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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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