Coldsnap Draft Archetypes

Pete Jahn

I have drafted a fair amount of Coldsnap recently.  The week of the online release I bought 21 packs, and despite joining 3 leagues / sealed PEs in which I won almost nothing, I have drafted a couple dozen times and still have 9 packs left.  I have bumped my online limited rating up over 100 points since Coldsnap appeared online.  (Of course, since my rating was garbage to begin with...)

I like Coldsnap, and Coldsnap appears to like me right back.
I’ll start with some of the real basics of the format. 

Snow is important, for most of the main archetypes.  You have to take snow lands early, because they will disappear.  Coldsnap is unlike previous formats, where you had to draft playable creatures early and could wait on mana, because Coldsnap has hoards of playable creatures.  You can always pick up playable bodies late, but don’t count on late pick lands or artifact mana.  (Actually, Coldsnap only has one piece of artifact mana – Coldsteel Heart – and that is 1) an uncommon, 2) snow and 3) produces every color of mana.  The format was very few cards worth picking over Coldsteel Heart.)

Snow mana powers a lot of useful effects, from the “can’t attack half” of Gelid Shackles to the untargettable ability of Frost Raptor to untapping Phyrexian Ironfoot

Phyrexian Ironfoot, by the way, is the other stupid good uncommon.  It is a snow creature, and with it’s 3/4 stats for three mana, it stops most early attacks dead.

One thing it cannot stop is Ronom Hulk.  Ronom Hulk is a common creature.  It is also a 5/6 splashable beating stick with protection from about half the cards in the set.  A lot of decks just lose to the Hulk, and very few can deal with him easily. 

The format has a few seriously good cards, but nothing that is a complete bomb.  I have beaten opponents that not only have but have cast Sunscour, Heidar, Rimewind Master, Garza’s Assassin and Rimescale Dragon.  They are all great cards, but not broken.

Weenie Beatdown

The first archetype concentrates on getting a lot of 2/2 for 2 mana creatures, a few combat tricks and some spot removal, and tried to race.   These decks are almost always white, because the main creatures are Ronom Unicorns, Keldoran Outriders and Surging Sentinels.   Squall Drifter is good, because it can fly or tap most opposing creatures, and Gelid Shackles can neutralize a blocker.  Keldoran War Cry, in multiples, is absolutely necessary, because it can pump your weenies enough to get through blockers.   Boreal Griffin is a readily-available finisher.

Resize, a great combat trick, can justify going green, which will also allow you to run Bull Aurochs and Boreal Centaurs (much better if you have snow mana.)  Green can also let you use the Auroch’s Herd chain (see below) as a fallback plan.  GW, when it can lay hands on a Resize or some big Aurochs, is probably the best version of weenie beats.

A couple Frost Raptors, or a bomb like Heidar, Rimewind Master, could justify UW weenies, but blue does not bring much to the party.  Rune Snag can help, but aggro weenies likes to be tapping out.   At best, an Adarkar Windform might help force through the last bits of damage – but weenie decks don’t always have enough snow mana to make that work.

Black brings a couple removal spells, and a few marginal beaters, like Krovikan Scoundrel.   Feast of Flesh is a nice method of removing annoyances like Disciples of Tevesh Szat, but you need to draft a lot of Feasts before they are more than sideboard cards.  Balduvian Fallen can fit this deck nicely – with even a couple swamps, the Fallen is a 5/5 monster – just remember that you do not have to use red or black mana for it’s upkeep.

Red is a nice splash, if you can grab a Surging Flames or Stalking Yeti, or so, but it is not really all that great a second color.  Goblin Rimerunner is nice, but expensive for a weenie deck.  Goblin Furrier is so bad against anything with snow it’s not exciting.  The best removal card in the format, Skred, is not too useful in this deck, which usually has relatively few snow permanents. 

Overall, I am not thrilled with the weenie beats archetype.   Fast creatures can definitely win, but sometimes you open with some 2/2s, and the opponent opens with Phyrexian Ironfoot, Karplusan Strider and Ronon Hulk and you just lose.

Snow Control

The next archetype is built around snow permanents and Rimewind Taskmages.  The Taskmages are your primary defense.  You have to draft snow lands and snow permanents early, here, because you need four snow permanents to turn the Taskmages on.  Getting a Coldsteel Heart is worth at least a fist pump, if not a victory lap, in this archetype.

Removal is always good.  Skred, if you can make the mana work, are amazing in snow decks.  Deathmark is also highly desirable, because it kills Ronon Hulk, which can otherwise give the deck a pain.   Frozen Solid and the Taskmage are other solutions to the Hulk.   

Small snow dudes are strong in the archetype.  Rimebound Dead works, and Zombie Mushers are very strong.  Disciples of Tevesh Szat is quite good, since the Taskmages can also untap them, allowing a single Disciple to off a two toughness creature. 

