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Attention to Detail #31
Ripple Ripple Ripple
by Jordan Kronick
July 21, 2006

I usually pride myself on some clever article names. My secret desire to eventually become one of the people who writes card names and flavor text expresses itself in the interesting way I deliver these columns. But sometimes a card namer has to give up cleverness and just make a “fire burn” name. And sometimes a columnist has to just tell you right up front what it's all about. This week I want to discuss the Ripple cards from Coldsnap as they pertain to drafting. As CCC evolves as a format, these are going to continue to be some of the most relevant and potentially game-breaking cards there are. In many ways they define the theme of the format as well as how it plays out at the draft tables. Understanding just what's good, what's overrated and what's a very bad idea will help you win. Without further ado -

There are six cards which have or grant the Ripple ability in Coldsnap. Unsurprisingly, the five that have it are common and the one that grants it is rare. As I've come to mention repeatedly, Coldsnap drafting is all about consistency. Consistency is important in every draft, but here it is necessary. In a normal draft (RGD, for instance), having lots of the same cards is important because it means you have a higher probability of drawing that card and therefore can partially predict the course of the game. If you've got three Peel From Realities in your deck, you can be fairly sure you'll see one. When a game goes long and you don't have many cards left in your deck, you can know that (if they haven't come up yet) you have a very good chance of seeing one of those. This kind of consistency is, in general, more important on your answers. Removal is, for the most part, removal. If you're trying to get rid of a 2/2 creature, it really doesn't much matter whether you Disembowel it or Last Gasp it or Pyromatics it, except as far as mana is concerned. Given the choice between a variety of more specific removal (like Darkblast, Pillory of the Sleepless, etc) or a concentrated supply of more generic removal (Disembowel or Last Gasp), it's better to have the concentrated supply. Although the specific stuff tends to be more powerful in the right situation, it's far too often that the situation isn't right and the removal isn't useful.

In Coldsnap, having a concentration of spells often makes the spells more powerful. Let's look at the removal of Coldsnap for an example. Feast of Flesh is a pretty okay card, without the growing ability. Being able to take out a 1 toughness creature is a good thing, and you even get a little life out of it. 1-point removal has a long and sorted history from Death Spark to Nausea to Lose Hope. Each of these cards can be very strong or very pointless. Although a Nausea is great when your opponent's got a bunch of Saprolings, it won't do much to stop the Verdant Force that might have been producing them. Feast of Flesh provides removal that starts out in that realm and slowly gets better and better until it's simply ridiculous. Coldsnap has 55 commons (besides Snow-Covered Lands) in it. Each pack contains 10 of these (since each also contains one land, one rare and three uncommons). That means that in an 8-player draft, 240 commons will be opened. Given even splits among all commons, that's nearly 5 of each individual common being opened. These numbers are often skewed and you may see a draft with only one or two of one card and something like 10 of another. If you can be the person at the draft who happens to get a big pile of the same common – and it's one of the ones where having lots matters – then you're going to be in a great position. I did a CCC draft last week wherein I got seven copies of Feast of Flesh. The count in the draft was exagerated because two of them were foil. Foils don't count in the print runs (in other words, the existence of a foil Feast of Flesh does not reduce the chance that another feast is out there – perhaps in the same pack). When I started the draft, I knew I wanted to play black as it's quickly becoming my favorite color in Coldsnap. When I opened my first pack, the only decent black card to choose from was Feast. Despite some tempting options in other colors, I wanted to stay the course. I got real lucky that so many Feasts were opened, and ended up with a deck that was very hard to stop. Luck in the print runs definitely helps in Coldnsap, and an understanding of what cards are in each print run (which I'm only beginning to understand for this set) can be extremely useful. Sometimes you'll decide to pick a card which matters in multiples and the multiples just won't show up. Either other people are picking the same card or they're just not showing up. This can leave you a deck which is at crossed purposes with itself. Lots of cards that matter in multiples, but none of them the same.

