Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #151: Coldsnap Math

Coldsnap draft has been done. Draft walkthroughs, pick orders, archetype articles — you’ve probably seen them all. Still, I have faced some opponents who really don’t understand the mathematics the set, especially ripple and common distribution. I’ll talk about math, odds, archetypes – and then look at the entire card pool from a draft.

Coldsnap draft has been done. Draft walkthroughs, pick orders, archetype articles – you’ve probably seen them all. Still, I have faced some opponents who really don’t understand the mathematics the set, especially ripple and common distribution. I’ll talk about math, odds, archetypes – and then look at the entire card pool from a draft.

I have drafted a fair amount of Coldsnap recently. The week of the online release I bought 21 packs, and despite joining three leagues / Sealed Premier Events in which I won almost nothing, I have drafted a couple dozen times and still have nine packs left. Coldsnap bumped my online Limited rating up over 100 points. (Of course, my rating was close to garbage to begin with. Apparently, Ravnica was too hard a format for me to draft. I do fine in Ninth Edition, and Coldsnap, but Ravnica…)

First, the statement that got me started on this article. It was game 2 of the finals of an online Coldsnap 8-4. We were playing it out, for no really good reason. My opponent cast double Kjeldoran War Cry to steal game 2. While sideboarding, we had this exchange:

Me: Wow! Double War Cry. My first opp. had at least three. My second opp. had at least three. I have one. You have at least two! Insane.
Him: ?
Him: Most drafts have 7-9 copies

Bzzzzt. Wrong.

Coldsnap has sixty commons.

A draft has eight players each opening three packs, containing 33 commons per player, or 264 commons for the table.

A draft should, on average, have 4.4 copies of each common in the set.

Not seven. Certainly not nine.

This, if course, assumes that the commons are printed uniformly. From what I’ve seen, that appears to be true, but just to make sure, I asked the experts. StarCityGames probably opens more packs than anything else on the planet, so if anyone outside of Wizards would know of a skewed distribution, it would be SCG.

I asked Ben Bleiweiss. His response:

All commons are equally likely, as far as I can tell. It also seems that the Snow-Covered lands were on the common sheet (they can be zero, one, or two per pack), and are even with the other commons (unlike Ninth, where you get one and exactly one land per pack).

Turns out my opponent in that draft had three War Cries, but I had four Auroch Herds, two Rimehorn Aurochs and some removal, and – fairly quickly – eight packs. Still, ten War Cries in one draft is unusual, to say the least. I think that two of them may have been foils. Since foil commons generally have non-foil duplicates in the packs, that means that there were only eight non-foil War Cries in the draft. That is at the high end of the distribution curve, but not impossible by any means.

In fact, I could calculate exactly how unlikely it is to see ten War Cries. It’s just a question of how likely an event that far off the expected result would be – remember Bell Curves, and Standard Deviation and chi-squared tests? It’s just statistics. Any responsible writer would do the math.

It will take me some time, so here’s a game log to entertain you while I work:

RespRiter has joined the game.
InnerDemon has joined the game.
RespRiter wrote “Hi, gl, have fun.”
InnerDemon wrote “U2”
InnerDemon won the toss.
InnerDemon will play first.
InnerDemon keeps this hand.
InnerDemon wrote “Hey, you doing those stats?”
RespRiter is reading Applied Regression Analysis, 2nd Edition, by Draper & Smith
InnerDemon wrote “Just how rusty are your stats, anyway?”
RespRiter has procrastinated to six cards.
InnerDemon wrote “Remember, it’s not a normal distribution”
InnerDemon wrote “print runs, I mean.”
RespRiter has procrastinated to five cards.
InnerDemon wrote “and foils. Foils mess with the numbers.”
RespRiter has procrastinated to four cards.
InnerDemon wrote “I mean, since foils generally duplicate commons”
InnerDemon wrote “And don’t you have to WAG the frequency of foil commons?”
InnerDemon wrote “WAG = wild ass guess…”
RespRiter has lost the connection.

I could do the statistics, or I could draft. Of course, I am a responsible writer…

After considerable effort, the results are:

Winning packs >> doing statistics, with a Confidence Interval of 98%.

