Brewed Up: Sultai Snow

If you asked me a year ago whether snow could be Modern playable, I would have laughed in your face. However, Modern Horizons has been an embarrassment of riches for the supertype. Sultai has been an underrepresented color combination as well. To see the two come together is very intriguing. Let’s dive in.

Decklist
Lands (25)
4 Prismatic Vista
4 Frost Marsh
5 Snow-Covered Forest
1 Scrying Sheets
3 Snow-Covered Island
4 Snow-Covered Swamp
1 Verdant Catacombs
2 Misty Rainforest
1 Polluted Delta
Creatures (10)
1 Eternal Witness
4 Ice-Fang Coatl
1 Courser of Kruphix
3 Scavenging Ooze
1 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Spells (25)
4 Arcum’s Astrolabe
1 Assassin’s Trophy
3 Cryptic Command
3 Dead of Winter
3 Fatal Push
2 Liliana, the Last Hope
2 Maelstrom Pulse
2 Marit Lage’s Slumber
1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1 Tamiyo, Collector of Tales
3 Thoughtseize
Sideboard (15)
2 Ashiok, Dream Render
2 Collective Brutality
1 Disdainful Stroke
4 Extirpate
2 Force of Negation
3 Fulminator Mage
1 Nexus of Fate
75 Cards Total

This is, at heart, a control list. It kills critters, counters and discards stuff, draws a bunch of extra cards, and eventually wins the game with a couple of powerful, resilient, and efficient threats. What is special about it, though, other than the color combination it features –a combination which unfortunately has been rather underrepresented during its lifespan in Modern thus far– is the single theme that holds it all together, and raises its strength and consistency a notch above what other decks with similar overarching game plans are currently doing.

That theme is Snow. Last seen in Ice Age, Snow makes its return in MH1, and what a return it is. This deck only plays Snow lands, and its other permanents are to a large degree Snow. This is more than a gimmick – Dead of Winter, Marit Lage’s Slumber and Ice-Fang Coatl, when enabled, are a league above their competition. When your removal costs 2 mana and draws a card, when you cast Plague Wind for 3 mana, and your value-scry enchantment turns into an indestructible evasive 20/20, conditional merely upon you playing lands, sit up and pay close attention. You are definitely onto something.

The Build

Dead of Winter
I severely underestimated Dead of Winter when first I saw the card. I thought it was going to be a bad Damnation most of the time, usually a slight upgrade over Flaying Tendrils. I have never been so wrong in all of my life. My initial thinking was that on Turn 3, a blanket -3/-3 would often be not good enough in Modern: Champion of the Parish can get out of hand, Gurmag Angler, Hollow One, and now Hogaak are massively ahead of curve for power and toughness, and Tarmogoyf has generally always been a big boy. If we are going to Turn 4, Damnation does the job anyway. So is occasionally being able to wipe an early couple of creatures worth giving up the unconditional power of Damnation? Treading upon that path of skepticism, I had a rather bright idea. Dead of Winter counts snow permanents, not snow lands – and Modern Horizons certainly provided a few goodies in that department, Ice-Fang Coatl chief among them. I started hunting about for other snow permanents that seemed reasonably playable. My hunt rewarded me with some that were just good standalone cards. Cards I did not really need to make excuses to be playing and in fact provided effects that were worth actively seeking. Taken together, this pile of synergy evolved into something extremely powerful.

Arcum’s Astrolabe
This deck intends to consistently cast GG, BB, and UUU. But given the snow lands available to us in the format as of the time of writing, the mana producing lands for the deck must mostly be basics – the only snow duals printed thus far all enter the battlefield tapped, and are only available for allied pairs. In BUG colors, only Frost Marsh, producing UB, is currently available. The card responsible for this deck’s almost miraculous consistency in colored mana production, despite the land constraints mentioned above, is an unassuming little artifact printed at common in MH1. Arcum’s Astrolabe is colorless, costs 1 to cast, draws a card when it enters the battlefield, and for the input of any one generic mana will output mana of any desired color. An innocent little do-nothing that fixes colours and draws cards, conditional upon you playing snow lands.

Assuming you intend to make the snow mana needed to cast Astrolabe, the opportunity cost to playing it is very low. Control decks thrive upon finding the right cards at the right time, and making sure to not draw the wrong cards at the wrong time. The selection offered by cards Search for Azcanta and Opt have made them Modern control mainstays for a while now, and before their time there was Serum Visions. Astrolabe does not offer the same selection as these blue cantrips but in return, it filters mana to make any color we desire. This is an extremely important effect when duals in the necessary colors are so limited, as basic lands will only go so far towards casting double and triple color-costing spells. Astrolabe is also a snow permanent that enables Ice-Fang Coatl, Dead of Winter, and Marit Lage’s Slumber. It turns into one of the most versatile all-rounder one mana cantrips available in the format.

