The New Look Miracles in the New Metagame
When Sensei’s Divining Top was banned, I was certain that it meant Miracles was dead. I knew then that I wasn’t going to try to beat a dead horse and continue trying to figure out how to make it work. Despite the fact that I played the deck for a while, and had some significant success with it, I wasn’t committed to the Miracles mechanic. It’s Brainstorm that I love, not Miracles. As such, I put the deck aside and pursued a variety of other decks, attempting to learn what direction the format would go.
Rest in Peace
However, in the background of Legacy, people with much more commitment to the archetype were churning away, working on a version of Miracles that could be competitive. For the most part, I dismissed this as a fool’s endeavor. It seemed like the core would have far too many flaws to be effective. Much to my chagrin, however, people started to be very successful with the deck. The more I watched people play it, the more I started to doubt my assumptions about my old friend, Terminus. A lot of the new technology, like Portent, helped to offset the loss of Top. On the other hand, maxing out on card advantage spells, like Predict, would allow the deck to pull ahead on cards without Counterbalance in the picture.
At this point, this version of the deck has been around for a few months and it has been putting up results, mostly in the hands of experienced Miracles players from before. Honestly, despite my assumptions of the deck in the first place, I think I was wrong. Not only does it clearly have a place in the metagame, I think it might be actively good. This makes the fact that I have barely played it even more strange. It seems like a logical choice for me to play. I played a lot of Top Miracles, I prefer to play control strategies, and it plays a lot of cards I really like playing in Legacy.
In this article, I will go over some of the reasons I haven’t chosen to play the deck yet. Most of them are biases, assumptions, or preconceived notions which have little grounding in the reality of the situation. Despite the fact that I know these are based on false beliefs or inaccurate information, they have still held me back from really exploring the deck. For this reason, the article is mostly self-serving as I try to work through some of the thought-processes that are holding me back and try to extract lessons from them. Hopefully some of these lessons are broad enough for you, the reader, to take away something from my errors.
Here is the decklist:
Issue 1: It is not consistent enough
The major factor that finally drew me to play Miracles was it’s consistency. The 4-Ponder variant of Miracles, initially championed by Philipp Schonegger, ended up being the defining version of the deck. Between the 8 cantrips and Sensei’s Divining Top, it was able to keep more hands, find the important pieces about as soon as it needed them, and consistently find and use Terminus whenever the pilot wanted to. Furthermore, because the shell was so stable, it was able to easily support inherently inconsistent cards that relied on specific setups, like Predict, at a very small cost.
I was certain that the deck couldn’t support all of this without Sensei’s Divining Top. Drawing cards with the Miracles ability at the wrong time seemed like it would put far too much pressure on the pilot’s Brainstorms. Triggering them on the opponent’s turn seemed even more difficult to do consistently. At the same time, being a control deck, it still needed to find the right answers at the right time and it many of it’s land drops. Having access to a consistent, basic-heavy manabase seemed more difficult without Top to smooth out the draw. Finally, playing Predict in a deck without Top seemed ludacris to me. Without perfect knowledge of the top of one’s deck, the card has a marginal effect. Simply playing cantrips didn’t seem good enough to me. However, after watching the deck get played, it’s clear that the deck is not just more consistent than I thought it would be, but, rather, is actively consistent. So where did my thought process go wrong?
For one, I think I am underestimating the power of Terminus. While I still think it places a lot of pressure on the pilot’s Brainstorms, it’s actually a relatively small cost in order to set up a 1-mana Wrath of God. The same is true with Predict. Using 2 mana to draw 2 cards at instant speed is above the curve of what 2 mana usually provides in Legacy. Predict and Terminus also work well in conjunction, as well, being able to cast Terminus on the opponent’s turn more often. In addition, while Portent seems bad, and very well might actually be bad, it works very well in this deck. It adds to the consistency, allows for Terminus to be cast on the opponent’s turn, and, weirdly, allows Miracles to mess with it’s opponent’s library in the late game. Running these 12 cantrips, in addition to the 4 Predicts, helps the deck continue to support a robust manabase of basic lands. I think I simply thought that it wasn’t possible for the deck to remain consistent. However, I didn’t have any evidence to support that claim and, in fact, I now have evidence to the contrary.
Issue 2: It no longer plays an oppressive engine
One of the great things about Top Miracles was that in addition to being a powerful control deck with a slew of answers for just about everything opponents could throw at you, it also had a powerful, proactive gameplan. For the most part, curving Top into Counterbalance would force one’s opponent to react quickly or fall too far behind to come back. Once Top was in play, opponents had to respect a Counterbalance being played for the rest of the game. Taking a turn off to deploy a creature could spell the end of the game for the majority of decks. If Counterbalance didn’t lock out the opponent, it would often provide enough card advantage for the Miracles player to pull ahead.
