Magic Online was restoredâ€”some might say Avacyn Restoredâ€”to useful functionality last week. I started trying various Wolfir Silverheart decks, but as we know from the heralded work of some of our finest PT champions, attacking is the nut low. The strategy simply is not viable.
After losing to any number of decks that either attacked better than I did or actually drew extra cards (or for god’s sake could Doom Blade a Silverheart), I ended up trying a variety of miracle-based decks, at least in part inspired by the mighty Alexander Hayne. It turns out my first deck was the best; while I have tried a dozen different sideboards, the main to that first-best is essentially unchanged.
I will be the first to express surprise at how well this has all played out. I have repeatedly smashed red-based attack decks, G/R Aggro, Naya Pod, jank / junk / brews…and even U/W Delver! I was particularly puzzled when a U/W Delver Spirits player asked me, despondent at the end of a 51-0 game 2, if anything could beat this miraculous Miracles deck.
Putting one man’s results aside for a moment, I am happy to entertain a raised eyebrow. I don’t quite believe it myself. I’ve only played Wolf Run Ramp once, and he smoked me (though my hands sucked both games, and at the time I had a poor sideboard for Ramp). That said, I think there is quite a bit of good to say about All-American Miracles, and I think it is quite good enough to take down, say, tonight’s FNM:
From a concept perspective, the deck is relatively straightforward: tapout U/W control with miracles. Yay. Talisman-Tamiyo-Terminus is a big game already, and Gideon-Tamiyo only loses in the movies. Plus, sometimes you just get lucky all over their faces. Sometimes your back is up against the wall, and then, oops…you suddenly have five Angels in play to block (and / or kill them next turn).
Ponder obviously does a lot of work in this deck, not just doing its regular stuff like helping you hit your land drops or conversely pushing and shoving you past mana clumps, but most importantly setting up your miracles. This occurs both early (I give myself a second land and put Temporal Mastery one deep so that after I play the land I can topdeck and miracle-mise the Mastery next turn) and late (I have a ton of land in play and either a Think Twice in my graveyard or an active Lighthouse so IT’S ON… It’s motherloving on).
My apprehension with the deck despite its frankly insane performance forcing me to play happily on Magic Online until 3 AM every night comes from its frankly unrealistic mana curve. All uncastable Miracles and fives, with just a couple of cantrips and Talismans in-between. Here’s the thing: those Talismans are your best cards. They jump you three-to-five for Gideon and Tamiyo. They keep you alive so you can topdeck the miracle you need to not lose. You know how that poor Delver player was asking how the deck could ever lose? He was trying to plink with a silly 3/2 or a couple of 1/1 Spirits, and I was gaining 2-3 life every turn while drawing tons of cards, taking extra turns with three open for his Leak, and generally making his life miserable due entirely to good fortune (and having a bazillion mana in play).
Alexander Hayne played 27 lands and mulliganed aggressively if he didn’t like the mana count in his opener. This deck is a whopping 50% mana between 27 lands and those Talismans.
The part of the deck I am least settled on is the sideboard. Basically, I have played many, many different configurations, trying everything from Feeling of Dread on ("Don’t you think Celestial Purge would be better in Standard, Mike?" – Osyp Lebedowicz); I have come to the conclusion that the reason I didn’t like so many configurations is that I was always over-boarding for aggro, never really that happy with what I was taking out.
All-American Miracles is so much more powerful than conventional decks that you don’t really have to stick that many cards to win. You basically have to stay alive, gain some life so you stay alive, generally live long enough to chain a couple of fives, sixes, sevens, and exes in a row until one of them gets through. At that point you’ve probably just done something profoundly more impressive than whatever your opponent can do, and winning is a formalityâ€”albeit one quite a few turns down the road sometimes. Remember my loss to Ramp? Might be something to that (though Osyp says you should just try to race with lucky Angels).
