Back to the Basics with Miracles

Rich Cali
March 20, 2018
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At SCG Worcester a few weeks ago, Jim Davis made it to the semifinals with a pretty interesting take on the Miracles archetype. Jim is no stranger to success in Legacy, and he usually comes at the format with an interesting perspective. At first glance, this deck looked absurd to me, but the more I looked at it and thought about it, the sweeter I thought it was.  He made some really bizarre deckbuilding choices, but this deck is full of consistent, logical choices that can only be made when you start stepping out of the box, and that’s pretty exciting to me.

Here’s the list, for reference:

UW MiraclesJim Davis Monastery Mentor Snapcaster Mage Flooded Strand Island Misty Rainforest Plains Scalding Tarn Tundra Windswept Heath Predict Swords to Plowshares Council's Judgment Ponder Portent Terminus Back to Basics Search for Azcanta Jace, the Mind Sculptor Brainstorm Counterspell Flusterstorm Force of Will Path to Exile Vendilion Clique Council's Judgment Search for Azcanta Containment Priest Disenchant Karakas Rest in Peace Supreme Verdict Surgical Extraction Flusterstorm

 

Even if I were testing Miracles as often as I used to, I don’t think I would have ended up on this decklist. That’s likely due to my biases holding me back, but it also has to due with how different this deck looks from the usual Miracles deck in the modern-era. While it is definitely still just a variant of the archetype, a lot of these choices have led this deck in a fundamentally different direction. As opposed to my usual approach to the deck, Jim’s deck is much more proactive, leaning more heavily on the powerful, sorcery-speed cards to take over the game. There are a lot of advantages to this style, and it is far more reminiscent of the old Counter/Top + Mentor Miracles to me than the new versions. This might sound weird considering that many Miracles decks still run Counterbalance and Jim’s deck doesn’t have any, but the pieces in Jim’s deck fit that approach better than a Top-less Counterbalance.

With Counter/Top Miracles a common strategy was to proactively assemble the combo on turns 1 and 2, forcing the opponent to either have an answer, or be in dire straights. While the more stock versions of Miracles play Search and Counterbalance, and often have the option to cast these early in the game, these function more as late-game engines, rather than early game lock pieces. A turn 2 Counterbalance, without the presence of Top, is just an attempt to generate a bit of advantage early, and use it to pull ahead in the future. Jim’s deck, however, plays both Back to Basics and Monastery Mentor, which both fully fit the “answer or die” mold that Counter/Top would create. As such, it seems like Jim’s decklist is more likely to try to aggressively play its threats out, and try to stick a haymaker and end the game that way. This is in contrast to my usual style of Miracles, which tries to make the game last as long as possible, and use a lot of incremental card advantage to win the game.

Back to Basics is the biggest shift from the norm, and likely a major reason this list performed so well. While it isn’t quite as diverse of a lock piece as Counterbalance used to be, there are a large swath of decks that can’t beat a resolved Back to Basics on an empty board. Because most of those decks are creature decks, like Grixis Delver and Eldrazi Stompy, this lock piece fits perfectly into Miracles’ gameplan of casting Terminus. However, Back to Basics isn’t a totally free inclusion, and the biggest cost is in mana base construction. This is the spot that makes Jim’s deck look absurd on paper as Jim’s mana base is almost entirely basic lands, with only 1 copy of Tundra and fetches to round it out. I’ll be honest and say I would never have made that choice on my own, but that’s because i’m a scaredy-cat and love playing dual lands. That being said, his decision is incredibly consistent with the way his spell-base is constructed.

All of this primarily comes at the sacrifice of the ever-common red splash. If Sensei’s Divining Top were still legal, I would never condone that choice, but since the banning, the need for red has substantially decreased. The Mirror match isn’t nearly as common, bringing in red cards against Grixis is largely too risky, and even against decks like Czech Pile, which play a large number of blue threats, many more non-blue threats (Liliana, the Last Hope and Chandra, Torch of Defiance) have started becoming adopted, making Pyroblast a less reliable card than it used to be. The main reason it seems weird is because it’s going against the norm. Putting together all of the pieces on paper, however, it makes a lot of sense.

Since Jim’s plan is honestly pretty different than the norm, he made two deckbuilding choices that are consistent with this approach. The first is the inclusion of Flusterstorm. Miracles does usually have some trouble with Storm and Sneak and Show, so Flusterstorm does do a good job of helping those match ups a bit. However, the beauty of its inclusion comes with the game plan he’s employing.  Flusterstorm helps push through Mentor, Jace, and Back to Basics perfectly, thus allowing him to lock up more games, more quickly. Since the mana cost of his threat base is based around 3-drops, it can be more challenging to find a spot to resolve his threats. However, this deck doesn’t have much trouble getting to turn 4 or 5, and using Flusterstorm as protection, as opposed to only hinging on Counterspell, will help end more games in a timely manner.

The second is the inclusion of Path to Exile, as opposed to the 4th Terminus (or any copies of Supreme Verdict in the main deck). While Terminus is certainly a more powerful card than Path in this deck, it’s is both less reliable, and non-synergistic with his gameplan. Regarding the reliability, to fit in as many cards as he did, Jim cut some number of Predict from the deck. This makes it less likely from him to cast it on the opponent’s turn, which is usually the key to Terminus’ power level. In addition, because he’s going to be deploying threats more aggressively, and those threats cost 3 or 4 mana, he will generally want more freedom regarding when he can cast his spells. If he plans on tapping out on turn 3, the difference between drawing a Path and a Terminus is substantial, as it might be challenging to find a better spot to cast Terminus later. Regarding synergy, he is choosing to play Mentor instead of any other threat, and using Path is far better than Terminus when you have already played a Mentor (obviously). This makes him a little bit weaker to cards like True-Name Nemesis, but the parallels between Path and Swords are enough to justify adding Path as a 5th Swords to Plowshares, and was another unique choices Jim made that looks pretty good.

Considering his results, and the way this list just kind of fits together like a puzzle, I think Jim made some excellent choices with this deck. He isn’t the first person to put Back to Basics in the main deck and center his strategy around that, but this is the first time I have seen a decklist that looks like this, and it’s certainly a cool direction. I don’t know how this version will stand to the test of time against the more common decklists, but I definitely think it’s worth testing, at least because of how fun it looks.

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