A format may have been broken this weekend.
My preparation for Grand Prix Anaheim primarily involved chatting with Luis Scott-Vargas. This has been a particularly busy month for me, and after a disappointing Grand Prix Minneapolis stemming from playing a completely untested list, I wanted to make sure to play something that someone had been testing a little.
I knew Brian Kibler Jund deck was looking awesome, but then again, so did everyone given that he was streaming it all week. Not surprisingly, it turned out to be the most popular and successful deck on Day 2 of the Grand Prix (at least at the top tables).
The Thursday before the Grand Prix, Luis was not yet sure what to play and invited me over to "test" at his place. Of course, by testing I mean I watched Luis play some heads-up queues while I continued to write the words "Barter in Blood" in notepad files and Magic Online’s deckbuilder, followed by searching the format for all of the other good black control cards.
Luis had everything built on Magic Online, while I had everything built in paper. We definitely could have jammed them against each other; I could’ve built an extra deck for him in paper, or he could’ve lent me a deck in Magic Online. But with just a few hours to prepare, the best use of time appeared to be playing on the same side against random opponents and both just getting a feel for the deck while discussing possible tweaks.
In Minneapolis during the byes, I discovered about fifteen cards that should have been changed from the 75 I was playing. This left me wanting to be extra sure that I had more familiarity with the deck and was confident in the build. By the end of the evening, the Miracle deck was looking consistent enough, with Efro’s major innovation appearing to make it well positioned. The deck has a lot of play to it, so it was especially nice to have had a few hours to learn some of the pacing and lines.
Here is the list EFro, LSV, and myself (and a number of other people they had given it to) played:
The most important difference between this deck and the deck that Alexander Hayne won Pro Tour Avacyn Restored with is the replacement of Devastation Tide with four red sweepers.
Devastation Tide is just not a particularly strong control card, pushing the deck into a very Turbo Fog sort of role. This is further complicated by the surge in Abundant Growths, Borderland Rangers, and haste creatures. You do need more sweepers than just Terminus, however.
Enter Rolling Temblor. Rolling Temblor is very well positioned, doing great work against Boros and all of the green decks which makes for over 80% of the field. It is a fast sweeper you can cast that you might actually play even without flashback. Flashback just pushes it over the top, effectively drawing an extra card or two as the game goes long (and forces opponents to have to change the pace they are playing at). It’s also another combo with Thought Scour and Desolate Lighthouse.
Losing Devastation Tide meant an increased vulnerability to planeswalkers; however, Rolling Temblor really does take most of the sting out of Garruk and Sorin. Tamiyo can be legend ruled by our own copies. Tibalt isn’t popular enough to be a big problem (but would be very strong against us if it was…). The real problem was Liliana, but multiple Zealous Conscripts to steal her go a very long way, particularly since decks that use Liliana often have other fantastic Conscript targets like Falkenrath Aristocrats.
Bonfire over the fourth Rolling Temblor is to give us another victory condition going long. Sometimes you are going to face opponents that can stop your Angels, so having a burn road to victory is huge. We have tons of card draw, plus Vessel of Endless Rest can let us recycle Bonfire. That may seem like it takes a long time to set up, but if you ultimate Tamiyo, Thought Scour lets you draw your deck real fast. Additionally, Bonfire provides a much-appreciated answer to planeswalkers.
We had tried Devil’s Play, which was decent, but Bonfire was more reliable as a kill card going long since you often have to flash back Devil’s Play to get enough value out of it (making it no longer able to be Vesseled). Plus we just needed another sweeper.
One of the things I really liked about this list was that it was not all-in on the Turbo Fog game that the U/W deck was. It could actually play a very passable control game that just randomly switched into a sort of combo control deck sometimes whenever it hit its miracle. A few of the lessons learned from the U/W/R Control deck I played in Barcelona were applicable, a deck that was naturally well-positioned against two decks I expected to be very popular, Naya and Jund (even if the list I played at the PT suffered from a couple last minute "tweaks").
While I played the exact 75 EFro and LSV did (not wanting to risk any untested last minute changes), there is a good chance that with further testing the list would gain a Desperate Ravings or Alchemist’s Apprentice. We would have liked to test the added miracle enablers, but part of tournament preparation is resource management, which includes managing your prep time.
The backbone of the deck is definitely the miracle/cantrip package. Think Twice and Thought Scour are probably the best cantrips in the format once you have such a high count of miracles. Desperate Ravings is worse in a deck like this because of the chances of discarding the miracle you need, the increased chance of drawing miracles and having to pay retail, and the casting cost needing red (of which there are always less sources). I am not sure where the line is, but with thirteen miracles Think Twice is better. With just four, I’d prefer four Ravings.
I do think people have a little bit of an irrational fear of having their miracle hit by Ravings (which definitely feels like a whammy). In this list, your chance of hitting a miracle is 21.7% overall, though your chances of hitting any specific miracle change as the game progresses (which informs your differing lines of play).
