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March 26, 2011


Coldsnap: Aurochs Stampede Review (Part 1 of 2)

by Dredd77

The story of Coldsnap is a story of riddles and mysteries. It may seem an odd time to begin the review of a Winter set at the outset of Spring, but as you’ll see there’s actually a certain resonance in doing so just days away from 01 April as well. The set was announced in October of 2005 to much fanfare, along with a very unusual story.

As Randy Buehler explains it, this was a “lost set,” the third in the Ice Age block that heretofore had been something of a cobble-together of Ice Age and Alliances (which fit thematically) and a ‘third set’ of Homelands, which, well… didn’t. The set had long been buried by R&D, who was forced to shelve it due to scheduling conflicts with the upcoming Mirage release. And there it sat- buried in one of Magic creator Richard Garfield’s filing cabinets, until years later it was discovered by a most fortuitous accident.

And thus, Coldsnap was born! Wizards R&D immediately decided that they’d like to release this long-lost descendant to round out Ice Age, punting Homelands from the block structure and giving the players the block they’d originally intended. Of course, this being 2005 they opted to give the cards a modern appearance with contemporary frames and templating, and would even update the Ice Age and Alliances cards they’d be including in the preconstructed decks to be released for the set.

Aside from wrapping up story and thematic elements from the original Ice Age releases, the set also solved a riddle of its own: Aurochs. Aurochs is one of those cards that has caused no small amount of headscratching amongst the player bse throughout the years since its original printing. Why would it reference other Aurochs, when there were no other Aurochs creatures printed in all of Ice Age and Alliances? As it happens, there were a number of Aurochs designed to support the original… but they were all in the Coldsnap design file. What better way to give this new set its place in history, then, than with an Aurochs-based theme deck. Thus, Aurochs Stampede came into being.

Oh, and that bit at the beginning about the significance of starting this set review close to 01 April? Turns out the whole “lost set” thing was a canard. Turns out that Wizards was inclined to make a one-shot set, and Mark Rosewater thought the concept was worth doing. The mythology spun around the origins of the set was just to give it some mystique and fun, which (according to Rosewater) had regrettably backfired.

So really, the story of Coldsnap is one of a PR misstep, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun with it. What better way to begin than with Aurochs Stampede, a Red/Green beats deck and home of the “lost” Aurchos tribe.

The Urge to Charge

Like the seeming majority of Red/Green decks, Aurochs Stampede is engaged in a struggle with its waistline. Tempted by the alluring aroma of massive beaters charging through the red zone, it overindulges on them and presents a rather heavy mana curve. Add in the noncreature support dessert, and the deck becomes positively bloated. Let’s have a look at both:

The deck has its challenge cut out for it- you can have all the mighty creature you want in a deck, but you’ll lose most every time if you can’t reliably play any of them.

The good news here is that five of the deck’s many bodies enable some mana ramping. We begin with a pair of Boreal Druids, a worse version of the Green staple Llanowar Elves. The “offset” for its producing only colourless mana is its subtype of “Snow Creature,” a designation that interacts with other cards in the set- though, as it happens, not with any cards in Aurochs Stampede. One wonders why they didn’t simply use the Ice Age version, Fyndhorn Elves, though it might have been a matter of card quotas from each set.

Beyond the Druids, we have an Orcish Lumberjack, tapping the traditional theme of “all-in Red” to give some fast advantage at the expense of long-term growth. There’s also a pair of Tinder Walls which pull double-duty here, both providing extra mana when needed as well as giving you some early board stall to blunt the tip of your enemy’s aggro spear.

The next class of creatures are your non-themed beaters, and aside from the artifact-smashing one-drop Gorilla Shaman these won’t begin to make an impact until the transition to the midgame in most cases. A pair of Earthen Goo showcase the block’s cumulative upkeep mechanic. This was a versatile (though not entirely popular) mechanic characteristic of the early sets where a particular card gets harder and harder to keep in play. Generally this was in place as a drawback to balance a strong card at a cheap cost- cards such as Glacial Chasm, Illusions of Grandeur, and Brand of Ill Omen are fine examples of this. Coldsnap’s innovation, then, was to modify cumulative upkeep so that it wasn’t entirely a drawback. Sure the core concept was retained (pay more each turn or lose the permanent), but now it became a bit more nuanced, where you’d have bonuses from a card that got bigger the longer you kept it around. Aurochs Stampede includes two such cards, and one of those is Earthen Goo. Starting out a 2/2 trampler for three mana, as its cumulative upkeep gets bigger so does it.

