Is Snow Back in Modern? Testing with Three 5-0 Lists

Ice-Fang Coatl

By Soren Wellman

When it was spoiled that Kaldheim would feature the return of the Snow mechanic, I was pretty excited that Ice-Fang Coatl and Dead of Winter could get some new friends to play with. While there were some flavorful, unique Snow designs, such as a snow-god, Jorn, God of Winter and his icy staff, these cards haven’t really shown their worth as constructed staples. However, we did see the release of a collection of enter-the-battlefield-tapped, snow-dual lands for each color pair.

Modern featuring Kaldheim got off to a rocky start when cascading Tibalts and his Trickery created a ban worthy meta game. We all know the results, the largest number of bans since the format’s inception followed by a period of one of the most open metas that we’ve seen for a while. It took a few weeks, but I believe that the meta is becoming a little more defined, just enough for control to be able to pose strong answers to the questions the format is asking.

For a few weeks, a bug on MTGO prevented new decklists from seeing the light of day. But on March 24th, a deck dump was finally released with not one, not two, but three different versions of snow decks! There was a lot of creativity in these lists, and I just had to tinker with, and try these lists out!  I ended up taking a version of each deck through a Modern league on MTGO and wrote a little about my results and where I believe the deck could be headed.

Note: Although there are a handful of other decks that utilize Ice-Fang Coatl and snow lands, mostly Bant lists, these lists look and feel almost identical to the versions not playing our frosty snake friend. Therefore, find calling these “Snow decks” a little inaccurate. For example, the Bant Emperate decks could easily substitute Ice-Fang Coatl with any other cantripping creature and remain virtually unchanged. Whereas the Sultai and BURG snow decks justify their construction with Ice-Fangs and Dead of Winter (although one could argue that playing Fatal Push over Path to Exile is another draw to these colors). 

Sultai Snow Control by Ryan_39

I decided to try this deck out first since it was the most familiar to decks I have piloted. It closely resembled the Sultai Uro Snow Control deck that featured Arcum’s Astrolabe and Uro; just without the now banned cards.

I made a couple of small changes before playing the deck. I had not played any games with a control deck since the banning of Simian Spirit Guide, so I decided to hedge my bets on Force of Negation less relevant than it used to be. I cut the two of them for cheap, card-neutral counterspells in Spell Pierce and Spell Snare. I also made a few personal preference changes, that were more due to style than substance:

-1 Opt+1 Cling to Dust
-1 Mana Leak+1 Spell Pierce
-2 Force of Negation+1 Spell Snare
+1 Drown in the Loch

Sultai Snow Control League Results:

UB Mill: Win (2-1)
Amulet Titan: Win (2-1)
Bant Ephemerate: Win (2-1)
Grixis Death Shadow, feat. Lurrus: (2-1)
Niv to Light, feat. Yorion: (2-1)

A frosty 5-0! As the results show, every match required three games to get the win as they were all hard fought. Although the end result was as good as a league can go, I was especially buoyed by the fact that the first three wins came against decks that I consider to be rough matchups for control. The first game of the Amulet Titan match took between 25 and 30 turns, much of which I spent at one life, forced to spend resources repelling repeated buffed Khalni Garden token attacks. But the strength of the deck showed as I grinded to an eventual win (without any sideboard hate cards), as was the case in many of the other games.

I felt the inclusion of the Kaldheim’s Ice Tunnel and Rimewood Falls were much more boons than goons for the deck. Of course, any ETB land can look clunky in an opener but they made for strong fetch targets while turning on my Ice-Fang Coatls and Dead of Winters. Having an on-color Triome meant that I could utilize two main land playing patterns; the first was Triome into basic into basic or snow-dual into basic into snow-dual. This was dependent on the lands in my opener and the curve of spells I was aiming to cast in the first few turns.

I did miss at least one copy of Force of Negation I cut and I would re-up the count to at least two copies maindeck. I also feel like the deck could benefit from having a Creeping Tar Pit to pressure opposing planeswalkers that snuck through my counter spells and help end the game from stabilized positions. This would up the number of ETB lands to four, but I think it’s worth testing.

