Should Miracles Go?

With the recent success of Miracles at both GP Columbus and GP Prague many Legacy players are calling for a card to be banned from the deck to help diversify the format, thereby leveling the playing field between Aggro/Control/Combo. Keep in mind that the Wizards’ banned list announcement is just around the corner. My name is Aaron Kasprzak and I piloted a Ponder/Entreat UWR Miracles list to a Top 8 finish at GP Columbus. For those who don’t know me, I’m an Eternal diehard and have been playing glacially slow blue-based control decks for well over a decade in just about every constructed format. I want to take an objective look at the Legacy Miracles deck and give an unbiased opinion as to whether this deck’s existence in the format is healthy.

What is Miracles?

Miracles is a powerful, predominantly Blue/White, control deck that many would consider the defining control deck of the format. Its name comes from two powerful spells that feature the Miracle mechanic: [card]Entreat the Angels[/card] and Terminus. With the ability to manipulate the top of your deck via format staples such as [card]Brainstorm[/card], [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card], and [card]Sensei’s Divining Top[/card] you can often set up devastating turns. [card]Sensei’s Divining Top[/card] does double duty at combo-ing with [card]Counterbalance[/card] to “soft lock” people from casting their cheap 1 and 2 mana spells. The deck will frequently win with either [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card], [card]Entreat the Angels[/card], or [card]Monastery Mentor[/card]. Miracles’ greatest weakness is that it’s slow and punishing to misplay caused by inexperience with the deck. It can struggle against decks that don’t care about the Countertop combo, such as Eldrazi. It can be overly reliant on its ability to smooth out draws with Top and blue cantrips leading to clunky hands that fold to opposing disruption.

Why Ban Miracles?

Miracles has been a top tier deck in Legacy for roughly three years. This is a remarkable run in any constructed format. It remained dominant through many bans/unbans and format shakeups. First and foremost, the existence of Miracles in Legacy puts a strong constraint on which, if any, creature-based strategies are viable in the format. With Terminus acting as a one-mana instant speed [card]Wrath of God[/card] that ignores keywords like Indestructible, Hexproof, and [card]Regeneration[/card], creature-based strategies are severely impacted. Once popular archetypes in the form of Stoneblade, Jund, UWR Delver, Zoo, and Maverick have essentially disappeared from Legacy because of Terminus. In order for non-blue creature decks to survive in a Miracles metagame they need to employ powerful, but clunky, hate cards in their main deck such as [card]Chalice of the Void[/card]. Another option is to have access to [card]Aether Vial[/card] so that they play their threats at instant speed. In addition, they need to have a plethora of sideboard hate and disruption, like [card]Thoughtseize[/card] and [card]Abrupt Decay[/card], to be competitive. If Miracles left the format it’s interesting to think about what Midrange/Aggressive strategies would emerge.

Aside from Terminus, [card]Counterbalance[/card] in conjunction with [card]Sensei’s Divining Top[/card] is probably the most miserable aspect of the deck. If you’re playing a deck with cheap efficient spells then being locked out from casting them is usually damning. You typically have to play to your narrow outs of breaking through the Countertop lock, but in doing so you’re giving the Miracles player more and more time to find more and more answers. The game is essentially over, but not actually over because the Miracles pilot hasn’t found a win condition. This brings us to the next problem with Miracles as a tier one Legacy deck: timing. Miracles is a notoriously slow deck, not only because it lacks a high number of win conditions but because of the sheer number of Top activations that need to be executed during a game. These actions need to be done so that the top 3 cards of your library are ordered correctly for the purposes of Countertop and Miracling cards. Wizards has stated before that the main reason [card]Sensei’s Divining Top[/card] was banned in Modern was purely for round time consideration. Nothing is more frustrating than playing against a Top player who has to look at the top three cards with Top multiple times a turn and takes an unreasonable amount of time through each iteration. This causes Legacy tournaments to run slowly, forcing players to go to time. For skilled Miracles players this is a nonissue, and with the printing of [card]Monastery Mentor[/card] some versions of Miracles have become considerably faster. However, this doesn’t change the fact that slow Miracles player will often force draws and unreasonably slow down tournaments.

