Yesterday’s Magic in the 21st Century

Posted in Feature on August 17, 2006

By Brian Rogers

A lot can happen in 10 years. In 10 years, we jumped from CDs to digital downloads. In 10 years, we ended one war in Iraq and started a second one. In 10 years, they still haven’t found a way to let small market baseball teams compete with big market teams. In 10 years, we went from living in reality to watching it on TV. In 10 years, I turned into a grown up, yuck. In 10 years, Magic has gone from a simple little game that my friends and I would play at lunch to a world-wide phenomenon that gives away millions of dollars a year to the top players at the Pro Tour.

Of course, it’s the changes in Magic over the last 10 years that I am going to focus on now. Coldsnap is a real “blast from the past” for me. The cards are formatted and templated like the cards of today, but the names and the feel really do bring back a little bit of the old school feel of the game. No card did this better for me than Jokulmorder.

The first time I saw this giant monster, it took me back to opening booster packs of The Dark with my high school friends at one of their houses. I remember opening a pack and seeing Leviathan, the biggest creature in the Multiverse at that time. It was amazing! Sure, there were lots of drawbacks and it cost a ton of mana, but that didn’t matter to me back then. When I opened my first booster of Coldsnap and saw my rare, Jokulmorder, staring back at me, all of those memories, the good old days, came right back. For just a second I was a kid in high school again. It didn’t matter how many lands I had to sacrifice to play it, it didn’t matter what I had to do to untap it, I wanted to see this thing hit play and see the look on my opponent’s face.

Cards the Grown-Up Me Might Play

The first time I drafted Coldsnap, I drafted a Scrying Sheets. I absolutely loved this card in Limited! I was playing a very control-oriented deck, black, blue, and white. Once I was able to stabilize, this land provided the extra cards that put me well ahead in every game in which I was able to use it. I wondered whether Scrying Sheets would be able to provide the same type of advantage in a Constructed environment. If there were a deck archetype that relied heavily on Coldsnap cards, it might be possible; however, creating an entire deck primarily out of such a small card pool just can’t match up to what is possible in an environment like Standard. The best possible option for the Sheets sadly is if you play snow-covered lands in your deck. This summer, there is just not enough snow to make this card the powerhouse that it was in my Limited deck.

By far, however, my favorite card from Coldsnap is Jester’s Scepter. I recall the buzz at Origins ’95 in Philadelphia right after Ice Age came out. Jester’s Cap and Jester’s Mask were the two greatest cards ever printed. They let you search your opponent’s deck and mess with his or her strategy. Well, as it turned out, Jester’s Mask cost a little too much and was too slow to be very effective. Jester’s Cap was widely used with mixed results. However, I think Jester’s Scepter might have the advantage. Unlike Jester’s Cap, you don’t get to choose the cards you remove, but your opponent doesn’t get to find out what they are until it is too late. For only two mana, you can counter any critical spell that your opponent plays. This card reminds me of an article I read about the design of Cursed Scroll That card was designed to promote bluffing. I have five cards in hand and use my Cursed Scroll; I say counterspell, oops, and you picked something else. But now you think I have a counterspell in my hand. Now, with Jester’s Scepter, every spell you play, I may have a counterspell for.

Can’t Buy What I Want Because It’s Free

Commandeer, Sunscour, and Soul Spike seem like cards that could make an impact on Standard. All of them cost too much to play using their casting costs on a regular basis, but each one is good enough that having a couple in your deck might make sense, and it may be worth using three cards in your hand to get these effects.

Soul Spike seems to be best in an aggressive black-red deck (is there any other type?). The last couple of damage is always the hardest to deal when you are playing aggro. Soul Spike might supply just the type of surprise you need to get that last four damage in. It is especially useful that this drain life is an instant. Very rarely in Constructed will that four damage to a creature matter; using this card on a creature seems like too much of a losing cause.

