Five Great Snow Payoffs in Kaldheim

Dan GreenJanuary 26, 2021
mtg kaldheim snow payoffs

Welcome back, Maniacs! It’s winter here in the northern hemisphere and we’ve got snow on the brain (and on the ground!). With Kaldheim releasing shortly – on January 28th on MTG Arena, and in physical form on February 5th – it seems like a perfect time to go over some of the cards that might make it worth glaciating your mana base with Snow-Covered basic lands and perhaps the new Snow duals like Glacial Floodplain!

Before we dive in, let’s quickly address the primary reasons you wouldn’t want to put Snow lands in your deck! First, there is a very real cost to playing these – and it’s not as much about having to swap basics for Snowier versions, but it’s really about ensuring you have enough Snow-mana in your lands, and sometimes that means making some cuts that can reduce your deck’s consistency or versatility. Especially following up Zendikar Rising’s introduction of Modal Dual-Faced lands, you may end up running fewer Pathways, and/or cutting down the mythic “backyard” spells like Sea Gate Restoration // Sea Gate, Reborn. These are advantageous cards to play normally, so having to lose those in favor of ensuring you have snow mana is a cost, to be sure!

Secondly, we do have a card to be aware of as well – Reidane, God of the Worthy // Valkmira, Protector’s Shield! This is actually the only hate card printed for Snow, but as a 2/3 with relevant keywords and two reasonably strong hate abilities, plus an entire other side that, being an artifact, is more difficult to interact with and with even more hate effects, Reidane is certain to see play in likely a fairly wide variety of decks, and can significantly slow down your deck’s tempo if you can’t remove her from the board quickly.

That said, I think the payoff effects below can provide decks with plenty of potency to make up for these shortfalls, and in deck building, you may simply want to ensure you have interaction packed in your deck to deal with Reidane in the early game so you don’t get far behind. I think she’ll be most impactful against decks that aren’t prepared to deal with her and are leaning on removal with 3 CMC and greater – for example, being on the draw, the opponent can get her down a turn before you can get your 3rd land to enable a Skyclave Apparition, Elspeth’s Nightmare, or Tundra Fumarole, and that can buy your opponent a turn to run ahead in the race. But you can prepare for her by ensuring you still play critical 2 CMC removal like Heartless Act or Scorching Dragonfire, or hold back a non-snow land such as a Pathway to be able to play the 3rd land untapped.

With all that said, let’s get on to the cool cards we are looking at today!

Honorable Mention - Search for Glory

I really tried, but I couldn’t stick to just five cards for this list. I wanted to give a shout out to Search for Glory – a card that is WAY above the power level of most Standard-legal tutor effects in the past…decade, perhaps? But, even then, I’m torn on it. I’m not positive it will see a ton of play, but at the same time, it would not shock me at all to see it taking slots in white-based control decks, and here’s why:

This 3 mana Snow Sorcery meets the exact cost of cards we are used to like Idyllic Tutor and Call the Gatewatch (hold on to the latter in your brain for just a moment…). But what you gain is not only a solid amount of versatility in what it can tutor, but a little drip of incidental life gain as well. One of the biggest problems with spending the mana – or sometimes the turn – to Tutor is that you basically aren’t doing anything except shifting around a card in your hand, while the opponent is probably beating you down or at least playing threats. This doesn’t handle that latter problem, but that little drip of life might be enough to make this just justifiable enough to play even when you are facing aggressive threats like mono-Red.

The versatility of the card is the real key, though. Call the Gatewatch was not a competitive card, let’s be perfectly clear, so it’s not a point of comparison to show how this card is broken or anything similar. But it shows how much better this is that it can do everything that Call the Gatewatch can do, considering that all Planeswalkers (so far) are Legendary, but in addition to grabbing you an Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, Ashiok, Nightmare Muse, or Niko Aris, it can also tutor other Legendary creatures like Heliod, Sun-Crowned, Daxos, Blessed by the Sun, Questing Beast, or any of the new gods, Sagas (such as , The Birth of Meletis, Elspeth’s Nightmare, and all the new ones), and it can tutor Snow Permanents like any Snow-Covered Basic, Snow Dual, or some of the cards you’ll find on the list below!

I’m super curious to see if the versatility and the added life gain – which requires you to play with snow mana to gain – will be enough to break this 3 CMC tutor into Standard play. It would be about time, if so!

#5 - Graven Lore

In our number 5 slot, I want to talk about looking at A LOT of cards for five mana – it’s Graven Lore! Jace’s Ingenuity was enough to see standard play on its own as a key draw spell in heavy control decks like Blue-Black and Blue-White, though that was about 5 years ago now, and, of course, the game has changed! But even as recently as the last Standard, the closest relative, Precognitive Perception, still saw play often as a 1-2 of in control decks.

If your deck pays the cost of ensuring your mana base is heavily snow-focused, Graven Lore puts both of those cards to shame. The ceiling of this card is adding an absolutely nutty “Scry 5” (FIVE!) on top of Jace’s Ingenuity. And unless you built your mana base weirdly or are having a VERY off game, I can’t imagine the floor of this card is much worse than “Precognitive Perception except you get the Addendum portion at instant speed still”. I think very often, assuming you will still want to play some Pathways or maybe something cheeky like Mystic Sanctuary or Gates of Istfell, you’ll end up getting an average of a Scry 4 with this when played on curve, but late in the game you can all but assure you’re getting a Scry 5 every time by just tapping mana appropriately.

