Magic History: Coldsnap

Magic Untapped takes a look back at the set Coldsnap.

Wizards of the Coast's popular and long-standing collectible card game, Magic: The Gathering, has been out since 1993.  That stated, it's nice to look back at older sets to reminisce and see just how much the game has changed over the years.

In this video, we look back at Coldsnap, (technically) the final set in Magic: The Gathering's Ice Age block from the mid-1990s.

Check it out:

Video Transcript:


Ironically, the 39th expansion in Magic: The Gathering history, Coldsnap, came out in July of 2006.  But it re-introduced a very popular mechanic: snow.


The set also closed out the Ice Age block ten years after the release of the block’s second expansion, Alliances, and replaced Homelands – a set that never fit in with the other two by any means at all – as the block’s official third and final set.

The set’s story is told not by an official Magic: The Gathering novel, but rather by a short story and articles on the Magic web site, as well as in a short story called “Keeping the Cold” found within the pages of the Coldsnap player’s guide that came bundled in with the set’s fat pack.  The story is told though a first person narrative written by Jeff Grubb by the set’s main antagonist, Heidar, as well as through the cards themselves.

The fat pack also included a copy of the novel The Gathering Dark, also by Grubb, and while it carries the moniker of being Book I of the Ice Age Cycle, the novel actually tells the story of the goings-on during the set The Dark, which came out two expansions before Ice Age.

If you want to learn more about that story, we suggest you check out the “Who Is” video series about Jodah, Archmage Eternal.  We’ll put a link in the video description for you.

As for the story of Coldsnap, it takes place on the Dominarian continent of Terisaire, which was also home to the Brothers’ War and the age of ice that followed.  The land is now in a state of rebirth known as the Thaw thanks to the Ice Age ending world spell cast by the planeswalker Freyalese with the help of Jodah, Dominaria’s eventual “archmage eternal,” and a young, pre-planeswalker Jaya Ballard.

The world’s climate was changing and the ice that held Dominaria captive was receeding as temperatures began to return to normal.  This stressed an esoteric order of wizards known as the Cult of Rimewind who worshipped the eternal ice and believed that endless winter was best.  The cult was headed by Gendrin, a talented ice wizard (or cryomancer).

For most of their history, the Rimewind cultists kept to themselves, content to stay in their keep and out of worldly affairs.  The Thaw changed this, however, as temperatures rose, rivers flooded, ice melted, and refugees began to invade their land, incidentally informing the reclusive cult of all of the changes occurring in the lands to the south.

This alarmed the cultists, but there were differing opinions on how to best handle these changes.

Acting out of fear due to the coming thaw, Heidar, one of the cult’s most talented mages, ventured into the keep’s deepest reaches.  There, in the cold darkness, he discovered ancient Phyrexian etchings.  As he began deciphering and understanding these dark teachings, madness beset him.  He concluded he research with the belief that the only way to beat the Thaw was by harnessing Phyrexian power.

He brought this new insight to the attention of his mentor, Gendrin, who refused to even entertain the idea.  In a fit of rage and resentment towards Gendrin and the dismissive reception he received from him, Heidar accidentally killed him.  Without hesitation, though, Heidar took over as the Master of Rimewind.

Now in charge, Heidar dispatched cultists to scour the continent for anything and anyone that would help.  Dormant Phyrexian war-beasts and other such machines were found buried in now-melting glaciers.  An alliance was formed with the undead Order of Stromgald through their leader, Haakon, for protection from the forces of New Argive who have become wise to Heidar’s plans.  Another alliance was formed with the city-state of Krov and its vampire-queen Garza Zol, who granted the cultists access to vast libraries of lost knowledge and relics.

Soon enough, the Cult of Rimewind succeeded in creating a new, artificial winter and in reanimating many of the dormant Phyrexian war-beasts with magic-infused ice crystals they called Coldsteel Hearts.  Not long after, a war party led by the Balduvian leader, Lovisa Coldeyes, attacked Rimewind, intent on foiling Heidar’s plans.  The master cryomancer, however, was prepared.

