanic Hammers or Remands, topping up with a Compulsive Research, Jushi

Apprentice, or Tidings, then tapping out for a Keiga is over. Should players adopt Skred, the idea that Iwamori of the Open

Fist is a reliably trump sideboard card against other Red/x beatdown decks is shaky at best. The dominance of Green fatty

decks over little Red men is a thing of the past.

Once upon a time there was a Pro player and champion of charisma and quiet gravity whose fame for beatdown would never

be challenged, and whose popularity in victory would never be questioned until Maher. He won with Lava Hounds in 1997, and

defined what Magic was for young boys and their basic Mountains for at least two years. Riding the months after his Los

Angeles 1998 win, David Price Deadguy Red deck would define and rule Standard, earning Price himself a U.S. Nationals Top

8 in the face of the ascendant Oath of Druids deck, and his teammates Jon Finkel and Chris Pikula similar berths at Worlds

later in the summer; variants on this deck would reward scads of players, not the least of whom was the inexorable Ben Rubin

and his Mogg Flunkies. Deadguy Red was fast and powerful and simple to play (if not play perfectly); it could consistently

compete with Cadaverous Bloom, and won consistently interesting battles with Draw-Go and Forbidian variants. Due to its

simplicity and popularity, it was always competing, and the bane of the haughty if hard working deck designer, would

consistently put less talented amateurs at the top tables, such was its force.

But with the stupidest strategy yet suggested in the old Usenet boards, Jamie Wakefield and his 7/7 Saproling engines

could consistently squash mighty Deadguy Red like a bug. Raphael Levy would eat Price himself for dinner on the Pro Tour

with Legion Land Loss. Seth Burn Stupid Green would oust Dave from the U.S. Nationals Top 8 in a flurry of Uktabi

Orangutans, Spike Feeders, and Stampeding Wildebeests. If there is a truism in Magic, it is that if you want to beat little

Red spells, you do so with big and dumb Green animals.

… Unless they are fighting Skred.

Skred is the Snow Plow. It is Swords to Plowshares 2006, a card secreted in Ice Age Block to the present day. It is

powerful beyond easy understanding. It costs one mana.

Why is Skred the best card in Standard? Easy: It screws everybody (well, almost everybody, seeing as

it does not screw Heartbeat and is only okay against ‘Vore). For a long time I was playing decks reminiscent of Sand Burn,

and in matchup after matchup, I was substituting Skred for Volcanic Hammer. Why? Because it kills Birds of Paradise on turn

1, Rumbling Slum on turn 4, and Angel of Despair whenever. Skred is not a card to be trifled with. As it is one

mana, it resolves. Don’t try to protect your Meloku with Remand or Mana Leak. This is Skred. If people

bend their bases to Snow, the age of the attrition-Blue Legend will officially be over.

In case you are interested, here is a B/R deck that I have been working on:

Since Charleston, and especially Johan’s B/R deck that I wrote about a few weeks ago, I have been all about winning with

Demonfire. Chapin and I were talking about it and the amazing thing is that once you decide you are going to win with

Demonfire; the mana just comes. Your world changes from worrying about the minutiae of fighting, and instead you are just

drawing lands and sculpting your game and looking four or five or ten turns ahead, once you establish the minimum amount of

mana you need to survive. You are playing for a while, and all of a sudden you are playing these strategic long game dances

and POW! you are winning with remainder on the heels of a Hellbent Demonfire, and the opponent had no idea it was

coming. Clueless players are continuously commenting about terms that they overheard, like “burn range,” like

these terms mean anything. You are Demonfire.

The abuses of this deck are based on the triumvirate of Sensei’s Divining Top, Dark Confidant, and Scrying Sheets. The

first two are fine alone, and Sheets is surprisingly good blind. When you have Top and either of the other two unchecked,

you will generally only lose to a non-interactive victory path (Heartbeat or Cranial Extraction) or an unchecked Jitte,

especially when combined with Paladin En-Vec (which this deck admittedly has troubles beating, even with all the

burn); when fighting this deck, it is virtually impossible to win a fair fight based on trading cards. The only thing I

don’t particularly like about the Maher interactions is that once you have Bob and Top online, you will often just ignore

Sheets and do “other stuff,” like trading cards with the opponent.

