Coldsnap: Aurochs Stampede Review (Part 1 of 2)
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).
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!