So now you understand why consistency is so important in Coldsnap. How does this matter for ripple? Well, while each of the Ripple cards has an effect without it's Ripple ability, none of them are particularly exciting. A 2/1 first striker makes a decent meat shield for your deck, but it's probably going to get hit with one of those Feasts of Flesh I just mentioned. Now three or four 2/1 first strikers presents a whole other problem. Once you decide to go with a Ripple card (a choice which should be made very early in a draft – probably the first three picks) you need to get as many as possible. It will be a very rare day when you get to deckbuilding and decide you've got “too many” of a ripple card. That being said, not all Ripple cards are created equal. Some of them are devastating and some are just a nuissance – for various reasons. Let's start with that Soldier.

Surging Sentinels may, on the surface, seem like the best Ripple card. After all, it's the only rippling creature. And it can provide you with a daunting wall of first striking blockers or a very strong attack force very early in the game. The problem with Surging Sentinels is that everybody knows how great they are in multiples. Everyone wants to be the person who managed to get 7 of them in the same draft and won every game on turn 3 by concession. As such, they tend to get picked highly. Anybody who sees one coming around 5th pick or later is going to have a strong reason to pick it. Aside from it's rippling ability, it's pretty decent on its lonesome. Even if you don't manage to get a pile of them, it's still a creature you want to have in your deck. First strike almost never sucks, after all. For this reason, it might be the strongest Ripple card, but also one of the least likely to ever find another copy. This is very much a metagame card. If you've noticed in your recent drafts that people are starting to lean away from the Sentinels (for just these reasons), it might be time to lean back into them. Be on the cutting edge of the Sentinel resurgence.

If Surging Sentinels suffers from that problem, then Surging Flame is absolutely stricken with it. Of all of the Ripple cards, this one is absolutely the most useful without any other copies. 2-point red burn is always useful. And this one has no drawback aside from the 2-mana cost. That's hardly much of a drawback considering the potential benefit. In my dozens of CCC drafts I have yet to see anyone get a successful ripple off of this card. They are simply picked too highly. It's very efficient burn and red is already pretty shallow in Coldsnap. If you're playing red you definitely want this, regardless of whether you have any others. Don't pick this based on whether or not you think you can get another one. Pick it because it's burn. You won't be disappointed.

Surging Might provides a very interesting dilemma. It's a lot easier to pick up a bunch of them than Surging Flame and it will often make for much more damage (not to mention a creature that's very hard to kill). The problem is that even if you're getting the eggs for free, it's still best not to put them all in one basket. I've seen many times where a player dropped a Boreal Centaur on turn 2 and a Surging Might on turn 3. They might get it up to being an 8/8 or so with the auras. And that's great. But when, the next turn, the opponent deals with it with Frozen Solid or – even worse – Krovikan Whispers, they're suddenly right out of the game. Much more than any other Ripple card this can win you the game or it can lose it for you. Stocking your deck with spells which can be neutralized all at once is dangerous business. I have two pieces of advice for anyone who tries to make Surging Might their leading edge in the deck. First of all, try to space them out. If you've got two creatures, you can alternate between them. If they remove one creature, you'll still have the other to beat down with. Secondly, always put this on a snow creature if possible. Black has access to a lovely little card called Chill to the Bone that can be a wrecking ball against a non-snow creature piled high with auras. For this reason, one of the best targets is Karplusan Strider. It isn't snow, but it's ability protects it all the same. And on top of that, it also protects it from Krovikan Whispers and Frozen Solid. A fine choice for a beater. Of course, what might be more important than a defensible target is one with evasion. Be it trample (which is the most likely in green) or flying or landwalk (Zombie Musher makes a fantastic target for the Might), evasion can make this card all it needs to be. Even if your opponent doesn't have removal, they might find a big enough defender to neutralize your attack. A lowly Rimebound Dead can stop that Centaur in it's tracks, no matter how large it is. In short, be careful what you do with your Surging Might. It's more than just a lowly Aura, but with great power comes... well, you know the rest.