I would consider the three Timely Reinforcements absolutely essential, and you really want two copies of Day of Judgment even if you don’t end up siding in both. A lot of the sideboarding is taking out a card and putting in either a faster (Timely Reinforcements) or more powerful (Karn Liberated) version of the same functionality.
The miracles and control identities are so all consuming and generally not terrible that most sideboarding comes at the risk of making the deck’s actual incentives unrecognizable. At some point you are taking out "clunky" Entreat the Angels against a faster active deck, and you realize you can no longer get lucky to race.
The age of Miracles is early, so I figure we’ll all get a lot better at this; I am not pretending to any gnostic overmind.
That said, new addition Negate seems kind of essential to me.
I feel like Hayne has made Miracles "a thing," and there isn’t much I can think of that can’t be completely humiliated by this particular 1U.
… Now that we’ve gone over all that, I will spend the rest of this article focusing on some seemingly small points of execution. These things might not seem big if you haven’t played the deck yet, but the sometimes the expensive costs and maze-like timing of the deck can exacerbate the impact of poor decisions. Plus, my guess isâ€”first couple of times around especiallyâ€”you’d be playing Think Twice the wrong way ’round.
The mana in this deck is quite reliable, seeing as how there is so much of it.
That said, decisions in the first three turns of the game will often be telling.
If you playÂ your cards rightâ€”literally, rather than in the proverbial sense (for once)â€”you will often play most or all of your lands properly untapped starting on turn 2 but for the odd late game Seachrome Coast (when the tapped-ness or not of a Seachrome Coast matters relatively little).
Untapped lands on your second and third upkeeps are often important, and you really want three untapped lands on your third main phase so you can tap for Pristine Talisman (both to mise the life and so you can ramp into Tamiyo or Gideon).
Really, the question is: "WTF am I supposed to get with my first turn Evolving Wilds?"
(Or any Evolving Wilds.)
Especially early on in playing with this deck, all other things held equal I would go and get the one Mountain. This might seem odd to you because the deck doesn’t actually have any red cards, but there are a couple of reasons. One is that you might be putting your opponent off; who reads "first turn Mountain" as "U/W Control deck," I mean really? The bigger reason is that the rest of the mana is so smoothâ€”you will often have an assortment of Seachrome Coasts, Glacial Fortresses, and basics in gripâ€”that this is the cheapest turn to go and get a Mountain.
That said, there are certainly other factors, like if you went first or second.
Going second, especially if the opponent played a first turn creature, I will get the Plains. The reason is I am almost certainly going to miracle the Terminus if it comes up, and there is basically nothing I would rather do on the first-second turn (I tend to avoid burning Think Twice in this deck); anyway, I can presumably just lay a blue source to Ponder on the second turn.
Important point: While it is certainly not "wrong"Â to Ponder on the first turn, I often hold Ponder for the second (especially if my mana is going to come out in a somewhat ragged way, like I play a first turn Glacial Fortress or some such) because I want to be able to set up more miracles.
In any case, I will tend to err on Plains rather than Island for the first Evolving Wilds on the first turn and only go the other way if I can’t set up a natural source of blue for a possibly topdecked third turn Temporal Mastery.
Things to keep in mind:
- Already mentioned but bears repeating: There are no red spells in this deck. You are probably never going to be under the gun for red mana in any way that can be divined on the first turn or even first three turns.
- The deck only has one copy of one card that requires UUU. However, you typically need blue operating mana for Think Twice and Lighthouse activations (plus UU for the Dissipate); you need blue in a workmanlike way that you don’t need white and more often.
- The deck is unlikely to need-need WWW before turn 6 (with a Talisman) and basically never needs WWW before turn 4 (again with a Talisman). That said, it can be very important to have WW in play as early as turn 4; check out whether you actually have either Entreat the Angels or Blue Sun’s Zenith in your hand [yet] as you evaluate which color to triple up on.