The new version of the deck doesn’t really have that potential. It’s a powerful control deck, but lacks the proactive element of Top Miracles. However, I think my mindset might simply be stuck in the paradigm of the Top version. While the new version doesn’t have the prison or combo potential of Top Miracles, the nature of the deck seems quite different than the old versions. Having so many instant speed cards allows this deck to play an excellent game of draw-go. Not playing Top and Counterbalance and instead playing more cantrips and reactive cards means that the deck is less likely to draw cards that have diminishing returns, like drawing 2 Counterbalances. It does seem more difficult to completely lock up the game, but with the powerful threat base of Mentor or Entreat, in addition to seeing so many cards per game, this deck doesn’t seem like it needs to hold control forever.
Issue 3: It plays too many cards that require setup and the setup cards are underpowered
One of the features of running Miracles in one’s deck is that you need to set them up. Sensei’s Divining Top was both the perfect card for the job and incredibly powerful. A side effect of this was the ability to seamlessly support Predict. Playing 3-6 Miracles and 4 Predicts requires a fair amount of cards dedicated to the purpose of setting them up. Without the ability to support them, they are overcosted, underpowered, and unreliable. While this deck can do that, of course, it does need to play cards like Portent to accomplish the task. I understand that this card is a solid choice for this purpose, but, as a cantrip, Portent is certainly below average in power level. In a way, this deck seems too gimmicky to me. As I mentioned, Terminus and Predict are incredibly powerful, and certainly warrant setup, but the power level of the cards in the deck is lower than that of a Grixis Control deck, for instance. Miracles has never truly been a “good stuff” type of deck, but when compared to decks that control the games using a smattering of Legacy’s strongest cards, the deck seems like a sub-optimal choice.
This might be my largest complaint with the deck. Old Miracles could get away with playing setup cards because it had an oppressive engine and the setup card was amazing. This deck does not have that. It’s cards are above the curve when they are working, but very far behind the curve when it’s not. After playing a lot of the “good stuff” decks Legacy has to offer at the moment, it is difficult to motivate myself to play this deck. That being said, I know firsthand how powerful Miracles can be. Again, as I mentioned earlier, I might be greatly underestimating the effectiveness of Portent. Furthermore, I might be underrating just how powerful the Miracles are in the current metagame. Still, this is my number 1 concern with the deck and I will certainly be keeping this in mind going forward.
Issue 4: Bad Storm Matchup
I don’t always take single matchups into account when I choose a deck. I chose Grixis Delver despite it’s poor Lands matchup. I played Deathblade and Shardless BUG for years, despite the awful Blood Moon matchup. I think this is more relevant because Storm is not only an incredibly potent deck, but a relatively popular one as well. As these are concerns I have before I have really played the deck, it is only fair to reiterate that I don’t know first hand that this is a bad matchup. However, I have been reading up on the deck and paying attention to a lot of what people have been saying. I can extrapolate based on my experience with Top Miracles, as well.
When Counter/Top wasn’t in play, it wasn’t uncommon for Storm to easily play through a number of Force of Wills and Counterspells. Miracles has a difficult time applying pressure, and Storm not only has the capacity to use discard to force through their game plan, but, being a critical mass deck, can simply power through disruption, efficiently leveraging the information game. The new version of Miracles is always playing the matchup without access to Counter/Top. To me, this doesn’t bode well for the deck. A lot of the cards that are added to make up for the loss of Counter/Top, like Predict and Unexpectedly Absent, don’t help the matchup at all, either.
While Miracles has the ability to side into much more effective cards, Like Ethersworn Canonist, and improve the matchup, often times that can only serve as a speedbump for the deck. In post-board games with Top Miracles, a single lock piece and a few Counterspells might not have been good enough because Storm has so much time to develop. In addition, they can completely customize their deck to adapt to anything they expect to face. However, despite the fact that I am underselling the effectiveness of Miracles in the matchup, a large density of countermagic is of course very good against Storm. The sideboard plan of adding hateful permanents and increasing the amount of countermagic in the deck is often the best way to handle the power of Storm. Because of this, I think Miracles can have a fair amount of game in the matchup, and by constructing the deck in the right way, perhaps using Vendilion Clique as additional disruption + pressure in the maindeck, Miracles might even be able to swing the matchup. In fact, I could be way off-base in saying that this is a tough matchup. Lacking the data and practice means I am not a scholar of this topic. However, I still think the nature of the deck being threat-light might make it too easy for Storm to power through the disruption.
My Future with Miracles
I cannot deny the results people have had with this deck lately. As such, it is very likely that my fears and concerns are unfounded, and I am likely being alarmist regarding the deck. Despite the fact that I have not gotten over these issues with new Miracles, I am going to actively play the deck and really try to sort this out first-hand. I clearly have some biases against the deck, but knowing this, I am going to try to be as objective as I can when playing the deck. I want to know if these issues are really as problematic as I think they are or if I am simply blowing smoke for no reason. Honestly, I hope my concerns are totally unwarranted. I want to like the deck and I want it to be a great choice.
Going forward, i would like to chronicle my experiences with the deck and try to see if I was off-base, and, if so, how far off-base. Seeing as all of my experiences with Miracles was with Counter/Top, I would love any and all advice on playing the deck that there is to offer. Hopefully I can develop a grounded, solid opinion on the deck and really understand how it functions.