From an editorial perspective, Coldsnap makes me cringe. Now, it’s not that Wizards is releasing a new set as a test balloon to see whether people will buy four core releases per year for Standard, though that’s obviously worrisome. And it’s not the fact that Coldsnap is packed with a bunch of complex mechanics and tokens and ridiculous triggers that you have to remember, making it like the old days of Ice Age when I stopped playing because I didn’t want to have to waste that time.
No, it’s the name.
See, you name a set “Coldsnap” and everyone is going to want to make some sort of silly pun in their title on Coldsnap. I knew that someone was going to title their article “Oh, Snap!” three months back, and there will probably be a bunch of “The Man Who Came In From The Cold(snap Prelease)” and “Baby, It’s Cold(snap) Outside” puns, and so forth.
They’re not funny. It’s like when there’s a hotdog eating contest and the newspaper editor titles the article “Man Bites Dogs” — funny once, but the seventh time you see a hotdog pun it gets old. People will try, in droves, to make some sort of Cold-related pun or a Snap-related pun, and they will all be lame.
Thank God I’d never do anything like that.
Rather than show you the deck I made with the cards I opened, as is my usual schtick, instead I will blatantly try to stretch my prerelease experience out across two articles by giving you the brief impressions of the cards I played with and against. Although in this case, I’ll start with some observations.
The Return Of An Old Friend
At the Prerelease I went to, Green and Red were the colors of choice, with White and Black a close second. There was a rumor of a Blue deck being seen in a distant land, perhaps Ecuador, but it certainly wasn’t in Ohio.
But like they say, “You don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.” I should have known better; as Noah Weil has been reminding us over at MagictheGathering.com, Ravnica is a chock-a-block of mass removal. Coldsnap? Not so much. And what happened was something I had not seen in a long time:
Fully half the matches I witnessed went to time as people fought for dominance, trying to eke a path through a wall of critters. It’s not that anyone was playing slowly, but rather that in the absence of sweeping effects and cheap reusable removal, creatures that hit the table tended to stay more often than not.
I kind of missed that. Ravnica’s nice in that you can almost always fly over or Fear through or just blow their best guy away, but the Coldsnap Sealed seems to be a little more prone to ground stalls. I’ll probably get irritated by them at some point, but for now? Hey, it’s nice to have a face-off.
I have a feeling there’s a “golden turn” wherein it’s time to let go of Cumulative Upkeep, and that is about the third or fourth turn. The mechanism is a nice little tension between committing to a good card and casting new spells, and knowing when to sacrifice it and when to keep is probably going to make the difference in Sealed success.
For me, the first and second turns were never too bad; I could pay a mana or two. Turns 3 and 4, however, started to tie up my mana to the point where it was ludicrous, and I only went to turns 5, 6, or 7 when I had a permanent that was going to benefit me when it went to the graveyard, like (rarely) Jotun Owl Keeper or (more often) Arctic Nishoba.
Knowing that turn 3 was about my break point, turn 3 is when I started getting suicidal with my Cumulative guys, sending them into battle in the hopes that my opponent would kill them. Surprisingly, more often than not they got through to my opponent’s face, since he assumed I had a combat trick.
Silly rabbit. My prerelease deck had no combat tricks. It was a sitting duck! You fool!
I like the idea of the mechanic, but it never seemed to work out when people tried it in Sealed; even with five booster packs, it was still a mere sixty cards out of 155, and your chances of getting the quadruple-Surging Flames deck was scant indeed.
People told me of grand draft decks, but I don’t believe them. Not that I don’t believe that some sod picked up seven Surging Flames somewhere — that’s a given — but rather, that once the Prerelease is over and the pool is cleaned of the first-event rare-drafters and the n00bs who draft once every six months, I have no confidence that this event will be repeated.
In every Prerelease, I open a really cool and powerful-looking card. Then it proceeds to avoid me like I had bad breath for the rest of the tournament, either refusing to show up in my hand or showing up on the last possible turn when it’s too late to make a difference.
This time, Kjeldoran Gargoyle was a no-show. Yet no less than three different people assured me that it was quite good in this environment, and I have no doubt about that; I mean, Ravnica’s Mourning Thrull occasionally makes big swings in tight games, and I’ve been having a great time with Paladin of Prahv, so a first-striking flying lifegaining thing probably is the bees’ knees.
It just doesn’t like me.
The upkeep costs on this got a little steep, but I rarely regretted paying them. The more counters that got put on this thing, the bolder I could get in the attack step; suddenly, a 2/2 creature could take down a 5/5 or (at one point) a 7/7. I never cast it in the early game; no, this was something you sandbagged until your opponent had spent all of his removal on your big beasties.
I maindecked this. Considering that everyone seemed to be playing Red, it felt handy all day, but I actually only used it twice. Still, those two times it worked well; it saved my entire team from a nasty Martyr of Ashes activation, and then it neutered a massive Lightning Serpent attack, turning a final-turn all-out attack for the win into a draw. (A draw that I won, since I’d won the first game.)
I don’t know whether it’s any good. But it certainly is cheap.
I opened two of these. They were okay, but the White activation cost was surprisingly expensive in a set filled with upkeep costs.
Sunscour / Allosaurus Rider
I cracked both of these handy-dandy rares, and let me tell you: the double-card pitch is not what it’s cracked up to be. The Sunscour was obviously good in an environment that encourages overcommitting, and the alternate cost was handy when I wanted to clear the board and then cast a fattie… But even in a two-color deck, discarding two cards of the same color was often a struggle. I did it when I had to, but there were a few times I Sunscoured and then could follow it up with nothing.