Getting an instant speed hand restock of 3 is solid, but getting to dig 4-5 cards first to ensure you are drawing the most useful cards, or digging for the key Doomskar or Extinction Event? THAT is a payoff, to me, that is well worth the cost of playing a Snow manabase. There’s not much else to say as this isn’t a particularly flashy snow payoff card, it’s just rock solid value and exactly the kind of card a control player wants to see to make them build a little differently.

#4 - Blood on the Snow

One notable trend with a lot of this list is that I think a lot of the most playable Snow effects seem to be firmly in the Control or Midrange camp. Blood on the Snow makes no attempts to change that opinion – this is firmly a high-cost board wipe for Creatures or Planeswalkers, the exact kind of card you are not slotting in your low-to-the-ground aggressive deck.

If that was all this card did, it would easily be a junk rare. Six mana is simply too much to hope to wipe the board with, and even with this in your deck, if you are playing a control game, you are going to need to run Extinction Event, Doomskar, or similar cards to keep control of the game early on as well (lest you get run over by a wild Embercleave-packing Giant!).

But when you get to the late game in your Snow-covered land deck, Blood on the Snow has the capability of acting as both an additional board wipe and a timely reanimation. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned from Elspeth Conquers Death in standard, it’s that cards that can both remove and reanimate, especially if that reanimation is for a creature or planeswalker, are very potent, indeed. And, as an added bonus, it’s another out to the opponent landing an Ugin, the Spirit Dragon if you desperately need to answer it, and we all have desperately needed an answer to the ubiquitous control finisher at one point or another!

The reanimation here is restricted to how much Snow mana you spend on the spell, so I’d suggest building this as a control deck that can try to reach an average of 5 snow mana on turn 6 when you need to cast this to stay in the game, and then be able to bring back a critical 5 drop from the graveyard, which you can set up with cards like Strategic Planning, Rain of Revelation, Tymaret Calls the Dead, The Three Seasons, or King Narfi’s Betrayal. My favorite prospective play is to use this to clear the board, then bring back favorite Blue-Black control win condition Ashiok, Nightmare Muse to an empty board, giving you a leg up on tempo, one of the keys to successfully taking over a game with a Planeswalker.

#3 - Tundra Fumarole

Tundra Fumarole, my number 3 card, has me excited. It actually may have me the most excited, but the reason I have it at number 3 is because I think my excitement is necessarily tempered by it really not being that amazing. I just think it’s cool!

Let’s get it right out front – this is a clunky, sorcery speed removal spell that only does 4 damage when we have cards like Soul Sear that do 5 damage and other things. But, if you have at least 3 snow lands, it doesn’t cost you your turn to do it and that is really cool and fun…Provided you have a way to spend 3 colorless, snow-touched mana.

Ok, so that could be a bit tricky. Mono red would need to make some tweaks to fit this in because it wants to play things like Anax, Hardened in the Forge and Torbran, Thane of Red Fell that do not want you to have a bunch of colorless mana in your pool (but see the #1 slot for a card that makes a strong case!). So I’m not sure that Fumarole fits into that deck, but in any deck that is a little less reliant on fireballs in mana costs, I think we can really start cooking, because being able to remove something and commit to the board can be a strong play for an aggressively slanted deck that is simply trying to end the game before your opponent stabilizes!

And that, I think, is the key to why this card may just be playable, and probably also why I like it so much. This spell is totally a tempo play – your deck needs to be built to use it, but if it can, you kind of get a “free turn” where you got to both remove something and commit something reasonable to the board. While it may be hard to do on turn 3 without some kind of aggressive Artifact Creature to play, once you hit turn 4 and you can keep a colored mana back, you are able to still make a reasonable play in addition to a decently-sized nuke, and that’s pretty nifty.

Now, “pretty nifty” isn’t always a great translation into “will take me to Mythic rank in Arena”. But this last element deserves some consideration – this is a card in red that allows you to cheat a turn and dump your hand a little faster – and we have another pretty nifty card in Standard right now called Ox of Agonas that really likes it when you have completely emptied your hand and either play or Escape him to draw 3. Sounds like a pretty cool follow up to me!

So again, I don’t think this is the best card on the list, but hot dang, it tickles my brain in a way that I really enjoy. I’m looking forward to trying it out in various lists for sure!

#2 - Jorn, God of Winter // Kaldring, the Rimestaff

One of the MDFC Gods of the set, Jorn, God of Winter // Kaldring, the Rimestaff is already packed with the benefits of these unique cards – the ability to play either side making multiple draws of this Legendary creature non-redundant and versatile to play. Uniquely, Jorn is the only Snow God in the set, and he very much wants you to play with lots of other Snow permanents regardless of which side you play him.

