The Block That Came In From The Cold: Coldsnap and the New ALICE Block

The release of Coldsnap means many things. It’s going to throw a monkey wrench into the works of Standard. It also means that I’m going to have to redo my set binders yet again. But what really got my thinking cap all a-twitter is that there can finally be an honest-to-goodness Ice Age Block tournaments without the three-Standard-worthy-cards abomination that was Homelands.

If you were to ask me what the biggest surprise coming out of Wizards of the Coast in 2006 was going to be some months ago, I probably would not have said “the long-lost third Ice Age block set.” A chlorine gas cloud, now, that would have surprised me, but as far as I knew, a decade-in-the-making set was not on the radar. Shows you what I know.

The release of Coldsnap means many things. It’s going to throw a monkey wrench (or, for our editor and friends across the pond, a spanner) into the works of Standard. It also means that I’m going to have to redo my set binders yet again, moving Homelands out of my Ice Age Block binder into its own thinner and seldom accessed volume. It also means I’m going to have to shell out some more moolah to continue my anal retentive trait of building sets of every Magic expansion.

Laugh all you want, but they’re going to pay for my first-born’s college education. At least a semester or two, one hopes.

But what really got my thinking cap all a-twitter is that there can finally be an honest-to-goodness Ice Age Block tournaments without the three-Standard-worthy-cards abomination that was Homelands.

Now, you may be asking yourself, why should I be interested in playing a “new” block format when there’s both a great Standard and Block Constructed format I’m already playing.

Allow me to offer a few suggestions.

Odds are, you’ve never played this format: Unless you happen to be in your thirties and still play this addictive game, you’ve never put together a Blinkie-Haups deck or lusted after the chase card of its day, Jester’s Cap. It was a wild, woolly format. You had four different three-mana land destruction spells, for one thing. A hard counter for 1U! Cumulative upkeep! Snow-covered lands!

Actually, those last two really weren’t that great. Cumulative upkeep is saved from footnote status by Delusions of Grandeur (although it did make an appearance in Mirage block), and Snow-covered lands never really lit the Standard world on fire.

That, however, may be about to change… so watch this space.

Ice Age Block will let you use old favorites again: Still got a few Swords to Plowshares in the back of the closet? A Jokulhaups or two gathering dust in the trade binder? Maybe you’d like to play in an environment where Blinking Spirit was a genuinely feared card, or you could Ritual out a Necro on turn 1? Now’s your chance.

You can build better decks than the best minds of that era: In a recent Swimming with Sharks, Mike Flores – a man who knows something about putting a deck together – wrote about a Necro deck he finished 2nd with at an Ice Age-Alliances PTQ back in 1996.

A Necro deck with 63 cards and 3 Necropotences.


Yes, Vizzini, but remember: this was 1996. Internet Magic was still in its infancy. Things we take for granted, like “fundamental turn” and “card advantage,” were concepts that were just beginning to be explored. There was no StarCityGames.com, the late Magic Dojo was still in its infancy, and I still had some of my hair left.

Now, not only do we as players and deck builders know better, but so do the designers. Again, remember this was Wizards’s first attempt to make a stand-alone expansion. First attempts are seldom best attempts, and there’s a very good reason that Ice Age Sealed Deck really made the term “Sealed Luck” a truism. I mean, they reprinted Swords to Plowshares for cryin’ out loud – there’s a lot of brokenness in play here.

What we have is a unique munging of the old and the new; a format that was chock full of what we would consider vastly overpowered cards and (relatively speaking) neophyte designers, combined with an environment where Disenchant is now Naturalize, Blue has been nerfed considerably, and the aforementioned neophytes have had ten years to get better – and, by and large, I’d say they certainly have.

This is a fascinating science experiment – as if we were rediscovering radium, instead of Pierre and Marie Curie, only we have the hindsight to realize that, you know, we’re dealing with radioactive elements and should be wearing lead-lined clothes, what say? This is an opportunity that I doubt will ever come again.

Sounds interesting, you say, but won’t it be difficult to get the cards for it? These are a couple of decade-old expansions, after all. True that, but most of the key cards from those blocks have been reprinted in later expansions. Necropotence, Incinerate, Counterspell, Brainstorm, Jokulhaups, Exile, Blinking Spirit, Pyroclasm, Dark Banishing, and of course, the allied-color painlands – getting a hold of these cards isn’t unthinkable

Yes, I realize Force of Will may be a prohibitive pickup, but just about everything else should be relatively easy to acquire.

Want to throw a few decks together? Before you start, let’s get up to date on the rules: Rule #1, never talk about Fight Club. Rule #2, Ice Age Block has a few banned cards you cannot play with. Amulet of Quoz was an ante card, and those are right out unless you live in Las Vegas. In which case, they’re still right out, but you will at least get 8-to-5 odds.