How often does Ravings actually "cost" you, because of miracles? Well, let’s say you have an average of about five cards in hand, meaning after you Ravings you will have 5-6 cards in hand (depending on if it was from the graveyard or not). Call it about 18% chance of discarding the first card drawn and multiply this by the 21.7% chance of drawing a miracle with your first draw and you are down to a 3.9% chance of discarding a miracle.
Now what percentage of the time are you casting Think Twice or Ravings and would actually cast the miracle? Remember, you aren’t always going to Terminus just because you can. What about Entreat? You aren’t always going to have the mana. Even Temporal Mastery is not always worth miracling, such as when you have four mana and are just casting Think Twice with two of it to see if you hit Terminus before blowing your Feeling of Dread. If you reveal a Temporal Mastery, you might not be able to afford it.
It is not uncommon to end up in a situation where you need or want to blow a Think Twice during a spot where you can’t miracle just to dig for action. In situations like this, Ravings is perfect. These miracle decks are so mana-hungry and mana-heavy that Ravings can help when you are a little light or a little flooded.
EFro and Luis both wonder if Alchemist’s Apprentice isn’t better than Ravings as the ninth cantrip. As much as I respect Ravings, it is definitely possible that the Alchemist is better. Costing blue is obviously great, particularly since we are talking about cutting a mana (with all of us feeling that cutting the 29th for a cantrip would be just about right).
Ravings is actually better at finding miracles than Alchemist (since you get two shots); however the chump blocker is actually kind of appealing. If I were to guess, I would bet on Ravings in the ninth slot, but both are worth trying and could be right.
What mana to cut is an interesting question. Vessel of Endless Rest was definitely the worst card in the deck by a clear margin, but it does serve an important role. Being able to recycle a victory condition can help a lot going long. Additionally, if you draw a Vessel early it is halfway decent, accelerating your Tamiyo, Terminus, and even Temporal Mastery. Most of us sideboarded out a Vessel (sometimes a land) most rounds, as the deck was just a bit too mana heavy, but you do want to be careful not to give yourself too great a risk of stumbling. The mana is not good in this format, but with 29 sources you do hit your colors pretty well.
Feeling of Dread is not new, but it is worth noting that no other card seems to provoke people into shaving copies (wrongfully). Why? I get that people look at it and are not impressed, as this is not the type of card that is always good in Constructed. I have been there. I was shaving copies in my Standard Miracle lists (before I tested and realized how foolish this was). Feeling of Dread is the new Moment’s Peace. It is a highly underrated card that should be played more in Standard in a variety of decks. It is just so perfect for stalling and punishing opponents that don’t overcommit while giving you time to set up your Terminus.
An important key to playing Miracle decks is sequencing your lands properly. Obviously, every game is different and presents its own unique challenges and questions, but against an unknown opponent, we generally want to look to play a white land on turn 1 even if it means playing Evolving Wilds on turn 2(!).
Yes, you only have a 6.7% chance of drawing Terminus on turn 2, but in general if you can Terminus a Champion of the Parish, Avacyn’s Pilgrim, or Stromkirk Noble in a spot like this, you should. Now, obviously if your hand is such that it is better to save the Terminus, then by all means develop your mana a different way. However, all else being equal, the whole point is to set yourself up for chances at a miracle. It may not seem that great to just hit a single one-drop, but when your opponent plays one of those one-drops in their opener there is nothing you want more than to draw a one-mana removal spell. This makes Terminus the perfect draw.
It’s ok to have to Evolving Wilds to blue mana (or play Sulfur Falls on turn 2 after Plains on turn 1) since you generally aren’t blowing your cantrips anyway. You need blue on 2 so that Temporal Mastery is live, but you want to save your Thought Scours and Think Twices until you have mana to Terminus or Mastery off of them (if you can afford to wait).
Turn 3 varies between blue and white, as blue lets you Thought Scour into miracles while white lets you naturally have a shot at Entreat for one next turn.
One last note on land: in general, you want to hit every land drop you can. As a result, you generally don’t hold more than one land going long. If you are trying to ramp up to something specific play them all, but if you have more land than you need, holding one lets you get the best of both worlds. If you draw something to cast, you can play your land and do it. If you draw Lighthouse, you still have a land to discard. There is nothing wrong with playing out all of your land if you have spells in hand. I’m just talking saving one if it is your only card.
The sideboard is relatively straightforward. Dissipate is crucial against control decks and Reanimator but also serves important roles against Jund, which has so many midlevel and high-drops as well as the ability to protect yourself from Sever the Bloodline or Devil’s Play.
Pillar of Flame is for aggro matchups, coming in against Boros, Zombies, R/G Aggro, and in some amount against various Jund and Naya decks if they are sufficiently built for beatdown (though often I’d only board in one or two in these matchups).
Purify the Grave is obviously another tool against Reanimator, though I cannot speak to its effectiveness as I never faced it.
Gisela is an important alternate victory condition that comes in against anyone you think may be vulnerable to it. I don’t like her versus Jund, due to Conscripts, Liliana, and Sever as well as the possibility of Olivia; however, she is nice against Boros and Naya despite the risk of Conscripts.