Moving on from there we have a pair of Frostweb Spiders, the deck’s anti-flyer hedge, as well as removal-on-a-stick with the Giant Trap Door Spider. With all but two lands (Highland Wealds) being of the Snow-Covered variety, you’ll almost always have the bonus trample of your pair of Woolly Mammoths on-line when cast. A Deadly Insect offers the usual bargain with a heavily asymmetrical power/toughness ratio- built for attack but often stronger as a defensive threat due to its susceptibility at being traded for some cheap chump blocker.

Finally, we have the Stalking Yeti, an unusually aggressively-costed Red beater with a twist. The Yeti comes equipped with a free “fight” (the R&D term for forcing two creatures to deal their power in damage to one another; a modern example would be Cyclops Gladiator). The Yeti fights upon landing, and has the added ability to return to your hand to be used over and over. Because the Unsummon ability must be played as a sorcery, the applications are a bit limited- generally, one every other turn until you get to seven mana- but it can be a source of brutal card advantage against a weenie-heavy deck, and give you some much-needed spot removal.

And now we’ve arrived at the deck’s marquee attraction- the Aurochs. Arriving in four flavours (traditional, Bull, Rimehorn, and Herd), each of the dozen cards in this class has the standard Aurochs abilities, having trample and gaining +1/+0 for each other attacking Aurochs. The Bull is the early-game version, costing two mana and with a fragile toughness. The rest cost between four to six mana, and will typically begin coming on-line at the midgame. The standard, Ice-Age-issue Aurochs has no abilities other than those given its breed, but the Rimehorn has a targeted Lure attached to it, while the Herd allows a tutor-like effect to fetch another Aurochs when cast (think a more limited- but much larger- Squadron Hawks).

The Thunder in the Valley

With only nine noncreature spells in support, the deck is obviously focused on winning in the red zone, but the support here is fairly solid all the same. If there’s a weakness, it’s in removal as the deck packs only a pair of Incinerates to supplement the Stalking Yeti and the Giant Trap Door Spider. A Whalebone Glider will help break out of a stall by granting one of your midrange beaters flying for a turn, or act as a defensive option against a skies deck if you haven’t managed to retain the services of one of your Frostweb Spiders.

Then you have the expected combat tricks. A Resize is an enhanced version of Giant Growth, and costs an extra mana for the privilege. For that extra mana, though, you are given the recover keyword. Recover gives you a one-time window of opportunity to grab the spell back from your graveyard. If you have a recover card in the graveyard when one of your creatures dies, you’ve got the opportunity to buy it back to your hand. Get caught without the mana, though, and the card instead is exiled. With so many trampling creatures in the deck, Resize is almost like free damage, and should be rebought whenever possible (just be careful not to stunt your own threat development by delaying the casting of your top-range beaters). Balduvian Rage– a Howl from Beyond in Red that limites itself to attacking creatures but more than compensates with a free draw- is another card that will essentially be direct damage riding on the back of a trampler. Finally there’s Bounty of the Hunt, a “pitch card” that’s in the same cycle as the more-famous Force of Will, which can give you some creature boost in a pinch.

This brings us to the last two cards in the deck, both of them the deck’s rares. Shape of the Wiitigo is a creature aura that not only pumps its target to monstrous proportions (adding six +1/+1 counters), but it further rewards you for doing exactly what this deck wants you to do anyway- pound, pound, pound. Hibernation’s End will give hideous card advantage, tutoring out one of your beasties every round until you can’t (or won’t) pay its cumulative upkeep cost, up to six. Beyond that, there’s no point paying it as it specifically states the converted mana cost of the fetched card must be equal to the number of age counters on Hibernation’s End, and there’s nothing in the deck that costs more than six mana.

Despite its rather convoluted and riddling origin, Aurochs Stampede is about as straightforward as they come. Smash in with Red and Green beaters with a smidgen of removal and combat trick support, and repeat until victory. Join us next time when we take it into battle against another of the Coldsnap decks, and see how it fares. See you then!