Ice-Fang Coatl
This snake is absurd. A fresh take on Baleful Strix, a card often bemoaned by many a creature-based strategy in older formats. A card that replaces itself and trades with an opposing creature is an inherent two-for-one. It offers a removal effect that is not a dead card in matchups where targeted spot removal is bad and at the absolute least, smooths your draw phase. Now take that card, and allow it to be played at instant speed and you have yourself very strong incentive to make sure this is a card whose full potential you have access to. All you really have to do to arrive at that potential is play lands. Astrolabe and Ice-Fang Coatl both boost Dead of Winter’s –X/–X count, and Coatl itself has the frost coating necessary to survive the winter, meaning our Ambush Vipers are ready to ambush the next wave of enemy threats before Winter’s next coming.

Marit Lage’s Slumber
Marit Lage’s Slumber is the great ripe juicy cherry on top of these scrumptious layers of card advantage, consistency, and efficiency. Until it stops slumbering, it is a Search for Azcanta on as many steroids as Hulk Hogan and Lance Armstrong – it scries on entry, the scry does not only trigger once on upkeep. In fact with Coatl and Astrolabe, the ETB abilities turn into Opt in conjunction with the Slumber. When Slumber was initially spoiled a lot of people jumped onto the turbo Marit Lage hype train and started brainstorming ideas to make the 20/20 devourer. The most common suggestion in this vein was ramp; a Titanshift like strategy that searches out lands, finds Slumber, makes a 20/20, and wins. However, pairing the UG with black enables hand disruption, removal and Baleful Snake on your way to the behemoth.

Package Construction
Those who are familiar with the approach I take to deck construction will recognize my stamp in the variety of one ofs and two ofs scattered throughout the deck. If done correctly, this improves rather than detracts from the consistency of a deck. One or two ofs are less likely to be drawn over the course of a game so higher numbers are usually chosen to minimize variance and draw a specific combination of cards each game. However, there is another approach to maximizing this consistency: instead of counting cards, count effects.

Instead of playing four Fatal Push, play some combination of cards that can interact with a cheap early play from the opponent. In this deck, that combination is four Coatl, three Push, and one Trophy. While it is quite unlikely the one Trophy will be drawn consistently, any of these eight cards mentioned will do a fine job of dealing with an early Goblin Guide. The one Trophy, in conjunction with the two Maelstrom Pulse, provide three cards total that can kill almost any problematic permanent. While drawing any particular one of them is not extremely likely, drawing any one of them over the course of a middling length game is reasonably likely. There are three of these effects and any one will do.

Packages such as these are strewn throughout the deck. There are five lifegain cards in the main: three Scavenging Ooze, one Courser of Kruphix, and one Kalitas. There are eight cantrips: four Astrolabe and four Coatl. There are nine cards that offer card velocity or selection outside of the cantrips: two Lage’s Slumber, one Courser of Kruphix, one Scrying Sheets, one Tamiyo Collector of Tales, one JTMS, and three Cryptic Command. There are four cards that offer graveyard recursion: two Liliana the Last Hope, one Tamiyo Collector of Tales and one Eternal Witness. There are fifteen cards that offer some kind of creature removal: three Fatal Push, one Assassin’s Trophy, four Ice-Fang Coatl, two Maelstrom Pulse, two Liliana the Last Hope, and three Dead of Winter. There are four cards that offer a way to exile important graveyard cards for decks that look to utilize the yard: three Scavenging Ooze and one Kalitas.

I could go on, but by this point, assuredly, the point has been made. Different cards that fulfill several different roles come together to form large sets of cards that perform a specific function, sets from which it is not unlikely to see at least one card across any given game should the need arise. It is worth noting here that the single Jace, the Mind Sculptor in the main also offers an alternate, non-combat-based win condition.

The Sideboard
It is filled with narrower options tailored to answer specific scenarios, but slightly flexible options nonetheless that contribute to the expansion of the relevant packages for a particular matchup. The cards currently in the sideboard are by no means set in stone, as with all sideboards.

