The Lost Sixth Color?

Posted in Serious Fun on July 18, 2006

By Anthony Alongi

This past weekend, I went to the Coldsnap Prerelease in Minneapolis. There were seven other players from our playgroup there during the day, and I think we all agreed the set had a lot of interesting things to offer.

I did well, so I would like to share what I learned. Prereleases are very popular among my readers, and snow is a mechanic I think can really impact the various non-sanctioned formats we play. To explain why, I have to put you all through a bit of tournament reporting. Strap on your ice skates and glide along with me.

Duel Sealed

Here's the deck I built out of my card pool, without hesitation:


Useful Sideboard:
1 Flashfreeze
1 Krovikan Whispers (second copy)
1 Chilling Shade

Key Cards in Other Colors:
Red – 1 Ohran Yeti, 1 Orcish Bloodpainter
Green – 1 Ronom Hulk, 1 Boreal Centaur
White (double-cost) – 1 Boreal Griffin, 1 Glacial Plating
Other – 2 Snow-Covered Forest

Q&A To Set Up The Snow Analysis

Jotun_Owl_KeeperQ: Was this the right build in retrospect?
A: Within one or two cards, yes. I am definitely glad I chose to run white as the third color – the Gargoyle and double Gelid Shackles (and, to a lesser extent, the Jotun Owl Keeper). This move also gave me two additional snow-covered lands, and snow was very important to this deck. I was tempted by the strict U/B build (add another Whispers, Flashfreeze, Chilling Shade, and maybe a Martyr of Frost) – but the third color was clearly worth the mana risk.

Q: Krovikan Mist, eh?
A: Yeah, that's one of the two I wouldn't run again, unless I had multiples. Given that this was a prerelease, where everyone is generally red- or green-happy, I could easily have replaced the Mist with Flashfreeze (which I always did in Game 2). I could also have done without the Drelnoch, which was never really necessary, in favor of a second Krovikan Whispers.

Q: Why not the Chilling Shade? And why not the two Snow-Covered Forests?
A: While the deck needed snow, it only had six sources of it, not counting those Forests. I briefly considered the Forests to get to eight, but ended up passing on a fourth color that couldn't really cast anything, just to play another three-mana flyer I was pretty sure would be a 2/2 on average, with effort.

Q: How'd you do?
A: I went 3-1 – our pods go only four matches, so we can get more pods (and drafts, and everything else) into one day. This is a nice touch by Steve Port, who runs Misty Mountain Games in Wisconsin and does all the Minnesota events.

Scrying Sheets and Gelid Shackles were my most frequent plays – this was a control deck all the way. Nobody else in my pod had ten solid removal spells in their deck – at the 3-0 table, everyone was depending on bombs like Adarkar Valkyrie (which I was dying to meet, but never encountered).

My match loss (and only two game losses) came in a three-game match-up against a fantastic Red/Green rush deck with an unflappable young player. (By young player, I mean older teenager.) I died in game three after keeping a three-land hand with two plays and two four-mana cards. I drew my fourth land on turn 6, and died on turn 8 with seven unplayable removal cards in my hand. I'll accept that this happens; my loss takes nothing away from my opponent, who was a 4-0 kind of guy all the way.

Snow Lessons After Duel Sealed

Frost Raptor
1) Snow requires you to slow down. I believe my control deck did especially well because I played a few aggressive decks that also tried to do snow. I may get proven wrong on this one, but trying to go aggressive with snow feels like trying to go aggressive while holding back countermagic. I wouldn't try it.

2) Snow gets particularly powerful in the late game. This follows from #1. As you accumulate mana, it's nice to have a clear use for it. Whenever I drew more land in the late game (especially snow lands), I often compared my bliss at being able to pump a Phyrexian Snowcrusher or double-activate a Frost Raptor, as opposed to my frustration in previous Limited formats where extra land would do nothing for me. Snow activations give you something to do while your lonely creature out there waits for a companion.

