An Evolving Legacy and Daze in Miracles

Legacy is changing.

A format formerly dominated by Mongoose strategies and Stoneforge strategies is now defined by Deathrite Shaman, a card that provides power in a concentrated and efficient form never-before seen. I contest that Deathrite Shaman is the best creature ever printed, but that is a topic for another day. I start this article by singing its praises because Deathrite Shaman is central to the format’s shift away from the Stoneblade era. It now anchors several Delver variants, most notably BUG and Grixis, but has even been used as a fringe replacement for Nimble Mongoose in certain RUG versions.

The Delver archetype’s adoption of Deathrite Shaman transformed it from a stifle-style deck, trying to disrupt the opponent’s mana and kill with cheap creatures before a more expensive threat takes over the game, to a flexible midrange strategy, with the capacity to deploy early threats of comparable power level to the begotten Stoneforge Mystic, but still able to quickly end the game by playing and protecting a one-mana three-two flier. Delver’s main appeal circa 2013 was its potency in simultaneously disrupting and clocking combo decks, whist still having a fighting chance to keep the Punishing Junds of the world off-balance long enough ride a comparatively under-powered threat to victory; still, it was fundamentally difficult for Delver to beat value-oriented decks. Largely facilitated by the early acceleration provided by Deathrite Shaman, the archetype’s faculty now approaches that of the Punishing Junds of old, and the prior conventional wisdom now lay on its head.

When Delver changed, so, albeit slowly, did everything else.

The format’s reaction to this hallmark in efficacy becoming so ubiquitous has been fascinating, and nowhere more blatant than in the evolution of Miracles. Back when Legacy was more of a premier format, Reid Duke advocated for a version of the deck that played three copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor, zero copies of Ponder, twenty-three lands, several Entreat the Angels and a few Snapcaster Mages as the shell’s sole maindeck creatures. These considerations were completely reasonable in the old Legacy, but as standards for efficiency have changed, filling the deck with expensive sorceries and upwards of four clunky miracles has become an antiquated approach.

One of the best Legacy-specific podcasts, The Brainstorm Show, did an episode right before the last American Legacy Grand Prix in Columbus on a radical new version of Miracles which breaks from the classical mold in a few astonishing ways. Here is their list:

Maindeck
Lands (19)
  • 1 Arid Mesa
  • 4 Scalding Tarn
  • 4 Flooded Strand
  • 2 Volcanic Island
  • 2 Tundra
  • 4 Island
  • 2 Plains

Creatures (7)

  • 3 Snapcaster Mage
  • 4 Monastary Mentor

Spells (24)

  • 4 Ponder
  • 4 Brainstorm
  • 1 Preordain
  • 4 Swords to Plowshares
  • 1 Counterspell
  • 2 Predict
  • 4 Force of Will
  • 4 Terminus

Other (10)

  • 4 Sensei’s Divining Top
  • 4 Counterbalance
  • 2 Engineered Explosives
Sideboard
  • 2 Blood Moon
  • 1 Entreat the Angels
  • 2 Flusterstorm
  • 1 Mountain
  • 4 Pyroblast
  • 1 Spell Pierce
  • 1 Surgical Extraction
  • 1 Vendilion Clique
  • 2 Wear // Tear

Only nineteen lands, no Jace, nine one-mana cantrips, four monastery mentors: This list arrogantly stands in the face of traditional Miracles wisdom. It is remarkably low to the ground, almost resembling a delver deck in efficiency. The thesis here, as explained at length in the episode (Episode 19- GP Columbus through a Miraculous Lens) from June 5th, 2016 which I cannot more highly recommend.

I should note here that the innovation of the above list should not be conflated with the general movement toward an inclusion of the card Predict in Miracles. I have never thought that this incorporation warrants Predict’s use as an epithet. It is certainly an interesting card choice, but not a philosophical departure.

Wilson Hunter, a cohost of the podcast, details in the episode what he considers to be one of Legacy’s major fallacies– (long dash) the idea that Miracles, in its more classical forms, has a good matchup against Delver. Since the widespread endorsement of Deathrite Shaman, I cannot echo this sentiment more. Against decks as powerful yet fast as the most modern versions of Grixis Delver,* committing deck-slots to expensive clunkers the likes of Council’s Judgment, Jace, the Mindsculptor and Entreat the Angels is a recipe for disaster.

One could call Hunter’s claims speculative; I mean it is fairly audacious to assert that Miracles, a deck considered by many to be a blight on the Legacy format worthy of a ban, need adapt. But he backed it up by finishing in the top eight of Grand Prix Columbus, a mere week after calling his shot.