Another, albeit less statistically significant, method of looking at this issue is to examine an entire draft – to bust 24 packs and count all the cards. That will provide an example of the numbers of ripple cards available in the draft. It may also be interesting to look at what the different archetypes have available in the card pool, and to speculate on how the draft would have gone.

I tried to mock draft this as I went. I quickly figured out that, since I knew every drafter’s deck, that decision was skewing the draft. I would like to say I did the best I could, but by late in the packs I was obsessing over the sort of hate drafting decisions I would normally make (e.g. tenth pick – nothing remotely playable: do you hate the Icefall or the white Martyr, or take an off-color uncommon that might make a Constructed deck?). Eventually I just busted the packs and counted totals.

Yes, it would have be cool to log every starting pack, then have people draft them and track the results. That would require noting down all the packs in advance, which would be a lot of work. Next, I would have to find eight good drafters willing to draft the packs – and fill out decklists afterwards. I would have to note who got which packs, then track picks. It’s a ton of work – and something I can only recall being tried once. I don’t have time to do it, at least not at present. I’ll work on it.

Alternatively, you have to find eight drafters that all run Blaargware to track their drafts, them get them all into the same online draft. I’ll work on that, too.

Time for a quick review of the Coldsnap draft archetypes.

W/x Weenie Aggro:

This archetype plays a lot of bears (Ronom Unicorn, Kjeldoran Outrider, etc.), Surging Sentinels and Kjeldoran War Cry. The deck uses Gelid Shackles and Squall Drifter to turn off blockers. It will generally look to a second color for more bears, removal and – in some cases – a late game.


This archetype plays mana acceleration (Boreal Druid, Into the North, etc.) to enable it to drop, and chain, Auroch Herds, preferably many of them, and preferably into Ronom Auroch. Simian Brawlers and Karplusan Striders tend to be the mid-curve creature of choice, and the deck taps other colors for protection, card drawing or removal.

G/W Hybrid:

This is a combination of the first two archetypes. It has lots of White bears, Boreal Centaurs, and Simian Brawlers, but also includes some mana acceleration and an Aurochs chain to provide a late game. This is a very powerful, and common, archetype, and gets better with a Juniper Order Ranger.


Another very popular archetype, that can either field lots of weenies and burn out early blockers to win quickly, or can hold on until it can produce an Aurochs Herd chain. The two versions are different, with different relative weightings of cards like Boreal Centaur and Boreal Druid, but there is no real line dividing the two.

Snow Control:

This archetype relies on drafting a lot of snow permanents and Rimewind Taskmages. The deck is all about snow and Taskmages, but it can touch other colors for snow creatures and removal. Skred is amazing in this deck, while Black brings Chill to the Bone and Deathmark, which can kill opposing Ronom Hulks.

Red Martyr / Icefall:

The plan is to draft lots of Red cards, including Martyr of Ashes and Icefalls. You kill a land, then blow the Martyr to sweep the board, and, incidentally, recover the Icefall. Rinse and repeat, and once they have no lands and no creatures in play, just kill them with whatever comes to hand. What comes to hand tends to be Thermopods and Ohran Yetis, but almost anything works.

White Martyr / Grim Harvest:

The concept is pretty simple – you get to seven mana, cast Martyr of Sands, chump, sacrifice the Martyr revealing seven white cards, recover Grim Harvest, gain your 21 life, then cast Grim Harvest to return the Martyr to hand. Hopefully, your opponent won’t be able to outrun you, and you can find some method of killing or decking them. You can deck them with Jester’s Scepter or Jotun Grunt, or beat down with something like Kjeldoran Gargoyle. A few fat chumpers, like Woolly Razorback or Ursine Fylgja, can help slow the beats and keep the opponent from doing 21+ points per turn.

Blue Martyr / Illusions:

I have had some opponents try this on me at times. They play a ton of Martyr of Frosts, some Rune Snags and Surging Aether, and try to counter everything that could be a threat. They then try to win with either a group of Krovikan Mists or a few big fliers. I have not yet lost even a game to this archetype, but some people swear it works.

