Miracles 101: How to Build Your Miracles Deck

Recently, the general manager of a local game store called General Games in Melbourne (shout out to you Jimbo you bloody legend) sent me a message asking for advice on how to build a Miracles list for the new meta. I didn’t have a simple answer for him – building a reactive control deck in a new environment is tough, and it’s even harder in Legacy when the card pool is so diverse. Not only do you need an idea about which decks you’ll be likely to face and prepare for, but also your own play style so you can pick the right cards to maximise your win percentage.

So, in order to help you budding Miracles aficianados out there, I’ve created a guide on how you can build your own personalised list to fight against the horrors of this post-DRS metagame. Take what I say with a grain of salt – these are in no way concrete rules but are observations that I’ve gleamed playing the deck since the dominant days of Sensei’s Divining Top (Rest in Peace my love). If you’re feeling a bit lost, I hope that this guide establishes your own groundwork to sift through the multitude of lists online, and help you build your perfect list.

The Core

A Miracles deck is made up of five parts: lands, cantrips, countermagic, removal and win-cons. Throw together seventy-five Legacy legal cards (RIP Top) and wha-lah, you’ve got yourself a deck. It’s easy as 1-2-3.

But on a serious note, it can be overwhelming to a new Miracles player to understand what’s going on and figure out which cards from Magic’s long history they should include in their deck.

When you examine each of these sections from a deck building perspective, the majority of the card selections are already made for you. I’ll now go into detail about each part, and list out how each section is constructed.

Lands

The most common Miracles mana base is a twenty land Blue-White-Red set up, which is listed below:

  • 9 Fetchlands
  • 4 Islands
  • 2 Plains
  • 5 Duals

An example of this type of manabase would be:
4 Flooded Strand, 4 Polluted Delta, 1 Arid Mesa, 4 Island, 2 Plains, 3 Tundra, 2 Volcanic Island

The primary focus is to be a rock-solid Blue-White deck Game 1, and then turn into a Blue-White-Red deck for powerful Red sideboard cards Games 2 and 3.

Mountain

If you’re a fiend for Red Blast effects and have decided you’re scared of getting your Red sources wasted away by nasty Delver decks, then squeezing a Mountain into the list is also an option. The Mountain can be swapped in for a Tundra or a Volcanic Island – I generally swap out a Tundra because if I’m wanting to prioritise my red sources I usually want to have access to three red-producing lands. Something to keep in mind when playing the Mountain is that you will have to play Scalding Tarns and the Arid Mesa as your non-Blue-White Fetches, which will bump up the price if you’re pimping. Aesthetics should always be considered.

An example of this type of mana base would be:
4 Flooded Strand, 4 Scalding Tarn, 1 Arid Mesa, 4 Island, 2 Plains, 1 Mountain, 2 Tundra, 2 Volcanic Island

If you’ve decided you want to focus on a mana denial plan, i.e. Back to Basics, then you may want to stick to a straight Blue-White list. The main drawback from such a mana base/list is that you lose the stopping power of the Red Blast effect, but in exchange you get a mana base which is even more resilient to Wasteland and other non-basic hate like Blood Moon. These lists play the same amount of fetchlands, but instead eschew majority of their dual land slots for more basics. Usually, this ends up looking like:

  • 9 Fetchlands
  • 7 Islands
  • 3 Plains
  • 1 Tundra

With regards to fetchlands, I believe most people end up on a three “just fetch blue”, two “just fetch white” fetchland split – in other words, outside of the four Blue-White fetchlands, people tend to play three xU Fetches, and two xW fetches.

An example of this mana base would be:

4 Flooded Strand, 1 Scalding Tarn, 1 Misty Rainforest, 1 Polluted Delta, 1 Windswept Heath, 1 Marsh Flats, 7 Islands, 3 Plains, 1 Tundra. (Note: Obviously you don’t have to play with the rainbow fetchland split, but if you’re looking to be tricky, it’s not a bad thing to do)

Normally, I’d only consider a straight Blue-White list if I wanted to have some sort of non-basic hate in my deck – usually Back to Basics as mentioned above. While the mana base is the best you can get against Wasteland, it is my belief that you lose too many percentage points against the field by not including the Red Blast effects in your seventy-five, which doesn’t justify the benefits of more basics.

