Legacy Lessons: How To Kill Miracles (1)

by Philipp Schönegger on 27 July 2016, Wednesday

Philipp Schönegger

Legacy Lessons: How To Kill Miracles (1)


Episode 1: The Intersection.


Welcome back everyone! Before we start, allow me to explain why there haven't been any articles for quite some time. I have had an incredibly stressful semester filled with exams to be written, papers to be published and conferences to be attended. This left me with two choices: Posting subpar (read: probably quite terrible) articles or not posting at all. Evidently, I decided not to post anything and I do hope you understand this decision. It's still my number one goal to provide content that is worth your every minute, and I do hope to continue that. But without further ado, let's get into it.


When I think of Legacy (right now), I like to think of it as a group of schoolchildren playing in the backyard. The parents aren't watching and homework can wait. They have gathered sticks and stones to re-enact the battle of Marathon. Every single one of them knows their place and their role. Skirmishes come and go, shins are barked and apparel is ruptured. But when the sun sets, everyone goes home without telling their parents that Johnny hit Tom quite hard with a stick. They don't need to. All of them know that calling their parents won't make it any better. Johnny might be suspended from playing, but there will be another Johnny, who might just be even more annoying. The only thing that would change is that they have one less companion to play with. So they try to make it work.


Entreat the Angels


I love Miracles.


Trust me, I really do. It was the deck I started playing competitively with and it carried me to literally all my successes. Without Miracles, there would be no Legacy for me. However, sometimes one has to do things in love that aren't always as straightforward as one might think.


So, in order to save the deck I love, I will have to kill it. Kind of.


And how does one kill a deck? Well, I will certainly not call for my parents. This is the last retreat, and while I am prepared to do so, should the time come, I would like to try something else first. Over the course of the next weeks, this article series will encompass every single piece of information necessary to defeat Miracles on the battlefield that I am aware of.


It is supposed to be sticks and stones for the other kids that might prove useful when confronting Johnny at the pass of Thermophylae. We will be looking at things to do, things to avoid, plays to make, cards to play, out-of-game strategies to adopt and much more. If all of this doesn't help and Johnny keeps hitting poor little Tom with sticks way too harshly, then one might have to call the parents. But please, for the sake of our format and the variety of decks and strategies: Give Johnny one last chance.


With that being said, allow me to quickly outline the structure of the articles to come. All of them taken together should give one a comprehensive collection of resources that are needed to beat Miracles. I'd like to think of it as a drop-in-centre for those asking “How to beat Miracles?”


This very article will outline one reason why Miracles is so powerful and hard to beat, and will also start to give a first pressure point that has to be spotted and abused.


Subsequently, we will look at general strategies that work very well versus Miracles and how one can insert them into different decks. We will also take a look at some decks that are criminally underplayed compared to their respective power regarding Miracles.


Moreover, I will hope to give you several useful tips against Miracles players in general and how to use their weaknesses to your advantage. The focal point of another article will be the structural weak points that Miracles has as well as how to exploit them both individually and as a community. When I'm done with this series, I do hope to have given a guide book that will have hurt Miracles enough to avert the calling of any parents.


Enough preliminary talk for now. Let's move on!



Why Does Miracles Win?


Why does Miracles win? And why does it win so much?


Generally speaking, Miracles is two decks in one. Granted, many decks are flexible and split in two but with Miracles it appears to be even worse (or better). Depending on the match-up, Miracles aims to draw one half of its deck while ignoring the rest. Again, this is nothing exclusive to this deck.


In order to show this, let us compare this deck to The Rock, a green-black base deck with mostly white as its third colour, also known as Junk. Due to the etymological connection to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and the fact that I always prefer older names over new ones, I chose to use The Rock in this context, despite “Junk” or “GWB” being more “user-friendly.”


I am sorry.


Terminus Counterbalance


Miracles and The Rock have something in common. They both have quite outstanding answers to specific problems. To put it simply, Miracles has Terminus for creatures and Counterbalance for spells. The Rock has Swords to Plowshares and Abrupt Decay for creatures (and permanents) while also boasting a strong suite of discard spells like Thoughtseize and Liliana of the Veil.


One may contest which cards are more powerful in their given field of application, and I'm not disputing the fact that such a claim could be made. However, that's not my intention here. For the sake of the argument, please follow me in accepting that both decks have very powerful cards that are strongly suited for a very narrow context.


Granting this premise, it doesn't take much to spot the crucial difference between the two decks. Funnily enough, the classic answer “Blue!” is kind of true here, for once. The difference is the colour. Or what the colour brings with it, to be precise.


