Army Of God

As promised, Carsten shares his latest build of Miracles in Legacy with you this week. He explains why he took it in the direction he did and his card choices.

In my GP Strasbourg report, I promised I’d tell you about my latest Miracles build soon. Well, soon is today! I’ll start by talking about the theory behind the deck—about the considerations that led me to move the deck in the direction I have—followed by giving you a decklist and the reasons for why the more unusual cards are included. That way you can follow my reasoning, figure out the holes in the deck I’ve overlooked, and be well prepared to tune the deck in ways that are more to your liking. I’ll also give you a short heads up as to how your in-game strategy has to change when running the build I’m going to present you with because while superficially similar to traditional Miracles lists, what I’ve cooked up plays from a decidedly different vantage point.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you—I haven’t finished testing the changes I’ve made yet and so far have only run the list through a small local event as far as real tournament exposure is concerned (which I won, at least). In what testing I’ve done, the deck has performed exactly as I hoped it would, and the theoretical considerations behind the build seem to work out as advertised. Enough disclaimers, let’s get going!

Control Deck Concerns

Generally speaking, when building a diverse strategy deck—diverse in contrast to linear decks—you have a lot of flexibility in how you shape your maindeck. Switching a few slots here and there allows you to adjust your matchups quite significantly thanks to all the library manipulation at the core of a control deck.

As a result, you always have two choices when building a control deck like U/W Miracles. You can either try to hit a relatively even profile, with very few horrendous maindeck matchups but very few truly good ones, or you can sacrifice some percentage in part of your matchups to specialize in others. The more clearly defined the expected field is, the better the second approach becomes, obviously. The Miracles build I’m going to present today has evolved out of my desire to focus my maindeck on beating combo and control strategies while sacrificing percentage against highly aggressive draws and decks.

Why that focus? The biggest reason is that I firmly believe that the most important matchup to keep in mind when tuning a control deck’s maindeck is the control mirror, even if the mirror isn’t the largest part of the expected field. Why is that so? Let me give you a hint: if you’re playing on Magic Online, this assumption is no longer true.

Figured it out? Excellent, well done. Now with that assumption established…

Alright, I guess there might be some of you that aren’t in my head, so some actual explanation seems in order. The thought process is simply this: finishing three games in roughly fifty minutes is hard with a pure control deck, especially in a decision-rich format that also involves a lot of shuffling. Control on control matchups in particular are often very long—so long, in fact, that even with rapid play from both players there is a significant chance that there won’t be time to play a full three games. Sometimes you’ll even end up short during the second game.

At this point, it should be clear why so much focus should be on other control decks as far as your maindeck construction is concerned—to maximize your chances of winning the round instead of earning a measly draw, you really want to win game 1 in control on control. Other matchups tend to go at least a little faster—especially if you lose, being a control deck and all that—so you’re more likely to finish three games there.

The focus on combo as my second target matchup evolved naturally out of the first one. Control cards that are good against control usually suck against aggro and vice versa. On the other hand, the tools that are good against control include countermagic, library manipulation, and all kinds of disruption. By pure coincidence, those are exactly the kinds of tools you want to use to fight combo.

Add to that that combo has been rising through the ranks of the format steadily ever since people started to insist on playing Bloodbraid Elf in Legacy—what a weird development—and targeting control and combo when building your maindeck sounds like a good idea.

Now, you obviously can’t sacrifice so much that you can’t win the other matchups any more—why wouldn’t you just play a focused linear deck at that point—so you still need a strategy that will carry the day against creature-heavy decks at least a reasonable amount of the time.

I realized this strategy existed after repeatedly observing the following: none of the fair decks can reasonably beat an Entreat the Angels for three or more as long as they don’t have a totally dominant board state already. Sure, they manage once in a while, but after playing the deck off and on ever since Terminus was spoiled, I can still count the games I’ve lost after casting a reasonably large Entreat on one hand.

Once I had observed this phenomenon, the gears started clicking away in my head. What if instead of going for a true control game plan against creature-heavy decks, I could do something similar to what my old Vintage decks did—that is to say stall for time until I can do something so broken they won’t recover. A big Entreat the Angels definitely fills that role nicely.

