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By: CottonRhetoric, Cotton Rhetoric
Jun 18 2013 10:18am
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Ice Age! The first set designed to be playable without support cards from core sets. It was then the largest set ever printed, and remained so until 5th edition two years later. It also was the origin of many concepts that would go on to be staples of the game. (...And many that wouldn't.)

Let's take a look at the outliers in five different categories. Categories that were started by Ice Age and continued into other sets.

Category 1
       Best Cumulative Upkeep

    5    

Jötun Grunt

He was #1 on my list of best Barrow Ghouls (4/4s for 2 mana), but the competition is a little stiffer in this category! He's #5 here.

He remains a very solid card. Efficient stats and a drawback that can be used as a benefit help him see play in a variety of formats, most commonly the eternal ones. It's hard to sustain him for more than a couple of turns, and he's better against some decks than others, but he fills an important combination of roles and fills it well.

             
Glacial Chasm     4    

Glacial Chasm

Only Timmies would look at this card when it first came out. "Wow, I can never lose life! I'll pay anything for that—even life!" Johnnies weren't interested because there really were no combo options for it yet.

Timmies soon realized it wasn't as good a deal as it sounded and they got bored with it. Then cards like Eon Hub were printed and Johnnies became the only ones interested in the card.

Later still the concept of the 40-land deck was born, and Spikes took their turn with the Chasm. Yes, this humble land has courted favor with all three psychographics—just not at the same time. How many other cards can claim that?

             
Mystic Remora     3    

Mystic Remora

Once more we have a card that was (accurately) deemed worthless for a very long time, until metagames eventually found a home for it. But what a home it has!

Have you seen this played in Vintage, a format so laden with noncreature spells as to almost guarantee its success? Many decks are frustrated by an opposing Remora. Some are outright crippled by it. And some are unaffected, to be fair, but we can sideboard it out against them.

It isn't one of the dominant strategies, due to its inconsistency and unpredictability, but on the plus side for fans of the card, this marginalization sometimes prevents players from testing against it. This means that when you drop one, they're sometimes not sure how to play around it!

             
Elephant Grass     2    

Elephant Grass

What is it with cumulative upkeep cards taking years before they see play?

This was yet another 5-cent card collecting dust in junk bins until one day... enchantress decks reached a critical mass of cards to make the leap from casual tables to the big leagues. All of a sudden, what was dismissed as an inefficient sideboard card was now having its text about black creatures ignored and being dropped as a cheap Propaganda. And there's a funny thing about Propaganda: when it only costs 1 mana, and you can cantrip (if not double- or triple-cantrip) off it, it becomes a lot better! Even if it dies a few turns later. The enchantress deck is drawing so many cards it can either replace it or, more likely, take advantage of that stalling enough to win the game shortly after its departure.

             
Illusions of Grandeur     1    

Illusions of Grandeur

If you read PureMTGO, you probably read DailyMTG as well, in which case you're familiar with this card's pedigree. If not, Google Mike Flores Trix, and read tales of the game's most feared and unfair combo deck of all time, spread across many different articles.

Yes, for the fourth slot in a row, we have a junk card waiting several years to explode on the tournament scene out of nowhere (in this case, it was due to Urza block's Donate). Ice Age should have been the set to be called "Future Sight."


Congratulations! You know, a lot of impressionable youngsters didn't recognize your name as a pun and grew up saying a malapropism.

 

Varchild's War-Riders    

Honorable Mention: Varchild's War-Riders

If you've looked at my profile on this site, you'll see that this is my favorite card in the entire game.

It's not good, per se, but it's fun, and it's extremely combo-friendly. To scratch the surface: Pestilence, Caltrops, Soul Warden, Suture Priest, Avatar of Might, Defense of the Heart, Keeper of the Beasts, Pulse of the Tangle, Curse of Death's Hold, Blood Artist, Orim's Prayer, Hissing Miasma, Massacre Wurm, Poisonbelly Ogre... I would run 20 War-Riders if I could!! All we need is a functional reprint. And then three other functional reprints. You know, the ol' Grizzly Bears treatment. It would make me happy.

P.S. The War-Riders also used to combo with Brand until WotC changed the token ownership rules. But they cannot keep this card down no matter how hard they try!

       
   

Wheatless Chaff: Blizzard

There were really a lot of stinkers to pick from, but Blizzard out-stinks them all.

