I struggled in Legacy for years. I tried deck after deck, but I never found one that I could really become passionate about. Then, 13 months ago, I wrote an article about the value of sticking to the same deck in Legacy. I decided to shut my eyes tight and dive right into the deep end of the swimming pool. For better or for worse, I’d commit myself to Miracles.
Since that time, I’ve completely turned my Legacy career around! I’ve put up results that can rival those of the Legacy players I most respect, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence.
Miracles is the best deck in Legacy. I already thought it was the best deck in Legacy, and then they neutered the only deck that could hold a candle to it by banning Treasure Cruise! I’m not claiming that Miracles has a favorable matchup against every deck in Legacy, but I firmly believe that an experienced Legacy player will win a lot more with Miracles than he or she would with any other deck.
One could argue that Miracles is the only true control deck being played in Legacy. Decks like Esper Stoneforge and Shardless B/U/G have controlling elements, but these decks still play a healthy number of creatures and seek to close the game in a reasonable time frame. Your goal with Miracles is to drag the game out indefinitely.
It may seem strange to use the word “indefinitely,” because of course you do win the game at some point. However, when I play Miracles, I actually do strive to do nothing for as long as I possibly can. I don’t cast my Brainstorms until my opponent forces me to. I only Force of Will a spell if it’s going to kill me. If you can just sit there and make land drops, you’ll beat nearly anything your opponents can throw at you.
And for the few decks that this plan won’t work against, you have the combo of Counterbalance and Sensei's Divining Top to lock them out of the game. I’ve always been a strong supporter of proactive gameplans—especially in Legacy—and Counterbalance/Top gives you one. You don’t kill your opponent, but at a certain point they might as well be out of the game.
At this point I should offer a disclaimer: my deck list is not the most played version of Miracles. Some builds of Miracles feature Stoneforge Mystics and Batterskulls. Others play a package of Vendilion Cliques, Venser, Shaper Savant, and two copies of Karakas. Others play a lot of Ponders and Snapcaster Mages. Still others play with Rest in Peace and Helm of Obedience. Check here or more information on these different builds. (That article is a little bit outdated in terms of what pilots I attribute the decks to, but not in terms of the strategic content).
All builds of Miracles are strong, and I can’t say for certain that mine stands above the rest. However, I like to be as controlling as possible, and to make my opponents’ creature removal spells dead in game one.
Deck Difficulty: Hard
Miracles is among the most challenging decks I’ve ever played. Some decks are difficult to play because they require an extensive knowledge of the format, the metagame, and each individual matchup. Some decks are highly complex in their own right. Miracles is an intersection of both. You need to know how to successfully shut down whatever your opponent is doing, but also have good instincts for using your library manipulation, for when to tap out, and when to fight counter battles. Add to this the fact that you have to play very quickly to avoid draws, and you have a deck that’s extremely difficult to master.
In my life, I think I’ve played one perfect game with Miracles, in which I made no mistakes.
It was when I kept my opening hand, and then my opponent combo killed me on turn 1 before I played a land…
At least in my book, it’s impossible to make every decision correct with Miracles because you simply have hundreds of decisions every turn. What order should you put the cards back when you use Sensei's Divining Top? When should you crack your fetchland? Should you search for a dual land or a basic? Should you play around Daze? If you’re making 70% of your decisions with Miracles correctly, then you’re doing great! Killing yourself over every minor detail isn’t worth it, and will cause you not to finish your matches in time.
Along those lines, the greatest weakness of Miracles is that it takes a long time to win the game. This opens up two potential problems:
• The first problem is the risk of getting draws. If you’ve ever played a slow control deck in Standard, then you understand a little of what I’m talking about. But in Legacy the problem is greatly multiplied because of the amount of library manipulation and shuffling that happens in every single game. In order to finish three games in 50 minutes, not only do you and your opponent need to make your decisions quickly, but you both also need to have the physical dexterity to randomize a deck or rearrange your top three cards without wasting extra time.
Let’s say for the sake of argument that an arbitrary top-tier Legacy deck (Delver, Elves, Show and Tell, etc.) will allow you to win 55% of your matches. I would argue that Miracles is the best deck in the format and will allow you to win 60% of your matches if they’re played to their natural conclusion. However, if one out of every eight or nine of your wins with Miracles is turning into a draw, then this weakness might outweigh the deck’s edge over the other available choices.
When it comes to the clock, just try to be honest with yourself about your own tendencies as a player. If you do choose Miracles, make finishing your matches on time a top priority.
• The second problem arises when you play against weird decks that don’t play “normal Magic.” More specifically, decks that can beat you without casting spells can circumvent most of your defenses. For example: an Infect deck that can beat you with Inkmoth Nexus and Pendlehaven, a Cloudpost deck that just sits there playing lands until it can cast an Emrakul, or an artifact deck that uses Academy Ruins to recur giant artifacts until it runs you out of permission spells.
What is a Favorable Metagame for Miracles?
The best time to pick up Miracles is—quite simply—when people aren’t gunning for Miracles. Like most strategies, the tools to beat Miracles are out there if players are willing to make it a priority. Green decks can play with Sylvan Library and Gaddock Teeg. Red decks can play with Sulfuric Vortex and Red Elemental Blast. White decks can play with Rishadan Port and Armageddon.
Moreover, it’s not ideal to take Miracles into a field of other people piloting Miracles. I actually quite enjoy the mirror match, but to return to the problem I’ve highlighted above, there’s the risk of getting draws. If two talented players square off in a Miracles mirror, then player A might win 40% of the time, player B might win 40% of the time, and it might end in a draw 20% of the time. If this is the case, then this pairing is quite bad for both players’ prospects in the tournament.
