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Deck Evolutions: Legacy Miracles


Today Miracles is a dominant force in Legacy, to the point that whenever it performs well in one of the handful of big Legacy events each year, social media call for a banning. However, things were not always this way. In fact, it took a relatively unknown Italian Legacy player to turn the deck into the monster that exists today. Although it might not be obvious at first glance, the basic framework of the Miracles deck has been around for a long time — years before the miracle mechanic was released in Avacyn Restored in May of 2012. At its core, Legacy Miracles is a Counter-Top Control deck, built around the hardest of soft locks in Sensei's Divining Top and Counterbalance. This combination has been seeing play at least as far back as 2007 where the combo took down the infamous GP Columbus as part of the soon-to-be-banned Flash Hulk combo deck in the hands of Steve Sadin who took down some little red-haired kid playing Goblins in his first major event top eight. 

Owen Turtenwald, circa 2007 GP Columbus, 2nd place. 

Flash was banned in Legacy ithin a month of GP Columbus 2007, but this didn't stop people from playing Counter-Top. In fact, you could say that it hastened the deck's evolution towards its current form. Over the next couple years, Legacy players jammed the Counter-Top combo into just about any deck and color combination imaginable from BUG decks with Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant, to Bant Threshold decks with Nimble Mongoose and Mystic Enforcer, to Dreadstill decks which could use Trinket Mage to search up either Sensei's Divning Top or Phyrexian Dreadnought for the Stiflenought combo. However, one build of Counter-Top that emerged near the end of 2007 is clearly the forerunner of the modern Miracles build. 

Here we see Counter-Top taking in the now standard blue-white control shell (no red splash yet, though), and even at this early point many Miracles staples including Force of Will, Brainstorm and Swords to Plowshares are present and accounted for. However, as you can see, the early builds of Counter-Top have a much heavier focus on lands. Not only does Landstill play three copies of Wasteland, but the full four copies of Mishra's Factory along with a Crucible of Worlds. Crucible of the Worlds is a really interesting card in a Counter-Top build; not only does it allow for endless Wastelandss and infinite copies of Mishra's Factory, but in conjunction with fetchlands, it allows a shuffle every turn to reset Sensei's Divining Top.

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Probably the funniest part of the entire deck is the sideboard, which like all sideboards, is a product of the metagame at the time. Lest we forget, there was a time when Goblins was a very real, very good deck in Legacy, to the point where a great player like Zvi would dedicate two sideboards slots to Tivadar's Crusade, not to mention copies of Circle of Protection: Red and Circle of Protection: Green which were apparently Legacy playable back in the day. Who knew?

Over the next couple years Counter-Top didn't undergo any major changes, although by 2010 the most common builds of the archetype contained both Standstill and the Phyrexian Dreadnought / Trinket Mage / Stifle package. To make room for the Stiflenought combo, interactive spells like Swords to Plowshares and Counterspell were cut from the deck along with random one-ofs like Moat and Crucible of Worlds. Some builds abandoned white altogether; Simon's deck above is basically mono-blue splashing both red and black for access to powerful sideboard options like Pyroblast, Lightning Bolt and Perish

From a more meta-perspective, Dreadstill was basically a combo version of Counter-Top. It gave up much of its late-game power (and even reduced the number of Sensei's Divining Tops and Counterbalances from eight to six) for the possibility of randomly having a 12/12 trample on turn two. Just in case you are not familiar with fringe Legacy combos, here's how it works: 

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Phyrexian Dreadnought is one of those wacky cards from the early day of Magic when someone thought it would be cool to say "we made a 12/12 for one mana." Actually, this sounds exactly like one of the "hints" Maro would give in his pre-spoiler "hint" articles. If you are reading this Maro, please bring back your deceptive "hint" articles! Back to the Dreadnaught; you need to sacrifice twelve power worth of creatures when Phyrexian Dreadnought enters the battlefield or else you sacrifice it. The sacrifice ability is actually a trigger that goes on the stack and players realized that you could just Stifle or Trickbind the trigger and end up with a huge, evasive creature on turn two. Bonus points if you know what other one-mana blue instant can pull of the Stiflenaught combo. 

