"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."
Greetings everybody! Allow me to drop a few words on myself before we make our way to the heart of this article: Miracles' state in the current metagame and how to build this deck correctly. I am Philipp Schnegger, an eternal enthusiast from Austria, Europe. I travel to a lot of tournaments in Europe, and every once in a while to the U.S. as well. With my age being twenty, I am certainly no old-school player, as the game is as old as I am, but Legacy is as close to my heart as it can get. I do my best to keep it alive by organizing the unofficial Austrian Legacy Championship, including various qualification-tournaments throughout the country. I also managed to make Top 64 at GP Strasbourg and Top 8 at GP Paris without byes with the beloved deck that I will be talking about today: Miracles.
I've been playing Miracles competitively ever since GP Ghent, where I didn't manage to put up a reasonable result, and I haven't put this deck down ever since. I tried to find excuses, I tested every other deck out there, but there were no options that I liked. Miracles has been the best deck for as long as I can remember, but it took a while until people realized this fact. As soon as Miracles had taken GP Paris by storm, resulting in three undefeated Miracles players after Day 1 and the same three making it to the Top 8, everybody was aware of how powerful the deck was.
In order to understand the fundamental basics of this deck and its construction as it appears to me, the best way to exemplify this will be taking a short look at my adventures at GP Paris and go from there. Let's start it off with the list that I brought to the party.
This was what I battled with in Paris. As this isn't an article about my Top 8 performance there, I'll keep this part rather short. I didn't have any byes, so I had to sit down in round 1 to play. I beat High Tide, Merfolk, Jund, Combo Elves, RUG Delver, Death and Taxes, Esper Stoneblade, U/W/R Delver, and Reanimator to finish Day 1 with a perfect record of 9-0. The second day started well, with a win against Jund and BUG Delver, only to find myself losing my first match of the weekend to Maxime Gilles from France, also piloting Miracles. Sitting at 11-1, I got paired against Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, piloting Miracles as well, who also defeated me in the mirror. After the second loss, I proceeded to crush Sneak Attack and BUG Delver yet again in order to make Top 8. There, I beat Imperial Painter only to fall to Maxime Gilles again!
My semifinals match against Maxime .
The list I played was not perfect, but I would describe it as the best skeletal structure for this deck. It did not contain any secret tech or unorthodox card choices--its strength was its basic design. I did not include Rest in Peace and Helm of Obedience as an alternative route to victory, I opted not to include multiple legendary creatures and a plethora of Karakas, and I had no interest in playing Enlightened Tutor with some spicy targets. All that I relied on were cards that were performing exceptionally well in their role while still being useable in many others.
Now let's go into the details of what makes this skeletal structure so superior to what's out there. When we are looking at this in a bottom-up approach, we have to start with the manabase. The following 21 lands are kind of set in stone, with one or two up for discussion depending on how we want to build the rest of our deck. You should clearly start with:
You won't find Karakas or Academy Ruins here as the lands that Miracles needs to operate well do two things: 1) make mana and 2) shuffle the library. Nothing more is asked from the lands in this archetype, and nothing more should be integrated. And in case you're wondering why I include Volcanic Island in the basic structure, it's simply due to the fact that I view the red splash as mandatory. No other color can match the power of red, and not splashing isn't an option because without red, you're lacking important means to interact during various stages of the game in some match ups.
Let's move to the next part of mandatory pieces for the deck. Miracles is a very clunky mechanic right from the start. You don't want to have Terminus or Entreat the Angels in your hand, nor do you want them to appear in your draw step when you don't need them. So what's the solution?
Cantrips. Lots of cantrips. And of course Sensei's Divining Top.
I think going below ten of these is close to being a crime. Four copies of Top and Brainstorm are set in stone, so the question gets narrowed down to what the next two cards should be. I'm a strong proponent of Ponder, but there are other valid options like Predict, Portent, or even Preordain. Even though each have their up and downs, I still believe that Ponder is the best one. Those ten cards should be included in your take on Miracles for sure:
As we are glacially slow in ending games it's also important to talk about the white cards that help us stay alive. I believe these eleven cards to be essential for any successful build of Miracles:
A playset of both Swords to Plowshares and Terminus is mandatory due to their exceptional performance in their very specific roles. Nothing sweeps a battlefield better than Terminus, and no card is better at dealing with a single creature than Swords to Plowshares. I strongly believe that going below a playset of each has to be backed up by very good arguments, but other than that, it's probably wrong to do so. Council's Judgment on the other hand is a new addition, and it earned a slot in this deck the minute I finished thinking about it. It doesn't fulfill a certain role, but this card can hit practically everything. I've always been envious of Esper Stoneblade due to their ability to access Vindicate, but as soon as Council's Judgment was spoiled, all was forgotten as this card is certainly better than Vindicate. With the exception of Eye of Ugin, this card can deal with pretty much everything, be it True-Name Nemesis, Liliana of the Veil, or Sylvan Library. The not so low casting cost and the fact that it costs two white mana make it impossible to play more than one, but adding one of those to the maindeck has resulted in a big increase of flexibility when it comes to dealing with stuff that has entered the battlefield already. (For you newcomers, the reason you don't see one in my Paris list is due to the fact that this card didn't exist back then.)