Allosaurus Rider, on the other hand? I never cast it for its alternate cost. I wanted a gigantic win condition, and dropping two cards on turn 4 to cast a 4/4 monster that could be burnt out didn’t work. I wanted something gigantic, huge, and imposing, so I wanted to pay seven mana for it. Because I wanted to have seven mana.
This was surprisingly good all day, despite the awkward mana. 7/7 pretty much blunts any attack, and people did not want this thing going active. I never actually got to smash face with it, but that was because the offenses trickled to a halt shortly after this hit the ground.
I should note that Rimescale Dragon interacts with this in doubly-ugly ways. Just sayin’.
I’m sure this does something. But I’ve read the card, I’ve read the FAQ, and I still have no clue what it actually is supposed to do. No, don’t tell me; I’m sure I’ll be surprised in some game eventually. But why would someone print a card that requires fine print?
This is a really good card when you can cast it on turn 2 thanks to a Boreal Druid. Like, “Run me over so badly I can’t really recover” good. Like, “God help me help me help me” good, since by the time I’ve finally dealt with this stupid SOB as you lay land after land, you’ve been crafting a hand of pure gas and I’m down to two cards. Bleah.
Really nice in multiples — which you’d think would be obvious, but this being a Prerelease it really wasn’t. A lot of the people I saw playing it treated it like a generic 2/2, afraid to commit to an attack. No, baby! You unman their biggest guy and send! Hoo hah!
The finisher of choice in at least two Red decks that I saw. Yeah, it’s fragile, but since your opponent is often tapping down to cast big monsters, you can find the chink in his armor and drive this sucker straight through, like a walking Blaze.
Martyr of Ashes
Not as potent as I’d thought, but then again I was playing White; every time they popped her, I Kjeldoran War Cried or Luminscenced. I suspect it’d be a lot better against decks without quite as much protection, though.
This was exceptionally nice. I certainly didn’t mind paying the upkeep, and after it got to be about turn 3 or so I was guaranteed to take someone with me. It was a great win/win, wherein I sent in a 6/6 that took something down and gained six life, and then got to have my mana free the next turn.
Alternatively, I just smashed face with a 6/6. Trample is very nice in this format, and the size nearly guarantees that they’re going to have to block with multiple creatures.
I didn’t play this, nor did I play against this. But my friend Dmitri has one deck, and it’s the mono-blue “I take all your good stuff” deck. Thus, I am getting four of this.
“I block your guy. It lives. I put a +1/+1 counter on it…”
“No, that’s only if it blocks a flying creature.”
“Really? Then that’s totally lame.”
And, as I later discovered, it gets even lamer since the flying creatures in this set are all so huge that a mere 1/3 has no hope of surviving. What fun is that?
Into the North
I was two rounds in before it finally dawned on me that my Arctic Flats was, in fact, a snow land! Before that, I’d just been fetching my Snow-Covered Forests and hoping like heck I wouldn’t draw the SNFs before I drew both of my Into the Norths. The fact that I can snag my duals at effectively no cost to me is even better.
Later on that round, it got even better to the better; as it turns out, Dark Depths is also a snow land. And let me muse on that for a bit…
I laughed when I saw this. I mean, come on, I love the idea, but thirty mana to get rid of ten counters? Too much. Especially for a land that does nothing without it. So I wrote it off as a cute Johnny card, a crap rare that you built a losing deck around, and shuffled it into my sideboard with a “Heh.”
Then around me, 20/20 Marit Lage tokens began smashing face.
As I said, Coldsnap seems to bring the return of big stupid creature standoffs, where at least half the matches ran to time because people were staring at each other and trying to wrangle enough of an advantage to attack without dying the next turn. In those games, Dark Depths was actually a reasonably decent card; you could Tutor for it with Into the North when you wanted it, then spend a few end-of-turns burning a few counters if you had nothing better to do. And since absolutely nobody was playing Blue that I saw, a 20/20 token was pretty darned nice.
I wouldn’t say it’s a staple. But the first Marit Lage beatdown brought laughter and cries from the table, the second brought shouts of disbelief, and the third had me wondering about this dang card.
Obviously, though, you don’t want to use this in draft.
This sure helped me a lot in the one game I saw it. Unfortunately, it was my opponent who played it. He wound up regretting this, but thankfully it was a “for fun” game and I hope to God he didn’t play it in the actual tournament.
I saw it played a couple of times, and it sure is cheap. And very, very large. Unfortunately, its drawback is really severe, and since it lacks trample I was able to chump it with a 1/1 Bird token. Thus, I would put this in the same category as Sheltering Ancient.
Juniper Order Ranger
I wanted to like this, I really did. But at five mana, I’d either depleted my hand or I was in a situation where putting a +1/+1 counter on a 6/6 didn’t make that much difference. Others told me they had more positive experiences with it, so I’ll probably give it another go in the future, but it didn’t win me any games with its amazing power since I was only able to cast one or two critters after it hit the board.
The Weekly Plug Bug
Yes, if you’ve been following Home on the Strange, my weekly Webcomic about a bunch of middle-aged nerds, you would know that Tanner the strip club bouncer got into an argument with his girlfriend while on his cell phone, stopped paying attention to the road, and ran over a possum which he did his level best to save.
This week, we see the climax of the story. And then two strips of mourning.