Last updated on July 12, 2021

Dark Depths - Illustration by Stephan Martiniere

Dark Depths | Illustration by Stephan Martiniere

I absolutely loved Kaldheim. I love Vikings, metal, and Norse mythology in general and this set brought all of that into Magic. Yes, I’m perfectly aware of how cliché it is. But those aren’t the only reasons I loved this set.

The new foretell mechanic was fun and pretty well implemented. The double-sided god cards were a very interesting take on both the god creature type and the interpretation of the Norse gods. And we got even more snow cards after their blasting appearance in the first Modern Horizons.

When I started playing Magic, there hadn’t been a proper snow-based set for about five years. Coldsnap was the last time snow cards had made an appearance, and at that point they’d become some kind of myth. They tended to be expensive and weren’t really played a lot.

Skred

But with we got two whole new sets of snow-covered lands Modern Horizons and Kaldheim along with various cards that used them in their mechanics and strategies. So what even are snow-covered lands? Let’s get into it.

A Definition of Snow Lands

Snow-Covered Forest - Illustration by Alayna Danner

Snow-Covered Forest | Illustration by Alayna Danner

Snow is a supertype that first saw print in 1995 with the Ice Age expansion. Snow has no inherent mechanic or use other than being an identifying characteristic of different permanents and spells. Basic and non-basic snow lands have this supertype in addition to any other types they might have.

Mechanically, they’re not very different from regular lands. All the snow basic lands add mana of their specified type. There are also snow dual lands and non-basic snow lands that add generic mana. All this mana can be used normally as if it were from regular sources.

One thing that sets these lands apart is that there are cards that have mana costs that need to be paid for specifically with mana produced by snow lands. Let’s take Icehide Troll as an example. This card asks you to pay two “snowflakes” to activate its effect. This symbol stands for generic mana, except that it needs to be produced by a snow permanent. So in this card’s case, it doesn’t matter which mana color you use to pay it as long as that mana comes from a snow land.

Icehide Troll

Why Do People Play Snow-Covered Lands?

Faceless Haven - Illustration by Titus Lunter

Faceless Haven | Illustration by Titus Lunter

I think there are two main reasons to play snow lands.

Strategically Speaking

The first would be to take advantage of cards that use snow mana for certain effects. I have at least two decks that play with snow lands, even though they’re not snow-centered decks.

Cards like Frost Bite and Boreal Outrider can be reason enough to turn all the lands in your deck into snow lands. Not to mention that Jorn, God of Winter can be a great excuse to build a snow-centered Commander deck.

There’s also the added bonus that there are certain cards that aren’t specifically snow-centered but still benefit from snow lands. Take a card like Extraplanar Lens; exiling a snow-covered land gives extra mana to snow lands and you’d be making sure you don’t give tons of mana to your opponents since not many players use snow lands.

For the Aesthetic

The other reason is way simpler, and that’s if you just like how they look. Since snow lands work the same as regular lands, you can technically add as many of them as you want into any constructed deck where they’re legal. Maybe you’re playing a deck where they fit with the aesthetic even if it doesn’t really use any snow mechanics.

This is exactly why full art lands exist. Magic is a social game after all, and having other players talk about how cool your lands are is always a great feeling. It’s okay to indulge in it a little bit.

Let It Snow

There’s essentially no drawback to replacing all the basics in your deck with snow lands, except maybe the price. Plus there isn’t any real limit to how many basic snow lands you can play in a deck since they work just like regular basic lands. This isn’t the case with the non-basics.

The only reason to play many of the non-basic snow lands is to take advantage of the snow supertype. After all, most snow duals are essentially gates (a.k.a. the worst dual lands) so they’re only any good if you need to produce snow mana. But of course cards like Faceless Haven can add a whole new dimension to, say, your mono red aggro deck.

It could even be argued that you should be playing snow lands over regular basic lands. Since there are currently so many strategies in both Modern and Standard that use snow as a focus, not playing snow lands could give away some strengths and weaknesses of your deck right away.

Just make sure you don’t run into the occasional hate card.