Between the four Extirpate (split second is great) and two Ashiok, graveyard strategies are about as covered as a control deck can hope to cover. The two Collective Brutality, two Force of Negation, one Disdainful Stroke and four Extirpate form a powerful disruptive package against combo decks that do not particularly care about the graveyard. The three counterspells are good in matchups where the opponent is looking to cast unfair cards or against opposing control lists.

Force of Negation over Countersquall because the exile and free-to-cast is very relevant. No Flusterstorm because this deck has sufficient other ways to disrupt Storm and the other countermagic it has covers more bases. Nexus of Fate is to help go over the top of other decks also looking to play a long game, in a way that is very difficult to permanently deal with and that also prevents you from losing to an empty library. This slot, like other sideboard slots, is certainly flexible but I personally enjoy inevitability and not milling out.

The Verdict
Naturally, more testing and refining is called for. Perhaps this is not the best home for the Snow Snake; perhaps a more creature based strategy built around cards like Tireless Tracker and Collected Company will better drive home the advantage and pressure Snake can generate. However, the shell presented in this current iteration of the deck generally feels very smooth to play. The many cantrips make it reasonably easy to find what you’re looking for. The many versatile cards make your draws feel consistent in their ability to deal with the enemy gameplan. There are powerful lategame engines that let you use your excess mana to good purpose – Eternal Witness Cryptic Command is still good to soft-lock your opponent if you can get there – and of course Marit Lage can just wake up from his Slumber when he gets bored of the game dragging on so long. The deck is full of powerful spells, and once it starts doing what it is designed to do in the mid-lategame, especially postboard where answers are more specific, it often starts to feel like nothing your opponent can do matters very much. There is some serious potential here.

Update
Since I provided the decklist and wrote about the deck, I’ve been testing a whole bunch with it, against everything; including the busted Hogaak decks. The changes I have made as a result are:

Maindeck: -1 Frost Marsh, -1 Marit Lage’s Slumber
+1 Collective Brutality, +1 Assassin’s Trophy
Sideboard: -1 Fulminator Mage, -1 Nexus of Fate, -2 Collective Brutality
+2 Plague Engineer, +1 Liliana’s Triumph, +1 Jace, Wielder of Mysteries

Assassin’s Trophy has overperformed. The list of matchups in which you do not want Trophy is very, very slim. There are many problematic permanents that need answering that are not creatures, a not insignificant portion of them lands. Furthermore, early interaction is vital from fair decks if they want to have a chance against all the broken unfairness running around town. That said, caution is advised against overloading on Trophy; giving the opponent extra lands in the early game can be a very big deal. In a similar vein, Collective Brutality is a very versatile card with application against practically every deck in the format. I would not fault anyone for going up to multiple copies across the main and side.

Plague Engineer was a glaring omission from my first list. The reason for this was solely that I forgot. I have made adjustments accordingly for its inclusion. In games where Plague Engineer is good, it is absurd. It can be good even in situations where it does not come down and immediately kill something; it is, after all, still a board shrink on a deathtouching body that eats one power creatures in combat.

Not having access to any edict effects across the 75 feels wrong. But edicts are at an all time low in value right now, given the abundance of Hogaak and other go-wide strategies. However, there are still matchups and scenarios where just about nothing else will suffice. Dead of Winter in the main does get around hexproof, indestructible, and protection against most creatures we care to kill; but Triumph is a way to kill cards like Primeval Titan and Emrakul the Aeons Torn that need answering at instant speed. Of course, Triumph retains a lot of its power in matchups where cheap creature removal is a priority and the edict is likely to hit a relevant creature. Jace, Wielder of Mysteries is more relevant than Nexus of Fate in just about every matchup except dedicated mill. Jace also prevents loss by decking, but in addition provides consistent value and an alternate win condition at a reasonably cheap rate for those effects; the same rate, in fact, as the more famous Jace.

As the format keeps evolving and the deck continues to be tested, the list will adapt. Players may also vary in personal playstyle choices, this being a deck that both enables and thrives off creative choices in deckbuilding and decision making. I shall end my discussion of this BUG Snow control list at present, with every certainty that this is one of the better decks in the format, equipped with the tools to efficiently and successfully fight everything it comes across.

Wrap-Up
This is one that we were really looking forward to. Snow has never gotten enough love in competitive Magic but that may change in pos-Horizons Modern. I do have to wonder if there are some old snow cards being overlooked though. Have you found anything in a gatherer deep dive? What does your snow list look like? Come share it with us in our discussion group. Or if you would like to take a swing at writing content for the site you can contact us directly here. We will be back tomorrow another post-Horizons brew. Until then my friends.

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