Preordain

And finally, the last mana base is the nineteen land shell with Preordains. A piece of tech from the era of Deathrite Shaman’s domination, the idea is that you can shave a land if you play some amount of additional Preordains in order to control your midgame consistency. The flipside is that playing less lands means that sometimes you just won’t see them or have enough available to you to fight through Wasteland + Stifle. It’s definitely greedier but should be mentioned nevertheless, as it still has merit in this new metagame. You can read about it here.

Cantrips

Cantrips are the glue that hold the deck together, providing you the consistency to hit your land drops and to find your removal to not die. Every Blue list in Legacy now starts with four Brainstorm, four Ponder, and Miracles is no exception.

The standard cantrip base plays 13 “cantrips”:

  • 4 Brainstorm
  • 4 Ponder
  • 3 Portent
  • 2 Predict

Predict

Yes, Predict isn’t necessarily a cantrip, but it’s part of the glue that holds the shell together, so I’ve lumped it together with the other one mana spells. This base can be seen as the balanced blend – it provides a solid amount of card selection, card advantage, and consistency between the eleven one mana cantrips and the Predicts. Two Predicts usually is the number people have settled on, as it’s easy enough to set up with the seven “Ponder” effects (usually you don’t want to use Brainstorm to set up a Predict; go watch AJ Sacher’s Basic Brainstorming as to why this is the case). You also don’t want too much of the effect, as getting your Predict countered will leave you drawing the card you would’ve wanted Predicted away. And in a powerful format like Legacy, you want every draw step to count.

If you’ve decided you want to play the nineteen land build, this means you’ll be replacing a Portent and a land drop with two Preordains, which makes your cantrip base look like:

  • 4 Brainstorm
  • 4 Ponder
  • 2 Portent
  • 2 Preordain
  • 2 Predict

I won’t go into the details, read the article folks.

And finally, if you’ve decided that you really, really like Monastery Mentor, you can play this cantrip version:

  • 4 Brainstorm
  • 4 Ponder
  • 3 Preordain
  • 2 Predict

As you can see, Portents have been swapped out for Preordains, which play much better with Mentor. The downside is that your Predicts will be harder to set up and it’ll be harder to control the top of your library with Counterbalance, which you most definitely should be playing.

Win-cons

Everyone needs to win the game at some point, and win-cons are how we do it. Most decks range between seven to nine win-cons. More win-cons means more wins right? Not true for control decks. The idea is to play enough win-cons to have one available when you get to your timing window – playing too many win-cons can lead to clunky draws and can reduce the chances you see the right answer for the job. What’s the point of having more win-cons in hand if you just die before you can stick one?

The standard win-cons Miracles lists play are:

  • 3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
  • 2-3 Counterbalance

Jacey boy is the premier four drop card advantage shred machine, who draws you what you need, affects the board (Unsummon ability), and fate seals his way to victory. He even pitches to Force of Will! I bet even your girlfriend can’t do that many things at once!

Counterbalance

Counterbalance is a crucial card advantage engine that can come down early and pull you ahead. It turns all your cantrips into potential counterspells and turns on your Predicts when you are cantripless. People who remember the terror of the Counter-Top lock might scoff at having to play a blind Counterbalance, but with such a high density of one drops, it isn’t unrealistic to blind flip your opponent into oblivion. Legacy is a format built on the efficiency of one mana cards, so the gamble of having to play a Counterbalance “blind” is worth the risk to me.

Other maindeckable considerations are:

  • Back to Basics – If you want to hate on mana bases
  • Search for Azcanta – One of the most terrifying card advantage engines printed in the modern age. Its power level is through the roof, but it doesn’t fare too well in this new world of Wasteland heaven. I’m currently off Search, but if the quantity of Wastelands decreases, you bet my dollar I’ll be back on Search without a shadow of a doubt.
  • Monastery Mentor – The most explosive win-con Miracles has in its arsenal. Whether it comes down on turn three or turn ten, being able to turn your cantrips into Monks with Prowess can lead to some very quick kills. The other side of this coin is that if you’ve decided to play it main deck you will be turning on your opponent’s Game 1 removal, which kind of sucks. But, if you just so happen to have a Force in hand, you can often run away with the game by protecting your bald saviour.
  • Entreat the Angels – I like to think of this card as the Miracles kill switch. Imagine: you durdle around for ages, answer all your opponents’ threats, hit your land drops, and then suddenly bam Entreat for 6. One draw step later you walk away with a W. It’s a win-con that goes over the top of every fair deck in an instant, but is awful early game and against combo decks.
  • Gideon, Ally of Zendikar – A four mana Mentor that is slower but doesn’t require you to have cards in hand to do things.
  • Vendilion Clique – Clique is one of my favourite Magic cards of all time. It’s tricky and versatile, and really rewards proper use. However, it is low-powered in the grand scheme of things, especially against fair creature decks where it often just ends up as Bolt fodder or a three-mana removal spell. It’s the bees-knees against combo decks, so if you’re expecting a lot of combo in the room, packing Cliques is a pretty decent idea
  • Teferi, Hero of Dominaria – Some people like this card; I think it’s an awful pile of shit. Five mana, gets Red Blasted. Nothing more needs to be said.