Now, on to the entire draft card pool. I busted 24 packs. I know, I know, but the local players are all burned out on drafting Coldsnap and we have switched back to Ravnica. I had a couple boxes of Coldsnap unopened, and needed cards for other decks. I just busted the packs. So sue me.

Boreal Griffin – 3
Gelid Shackles – 5
Kjeldoran Javelineer – 3
Kjeldoran Outrider – 3
Kjeldoran War Cry – 6
Martyr of Sands – 5
Ronom Unicorn – 3
Squall Drifter – 5
Sun’s Bounty – 4
Surging Sentinels – 4
Swift Maneuver – 4

Glacial Plating – 1
Kjeldoran Gargoyle – 2
Luminesce – 1
Ursine Fylgja – 3
Wall of Shards – 3
White Shield Crusader – 1

Adarkar Valkyrie – 1
Field Marshal – 1
Woolly Razorback – 1

Snow-Covered Plains – 4

Drelnoch – 6
Frost Raptor – 3
Frozen Solid – 5
Krovikan Mist – 5
Martyr of Frost – 4
Rimewind Taskmage – 6
Ronom Serpent – 5
Rune Snag – 2
Surging Aether – 3
Survivor of the Unseen – 5
Thermal Flux – 5

Balduvian Frostwaker – 1
Controvert – 1
Counterbalance – 2
Flashfreeze – 1
Krovikan Whispers – 2

Arcum Dagsson – 1
Commandeer – 1
Jokulmorder – 1
Rimefeather Owl – 1
Vexing Sphinx – 1

Snow-Covered Island – 4

Chill to the Bone – 6
Chilling Shade – 6
Disciple of Tevesh Szat – 4
Feast of Flesh – 3
Grim Harvest – 5
Gutless Ghoul – 5
Krovikan Scoundrel – 4
Martyr of Bones – 6
Rimebound Dead – 5
Surging Dementia – 4
Zombie Musher – 4

Balduvian Fallen – 2
Deathmark – 1
Krovikan Rot – 1
Phobian Phantasm – 1
Rime Transformation – 2
Stromgald Crusader – 2
Tresserhorn Skyknight – 1

Haakon, Stromgald Scourge – 2
Herald of Leshrac – 1

Snow-Covered Swamp – 3

Goblin Furrier – 5
Goblin Rimerunner – 4
Icefall – 4
Karplusan Wolverine – 3
Martyr of Ashes – 6
Ohran Yeti – 5
Orcish Bloodpainter – 4
Rite of Flame – 4
Skred – 3
Surging Flame – 3 (one foil & duplicated)
Thermopod – 6

Balduvian Warlord – 2
Cryoclasm – 1

Earthen Goo – 1
Greater Stone Spirit – 2
Magmatic Core – 1
Stalking Yeti – 4

Lovisa Coldeyes – 1
Lightning Serpent – 1
Rimescale Dragon – 1

Snow Mountain – 5

Aurochs Herd – 3
Boreal Centaur – 3
Boreal Druid – 7
Bull Aurochs – 5
Frostweb Spider – 5
Into the North – 4
Martyr of Spores – 5
Ronom Hulk – 4
Simian Brawler – 4
Sound the Call – 3
Surging Might – 5

Artic Nishoba – 4
Freyalise’s Radiance – 1
Karplusan Strider – 2
Rimehorn Aurochs – 3
Sheltering Ancients – 1
Steam Spitter – 1

Allosaurus Rider – 1
Brooding Saurian – 1
Hibernation’s End – 2

Snow-Covered Forest – 1

Gold / Artifacts / Lands
Blizzard Specter – 1
Juniper Order Druid – 1
Vanish Into Memory – 2
Wilderness Elemental – 2

Diamond Faerie – 1
Zur the Enchanter – 1

Coldsteel Heart – 1
Phyrexian Ironfoot – 1
Phyrexian Snowcrusher – 1

Boreal Shelf – 2
Dark Depths – 1
Frost March – 1
Highland Weald – 1
Mouth of Ronom – 2
Tresserhorn Sinks – 1

I put the ripple cards, and other cards that care about extra copies (like Rune Snag & Feast of Flesh) in bold. Here’s the breakdown:

Two copies in draft: 1 (Rune Snag)
Three copies in draft: 5 (Surging Aether & Flames, Feast, Sound the Call, A. Herd)
Four copies in draft: 3 (Sentinel, Dementia & Rite of Flame)
Five copies in the draft: 2 (Mist and Might)
Six copies in the draft: 1 (War Cry)

The average is below the typical 4.4 cards per draft. These cards average 3.75 copies in the draft. Cards like Boreal Druid (7) and Rimewind Taskmage (6) make up the difference.

