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Attention to Detail #28 – Oh, Snap
by Jordan Kronick
June 30, 2006

I know the title of this column is a bit unoriginal, but it's just such a great tagline when discussing the newest offering – Coldsnap. I'm hugely excited about Coldsnap for a few reasons. I've been playing Magic since the misty days of yore (in other words, since Beta was being sold in stores for retail price and the idea of white bordered cards was not yet a reality). However, when I started playing I was a young kid who couldn't afford much. When I bought my first cards, I bought a single booster pack of Beta. I didn't even have a rule book. I had no idea how to play (other than having seen a couple people playing in the store) and I didn't have enough cards to build a deck. But I looked through those 14 cards (my pack was short a card, strangely – the first and only time I've ever had that happen) and memorized every one. Eventually I was able to afford a starter deck (what you newer players know as Tournament Packs). I added to my collection very slowly. The allowance my parents gave me was divided up among Magic and my other hobbies at the time (I can't remember what they were, exactly because they were all slowly abandoned for Magic). When Arabian Nights came out, I bought a couple packs. When Antiquities was there, I bought a couple packs. When Legends was out, I bought some more. The Dark was the first set that I bought in any great quanitity. Maybe a dozen packs or so. But the real big change came when Fallen Empires was released. At this point I actually had a job and I decided that Fallen Empires would be the first set I bought a full box of. The first day of its release, I happened to be on a family trip in Iowa. I stopped in at a game store that I'd heard of (whenever I visited other cities I always learned the local card shops – I still do) and bought a box. I opened it recklessly right there in the store and started cracking the packs. I think I got about half way through before I said “what the hell is this?” Fallen Empires is probably the second most hated set of all time, and at the time it was definitely public enemy number one. I felt completely cheated on my box purchase. I built some Thrull decks and grumbled about.

And then I got the news a few months later that a new set was coming out. It was a big set. It was a set that actually had rares, again (Fallen Empires had different levels of uncommons, but no true 'rares'). It was bringing back gold cards and legends and it was a new type of “standalone” expansion. I quickly forgot my lingering angst regarding Fallen Empires and dove right in to Ice Age. Although Fallen Empires was the first time I bought a full box of boosters, Ice Age was the first time I was happy with my purchase. Since I had so many of the new cards, I became quite good at using them. I slowly started to figure out some of the strategies that would be so important to my tournament Magic career in the future. I built a deck with quick black creatures like Knight of Stromgald and Order of the Ebon Hand (which I probably had a hundred of thanks to that box of FE) and Hypnotic Specter. It seemed like it would actually be a pretty effective deck. I never thought to put a Necropotence into it, but you get the idea. Ice Age was the turning point for me when I went from being just a kid with an odd assortment of cards that didn't really work together (all played in one big 300-card deck, of course) to being someone who wanted to build good decks that won consistently and quickly. I grew from my proto-player form into the Spike that I am today (the Johnny didn't really surface in me until the first time I saw a Cadaverous Bloom).

What was the point of this trip down memory lane? I was talking about why I'm so excited about Coldsnap. In case that story didn't make my first reason very clear, Coldsnap is a piece to a puzzle I've been working on since I bought that first box of Ice Age. It's a way for me to take a look back at the kind of player I was (a newly minted Spike) and reclaim a bit of the fun that comes from the discovery of a new way to play your favorite game.

The second reason I'm so excited for Coldsnap comes from a much more seasoned state of mind. I'm interested to see what it does to the Standard format. Coldsnap's release will mark the first time this many sets have been legal in the format. Since blocks began to have themes, Standard has always kind of been two themes mashed together. Multicolor (Invasion) mashed with Graveyard Matters (Odyssey). Graveyard Matters mashed with Creatures Matter (Onslaught). Creatures Matter mashed with Artifacts Matter (Mirrodin). You get the idea. For the first time since this began, there will be a three-way mash up in Standard. Kamigawa's lingering themes of Legendary stuff and spirits combined with the multicolor theme of Ravnica combined with the snowy theme of Coldsnap. In addition to adding 155 new cards to the format, it adds a whole new level of strategy. Will one small expansion be enough to creates some powerful decks that can compete with the decks making strong use of the themes of the blocks before Coldsnap? Only time will tell.

In the past week, Wizards of the Coast has given us seven new Coldsnap preview cards. This week I'm going to discuss those cards and the new mechanics that they possess. I'll try to figure out whether Coldsnap is just going to add fodder to the already strong decks of Kamigawa and Ravnica or whether it can strike out on its own and make some interesting decks that can really compete.

