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In Development – Avacyn Helps Those Who Help Themselves

With each new mechanic in each new set, we quite naturally want to figure out how to test it. Or push it. Or break it so that we dominate the next few events until, you know, it gets banned.

Well, that probably doesn’t happen most of the time.

I find that my own tendency is to want to test the new mechanics, but then kind of pull back a bit and do it in a conservative way. You know…a few new cards into a known archetype, that kind of thing. If we’re too conservative, we might just miss the awesome potential in each new mechanic.

Today, I’m going to go almost all-in on the miracle mechanic, stuffing eight cards into a new Standard control list.

Let’s see what happens.

By signs, and wonders, and various miracles…

Okay, so Avacyn Restored features eleven miracles. Somewhere between three and six of those are probably Standard playable.

Today, I’m taking a look at playing probably the two most Standard-playable miracles from the set, [card]Terminus[/card] and [card]Entreat the Angels[/card].

Terminus

At first blush, [card]Terminus[/card] seems potentially awesome, but the full price can make it feel a little dodgy in comparison with [card]Day of Judgment[/card]. Sure, it’s better against [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card]. And [card thrun, the last troll]Thrun[/card]. And [card]Doomed Traveler[/card]. And [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card].

Hey. That’s not so bad, right?

Okay, so [card]Hallowed Burial[/card] is a good card in an environment full of recursive creatures and hexproof baddies. At one more mana, it’s a little pricey, but after some actual testing, I’ve seen that the ability to fire off a one-mana [card]Hallowed Burial[/card] is actually awesome in a metagame that contains not just recursion and hexproofery, but also all those darn tokens.

A contemporary tokens deck is able to pile on a ridiculous amount of damage in the early turns on the back of lines of play like [card]Champion of the Parish[/card] followed up by [card]Gather the Townsfolk[/card].

Also, you know, there are Delvers that turn into Aberrations, where you’d love to be able to spend one mana to kill them before they 3 you to death.

On the other hand, a six-mana [card]Hallowed Burial[/card] is still kind of iffy unless you can make sure it’s not your only option in those pesky early-to-middle turns when you can’t cast it at full price.

So, [card]Terminus[/card] is awesome against hexproof and recursion, and miraculous [card]Terminus[/card] is great against early token sprints and Delvers. But we need a way to make sure we have other options to actually hard cast before it comes online for real. Check.

Entreat the Angels

This is clearly a good card.

I’ve talked about it, and so has Luis.

But is it a late-game two-of, or can we run a full set?

If you haven’t tested it yet, you should give Entreat a try. You need to be mindful of your mana, since it requires double white even when you miracle it out. However, when you do miracle it out, it’s ridiculous. It’s also usually the best play you can make for your game position at the time.

You’re at three mana going into the turn? Why not get a 4/4 flyer and then drop a land?

You’re at four mana going into the turn? Two 4/4 flyers is just ridiculous.

Past that point, it only gets more nauseating for your opponent to deal with.

As I looked at the first time around, it’s also an okay card if you’re casting it the old-fashioned way. That said, you’d still like to get a little bit more out of it, or at least be miracling it out more often.

So it’s good, but much, much better if we can miracle it. How can we arrange that?

Prove yourselves by working a miracle…

Apropos of this week’s title, we want to find ways to not just wait on miracles, but to engineer them ourselves. In the list I’ve included below, I decided to try out the two most obvious choices…and found out that they’re both pretty good.

Ponder

If we want to set up the top of our deck, Ponder is absolutely the way to do it.

Although the fears that surrounded [card]Temporal Mastery[/card] in Delver are probably unfounded, there’s still a lot you can do with Ponder in terms of setting up a future Entreat or Terminus in a control deck. The procedure is obvious – “take a card you like and leave the miracle on top of your deck.” You can also do the other obvious thing – “file away the miracle you don’t need for later with a reshuffle.”

In between, however, are all those usual tricky [card]Ponder[/card] decisions. Are the other cards in the set terrible? Do you need to shuffle them away to have a chance?

I won’t bother you with a long discussion about how to play [card]Ponder[/card]. However, consider that if you could combine [card]Ponder[/card] with another card, you might be able to fly right through any of those cards you don’t like, or even set up a key miracle to fire off on your opponent’s turn.

Think Twice

Full credit to my friend Shane for being the first to mention this interaction to me.

Remember that a miracle card can be cast for its miracle cost when you draw it “if it’s the first card you drew this turn.” That means the first card you draw in both turns, your own and your opponent’s. So if you have a [card]Terminus[/card] on the top of your deck and a [card]Think Twice[/card] in hand (or even in the graveyard), you can wait until your opponent has declared attackers on their turn, then fire off that [card]Think Twice[/card], pay one white mana, and bam! No more opposing team.

Wouldn’t you happily pay 1UW or even 2UW to [card]Hallowed Burial[/card] as an instant?

Of course, that relies on you knowing the top of your deck, which in turn suggests you had a [card]Ponder[/card] to work with.