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

Editor’s note: I’ve included a discourse Tang and other local legend Matthew Larcombe had concerning Teferi here. I think this further clarifies the pros and cons of the card. Compelling reading:

Matthew: I want to start out by saying that I recognise that Teferi is less powerful than Jace in Legacy, and they perform similar roles. They represent a repeatable source of card advantage, repeatable removal and win-con all in one. However, Jace, being a legendary permanent, has decreased value in multiples. So, my argument isn’t that Teferi is better than the first Jace in your 60, but better than the third Jace. Yes… Teferi costs five mana so can difficult to cast in a meta game hellbent on mana denial but one of the key draws of the deck is the rock solid mana base.

With that said… let’s compare what the cards actually do for you.

Jace comes down at 3 loyalty and is a 4 mana Brainstorm 9 times out of 10. Which isn’t that bad. Brainstorm is a very powerful thing to do in this format. Secondly, being able to protect itself is an effect that is almost mandatory for a planeswalker to be relevant in this format. Thirdly, you can fate seal a player to get closer to winning the game.

Teferi has one less relevant ability on the turn you play him. His two options are to draw a card and untap two lands or put a non-land permanent third from the top. His first ability nets you a card, advances you actually winning and untaps some lands so that you can represent interaction for your opponent’s turn. Is this weaker than Brainstorm? Yes. The card draw is just a draw, not selection, and the untapping of two lands is often not relevant. That being said… Increasing the loyalty of your planeswalker is important as it forces your opponent to deal with the threat already on the board. Jace will net you cards, but until you begin to fate seal it isn’t threatening to kill them. Teferi also nets you cards, but after using the ability that does so four times, it rewards you with a game-winning emblem. Teferi’s second ability is similar to Jace’s Unsummon but at a higher cost. The main difference is that Teferi can get rid of non-creature permanants such as planeswalkers, Chalices, Counterbalances, etc. The time before you need to deal with the problem is also increased.

Overall… I think it is fair to say that on average, Jace’s +0 is better than any ability on Teferi, however Teferi’s abilities are more inherently powerful than either of Jace’s other abilities. So, purely ability-wise, I think that they are at least somewhat comparable.

Back to the argument of “but it’s five mana and it gets Red Blasted”. Yes, it’s five mana. And yes, it gets Red Blasted. Jace is four mana and gets Red Blasted just as easily. Both pitch to Force of Will. Both can and will carry a game away from your opponent if you can Terminus and then land one of them. Teferi is an inherently weaker card in the format than Jace, purely because fetches exist in this format. And I recognise that. However, I think that diversifying one of your three planeswalker slots to play a planeswalker that performs a very similar role to Council’s Judgment while also being a win con is worthwhile.

Stephen: So I agree with all your points except your main one that the first Teferi is better than the third Jace. Game one, when Red Blast effects don’t exist, against fair decks we’re only looking to play ourselves into a spot where we can resolve a planeswalker on an empty board. And if I’m giving the choice of “you’ll see more Jaces statistically but you might have two in your hand at once” vs “you’ll see less Jaces but you’ll have the potential of having two walkers”, I’m taking the first option. If you have multiple Jaces, you can be aggressive with him and jam him to take pressure away from your life total. If the first one you jam sticks, even better, just Brainstorm the other one away. We only need one Jace to stick around. Jace plus Teferi seems overkill for the decreased likelihood that I’m gonna see my boy in a game. Also, the part about Teferi being a bigger “threat” on board I disagree with. Jace doesn’t have to tick up to win. Brainstorm three times and you’ve already got the game locked the majority of the time. I don’t think you can say that because one walker ticks up to win and the other stays the same that Teferi is more threatening. Remember: once you’ve stabilised, how you win is arbitrary. Brainstorming every turn is just as good as ticking up.