Twenty-five snow covered lands, counting Dark Depths.

Let’s looks at the archetypes.

W/x Weenie Aggro:

This draft had a raft of War Cries, but slightly below average counts on all the White bears. There were plenty of Shackles, and a lot of Squall Drifters. If just one player was pushing this archetype, they should have had a great draft. If two tried to force it, they probably lose to Green fat and Red removal.


The actual Aurochs Herd chains will be a little short, since there were only three Herds in the draft. However, with seven Boreal Druids, lots of snow lands and a few Into the Norths, and a ridiculous number of Ronom Auroch and Artic Nishobas, a couple of players could have drafted good Green fatty decks.

G/W Hybrid:

This could have been a very good archetype in this draft, unless too many people battled over it. There were more War Cries, more Boreal Druids, Centaurs and Bull Aurochs than would be expected, and five Surging Mights. However, there was also…


This draft had four Stalking Yetis. Four! It was a little short on Skreds and Surging Flames, but four Yetis probably means that three people were fighting over Red. Odds are good, however, that someone ended up with a Yeti or two, some burn and the Rimescale Dragon. That person should also have plenty of snow mana and probably has some good fat – Thermopods, at the very least. White Weenie decks can have some problems with recursive Yetis, while this next archetype, well…

When a man with some Task Mages meets a man with Stalking Yetis, the man with the Task Mages is a dead man.
Ramon Rojo, A Fistful of Dollars.

Snow Control:

The draft has a lot of snow lands and a ton of Rimewind Taskmages, and some other components. However, Stalking Yetis just destroy Taskmages. I suspect that at least one, and even two drafters could have wound up with decent snow control decks, but the draft didn’t have the support or finishers for a good snow deck (unless a snow player wound up with the Rimescale Dragon.) I don’t think snow control could have handled the good G/R decks this draft would have produced, unless, of course, the snow decks got the Yetis. The fake drafting I did, however, showed the early ones going to G/R.

Red Martyr / Icefall:

There were only four Icefalls in this draft. That is a bit sketchy, even if the same drafter got all four. If the Martyr / Icefall deck does not draw any Icefalls until mid game it can have problems. On the other hand, there were six Martyrs in the draft, and four Stalking Yetis, so the Icefall drafter would have see plenty of good Red removal. It would really depend on how much an Icefall drafter had to fight with R/G drafters for removal cards. In the early part of the draft, I didn’t see Icefall appearing.

White Martyr / Grim Harvest:

The card pool had five Martyr of Sands and five Grim Harvests, plus lots of White filler. What it did not have is any method of decking an opponent, short of playing 41 cards. The draft had zero Jester’s Scepter and Jotun Grunt, which leaves pretty much just Kjeldoran Gargoyle beats. Kjeldoran Gargoyles are not really a match for Stalking Yetis and Rimehorn Aurochs (which can force a newly cast Gargoyle to block an Aurochs Herd.) Herds also trample over Martyrs, so the race can be lost.

Blue Martyr / Illusions:

Sure, whatever. Maybe if that player drafted all five Krovikan Mists, and drew them all early….

After all this, I really wish I could have drafted this all out. I’ll have to think about how I could accomplish that. I’ll work on it – but I don’t see any alternative to opening, listing and then repackaging 24 packs – then having everyone fill out deck lists of played and drafted. That’s a lot of work, but I’ll see if I can get it done. The problem, of course, is that the spare product I have is Coldsnap, but everyone will be wanting to draft Time Spiral. Hmmm.

This may have to wait until Time Spiral is in the stores.


pete {.} jahn {at} verizon {.} com