I would identify the Liliana and the third Jace and the main deck flex spots, that could be switched out for other win conditions or card advantage engines that fit your style. Narset, Parter of Veils, Shark Typhoon and maybe even a Tasigur or Cosima come to mind as options. The sideboard is also very customizable, should you notice significant shifts in the meta. My recommendation would be to find replacements for the Plague Engineers, since tribal decks should already be in the deck’s favor.

Tarm-snow-goyf by asihtos

I have to start out by saying that I love asihtos’s list. Big props on the brew and the 5-0! I’ve brewed quite a bit with this style of deck (I’d call them Next Level Blue decks, but that’s because I’m old). I’ve recently been working on Grixis lists using Scourge of the Skyclaves in place of Tarmogoyfs. Although I really enjoy the game play of this style of deck, I’ve been a little underwhelmed by my results. I had tried a similar Sultai version, that featured Counterbalance back before the Arcum’s Astrolabe ban. This was before the companion rules changed and I would cruise to victories against the plethora of Lurrus decks, but I struggled against decks whose curve went beyond one and two. Soon Astrolabe was banned, Companions were rightly nerfed, and I put the deck on the shelf. Then I saw this beauty!

This style of deck is able to quickly pressure opponents while packing efficient disruption in the form of removal, counter spells and discard. Lurrus provides recursive threats and card draw as well as giving that unfair eighth card in your opening hand. This style of deck requires tight, creative play. You need to frequently switch the role of being the reactive or proactive player, often in the same game.

I didn’t want to mess with the list too much, but did implement the following changes before starting the league:

-1 Force of Negation+1 Spell Pierce
-1 Unearth+1 Cling to Dust

Tarm-snow-goyf League Results:

BR Goblins: Win (2-0)
GW Heliod Combo: Win (2-0)
WURG Omnath Control: Loss (1-2)
Amulet Titan: Win (2-1)
Abzan Stoneforge: Loss (1-2)

The first two matches, the deck performed like a dream. I dropped a Tarmogoyf, protected it, disrupted my opponent’s game plan and rode to victory! The next three matches were all hard fought grind-fests. Although I went 1-2, all the games were won and lost by extremely tight margins and I came away feeling like I could have just as easily came away with a 4-1 or 5-0 had some decisions shifted one way or the other. Despite not having snow-duals, the mana base was able to regularly turn on Ice-Fang’s deathtouch. It’s possible to sneak either an Ice Tunnel or a Rimewood Falls into the deck without too much hassle, but I think I would prefer a Creeping Tar Pit to give the deck some more late game reach.

My biggest take away was that the deck wanted to be able to see more threats throughout the game. I didn’t count Jace as a threat and he was a little underwhelming. Other options that still enable Lurrus are: Dark Confidant (a little fragile but could be supported with more discard spells to enable a good card advantage return), Hexdrinker (I’m not sold on this card yet, despite other recent successful showings), Grim Flayer (a little mediocre for card advantage and pressuring, but he does both), Scourge of the Skyclaves (probably too hard to turn on), Valki/Tibalt (too slow and would require splashing red, and Lurrus and Unearth won’t return the good side), or another Unearth (seems fine but can make for awkward decisions with Thoughtscour and can be hated out). My intuition is leading me to cut Jace and start with two Grim Flayers before my next outing with the deck.

My biggest take away was that the deck wanted to be able to see more threats throughout the game. I didn’t count Jace as a threat and he was a little underwhelming.

Soren WEllman

After I finished my league, I saw that two other players, McWinSauce and bcs8995, both piloted modified versions of the deck to 3-1 finishes during the March 25th Modern Preliminary. McWinSauce played a version that dropped the Drown in the Lochs and discard spells for higher mana value counterspells in Cryptic Commands and Archmage’s Charms. I did note that he did leave in Thoughscours over Opts, which might be an oversight now that Drown in the Loch is gone? Meanwhile, bsc8995 also went for Cryptics and Charms but played zero Opts or Thoughscours, going for a single Cling to Dust as their instant based cantrips. Both players also chose to only play three Tarmogoyfs, which goes in the opposite direction from my main frustration of the deck. However, the original successful pilot, asihtos, also got 30th place in the March 27th Challenge and was still on four Goyfs.