Adam Prosak's build from late 2010 is the most Miracle-like Counter-Top build from the pre-Miracle era. Gone are Wasteland and Mishra's Factory, hallmarks of the previous Landstill and Dreadstill builds of Counter-Top. Instead we get a bunch of basics improving the deck's matchup against Wasteland decks and a single copy of Karakas which is used to bounce and replay Vendilion Clique. We also see the emergence of Ponder as Brainstorms five and six, a bunch of counterspells, Swords to Plowshares and, of course, the full four copies of both Counterbalance and Sensei's Divining Top. However, the biggest innovation comes down to the inclusion of three copies of a planeswalker which was printed in Worldwake a few months earlier:

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To be fair, Prosak's deck wasn't the first deck to play Jace, the Mind Sculptor in a controlling Counter-Top build; several European players were running Jace, the Mind Sculptor as a one-of months prior. Nor is it the first Counter-Top deck to make Jace, the Mind Sculptor the centerpiece of the deck; this distinction belongs to Tom Martell who finished second at GP Columbus 2010 playing a four-color Tarmogoyf Counter-Top deck in October. It is the first Counter-Top deck to focus on Jace, the Mind Sculptor while also maintaining the blue-white control shell. In hindsight it seems so obvious to run Jace in Miracles, but in a testament to how slow-changing Legacy is as a format, it took the better part of a year for people to start running three copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor in UW Counter-Top.

Over the next year and a half, things stayed more or less the same in the world of Counter-Top. Everyone played Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Some people started running the Thopter Foundry / Sword of the Meek combo as well, but no major innovations took place. Then, in May 2012, Avacyn Restored was released with the deck's namesake mechanic. 

While an unknown player taking third place in a 45-player Legacy event in Italy isn't usually worth writing about, in this instance it represents the birth of the modern Miracles deck. Perhaps most amazing, the event took place just one week after the release of Avacyn Restored — which is pretty much the equivalent of the speed of light for a major change to happen in a slow-moving format like Legacy.

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While the inclusion of the namesake Miracles (Terminus and Entreat the Angels) is definitely the most important and exciting aspect of this build, as far as I can tell, this also represents the first time that Snapcaster Mage was played in a Counter-Top list, even though Tiago was printed six months prior in Innistrad. Making not one but two major innovations to what would become one of the best decks in Legacy is quite the accomplishment for Matteo Lang, a local Legacy player in Bologna, Italy without any high-level results to speak of. 

So what happens when a relatively unknown player in Europe builds a format breaking Legacy deck? How long does it take to catch on? Quite a while. The first stateside Miracles sighting happens at a GP trial about a month later, but for the next few months Miracles remains a European (and even more specifically, Italian) deck where it starts crushing Legacy tournaments. In June there is a 75-player Italian Legacy tournament and Miracles puts three players into the top eight. In July there is a 93-player Italian Legacy tournament and Miracles puts four players in the top eight. August? 111-player Italian Legacy tournament and Miracles puts three in the top eight. Meanwhile, the deck was slow to catch on in the US. There are a couple random sighting at SCG events, but it isn't until the end of September, nearly six months after Avacyn Restored hit the shelves, that Miracles had its stateside coming out party. 

