Welcome dear reader! Today on Salvation Theatre, we are exploring a fascinating new set and its implications for our most prolific tournament format: Standard. My co-host Morgan_Coke and I shall be reviewing the most powerful cards to emerge from the new Coldsnap expansion. We will help you to decide where to spend your precious pounds, and point out cards that are slightly less than useful. We will also be drinking dangerous amounts of gin at noon beside a roaring fireplace.
We are all about business here at the Theatre, but before we deal with the dirty details, some preliminary comments on the set as a whole seem in order:
Lanky: Coldsnap is not as buyable as Ravnica, by any stretch of the imagination. Here be no shock-lands and no Confidants. There are several powerful cards in the set, don't get me wrong, and there is a cycle of uncommons so strong that they could be rares. However, the sheer amount of money returned for money spent is lower by a fair amount. This means that box purchases are generally less desirable, which in turn leads to a slight scarcity of choice rares. My advice here is to get them early, and get as many as you can. Our choices for power cards to go after are not inviolate, but it does not take a rocket scientist to see that cards like Adarkar Valkyrie and Ohran Viper are bombs.
Mana Leak, and then some!
Morgan: I guess we shouldn't be surprised that, in a set that's all about things being frozen, Blue got the most and Red got the least. But wow, did Red ever get the least. I'll only be slightly surprised if not a single Red card from this expansion sees Standard play (barring surprises from TS of course). Blue got a bounty though, with a good Instant speed draw spell, an improved Voidmage, and an improved Mana Leak. Great haul. Black also made out like a bandit with a new combo-riffic variation on Yawgmoth's Will, some playable card draw, and a solid two drop beater. Overall, it's a small set and there isn't any support for its mechanics outside of its own little 155 card universe, but there are enough tournament-level cards that it's worth picking some up.
The Coldsnap Review:
Without further ado; here is today's material. The cards have been broken down into three main categories: Power Cards, Most Overrated Cards, and Sleeper Cards, and honorable distinctions for the best card cycle in the set, and sideboard cards. Within the categories, the cards are organized by colour. Please sit back, relax, and enjoy.
These are the cards you want to trade for as soon as possible. Find the small children, the timmies, the foily obsessive people, and get these cards. My commentary is first, followed by Morgan's in italics.
Adarkar Valkyrie: Bomb! White's best finisher in a long time! There is no downside to running 4 of this card, and she is easily abused with cards like the Martyrs, and removal.
Morgan: This is better than Yosei right now. Combine Flying, Vigilance, immunity to Char and Wildfire, and an extremely relevant tap ability which can grant both card and mana advantage, and you've got the best White finisher since Onslaught rotated.
White Shield Crusader: Jump knights are good times. Solid, reliable, playable. We spikes love it.
Morgan: A very solid white beater, this gets somewhat overshadowed by the abundance of other two mana white beaters floating around right now. Has a much more relevant creature type with the printing of Haakon.
Martyr of Sands: That is alot of life for a little mana. Lifegain is bad in tournaments until you gain that much, then it is amazing.
Morgan:Best lifegain since Pulse of the Fields. Drop this on turn one, chump and sacrifice on turn two. Gain 9-12 life and timewalk the first four turns of any aggro deck. For seven mana this combines with Proclamation of Rebirth to potentially lock damage dealing strategies out of the game.
Haakon: Good Lord God this card is nuts. Get 4, now. The value will be high, and the archtype is building itself. Play Blue Black White Knights.
Pardon me, do you have any WTF?
Pardon me, do you have any WTF?
Morgan: The best card in the set and it's not even close. Get four now. Also, for the next three months, combo with Ashes of the Fallen. Quick 2 second Type 2 infinite mana combo: Ornithopter, Haakon, Ashes of the Fallen, Thermopod. I'm pretty positive someone can come up with something better than that, although the only piece of it you have to actually draw is Ashes, since Lightning Serpent and Maga, Traitor to Mortals could work as your kill conditions, and you can use Wild Cantor to filter the Red mana into mana of any other color you wanted.
Stromgald Crusader: The jump knights are rock solid. See Haakon above for further information.
Morgan: And now, as then, the Black one is still better than the white one.
Commandeer: The only pitch card that can generate card advantage right away, I would never run 4 in a deck, but you can really wreck your opponent with this one.
Morgan: the only spells I could ever see wanting to use this on would be Demonfire, Invoke the Firemind, and Tidings. That said, this isn't quite as card disadvantageous as it looks, because you spend three cards (-3) gain one card (+1), your opponent loses one card (+1), and if they spend a card to remove the permanent/effect, (+1), you nearly break even. I don't like it, but never underestimate the power of a free counter, even one with a "no creatures" clause.
Martyr of Frost: The Blue Martyr is more playable and more powerful than most of the rares. Unfortunate but true.
Morgan: This is everything Voidmage Prodigy ever wanted to be.
Rune Snag: I really like this counterspell. I think it is very strong all around, and I am glad that Wizards is once again experimenting with 16+ playable permission in a single standard format. Be careful with graveyard removal and a savvy opponent, since they can respond and pay less mana, forcing their spell through.
