Almost a year ago, I wrote a fairly in-depth article on how to approach the Miracles matchup from the side of The Epic Storm. If you haven't read that yet, I recommend giving it a read despite that version of Miracles no longer being a deck. A lot of the philosophy can be used across many different matchups, and I'll also make reference to some of the conclusions here. Miracles was a complex matchup with a lot of unique play to it, and despite the idea that it may not have been our greatest matchup, I'll still miss navigating through a deck that attacked from so many different angles. That said, Legacy continues to evolve and now we find ourselves with a new enemy across the table; one that is a bit more one-dimensional in its plan of attack but still a force to be reckoned with.
At Grand Prix: Las Vegas, notable Miracles specialist Sam Roukas took a deck with the Miracles mechanic to a 9-0 record on day one.
Miracles - GP: Las Vegas - Sam Roukas
- 4 Brainstorm
- 4 Ponder
- 4 Portent
- 4 Predict
- 4 Swords to Plowshares
- 4 Force of Will
- 3 Terminus
- 2 Counterspell
- 1 Unexpectedly Absent
TES - GP: Las Vegas - Bryant Cook
- 4 Burning Wish
- 4 Infernal Tutor
- 4 Brainstorm
- 4 Ponder
- 4 Gitaxian Probe
- 3 Cabal Therapy
- 3 Duress
- 1 Empty the Warrens
- 1 Ad Nauseam
While a lot of this will look familiar to the more experienced Legacy player who has battled against a few Portents and Predicts out of Miracles even when Sensei's Divining Top was legal, there are some major differences in this list from the original iterations of Sensei's Divining Top Miracles.
First and foremost, with Sensei's Divining Top banned, Counterbalance isn't particularly playable anymore. Instead of playing for a longer game where the deck locks you out of resolving spells, this deck leans heavily on the power of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Monastery Mentor backed up by a slew of removal and Counterspells, with 12 ways to manipulate a Terminus to the top of the library for fighting back against a swarm of opposing creatures.
In game one, their primary plan against The Epic Storm will be to either stick a quick Monastery Mentor backed up with Force of Will and the threat of Terminus for Empty the Warrens, or to play a slower Counterspell-heavy game where Snapcaster Mages, a ton of draw spells, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor will run you out of resources while allowing them limitless access to their own.
You are going to lean very heavily on discard spells in the first game. While the math becomes a bit more complicated here, I would expect the numbers on Terminus to be fairly similar to before Sensei's Divining Top was banned. Portent fills a similar role mathematically to Sensei's Divining Top, and so I imagine we are batting less than 50% with a quick Empty the Warrens. It becomes much more important to understand the potential of your own hand here though. Against old Miracles, I would have advised you to just go for it anyway and take the 40-50% win percentage from that position because you would like just fall further behind the longer you waited. Now though, if you feel that your hand has a real shot against a Force of Will and a Counterspell if you let the game go two or three more turns, then I think you'd be giving yourself better odds by playing on for something other than Empty the Warrens.
As the game goes longer, assume that they will almost always have access to at least two pieces of countermagic. They have such a large amount of library manipulation and card velocity that they should see a large portion of their deck, and so Cabal Therapy will be working overtime here to fight back against a hand with multiple Force of Wills. Luckily, Snapcaster Mage with Counterspell is not the most efficient defense before turn four, so it is really just Counterspell itself and Force of Will that matter early in the game.
Additionally, try to save your discard spells for the combo turn if possible. Cabal Therapy gets much more mileage on the turn that you are combo-ing off, and even with just Duress you'll want to be able to make a more informed decision on what to take. This is always reasonably sound advice, but I believe it is especially true in this matchup where taking a Brainstorm or Ponder early won't do much because of their redundancy in the draw spell department, and taking a Counterspell just means they get to make more informed decisions on the sixteen draw spells in their deck.
Sometimes you are better off getting the other blue cards out of their hand rather than the Force of Will in order to combo off, and this strategy simply does not work if you give them two turns between when you cast the discard spell and when you try to combo. Against old Miracles, I was much more inclined to cast a discard spell on turn one to snag a Sensei's Divining Top or a Counterbalance before they could sneak it into play, but now I would rather just play a Ponder on turn one unless you really need the information from seeing their hand. Also, the longer you wait on discard spells, the harder it is for them to hide Force of Will with Brainstorm, because you can eventually just take the Predict out of their hand they would have used to redraw it if they do it on your combo turn. If you instead cast the discard spells on a turn before you combo, they can put Force of Will on top of their library and just naturally redraw it on the following turn.
In the sideboard, the new Miracles lists generally play something similar to Sam Roukas's list, with a combination of Ethersworn Canonist, Surgical Extraction, Vendilion Clique, additional Counterspells, and maybe even a Blood Moon pulling weight against you. They are essentially just trying to do the same thing as in game one, but now they have fewer bad cards and way more good cards that you'll have to fight through.