With a Green creature front side and a Blue/Black artifact on the back, he obviously can fit in a Green/Blue/Black Sultai build (backed by some nice color wedge support in Ikoria, though, sadly, Zagoth Triome is not a snow-land…), but I think it will also be interesting to see if players come up some unique lists that don’t actually care to play one side or the other.

I’m actually going to begin by talking about the back side, Kaldring, the Rimestaff, because I think this is the most straight-forwardly powerful. In short, as long as you can keep your graveyard packed, every turn you have this out, you can gain card advantage. Kaldring lets you play Snow-Covered lands from your graveyard, potent snow creatures like Ascendant Spirit (maybe that should have made the list too…), and I think there are even some cheeky combos like playing a card that would normally be limited chaff, Priest of the Haunted Edge, for a recurring removal effect each turn that could be potent enough to be viable in Standard. The trick will be keeping the graveyard stocked, but we’ve already mentioned cards above that help with that, and we can add to that list fellow god Egon, God of Death // Throne of Death, who conveniently gets you a new card to pick from every turn when played on the back side, or a gigantic body when you can afford to keep it in play on the front!

So what’s the payoff like for Jorn? Well, if you remember Wilderness Reclamation and it’s powerful run in Standard, we know that untapping your lands is a pretty nice thing. Jorn not only untaps your lands, he also untaps himself, and any other snow permanents, such as…Kaldring the Rimestaff! With both in play, if you can pull off attacks with Jorn without losing him easily, you will get two Kaldring activations per turn if you want, and while you can’t use it to play multiple lands in a turn, you can advance your board without touching your hand. This engine seems perfect for a slow, methodical, and grindy control deck, and you might even slot some of the above cards like Graven Lore or Blood on the Snow as well to compound on the snow profits.

I’d also be remiss to not mention the “trick” everyone learned with Wilderness Reclamation, and how you can still utilize it here – namely, attacking with Jorn to trigger the untap, then tapping all your lands in response, letting them untap, and tapping them again for double the mana. You can then use this to play a powerful instant at a higher mana cost than you normally could afford. Perhaps this windfall of mana could be used to cast a kicked Inscription of Abundance to protect Jorn and deal with potential blockers, or a Thassa’s Intervention to dig deep for a card, activate your Ascendant Spirit all the way to become massive and draw you a card, or drop a big threat like Lochmere Serpent for the opponent to deal with super early in the game? On the less exciting but more conventionally strong side, Jorn simply will let you continue to commit to the board while keeping mana up to interact with the opponent, which is the ideal of any control deck. The key will be finding ways to keep him alive, or knowing when to sacrifice him for a clutch turn – thankfully you can always get him back again with Kaldring!

Overall, I think Jorn is probably the splashiest, most “build-around-me” of all of the cards on the list, and I’m really excited to see if decks based on Jorn can make waves in Standard. Our #1 card is “splashy”, but in a very different sense of the word…

#1 - Faceless Haven

Faceless Haven ranks #1 for me on this list because this is a card you can easily see in any Snow list. In fact, I think there are plenty of aggressive and midrange decks that may play snow lands just for the privilege of playing this creature land.

This land ticks all the boxes – it doesn’t come into play untapped, it itself is snow, though it’s colorless. The creature it transforms into is a beefy enough body, all creature types so it works with any tribal synergies, and the Vigilance on it is more relevant than it may appear at first glance.

I think the key to this card is considering how it plays in the mid to late game. The easiest comparison point is Mutavault, a card which also did the changeling act, but didn’t have a snow restriction and was an insanely affordable 1 mana to activate for a reasonable-enough 2/2. While Faceless Haven is three snow mana to activate into a 4/3, that vigilance means the actual math on activating and attacking with a Mutavault vs activating and attacking with a Faceless Haven is tapping 2 lands (the cost and the Mutavault) vs tapping 3 lands (the three snow lands, as the Faceless Haven doesn’t tap to attack). It’s an extra 1 mana for +2/+1, which is a  highly reasonable deal when it comes to creatures that don’t take up slots in your deck.

Of course, the two concerns are the tempo and, as with everything else, ensuring your manabase can support it. But given the size of the body, this is a card I can see even mono-Red cutting down on Castle Embereths to slot in, because it’s big enough to enable end game pushes that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. We are heading into a metagame with Doomskar and tons of powerful control effects, where being able to sneak a land in as a creature becomes even more useful, and Faceless Haven does it much more efficiently for many decks than Crawling Barrens does.

I see this being a great additional finisher in many snow-focused control decks, fitting the bill for midrange tribal decks like Elves and Zombies, and even being able to push the most hyper aggressive decks into playing snow lands just to be able to close the game after a board wipe hits. While our land slots are at an absolute premium now and it will be easy to get overly greedy when building a mana base, I think Faceless Haven presents a strong argument to push into Snow lands and I won’t be surprised at all to see this hitting many lists when Kaldheim releases.

So what are your thoughts on Snow in Kaldheim? Am I hitting the mark, or am I overrating these payoffs? Will mana base constraints or the existence of Reidane be enough to keep Snow from reaching the higher echelons of play? We’d love to hear from you – let us know in the comments below, and we’ll see you in the Arena when Kaldheim releases at the end of this week!

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