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October 21, 2010


Tempest: Deep Freeze Review (Part 1 of 2)

by Dredd77

In 1997, a series of events occurred without which there would be no Ertai’s Lament. The first of these events- the overarching theme- was the release in October of the start of ‘the Rath Cycle’ with Tempest. Tempest is, to date, my favourite set, as enshrined, ensconced and untouchable as most any other long-lived memory (I was 22 then), and I had returned to the game relatively recently after taking a couple sets off.

I’d first started sensing something different with Magic during the Weatherlight set. I’d picked up a box of Mirage and Visions which, while intriguing, seemed as loosely-threaded as previous expansions of the game. But beginning with Weatherlight, Magic had the start of something new: a story.

Certainly there were stories before- wasn’t Antiquities about the Brothers’ War? And Legends was almost like a hundred different snapshots of a hundred different stories, characters and spells seemingly from some mythic age. The Dark? Fallen Empires? More of a narrative than a story. No, Weatherlight had something the others didn’t, which was immediacy and continuity- characters whose story was in the midst of being told rather than retold. And then a few months later, Tempest took the concept and ran with it.

There was something amazing then about being able to lay out a number of the cards from the set and watch the tale unfold like a comic book, but while I could eulogise the set for another three columns, I should move now to introducing that second related event that was in essence the seed that brought us to Ertai’s Lament: Wizards released a new product for Tempest, the preconstructed deck.

There were four of them, and the first one I ever picked up was Deep Freeze. I recently had the opportunity to reacquire it, and give it the Lament treatment- to “see it again for the first time.”

Impossible to Catch

The instruction manual write-up for the deck hailed Deep Freeze as a “classic control deck” that would dominate through “counterspelling and creature control cards.” That isn’t to say that it didn’t have a creature complement, but it was somewhat muted (being only 1/3 of the non-land cards in the deck). In both critters and spells, the deck desperately wanted to get to three mana early, as most of the cards came on-line once that threshold was reached:

By today’s standards, Deep Freeze may seem somewhat quaint, but it’s intriguing to see what Wizards was trying to accomplish with these new preconstructed decks (which were obviously a success- they’ve been releasing them for every expansion ever since). In many ways, this deck was a greatly superior product to the precons we see today, for a number of reasons- and not all of them bad.

The deck begins with a pair of two-drop utility creatures, the Master Decoy (we know these today as the Blinding Mage). Of course, its the nature of a good utility creature to be useful whenever it is played, regardless of the stage of the game, and the Decoys provide some lockdown control for an enemy’s best critter.

Following that, we have an abundance of three-drops! The deck packs in a pair of Soltari Lancers, who are a bit underwhleming with the cost and conditional First Strike, but have evasion in Shadow. Continuing the evasion theme, there’s also a pair of Wind Drakes and a Sky Spirit. Board control on the ground is furthered by two Horned Turtles and a Knight of Dawn.

Beyond that there’s little to play with here: a Cloudchaser Eagle for enchantment removal, and one of the deck’s top-end Rares, the Avenging Angel. Although the Angel might not hold up well with age (see: Baneslayer Angel), we should remember that when the game was young, the power of creatures was kept deliberately low so that they did not overrun the game. It would take some years’ experience for Wizards to begin to grasp the true cost/benefit pricing for this most ubiquitous permanent, and in a permission deck a recurring critter is not a bad fit.

It is, however, in its spells that the deck truly blossom, for while creatures are its only win condition, it places a high premium on protecting them.

“There is Nothing You Can Do That I Cannot Simply Deny”

The bulk of the non-creature offerings in Deep Freeze fall into one of two amply-represented categories: countermagic and removal. The removal suite runs deep and varied, with no less than eight options available (nine if you count the lone Disenchant). This is how it’s done! Modern decks have tended to place the aim of ‘showing off’ the features of a set first, and being actual, effective decks second. The inagural four decks began with these priorities reversed, giving you plenty of muscle to deal with an enemy’s beaters. Two Gaseous Form, two Repentance, three Pacifisms and a Time Ebb ensure that at most any point in the game, you’ve either got removal in hand or are about to draw into some.