From Theory to Praxis

Equipped with that idea, I set out to trim my creature defenses as much as possible to make room for more interactive pieces and started testing and tuning. This is where I’ve ended up so far:

Disclaimer: This is my typical 61-card control list. Room is tight, and I’m unsure what to cut so far. If you can’t play a list with more than 60 cards, cut the second Snapcaster Mage since those are the most expendable cards in the deck.

Trust me, I know this looks like you should lose every game in which your opponent draws more than one creature. I’m not off my rocker; the deck is actually fine against most midrange and tempo draws. You’ll just have to approach games very differently from regular Miracles.

In contrast to the U/W Miracles lists you’re used to, this is a true control deck only against combo decks and other control decks. Against all kinds of aggro, midrange, and aggro-control decks, you’re playing game 1 like a combo-control deck. Your combo just happens to be Entreat the Angels plus at least five lands.

Why is that good? Well, look at most of the metagame. Against combo decks, Terminus is pretty much a dead card aside from occasionally sniping an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Against the mirror, all it does is answer opposing Entreats.

Against Stifle tempo decks, Terminus is nice to have, but an Entreat for two—often even a single Angel is enough—will generally allow you to stabilize just as well. And once you’re stable, a part of your late game will eventually take over and put the game away, be it by Counterbalance + Sensei’s Divining Top locking them, finding another Entreat, or keeping a Jace, the Mind Sculptor alive.

Against midrange decks like Jund and BUG, Terminus is fine and sometimes necessary, but your real trouble is losing to their card advantage. Bloodbraid Elf, Liliana of the Veil, and Ancestral Vision mean that if you go very long, you’ll actually lose the grind fight. Conversely, though, these decks have essentially no way at all to beat a host (flock? murder? swarm?) of Angels, and even the blue deck has at best a measly few Force of Wills to try to stop it from happening.

Against Esper Stoneblade, we see nearly the same situation again. Sure, Terminus is sometimes a good to answer a bunch of Spirits or a Batterskull plus Stoneforge Mystic, but just as often it is a dead or at least mediocre card. Against Entreat the Angels, on the other hand, Esper Stoneblade usually needs to either have its one-of Engineered Explosives or will just get buried under a bunch of 4/4s. Even against Goblins, Terminus is generally more of a stopgap measure than anything else. My game wins usually came on the back of either early Entreats or bombs like Moat.

Effectively, what you do in this build is to remain a flexible control deck in the spell-based matchups while switching into a very linear stall to build mana and kill the opponent plan against creature-based decks. For example, I have been using Jace, the Mind Sculptor to bounce more in this deck than in any other I’ve played so far—including a memorable game where I ended up bouncing my opponent’s Stoneforge Mystic at least five times with two different Jaces!

Just remember when playing those matchups that you have to trust your deck to cough up an Entreat eventually and try to stall out the game for as long as possible. You’re not playing for card advantage, you aren’t trying to set up a stable board to Jace them from (though you should obviously grab the opportunity when it presents itself)—all you want is to make land drops while staying alive, getting ready to allow Entreat the Angels to take over the game at the opportune moment.

Particular Card Choices

0 Terminus, 3 Entreat the Angels: The reasoning behind cutting Terminus should be clear by now, as well as the reason for going with an additional maindeck Entreat. I’ve heavily considered—and tested—running the fourth, but three has been completely fine so far while four led to some rather clunky draws, so I think three is right.

3 Tithe, 7 "Plains": These are lands 21-23, and they’re still experimental at this point, though they’ve been testing well. I realized that I needed some way to recoup from early card disadvantage, be it due to Hymn to Tourach, my own Force of Wills and Tops, or an opposing Liliana of the Veil. If there’s nothing that restocks your hand, you end up having to decide between defending and making land drops—not something the deck can afford to do on a regular basis.

Early game Tithes solve that problem perfectly, especially once you figure in fetchland tricks (if land counts are even, crack your Fetch and in response cast Tithe) while they’re basically the same as lands late game. The additional white duals serve to make sure you can always feed the Tithes.

Singleton Plateau: This could be a Savannah or Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrubland[/author] (change the fetches accordingly) because it’s only meant to enable Engineered Explosives for three against Liliana of the Veil and Geist of Saint Traft.

I’ve played with the idea of adding another red dual to the deck to splash for Red Elemental Blast and Sulfur Elemental out of the board, and I also had a full black splash for sideboard Thoughtseizes and Surgical Extractions at some point (still the best way of fighting Sneak and Show I’ve found), so there remain a number of options to be explored.