Jace, the Mind Sculptor Force of Will


It's not due Jace, the Mind Sculptor's absurd power on the battlefield or because Force of Will doesn't cost any mana. It's because of the little things. The cheap cards. The cards that build the intersection between the two halves. I'm talking about cantrips here.



The Cantrips


Preordain Ponder


The fact that Brainstorm, Ponder and Sensei's Divining Top are now sometimes even aided by Predict and Preordain highlights this crucial layer in this divided deck. These cards do not only reduce the variance as much as possible, they also allow the player to manoeuvre a divided deck just as Miracles to victory. Generally speaking, the incremental increase in cantrips has been a steady trend over the last years and one that might correlate quite heavily with the increase and/or persistence concerning the success of Miracles.


Disclaimer, I am well aware that this isn't unique to Miracles.


All decks that I would consider playing a tournament have a very high number of cantrips, never going below 8. But take Canadian Threshold as an example to show the crucial difference in use. It also boasts a high number of cantrips, but its deck is structured quite differently. Lightning Bolts are great for killing creatures, but they can also be pointed at people's faces. Daze is great at stopping a quick combo attempt, but it can also be used to counter-act a Tarmogoyf.




I'd argue that the fact that both decks play cantrips in high amounts doesn't make them any more alike than the fact that Doomsday and Miracles both play Tundra and Sensei's Divining Top. What makes Miracles stand out is its inner divisiveness, which seems to be a rather unique feature. And in order to overcome such a divisiveness, the intersection between the two parts is crucial.


Once one identified a unique feature, it is a good starting point for trying to exploit it. In order to do that, I want to offer just two pieces of advice. But it's important ones and it took me a long time to fully understand them, as I have made these mistakes in the past, many times over.


Cantrips (in Miracles) are not just filler cards.


And while this may sound stupid to some of you, hear me out. For a long time, I have seen Brainstorm, Ponder and Sensei's Divining Top as filler material for a powerful deck. And while I stand by this assumption in many cases, allow me to lay out exceptions to this statement that may imply a necessity of dealing with cantrips first. For the remainder of this article, we will look at how one can interact with this intersection as a player who's playing a regular blue Legacy deck. When is it correct to counter these cards and when should you refrain from such a thing?


Sensei's Divining Top


In the past, I had said that I am delighted when my opponents counter my turn 1 Sensei's Divining Top. And I still think that this is a true sentiment. Why? Well, given that the game has not even started yet, the information about the opponent's deck is very low. Having them throw away two cards (I'm mostly talking about Force of Will-ing Top here) for one of yours whilst knowing that they know nothing about your hand is great. So, as a general rule of thumb, I do repeat what I had said already: Do not Force of Will your opponent's turn 1 Sensei's Divining Top.


What I'm not saying here is that it's categorically wrong to do so.



Exploring Some Scenarios


However, this does not apply to all scenarios. Allow me to lay out a couple of them, where the aforementioned advice does not hold:


Shardless Agent Lingering Souls


1) You are playing a slow deck and/or have kept a slow hand. That could be Shardless BUG with its first play being a Shardless Agent on turn 3 or Stoneblade with nothing but Thoughtseize, Lingering Souls or Jace, the Mind Sculptor in hand. These hands/decks will have a very hard time overcoming the mid-/lategame when facing a Miracles player who's had the ability to sculpt their draw step several times before the other deck could even start to impact the battlefield.


In such a case I'd strongly advise using Force of Will as it evens out the playing field and should make sure your opponent doesn't get too far ahead simply by investing one mana a turn.


2) You are focusing on a discard-based game plan and/or have a discard heavy hand. This scenario could apply to Shardless BUG as well as to BUG Delver or Stoneblade. Relying on discard spells is a very bad idea if Miracles has Top in play. In such a scenario, please use Force of Will. If one doesn't do that, then most, if not all, discard spells are weakened significantly.


Nimble Mongoose


3) You do not have the resources to apply pressure and your deck lacks late game options. Classic hands for this would be Delver hands with a lot of cantrips and counterspells but no creatures in sight. If you have some pressure, even something like Nimble Mongoose, then I would advise against throwing two cards away. It is rather similar to number one. However, here you have to consider that your deck is, most likely, not able to win on turn 16 unless there has been substantial work done already. Using Force of Will to steer the game in the direction that you are looking for is important.


These are the three main exceptions to the aforementioned rule.


Clearly, there are more, but they are all akin to these. If you have any specific scenarios/match-ups where you are unsure whether Force of Will-ing a turn 1 Sensei's Divining Top is a good idea, please make sure to post them in the comments so we can discuss these scenarios. Moreover, please keep in mind that the advice posted here is mostly, if not entirely, restricted to the use of Force of Will. Having the ability of using Spell Pierce or Daze on a Sensei's Divining Top is more profitable in way more scenarios.