If I'm playing green, I can outright kill flying creatures. Why do I want to be slowing them down slightly, and using all of my mana to do so? Even when this came out we had better options, in Winter Blast, Cockatrice, Ifh-Bíff EfreetWoolly Spider, and especially Hurricane. And you'll note that none of those cards are even that great.

Not to mention, Blizzard did absolutely nothing against the most significant flier of the day, Serra Angel.

This card's only value is the (presumably unintentional) humor of its artwork. Hehehe, look at that guy.

 

Category 2
       Best Snow Cards

Glacial Crevasses     5    

Glacial Crevasses

"Why is this casual-only card on a Top 5 list? Was it in a deck I didn't know about?"

Nope. Unless it was also in a deck that I didn't know about. For you see, when it comes to cards mentioning snow lands (or, more recently, snow mana), there simply aren't many great ones to choose from. Enough to justify a list, just not enough to pack it.

Still, when Crevasses is in the casual room, it really can shine against the right deck. Think about it. Once you drop it, if you can play a land every turn, your opponent can never damage you with attacks. How many decks can work around that? And if one land a turn for the whole game sounds impractical, just think about the last time a Howling Mine was on the table. More lands than you could drop in the first place. Or you could use Journeyer's Kite if you want more of a sure thing.

I've got a mono-red deck built around this card. I've got a mono-green deck built around Constant Mists. I would build blue, black, and white decks around Sunstone if they would only bring it online. WotC, why isn't Sunstone online? I can understand not bringing Blizzard online, but why not Sunstone? Answer me in the form of a thousand-word essay.

             
Phyrexian Ironfoot     4    

Phyrexian Ironfoot

There's not too much to say about this guy besides sometimes, efficient stats is all it takes to see competitive play.

The stats weren't way above the curve. Just slightly above. Even with the untap cost. So he saw some standard and block play. Not a ton. Just more than Glacial Crevasses.

Being colorless is mostly what did it, as some colors didn't have great 3-drops at the time. They basically all do at the moment so I can't imagine this guy getting out there in the current block. It's all about timing, see.

             
Mouth of Ronom     3    

Mouth of Ronom

Mouth of Ronom wasn't often a 4-of, but it at least played a role in certain slower, more defensive decks, going uber-Quicksand in the late game. And Quicksand had seen play since the day it was printed, back in the Mirage-block days.

It gets you mana, and when it's no longer useful, it kills a guy. And unlike Barbarian Ring and Cabal Pit, it will never betray you first. What's not to like?

             
Scrying Sheets     2    

Scrying Sheets

This seemed like the unlikeliest hero when it was first spoiled. "Great, it lets me draw cards that aren't good," was the universal reaction from most players who had scoured the set list.

Yet, a funny thing started happening. Scrying Sheets became a four-of in some top-tier standard decks... that didn't run any other snow cards. Fans across the world blinked and did double-takes and reread the decklists again and again. Why is Scrying Sheets in there??

Eventually, they realized: the lands. Not one of the spells had the snow supertype, but 20 of the lands did (including not only basic snow lands but usually a Mouth of Ronom as well). 20 cards is a third of the deck, which turned Scrying Sheets into a Sindbad that also made mana and came down for free. It was a card advantage machine! A slow one, but it was the slow decks that were interested in it to begin with.

Just think how good this card could have been if more snow cards had been playable.

             
Skred     1    

Skred

Before Flame Slash was taking down 4-toughness creatures, Skred was doing that, and more... at instant speed!

That alone would have guaranteed Top 8 success. But there was a second use to Skred. A darker, more sinister use that pushed it from solid utility card to engine fuel.

You could point it at your own creatures. And... Stuffy Doll had just been printed. Are you getting the combo? A card that was designed not to damage your opponent could now damage your opponent, and at alarmingly high rates. Also utilizing Firespout and Earthquake, the mono-red control deck dubbed "Skred Red" was keeping creatures off the table and the opponent's life very low all at once. It was slower than a burn deck, but a lot more versatile and resilient.


Congratulaions! According to the flavor text, this spell is being cast by the same place that has
these three guys. And nobody else. Figure that one out.

 

Withering Wisps  

Honorable Mention: Withering Wisps

This card has a weird design, you have to admit. "We'll take Pestilence, and we'll lower the cost by 1, and we'll change... nothing."

The only time this was worse than a Pestilence is if your deck mixed both regular swamps and snow swamps. But, budgetary and accessibility concerns aside, no deck would ever do that!  Ever!!!