Morgan: Mana Leak, you just got replaced, and improved.
Martyr of Ashes: Red is shallow in Coldsnap, especially in the rares category. This is the best card they have in my opinion.
Morgan: In a control deck with heavy Red elements, this is gold, otherwise, not so much.
Lightning Storm: Running a close second, turning extra lands into shocks is never a bad thing. Also a bomb in Limited, but that is another story.
Morgan: Finally, something to do in Standard with a hand full of lands from Life from the Loam.
Ohran Viper: Wow, this card is savagely good. Ophidian and thicket basilisk had a love child! Get 4 as soon as possible!
Snakes on a Plane?!
Snakes on a Plane?!
Morgan: The fact that it has a relevant creature type is just a bonus. Best Green card in the set.
Hibernation's End: Vaguely reminiscent of a fixed Verdant Succession (since that card sucked) in the 5 mana enchantment slot. Very playable, very slow.
Morgan: Survival of the Fittest crossed with a fixed Aether Vial, this is great if you can set up the right creatures to get with it, in order. A big, big card advantage engine, but it's not a fast one. Needs to have decks built around it.
Sheltering Ancient: Very strong and very aggressive. The drawback is not a big deal in the current standard environment. Glare anyone?
Morgan: Combine this with "prison" removal like faith's fetters and Gelid Shackles. Hello Selesnya.
Coldsteel Heart: It saddens me that the most playable artifact is uncommon, and a small mana fixer. But, hey, there you have it.
Morgan: his compares very favorably to the Ravnica Signets in decks that run more than two colors because it will always "fix" whatever mana you're missing. The only downside is the comes into play tapped bit.
Juniper Order Ranger:Token creation effects at instant speed break this card. Also happens to have a relevant creature type. This should be Selesnya's finisher.
Morgan: Fits right in to most Selesnya/Glare strategies, he's like Scion of the Wild and Glorious Anthem together.
Scrying Sheets: With enough snow cards, this land is broken. Any land that can generate card advantage is an instant classic.
Morgan: If the only Snow cards in your deck are some basic lands, this isn't worth it, but if you can hit around 25+ snow permanents, this is a very solid option, especially if combined with something like Sensei's Divining Top or Survivor of the Unseen.
Mouth of Ronom: An uncounterable FTK effect on a land? No fat body, but who cares! Sign me up.
Morgan: Six mana and a land drop gets you a colorless Char on any creature. It's worth it to a lot of decks, especially if said deck runs Life from the Loam.
Darien, King of Kjeldor: Six mana for a 3/3 that can be removed very very easily in this format. No thanks.
Morgan: Best case scenario, you've got a one turn delay permanent Eye for an Eye going. For six mana.
Garza's Assassin: Paying half of your life to Terror is just bad, sorry.
Morgan: If you can pay BBB easily, this is Seal of Doom with a 2/2 body. The Recover cost is irrelevant because it will never be paid.
Arcum Dagsson: Four Mana for a 2/2, and next turn you can finally start to do whatever it is you are doing. I don't see anyway to break this fixed tinker in standard. If one comes along, rejoice.
Morgan: I chose Flashfreeze. This is a lot like Deathmark, in that both do something the color is already good at even better, but in a more limited fashion. Both have the same problem, namely, that they'd be devoting sideboard space to get a better version of a spell that's already in their main deck.
Fury of the Horde: Relentless Assault was not a red card of choice, I fail to see how this will be any better. Next!
Morgan: I chose Karplusan Wolverine instead. If I hear one more person compare this to Mogg Fanatic I'm going to puke. Honestly, what Red one-drop are you going to cut in order to play this? Kird Ape? Scorched Rusalka? Frenzied Goblin? I'm not even sure I'd run this over Frostling given the importance of being able to ping BoPs and Bobs. Yes, he pings something for free... IF he gets blocked. So it's up to your opponent to decide when, and if, he gets to use the ability, Fanatic was good because that was your decision. Last time I checked, attacking with a one power dude wasn't the best thing unless you had a bunch of them.
Allosaurus Rider: Wow, why am I pitching two cards to cast this again?
Morgan: Three cards for a 2/2 on turn one that grows with the number of lands you play? Can't Green pretty much do that or better anyways?
Diamond Faerie: I dislike mechanics that feel this forced. Plus, she sucks.
Morgan: For multicolour I chose Vanish Into Memory. We've known about this card for a long time, and I honestly still can't tell if it will be good or not. Removes auras, at least temporarily draws you cards at instant speed, but it costs four mana. Why spend four mana to temporarily deal with an attacker when you could just Wrath?
Jester's Scepter: I see some small amounts of potential, but it is still too situational for constructed.
Morgan: This card is basically the new Circu, Dimir Lobotomist. You mill five cards, two of which are probably lands. Then you can spend mana to counter a spell if they draw another copy of it. Yeah. Not.
Dark Depths: Aether Snap anyone? No? Crap. Far too many removal spells deal with this.
The depths to which we have sunk!
The depths to which we have sunk!
Repeal deserves a mention as the answer of choice here.