He activated the Phyrexians, turning them loose on the invaders.  In the bloodbath that ensued, Coldeyes was captured and brought to Heidar.  He offered her a deal: He’ll spare her life in exchange for the unconditional surrender of both her Balduvians and her Kjeldoran allies.  In response, she spat at him.  As a retort, the cryomage skewered her with an ice spike, killing her at his feet.

Another piece of his sanity slips away as he begins attacking both friend and foe alike – even going so far as to accidentally freeze to death his own wife, Lidra.  He orders his Phyrexian war-beasts to march towards Kjeldor, whose forces were actively being kept at bay thanks to the Order of Stromgald alliance.  

This extra show of force and obvious lack of constraint by Heidar concerned Garza Zol, fearful that Krov might be next despite their alliance.  Unbeknownst to the master cryomancer, Zol had assassins planted in Rimewind.  Quite unceremoniously, Heidar was no more.

Without Heidar’s guidance, however, the rampaging Phyrexian war-beasts went haywire.  The Kjeldorans, who had summoned support from their allies in Yavimaya, routed the leaderless Phyrexians and cultists.

In the calm following the battle, Yavimayan shamans performed a ritual that put an end to Rimewind’s artificial winter, thus allowing Dominaria’s Thaw to run its proper course.


Okay, so there’s only so much story of Coldsnap to talk about.  But there’s a lot to talk about as far as the cards are concerned.


When Coldsnap was announced in October of 2005, players were told a story of how then-Magic developer Randy Buehler was helping to move an old filing cabinet out of Magic creator Richard Garfield’s old office.  Inside that cabinet, he said, was an old folder titled “Rock & Roll” that, in short, contained the long-lost designs for the third and final set in the Ice Age block of the mid-1990s.

As neat as that story is, it’s just that: a story.  Players, however, took it seriously.  And, once the truth came out, people weren’t exactly thrilled.

In short, what it boiled down to was Wizards of the Coast trying to do something fun and different in announcing the set but failing because (A) the company had Buehler – a person known for his seriousness and a rock of truth – tell the story rather than someone who’s known for having a bit of fun with things such as Mark Rosewater, and (B) the story was just a little too believable.

What almost isn’t believable is just how quickly Wizards of the Coast put the set together.  At the time, a small Magic set went through four months of design work.  Because the higher-ups at Wizards decided too late that they wanted a summer release for 2006, Coldsnap was designed in six weeks with the first few weeks of work being done fully out of the office in order to give development enough time to do their work.

During design and development, R&D make a conscious effort to create Coldsnap with the themes and mechanics of Ice Age and Alliances in mind and to give the set a bit of a “retro” feel.

Coldsnap returned things like:
•    Cumulative upkeep (essentially an ever-increasing tax the player has to pay to keep the card in play);
•    “Pitch” cards that can be played for free in exchange for discarding (or pitching) one (or in Coldsnap’s case, two) cards from one’s hand;
•    Old characters that were mentioned in story or on cards, but had not yet gotten cards of their own (such is the case with Arcum Dagsson, Darien, King of Kjeldor, Zur the Enchanter, and others);
•    The concept of snow, though by adding the “snow” supertype to the already-existing snow-covered lands (which were all reprinted in Coldsnap) and expanding the supertype to non-land permanents.  Wizards also added a new symbol – a snowflake – for activation and mana costs meant to denote that the cost must be paid by mana produced by a snow source, and;
•    Old-school, draw-a-card-during-the-next-upkeep cantrips.

The set also introduced two new mechanics:
•    Recover, a “graveyard matters” keyword ability that allows a player to return cards with the ability to their hand by paying its recover cost when a creature next goes to the graveyard from play (failing to pay the cost exiles the card instead), and;
•    Ripple, a triggered ability that allows the player to reveal a given number of cards from the top of their library and cast all cards that share a name with the original spell cast for free.  The set has five such cards (plus one artifact – Thrumming Stone – that grants the ability), each with a ripple value of four.  The ability wasn’t very popular.  In fact, in a December 2021 episode of Good Morning Magic, senior Magic designer Gavin Verhey rated ripple as the single worst designed Magic: The Gathering mechanic of all time.