Now, apparently, being a (yes) strictly better Pestilence still does not make a card tournament-ready. I like it though. I've got a deck using 4 of these AND 4 Pestilence. It's a blast.

     
Whiteout  

Honorabler Mention: Whiteout

Oh yes, it's two honorable mentions and no wheatless chaffs. Why? Because there are so many bad snow cards that it had to become its own list. You will see in a moment.

So why Whiteout for the second honorable mention, then? Is it in some casual deck I built? Does it have some wacky combo? Do I like it for nostalgic reasons?

Nah. I just like the artwork.

 

Category 3
       Worst Snow Cards

Karplusan Giant     5    

Karplusan Giant

I must be a synesthete, because I am looking at a picture of a card, yet I am sensing the odor of rotting garbage.

It costs seven mana to cast this guy. Seven mana. All for a Frozen Shade with a slight p/t boost? Why not just cast him for less and use that mana to pump him up afterwards? Not that Frozen Shade was any hot shakes, nor was any shade really until Nantuko Shade came out. But do you know why Nantuko Shade succeeded where all the other shades failed? Because he had efficient stats! Not because he was 7 mana for a 3/3.

Ugh.

Uggghhhh!!!  I can't believe there are still 4 snow cards worse than this one.

             
Goblin Snowman     4    

Goblin Snowman

Yet there are. See this guy? See him? He's terrible!!

Like Karplusan Giant, he commits the sin of being grossly overcosted. But unlike Karplusan Giant, he also commits the sin of being contrivedly written. Why not remove the tap ability and just let it deal damage in combat? Yeah yeah I get the flavor of throwing a snowball, but that flavor could already be implied by the point of power. We understand that Wasp Lancer's 3 points of combat damage are dealt by his lance. And anyway if we're talking about flavor, why is a snowman allowed to be declared as an attacker? Are the goblins picking it up and carrying it across the battlefield?

As for the actual gameplay, this costs the same four mana as Uncle Istvan, and one mana more than Guard Gomazoa. The number of creatures in Ice Age this could kill were few, and nearly all of them were less than 4 mana. But hey, against an Ashen Ghoul, this is your guy. If Tundra Wolves is out of your price range, I mean.

             
Winter's Night     3    

Winter's Night

What does this card do? Who is this card for?

When it was printed, we already had Mana Flare and Winter Orb. Any deck that could cast the WGR Winter's Night could cast either of those. But I'll tell you something. In all my years playing, I have never seen a deck cast both of them. Nor have I seen a deck that would have benefited from casting both.

If you're the one with snow lands, this hurts you as much as it helps you, so you're better off with something else. And if your opponent is the one with snow lands, it helps them as much as it hurts them, so once again you have better options.

Has there ever been a deck that wants to cast expensive spells, but only every other turn? Could there ever be?

The only reason this isn't higher is because it technically combos with Seedborn Muse. Still, even then I think a Mana Flare is much wiser. It doesn't harm you when the Muse isn't around.

             
    2    

Barbarian Guides

Barbarian Guides. Okay. Barbarian Guides.

Let's run a quick exercise. Suppose this card's cost was reduced from 2R to R. And suppose its ability was reduced from "2R, T:" to "0:". Even in this outlandish scenario, would it be a good card yet? No! Not by a longshot!

Even if I'm somehow lucky enough to have an opponent with snow-covered lands (I think the Ice Age designers were expecting them to be a lot more popular, given how many hosers there are), returning my creature to my hand is way too stiff a penalty for the temporary landwalk.

There is NO WAY they playtested this card. No way. I cannot believe that.

             
Arcum's Weathervane     1    

Arcum's Weathervane

This card's existence defies all belief. Its badness is hard to even comprehend. It's like reading about the distance between planets.

This card has four uses. Let's look at each.