Morgan: I've read some comments by some pretty smart people arguing that this card is good. They say that while it is bad vs. Repeal (or bounce in general), it's uncounterability and the commonality of the Urza Lands makes it a solid win condition. That's silly. Here's a short list of some of the cards in Standard that stop this thing dead in it's tracks: Condemn, Faith's Fetters, Hit, Cruel Edict, Pillory of the Sleepless, Gelid Shackles, Devouring Light, Willow-the-Wisp, chump blockers, Eye of Nowhere, Repeal, Stone Rain, Ghost Quarter, Creeping Mold, Wrecking Ball, Wreak Havoc.. etc, etc. I think the only deck in the format that can't stop this guy maindeck is Gruul. And honestly, if you can spend 31 mana against Gruul, you would have won with Leashling decking. Best case scenario for this, it hits play and you can spend 9 mana a turn on it. Your opponent still has a four turn heads up that he has a 20/20 coming to deal with. Tomb of Urami was this land done right, and that barely sees play. The best magic art I've seen in a good long while though, and an exceptionally flavorful card.
Woolly Razorback: Seems like a crap rare at first doesn't it? Then you realize that your opponent cannot really afford to attack into it very often, since it gets pissed after a bit and goes nuts on his face. I like the card alot, but it needs a home.
Morgan: I chose Gelid Shackles. If Condemn is the defensive half of Swords to Plowshares, this is the offensive half, allowing WW to remove a troublesome blocker or utility creature for the meager cost of W.
Soul Spike: Paying three black cards for a soul feast seems bad at first, until you note that this card can be used like fireblast in legacy sligh. Nothing wrong with free burn! Use those extra Haakons!
Morgan: I chose Phyrexian Etchings instead. If this lives for three turns you'll have drawn six cards for eight life and six mana. At four turns that's ten cards for ten life and ten mana. That might sound like a lot of mana, but its less than you'd pay to draw that many cards in Extended with Life from the Loam and Cycling Lands. It's not Necropotence, but it is better than a lot of people are giving it credit for.
Counterbalance: Free permission is a powerful effect, but this needs some quality library manipulation and some luck to even function. It works best in the early turns when you know the maximum amount of mana an opponent can use. I sense that 2 mana will be the magic cost.
Morgan: This is worth some free counters as long as Sensei's Divining Top is around, but much like Spell Snare, it will be very situational. (Perhaps even more so. -L)
Braid of Fire: It can perpetually pay for a 1 mana cumulative upkeep by itself. Unfortunately, short of a deck packing a ton of Demonfire effects, I see no other powerful constructed uses.
Morgan: I chose Fury of the Horde instead. I only mention this because it says "win the game" for 0 mana. That said, Standard Red has no card drawing to speak of, so I really don't see this being relevant unless you go with some kind of mono-red LD/Owling Mine weenie strategy.
Brooding Saurian: First and foremost, 4/4's for four mana are good, hands down. There are others in constructed today that clearly outrank this guy, but you cannot deny that the effect is powerful, and I think this will be extremely popular once Time Spiral hits the scene.
Morgan: As long as he's in play, theft effects are toast, however, given his complete lack of other abilities, that probably relegates him to a sideboard role at best, and then only if Eminent Domain style decks are big in your area.
Phyrexian Ironfoot: Excellently costed fat with a minimal drawback. You can play this card in deck archtypes that lack aggressive creatures, and no other colours to find them in.
Morgan: Compares reasonably well to Steel Golem and its ilk. If you're playing a control style deck in a color that doesn't get good cheap creatures (blue), this is for you.
Garza Zol, Plague Queen: Annoying to cast, but the built in haste and curiousity means that you will probably gain card parity at the very least. Excellent reanimation target, especially once the dragons rotate.
Morgan: Big, bad, hasty, and thriving on chump blocks, she's a great finisher, but right now she doesn't have a deck. That may change.
The Tap-Snow Dual lands: In allied colours and the uncommon slot, these lands add even more powerful mana production to standard, making colour screwing extremely hard to do. I do not think they will truely shine until Kamigawa rotates out, and the deckbuilding and colour combinations truly go nuts.
Morgan: Solid, and help a little bit if you're playing an allied color pair, but since you can already run 12 duals in any two colours, I am not sure how often these will see play.
Best Card Cycle:
The award for the best card cycle in Coldsnap goes to the undeniable winner: The Martyr Cycle. These creatures are somewhat similar to the the scent cycle from Urza's Destiny, and are in fact more powerful in many instances. They truly deserve this distinction.
Coldsnap is an unusual set with unusual cards. It is an attempt by Wizards to continue a block long dead to Standard play and to re-create a milieu and design from Magic's first years. Since that time, the entire philosophy of design behind the game has changed, and one could argue that a set like Ice Age no longer fits with the general design of the game's new sets. Coldsnap is caught in the middle, with a distinctly "old" feeling to the cards and mechanics, yet some clear evidence of newer card creation philosophy. I personally feel that the set suffers from this tension, but once again we have been given some powerful and original cards, and one certainly cannot complain about that!