Frost Raptors are snow creatures, evasive fliers, and you should have the snow mana to defend them.   Other finishers, like Adarkar Windform and on up, are not that important in this archetype.  If you can establish Taskmage control, you can pretty much win with anything.     


Aurochs Herd is a 4/4 trampling creature that gets larger if it attacks with other Aurochs.  That, alone, would not make it all that interesting.  What makes the Herd worth building around is that, when it comes into play, you can search your library for another Auroch card and put it into your hand.  On a good day, you can draft 3-5 Herds, plus a few other Aurochs.  After a couple turns, you will have a bunch of Aurochs, and can attack with multiple 8/4 tramplers. 

The perfect final Auroch to search out is Rimehorn Auroch.  That card can force multiple opposing creatures to block a particular creature.  I have won many games when I attacked with a bunch of Auroch, and all the big defenders blocked my 1/1 elf.   Rimehorn Auroch can also kill some creatures, like freshly cast Rimewind Taskmages, that cannot tap or otherwise prevent themselves from blocking. 

Beyond the Aurochs, the deck needs mana acceleration, like Boreal Druid and Into the North, removal (if possible) and some mid-range creatures (like Simian Brawler and Karplusan Strider) to flesh our the mana curve.

Aurochs can combine well with red, or white.  RG decks add burn, removal cards like Stalking Yeti, and some decent mid range cards like Ohran Yeti and Thermopod.  GW combine some early pressure with weenies with a late game Auroch chain, and a few Kjeldoran War Cries to use as combat tricks.

Krovikan Mists / Martyr of Frost

Krovikan Mist is a the blue part of the cycle of cards that get better the more you have.  In the case of the Mists, it is a 1/1 flier that gets +1/+1 for each other copy in play.   If – and this is the same if that applies to all the surging cards – you can draft a half dozen or more, then you can build a very good air force quite quickly.  If you can only get a couple, or don’t draw them quickly, then they can all just die to cards like Disciples of Tevesh Szat

The other half of the equation is, according to some drafters, a bunch of blue counters and bouce, and some Martyrs of Frost.  The frosty guys allow you to cheaply counter other threats.  Personally, I don’t think this part of the archetype works, but it can slow down the opponent long enough to get some fliers out.

Martyr of Ashes / Icefall

This archetype, on the other hand, can work.  The goal, here, is to draft a lot of Icefalls and a lot of Martyrs of Ashes.  Generally, other archetypes don’t value these cards much, so they often go late.   The goal is to Icefall an opponents lands on turn four, then to sacrifice a Martyr to wipe the board the following turn.  Sacrificing the Martyr allows you to recover the Icefall and smash another land the next turn. 

Generally, you want to smash snow lands first.  Zombie Mushers, Rimebound Dead and other regenerators can be a problem, but if you kill all the snow mana, theose creatures cannot regenerate. 

To make the Martyr work, you want to draft lots of red cards.  Surging Flames and Skred are great, but Ohran Yeti, Goblin Rimerunner and Thermopod are all fine cards. 

However, the critical cards are Icefall and Martyr of Ashes.  Icefall allows you to eliminate snow mana, to prevent the snow decks from taking control, and to prevent the Aurochs Herd decks from getting to six mana.  Martyr of Ashes kill the weenie hoards, and the mana elves that power the other decks.  If you can get many of each, you can do well.  If, on the other hand, the draft just doesn’t have many, or if two drafters are fighting over them, this archetype won’t work. 

Martyr of Sands / Grim Harvest

The concept behind this deck is fairly simple, but truly annoying to the opponent when it works.  You simply get a Martyr of Sands into play, and a handful white cards.  You chump block with the Martyr, then sacrifice it to gain a ton of life.  Sacrificing the Martyr will, with any luck, trigger the recover from a Grim Harvest, which you can then cast to get the Martyr back in hand.  Next turn you recast the Martyr again, and repeat.  It is not hard to gain 15-20 life a turn this way. 

You can win either by decking the opponent, or by killing the opponent with a flier, Zombie Musher or other hard to stop attacker. 

Rather than discussing this archetype in depth, I’ll illustrate it.  This is from a draft gone bad, because that is far more interesting than the “I drafted good stuff, won three matches easily....”

I was home, finishing up some random stuff and thinking about lunch.  I was about to shut down MTGO when I noticed that there were seven people in a Coldsnap queue.  I joined, then realized that I really wanted food more than drafting – but too late: the draft started.

I first picked Skred over some junk and a fifty-cent rare.   I was hoping to move into either snow control or RG Aurochs, but red dried up completely.  I got a second pick Coldsteel Heart, but then snow dried up.   Pack four and I nabbed a Frost Raptor, and pack five I saw nothing of any use, so I rare-drafted a Woolly Razorback.  The draft went downhill from there. 