However, even if you don’t know what’s on top of your deck, you always have the option of digging for action with a blind [card]Think Twice[/card]. If you’ve drawn, say, twelve cards from your deck, and have already pulled two out of eight miracles, then you have about a one in six chance of just striking a miracle blind. And if you don’t hit a miracle, then you’re pretty much where you started, digging for some kind of action.

In playing the deck we’ll see below, I’ve noticed that it’s often worthwhile to do the blind dig with one white mana open, since hitting the semi-random [card]Terminus[/card] is such a dramatic blowout against so many aggro decks.

Seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed…

So here’s the deck list I’ve been testing. As with all lists that we’re bandying about before seeing the actual metagame, take it with several robust grains of salt.

Miracle Control

[deck]3 Mental Misstep
4 Ponder
4 Mana Leak
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Think Twice
4 Day of Judgment
2 Gideon Jura
1 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
4 Terminus
4 Entreat the Angels
4 Seachrome Coast
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Seraph Sanctuary
8 Plains
6 Island
Sideboard
2 Purify the Grave
2 Celestial Purge
2 Negate
2 Revoke Existence
3 Timely Reinforcements
1 Phyrexian Metamorph
1 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
2 Jace, Memory Adept[/deck]

Once again, keep in mind that sideboards are especially suspect in a deck list that’s coming out ahead of any real metagame…but this list captures the essential point of the deck.

Engineering some miracles

So yeah, I’ve clearly gone all-in on miracles in this build. That might look clunky at first glance.

But really, it’s not.

The deck features eight miracles and eight cards dedicated to setting them up. You’ll find that you often hit an early turn [card]Terminus[/card] that clears the decks, and a mid-game [card]Entreat the Angels[/card] that leaves you with at least two angels – and to be clear, those angels tend to kick tokens and Delvers all over the place.

Note that [card]Ponder[/card] helps set up miracles and, obviously, lets you get access to the right cards to live long enough to see those miracles firsthand. It also lets you shuffle away miracles that you don’t, strictly speaking, want to see right away.

Stifling their early game

Although we’re trying to engineer miracles with this deck, that’s still a game of likelihoods rather than guarantees.

Or, put more simply, this deck is vulnerable to early rushes.

To help deal with this problem, the main deck packs three copies of [card]Mental Misstep[/card] – good for stopping Delver and [card]Champion of the Parish[/card]. The one-mana mark is surprisingly – or perhaps annoyingly – relevant in the metagame that I think we’re going to see as the new Standard takes shape.

There are also four copies of [card]Mana Leak[/card], a card that is most definitely not crippled by [card]Cavern of Souls[/card]. Sure, you’re not going to be Leaking someone’s [card]Primeval Titan[/card], and you might not be able to Leak the creatures in a dedicated Humans build…but you still get to Leak [card]Lingering Souls[/card], every anthem effect in a tokens deck, any opposing planeswalker, burn spells, [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card]…the list of targets that continue to be perfectly valid remains very, very long.

Then you hit the four mana mark and Day their board away.

Gaining life and then gaining more life

With just two colors to support and no real fuel for [card]Moorland Haunt[/card], this deck had some room to spare for new colorless lands.

And hey…life gain is good, too.

The incidental single point of bonus life when you drop a [card]Seraph Sanctuary[/card] is decent enough. I briefly tested running up to three copies of Sanctuary along with four copies of [card]Glimmerpost[/card], but that was way too many colorless lands, especially for a deck that wants to hit WWW at some point.

However, each Sanctuary that you have on the field when you bust out an Entreat means at least a point of bonus life…and often up to three points on a miraculous Entreat.

…and, of course, if you have two copies of the Sanctuary on the battlefield, the math becomes that much more favorable.

Winning the game

Generally, hitting a miracle-costed Entreat is game over in short order. Three or four 4/4 angels will do that.

Similarly, a late-game full-cost Entreat that yields two angels once you have other control components in place, such as [card gideon jura]Gideon[/card], will win pretty quickly.

Finally, of course, there’s Gideon himself, waiting to finish the game, possibly with the assistance of a spare [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] or two.

I suspect a more mature take on this build will feature a little bit more diversity in win conditions, possibly eschewing a copy of [card]Day of Judgment[/card] or a [card snapcaster mage]Snapcaster[/card] in favor of a few more options to proactively win the game.

A deceptively simple miracle

I started the “push the miracle mechanic” exercise with more complicated builds. I tried Esper and Bant variations before I finally admitted that it would be a lot cleaner if I just gave up on having an alternate color and built the deck around having eight miracles and eight tools to set those miracles up.

It’s a deceptively simple and surprisingly effective. Although I do think that a deck that’s been “battle tested” by the actual metagame will show more nuance in its card choices, the core idea – if you’re gonna go for miracles, go for miracles — holds.

After all, it’s nice to wait for a miracle, but it’s better to plan for one.

***
magic (at) alexandershearer.com
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