  1. Melting your opponent's snow lands. How is this a hoser? You're going to spend all this mana to convert one land a turn? That's a big investment with a slow payoff! Even if you're playing against the Skred deck, I can think of a lot better ways to hose it. Or if you're trying to stop their Phyrexian Ironfoot, they'll get quite a lot of attacks through before you get rid of that very last snow land. Perhaps it's against a snow card too bad to make my above list of snow cards. In that case, why bother hosing it?
  2. Melting your own snow lands. Perhaps your opponent has a very menacing Legions of Lim-Dûl staring you down. Aside from the gross mana and time requirement of converting all of your lands, is it really worth their loss to stop an unblockable 2 points of power? What's happening to the function of your snow deck now that it's lost all of those snow lands? You can't use your Withering Wisps anymore. Which by the way would have dealt with the Legions of Lim-Dûl way more quickly and easily.
  3. Freezing your opponent's non-snow lands. This simply won't come up. At best, you are enabling your Goblin Ski Patrol or an aforementioned Legions of Lim-Dûl. But neither of these are worth enabling. Just use a better card to begin with. The bonus you'd get from your Icequake is nice, but was it worth the mana and extra card? You can read the list of cards that care about your opponent's snow lands—there are really none better.
  4. Freezing your own lands. And out of all four uses, this one is the worst. You wouldn't use this to enable a snow strategy of your own, because if your deck had one, you would have just played with all snow lands in the first place. Maybe there was an essential nonbasic land in your deck, and making it snow-covered gives that one card of yours an extra little boost... but again, this is in no way worth the investment it takes. You are, in the best case scenario, giving a creature +1/+1 or something equally negligible. Or perhaps you're planning to hose an opponent's card that cares about whether your lands are snowy or not? Well I looked through the lists. The only card that gets worse against snow is Chill to the Bone. So perhaps if your Treetop Village gets targeted by one you could make it a snow land in response and therefore save it... but raise your hand if you've ever been in that situation. (no hands are raised)

Yes, a card with four uses actually has zero uses. At least it makes an Atog bigger.


Un-congratulations. You are a bigger abomination than Abomination.

 

 

Honorable Mention:
Kjeldoran Guard

Whew! After all of those cardboard cancers, it's nice to have a just-bad card instead of an unbearably bad card. It's the sixth worst snow card, and a breath of fresh air at this point.

This guy is Wyluli Wolf—an existing unremarkable creature—with two drawbacks added.

Not a formula for success. At least they didn't waste any good art on him.

   

Honorabler Mention:
Snowblind

To save you the squinting and figuring, here's what the card does.

When the creature is blocking, its weaker by its controller's snow lands. When it's attacking, it's weaker by your snow lands. It can't be killed this way.

In other words, you're paying 4 mana for something that simultaneously worse than Weakness and Pacifism.

It's high on flavor. It's just low on being a card.

 

Category 4
       Best Lhurgoyfs

Ice Age brought us the first ever lhurgoyf: Lhurgoyf! Yeah yeah we probably all know what #1 is going to be, but it at least 5 through 2 are up for grabs.

Terravore     5    

Terravore

Although lands might at first not seem to be something that graveyards collect a lot of, consider some of the other cards in this guy's deck. Seismic Assault, Life from the Loam, Devastating Dreams... "aggro loam" as it was called was for sure one of the more synergistic attack decks of its day. It could respond to a variety of threats, and at the center of it all was this trampling 4-of.

             
Magnivore     4    

Magnivore

Magnivore was so powerful and irreplaceable that, although he was printed in a cycle of five -vores, the deck built around him was the one called "Vore."

How did it work? Turn two Boomerang on a land, Annex on a land, throw in some burn, get out a large Magnivore, and cast a Wildfire to both claim and cement the lead!

Even decks that were capable of halting a 7/7 haste had tremendous difficulty doing so without lands in play.

             
Knight of the Reliquary     3    

Knight of the Reliquary

He lacks Terravore's trample, and he only looks in one graveyard... but he also has a certain other ability. One that fetches nonbasic lands.

This card was used in everything from aggro to midrange to defensive to combo decks! It helped set up the Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle combo, it nabbed additional Cloudposts, it put Celestial Colonnades in the red zone, it triggered landfall, and tons more. It also grew pretty fast off those 8 (or more) fetchlands you were running!

             
Golgari Grave-Troll     2    

Golgari Grave-Troll

With Knight of the Reliquary, the Lhurgoyf half of his card was only part of the reason he made the list. With Golgari Grave-Troll, his Lhurgoyf half is zero part of the reason!

Most people know that his Dredge 6 is what earns him vintage play next to Bazaar of Baghdad, Narcomoeba, and Dread Return. It's such a powerful deck that it's hard to imagine why the Grave-Troll didn't make #1 on the list. Until we remember...

             
Tarmogoyf     1    

Tarmogoyf

...Tarmogoyf.