The first preview card came from Mark Rosewater on monday. It's a furry uncommon named Stalking Yeti. Besides the obvious coolness factor of Yetis returning to Magic, it's a pretty decent card with a couple cool new mechanics:

Stalking Yeti – 2RR
Snow Creature – Yeti
When Stalking Yeti comes into play, if it's in play, it deals damage equal to its power to target creature an opponent controls and that creature deals damage equal to its power to Stalking Yeti.
2S: Return Stalking Yeti to its owner's hand. Play this ability only any time you could play a sorcery.

There's three things going on here that need explaining. The first thing everyone notices is that it's not just a creature. It's a Snow Creature. What does that mean? Well the answer comes in the explanation for the second thing – Snow Mana. The '2S' mana cost on the Yeti's returning ability means that the S part of the cost can only be played with mana which was produced by a Snow permanent (such as a Snow-Covered Land). It's really quite simple. Snow Mana still posesses its color (a Snow-Covered Mountain still produces red mana). It just has an additional characteristic which can be used to fuel special abilities. The Snow Creature sypertype doesn't have any inherent ability to it. All that means in this case is that cards which affect Snow permanents (and you can be sure we'll see some) will affect this. It's a very elegant way to add depth to the game.

The third thing, which I feel bears mentioning, is the somewhat clumsy text of the Yeti's damage ability. “When it comes into play, if it's in play” strikes mana people as sounding very strange. What this means is that when the Yeti comes into play and it's ability is on the stack, you have a chance to kill it before its ability goes off, which will negate the ability.

So that's all the technical jargon (most of which you already knew, if you've been reading the preview articles) out of the way. What does this card mean? What impact will it have? Well, in my quest to find a card which will help define the new face of Standard, I've failed here. Stalking Yeti is very cool (no pun intended) but it is not a great card. It helps make Yeti tribal possible (and who doesn't want that?) but that's really about it. However, it does have a shining moment. Stalking Yeti is going to become one of those cards that you fear in Limited formats. CCC drafting is going to be very popular and CCCCC “Sealed Deck” should be nearly so. And when your opponent drops this card, you need to find an answer. Some formats are dominated by bears (a 2/2 for 2) like Ravnica (with its incredible guildmages) and Invasion (with the protection bear cycle). Some are defined by Grey Ogres (a 2/2 for 3) like Onslaught with its Morph creatures. It's very rare that a format is defined by anything larger. Bears and ogres are the meat of any draft and most games will be won by the player who can control their opponents bear and ogres. Stalking Yeti does an exceptional job of that. It comes into play and eats a bear – there by achieving card parity. Hopefully it gets a chance to attack and get some damage in. Then it bounces and probably gets to eat another bear. If need be, it can eat something slightly bigger. If you have any static creature-enhancing cards in play (something like Glorious Anthem) it gets even better. Creature stalls are an issue in every single limited format. The problem is that in the late game, removal is scarce. When you draw a Dark Banishing, you want to use it on their best creature. That often leaves some of the early game creatures around to trouble you. They may be outclassed by the larger more expensive creatures, but they're still around. Stalking Yeti plays double duty as an early game swing card which can improve your early board position and as a late game controller of smaller creatures that made it this far. Once you've got 7 mana available (assuming one is Snow mana – I'll discuss this in a moment) you can start killing a bear every turn. That can make life miserable for someone who's trying to keep up with your creatures. The Snow Mana issue is not a small one, however. Snow Covered Lands are the most common source of Snow Mana, and they'll show up as commons in Coldsnap booster packs. However, like Artifact Lands in Mirrodin, don't expect them to be coming in as 15th picks. Some of the most effective cards in Coldsnap will likely be Snow-powered. This means that if you want to get the most out of them, you need to make sure you've got Snow Mana. Stalking Yeti again shines here. If you've only got a couple ways of producing Snow Mana, you can't be at all confident of getting them in the early game. But the Yeti doesn't need them in the early game. To play it on turn 4 all you need is 2RR. Hopefully by the time you want to start using the bouncing ability, you'll have drawn into some snow. Stalking Yeti is going to be a very important card which helps define whether or not Red (notoriously the swingiest color in limited) is playable in Coldsnap drafting.

The second card is probably a bit less interesting, but it made a pretty huge impact when it was previewed.