I am primarily a Delver player, but have played Reid-style Miracles in the past. The Brainstorm Show’s innovation and subsequent proof of concept inspired me to try their version. The results were good, but even using this extremely streamlined interpretation of the deck, I found myself in situations wherein Counterspell and Predict and Engineered explosives all cost a little bit too much for what they did. The Delver matchup was undeniably favorable, but still the games I lost were due to being constrained on mana and unable to utilize the decks more expensive spells. Miracles just inherently has a propensity to be unwieldy due to the risk of drawing superfluous copies of Counterbalance and Terminus. Still, when Miracles is doing its thing, there is really nothing more powerful to do in Legacy, and it is for the reason that the deck both so beloved and so hated. The risk of clunkiness is worth the reward, and if the reward is so potent, why not take Miracles to its efficient extreme?

The concept of playing Daze in Miracles is not entirely foreign to me. Hailing from Philadelphia, I was aware of a minor movement a few years ago spearheaded by Bernard Liberati, an area Legacy specialist, that advocated for the employment of the card. To be honest, I found the idea preposterous at the time, and it was not until becoming familiar with Hunter’s list that I reconsidered. Daze, though having obvious deficits in a deck not trying to end the game quickly, IS a medium for taking this concept to its logical extreme.

Here is a list, adapted from that of The Brainstorm Show with which I have played about fifty games now on Magic Online:

Maindeck
Lands (19)
  • 1 Arid Mesa
  • 4 Scalding Tarn
  • 4 Flooded Strand
  • 2 Volcanic Island
  • 2 Tundra
  • 4 Island
  • 2 Plains

Creatures (7)

  • 3 Snapcaster Mage
  • 4 Monastary Mentor

Spells (26)

  • 4 Daze
  • 4 Ponder
  • 4 Brainstorm
  • 1 Preordain
  • 1 Gitaxian Probe
  • 4 Swords to Plowshares
  • 4 Force of Will
  • 4 Terminus

Other (8)

  • 4 Sensei’s Divining Top
  • 4 Counterbalance
Sideboard
  • 2 Blood Moon
  • 1 Entreat the Angels
  • 2 Flusterstorm
  • 1 Mountain
  • 4 Pyroblast
  • 3 Surgical Extraction
  • 2 Wear // Tear

I admit that this was a really wacky idea, but after putting up very good results in Competitive Legacy Leagues (lots of four-one’s but unfortunately no five-o’s), I have concluded that there is definitely merit to the use of Daze in Miracles.

The presence of the card fundamentally changes the contexts in which trying to resolve a deadly Mentor or Counterbalance is tenable. Traditionally, the major balancing act intrinsic to the gameplay of the deck is in finding the appropriate window to resolve one of these spells. Daze’s most powerful application is here; four extra counterspells, particularly one that costs no mana, creates several additional scenarios in which the Miracles pilot is confident that the KO spell will hit the table. Legacy, as I stated in my last article and earlier in this one, revolves completely around the concept of efficiency; almost every deck in the format strives to squeeze the greatest possible amount of power out of a minimal mana commitment. It is a byproduct of this environment that on the crucial turns of a game, and particularly in counter-wars, a lot of spells are cast, but there is seldom extra mana to spend. Free Force Spikes are REALLY good in this scenario.

From the perspective of the Miracles deck, the earlier stages of the game are all about gaining traction. Except for in certain matchups, like against Eldrazi, Miracles has all of the inevitability, so maximizing efficiency early naturally aids in the extension of the game to a point where the raw power of the Miracles deck will take over. Counterbalance, Top and Mentor are all proven commodities, and, outside of certain extreme circumstances, end the game individually. Miracles does not need to be peppered with various goodstuff cards. It does not need to rely on cute synergies between legendary creatures and Karakas. Miracles should be treated almost as a proactive combo deck, using cheap counterspell to resolve and protect spells that end the game. I qualify that statement with the word “almost” because, of course, Miracles is not a linear deck. It pivots seamlessly between playing control and jamming lock pieces and that is why it is so good, but the added ability to attack on a somewhat linear angle, to curve Top into Counterbalance without fear, greatly enhances its ability to gain traction. Delver plays Daze because sticking a creature in the early game and being as efficient as possible on the critical turns is vital to a strategy trying to ride a single threat to victory. Strangely, Miracles fits the same mold, except instead of trying to stick one and two-mana creatures, it dabbles in two-mana enchantments and three-mana-army-of-token-producers. Again, the cost of putting Daze in this deck is minimal because Miracles’ endgame is unrivaled; all that matters is getting there as quickly as possible; it is truly the opening turns that matter.