How To Play With Think Twice
One of the most common dilemmas you will find when playing this deck is not just when to play Think Twice, but if you should play Think Twice…and if you choose to play Think Twice from where you should play it.
Now imagine having to actually play the damn thing!
In general we play Think Twice [at the end of the opponent’s turn] when we have open mana, two or three depending on where our Think Twice is (hand or graveyard). This differs a bit from when to play Desperate Ravings. You mostly play Desperate Ravings in the same way, but you are less inclined to do so if your hand is already near-perfect (the assumption being any cards you draw from Desperate Ravings would actually weaken your hand).
There are two-and-a-half major drivers to the basic attitude towards playing Think Twice in this way:
1. Conservation of mana – I have 2-3 mana open; if I don’t play Think Twice I am "losing" the utility of my mana.
2. Mana development – In most decks that play Think Twice, Think Twice is actually a driving component of the mana base. A 26-land deck actually plays "like" a 28-land deck with four Think Twice (per the Comer Xerox principle).Â
2.5. As a corollary tactical guide (rather than a strategic driver), we typically play Think Twice from the graveyard rather than the hand when given the option provided 1) we have a third open land and 2) we don’t already have 7-8 cards (so as to avoid discarding the next turn).
Think Twice differs substantially in the All-American Miracles deck for a couple of reasons. The most important isâ€”as we have mentioned alreadyâ€”the deck has a TON of mana. You don’t typically use Think Twice to hit your land drops; you don’t have to. You actually use it to dig to spells and / or as a catalyst for your miracles.
To that end, we will often choose not to play Think Twice now just because we have fulfilled some "basic" criteria for playing Think Twice (open mana). There are of course exceptions to every game play rule, but unless you really, truly, positively need to make your next land drop (or the desperate "spells" equivalent going the other way), you should almost never tap out for Think Twice at the end of your opponent’s turn. There is no harsher lesson when playing this deck early on than your opponent passing when you have U1 up, burning a Think Twice, and drawing a Temporal Mastery. This is the card-drawing equivalent of smacking a wayward hound on the nose in anger with a newspaper.
Now the next thing you have to understand about playing Think Twiceâ€”provided you are going to play itâ€”is where you should play it from. You would be surprisedâ€”given how restrained you learn to be about not flashing back your Think Twice so that they sit in your graveyard far longer than they might in a straight U/B Controlâ€”how often you have to decide whether to hit the backside of a spent one versus playing a freshie-fresh from your grip.
Better And Better Questions…(And "The End" Of Mana Conservation)
How much open mana do you have?
You sure about this? It sounds like you are tapping out.
Does your opponent have any creatures in play? Can you leave W open? How screwed are you going to be if there is a Temporal Mastery on top?
All other things held equal, hand.
All other things held equal, graveyard.
There are, however, other considerations to what you are going to do here. For instance, say you really want to be able to hit a Terminus and pay for a Mana Leak (that you may or may not know is there); that calls up one of these "all other things held equal" caveats. What’s scarier in this spot?
Miracles are cool and all, but…
It is important to note that once you hit five mana, getting crazy lucky with miracles is no longer all that super lucky. I mean, all other things held equal I would rather pay W for my Terminus than 4WW, but the reality is when you win with this deck you often have 11+ lands in play and can pay retail for your cards, so you no longer have to be overly wary of when and how you use your Think Twice and Lighthouse options. That is, you can go ahead and filter away all your excess lands when you are at that point, and when you are super rich, yes, you can give up the W option to miracle Terminus so you can get in with your three Angel tokens (or whatever) before paying retail to get rid of his Wurmcoil Engine & co. (happens all the time)
Miracles, as a mechanic, are special because of some the sometimes-deep mana discounting. On balance we pay one or two extra for what we want to play. But once mana is no longer scarce, you can over-pay like any old rich witch at the auction house.
That said, I still hope you hit second turn* Temporal Mastery!
* Haha, I really do. Unless you have Birds of Paradise. Jerk.