3) Removal is scarce in Limited Coldsnap and doesn't usually require snow. The clear exception was Gelid Shackles, to turn off attacking. The removal in Coldsnap plays in other mechanics – ripple, recover, cumulative upkeep, and so on.

4) There's very little out there that hoses snow. I was never thrilled to see my opponent play Ronom Hulk; but fortunately this particular deck had other answers. Snow's relative free pass on hosing is important to remember…we'll come back to it.

Two-Headed Giant Sealed

For the Two-Headed Giant event, I was thrilled to play with Todd Petit, who just won a Pro Tour Qualifier for Kobe the previous week and wanted to slum with us casual players one last time before the Japanese press catapulted him to eternal fame and fortune.

Todd and I opened two copies of Heidar, Rimewind Master. We decided to have a little fun with this fact. Since we also opened a Blizzard Specter and a Garza Zol, Plague Queen, we were pretty sure one deck would be U/B/r and the other deck would be G/W/r. We built the U/B/r first, and then realized quickly that the red came too fast and thick to call it a U/B/r. This was a dominantly Red/Black deck, with a splash of blue:

Anthony's deck

Todd's deck

What We Wish We Didn't Have to Leave in the Sideboard

Orcish Bloodpainter
Both Todd and I were not sure leaving an Orcish Bloodpainter in the sideboard was the way to go. But we did for a single reason – in Two-Headed Giant, the creatures tend to be bigger and the life totals start at 40. An extra point of damage here and there didn't seem like much. Had I not had three Gutless Ghouls capable of helping me time my recover spells correctly, I might have included the orc. (I would accept the argument that the orc could probably have replaced the third Gutless Ghoul.)

Once again, I left a Chilling Shade in the sideboard. Todd's deck was the true snow deck – had we not been messing around a little, we probably would have given him both copies of Heidar as well.

Finally, we felt (or at least I felt) that leaving all three Drelnochs and both Kjeldoran Javelineers in the sideboard seemed extreme. I'd be interested in revisiting the Javelineers someday, since I saw them used effectively during the duel portion of my day. The Drelnochs? I think they would have made it into one or both decks if they had been snow creatures.

What We're Glad We Left in the Sideboard

We had three Bull Aurochs. In a duel deck, fine. Run 'em, especially since we had another, bigger Auroch already in Todd's deck to make things interesting. But when the life totals start at 40, these are cards you gladly leave behind. Compare them to the Ronom Unicorns, which are useful in the late game.

We also ignored Darien, King of Kjeldor. He's a great card – but in 2HG, where the enemy can choose which head receives the damage, he's a six-mana Hill Giant.

Q&A To Set Up The Snow Analysis

Q: Were these the right builds?
A: Sure, why not. A year into sanctioned 2HG, I'm still not sure there's such a thing as a "perfect build" for two decks out of a huge card pool. I think it has a lot to do with how two decks work together, the styles of the two players, and how willing they are to give up early life.

Zombie Musher
Q: What were the MVPs?
A: Zombie Musher is so very, very good in Coldsnap Limited. We one game/match one on the back of the Musher. Also very good: Rimehorn Aurochs. Note the ability does not necessarily have to force a block with the Aurochs: they can force combat between two different creatures. They were, in at least two games, green removal.

Magmatic Core only came out one of the four games; but it was pretty special once it was out there. The fact that the other team also controlled one made it particularly important.

Since we saw three excellent lands across four matches – Dark Depths, Scrying Sheets, and Mouth of Ronom – we're happy with our decision to include Icefall.

Q: How did you do?
A: In a four-match event, we went 3-0-1. Our draw was with our good friends Laura and Mike Mills, and it was not intentional. We know each other very well as players, and it was quite a chess match until time was called. At that point, I had only seen Mountains and Swamps, and was holding three blue bombs (Garza Zol, Blizzard Specter, and Heidar). Todd, meanwhile, had been holding Sunscour, but had no other white cards to pitch, and only one Plains (though plenty of other land). They had a slight creature advantage on us, but we were at 20ish life while they were at exactly 10.