While Michael Hetrick won the SCG Legacy Open playing nearly the same 75 as Lossett, it only seems right to highlight Joe's deck since over the past three years, his name has become more or less synonymous with the archetype. Honestly, there isn't much innovation to see here. The deck looks very much like the Italian version, and even Prosak's Miracle-less UW Counter-Top list from two-years prior. However, putting two players in the top eight of a major US-based Legacy event pushed Miracles into the spotlight. Suddenly every big Legacy event featured Miracles in the top eight. Over the last three months of 2012, Miracles put no less than 12 players into top eights of SCG Opens (this was back in the good old days when we had a Legacy open every weekend), as well as a player into the top eight of both remaining SCG Invitationals. Meanwhile, Joe Lossett became known as the master of the archetype getting four SCG Legacy top eights in just four months time. So while Miracles started off slow and it took several months for it to make its way across the ocean from Italy, once it landed in the new world, it took the North American Legacy scene by storm. 

During the first part of 2013, Miracles split off into two different directions. First, as exemplified by Ohlschwager's GP Denver build, was an even more lock-centric version of Miracles featuring the combo of Energy Field and Rest in Peace. The idea of this build is to resolve a copy of Energy Field which prevents all damage to you from sources you don't control with the downside of having to sacrifice it whenever a card goes into your graveyard, and a copy of Rest in Peace which creates a replacement effect so that graveyard-bound cards are exiled instead. Once the combo is assembled, you can't take any damage — at least until your opponent gets rid of a combo piece, which is difficult though the Counterbalance lock. 

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You also get Enlightened Tutor to put together either combo, as well as with a nice tool box of artifacts and enchantments including Detention Sphere, Batterskull and Helm of Obedience (which itself is an instant win combo with Rest in Peace, allowing you to pay five mana and exile your opponent's entire library). Unfortunately for this build of Miracles, Return to Ravnica had just released a couple months before introducing Abrupt Decay. Not only does Abrupt Decay gets rid of Rest in Peace and Energy Field, but also Counterbalance itself. While some players continued down this path, others branched off in a different direction — a direction championed by Miracles master Joe Lossett. 

Lossett Miracles was, at least for most of 2013 and 2014, the closest thing we've had to a "stock" Miracles list. While the difference between Lossett's build and the Rest in Peace build are massive, the differences between Lossett Miracles and older control builds of Miracles are more subtle. For example, running two copies of Karakas and a singleton Venser, Shaper Savant in addition to Vendilion Clique for not only infinite blockers (because you can bounce the creature after blocks), but infinite disruption as well. 

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Lossett Miracles also made the red splash — mostly for Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast, but sometimes Blood Moon — standard. It also had an odd looking, but very effective two/two split of Force of Will and Misdirection in the main deck. At first I was puzzled by this choice, but after looking more into it, it is actually quite brilliant. Early 2013 was the high point of Jund in Legacy and Misdirection performs more or less the same as Force of Will in a counter war, but it can also "counter" the uncounterable Abrupt Decay by changing its target, while Force of Will cannot.

Before we talk about the last few iterations of the Miracles deck, I should make it clear: unlike in Standard or even Modern where a deck may change a bunch of cards from one iteration to another, in Legacy these changes are often smaller — generally only a handful of cards. At the same time, small changes are more impactful in Legacy because the format is built around fetchlands and Brainstorm which means you see a significant percentage of your deck in every game. So even changing only five cards in a Legacy deck will have a much bigger impact on how the deck plays than it would in Modern or Standard because your odds of running into each card during the course of a game or match is significantly higher. 

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Council's Judgment is the only new card included in Duke Miracles. Printed in Conspiracy just a month before the tournament, Council's Judgment represents a significant upgrade over Oblivion Ring or Detention Sphere which appeared in Miracles builds from time to time. Why is Council's Judgement so much better? First off it's a sorcery so you can flash it back with Snapcaster Mage (even though Joe's build doesn't play any copies). Second, it gets rid of a non-land permanents forever so you don't get blown out by Abrupt Decay. Finally, and most importantly, it can hit anything, so protection on Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, Progenitus and True-Name Nemesis, and hexproof/shroud on Geist of Saint Traft, and Nimble Mongoose, are not issues. 

