Brainstoned! Miracles Back on the Modern Menu
- Filip Skórnicki
Loathed by some, loved by many others, the miracle mechanic has had its good times and its bad times. It's never been as big of a player in Modern as in Legacy, but the times seem to be changing. Is a three-mana Brainstorm able to make the archetype come back and become competitive? Absolutely!
Ever since Avacyn Restored was released, Magic players have been meddling with the miracle mechanic which is proudly represented by cards such as Terminus. It's quite quirky in rules terms as it's a static ability linked to a triggered ability, and it requires players to monitor carefully one aspect of the game that usually runs on autopilot. Head designer Mark Rosewater uses his so-called Storm Scale to talk about the likelihood of reprinting a given mechanic, where 1 is "Absolutely, might be evergreen" and 11 is "Never." Can you guess where miracle lands on the scale? It's an 8, which translates to: "It's unlikely to return, but possible if the stars align." As an additional fun fact I can tell you that it used to be as low as 4, but … they changed their minds.
What makes the mechanic exciting is the fact that it makes every draw step exciting. What sucks is that it's intrinsically a variance-heavy mechanic. If only we had a way to mitigate the variance …
We used to use Search for Azcanta / Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin, Opt, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor to help us hit our miracles when we indented to. However, of these only Jace actually makes you put cards from hand on top of the library. Manipulating the library itself has never been that big of a problem. A miracle in your opening seven, though, was basically a mulligan due to the high cost of these spells when cast without discount. Jace helped, but Jace was just one card and a four-mana card at that, setting up a miracle for turn five. Some people tried See Beyond in the hopes of making it work, to little avail. We needed one more effect like Jace's to use the mechanic effectively and reliably …
Modern Horizons 2 came to the rescue and released a three-mana Brainstorm in Brainstone. At first most people found the new artifact lackluster, yet they gave it a try anyway. In practice, the fact that you can split the total cost into a payment of one mana and a second payment of two mana proved huge. You play the Stone on turn one when you often don't have anything better to do and then sacrifice it at your own leisure. This can be as early as turn two, which conveniently sets up a miracle for either turn three or four. You can even play Brainstone off any land, which is a nice perk and further aids sequencing. Not to mention that Brainstorm is a perfectly powerful effect in any format with fetch lands, even without miracle involvement.
Miracles decks are almost always without exception based in white and blue. You need blue for library manipulation and other hallmarks of control, and white is the Terminus color. The addition of another beauty, Prismatic Ending, helped the viability of White-Blue Control even more. Oh, and we've got Counterspell now. Clearly, Modern Horizons 2 improved both the macro archetype as a whole as well as giving a nice bit of push to Miracles specifically.
Why Play Miracles Anyway?
In most cases, your usual Miracles list will equal W/U/x Control plus Terminus (plus maybe Entreat the Angels) plus tools to set up miracles. So we have to take a look at two separate points here: the playability of White-Blue Control and the power of Terminus.
White-Blue Control, as any control deck, will have better and worse metagames to be played in. However, as of June 2021 control tools in Modern are unbelievably strong, arguably the best they've ever been. There is unconditional countermagic, free countermagic, one-mana removal, a card draw/counterspell split card, the best planeswalker ever printed. The tools are there. Consequently I'm willing to say that from now on control will always be at least tier two.
Why would you branch out to Miracles specifically? It's all about the strength of Terminus. If a given format is very combo or ramp centric, then you wouldn't want to play the deck. The thing is, however, that Modern right now is surprisingly creature dense. There are so many decks that are either full-on aggro decks or utilize creatures as key pieces of their puzzle. When a format revolves around power and toughness, mass removal shines. We've always had very strong mass removal in Modern, but it all costs four mana usually—Damnation, Wrath of God, Supreme Verdict, Settle the Wreckage, with a small exception in Anger of the Gods. It's expensive. On the draw you might be dead already. But what if your mass removal cost one mana? That's a different story. Bear in mind that you can still naturally topdeck Terminus without any setup, in which case your opponent is going to tilt off the face of the earth.