There’s Thawing Glaciers, or, as Jamie Wakefield was fond of calling it, “evil Thawing evil Glaciers.” Thawing Glaciers is what I like to call a “bus” card, as in “R&D would have to be hit by a bus to reprint Mana Drain.” How good were the Glaciers? Imagine, if you will, a Sakura-Tribe Elder that you could reuse and didn’t cost Green mana? No, there’s nothing broken here, move along, move along…

Then there’s the other bus-sized “oops”, Zuran Orb, a zero-casting-cost artifact that you could feed a land and gain two life. Activation cost? Feeding it the land was the activation cost.

Need I remind you, at this time both Balance and Armageddon were still legal in what would become Standard, only we didn’t have Standard back then. I’m not sure we even had Type II yet. Hell, I’m not sure if we’d discovered fire by this time. Glaciers and the Zorb, as well as Plows and Incinerates, pushed the Ice Age Block of 1996 towards control and aggro-control builds.

The restriction, then banning of these two cards, if I remember correctly (and in my dotage, that’s no guarantee) came well after Ice Age Block had been forgotten by the young’uns with their Cursed Scrolls and Jackal Pups and whatnot, so it’s definitely conceivable that dedicated aggro decks, at least aggro decks as we now know them, will be playable in Ice Age Block.

You want decklists, you say? Those I have, but I had to hunt far and wide (seventh page of a Google search) to find these. These are good starting points but will need to be updated for bannings and ten years of knowing better.

Necro, by David Price

20 Swamp
3 Lake of the Dead
4 Dark Ritual
4 Demonic Consultation
4 Necropotence
4 Icequake
3 Mind Warp
4 Knight of Stromgald
4 Abyssal Specter
2 Ihsan’s Shade
4 Contagion
4 Soul Burn

Remember how I said that the loss of Homelands will have little if any impact on the new Ice Age block? Rule, meet exception.

There were only three cards that from Homelands that had any impact at all on the Standard/ALICE Block. The first and most obvious is Serrated Arrows, weenie killer extraordinaire, and that got played quite a bit, and Autumn Willow saw a fair amount of play in Ehrnam-Geddon decks as anti-Swords defense.

That leaves Ihsan’s Shade, which creature-based Necro decks ran because it was nigh-unkillable. In a format with Swords to Plowshares, Exile, Dark Banishing and Incinerate – four (well, two) of the best removal spells of all time – a card that could laugh them all off wasn’t too shabby. Coldsnap may have some black fatties that can replace the big shade, but unless they’re pro-White, they’ll be inferior substitutes.

Dave Price’s Necro is similar in disposition to the one Brian Davis should have won Pro Tour: Chicago with in a legendary battle with the man we call Bob; power out a turn 1 Necro, refill the hand, win with Drain Life…or, in this case, a slightly more expensive version in Soul Burn, with Icequake and Mind Warp, the really poor man’s Mind Twist, for disruption.

The other direction you can go with Necro is B/R, running Sulfurous Springs and going for the land destruction element – this was an environment that had both Stone Rain and Pillage. That is the deck Flores is talking about in the aforementioned article, and good luck finding a decklist there.

A U/B Necro deck seems highly doable, but no one appears to have built one of note that I could dig up. It’s one avenue to look at when Coldsnap hits stores. It’s also possible a Millstone variant using Arcane Denial, Helm of Obedience and Ashnod’s Cylix could be thrown together. Just something to consider.

BugBind, by Terry Borer and Paul McCabe

2 Blinking Spirit
3 Disenchant
4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Fyndhorn Elves
3 Deadly Insect
1 Stunted Growth
2 Incinerate
1 Lava Burst
2 Pyroclasm
3 Pillage
2 Jokulhaups
2 Stormbind
2 Icy Manipulator
1 Ashnod’s Cylix
1 Jester’s Cap
1 Lodestone Bauble
1 Zuran Orb
2 Kjeldoran Outpost
4 Karplusan Forest
4 Brushland
1 Thawing Glaciers
2 Forest
7 Plains
8 Mountains

Good lord, look at those numbers. One may be the loneliest number, but two is generally the worst number in Magic. It looks horribly untuned, but, like I said, this was ten years ago; we were still figuring everything out, and McCabe and Borer were certainly no pikers.

BugBind, like many decks, is a spoonerism; a name based on two cards. The “Bug” in question is Deadly Insect, a five-mana 6/1 with a then-seldom seen ability: untargetability. That, and the six power, makes it pretty attractive. That toughness, however, meant a puny Fyndhorn Elf could trade with it. However, that’s what all the removal spells are for.

The “Bind” half of the equation is Stormbind, a powerful reusable burn spell. It didn’t take long for people to figure out how good Stormbind was – it wasn’t quite the Cursed Scroll of its day, but as you can see, it wasn’t that far off.

