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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
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.
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
T: When target creature other than Adarkar Valkyrie is put
into a graveyard this turn, return that card to play under
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
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
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
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.