To finish this skeleton, we need the rest of the blue cards. This bunch of cards, including their numbers, represent what I consider a mandatory minimum, and not necessarily an optimum:
The playset of Force of Will should be self-explanatory, as well as the trio of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Miracles isn't really a Counterbalance deck in the sense that the main gameplan does not include locking out the opponent from playing spells. Counterbalance is there to either create advantage by countering some amount of spells or locking out opponents that happen to play only ones and twos (or rely very heavily on them) like Storm or RUG Delver do. I believe that three is the minimum, but there are arguments to be made on why to include a full playset.
Counterspell is a rather underrated card in the modern metagame, as it can easily unfold its potential in a deck like Miracles that is perfectly equipped to enter the late game, where this card can deal with anything that requires that much attention. But the inclusion of Counterspell is closely associated with Snapcaster Mage, and I know many of you are proponents of playing zero copies of Snapcaster Mage in this style of deck.
This is wrong.
Snapcaster is an insane addition to the deck, granting you a card that does exactly what you want him to. The value of this card changes vastly from match up to match up and even during games. Snapcaster provides you with extra removal, should you desire. He can also act as additional counter magic or provide even more cantrips. Other than that, sometimes you just play him as a blocker or a 2/1 that attacks as soon as Turn 3, which is incredibly fast for a deck like Miracles.
These 56 cards are what I personally consider to be the best raw structure you can have with Miracles. Those cards easily allow you to be piloting the best deck under pretty much any circumstance. Deviating from this core is possible, but has to be done with great care. Those changes have to be backed up by choosing one of the branches I'll mention in a bit, but if you are looking to build your own version of Miracles, this stock list is definitely where you should be starting at.
The first branch we are taking is the stock one, pretty much what my list from GP Paris looks like. We'd have to add a Karakas alongside a copy of Vendilion Clique and two Spell Pierces. This deviates one card from what I played at the GP, and this change stems from the appearance of Council's Judgment.
Vendilion Clique and Karakas are very powerful cards. That said, I have found them to be somewhat lacking in the long run. Over the two last Legacy Grand Prix in Strasbourg and Paris, I had one Karakas and one Vendilion Clique in my mainboard. And throughout both Day 1s and Day 2s, including the elimination matches at Paris, I was able to bounce my own Vendilion clique once, resulting in the so called Clique-lock where you can control what your opponent is drawing to some extent. Sadly though, I've also had Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Counterbalance, and Sensei's Divining Top, making the additional piece of disruption useless. I also haven't been able to bounce any Gaddock Teegs, Thalias, or Emrakuls with it. As a result, the combination was truly lacking for me. While I acknowledge the power of Vendilion Clique, I have become against running Karakas as the 22nd land. I know many people do that, but I think it's just unreliable in what it's supposed to do. You're likely remembering that one time when the opponent had turn 1 Show and Tell and put in Emrakul while you had Karakas, as it's always easy to remember those moments. But based on my experience, this card didn't just cut it.
I am still listing this branch as a valid possibility due to the high popularity, but think about my words of warning should you decide to fill the last four slots with these cards:
The second approach you can take is an interesting one. Red Elemental Blast and its cousin, Pyroblast, have been an integral part of the deck, though only in sideboards. With blue being the most dominant color in Legacy, it's become a valid approach to move some amount of those red menaces to the mainboard. This move has marked an important milestone when it comes to preparing for the mirror match. Remember my stories from GP Paris where I beat every archetype, with the pure exception of my three losses against Miracles? Well, those pilots came prepared. Having access to Red Elemental Blasts one game earlier than the opponent will give you a huge upside, as you'll be able to deal with everything that matters at the cost of a single red mana.
