Attention to Detail #30
Cold Hands, Warm Heart
by Jordan Kronick
July 14 2006
Any of my faithful readers (are there any?)
will know that I frequently have the pleasure of being
involved in the beta testing that happens for new sets on
Magic Online. I've been doing it since Scourge came out, and
I like to think of myself as one of those fixtures of the
beta testing world. One of the go-to guys when people have a
question about how something works. Having a very strong
knowledge of not only the function of the rules but also the
whole encyclopedia Magica (as it were) has put me in a good
position to be one of those “good testers”. Well, this week
began yet another round of beta testing. This time it's for
Coldsnap which will get its online debut sometime in August.
I had to skip the Coldsnap prerelease last weekend to go to
a convention, so this has been my first opportunity to play
with the cards. After dealing with the abundance of effects
generated by the cards in these sets (Recover, Ripple,
Cummulative Upkeep, etc) I have to say that I'm impressed by
anyone who managed to play a whole match without forgetting
something in the world of paper Magic. Online Magic has the
benefit that all of these little triggers and “don't forget
to do ____” things are done for you, but it's still a lot to
keep track of.
In the past couple days of testing, most activity has been
focused on Coldsnap-Coldsnap-Coldsnap testing. I've been
looking forward to this. Although I still enjoy the world of
Ravnica testing – it is, in my opinion, the best draft ever
– I wanted to try something very different. Coldsnap, as all
of you know, is the third set of Ice Age block. As such, it
only has 155 cards. The mechanics of the set are designed to
make sure this isn't a problem in limited. For this reason,
it may actually be the most draft-designed set ever. Even a
cursory examination of the themes will show you what I mean.
The Ripple mechanic is obviously best when you have a lot of
copies of the same cards in your deck. Well, in a small set
draft, this becomes far more likely. It's the kind of
mechanic that wouldn't play friendly in any other kind of
draft really. It would just be too diluted anywhere else.
The “kindle” mechanic is another example. In many ways it is
the mirror image of Ripple. It rewards you for the more
copies of the same cards you actually get and cast. There's
even a subtle tribal theme which makes use of the high
repitition rate. Cards like Lovisa Coldeyes, Field Commander
and Haakon, Stromgald Scourge reward you for having a lot of
redudancy in your creature pool. Finally, the snow mechanic
– which is way more than just a subtle theme in the set – is
improved by the small set draft. Each pack of Coldsnap has a
snow covered basic land in it. Since many of the card in the
set operate (or operate better) in the presence of snow
land, this distribution ensures that you can actually use
them in draft.
All of these factors combine to make Coldsnap one of the
most potent limited sets I've ever seen. Although many of
the cards are fairly middling in terms of power, combined
they can lead to some absolutely explosive games. When
people say that Ice Age / Alliances / Coldsnap drafting
wouldn't work so well, this is what they mean. Ice Age may
have given us some incredibly powerful cards, but it's
nothing like Coldsnap in the world of limited Magic.
Within CCC drafting, there are a few archetype decks that
you should be on the lookout for. One of the most popular –
and easy to assemble – is the big green herd. I'm talking,
of course, about the Aurochs. The theme of these creatures
is pretty clear. They work better in big groups. What might
not be clear is just how strongly this plays out in draft.
There are three Aurochs in Coldsnap. Two of them are common
and one is uncommon. One of the common ones is a small early
beater that helps the herd in the late game. The other is
the big engine of the Aurochs deck which continues to search
out its bretheren – the Aurochs Herd. The uncommon Aurochs
might actually be the least useful of the group, but more of
them never reall hurt. The important thing to remember is
that all Aurochs have trample. And they all get bigger. I've
won game simply by playing three Bull Aurochs on turns 2, 3
and 4. Unless your opponent can come up with a quick answer,
those things quickly get out of control. And with a little
pumping (Surging Might or Resize are excellent here) to keep
the herd alive (and do more damage – don't forget the
trample), the game can quickly be ended. If it continues to
the late game, once you can reach 6 mana and start bringing
out the Aurochs Herds, things really get silly. Coldsnap
seems very prone to creature stalls, and the herd can break
them. For all the clever snow tricks that are available,
sometimes the best choice is just to beat down with a bunch
of huge green creatures.
Another archetype that's made an appearance is based almost
entirely off of one common card. Krovikan Mist is a 2-drop
flier that gets bigger for each illusion in play. Now, there
are only three illusions in Coldsnap. The Adarkar Windform
helps out the Mist both by making it bigger and also by
clearing out opposing blockers. The last one, Phobian
Phantasm, is uncommon and heavily black. It rarely shows up
to participate. Most of the deck is based around the Mist.
It sometimes happens that your opponent will end up with
very few flying creatures. A horde of mists can make up for
a lack of defence by just flying through and winning the
game before your opponent knows what happened. As with most
other new sets, blue is the least popular color in draft.
This often changes as players start to get used to the set
and understand blue's role in the format. Until then,
they're happy to just use Aurochs and burn spells and black
removal to win their games. With that said, the Krovikan
Mist deck might not be long lived. Much like the blue decks
of Champions drafting, once they become popular the card
pool starts drying up.