Geist of Saint Traft is another alternate victory condition against control, as well as an added answer to opposing Geists (out of the Bant Spirits deck). I never faced any, but a friend of mine who also played Miracles, Dan Clark, defeated five Bant Spirits decks on the weekend, saying the Temblors make the matchup quite good.
Conscripts is primarily for combating planeswalkers, giving us ways to threaten Lilianas and Tamiyos about to ultimate. As mentioned, it is also a nice tool against the Aristocrats as well as a nice weapon against Reanimator.
Finally, Restoration Angel gives us yet another way to transform, continuing the theme of control decks with tons of threats in the board. It is an instant speed threat, which gives it valuable tactical applications. Plus, in controlling match-ups you may actually use the Blink ability to save one of your other guys. That it flies also helps give it purpose against Naya, making it a reasonable answer to Garruk.
I ended up intentionally drawing in the final round (11-3-1), as neither my opponent nor I could escape Top 32 with a win; however, a loss would definitely knock one of us out. It was a little disappointing that I had no chance of Top 16 with a record of 12-3. The issue with too many byes having been issued is a known bug and is already being addressed. Congrats to EFro, Brian Kibler, and Paul Rietzl for all making Top 8 with the decks they were advocating.
Prior to GP Minneapolis, Gerry had been working on Five-Color Control. Then just before the event, Gindy (I believe) told Gerry they had broken it. The deck? Caw-Blade.
Gerry ended up doing well in Minneapolis but lost two win-and-ins to miss Top 8. Of course, that was with the version that Gerry had not gotten to work his magic on yet.
Fast-forward a week, and Gerry had done what he does best, tuning the list to a razor’s edge. The pay-off was immediate, with Gerry winning the Standard Open and four nearly identical 75s making the Top 8. Here was their list:
As you can see, this is the missing link between Delver and Caw-Blade, finally made possible by Restoration Angel. Restoration Angel’s power is no secret at this point, but it really is just perfect for this deck in so many ways. It is yet another flier, but flash and four toughness make it much less vulnerable than other Delver threats.
Your opponent can think he is safe on turn 4, only to be ambushed by a flashed down Restoration Angel, followed by a fifth land and a Sword of Feast and Famine, equip, attack, and another threat played with Mana Leak open! Restoration Angel getting to save your creatures (particularly Geist of Saint Traft) is huge, but she also resets your Snapcaster Mage for added card draw.
Caw-Blade in Standard, Dredge in Legacy? Gerry certainly has no qualms about being the villain…
Here is a look at the Standard metagame since Avacyn Restored dropped.
The existing metagame data is based on the SCG Open Series Top 16s and Top 32s in May before last weekend. This week’s meta is based on the Top 32 from the SCG Open Series in Nashville. I do think there is enough impact from this weekend’s results that they will radically warp the meta in the week to come.
We may actually be at that rare point in a format where the best deck is so good that people are just not going to play it as much as they should (making it right to join them, not try to beat them). It is definitely very possible that a metagame foil could be created, but I gotta tell you, looking at the surface it sure looks like this deck is going to be a real problem. I’m not just talking about the absolute dominance this weekend. I am talking about just looking at the deck and how perfectly its new cards address existing problems and weaknesses in Delver.
I wonder if the next step is splashing Lingering Souls. The mana is not necessarily good enough, but Lingering Souls is fantastic in the semi-mirror and another very powerful way to push the Caw-Blade theme.
Either way, two things are clear:
2) This week might have been an aberration, but it might not have been. If I could play in the SCG Open Series in Columbus this weekend, I’d play this deck. There is no deck I recommend more for the World Cup Qualifiers (at this point). Depending on how the World Cup Qualifiers shape up, I actually think it is possible that we may see a ban in three weeks.
Yes, I realize how drastic of words these are. I do not say them lightly. It is not a forgone conclusion by any means; however, Delver (the deck) has been causing serious problems for quite a while now. If things don’t take a turn, something may have to be done. This isn’t out of nowhere. Delver has been dominating all year. It also doesn’t help that this deck is broken in so many of the exact same ways Caw-Blade was, lending itself to a depressing influence on the format.
Many will disagree with this assessment, asking what is so special about this build of Delver. Why would one SCG Open Series suggest that a card needs to be banned? Why not just give people time to adjust?
Again, this isn’t out of nowhere, and whenever the best deck is able to adopt a bunch of breakthrough new technology that greatly improves it in the exact perfect ways… Well, it is a dangerous thing. Just looking at the list, I can tell you it is not every day I see a Faeries deck that makes me want to completely abandon any thought of playing control. This is such a deck. This deck just looks absurd. Hopefully, the World Cup Qualifiers will divert this, but they might end up making it worse. You think the pros aren’t going to all play Caw-Blade? If you have the answer, you better speak up fast.
What would be banned, if anything?
No, not Delver. That is not the real problem at all. This deck would still exist without Delver. Delver is relatively easily answerable.
What about Ponder? It was banned in other formats so it is not a stretch; however, you could replace it with more cantrips that are slightly weaker, and the deck wouldn’t lose all that much.
The answer is crystal clear, and you already know what I am going to say.