Pack two I first-picked a Deathmark, but had nothing else – and nothing seemed to be coming.  After a couple picks, I was hungry and unhappy with the draft, so I rare-drafted a Jester’s Scepter.  I was rare-drafting, but I figured I should find some way to recoup my packs.  Then I was handed a second Woolly Razorback, and I had a Martyr of Sands from the tail end of pack one.    

Now Woolly Razorbacks can really slow down ground attacks.  The problem is that they cannot do much against fliers or Zombie Mushers – they can’t block fliers, and they can’t race until they have blocked three times.  Evens once they start attacking, a Rimebound Dead, Musher or Gelid Shackles can hold them off forever.  However,  with a Martyr engine going, the opponent needed to deliver a lot of damage every turn.  A few fliers or a couple Mushers could never do enough, and the Jester’s Scepter would make sure I could deck my opponent.

After that, I drafted every Martyr of Sands, white card, Grim Harvest and black removal spell I could find.   Here’s my deck:

1  Boreal Griffin
Chill to the Bone
Coldsteel Heart
Gelid Shackles
Grim Harvest
Gutless Ghoul
Jester's Scepter
Kjeldoran War Cry
Martyr of Sands
Mishra's Bauble
1  Phyrexian Snowcrusher
Ronom Unicorn
Squall Drifter
2  Sun's Bounty
Swift Maneuver
Ursine Fylgja
White Shield Crusader
Woolly Razorback
Snow-Covered Plains
Mouth of Ronom
9 Plains
7 Swamp

And here’s the garbage I had left over:
Commandeer (premium)
1  Diamond Faerie
1  Frost Raptor
Frostweb Spider
Haakon, Stromgald Scourge
Karplusan Wolverine
Magmatic Core
Martyr of Ashes
1  Martyr of Bones
1  Martyr of Spores
1  Mystic Melting
1  Rite of Flame
Steam Spitter
Thrumming Stone
Zur the Enchanter

What can I say.  It looks bad – mainly because it is.  I was able to grab three Martyrs and two Grim Harvests.   I have eight rares – although, even at retail, they don’t cover the price of the packs and TIX it cost to get into the game.  I had a Gelid Shackles – but I had only the single Snow-Covered Plains and the Mouth of Ronom to activate it.  I was even playing bad cards, like Sun’s Bounty, just to increase the white card count.  I had almost nothing to actually chump, and nothing of note to attack with.  That said, I did have a reasonable chance to get the Martyr going, and many decks have a big problem with that.

My first round opponent, however, was playing RG Aurochs.  He dropped a Ronom Hulk on turn five, but I dropped the Martyr and was able to chump.  I got the Martyr / Grim trick going, which kept my stable while his Hulk locked up his mana, and eventually he had to sacrifice it.  However, he then started an Auroch chain, winding up with three Auroch Herds and a Rimehorn Aurochs.  Those things trample, which meant that a chump block really didn’t do much at all.  Worse yet, he then dropped Juniper Order Ranger and a Panglacial Wurm.  Even with a grip of seven white cards, which means a 21 point life gain from the Martyr, you cannot outrun four Aurochs and a fat trampling wurm.  Twenty turns into the game I still had not drawn a Wool Pig, or anything else to deal with the fat, so I died.  

This illustrated one problem – tramplers, and a second problem.  At this point, I was down a game and had only about 12 minutes left on the clock.  The white Martyr deck is very click intensive and very slow.  Unless you are a fast player, and good with the interface, this deck can time you out fairly easily. 

Since I was facing a green deck, the Deathmark came in.  Unfortunately, I had to blow it to kill a Hulk early, but I eventually did get a Wool Pig early.  The Pig died to Resize (yes, he had one, too), but a timely Chill to the Bone removed it from the game.  I was able to get Martyr going, then drew a second so I could Harvest back the Razorback.  I looked like I had stabilized when he played A SECOND JUNIPER ORDER RANGER.  Very quickly those guys got bigger than the pigs, and I had no method of stopping the massive beatdown.  (And it was massive – even with a Gelid Shackles on one Ranger, and after Mouth of Ronom killed one Auroch, he still swung for 46 on the final turn.)

I was six cards short of decking him.   Of course, even if I had, I had about a minute left on the clock for game three.

I lost the match.  Partly, that’s because I drafted a horrible deck.  It’s partly because I faced an amazing deck  (Aurochs chain, Resize, two Juniper Order Rangers,  etc. is the nuts.)  It is also because I was too slow on the interface for the archetype to work well. 

The archetype does work, however, at least for those with a quick mouse.  It has even been turned into a constructed deck, with the Martyrs combining with Kami of the False Hope, and Proclamation of Rebirth standing in for Grim Harvest.    

It’s going to be another month or so before we can start drafting Time Spiral online.  In the meantime, try mixing a bit of Coldsnap with your Ravnica multi-colored goodness. 


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