Reidane, God of the Worthy

A Note About Draft

Please be aware that this whole dynamic is completely different in draft. In both Modern Horizons and Kaldheim draft, you have to actually use your draft picks on the snow lands. This means that there are typically only 24 snow lands per draft, which makes them a scarce resource. Both sets have, in fact, a snow archetype that is centered around taking these lands early and often. So when you play these sets, please don’t go expecting to get snow lands for free out out the basic lands box!

What Sets Were Snow Lands In?

The history of snow as a supertype goes way back. Even though it reached its peak over the past few years thanks to Modern Horizons and Kaldheim, snow was introduced during Magic’s sixth expansion. We’re talking 26 years ago.

Let’s take a look.

The Original Set: Ice Age (1995)

The 1995 Ice Age set was the first time snow-covered lands were introduced in the game. Given how the entire setting for the set is an ice age (totally unexpected, I know) it’d be a safe guess to assume that snow lands were one of the first things planned for the set. But that is an entirely wrong assumption for you to make.

These lands, along with the entire snow mechanic, were among the last things to be added to the set. They came as a way to improve the set’s atmosphere and environment but ended up backfiring as a contrived mechanic.

A Slight Improvement: Coldsnap (2006)

The original set of snow lands was definitely not well received. Players found them confusing and unnecessarily complicated. The entire snow mechanic went pretty unexplored in the Ice Age expansion and was pretty much rejected by everyone because of this. WotC eventually decided to revisit the mechanic during the 2006 Coldsnap expansion and bring some updates.

The snow supertype was added to some non-land cards and the mechanic was greatly expanded. There was also a cycle of snow-covered, allied tap lands plus two additional colorless snow lands and the infamous legendary snow land Dark Depths, which also saw reprints on Ultimate Masters and Double Masters.

Becoming a Modern Staple: Modern Horizons (2019)

Modern Horizons was the set that established snow as a proper powerhouse decades after the mechanic’s first appearance. What better way to show that than full art snow-covered lands?

Snow was one of the central mechanics of this set. Cards like Marit Lage’s Slumber and Abominable Treefolk elevated snow lands from simple basic lands with extra uses to powerful win conditions. This set’s focus on snow permanents also retroactively made a lot of the Coldsnap cards more powerful in Modern. Snow lands have become very dominant in the format since then, either because you’re using snow as a strategy or you want to confuse your opponent and have them questioning whether you actually are using snow or just using them for aesthetic.

Some players have pointed this out as more of a problem than a benefit since it makes playing a specific basic land more a necessity than a choice, but I’ll go into this later. This set also gave us another colorless snow land with Frostwalk Bastion.

Eldraine Wonderland: Secret Lair (2019)

Following the success of snow lands in Modern Horizons and the release of Throne of Eldraine, WotC released a Secret Lair with five basic snow lands. Each of them represented an Eldraine locale covered in winter’s snow. It was probably a way to bring snow closer to standard.

Kaldheim was still over a year away at that point, but it would be the first time in almost 15 years that snow permanents would be Standard-legal.

Taking Over Standard: Kaldheim (2021)

Snow is back in Standard after well over a decade! Kaldheim brought a ton of support for the snow supertype plus several snow-covered lands. With cards like Narfi, Betrayer King and Jorn, God of Winter, snow is now also a viable central strategy to throw into your Commander decks.

And with cards like Boreal Outrider and Priest of the Haunted Edge, snow lands are strong in tribal decks which would otherwise have no use for them. Kaldheim also included two colorless snow lands and a cycle of allied- and enemy-colored dual snow lands.

What About Prices?

Shimmerdrift Vale - Illustration by Titus Lunter

Shimmerdrift Vale | Illustration by Titus Lunter

I’ve mentioned several times that you could (and maybe even should) replace all your basic lands with snow basics. Obviously that’s easy in Arena where you’re given all snow lands for free the same as any other basic land. Doing it in paper Magic can prove to be a little bit harder. Buying basic lands is still cheaper than buying snow lands. Prices for basic snow lands range from around $0.50 for Kaldheim prints to over $20 for the Secret Lair editions.

Older prints like the ones from Ice Age and Coldsnap tend to be around $1.50 or $2.00, sometimes even more. If your main concern is having snow lands for gameplay rather than aesthetic, I’d personally go for Kaldheim. They’re not ugly and they’re the cheaper option since they’re still new and seeing a lot of circulation.