The biggest problem plagueing the Azorius color combination used to be its one-mana removal spell—Path to Exile. It has been the worst of the bunch for quite some time now and so everybody is playing Fatal Push and Lightning Bolt. Thankfully, Modern Horizons 2 has given us a replacement. With four copies of a one-mana mass removal spell in Terminus bolstering our defenses against creatures, we can add on a few copies of the more versatile Prismatic Ending and we're golden. We don't need to (but of course still can) run some copies of Path.
The last point of the equation is the playability of the set-up tools, but we've already established that we finally got there on that front. Time to take a look at some decklists!
|Basic White-Blue Miracles|
This is a deck designed by ECLIPSE4343 who is one of the most recognizable Miracles players. This time they also decided to give Brainstone a shot with a full four copies. The core, the body of the deck is a classic white-blue. What's surprising to me is that they actually still run four Path to Exile main and additionally four Prismatic Ending in the sideboard. This means that postboard against a low-to-the-ground aggro deck, they have access to twelve removal spells for one mana!
You may have noticed the measly one-of Raugrin Triome in an otherwise two-colored list. It's there to provide a third color for the Ending, and it's relatively free. The list also uses four Castles and zero Celestial Colonnade. As far as I'm concerned, that' s a good direction to take. The fact that Colonnade always enters tapped, and its utility is bound to your own turn really affects its playability. With Castle Vantress you can keep "floating" your Termini (yes, this is the plural I am firmly standing by) on top with the scry 2 ability. I'm surprised to see two Field of Ruin but zero Riptide Laboratory.
This one utilizes a similar shell, albeit with a twist. It's is a proper, fully-fledged Miracles list with both Terminus and … Temporal Mastery. The latter has mostly seen play in Taking Turns decks so far, but the pilot here has strong faith in our little colorless Brainstorm to make it useful to a control deck. The thought of it being playable is heartwarming. However, I am yet to be convinced that it works reliably. Now you run eight miracles with mana value 6 and 7—that's a lot of very expensive spells which puts a lot of weight on drawing Brainstone. If you happen to draw the miracles (very likely) and not Brainstone (possible), you are in a terrible shape.
The list also makes room by cutting exactly the one card that could give an uncastable Temporal Mastery a secondary use—Force of Negation. Additionally, taking an extra turn with nothing else going on is just a glorified Explore with extra steps. I'm glad people are trying it out, and extra turns are indeed great with planeswalkers, but I remain more cautious than optimistic.
|Companion Bring to Light Miracles|
Now that's what I call a brewsky! Obviously an Aspiringspike special, it's a Bant deck with just enough Triomes to generate mana of all five colors. There are two main ideas here.
Lurrus of the Dream-Den: Both Brainstone and Mishra's Bauble interact profitably with both miracles and Lurrus. Bauble allows you to check your own library for a Terminus on top before you plan out your turn, and sometimes it helps set up a Terminus for your opponent's turn, providing a draw without costing mana. Meanwhile, Brainstone is extra useful here because the list features two more cards, besides its miracles, that you don't want to see stuck in your hand. Finally, Lurrus can bring either of the artifacts back, ideally again and again. It's not free though! Lurrus means you cannot run Jace, the Mind Sculptor or any Teferi anymore and that's a real cost in deck building.
Bring to Light: It adds a nice toolbox mechanism that allows you to grab whatever answer or sideboard card you need at any given point. However, its real strength lies in its interaction with Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor as Bring to Light allows you to cast the Tibalt half. So you get a big planeswalker for just five mana, which is basically as if you'd cast Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. It's a neat way to access a powerful top-end permanent for the late game without breaking the companion contract's condition.
The rest of the deck is made up by predictably good white-blue control cards. The idea of mixing all of this together is sweet and the result undeniably powerful. Personally, I prefer my control decks to have cleaner lines—and cleaner mana bases!—as this many moving parts almost guarantee that you'll draw the wrong part at the wrong time at some point. But Brainstone can always save the day—if you just believe …
I hope you enjoyed this journey through the various builds of Miracles in Modern. Do you believe in miracles? Let me know what you think! As always, hold my hand and let's pass the turn together. Cheers!
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