Read more from Coldsnap, Ice Age Block
27 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ben
    Mar 26 2011

    Ah, Aurochs. Believe me, if you ask most people if this is a real creature type, they’ll say “No”. And they’ll be wrong.

    I’m very fond of Frostweb Spiders and like seeing them in the deck, especially since they can give fliers fits and completely stop their attacks until the spider is dealt with.

    Also, your Aurochs Herd link is broken. It leads to Herd Gnarr instead. The Aurochs are a very fun tribe, if a bit narrow, since all they ever do is attack. But by God are they good at that. And they seem to fit nicely on the curve, going two, four, five, six with the mana accelerators.

    Ahhh, get a Bull Aurochs up in the glider and then send your Aurochs in and watch the carnage. A fine strategy.

    I forgot all about Hibernation’s End. I need one of those. Or two. Maybe even three. Good lord that card is strong.

    All in all, this deck looks incredibly simple. It has but one goal: HULK SMASH! And frankly, that is sometimes the best strategy for a precon to follow, since they often don’t have the complexity to support the other mechanics of the block or any other type of archetype. Looking forward to the playtest!

    • Mar 26 2011

      Hey Ben! Thanks for the head’s up, just fixed the link. Once in a great while, you get a relatively complicated theme deck (Beyond the Grave, Suspended Sentence), but you’re right- oftentimes the right strat for a given deck archetype is to smash face, which is why there are so many of them!

  2. Jon
    Mar 26 2011

    Aurochs are awesome!

    They basically have Battlecry for Aurochs, which is pretty neat. Nice that a lot (if not all) have trample.

    Is it just me, or is Hibernation’s end just rediculous?

  3. Mar 26 2011

    Can’t say I’m familiar with Coldsnap, but this deck looks cool and fairly well constructed. The other posters are right; it looks simple in strategy but needs to be.

  4. Stric9
    Mar 26 2011

    I wish I had been around for the release of this set. Back when I was playing with Ice Age and Alliances, I was dumbfounded by the release of Homelands. Besides being a generally terrible set it had nothing to do with Ice Age or Alliances or any other set for that matter. And even though they hadn’t really gotten into the block sets yet, it just felt completely out of place. I think Coldsnap would fit in perfectly with all my old Ice Age/Alliances cards. I may have to snag a few intro decks just to get a feel for the set. I’m excited to hear about the rest of the set.

  5. Quasigrue
    Mar 26 2011

    I’d stopped playing some time after Homelands…completely out of place. It’s good to read more about what went on back then. I’d stopped playing well before Coldsnap was released, and I’d sold off my Ice Age/Alliances cards long ago…it would be fun to pick up a couple of these.

  6. Ethan Fleischer
    Mar 26 2011

    When Coldsnap came out, I knew I had to get Aurochs Stampede to resolve my feelings of unresolved tribal interactions. Coldsnap was a fun concept that was a perfect lead-in to Time Spiral.

  7. eotfofyl
    Mar 26 2011

    It will be cool to see the coldsnap precons in action, I didn’t even remember about them, even though I was playing at the time….I guess there was so much sets being released at the time(one of the largest standard pools ever, if i’m not mistaken)that I kinda forgot about them.

  8. web8970
    Mar 26 2011

    At last we’re back in the cold harsh days of winter …

    Little has there been in recent days that got that close to alluding to well known fantasy archetypes as the Coldsnap set.

    The hero’s journey through hostile, icy regions? Here you got it.
    The fellowship on their way to Moria on the Misty Mountains? Recite the ring’s poem while shuffling your deck.

    I still fail to understand why this set is treated by Wizards like the no too beloved stepchild, designwise. Reading their comments, it feels like they needed something to fill a gap and that’s all.
    Well, they introduced snow mana which is an entire new quality of mana, widely opening the range of options for creativity. Snow mana definitely deserved a whole block to unfold it’s potential.
    Second, as you outlined, they re-used the cumulative upkeep ability in a new way, which was brilliant. Again, more design space would not have hurt …

  9. web8970
    Mar 26 2011

    As for the Aurochs deck … the effort to use one creature as a base to build a tribal deck upon is clearly visible and reminds of the Fungus deck in Time Spiral. However, this effort seems to be a half-hearted one as the support is limited.