Daze, of course, has its downsides, but I contend that Miracles is a deck that is built to deal with them. Though often being a dead draw later on, Daze brides the gap to Legacy’s most powerful end-game magnificently. Plus, Miracles has always been more concerned with card selection than card quantity. In the mid and late game, presumably the Miracles deck is filtering its draws with Sensei’s Divining Top, so a few extra dead cards floating around in the deck is no big deal– and they definitely are not dead if they’re countering the opponent’s two-drops via Counterbalance.

My testing will continue, but there is something here. Playing Daze in Miracles has gone from a wild experiment to a definite inclusion in my seventy-five for the next Legacy Grand Prix in Chiba, Japan.

 

 

*  of which there are interestingly many, including Dylan Donegan and Kerry Foerst’s innovative four-Gurmag Angler build, the more traditional, Alexander Hayne-endorsed Pyromancer Therapy version, the Daniel Signorini-preferred four-color stifle variant, and many more.

3 responses to “An Evolving Legacy and Daze in Miracles

  1. This article overall is misleading.

    When you use the term Miracles, its context started out as the traditional Miracles, but then its meaning and context shifted starting in the middle this article to the Mentor Miracles. This was never explained or clarified. The archetype is highly customizable and can be executed in many different manners. This article pretty much blends them in conceptually every time it uses the term Miracles, and then discuss specific cards.

    The whole point about Daze is even more misleading. You’ve mentioned Liberati, but not GP Lille winner Cloudio Bonanni from 2015, seriously? After all the name droppings for no reasons, you seem to forget the most important one. Since you like tempo strategy, you should know better. The whole point of Daze in Miracles is that your opponent doesn’t expect the card. Even if your opponent has friends telling him about the fact that you run Daze in your Miracles, will the opponent be willing to play around it? Those dilemmas are the reasons why Daze works.

    Simply put, Mentor Miracles is a tempo deck that happens to have CB-T package in it, I don’t see why you find it strange. It will never try to establish the role of control, rather it just centers around Mentor, jam it, try to win with it, as with all the protect-the-delver tempo decks. If that doesn’t work, jam CB for value instead. You seem to describe this approach as efficient. Again, since Mentor Miracles is a tempo deck with CB-T, how can its end-game being unrivaled?

    Just because you are not capable of getting the game to a stage in which you can successfully resolve Judgement or Entreat, that does not mean these cards are your so-called recipes for disaster. Your blanket statement warrants no merit. That’s not the only blanket statement, what are you implying when you wrote: against Eldrazi, Miracles has all of the inevitability? You’ve never bothered to explain your claim.

    The article as a whole make blanket claims, assume readers have no intelligence to think for themselves, then went on in a gospel manner to try to advocate a particular build. Is this build better than other builds facing Chalice on 1? Is this build better than other builds when SDT is turned off? What happens when Mentor is unable to generate tokens due to hate cards? Those are far more important to address when you comparing this build vs others.

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    • 1. It was definitely wrong to not mention Bonanni’s deck, so I’ll wear that criticism.

      2. I don’t think referring to the deck as miracles is at all misleading. I mentioned more traditional forms of the deck and explained the card choices with which they’re associated. As all legacy decks have evolved with the printing of new cards, so had miracles. I don’t need to assign epithets to each variation of the deck because they all fall under the same counter-top-terminus umbrella. I even hinted at this by saying that predict miracles is really just miracles with the card predict. The shift from non-mentor miracles to mentor miracles is deeply related to the ways in which deathrite shaman forced the deck to adapt. I did not state explicitly that mentor specifically was implemented as a medium to lower miracles to the ground, but I discussed that general trend at length; I can’t just write a paragraph about every single new card that miracles adopted.

      3. Saying that the only merit to playing daze is a surprise factor is completely false. As I wrote, it completely redefines the way that the miracles deck is capable of resolving KO spells. Similarly, saying that “mentor miracles” is a tempo strategy that never takes the roll of the control deck is wrong. I don’t know what else to say to that except that it demonstrates a total misunderstanding of the format to assert that a deck trying to “jam” and protect a 3 mana delver (which is not the way in which this deck should be played by the way) never takes the reactive role when other decks run around trying to protect threats of a third the mana cost.

      4. The intent of this article was not to tell you to play my decklist. It was to point to a development in miracles, take it to its logical extreme, and discuss the results in the context of a fluid format. I am sorry that it came off a self-promotional and condescending.

      5. I wrote that, EXCEPT in certain matchups, like against eldrazi, miracles has all of the inevitability. This claim is substantiated by my discussion of the potency of certain cards in miracles. I do not thinki it would have been beneficial to go on a tangent about the eldrazi matchup specifically. I added that clause to temper what you called a blanket statement despite it literally not being that because I took the time to mention an exception.

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