U/W/r Control, by Jon Finkel

4 Blinking Spirit
4 Disenchant
4 Swords to Plowshares
2 Pyroclasm
1 Lava Burst
4 Stone Rain
4 Counterspell
2 Power Sink
2 Force of Will
1 Binding Grasp
1 Hydroblast
3 Icy Manipulator
2 Jester’s Cap
1 Zuran Orb
2 Kjeldoran Outpost
4 Adarkar Wastes
3 Thawing Glaciers
5 Mountains
6 Plains
7 Island

Big surprise, Jonny Magic makes an appearance with the precursor to a deck that would become the control deck of its day in Standard, U/W Control with the “dude ranch,” Kjeldoran Outpost. Back then, even the mighty Finkel wasn’t perfect, I suspect he’d probably want all four Forces of Will rather than just two (not to mention not running Brainstorm with a card that provided a permanent shuffling effect), but comparing Jon’s track record with mine, perhaps I should just stay silent on the matter.

But what would the fun in that be? I used to play against these kinds of decks all the time, and let me tell you they were a grind to play against, especially once they dropped the Zorb. Between Icy Manipulators and eterna-blocking Blinkies, you’re best bet was to scoop early and hope to squeeze in the next game if they got all the win conditions in place.

Both the aforementioned decks were very dependent upon both Zuran Orb and Thawing Glaciers; especially Finkel’s deck, which will be effectively decimated in the new Ice Age Block. If there’s some good land searching spells in Coldsnap (Muppet News Flash: there is!), the G/R/x Bugbind deck might be able to support white, but Without the Glaciers, there’s no way a U/W deck can support Red for Stone Rain and Pyroclasm, especially considering how few decent card drawing spells there were in Ice Age. It was all about the cantrips back then.

Update: Maybe there is a way for U/W to support Red…

Gargle-Haups, by Jamie Wakefield

3 Jokulhaups
1 Zuran Orb
4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Incinerate
4 Lava Burst
3 Pillage
2 Disenchant
4 Goblin Mutant
4 Balduvian Hordes
4 Ivory Gargoyle
3 Blinking Spirit
15 Mountains
11 Plains

I had to dig this decklist out of Jamie Wakefield old book, no longer in print and selling for close to three figures on eBay these days. It’s a good read, too, should you happen to find a copy. Note the classic 26/62 land/spell ratio; a tenet of the vintage Wakefield decks.

Blinkie-Haups and Gargle-Haups were two of the more popular decks I can remember from that day and age. Traditional Blinkie-Haups decks were all about burn, land destruction and beating down with Blinking Spirits. Jamie’s version was two tiered; Path to Victory #1 was to lay down some undercosted fatties (what a surprise) in the form of Goblin Mutant and Balduvian Hordes, then clear the way with burn and the mighty Plow, or there’s the equally acceptable Path to Victory #2, which is to get a recursive Ivory Gargoyle into play, blow up the world and dink your opponent to death with said 2/2 flier(s).

Olle Råde: Winner, Pro Tour Columbus

4 Karplusan Forest
7 Forest
7 Mountain
4 Giant Trap Door Spider
4 Woolly Spider
4 Deadly Insect
4 Fyndhorn Elves
1 Gorilla Shaman
2 Orcish Cannoneers
2 Storm Shaman
2 Giant Growth
4 Incinerate
1 Jokulhaups
2 Lava Burst
2 Lodestone Bauble
3 Pillage
1 Pyroclasm
3 Stormbind
4 Urza’s Bauble

1 Anarchy
2 Essence Filter
1 Icy Manipulator
1 Jester’s Cap
1 Jokulhaups
1 Monsoon
1 Primitive Justice
2 Pyroblast
2 Pyroclasm
2 Vexing Arcanix
1 Zuran Orb

Now we’re talking. Of all the decks we’ve seen, while it may not be the best, it is one of the tightest for the day and the closest you’ll get to a true aggro deck for the format (and there’s a sideboard to boot), taking the skeleton of the BugBind deck and improving it greatly.

What Råde did was load his deck up with removal to clear the way for the Insect and creatures that would live through Pyroclasm, the sweeper of choice in those days. Ice Age Block, remember, had no Wrath of God variant (but of course, that’s all changed…). Aside from Pyroclasm, your only other option was the original Big Red Reset Button.

And that land count! Eighteen, by God! How did he get away with it? He did have a Llanowar Elf reprint, too, but he also ran Urza’s Bauble, another forgotten card from the era, a zero-mana cantrip and Lodestone Bauble, a one-mana cantrip and defense against the many land destruction decks of the day. Those two cheap cantrips (which, again, is about as good as you are going to get for card drawing in Ice Age Block) let Råde cheat considerably on mana.

I wish I could have found more decklists from that ten-year-old PTQ but even Google has its limits.

There you have it: A sampling of the top decks of the time, from some of the top minds of the day. They seem so raw and untuned, but back in 1996, let me tell you, these were tight.

Think you can do better? Start digging out those Swords to Plowshares and have your mukluks handy.

Until next time,
Dave Meddish