If you want to play this card I'd suggest adding a copy of each to your mainboard. Some might argue that you can cut down your Swords to Plowshares to three copies due to the added possibility of dealing with Delver of Secrets via Red Elemental Blast, but I wouldn't advise doing so because there are still too many creatures outside of blue that deserve our attention. As the 22nd land of choice, I'd definitely go with the third Volcanic Island, leaving us with one more card to tinker with. I suggest running the third Snapcaster Mage, as this will allow you to cast even more of those precious Red Elemental Blasts in the match ups where they matter, leading to a serious advantage in said matches. This would sum up the second branch you could take this core to:
There are many other variations than just those three, but I think that those display the most viable options. This last option, however, is the one that I consider optimal for the time being. It's the list that I have played ever since I reflected on the GP. What I did was simple: add even more redundant cards to the deck:
This leads to the deck in its current form. This is practically the next instance of what I had planned at Paris. Playing four Ponder is insane, and way too underplayed in my opinion. It allows the deck to play 21 lands, which is as few as possible. But besides being the minimum, this number also represents the optimum due to the fact that all of these lands do nothing but tap for mana or shuffle your library. There are no neat tricks, nothing that stands out, just mana producing lands which is all we need. Ponder also helps compensate for the eventual loss or lack of Sensei's Divining Top in the early game, as this card can delay Miracles rather well, or shuffle them away all together should they be unneeded. It smooths our your draws and increases the number of keepable hands by a lot while also grating you twelve cantrips, something not many other decks in Legacy can match outside of combo decks like ANT or Omni-Tell. This absurd amount of cards ensures that you will always be able to do something. This does weaken the draw-go aspect of the game, which I've been compensating with by adding a fourth Counterbalance, while not playing overly reactive cards like Spell Pierce in this particular list, which is also due to the fact that a list with such a multitude of cantrips isn't able to play as many individual cards as other lists can, with the upside of finding those, mostly superior, cards with a higher reliability.
More Snapcaster Mages and Counterbalances round out this concept up very well by providing more of what is already there, leading to a more repeatable game. You might not be able to find that one-of Council's Judgment every time you need it, but practically everything else is easily findable due to the high amount of cantrips and the high number of the card itself.
There are more options to consider, but I believe that the ones portrayed above represent the most viable ones out there. That said, don't let this hinder you in creating your own branch!
So now we've come to the part many of you have been waiting for: a new decklist, including thoughts and sideboarding approaches (no strict guides of course). After following my core and the last branch, while also updating the sideboard a little bit, I consider this to be the way to go as of now:
As I do not have enough space to talk about all the strategic aspects of Miracles I'll once again try to keep it short, talking about what's necessary to know when facing off against Legacy's most played and most powerful decks.
So what should we be starting with?
Probably the most oppressive and successful archetype out there that has resulted in three different competitive decks. I am obviously talking about Delver of Secrets with its three incarnations, RUG, BUG, and U/W/R. One cannot possibly lump all these decks together as one when discussing sideboarding plans, but I think that it's more or less okay to do so when talking about strategic basics when discussing playing against this kind of deck. One of the first decisions you have to make when playing a game of Magic is what role you are going to take in a given matchup and in the game itself. Luckily, this is a decision that we won't ever have to make, as we will always be playing control against any of these Delver decks.
All three of these decks pack a relatively fast clock, accompanied by cheap disruption, in one way or another. While RUG Delver prefers to finish the game fast, BUG Delver packs some cards that are viable in the late game, like Liliana of the Veil. U/W/R on the other hand has sacrificed much of its early power in order to be able to enter the late game with True-Name Nemesis and Stoneforge Mystic + Batterskull. Obviously going to the late game is a bad bet for these kinds of decks as Miracles is perfectly equipped to operate at this stage of the game.
Our main goal, first and foremost, is to not fall to the initial onslaught of Delver, backed up by Daze, Wasteland, and the deck specific equivalent of additional disruption, be it Stifle, Hymn to Tourach or anything else. In order to survive this, you have to demonstrate one of the key aspects of a Miracles pilot: patience. You do not gain anything from casting your Swords to Plowshares as soon as Delver of Secrets hits the battlefield only to have it getting countered by a Daze, followed up by a Wasteland to blow you out of the water once and for all. The strength in playing Miracles correctly lies in finding the right moment when to act, and let me tell you--it rarely is the first turn. You want to construct a gamestate where you can safely assume that your removal spell will resolve, while also having an additional card at the ready to deal with what's going to follow up. Your first priorities should be establishing a functioning manabase, preferably basic lands, but sometimes you have to chain those Tundras and Volcanic Islands together in order to enable your deck to work properly. Make sure that you aren't going to get blown out unnecessarily by those taxing counters, but also make sure that you do not hinder your development too much when playing around certain stuff. Some hands kind of force you to play into their soft counters, and due to the nature of Miracles to play off the top, it is sometimes correct to do so. But as a general line of advice, be patient and act when you have to and when you know that doing so will be a successful undertaking.