The same standard applies to the dual snow lands. The Kaldheim prints are about $0.50 while the Coldsnap ones are around $1 or more.

The truth here is that, while most snow lands are a little bit more expensive than regular basics, they’re still very affordable. The only snow land that will really make you invest some good money if you want to play it is Dark Depths, which is just over $20.

Considering that Modern is a format where snow lands see their fair share of play, there’s a chance that their price will rise once Kaldheim is out of rotation. There’s no real clue as to when the next reprint for snow lands might be, and given the history of the mechanic, I wouldn’t bet on it being any time soon. This means that right now is probably one of the best moments to grab a few if you want to use them in your decks.

Pros and Cons of the Snow Mechanic

Arctic Treeline - Illustration by Alayna Danner

Arctic Treeline | Illustration by Alayna Danner

I think the history of snow-covered lands and the snow mechanic in general is a really interesting one. It’s noteworthy that the mechanic took a whole 24 years to gain proper support and recognition as something that could be truly powerful and worth playing. They were a strong failure when they were released for the first time in Ice Age and they didn’t exactly become fan favorites when Coldsnap brought some proper support for the mechanic. It took another 13 years after for Modern Horizons to really make the snow mechanic truly interesting.

I think Kaldheim is a great example of Wizards learning from their history. Snow was a success in Modern. They took that success and gracefully translated it into Standard. Snow as a mechanic became more accessible and fun than ever, even after two decades since its failed introduction into the game.

I personally enjoy snow cards a lot. I think they can be extremely flavorful and set a great atmosphere for the set they’re in. They’re mechanically fun to use, and there’s even more variety when it comes to deciding how to use them with every new set they’re in.

A Potential Problem

Sulfurous Mire - Illustration by Titus Lunter

Sulfurous Mire | Illustration by Titus Lunter

But I think there’s one problem with snow lands. Or at least there could be. They don’t have any drawbacks. At least not from an inherent mechanical perspective, if we don’t consider prices and hate cards. Playing snow lands in your deck will almost always be better. In Modern and Commander, you can add plenty of cards from Magic’s history that use snow lands to your advantage. They can make your opponent second guess your strategy even when you don’t have a single snow card other than basic lands in your deck. That takes some degree of choice away.

They run the risk of becoming stale and obvious. If every deck you cross paths with plays snow lands, the novelty begins to wear out. You’ll no longer deceive your opponents because they’ll just expect everyone to have at least some snow lands in their deck.

Let’s hypothetically say all lands cost the same. You can choose from every cycle of basic lands that’s ever been printed in Magic to put into your deck. I’m a firm supporter of the idea that what lands you choose for your decks says something about you as  player. Unless you’re just grabbing whatever lands you have lying around, you’ll try to pick something that you think looks pretty or that fits your deck’s theme.

If snow lands are objectively better than regular basics, you’re no longer choosing from Magic’s entire history, but rather a few sets. This is obviously hypothetical and not a real issue as far as I’m aware, but I think it’s something that needs to be considered when making cards that are just plain better than their original counterpart. Especially when those original cards are the foundation for the entire game.

What’s keeping snow lands from taking over regular basic lands is probably a mix of them only becoming truly important in the past two years and the limited prints. As I mentioned before, there’s more than 25 years of basic lands going around. They’re cheap and abundant. Snow lands don’t have that benefit. At least not yet.

Winter is Leaving

Snow-Covered Swamp - Illustration by Adam Paquette

Snow-Covered Swamp | Illustration by Adam Paquette

Snow lands definitely have a bumpy history. I really like them from a design and flavor standpoint. I’m really happy that these past years have made them good to play, not to mention how much support the entire mechanic has gotten.

Snow’s whole rollercoaster also gives me hope for some other failed mechanics that have great potential. I’m staring at you, Kamigawa.

What do you guys think? Do you think snow lands taking over regular basic lands could become a real issue in the future? Do you use them in all your Arena decks or are you, ironically, a little more chill about it? Let us know in the comments below. And speaking of Arena, don’t forget to check Arena Tutor to help improve your draft game.

That’s all from me this time. Best of luck on all your draws, and have a good one!

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