Lastly, Miracles is a deck in Legacy that gets to play some of the most powerful and efficient cards in the format: [card]Brainstorm[/card], [card]Force of Will[/card], [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card], [card]Swords to Plowshares[/card], and [card]Sensei’s Divining Top[/card]. It has the advantage of being able to play around [card]Wasteland[/card] and other piece of mana disruption that are staples of Legacy as a result of its super stable manabase (usually in the neighbourhood of 5-7 basics depending on the versions). As a result of its colours (Blue, White, Splash Red) Miracles is able to play some of the most powerful hate cards and disruption pieces in the format for its sideboarded games. Powerful creature hosers like Humility or Moat, “Land Hate” like [card]Blood Moon[/card] or [card]Ruination[/card], cards that interact with the graveyard efficiently like [card]Rest in Peace[/card] and [card]Surgical Extraction[/card] and additional cheap counter-magic like [card]Red [card]Elemental[/card] Blast[/card] and [card]Flusterstorm[/card] are all at its disposal post game one. Don’t be too shocked at how cheesy Wear//Tear interacts when revealed to [card]Counterbalance[/card] – yes, it’s that stupid. Miracles gets all these goodies postboard and all with stable manabase that is near impossible to disrupt. Based on all these factors many people are quick to point out that Miracles has no truly “bad matchups” in the format. This is a luxury that almost no other deck can has; it makes Miracles a prime contender for the ban hammer.

Why Not Ban Miracles?

It’s difficult to assess what the Legacy metagame would look like with Miracles out of the format. Would Delver decks be too oppressive or would combo decks like Storm be too powerful without Miracles more or less keeping these decks in check? A banned card from Miracles might present a slippery slope of cards needing to be removed from the format without a true control deck policing things. Aside from these questions, that can only really be speculated on, let’s address the Counterbalance-Top combo. When this oppressive and truly unfun combo first came into existence in Extended it was enough to warrant a [card]Sensei’s Divining Top[/card] ban. In 2016, the Countertop combo is probably at its overall weakest in the history of the game. [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] is still seeing an immense amount of play as an easy answer to break up Countertop, [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] is everywhere, tier decks like Death and Taxes run [card]Aether Vial[/card]; the Legacy newcomer, Eldrazi, doesn’t come close to caring about [card]Counterbalance[/card]. Even burn decks have access to [card]Exquisite Firecraft[/card] now, making this once favourable matchup for Miracles a lot more iffy. Not to mention that many Legacy decks now run such a disparity in converted mana cost these days that it’s difficult to truly establish Countertop lock. The only decks that [card]Counterbalance[/card] truly punishes are Delver and Combo, both of which are fast and disruptive enough to play overtop of the powerful Coldsnap enchantment.

Terminus on the other hand is just as degenerate as it always has been since its printing with the sheer amount of ways the Miracles deck can set up its Miracle. Terminus punishes overextending savagely, but by playing too carefully you allow the Miracles deck too much time to find their answers. Many people have talked about [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] being a more fair sweeper for a control deck to have access to, but the way the Legacy format is now – is [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] just too slow and ineffective to keep up? Deck’s like Infect can play through a [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] with their manlands. Delver decks can easily keep a control deck off of 4 mana long enough with Stifles and [card]Wasteland[/card]s to win the game with their aggressive clocks. On top of that, [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] is just laughably slow against the disruption and clock that Eldrazi presents. Many would argue that the format requires a card like Terminus for a control deck to be viable in today’s Legacy. Finaly, almost every creature-based deck in the format has built-in card advantage machines that can play through one “Wrath”, thereby lessening the blow to savvier players who will play around it.