Five mana gets Pyroblasted is a bit of a meme, but it’s a meme with an element of truth to it. I’d rather commit four mana to the board, Brainstorm once and then lose the card instead of five mana, drawing one card and then losing it. Against all aggressive decks with Red Blasts they’re coming out anyway. But I feel the difference is in your slower Blue-Red-x matchups where we don’t side out any of our card advantage walkers. Four mana is worlds easier to resolve than five mana when so many cheap or free counterspells exist. And if you resolve it, I’d rather have one Brainstorm than one untap and one card before losing him.

Countermagic and Removal

I’ve bundled these two together, because ultimately they play the same role: making sure you don’t lose the game. Counterspells affect the stack, removal affects the board. They work hand in hand with each other and should be considered as such.

Within the “Please don’t kill me” suite, the holy cows tend to be:

  • 4 Force of Will
  • 4 Swords to Plowshares
  • 4 Terminus (or 3 Terminus, 1 Supreme Verdict)
  • 3 Snapcaster Mages

Ol’ mate Snappy looks weird being lumped in this section, but he’s really only there to buy back your spells. If you’re using him as your primary wincon and aggro beater, you’re probably doing something wrong.

If you’re playing Mentors main, I think it’s okay to shave a wrath. This is because Mentor can act as a pseudo-Moat effect, gumming up the board with all his little idiots. I wouldn’t go below three wrath effects though. Control decks tend to fall behind on board early in the game, and wrath effects, especially efficient ones like Terminus, are a crucial part of getting back in the game and stabilising the board.

In regards to how much room you have for other answers depend on how many wincons you’ve decided to play. Let’s take the middle ground and say we’re playing eight win-cons. This means that we have a measly four slots to flesh out. Usually these slots are filled up by:

  • Additional countermagic of your choice (Counterspell, Flusterstorm, Spell Pierce)
    • Counterspell is the most powerful, but also the clunkiest being at two mana.
    • Flusterstorm trashes combo decks and most counterspell fights, but only being able to hit instants and sorceries means that often annoying permanents can slip through.
    • Spell Pierce is the middle ground, having a wider net, but also a shorter life span, becoming a dead card a lot quicker than the other two.
  • Non-land permanent removal (Council’s Judgement, Engineered Explosives, Unexpectedly Absent)
    • Council’s Judgement is the most efficient form of single permanent removal available. However, costing 1WW can lead to some awkward fetching.
    • Engineered Explosives brings to the table the potential for a many-for-one swing in your favour. But, it’s much more clunky, and can require a greater mana investment. It’s also weak to Stifle.
    • Unexpectedly Absent is old tech from the early days of the Top ban. If you’re playing more Predicts, perhaps consider this card, as being at instant speed is a huge boon.

If you have an idea about what you’ll be facing, pick your poison out of these six cards. If you don’t have a clue, I’d stick to a three-one split between additional countermagic and non-land permanent removal. It’s usually better to fight on the stack and just hope you have the counterspell when necessary than fight on the board if you don’t know what you’ll be facing round after round. I myself usually stick to this three-one split, unless I know I’m going to be walking into a room of anti-fun brigadiers playing Chalice of the Void.

Putting the Main Together

So, how does this all fit? We’ll I guess I’ll go through how I got to the list I’m currently playing with.

I started with two notions:

  1. Counterbalance was the key to navigating the new world;
  2. I wanted to be playing Mentor to kill people.

Monastery Mentor

This gives us the current list of:

3 Monastery Mentor
3 Counterbalance

In regards to cantrips, I knew I wanted some assortment of Preordains and Portents – Preordain playing better with Mentor, and Portent playing better with Counterbalance. Was there a cantrip suite set up this way? Yes! I could play the suite with both Preordain and Portent, and shave a land to make room for it, which decided the manabase I’d be playing.

Our list now looks like:

19 Lands
3 Monastery Mentor
3 Counterbalance
4 Brainstorm
4 Ponder
2 Preordain
2 Portent
2 Predict

Since we’ve already got half of our threats sorted, we might as well flesh them out with the holy cows.