Understanding Brainstorm




And still, there's Brainstorm. And while I will most definitely come back to talk about this card in the course of this series, allow me to give you some quick tips that fall somewhat in line with what I've said about Sensei's Divining Top.


Brainstorm is another one of these crucial parts of the intersection between the two distinct halves of Miracles. Yet it behaves quite differently to Top and hardly any tips offered regarding Top can be applied here without substantial cutback. I will only look at one aspect of Brainstorm: When should you (hard-)counter it. I'm not talking about low-investment counterspells like Daze or Spell Pierce here, but once again Counterspell, Force of Will and (in some cases) Flusterstorm. And in this article, I will also not be able to go into how one should build a deck to deal with Brainstorm.


As Brainstorms can be cast at any time from the first turn (I only did that once, and it was correct) to the last and has no special tendency to be cast around a special turn, unlike Top, the guidelines have to be differently structured. But when should one make sure that Brainstorm does not resolve? And when doesn't it make sense to risk it?


I'll leave out the obvious cases such as a Brainstorm after a Miracle spell has been hit by Stifle or anything resembling that. Generally speaking, recognizing which Brainstorm is just a filler card and which Brainstorm is essential is very hard, no doubt. Assuming that you have not had access to discard spells, Gitaxian Probe or Vendilion Clique, how do you know?


Well, you don't. And it's a risk either way.



The "Safe" Way


The “safe” way is to let all Brainstorms resolve and counter the business spells that it was supposed to find. This is a good plan. For some match-ups. For Miracles, not so much. Brainstorm doesn't only dig for new cards here and resets a bad hand, it also enables Miracle spells on top of that, making Brainstorm vital to the decks inner working as well as to the management of the two halves. These are some scenarios where you should and some where you most definitely should not consider (hard-)countering a Brainstorm.


1) If Brainstorm appears to grant the Miracles player card-advantage, strongly consider pulling the trigger. Now, this is pretty obvious, but I still see people hoping that a Brainstorm in response to a Counterbalance trigger will miss. Don't get me wrong, it may. And it may also be a bluff. But while this does not apply so easily to Counterspell, using Force of Will in this scenario is adviced if, and only if, the spell you want to resolve is of high value.


Keep in mind that this Brainstorm does not only replace itself while probably negating the spell you just cast, it also enables potential Miracle spells and, if a Top is in play, locks you out of a converted mana cost range that is at least partly important to you, as you had just played a card with said mana cost.


Brainstorm Flooded Strand


2) Another common move by more advanced Miracles players is the turn 2: untap, draw, Brainstorm – sequence. And while it may be the case that the player is low on lands and is desperately looking for a Fetchland, you cannot be sure. Without more information, I'd urge you not to use your hard counters for situations like this, as most Miracles decks will have at least 11 other one-mana cantrip spells left in their deck, and I would not want to risk it for that, though I've seen many players do that.


3) Other than that, unless there is a clear (well-founded) suspicion that the Miracles player may try to set up a Miracle spell with a Brainstorm, I would, once again dissuade you from using your hard-counters on Brainstorm in most circumstances. It may sound foolish to let “the most powerful spell in Legacy” resolve so frequently, but, based on my experience, it seems to be the right play. Even Miracles players do not always find what they want. And given that they often do not boast high numbers of effective spells, I'd most generally advise waiting.


4) A mistake that I also see quite often is countering a Brainstorm that is cast in response to attacking with any creature. I've never quite seen the reason to do either, casting the Brainstorm or countering it, that is. But from the way I see it, there are only two relevant plays here. Either, the Miracles player wants to trigger Terminus, and countering Brainstorm will only delay the inevitable for a turn, or the Brainstorm is simply a bait-spell, cast to be countered. Either way, one doesn't gain much from countering Brainstorm.





In conclusion, today we've shortly looked at the intersection(s) of Miracles. The general principle is patience, but we've also worked out a couple of scenarios in which casting Force of Will on Sensei's Divining Top and/or Brainstorm may be advantageous.


I hope to have shown the importance of this intersection and the difficulties that arise from dealing with it. In the next article, we will further explore this pressure point by looking at which decks one could/should play in order to exploit this weak point fully and whether or not such a deck choice even makes sense.


And that's it for this week. I hope that you liked the first entry to this series. If you have any feedback, comments or questions, please post them below, in the respective thread where this article will be shared or message me privately and I'll try to give the best answer I can.

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