Protection for your plans comes in the form of an equally generous serving of courters. With three Counterspells, two Dismisses, two Power Sinks and a Spell Blast, you had a much better than average chance of disrupting your opponent’s best laid plans, and protecting your assets on the ground.

The hits don’t stop there, of course: there’s damage prevention (Anoint, Invulnerability), card advantage (Dream Cache, Emmessi Tome), and miscellaneous disruption (Legacy’s Allure, Puppet Strings, and a card that would later become a keyword known as ‘Fateseal,” Precognition). In summary, here’s the complete curve:

The deck to its core grapples with that element most modern preconstructed decks wantonly ignore: variance. By giving a smaller number of cards a greater presence through multiple copies, it allows its pilot to have greater draw consistency and therefore, a more predictable play experience (contrary to how this sounds, predictability is a good thing in Magic if you are looking to win). We’ve been pleased to see variance decrease with the Scars of Mirrodin decks, and hope for a return to this trend in future sets!

Join us next time when we take Deep Freeze up against another of the Tempest precons, and see how well this first-of-the-series matched up against its rivals!

Read more from Tempest, Tempest Block
12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jars
    Oct 21 2010

    Oh my gosh. That seems like such a swell deck to play with. With Scars of Mirrodin, though, (and you’ve mentioned this with your reviews of its Intro Packs), they’re trying to return to this structure of consistency. Power-wise, WotC still needs to amp the new products’ decks back up to Tempest-level strength.

    Awesome awesome.

    • Oct 22 2010

      It’s funny, I noted that with the Scars decks, but then in recently reviewing Zendikar (and working on the Rise of the Eldrazi decks right now) it’s really stunning to see how much has changed from one block to the next, design-wise.

      I’m looking forward to seeing the “Constructed” pre-cons coming out early next year.

  2. Oct 21 2010

    Oh, you fill my heart with nostalgia … Tempest is the very set that started my addiction to this great game … which is a long time ago now.

    These were the times when it cost nothing more than UU to counter any spell, when there was no Journey to Nowhere, but a Pacifism being the answer to any creature threat. This set came with so much flavor as represented by the shadow creatures, there were little books in the tournament packs that did not only explain new keywords but told a story that any fantasy geek (yes, I’m talking about myself) would immediately adore. And there was Buyback … which reminds me of my Capsize / Aether Storm deck that dominated our kitchen table for a long time.

    Thanks to the Ertai’s Lament crew for conjuring these warm memories as deep freeze is slowly crawling from outside as autumn starts discovering it’s winterly side around here …

    • Oct 22 2010

      If there’s one returning mechanic that would have me overjoyed to see in some future set, it’s buyback. I know they’re going for more flavourful mechanics now, ones that tie in more with the card, but I still have hopes. Capsize and Whispers of the Muse would be amazing to get to see again. Of course, because Tempest was so tied in with story, they’d have to do functional reprints, but still… Tempest was the set that really brought in my love for the game as well. We reviewed a Stronghold deck awhile back, we’ll be getting to more from the Rath Cycle before long- it’s too much fun not to!

  3. Brenex
    Oct 21 2010

    Thanks for your continued work on preconstructed decks old and new! I recently found this site (about a week ago) and because of it have renewed my interest in the game. Precon. decks are a great way to see how the mechanics have changed and a great way to get back in so this was awesome. Looking back, I believe I too first started on Magic when Tempest was released but was pretty young then and never really got into it seriously. After going through the new Mirrodin cards I found they really didn’t do anything for me but your work in the Zendikar block (and upon further investigation) brought me back in strong with its cool mechanics and story. I’m currently building a vampire deck from the ZEN block and M10/M11 and having a blast. Keep it up your hard work!