Apart from Council's Judgment, Duke Miracles is unique among its peers because it's completely creature free. No Snapcaster Mage, no Vendilion Clique, no Venser, Shaper Savant and certainly no Trinket Mage. Instead, Reid maxes out on Force of Will and Jace, the Mind Sculptor along with Entreat the Angels (his only way of finishing the game), adds an additional Counterspell, and two main deck copies of Relic of Progenitus which not only provides value against a ton of Legacy decks (anything with Snapcaster Mage, Deathrite Shaman, Tarmogoyf or Dredge cards), but is also another instant speed way to draw a card and trigger the miracle mechanic on your opponent's turn. 

Apparently Lossett took notice of Duke's changes to the deck because the next time the Miracles master makes an appearance, his deck is a little bit different. While it still maintained the legendary creature plus Karakas package, it cut Snapcaster Mage altogether and dropped all the way down to two copies of Swords to Plowshares. Filling these slots were two copies of Relic of Progenitus and two Pyroblast effects (making for a total of four "blasts" between the main deck and sideboard). This hybrid build was concerned with two things: beating other blue spells and controlling the graveyard. Why? 

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The last three months of 2014 were dominated by two powerful delve spells printed in Khans of Tarkir: Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time. As a result, various Delver of Secrets decks jumped to the top of the Legacy metagame. The hybrid build of Miracles was clearly designed to be a Treasure Cruise killer playing narrow and highly situational cards that were very good at stopping blue cards and graveyard synergies. However, it should be noted that this was a temporary change; once Treasure Cruise was banned in February 2015, both Reid Duke and Joe Lossett reverted back to their old builds and other players followed suite. 

It's only fitting that we'll end our discussing of Miracles right where we began with an Italian player making a significant innovation to the deck and being rewarded by a strong tournament showing. Less controlling than either Duke's or Lossett's builds, Monastery Miracles is more of a tempo control deck than a pure control build. Instead of stalling, stalling, stalling and eventually drawing into a Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Entreat the Angels to finish off the game, Monastery Miracles takes a more proactive game plan thanks to the inclusion of a Fate Reforged mythic. 

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While many of the hallmarks of older Miracles decks are still found in Monastery Miracles, make no mistake about it, this is a Monastery Mentor deck. Many of the card choices reflect Mentor's prominence, most notably the doubling of the number of cantrips with the full four copies of Ponder joining Brainstorm and the inclusion of three copies of Daze which typically isn't played in Miracles. These additions give Monastery Miracles the opportunity to chain together cantrips and put together the "combo" finish. 

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What is this combo? With two copies of Sensei's Divining Top and a Monastery Mentor on the battlefield, you can loop the Tops (tap one, draw a card, put it on top of your library, tap the second, draw the first top, put the second copy of top of your library, cast the first top, draw the second top, and so forth) to generate a ton of prowess triggers. In short, with two copies of Sensei's Divining Top you can pay one mana and trigger prowess over and over again which not only generates a new Monk Token each time, but also pumps Monastery Mentor and whatever Monk Tokens are already on the battlefield.

This added a new wrinkle to the Miracle archetype. In past builds there was really no way to finish the game quickly; In Mentor Miracles it is very possible to close out the game in two turns and do so in the early part of the midgame. It shores up a common problem with Miracles; the deck goes to time and gets its pilots unintentional draws way more often than it should. The addition of Monastery Mentor means a Miracles player can start game three with 8 minutes on the clock and feel like they will have a legitimate chance of completing (and hopefully winning) the match, with certainly isn't always true with Duke's or Lossett's builds. 

Whether or not this innovation will stick remains to be seen. Since first showing up in July, Monastery Miracles has been solely a European deck. However, based on the history of Miracles innovations, if Monastery Miracles keeps making waves in the European Legacy scene, it is only a matter of time until someone picks it up and plays it at a North American GP or SCG Open. Who knows, it may even become the new default build of the deck — only time will tell. 

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, opinions and criticisms in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter (and MTGO) @SaffronOlive. 


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