Seeing these successful finishes, and my own experiences, I believe that this deck has shown that it has a very strong core and its supporting cast still has a lot of room for exploration. I am looking forward to doing just that!

Four Color Snow Control by Graven_Cairns

I was excited to see that a deck using only snow lands as color producing lands had been able to 5-0. And what a deck it was! The deck had numerous anti-synergies with its own cards, including playing a full four maindeck Cling to Dusts alongside three Drown in the Loch and Wrenn and Six, as well as three Force of Negation despite a low blue card count. However, Kolaghan’s Command might be my favorite card to play in Modern and I thought that despite the synergistic weaknesses, perhaps a 5-0 performance showed the four color mana-base and overall structure was strong enough to be successful!

The deck had numerous anti-synergies with its own cards, including playing a full four maindeck Cling to Dusts alongside three Drown in the Loch and Wrenn and Six, as well as three Force of Negation despite a low blue card count.

soren wellman

Before I took this deck through a league I saw that fellow Faithless Brewer Zach “ManaCymbal” Ryl had been playing this build on his stream (which I highly recommend, also check him out on the excellent Serum Visions Podcast). I asked him what he thought of the deck, and he let me know that the deck “needs a lot of work,” and confessed that he went 5-5 across two leagues. He was kind enough to give me some good recommendations before I started. He said the win conditions could be improved and that he was specially disappointed with Abominable Treefolk. I decided to switch the Treefolks with the more proven Shark Typhoons and replicated the planeswalker suite that I enjoyed with the Sultai Snow Control build.

Having played against a lot of Shadow and Prowess lists in the last few weeks, I was worried that Skred would come up short here and there. I felt their liability was only increased paired with a toughness conditional sweeper in Dead of Winter.

I attempted to address these concerns by swapping making the following changes to maindeck:

-3 Cling to Dust+3 Opt
-4 Skred+3 Fatal Push
-2 Drown in the Loch+1 Spell Pierce
-2 Assassin’s Trophy+2 Abrupt Decay
-1 Dead of Winter+2 Mana Leak
-1 Wrenn and Six+2 Snapcaster Mage
-1 The Royal Scions+1 Kolaghan’s Command
-2 Force of Negation+1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
-2 Abominable Treefolk+1 Ashiok, the Nightmare Muse
+2 Shark Typhoon

So lots of changes, but I viewed most of these as general card quality upgrades from the previous build. I took this Four Color Snow Control through a league and had the following results:

GB Rock, feat. Lurrus: Loss (1-2)
UR Storm: Loss (0-2)
Jund Death Shadow, feat. Lurrus: Loss (0-2)
GW Bogles: Win (2-1)
Jeskai Myth Realized Aggro: Win (2-1)

So in the end, I don’t think that almost any of the maindeck changes I madde mattered all that much because the mana-base was absolutely atrocious. Hats off to Graven_Cairns for 5-0’ing with the deck, but I felt lucky to not have gone 0-5 in the end. So many hands looked like the following:

I don’t have much to say about the league besides that the worst card in the deck was Wrenn and Six. Their Red-Green casting cost either wreaked havoc on the opening turns or rotted in my hand until turns five or six. I would have been much happier with three extra lands. Not having one untapped fetchable dual (or even a Triome to get turn one) meant I was frequently playing off-curve and the decks in modern are too powerful to let you take that much time off.

I agree with Zach’s analysis of extra work being needed, but I’m not inspired to be the one to do it. It may be possible to splash fourth color to a Sultai core but I didn’t feel it was adding enough. Having a fairly even color distribution was not worth the cost. 

Modern’s Snow Forecast

While none of these decks feel as busted as the Uro-Snow piles that resulted in player outcry and bans; there are some tantalizing strong options and new pathways to explore. I’ll be iterating on both Sultai builds while keeping an eye on if Modern Horizons 2 has any chilly surprises for snow-nerds like me. In fact, a totally different build could prove to be the most powerful option. While Jorn, God of Winter has yet to become a multi-format all-star himself, I’m sure he’s happy seeing players collecting snow-covered trophies!

Soren Wellman has been playing casual Magic since Mercadian Masques and tournament Magic since Innistrad. He is an electrical power systems designer by day and a Dimir deck designer by night. He enjoys all deck archetypes but has a penchant for control mirrors.

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