I’m still unsure if a real splash is needed, but the third color of mana just for the Explosives has been important often enough to earn its keep.

Moat: You really need some kind of answer to extremely messy boards, and Moat just has the most raw power out of all the options available. A lot of the decks you’re weak to without Terminus—such as Elves, Merfolk and Goblins—pretty much just lose to a Moat while a sweeper effect only slows them down. This makes Moat quite appropriate as the "miser’s Wrath."

Singleton Ponder: I really want to have at least two of these in the deck to make digging for lands, Sensei’s Divining Tops, and Entreats smoother but haven’t found the room yet because every other card has proven quite useful so far. Don’t cut this because it looks random and you’re a 60-card fanatic—you’ll regret it.

Maindeck Detention Sphere, sideboard Oblivion Ring: I prefer having the blue fake Vindicate maindeck because being pitchable to Force of Will makes it more flexible and it can sometimes serve as a sweeper in disguise against Empty the Warrens and Lingering Souls. The sideboard Oblivion Ring, on the other hand, comes in against a lot of things but has a particularly important role against Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Show and Tell—and a lot of people playing those cards have access to Red Elemental Blast, which leads me to believe that the mono-white card is a superior choice to bring in.

Alright, now you understand the maindeck, so let’s talk a little about the sideboard. There are basically three large components to the sideboard above.

The first is additional countermagic against combo in the form of Flusterstorm. Believe it or not, just the maindeck configuration isn’t good enough to crush them game after game, in a large part because it’s relatively easy for them to punch through one cheap counter and go off before the rest of your defenses come online.

The second is the Enlightened Tutor board. You have a few silver bullets: Humility against Sneak and Show, Ethersworn Canonist again Tendrils and High Tide, and Rest in Peace against the graveyard strategies. These are designed to give you a replacement "combo kill" akin to what Entreat the Angels does against the fair decks by locking out the respective target strategies to the point of no return. The Enlightened Tutors ensure you have consistent access to them while also coming in to serve as additional copies of Moat or Counterbalance where applicable.

Finally, there’s the removal package. There are a number of matchups where the maindeck plan—Entreat combo-control—is fine but a lot weaker than just the traditional Miracles game plan of sweeping for cheap repeatedly and taking control of the game. By bringing in the fourth Swords to Plowshares, three Terminuses, a second Engineered Explosives, and the Oblivion Ring, you have the ability to completely overload on removal to make sure games 2 and 3 play out in your favor against purely creature-based strategies. The fourth Terminus is the sixteenth sideboard card by the way.

Of note, the additional Engineered Explosives is here because it is removal but is also quite good in the mirror. It helps you fight against all kinds of random permanents, similar to Oblivion Ring. You’ll be boarding out a large part of your countermagic component against creature-based decks, so it pays to have some flexible if less efficient answers.

Is This The Future?

Obviously, I can’t guarantee this is objectively the best build of Miracles for the current metagame, but personally this is what I’d bring to a tournament if I was planning on playing control. My testing so far has borne out my theoretical considerations when building the deck, and the maindeck win percentage you give up against creature-based strategies is surprisingly small. Entreat the Angels is just that good.

The gains against combo and control decks, on the other hand, are quite impressive and very much feel like they’re worth the sacrifice. Even so, I feel like there are still a few tweaks to make to unlock the deck’s full potential. The additional Ponder would be nice, and I’d actually like to make room for another Vendilion Clique because it fits the strategy so well.

I’ve also tested a couple of Repeals before and been quite impressed. They buy a lot of time against Delvers and Germ tokens and also work as a draw engine with Sensei’s Divining Top in the late game (tap your Top, Repeal it in response to get a draw two), so I’d like to work those back into the deck. For those interested, the most expendable slots so far have been the Snapcaster Mages, but even they have been doing a lot of solid work.

In short, there’s a lot left to consider as far as the deck’s exact configuration is concerned. What I’m quite sure about, on the other hand, is that the heavy Entreat focus is most likely the right thing to be going for.

I’ll leave all of you interested in playing something that feels like old school Vintage Control to figure out the final few slots for yourselves. Let me know of any sweet ideas and how the deck does for you in the comments. Until next time, remember to tap your Top during the opponent’s end step!

Carsten Kotter