Because Coldsnap was being inserted into the Ice Age block so many years after the original sets’ releases, four theme decks were released alongside the set’s 15-card booster packs.  These theme decks would contain not only cards from Coldsnap, but also from Ice Age and Alliances, albeit in the modern card frame.  While not legal for standard play, this did give new players access to a number of cards from the first two sets in the block such as Dark Ritual, Brainstorm, Portent, Swords to Plowshares, and a basic island found in the Kjeldoran Cunning deck that accidentally has the artwork for the original Snow-Covered Island card on it.

Despite being a small set with 155 cards, Coldsnap featured a whopping ten cycles plus one vertical cycle.  Most notable among them all are:
•    Kindle spells (inspired by the Tempest card Kindle) which each have an ability that grows based upon how many copies of the card are in players’ graveyards, such as the card Rune Snag countering a spell unless that spell’s caster pays two mana PLUS an additional two for each Rune Snag card currently in each graveyard;
•    Martyrs, which is a cycle of human creatures that each have a sacrificial activated ability that scales based upon the number of specific cards you reveal from your hand, such as Martyr of Sands gaining you three life for each white card you reveal;
•    Super pitch cards, like Allosaurus Rider and Sunscour, which can be played without paying their mana cost in exchange for removing two cards in your hand from the game instead;
•    The snow-covered lands, which are reprints from Ice Age, but updated with the new snow supertype, and;
•    Allied-color snow tap lands.

Coldsnap also has a mirrored pair in the cards White Shield Crusader and Stromgald Crusader.  The cards are callbacks to the cards Order of the White Shield and Knight of Stromgald, which are themselves functional reprints of the Fallen Empires cards Order of Leitbur and Order of the Ebon Hand.

Other cards of note in this set include:
•    Dark Depths, a card that was initially ignored in tournament play until the printings of Vampire Hexmage in Zendikar and Thespian’s Stage in Gatecrash caused its play value to skyrocket and the card to become banned in Modern.
•    Ohran Viper, once considered the best rare card in the set.
•    Panglacial Wurm, the first card ever printed that could be played directly from one’s library.
•    Haakon, Stromgald Scourge, the first card ever printed that couldn’t be cast from your hand.
•    Vanish into Memory, the third card to be designed through Wizards of the Coast’s “You Make the Card” promotion, following Scourge’s Forgotten Ancient and Fifth Dawn’s Crucible of Worlds.
•    Counterbalance, an extremely powerful blue enchantment that (through the help of deck manipulation cards like Brainstorm, Sensei’s Divining Top, and Jace the Mind Sculptor) that can make it extremely difficult for one’s opponent to successfully resolve a spell.
•    Mishra’s Bauble, a popular and powerful card that finds its way into a number of competitive decks across a variety of formats.
•    Skred.  The namesake card in the moderately-popular Skred Red deck in Modern.  Skred, by the way, is the Norse word for “avalanche.”
•    Allosaurus Rider, a key card in the Neobrand modern deck (also Coldsnap’s pre-release promo).
•    And the Marit Lage creature token, which was only given out at the Coldsnap release and wouldn’t be widely available until its inclusion in the From the Vault: Lore box set a decade later.


Is Coldsnap one of your favorite Magic: The Gathering sets?  If so, let us know in the comment section below.  And, please support Magic Untapped by subscribing to us here on YouTube and toss a buck in our tip jar on Patreon.

Thank you for watching.

Barry White

Barry White is a longtime Magic: The Gathering player, having started in 1994 shortly before the release of 'Fallen Empires.' After graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno, he went on to a 15-year journalism career as a writer, reporter, and videographer for three different ABC affiliate newsrooms.