As mentioned above, do not afraid to chain business spells into their counters if your hand allows you to. The importance of Counterbalance can change between being more a bait spell for their taxing counters or Abrupt Decay to a game-ending spell. It really does depend on many factors, some being your and their hand size, the amount of lands in play plus the additional lands you will be able to deploy in time and the composition of your hand, in general.
RUG Delver is surely the best of the three when it comes to dealing with Miracles. Its ability to use Stifle in order to deal with fetchlands and Miracle triggers alongside other stuff is outstanding. This card and the shroud of Nimble Mongoose is what sets this version of Delver ahead of the others. Due to its high density of disruption and reliance on cheap creatures and speed I am a strong proponent of minimizing your win conditions in the postboarded games against RUG Delver. Both Entreat the Angels and Jace, the Mind Sculptor do not provide enough value for the high price tag of theirs to warrant as much space in the deck after game 1. Other than that you may want to take a look at Force of Will. Even though it generally allows you to interact without touching your precious lands, it's a pretty bad idea against Delver-based tempo decks. This is due to the fact that you don't want to trade two cards of yours for one of theirs. Additionally, there aren't really many blue cards you'd like to pitch to Force of Will, with the lone exception of Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
As mentioned above, I will not give you a strict boarding plan which you can follow but more general guidelines in order to help you reach your own perfect sideboarding plan.
Each of these cards is either a piece of removal, disruption, or a hybrid of both. Flusterstorm is outstanding in this matchup as it's an insane counterspell when it comes to protecting those precious fetchlands from Stifle (there's always the dream of catching more than just one spell with it too). This makes nine cards that are absolutely reasonable to bring in, but what do we board out? We have the following cards to consider:
As mentioned above, Force of Will is not what we want to be doing, and those highly priced finishers do not complement our gameplan well either. Counterspell, on the other hand, is a potent card, but it's not as good against RUG Delver as it might seem. I can definitely see bringing out all of them, but there are also points to be made in order to keep both of them in, and even bringing in the third - though this includes a more stack-based boarding plan which is a route that my list isn't able to take, as it'll also force you to bring in Red Elemental Blasts.
I'm obviously not advocating to board out all of your win-conditions. As said above, you have to find your own perfect sideboarding plan, but let me help you with your decision. Jace, the Mind Sculptor has historically been a pretty weak card against Lightning Bolt decks, as Brainstorm is generally speaking the best of his abilities. On the other hand though, Jace is practically the only card that will provide you with card-advantage, with the exception of Counterbalance, which functions more like a finisher in this match up. Entreat the Angels is way harder to set up than Jace, and also has the downside of being easily catchable by counters. However, it does not only win games, but also provides valuable blockers that act as a removal and a win condition. To put it simply:
- Entreat the Angels is a high risk/high reward card, that comes with the risk of cluttered hands full of Miracles but also with the humiliating "I will block your Nimble Mongoose with those three Angels that just entered the battlefield" scenarios.
It is your decision on which finishers you are boarding out, depending on your play style and preferred inclusion of variance in your games, which will lead to the following boarding lines:
When you're facing off against BUG Delver, things are a little different as their suite of disruption is less aimed at your lands and spells but more on your permanents and cards in hand, which makes this matchup way easier than its previously covered cousin, as our bombs are way more likely to resolve and Sensei's Divining Top acts as a way-too-good-counter to every sort of discard. Their creatures are altogether easier to deal with than RUG Delver's as well.
Reading those sentences might make you think that RUG Delver might be better than BUG Delver right? Unfortunately, that isn't true as Team America gains access to Abrupt Decay which neutralizes our disruptive win condition in Counterbalance. Additionally they have more hard to deal with permanents like Sylvan Library and Liliana of the Veil. Your game plan should be the same from the beginning--trying to play around the first onslaught of disruption, but instead of constructing a game state where you can easily win with what you've piloted yourself into, your main plan should be different. You want to place down your bombs as soon as you can, as either of them is incredibly potent against their deck. They have absolutely no way to deal with a resolved Entreat the Angels, and even Jace, the Mind Sculptor is absurdly good considering BUG Delver is a tempo-oriented deck. All of their creatures can be bounced by Jace, allowing him to protect himself very well. He also just wins the game should he be left alone for too long, as there are no Lightning Bolts and Red Elemental Blasts floating around.