In order to win these post-board games, we are going to do what we've always done in similar matchups. We'll become a deck that is a little bit more prepared to fight a longer game by just allowing ourselves to make land drops and sculpt a perfect hand that is capable of fighting through Counterspells even without enough discard to completely strip their hand. Make sure you always keep the possibility of Blood Moon in the back of your mind when sculpting your hand, though I'm not sure to what degree the Miracles players have even decided they want that card against us. Keep in mind that I'll be using Bryant's latest list (shown above) for giving advice, but feel free to let me know if you have any questions about your specific sideboard or alternative plans.
The Tendrils of Agony in our sideboard is important to bring in, as we want to make sure that a Surgical Extraction on a countered Burning Wish doesn't just leave us dead, and it also allows us to play a natural storm game without ever resolving a tutor, at which point Flusterstorm becomes the only card that you really care about.
Defense Grid is absolutely fantastic for fighting through multiple Counterspells and when we are on the play, they need exactly Force of Will to counter it if you are able to jam one on turn two. I suspect that the Miracles players will soon adapt and start bringing in Disenchant, but even still that is only one card, and we might just be able to kill them on turn two or three when they have to tap out on their next main phase to Disenchant the Defense Grid.
Rending Volley is amazing here, as it unconditionally kills Ethersworn Canonist. Beyond just killing a specific sideboard hate card though, it also kills Vendilion Clique and Monastery Mentor, which are two of their best cards for clocking us. If you feel really weak to an Ethersworn Canonist, you may have to hold off, but otherwise, I don't mind just jamming Rending Volley against their Vendilion Clique or Monastery Mentor in order to buy you a ton of time and ensure that Ad Nauseam is still a powerful card.
Given that we are slowing down, Chrome Mox becomes a bit of a liability. We don't need the speed it provides, and the card disadvantage plus lack of synergy with Past in Flames means that it will often be dead in our hand. Empty the Warrens can also go, as you can always Burning Wish for it if you really just want to take your chances on turn one or two against a Terminus, and it will more often just be a liability in a lot of our hands.
This should leave you with one or two more cards to board out depending on your specific list. I recommend some combination of basic lands, Ponder, and discard spells. The basic lands are good in that they allow you to make land drops in longer games, but they also turn more hands into mulligans and we have no need to protect ourselves from Wasteland. I would never board out both, and I don't even really like boarding out one, but it is something to consider if you feel like you need to take out more cards.
Ponder isn't particularly great in longer games since you are less often looking for card quality and instead more often card quantity. You should naturally gain access to most of what you need through Brainstorm and your draw steps. While you still need some number of draw spells to find more discard or Rending Volleys, Ponder just pulls a lot less weight, and so you can shave one or two.
Lastly, while I would never board out more than one discard spell, I would consider shaving a Cabal Therapy. A smart Miracles player can find ways to make your Burning Wishes largely useless otherwise by just letting them resolve with a lot of their hands, and so being able to find Cabal Therapy means that you can get a lot more mileage out of your Burning Wishes that otherwise become a lot weaker post-board. Discard is incredibly important, so having Burning Wish be a virtual discard spell is great, and Cabal Therapy pulls a lot less weight in the early game anyway. They diversify their counter package a lot post board, so Cabal Therapy excels more as the game goes longer and you get access to more information. For this reason, I would shave one Cabal Therapy if you need to take out additional cards, especially if you are playing seven discard spells in your main deck instead of six. If you already have a discard spell in your sideboard though, you can largely disregard this advice.
As I said above, the key is to be willing to play a longer game that I think will most often favor you. Once you make land drops and spend time sculpting your hand, you'll be able to weave around their first and second Counterspells pretty easily, and your discard should mop up the rest. As I said in my previous Miracles article, don't be afraid to cast Ad Nauseam on their end step, especially if you can do it off of five lands. If they counter it, you get to untap and have access to all of your mana with the knowledge that they have one less Counterspell in hand. As always, make sure you have a good plan for how you are going to win the game if they cast a Counterspell at any point in your combo turn. Too often, Storm players just assume that they can bait the Counterspell with their first Lion's Eye Diamond or Burning Wish, and then when it resolves they don't have a plan for the next spell being countered. This harkens back to having a Cabal Therapy in your sideboard. If Burning Wish resolves, getting Dark Petition or Past in Flames may leave you with very little mana when they counter that instead, so having additional options for playing around Counterspells on your combo turn will always be useful.
That's all I have for you today!
This new version of Miracles is quite interesting, and as the lists continue to develop and mature, I'm sure that some of this advice may need to change, but for now, this should give you some good ideas on how to approach the matchup. Given that this new version has fewer dimensions than the old, there is naturally a bit less to understand, but that doesn't mean that you can or should face it unprepared.
If you have any questions about specific aspects of the matchup that I may not have covered, post it in the comments and I'll provide my thoughts. Additionally, if you have some experience in the matchup and feel there is something that I got wrong or missed, please do post that as well. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope that you learned something new or at least gained some additional perspective on a new matchup.
Until next time,