This is my favorite story from playing this deck:

I was high on Snow immediately (as you probably know from the Icicle Chronicles), but once I decided that I didn’t

need Into the North to play Snow at all, I was fine with Mono-U and U/b Snow decks. If you play these

decks don’t be surprised if your opponents hee-haw all over Counterbalance. I don’t know what people are thinking with this

card sometimes. I’ve had players run Savannah Lions against Counterbalance / Top, express surprise when their Lions are

cantrip-countered… and then play Isamaru immediately after like it is going to resolve. I once got in a counter war (if

you can call it a war) over a threat, where the opponent Remanded me, I showed Counterbalance on top with the Top, and then

he attempted to Mana Leak the same threat.

Anyway, as you know from Japanese Nationals, Counterbalance / Top is awesome, and I played versus a lot of it with this

deck on MTGO the past couple of weeks.

My opponent was a very good player with Rating exceeding mine by over 100 points.

I had Top / Sheets from the beginning so I got my minimum game. He had Top for his minimum game, but we killed each

other’s Bobs so I had the Sheets advantage but for his Court Hussar. The game kind of plodded, with him hitting me for one a

turn about eight times when he played Counterbalance. My board was about nine lands due to Top / Sheets and one Seal of

Fire. I let it stick. He chanced the Meloku with two up because – let’s be honest – I wasn’t really going to die to his

Court Hussar. I said okay. Top produced another Snow-Covered land, and I untapped.

For my first trick, I played the land, then asked the innocuous question “Seal of Fire?”

He looked at his three cards and decided that getting +1 by countering the Seal with flip-Top was probably better than

getting +1 by losing his Clouded Mirror of Victory. I responded with a Skred with the flip on the stack, then let the flip

resolve to counter the Seal. With the Top (i.e. a “1”) safely on top of his deck, I played two Chars to the nug.

He may have made one Illusion, but it doesn’t make the story any more or less interesting so I don’t care about that part.

On his turn, the relentless Court Hussar put me to nine or whatever. He passed with six or seven in hand. End of turn I just

looked at the top of my deck.

Top gave me the 11th land. Six cards in hand, eh? My final card was… You probably already know.

What I realized was that cutting Volcanic Hammer, a superlative slayer of Watchwolves to be sure, for Skred was that I

wasn’t really giving up so much margin against control. The Skreds were important to destroy Adarkar Valkyries and so on,

exclusive of doming for three with a Hammer. Because the goal of this style is to win with Demonfire anyway, the tension

becomes one of mana rather than Philosophy of Fire-style card advantage… and both Scrying Sheets and Maher are solid

producers of extra mana while a deck is playing the standard attrition game.

After cutting Volcanic Hammer, it became increasingly easy to cut other burn and removal spells for effective disruptive

elements like Persecute. Overall I would rate the deck as “very good.” I don’t think it’s the “best”

deck, but it is very serviceable, solid at fighting on MTGO, runs a nice primary game, and has a lot of powerful cards. I am

very partial to Sheets engine decks, so I think this deck is more fun than you might. The main thing that just

“bugs” me about the deck, even though Bob is a card drawing engine and Demonfire does the bulk of the grunt work,

is that the tempo is a bit off as a Cryoclasm deck with only four two drops leading in.

This deck hates: Paladin En-Vec, a Jitte.

This deck loves: Control, straightforward trading strategies.

The deck I like even more is a very similar style, but has Into the North to better set up its engine. At various points

in the past week I have had as many as four Rumbling Slums and three Moldervine Cloaks, but I streamlined the deck more and

more towards its core competencies and really like where it has ended up:

The name comes from some inside joke between BDM, Billy Moreno, and the eponymous Fanatic. Apparently it involves a

hapless Frank being confined in an enclosed space with the aforementioned New York Bees and some tasteless ugly American

humor. Rumor has it that Jeroen Remie is going to “big burgle” the name of this deck if not the deck

itself for Dutch Nationals because, honestly, if you had to win in the Top 8 of the second hardest National Championship in

the world, wouldn’t you want to be armed with any kind of KarstenBot BabyKiller you possibly could?