Joe Lossett recently made a statement where he believed that people aren’t sideboarding in enough hate to handle Miracles. While I personally don’t believe this to be true, I think that a lot of players don’t have enough experience playing against strong Miracles players. Inexperienced players tend to fall into the trap of being too passive or too aggressive and getting blown out as a result. Players who are knowledgable of their matchup against Miracles have a keen eye fpr what to play around and what to disrupt based on the actions of the Miracles player. Sometimes Miracles will “have it all”, but is that any different than your Reanimator opponent going Turn 1 Entomb/Renanimate [card]Griselbrand[/card] with you being unable to interact? This is sometimes the nature of Eternal formats. Miracles is a deck that strong players tend to gravitate towards because it’s a deck that rewards format knowledge, tight technical play, and is inherently powerful. This can make the Miracles matchup for a less experienced Legacy player even tougher. That all said, I do believe more players, who can afford to run them in their sideboards, should be playing strong Miracles hate such as [card]Pithing Needle[/card] and Null Rod. Players are quick to point out that Miracles has a heinous matchup against the new Legacy deck on the block, Eldrazi. The results from GP Colombus/Prague show that the format had prepared itself for this deck sufficiently enough. Perhaps it’s an issue that every Eldrazi player is in a sense “new” and were fighting an uphill battle against skilled and prepared blue mages, or perhaps it’s an issue of the Eldrazi archetype being still in the process of optimization. Time will tell.

My Opinion?

Obviously these sentiments are going to be slightly biased based on the fact that I’ve been playing Miracles for quite a long time and have done very well with the deck. I think it’s refreshing to have a blue-based control strategy as a Tier one deck in Legacy. Since the era of [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] and Cawblade, Wizards has done their hardest to restrict the power of blue control decks. We can see this in Modern, where most Tier 1 decks like Burn, Affinity, Zoo and Infect are aggressive and fast enough that it makes interacting difficult. It’s refreshing that in Legacy there exists a powerful enough blue control deck to inhibit the power of raw aggression by forcing players to respect cards like Terminus and [card]Counterbalance[/card]. Personally, I would rather a Legacy format where Miracles is present to police some of the degeneracy, over a Legacy format where decks interested in non-interaction are the top dogs. Of course, all these opinions come from a stubborn, patient blue mage from a long-forgotten era in Magic history, so I would love to hear others’ opinions.

As Sensei’s Diving Top, [card]Counterbalance[/card] and Terminus are key components of the deck in its current form, major overhauls would be required if either of these were to be banned. If [card]Sensei’s Divining Top[/card] got axed, the deck could not work. I don’t think Miracles could compete in the current Legacy Format as a competitive deck if Terminus were removed. If [card]Counterbalance[/card] was to be banned, I could see Miracles remaining competitive with a suite of cheap counterspells like [card]Spell Pierce[/card], [card]Spell Snare[/card], and possibly Stifle substituting for the power of [card]Counterbalance[/card].

GP Columbus Top 8

[deck]
[lands]
4 Flooded Strand
4 Island
3 Tundra
3 Volcanic Island
2 Arid Mesa
2 Plains
2 Polluted Delta
1 Scalding Tarn
[/lands]
[Creatures]
3 Snapcaster Mage
[/creatures]
[spells]
4 Brainstorm
4 Force of Will
4 Ponder
4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Terminus
2 Counterspell
2 Entreat the Angels
1 Council’s Judgment
4 Counterbalance
4 Sensei’s Divining Top
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
[/spells]
[sideboard]
3 Flusterstorm
2 Pyroblast
2 Surgical Extraction
2 Vendilion Clique
2 Wear // Tear
1 Containment Priest
1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
1 Moat
1 Red Elemental Blast
[/sideboard]
[/deck]

What are your thoughts regarding Miracles in Legacy? Do you feel it’s time for it to be dethroned or is Legacy at a healthy spot as is? If the former, what card would you like to see banned from Miracles to help level the playing the field? Very interested in your opinions. You can catch me at Face to Face Games Toronto usually playing Thursday Night Modern/Legacy FNM, but am always willing to practice Eternal Formats especially if you’re starting out.