However, Miracles is a powerful and well rounded deck, so barring these circumstances it will always be a great choice. If you’re a master with the deck, you can even fight through an unfavorable metagame.
Brainstorm and Sensei’s Divining Top: These are the key cards that make the deck work. They allow you to manage the top of your library and set up your big miracle plays, as well as helping you hit your land drops and all of the other good things that go along with sifting through your library. Your win rate goes up massively when you have one of these eight cards in your opening hand.
Counterbalance: I love Counterbalance. It gives you a proactive game plan, protects you from recurring engines like Punishing Fire, and generally helps you lock up the mid- and late-game. Instead of focusing on the hard lock, I often just use Counterbalance as a value card. I jam it on turn 2 and if my opponent casts Force of Will, then great, I just resolved Hymn to Tourach! You get some value from blind flips, and fetchlands give you extra chances at hitting what you need.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor: Jace is your heavy-hitter. He serves as a card advantage engine and a win condition. If you untap with Jace in play, you’ve all but won the game. Even in the worst case scenario, sometimes a 4-mana Brainstorm is all you need to set up a winning miracle!
Entreat the Angels: Entreat the Angels is awkward to have in your opening hand, but once the game gets to the point of turn 6 and beyond, it’s devastating. It so greatly eclipses in power any other win conditions that you could play or anything that your opponent is likely to be doing, that it helps make Miracles the deck that it is. The mere presence of this card in your deck makes it nearly impossible for certain strategies to beat you.
Dig Through Time: It’s strange to label Dig Through Time as a “core card,” since Miracles was successful for many years before it was ever printed. However, it was the printing of Dig Through Time that upgraded Miracles in my mind from “top tier” to “clear best deck in the format.” The reason Dig Through Time is so great in Miracles but doesn’t see a ton of play in decks like Delver is that it’s still a fantastic play even if you’re spending four mana on it. The fact that it’s an instant jives with your permission spells, and finding two pinpoint answers is usually exactly what you need to lock up the game. Two copies might be enough, but I personally opt for three.
Swords to Plowshares: The best removal spell ever printed for one of the most defensive decks ever built. It’s a natural fit!
Terminus and Supreme Verdict: These cards make creature decks great matchups, and give you insurance against annoying cards like Young Pyromancer and True-Name Nemesis. Of the two, Terminus is more efficient, but I find that a split offers maximum flexibility, and makes it harder for your opponent to plan a fool-proof strategy. Supreme Verdict is also one of the best cards to put in your hand via Dig Through Time, while Terminus requires a Brainstorm backing it up.
Force of Will: There are some situations where I’m not super excited about Force of Will, but this is not one of them. Miracles has the late-game power and the card advantage to make up the alternative cost of Force of Will as long as you can survive to that point. Force of Will is one of the best cards at helping you survive, so I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Against a deck like Delver, it’s best to save Force of Will to back up your own Terminus or Entreat the Angels, instead of trading 1-for-1 with their threats.
Counterspell: Counterspell is a little slow by Legacy standards, but Miracles aims to play a long game. You also keep your mana untapped at virtually all times, so you get to make really great use of a small number of Counterspells.
Pyroblast/Red Elemental Blast: These are slam-dunk sideboard cards, but can also be considered for the main deck in the right metagame. A huge portion of Legacy decks are blue, and the one’s that aren’t tend to be favorable matchups for Miracles anyway (Elves, Maverick, Metalworker decks, etc.). It’s also nice to have an extra answer to opposing Jace, the Mind Sculptors.
Council’s Judgment: Like Counterspell, Council’s Judgment is a little expensive for what it does, but in Miracles you’re happy to pay for the flexibility. Without it, noncreature threats like Liliana of the Veil and Sulfuric Vortex would be absolute nightmares.
Spell Pierce: You don’t want to overload on the “counter-unless-they-pay” cards because they will dilute your deck in the late game. However, I’ve really liked playing one or two copies of Spell Pierce because they give you an extra layer of defense in the early game, and they’re difficult for your opponents to play around. In addition to being great against combo, I love Spell Pierce against decks sporting Hymn to Tourach and Liliana of the Veil.
Vendilion Clique: As I mentioned above, I personally value the ability to blank my opponents’ removal spells in game one. However, Vendilion Clique is an excellent card that I sideboard in for nearly every matchup. It disrupts combo opponents, pressures planeswalkers, and can help you resolve a Jace or an Entreat the Angels. It’s particularly great if you’ve chosen to play with Karakas.
Snapcaster Mage: You’re never going to be disappointed to have Snapcaster Mage in your deck, as it’s simply such a great, flexible card. However, the body only offers marginal value in Miracles, so when you cast Snapcaster, you’re essentially paying two extra mana for whatever effect you want. This is still great in the late game, but painful in the opening turns, which is the only place where you really need help when you’re playing Miracles.
Ponder/Preordain: I would play with Snapcaster Mage if I had a bunch of Ponders and Preordains in my deck, and this is a package that a lot of successful Miracles players do opt for. Like Snapcaster, you’re never going to be disappointed when you draw a Ponder. However, from a deck construction standpoint, I like to have a high land count and also don’t want to reduce the density of “business cards” in my deck. I hate spending mana on my own turn, especially if I’m forced to do it at an inconvenient time because my hand is light on lands.
Rarely in my Magic career have I been so confident in my ability to name the best deck in a format. Even more so than that, the greatest appeal of Miracles is the way it rewards practice and experience. Even after playing dozens of tournaments with the deck, I still learn and improve every time I play it. If you’re willing to devote the effort, I promise that Miracles is a deck that will make it worth your while.