Surging Ęther is another interesting card. Its surging removal, like the flame, but far more likely to show up in piles (although not very large piles). It can be truly devastating in the early game when it can bouce a couple creatures and any extra copies can be shot at their land to stunt development. It's also one of the few cards in the set that can stop a Marit Lage token. This may seem trivial, but I've seen that token come into play far more times in the past couple weeks than I ever thought I would. To top it all off, it's the perfect choice for stopping something that's been covered with Surging Mights. There are two times when Boomerang-style spells are great. Firstly when you've only got a couple and they happen at the right times to give you the game. Secondly when you've got a ton of them and they can control the entire game. Anyone who's ever been unable to play a single spell in Core Set drafting because their opponent had nothing but Boomerangs and Stone Rains knows exactly what I mean. Surging Ęther embodies this split perfectly. If you just have one or two, they probably won't ripple together. But that's alright. You can still use them in sticky situations when no other removal will do (like a 20/20 flying avatar token). And, of course, if you've got a ton of them you can expect to seriously hurt your opponent's development with an early play. The problem comes in deciding how much is enough for that. I find the number to be five, but it might be higher than that. If you have three copies of Surging Ęther in your deck, they probably won't ripple together. But they just might show up when you don't want them all. Like in your opening hand. Blue has the only way in the set to put stuff back on top (Survivor of the Unseen) but three Surging Ęthers and a Survivor of the Unseen already sounds like a losing deck. In the end, I would say that you either push for a ton of these or stop early. If you've got three in your pool for deck constructed, play one or two but not all of them. They probably won't be as relevant as you're hoping they will be.

This brings me to my favorite Ripple card. Surging Dementia. In many ways this seems like the weakest of the bunch. It doesn't affect the board like Flame or Ęther. It doesn't give you more permanents to play around with like Might or Sentinels. However, of all the surging cards, it stands with Flame as the two cheapest. And, played on turn two, it can be the most devastating in large numbers. I played a deck last night where I started out from the first pick taking every Surging Dementia I could, just to see what would happen. I ended up with seven in my deck (one foil – there's that again). I simply could not lose a game. Every game I started with one (and only one) in my hand. And every game on turn two I got at least three cards out of my opponent's hand. With that many non-dementia cards rippled off my deck (12 rippled plus the 8 cards I'd drawn so far) that left me with 4 Surging Dementias out of the remaining 20 cards in my deck. 1 in 5 is pretty good odds to draw one while it's still relevant. This deck was aided by having three of another amazing discard/bounce card – Blizzard Specter. Don't count on getting three of the same uncommon in your deck, but remember the Dementia. And if you're not playing black (or simply not picking dementias in favor of something else), keep an eye out for them. If you see one in 10th pick or so and there's nothing terribly relevant for you left in the pack, take it. You don't want your opponent ending up with it. If one person at the table manages to get them all, they will probably win the draft with a pinch of luck. If you haven't played Coldsnap draft yet, you might think that I'm overstating the power of a 2-mana 1-card discard spell. The first time you lose on turn 2, you'll know just what I mean.

The last card to make this section is Thrumming Stone. As the ripple-enabler for the set, it seemed appropriate to mention it. Thrumming Stone is one of those tempting cards like Fluctuator or Memory Crystal that makes you think crazy thoughts about crazy combos. While the Fluctuator and the Crystal both accomplished these things, think again about the Stone. It costs 5 mana. That's the first nail in its coffin. The second nail is that it relies on getting a lot of other cards which are the same as each other. The third nail is that these cards have to be relevant on turn 6. It might be a simple matter to get a draft deck with 8 Kjeldoran Outriders, but do you really want to be drawing them (or rippling them) on turn 6? Or would you rather be playing something big and relevant. Thrumming Stone will tempt you. You will open it in your first pack and think “what if”. My advice to all of you is to pass it along and pick the Surging Dementia. It will serve you better in 9 out of 10 games. The one you lose will just have to be written off as not having been worth it.

So that's my thoughts on Ripple. It's one of the most interesting mechanics I've ever seen, as it seems tailor-made for draft, despite being based on consistency. That's an oddity that rarely shows up in Magic. Coldsnap drafting is a very unique format. Have fun while it lasts. I hear Time Spiral will be just a little bit bigger.



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