Dark Depths
Legendary Snow Land
Dark Depths comes into play with 10 Ice counters on it.
3: remove an Ice counter from Dark Depths.
When Dark Depths has no Ice counters on it, sacrifice it. If you do, put an indestructible, legendary 20/20 black Avatar creature token with flying named Marit Lage into play.

It's a land that doesn't tap for mana. That's mildly annoying. Is it worth playing? Probably not. Dark Depths represents one of those cards that is hard to figure out the impact on limited for. I'm sure the Coldsnap prereleases will be graced with occasional shouts of “Oh my god! I actually got Marit Lage into play!!!” It's not a great card though. Not by any means. First of all, it is very expensive. It's going to cost you 30 mana to put Marit Lage into play. Even spaced out over a quite a few turns, it's pretty unlikely that the game will stall to the point where you can actually get this thing out. One of the biggest problems is that Marit Lage suffers from the greatest flaw of all token creatures. Though he may be indestructible, bouncing him does the job just fine. And with Dark Depths your opponent probably has some time to muster a defense. You won't be surprising anyone with a Marit Lage token unless there's an infinite mana engine in this set. It's a neat card that will be fun to mess with in casual, but this is not going to be strong in either Limited or Constructed. It sure does look neat, though.

Anthony Alongi gave us the first truly bombtastic card of the week. Here she is:

Adarkar Valkyrie – 4WW
Snow Creature – Angel
Flying, Vigilance
T: When target creature other than Adarkar Valkyrie is put into a graveyard this turn, return that card to play under your control.

So it's a Serra Angel that costs 1 more for that ability. Is that ability worth 1? I'd say it's worth quite a bit more. This Angel is incredible. If she just allowed you to save your creatures from death, that would be sufficient. But instead of just doing that, she allows you to steal your opponent's creatures when you kill them! Got that end of turn Dark Banishing to finish off a fattie your opponent just played? Now you can kill it and steal it, too! If your opponent plays another big 4/4 flyer and you swing this girl into it, you can make a trade that anyone would love. Your Angel dies and you get their 4/4. Vigilance abilities combined with strong T abilities always bear close examination. If she had haste, she'd be among the best Angels ever printed. As it stands, she's just going to be one of the strongest draft cards in the set. Don't ever expect to see her 2nd pick in the first pack. As for Constructed, things are much more hazy for the Valkyrie's future. As has often been said, if it costs 6 mana it had better read “you win the game” on it. Another flyer that costs 4WW has recently made lots of waves in Standard – Yosei. Funny enough, the Valkyrie works very well with Yosei. If you can get both into play with a way to sacrifice the Yosei every turn (Greater Good, for instance), then you've got what we in the business like to call a lock. Your opponent will never get another untap phase and never more mana than one land played can produce. If she has a place in Standard, it's going to be in that deck.

Matt Cavotta, resident flavormeister of mtg.com, gave us a very flavorful (if slightly unimpressive) contribution.

Heidar, Rimewind Master 4U
Legendary Creature – Human Wizard
2T, Return target permanent to its owner's hand. Play this ability only if you control four or more snow permanents.

The first non-snow card of the week is the one that cares the most about the snow. Heidar – for those of you who don't actually read the articles – is the madman responsible for the snowiness in the Coldsnap flavor. He's the crazy guy who's trying to refreeze the world. For some reason, blue characters always seem a bit underwhelming when translated into cards. Heidar is kind of lame even though he's currently the biggest threat to the continent (or benefactor, depending on who you talk to). The same was true of Ixidor. That guy had the ability to create matter out of dreams. He created Akroma! And what do we get to represent him? A lame guy who acts as an even lamer Lord. Oh well. Back to Heidar, he's fairly poor. 5-mana creatures, like 6-mana creatures, should do something special if they want to see play. Heidar – instead of doing something special – does something that another blue creature – Temporal Adept – already does. He does it a bit cheaper (and easier on the blue mana) but at the cost of speed and restriction. All of the things I said about Snow in the Yeti's profile apply here as well. While getting 4 snow permanents is a lot easier than finding 4 snow mana, it's still not guaranteed in limited. Heidar's still a fairly solid choice. In the late game, he could become an absolute bomb. Either bouncing your opponent's best creature every turn or allowing you to reuse some abusive effect over and over. Just don't expect him to be the only win condition you'll need. As for constructed, I would be surprised if anyone even attempted to use him. 5-mana 3/3s need to say “You win this game and the next one”.

Mike Flores relieved the woes of the Spikes this week with a very tournament-worthy card.