His popularity has dwindled slightly since his heyday, but let me take you back to a time when every top 8 had 32 Tarmogoyfs in it. A time when it sold for over 100 bucks per copy. A time when mono-red Goblin decks were splashing green solely to run Tarmogoyf.

Like Umezawa's Jitte before it, Tarmogoyf was once impossible to mention in a forum without spawning pages of "BAN THIS CARD" rants. Every creature card was evaluated in comparison to it, and every removal spell was evaluated in relation to it. Tarmogoyf had that big a presence.


Congratulations! I still never fully understood how the "tribal" supertype solves the cross-type problem, but I trust WotC that it makes sense.

 

Detritivore

   

Honorable Mention: Detritivore

He never grew to the sizes of the other Lhurgoyfs, and his suspend ability was kind of expensive to resolve, but in a deck that could afford a decent X size, it provided a pretty valuable service! Something like a Destructive Flow that didn't also force you to play with all basics.

Being red and being so expensive meant that most players were happier to play with Blood Moon, but this still popped up every now and then in slower, more defensive builds.

       
Haunting Apparition    

Wheatless Chaff: Haunting Apparition

It's not as bad as most cards that end up in Wheatless Chaff, but to be fair, most Lhurgoyfs are pretty decent.

It starts out like a decent anti-green sideboard card. The flying makes its toughness not matter much, since green decks can't usually block those. The problem is that its power won't get very big, since green decks don't burn through too much of their library. And if you're running a mill deck, why do you need this guy to deal damage?

The bigger problem was that in 1996 there wasn't a mono-green deck to put this in against. And even if there was, a black deck would rather run Perish and a blue deck would rather run Hibernation. So this guy never really had a home.

 

Category 5
       Best Winter-Themed Cards Not In Ice Age

Ice Storm     5    

Ice Storm

In the last two blocks, every land destruction sorcery cost 5. They did other things, but they weren't coming down early. Before that, we had several years of 4-mana LD spells. Sometimes it's easy to forget that 3 used to be the standard!  As for Sinkhole costing only 2 mana... well that was just crazy.

Green has gotten other 3-mana LD spells, but they all cost 1GG. This one was much more splashable. And if you were playing with the BB Sinkhole, splashable was what you wanted.

             
Hibernation     4    

Hibernation

Green decks back then didn't have many tricks. They just had big creatures. Expensive creatures. Returning them to your hand really hurt! Especially since all of your acceleration was creature-based, so getting them back into play would take a really long time.

This was the perfect weapon against an entire archetype. The only reason it's not higher is because that archetype wasn't exactly dominant. How many 1990s green decks can you even name? Besides Jamie Wakefield's Secret Force.

             
Winter Orb     3    

Winter Orb

Ooh, this card is rough.

It's been in all manner of prison decks since the beginning. Combined with artifact mana, it gets even stronger. Few decks can do anything against this card besides look at it glumly while their progress is grinded to a halt. Not everyone finds it fun to play against, keep in mind....

             
Fire/Ice     2    

Ice

"Fire & Ice" may not be winter-themed as a whole, but "Ice" is if we count it as a card. Good enough for me.

So Enervate (hey, from Ice Age) wasn't creating any big waves when it was first printed. But when given as an option next to another perfectly good option, it started picking up. And if neither option was looking useful, you could use Ice on something irrelevant just to "cycle" it away! Very high utility.

             
Frost Titan     1    

Frost Titan

Where else besides a core set could you get away with the setting of this card in the same set as Inferno Titan? Where does this even take place? An ice planet with volcanos in the middle??

But core sets aren't set in a single location the way expansion sets are, so they are free to use the hodge-podge approach. The reason I'm rambling is because this card is so obviously good that it couldn't benefit much from my explication.

Or if you really want, it's a hard-to-kill beater with a switchable sort of Vindicate attached. I think that sentence was a waste of everybody's time though.


Congratulations! Brrrrrrr.

 

 

Honorable Mention:
Snow Mercy

Come on, that is clever!

There is no way that is not clever.

  Frost Giant  

Wheatless Chaff:
Frost Giant

Oh boy. Here we go again.

Legends designers must have really been impressed by Rampage! Because every card that has it is a whole ton of mana.

When this came out, Shivan Dragon was already a fact. Is there anybody in their right mind who would choose this over that? Even if you gave this card flying? AND firebreathing?? No. Nobody would. This card is two improvements away from being unplayable. Throw it in the garbage and throw the garbage in a bigger pile of garbage.

 

Ice Age!!!