19 Lands
3 Monastery Mentor
3 Counterbalance
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
3 Snapcaster Mage
4 Brainstorm
4 Ponder
2 Preordain
2 Portent
2 Predict

Finally, the most important part – how to stay alive. Obviously Plows, Terminus and Force of Will are no brainers. I’m still a fan of running the 3-1 countermagic/non-land permanent removal split, and keeping in mind my desire to max out Mentor as much as possible, I decided on two Counterspells, one Spell Pierce and an Engineered Explosives to round out the list. Spell Pierce is there because it’s a really flexible game one counterspell, that plays really well with Mentor. And thus, out list rounds out to:

19 Lands
3 Monastery Mentor
3 Counterbalance
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
3 Snapcaster Mage
4 Brainstorm
4 Ponder
2 Preordain
2 Portent
2 Predict
4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Force of Will
4 Terminus
2 Counterspell
1 Spell Pierce
1 Engineered Explosives

Now if you’ve got a good eye for details, we’ve actually got 61 cards in our deck. Whoops. So let’s get greedy. We’ve got so many Mentors, why not shave a Terminus? Between the three Mentors and the Engineered Explosives, we’ve basically built ourselves another wrath. Which gives us:

Lands: (19)
1 Arid Mesa
4 Flooded Strand
5 Island
2 Plains
3 Scalding Tarn
2 Tundra
2 Volcanic Island

Creatures: (6)
3 Monastery Mentor
3 Snapcaster Mage

Non-Creature Spells: (35)
3 Counterbalance
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
4 Brainstorm
4 Ponder
2 Preordain
2 Portent
2 Predict
4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Force of Will
3 Terminus
2 Counterspell
1 Spell Pierce
1 Engineered Explosives

Easy as can be, isn’t it?

Sideboard Construction

This is the tricky bit. Sideboard card choices are always the most local meta-dependent, and there are a million ways to choose cards to help combat every unique metagame. However, from my observations there are some common themes or areas that are always addressed in sideboards, which you should always account for when building your sideboard.

Pyroblast Flusterstorm

Firstly, the core of every sideboard plan is based on additional countermagic. Usually this takes the form of a split between Red Blast effects and Flusterstorms but can also range from Counterspell to even Blue Blast effects. As Blue decks are the most common and consistent decks in Legacy, starting your sideboard with these additional reactive cards means that you’ll always be able to alter your countermagic count to an optimal level post-board.

Surgical Extraction Rest in Peace Containment Priest

Secondly, due to the prevalence of graveyard usage in modern Magic, you’ll need some sort of graveyard interaction. Surgical Extraction, Rest in Peace and Containment Priest are the usual suspects – Surgical is the more versatile option because of its almost-free cost that plays extremely well with Snapcaster Mage, but is less powerful than both Rest in Peace and Containment Priest, which can be lights out if resolved.

Disenchant

Thirdly, most, if not all, sideboards contain some sort of Disenchant effects/non-land permanent removal spells. This is to make sure that you can transition from a deck that fights on the stack to a deck that can answer any threat on the board. Cards such as Disenchant, Council’s Judgement and Engineered Explosives cover us against lock pieces like Chalice of the Void, card advantage engines which are hard to answer like Sylvan Library, and non-creature threats such as planeswalkers.

One thing to keep in mind when building your sideboard are how many cards you’ll need against common matchups. For example, I know that against most combo decks I’ll be wanting to side out a majority of my White cards, meaning that in order to allow for this preference I would have needed to include enough applicable combo-relevant cards that also do double time against other matchups. Luckily, because the power level of the answers in Legacy are as high as it gets, we get access to cards that can cover multiple bases at once. As such, I typically favour flexibility over raw power in my sideboard card choices – for example, I play Surgicals over Rest in Peace as my graveyard-hate card of choice.

The best way to make sure your sideboard is optimised as you want it is to prepare a sideboard map for all the matchups you expect. It’s something which I think is done not nearly enough, but it’s worth the effort. It helps you view your deckbuilding as a complete seventy-five instead of a main deck and a sideboard, and allows you to be truly confident that all your card choices will have applications. I know I definitely play better when I’m confident in my list, and I’m sure a lot of you out there also feel the same. There’s no better way to know your list is rock solid than to do the work and properly plan out your choices.

Conclusion

And there we have it my friends. This is how I go about assessing which cards I want in my Miracles list. Just as a quick aside, the best Miracles discussion is usually on the Miracles Discord channel which you can find here – there’s a bunch of really good players out there working on this deck, and to be able to hear their thoughts and experiences is a tremendous resource to anybody looking to improve their deckbuilding and gameplay. But that’s it for today, thank you for reading, and as always, may all your Miracles be blind and exactly when you want them!

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By Stephen Tang

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