Ohran Viper - 1GG
Snow Creature – Snake
Whenever Ohran Viper deals combat damage to a creature, destroy that creature at the end of combat.
Whenever Ohran Viper deals combat damage to a player, you may draw a card.

Flores has already discussed the constructed implications of this card in depth. He's got a lot more clout than I do, so I'll leave it to him to tell you why this is a great card. Simply let it be known that I agree strongly with everything he says. As I'm much more of a limited afficionado, I'll talk about what the Viper does there. It's a bit less impressive in limited, honestly. The chances that you'll get your Viper on turn 3 are a whole lot smaller, because you're not likely to ever have more than 1 in your deck. That being said, this is a fantastic card. Remember back in Mirrodin block drafting? There was a card called Tangle Asp. It did the same thing as Ohran Viper except that it couldn't draw cards and cost one fewer mana. That saw play and was a whole lot worse than this. Ohran viper is very cool. Don't expect it to be your game-winning bomb, but be very pleased when you open one. Put it in your pile and be happy that you've got a money rare that will serve you well in the draft as well.

The next card is a bit underwhelming but it does show off another new mechanic.

Garza's Assassin – BBB
Creature – Human Assassin
Sacrifice Garza's Assassin: Destroy target nonblack creature.
Recover – Pay half your life, rounded up (When another creature is put into your graveyard from play, you may pay half your life rounded up. If you do, return this card from your graveyard to your hand. Otherwise, remove this card from the game.)

Recover is a very neat little mechanic. Unfortunately, the preview card here has a serious flaw. It take a whole lot for any card that says “Pay half your life” to be worth playing. Garza's Assassin is fine as a potential 2-for-1 removal card. If you want to get more out of it though, it's going to be very expensive. The mana cost is also a bit prickly. BBB isn't easy, even in a two color deck. And this is the kind of creature you want to get out quickly. Seal of Doom may not have the attacking power or the recovery ability, but I still kind of prefer it to this guy. It's a shame too because I love the art on him. Garza's Assassin is going to be drafted slightly higher than a Dark Banishing normally would be, but that will mostly be due to the fact that's it's rare. Don't expect it in Standard, either. It's a neat card though. And hey – it makes Assassin tribal stronger. The mechanic definitely has promise though. I can't wait to see a good card that has it.

The final preview card for the week is our first look at another returning mechanic – cummulative upkeep.

Cover of Winter – 2W
Snow Enchantment
Cummulative Upkeep S
If a creature would deal combat damage to you and/or one or more creatures you control, prevent X of that damage, where X is the number of age counters on Cover of Winter.
S: Put an age counter on Cover of Winter.

It's a card with cummulative upkeep that you want to put more age counters on! A very neat look at the Cummulative Upkeep mechanic. And it's a pretty strong card, too. Normally cards like these only affect you the player. And normally they are ignored. However, this has potential. White Weenie decks often run into a problem when their armies run into other armies and die. This can stop that. If your opponent's goblins or Caryatids or whatever are bothering you, Cover of Winter can keep your troops safe while at the same time protecting you from a counterattack. That's a cool little double duty for this card. The trade-off, of course, is the cummulative upkeep. It's a Snow-mana upkeep, so don't expect to get more than a couple turns out of this in limited (where it probably isn't worth playing without at least 4 or 5 sources of snow mana). In constructed I think this could really shine though. It definitely begs for more investigation.

My last item for the week is to take a look at this week's Selecting 10th Edition vote. Paladin en-Vec won the vote last week, as most people predicted. It was a close one, though. And that gives me hope. This week is a three-way choice between three of the greatest green creatures of all time. Troll Ascetic, Ravenous Baloth and Ernham Djinn. Now, obviously, the Djinn is just here to cheer the other two on. He's the only one of the three that has a drawback, for one thing. He was great in his day, but he's nothing special now. The Troll vs. the Baloth is a tough call, though. Both creatures were dominating in their day. I'm somewhat interested to see what effect Ravenous Baloth and Loxodon Heirarch being in the same Standard environment together would producee. At the same time, I like the Troll better as a card. It's got more going on and presents just as much of a pain for aggressive decks. So what did I vote for? Well, being that this a green week, I voted for the green party cantidate – I voted for Ernham Djinn. Why did I throw my vote away? To make a point. The old cards still have a place in the new sets. Though this vote will be won on power (one way or the other), flavor and history still matter. And that's my lesson for the day.

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