    • Oct 22 2010

      Thanks for the compliments! We feel exactly as you do, in that precons are some of the most fun we have playing the game because they showcase a particular set and group of mechanics. One game we can be in Zendikar, the next game Rath, and everywhere in between. I think there’s a common misconception that precons are only for new players, or a way to ‘get into the game.’ They are these things, but a blast to play for their own sake too!

  4. eotfofyl
    Oct 22 2010

    Nice, can’t wait for the others…I like the reviews for the new precons, but i’m a huge fan of the old ones, can’t read enough about them.

    • Oct 22 2010

      Good to hear! I’m a huge fan myself, and over time Ertai’s Lament will be reviewing every last one of them. Glad you like the trip through the past, and more will be forthcoming!

  5. Snowgoose83
    Apr 12 2011

    Hey Jay,

    I started playing magic in the time of weatherlight when I could buy some old cards from someone at school. And one of (or maybe even) the first magic cards I bought from the Toystore was this preconstructed deck of Deep-Freeze.

    I was a beginner in magic, that’s why I started playing with the collor’s Red and Green. And I bought this deck to start playing with other collour’s.

    Because blue, was still a difficult collour to play with for starters of the game and because I mainly played with Red and Green collours (because these collors were more easy to play with for starters), most of the blue (and also black) cards that I got out of Boosters I traded with more experienced players for better Red and Green cards. (Probably also because I didn’t understood some more difficult cards).

    Somehow I felt sorry for that later. But when a friend of mine went over to an single green Elf deck with overrun and wanted to sell his White (Crusade) deck to me, I moved over to single White.
    I liked the knights and made an (early creature type) knight deck (wich was not realy good, but more for fun).

    I must say that I bought a lot more boosters from the Saga Block than the Temest Block). It was at the time from Urza’s Saga that I really started buying a lot more cards.
    I had two Rathi Dragons (from Tempest, I loved Dragons) in my Red-Green Deck wich I could replace with Two Lightning Dragons (I loved the art picture on that card) and a Sneak Attack (combined with fling and bloodlust), wich made great changes to my deck at that time.

    Afther Urza’s Destiny I finished highschool and stoped playing magic for a long while.

    When the Bird-Soldiers appeared I made a great Bird-Soldier deck (but I ordered all those cards from thecardkindom). Based on the Soulcatchers’ Aerie and Celestial Gatekeeper and other great bird-soldiers (at that time) I made a combination with Mask of the Mimmic ‘From Tempest’ (If no one whould kill your birds, what happened to me, this can be a great card with the right creature combinations).
    This was a great comeback experience for me to play with a White-Blue deck like the Deep-Freeze Preconstructed deck, wich mad a great impression on me at the time of Tempest.
    My bird-soldier deck was amazing, I had All the great birds and soldiers there were in my collection, I had dual lands in it (I didn’t even needed birds of paradise in it, because they slowed down the deck). I had four Force of Will in it and a lot more counter and some card draw. That’s also why I clearly see a great link between the Deep Freeze Preconstructed Deck and the bird soldier deck I made a few years later.

    Afther I played with this deck I stoped again for a long time, until Lorwyn (because of the Planeswalkers). That’s when I first started drafting, and I played one Draft Tournament in Groningen (in the Netherlands).
    Afther the Lorwyn Set I stoped playing magic again, until resently.

    I love the old magic cards (not the new ones). Probably because it takes me back to the time of highschool. So I bought a lot of old boosterboxes (from the Ice Age block until the Invasion Block) I was still able to find and collect from the internet. And I’m planning to play Draft tournaments with them with my friends from highschool.

    I found this website by exident, and I loved to read your review on the Deep Freeze Preconstructed Deck. So I thank you for that!

    Good luck with the website!



Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Tempest: Flames of Rath Review (Part 1 of 2) | Ertai's Lament
  2. Tempest: The Slivers Review (Part 2 of 2) | Ertai's Lament
  3. Tempest: The Swarm Review (Part 2 of 2) | Ertai's Lament

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