    Given the Aurochs ability (which actually reads like a full throttle Battle Cry with the emergency brake put on), those creatures demand to storm the red zone as a herd. The deck’s creature base, alas, reads like “RG beatdown featuring Aurochs”, thus greatly limiting the potential. What’s more, the main protagonists’ casting costs are far from being the swarm deck needed to make full use of the ability.

    The mentioned average casting cost tends to slow the deck down to a certain extent and makes it pretty vulnerable to control based decks … therefore I’m curious which one of the other CS contestants you would put it up against.

  10. troacctid
    Mar 26 2011

    Highland Weald is definitely a snow land.

  11. Prophylaxis
    Mar 26 2011

    Orcish Lumberjack is a seriously underrated card. You will win games if draw this.

  12. Aaron McPherson
    Mar 26 2011

    As it happens, I was just playing with this deck today, so I caught a couple small errors in the review. First, the Boreal Druid does interact with two cards in the deck: Rimehorn Aurochs and Stalking Yeti, both of which have activation costs requiring snow mana (which Boreal Druid provides). True, since all of your lands are snow lands, it turns out not to necessary in this case, but it technically does interact. Second, the retemplated version of Wooly Mammoths changes “snow-covered land” to “snow land,” which allows Highland Weald to give it the trample bonus.

    In any case, this deck was a blast to play; some of the older cards, like Orcish Lumberjack, seem downright unfair (since when does Red get repeatable fast mana? Plus fixing?), and in general, the quality of the cards is much higher than in current intro decks. I’d strongly recommend it.

  13. Rich
    Mar 27 2011

    I have fond memories of this deck, as it was the first real life deck I bought. Before I had only played the old Shandalaar game on the PC. At university I discovered my house mate played magic, so hit up the local card shop to grab a deck to battle him.

    It made for an ideal learning tool, as the interactions are pretty intuitive as they are limited to burning guys you know won’t be attacking or blocking, and use of the glider/pump spells to get the last damage through. The yeti and spider were the only cards that stumped me for a while.

    It did get stale quickly though, as the curve was so high that a few bad draws that didn’t involve any acceleration or missing a land drop would put you too far behind on the board to recover.

    Have to say the Hibernation’s End was a stand out for me, though it took a while to appreciate an enchantment that seemed to cost 6 mana to find a 1 mana guy. It still makes the cut in a variety of green based EDH decks for an excellent source of green tutoring.

  14. Rob
    Mar 27 2011

    Homelands was a pile. And it perplexed us all a long time ago because it had nothing to do with ice age and alliances.

    Glad they finally tied up that loose end. I remember playing with 4 aurochs in my green deck because I had no idea what I was doing, but I figured if I got all 4 down and attacking, a 5/3 trample wasn’t bad for 4. LOL.

  15. Diennea
    Mar 27 2011

    Whalebone Glider gave me a mental image of a flying, confused and angry Auroch. I’m still laughing!

    • web8970
      Mar 27 2011

      Imagine any Aurochs with Feast & Famine … you’ll have Swords to Plowshares in the most literal sense 😉

  16. Matt
    Mar 28 2011

    This is a pack I had no idea even existed, but it looks like a ton of fun to play. Based on the comments above I can see how people could really have some fun. Especially with Stalking Yeti. Thanks for the post. Looking forward to part 2!

    • Icehawk
      Mar 28 2011

      Ditto. I know little if anything about these old sets. Fun to read about even though I have to click every card, but that’s fun to see the art.

  17. troacctid
    Mar 28 2011

    Of course, the real fun with Aurochs is drafting fourteen of them in one Limited deck. Assuming you don’t get paired against the guy who drafted nine copies of Surging Dementia, anyway.

  18. Mar 28 2011

    I mean, the original Aurochs card makes perfect sense to me, it’s just not particularly good since you need more than one out and you can only have four. Either way, I liked Coldsnap because it brought the game back to a slower form of play that was more common in earlier sets. 6-mana creatures? *Multiple* 6-mana creatures in one game? Hells to the yeah!

  19. Jon S
    Mar 29 2011

    I enjoy reading about the old sets being a new player it gives a perspective on the strategy there in and a look forward.

  20. Jules
    Mar 31 2011

    My school has a pretty casual Magic club which in which people play with the club’s precons. These include one of everything since Ninth edition, and inexplicably an extra copy of each Coldsnap deck. This seems to end up with me playing them a lot, and this is one of the less annoying to play: the cards do things besides changing the snow status of lands!


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