You want very similar cards in this match up, even though the cards you want to be bringing out differ vastly from what we've been doing against RUG Delver. At first glance you might want to bring in all fifteen of your sideboard cards. But as said above, bringing in Red Elemental Blasts is not a good idea without a Mountain to dodge Wasteland. Even though Rest in Peace is certainly a good card against BUG Delver with their Deathrite Shamans and Tarmogoyfs, due to the restrictive nature of other parts in this sideboarding process, we won't be bringing them in.
Firstly, we have to keep more bombs in our deck due to nature of the way this matchup plays out. Secondly, Counterbalance isn't at its best, as their deck expands upon the one-mana and two-mana spells territory which makes Counterbalance less reliable, followed by the fact that they are also running Abrupt Decay which might be accompanied by Golgari Charm post-board. This makes it a pretty bad idea to keep Counterbalances, and bringing in Rest in Peace is not worth it, as it's a double-sided Tormod's Crypt, which is not what you want to be doing. The third Counterspell isn't needed either, as two are enough. This leads to the following cards being brought in:
Flusterstorm is there to hold back their initial discard for at least one turn in order to enable us to set up some kind of progress. It's not as good as it is against RUG Delver, but it's still reasonably good. When looking at what to board out, we're simply doing what I mentioned above:
1 card that depends on your liking
The ninth card is one that I'm very unsure about. You could only bring in one Flusterstorm to compensate for this problem, but I don't feel great bringing in just one. If you want to follow this route, it might be correct to bring in the third Counterspell over both Flusterstorms, compensating for this ninth nonexistent easy cut from the maindeck.
One could also shave a Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Despite being very good in this matchup, he still costs four mana to cast, and one could easily rely on finding one of the five game-winning spells later in the game, obviously counting Keranos, God of Storms to this elite class of winning spells.
The last option is to not bring in Disenchant, which was a pretty bad idea, but ever since Council's Judgment became a thing this might actually be the best way to handle this disequilibrium. You could also take the route of not bringing Vendilion Clique in at all, which will result in being able to bring in Counterspell without having problems with what to bring out. This may be a little bit of an overreaction to Golgari Charm, and I know that I have been advocating this in the past.
Even though this matchup is definitely easier than RUG Delver, they still have all the tools to deal with what we bring to the table, but they often aren't able to put it together due to the lack of serious card quality.
The last of the Delver variants is the easiest. U/W/R Delver is not well equipped at all to deal with the threat that Miracles represents, so that's why I will keep this short. They pose less of an immediate threat to us in the earlier stages of the game while trying to keep up with Miracles in the mid/late game. Even though both decks pack the same colors in UWR, U/W/R Delver stands absolutely no chance in competing with Miracles in the late game. Their threats are all dealt with by Terminus or additional removal like Engineered Explosives or Council's Judgment while they have no trumps. Now let's look at what we want from the sideboard:
1 Council's Judgement
This is the only Delver deck where I would suggest taking the risk of adding a few copies of Red Elemental Blast to the mainboard due to True-Name Nemesis, but I won't blame you if you won't be doing this, as playing safe is often the right bet. All the other cards share the same characteristics as above. We actually want most of our bombs, as they have a rather weak mana destruction plan. I could definitely see changing the third Jace, the Mind Sculptor for a Keranos, God of Storms, as this one can't be killed by Lightning Bolt and a later drawn Red Elemental Blast. Finding eight cards that are better in the sideboard isn't as easy as it largely depends on your playstyle. Following the above way one should board out:
But I could see a different approach working, one where you go on the lockdown route with Counterbalance against U/W/R Delver, which is a valid and viable approach. Following this second way, you should be bringing in:
On the contrary, we are boarding out these:
Both approaches are viable on their own. It really depends on how you want to have this match up play out. Especially in this last variant of Delver, there are numerous different approaches, and most will lead to victory, as they are, as mentioned above, overly ill-equipped to deal with what we bring to the table. Think of your own way of approaching this matchup along those two trains of thought, and you will prevail a high percentage of the time.
I think we should leave it with that for the first article. But don't worry! I won't just let you stand there, ill-equipped for what Legacy has to offer. I will be back for at least one more article next week where I will talk about the combo decks and what the mirror match has to offer!