On the first post-time turn, they play out some more creatures, eat a bit at our life total, and pass. On the second post-time turn, which was ours, I draw an Island while Todd draws a Plains. Perfect! He plays Sunscour. The board clears. I play Garza Zol, one of the few creatures in the set with haste. She halves their life total and draws me another card (Krovikan Rot). They now must draw/play an answer or die.

And they do just that – Laura topdecks a Frost Raptor and has the snow mana to keep it untargetable. Unable to remove it, we accept the draw and all is well.

Snow Lessons After 2HG Sealed

Rimehorn Aurochs
1) Snow is a finesse mechanic. It requires keeping mana open at times when you might not otherwise wish to. Fortunately, in 2HG, you are probably not playing much in the way of aggression, so you should be able to manage this. The question is not having the time/opportunity to play snow. The question is valuing it correctly, at the correct time, versus other investments such as cumulative upkeep, your next creature, etc.

2) One teammate can play snow, while the other does not. While Todd and I certainly both had snow mechanics in our decks, Todd was clearly the snowier player. We could have emphasized this a bit more, and victory may have come to us a bit more quickly at times.

3) There are snow abilities, and there are snow abilities. The most impressive one we saw in 2HG was our own Rimehorn Aurochs. This just comes out of nowhere – the ability even has "haste", in that you can force bad blocks the turn the Aurochs come out. Sure, there are even more impressive creatures (such as a certain dragon). But we didn't see those.

Another, more subtle snow ability was the Zombie Musher's regeneration. In one game, Todd's Sunscour let this durable, nigh-unblockable creature survive, which ended up being the difference between winning and losing.

Snow abilities don't have to be spectacular. They just have to let you do the unexpected, on occasion.

Putting It Together For The Multiplayer Enthusiast

So what can group players take away from all of this?

1) Snow is, in at least three ways, an ideal multiplayer mechanic. First, it gets better with time and mana, which are both abundant in multiplayer games. Second, there is not much out there that hoses it, so it's hard to lose randomly to your investment, no matter how many opponents you have. Third, there are enough cards with enough interesting (and unusual) abilities that you can set up some neat game situations, especially with other people's creatures and combat phases.

2) Snow takes effort, even in casual Limited formats. We've had the chance to do a full Coldsnap Emperor draft, and even among non-competitive groups, I would recommend taking snow lands between 4th and 6th pick, perhaps higher once you know your colors. There are so many snow-activated abilities worth using, you would hate not to be able to use them. (In general, you can expect there to be one snow land per pack – so if you're getting less than three by the end of the draft, you're getting less than the average drafter.)

In addition to the lands, you have to treat snow a bit like a color (or color combination) that everyone can dip into. If you see a Rimehorn Aurochs, realize that not only is it a decent body with a splash-green cost; it's also a multiplayer force with a "splash snow" activated ability. It will not come back around to you.

3) Snow will surprise newer players years from now. It is highly unlikely we'll see snow continue as a mechanic in future blocks – Wizards generally doesn't design set mechanics that bleed into each other – and so snow will be a great way to show what a grizzled veteran you are, down the road. "Yeah, I suppose 2012 has been a good year for Magic," you'll say as you stroke your white whiskers and release a bit of spittle on your young opponent's cards. "But I've been playing this game since Coldsnap, which automatically makes me superior to everyone who began playing as of Time Spiral forward. Anyway, if you want to see something real special, sonny, you'll get a load of this." And you'll plop down your Phyrexian Ironfoot, which normally doesn't look impressive but right now it's in an amazing combo with Fru-Fru Furrier and Wee-Wee Sinkblotter, which are cards I simply can't tell you more about since they're not available for release until 2009.

4) It is possible to write a Snow Week article without using a snow-related pun. As writers on this site, we each have personal goals for our work, and this article's snow different – ah, crap…

Anthony has been playing various Magic formats for over eight years, and has been writing for much longer than that. He writes the JENNIFER SCALES book series with his wife, MaryJanice Davidson.

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