Commandeer is certainly no Force of Will; however, the ability to not just counter, but to steal a spell with no mana will be tempting for many. There always seems to come a time in a game when you are playing control that you have one turn that is pivotal, and if you can make it past that turn, you can win. Commandeer can provide the extra umph you need on that turn, but it may empty your hand enough that you can’t come back. Also, keep in mind that Commandeer will do absolutely nothing to spells with global effect like Wrath of God.

Speaking of Wrath of God, Sunscour is an interesting variant on this classic spell. Aside from costing way more mana than Wrath, this spell has one more interesting difference. Sunscour destroys all creatures. Just destroys, so they can still regenerate. Initially, this might seem like a disadvantage, but when you plan for it by playing some regenerating creatures in your deck, this becomes an advantage. Also, since you can use the alternate cost to play Sunscour, you will have plenty of mana open for regenerating your army.

Since I am on the topic of “free” spells, I should mention the one card that is closest to being “free” in Coldsnap, Mishra’s Bauble. Very similar to Urza’s Bauble from Ice Age, Mishra’s Bauble costs no mana and even replaces itself in your hand once it is used. There was a time, long ago, that I thought Urza’s Bauble should be in just about every deck. I thought that it essentially reduced your maximum deck size from 60 to 56. However, this obviously isn’t correct. Trying to use either Bauble in this way results in a couple of problems. First, it makes decisions about mulligans more difficult. If I have a hand with one land, a Bauble, and five other cards, I have two chances to draw a land before I miss a land drop, which is better odds, but still uncertain. Also, drawing a Bauble may delay drawing that critical spell in your deck one turn too many, and that can mean the difference between winning and losing. Still, in a deck where a cheap artifact might make sense, this card can still be playable. It would have been awesome if it had been available for affinity.

Other Cards of Note

Phyrexian Etchings is an interesting variant on both Necropotence and Phyrexian Arena. This card will never give the massive advantage that players once immediately achieved with Necropotence, but it will do the same job the Arena does a little more aggressively. The part of the design that I love the most is how the greater the card advantage you receive from the Etchings, the faster it restricts your mana. However, once you are drawing three or four cards per turn, you should be able to drop a swamp each turn to continue paying the cumulative upkeep. Just watch out for enchantment destruction—when this card is destroyed, it can end the game. Of any card in Coldsnap, this is the one I see inspiring its own deck the quickest, particularly combined with Soul Spike.

When I first read the game text on Arcum Dagsson, I thought I had missed the part where it said that I had to pay the difference in the mana cost from the artifact creature and the artifact I searched for. I reread the card. I still missed it. It took a while to realize that this text simply was not there. Just like any creature, Arcum Dagsson is fragile and vulnerable on the playing field. Still, a creature with an ability that is as cheap and flexible as this must have some place in Magic. I don’t know where that is, but it is worth some serious looking into.

Each summer, it seems like White Weenie makes a resurgence. Coldsnap has plenty to offer this classic deck. Most impressive is Field Marshal. The long-standing question about the optimal White Weenie build has been whether is it better to add more creatures to the deck, or give your creatures a boost, using Crusade or Glorious Anthem? Field Marshal gives you a chance to do both.

Stop Reading and Go Play

Hopefully I have given you some ideas on how to use some of the great old cards from Coldsnap. I will leave the details of the decks these cards will inspire to the real pros, all of you. I hope you have found Coldsnap to be as much a breath of fresh air as I have. Some cards, like Ohran Viper, that will likely see Constructed play, I didn’t mention, because it is just an efficient creature that will fit into an existing deck. The cards I focused on will hopefully prompt you to design the next big Standard deck.

Opening the first boosters of this new set that I got took me back to the first Ice Age boosters I opened. I remember driving an hour to St Clairsville, Ohio to the nearest mall (remember, I live in the middle of nowhere, West Virginia) and stopping in a little park in Bellaire, Ohio on the way home. That park is where I played my first games using Ice Age, sitting on the sidewalk. In Coldsnap, it was Jokulmorder that I will always remember as my first rare; back then it was Polar Kraken. How times have changed.

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