Anyway, I took the most explosive elements that I could from 8StoneRain.dec, but streamlined to only two colors in order

to accommodate a consistent Snow manabase. The major incentive is that you have the insane turn 2 options of Stone Rain,

Cryoclasm, and Ohran Viper, and you can fall back on Sheets / Top for the middle turns. This deck dominates if the Vipers

get in (with Skred really excelling of course), but you are fine going mana / Sheets / Top to set up a long game Demonfire

plan, or just Stalking Yeti loop mana. The losses from the switch are big Slum and the holy Blue trinity… and Jitte. In

return you get the Top engine, Ohran Viper over Ninja of the Deep Hours (the Snake being a better card in the abstract in my

opinion) and real elim… Oh, and the Demonfire endgame of course.

Any apprehension I have about the deck is that it doesn’t have a lot of late game punch (no undercosted 5/5 or even

Trygon Predator managing the board). This is balanced by the dominating presence of Stalking Yeti. I was initially cool on

Stalking Yeti, but it turns out this card is quite insane. You would think that Stalking Yeti is best against Kird Ape and

co., but apparently he really shines against mid-range Control. As such I have found that with the Sheets engine, two copies

is the precisely correct number versus the field main. Basically you draw one Yeti, he kills every creature they draw (Skred

mops up the Legends).

The mana is both great and a little meh. I think we’ve just been spoiled by Ravnica lands in general, and everyone

forgets that you can run a deck on a bunch of basics and Green manipulation plus Top, like Heartbeat does to reasonable

consistency. That said, you will sometimes get dodgy opening hands with Highland Weald and three one-drops (including Top)

that you can’t ship. You will probably lose a lot early because you forget that Boreal Druid makes S rather than G; you

really have to pay attention to what drops you are making… Snow mana is not as forgiving as Ravnica.

I tried everything from Boil to Flashfires in the sideboard to reinforce the land destruction theme, but I eventually

found that Wreak Havoc to be the best option. There are a lot of matchups where what you really want is another way to eat

an Orzhov Basilica, and Wreak Havoc on four is something that most Blue decks are not playing around right now. This is

actually quite a poor Jitte deck (it was previously a mediocre Moldervine Cloak deck), but even though I was beating Jitte

decks more than I thought I would given my experience with the Black versions, I wanted a card to kill Jitte. I tried

Pithing Needle, and hated using the glacial Wreak Havoc for this purpose, and eventually figured that I could just Jitte

their Jitte and sometimes mise. I mise.

You’ve probably guessed that I switch decks a lot on MTGO. Excepting a bad run of tournaments with an

“experimental” Chapin deck, I mostly still run 8StoneRain.dec in queues, but KarstenBot BabyKiller is my favorite

deck to play right now.

Pros: This deck is fun to play and powerful.

Cons: I lost in a Casual Room “fun” match to… Talen Lee.

This article is about how great Skred is and Snow as the only way we can facilitate Skred, how Skred will out-last

Scrying Sheets and Counterbalance once Top rotates out of Standard, but that is not to say that the rest of the Snow cadre

is not awesome and Odyssey-underappreciated. Everyone knows that the mighty Katsu Mori took Japanese Nationals with his Kaji

Structure & Force deck, but you probably didn’t know that the nearly-as-mighty Terry Soh, a fake Dutch player covertly

operating halfway around the world, played the updated Karsten version of the same to win his Nationals:

Terry suffered some sort of mis-registration snafu on his Islands, but that didn’t stop the former Invitational Champ

and bluff-god from taking first. Frank really pulled out all the stops on the Structure & Force update. Not only does

the deck play the Top / Counterbalance and Top / Bobby combinations, but adds a thin Snow sub-theme. Terry’s deck doesn’t

have as much Snow as you might expect from any kind of Sheets deck, but as we said before, when you have Top /

Bobby, you just ignore the Sheets draws a lot of the time because you are doing other things with your mana. By cramming

nearly every possible Sensei’s Divining Top-synergistic combination into one deck – and playing only three Tops – I can

comfortably say that Terry Soh (and Frank Karsten) wins the award for

greediest deck of the week.

Have fun killing anything and everything for one mana (or drawing two cards a turn or whatever).