The third archetype – and my own personal favorite – is
based on one of the new mechanics of the set. No, it's not
snow. Snow decks are fun but are proving unreliable. No, I'm
talking about recover. Black has two extremely strong
recover card that can turn a long game into an unwinnable
game for your opponent. Krovikan Rot and Grim Harvest are
both incredible cards. Reusable removal doesn't take a
genius to figure out, but Grim Harvest might surprise a few
people. Raise Dead effects are very hit-or-miss in limited.
For every great one there's two terrible versions. I'll save
you the trouble – Grim Harvest is one of the great ones.
With only one creature, you can have a limitless supply of
blockers and attackers. Black also has some of the best
sacrificing effects for triggering Recover (Garza's
Assassin, which you don't want to recover, still fits
strongly into this deck and Gutless Ghoul is just great).
I've found myself combining these strong effects with white.
White also has a very strong Recover spell (and one that
many people seem to be unsure of the strength of) in Sun's
Bounty. Life gain has gotten a lot better in the past couple
years, and this is a fine example. I've had games where a
single copy of Sun's Bounty has gained me 16 life. That's an
incredible advantage in draft. Combine this with the
as-always efficient small creatures that white has
available, and you've got a strong game from start to
finish. The recover deck can sometimes take a while to set
up and that's it's only real flaw. You can't start reliably
casting your effects over and over until you've got enough
mana to bring them back turn after turn. Unfortunately,
black and white don't have much in the way of acceleration.
Pay close attention to Coldsteel Heart and Mishra's Bauble
for this deck, as both with accelerate you a bit.
So with these three strong decks, what doesn't work? Well,
to be frank, snow doesn't. Everyone sees the assorted
Rimewind cards and wants to combine them into an efficient
cold-based deck, but it just doesn't happen. The deck seems
to rely a bit too strongly on some very poor blue creatures,
and it can be harder than you think to get four snow
permanents in play – even land. The red spell Icefall is
proving very popular (which may just be a statement about
how overdrafted red is) and that can disrupt your very
important mana situation. One of the exceptions to this rule
is the very powerful land Scrying Sheets, which might be the
most reliable card drawing in the set if you can get the
right deck. I think one of the big problems with snow as a
strategy is that it relies so strongly on getting
snow-covered lands. That means you'll have to pick them high
when you could be picking removal or efficient creatures.
I'll be happy to be proven wrong, but snow seems better used
as something of a splash than a real strategy.
So with all of these cool (and not so cool) decks, what
should we be paying attention to when the packs are opened?
Well, this might be one of the least bomb-defining formats
I've ever seen for one. There are certainly some very strong
rares (Rimescale Dragon, for instance), but more than ever
before you can survive with a very strong assortment of
commons. Although you might be tempted to take a decent
rare, keep in mind that the first pick is not too early to
start picking a theme, which often means ripplers and
kindles. A good example is the green common Sound the Call.
It generates a creature and gets much better for every one
you have. A deck with 7 of these can be a beautiful (or
horrifying) thing. However, if you want to get this going,
you need to start picking them right off the bat. Now, it
must be noted that not all ripplers and kindles are going to
work like this. Surging Flame is an incredible card, but
it's also a very popular card. Everyone would like to get a
bunch of free burn off the top of their deck. And even if
you're not getting the Ripple effect, burn is always a good
thing. For this reason, it will be picked highly. You're not
going to be getting that dream deck that has 6 copies of
Surging Flame in it unless you get extremely lucky. Focus
instead on the cards which are less eye-popping. Surging
Might is a great example. It's not the best pumping effect
in the set and it's not the best ripple card. If you really
pick strongly, you should be able to get quite of few of
these. And if you put them in the right place, they'll win
the game just as well as a bunch of burn. I had the
unfortunate luck to play against someone who played a turn 2
Boreal Centaur (already a fine creature) and got 4 Surging
Mights on it on turn 3. A 10/10 creature on turn three is
pretty much game.
A brief word about multicolor drafting – For the past year
we've all grown very comfortable with drafting three or more
colors. That is behavior which can get you into trouble in
Coldsnap. Especially with five three-color cards in the set.
I warn you that none of them is worth an even split on your
colors. Most aren't even worth splashing. The color fixing
in this set is very poor compared to just about anything
since Odyssey block. The set's main land-searching is Into
the North which relies on you having a snow version of the
land you want. There are no talismans or signets to support
lots of colors. Coldsteel Heart can help, but it's not
always going to be around. In a dozen or more coldsnap
drafts I have yet to see someone cast Tamanoa, Garza Zol,
Diamond Faerie, Zur the Enchanter or Sek'Kuar. You've had
your warning. This format is just not set up to play nicely
across three colors.
In Coldsnap, the bombs are not going to be your all-stars.
The best thing in the format is consistency. Pay attention
to your first pack as much as you can. It will tell you what
themes people are picking. This is not a format where I can
suggest switching themes in the second pack (or later). So
much of the strength of the set relies on getting as many of
the right cards as possible that switching late is just
going to leave you at crossed purposes with yourself.
Remember also that just because you're playing a color that
doesn't mean you're playing a theme. I've had some
incredibly strong green decks that didn't feature a single
Aurochs. I've had some great blue decks without any snow
permnents. For so many reasons, this is a very different
draft than any you've done before. We've only got a few
months of Coldsnap drafting before the next set comes out,
so experience it while you can.
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