Don’t Ban Miracles

So, it turns out that Miracles is a pretty good deck in Legacy.

Who could have possibly foreseen that playing all of the library manipulation would be great?

Last week, Andrea Mengucci wrote a compelling article arguing for a Miracles ban, which had a strong showing in both Legacy Grand Prix tournaments.

In today’s article, I will argue for a laissez-faire approach to dealing with Miracles in Legacy. I’m not saying “never”—just that there are good reasons to let Miracles be for another B&R announcement.

Is Miracles Really that Dominant?

The first (and most important) question you need to ask when discussing a possible ban is whether the deck is dominant. Andrea’s article used the following graph, mapping out the conversion rates of the various decks for money finishes:

Decks Top 32 Top 16 Top 8 Total %
Miracles 8 5 5 18 28.1
Grixis Delver 4 1 3 8 12.5
Shardless Sultai 3 2 1 6 9.4
Infect 3 1 1 5 7.8
Eldrazi 3 1 4 6.3
ANT 2 1 3 4.7
Temur Delver 2 1 3 4.7
Death & Taxes 1 1 1 3 4.7
Sneak and Show 1 1 2 3.1
Reanimator 1 1 2 3.1
4-Color Delver 2 2 3.1
Blue/Red Delver 2 2 3.1
Burn 1 1 1.6
Lands 1 1 1.6
Sultai Delver 1 1 1.6
Imperial Painter 1 1 1.6
Grixis Control 1 1 1.6
Dredge 1 1 1.6

Miracles, at the top of the chart, is just a hair over a quarter of the converting decks and stands out. The gap between 28.1% and 12.5% (between Miracles and the next most popular deck) seems worrisome.

But when you take all of the various flavors of Delver Aggro Control and lump them into one category (Grixis, Temur, 4-Color, UR, and Sultai), the combined Delver archetype suddenly jumps to 25.2% of the metagame. So, also just over one quarter of the cash metagame. As far as Top 8 conversion goes: Delver had 4 and Miracles had 5.

I respect that there are strategic advantages and disadvantages to using different colors and cards to support the “blue Delver package,” but all things considered, these decks are just slightly different spaghetti sauce recipes: people put hours of love and labor into every ingredient, but to the rest of the world, it’s just spaghetti.

If you want to have the conversation about banning Miracles based on metagame dominance, you also need to have a conversation about banning Delver. Delver and Miracles make up a similar market share at about a quarter of the Top 64 metagame.

I know what you might be thinking:

Don’t even think about it because it’s never going to happen.

It is also worth noting in the whole “To ban or not to ban” soliloquy that Miracles didn’t actually win anything last weekend. In both tournaments, Miracles was bested by 4x Brainstorm combo decks: Infect and Storm.

Since Brainstorm is forever in the Legacy Werewolf Safe Camp, let’s talk about why people want to ban Top instead.

Sensei’s Divining Stop… Please… Just Stop… I Can’t Take It Anymore!

Let’s be serious with each other. When you say “ban Miracles,” what you’re really talking about is banning Top. Brainstorm is sacred, and banning Terminus or Counterbalance just doesn’t make much sense.

Let’s take a look at a few of the compelling reasons people advocate for banning Top:

1. Top Wastes Time and Makes Rounds Go Too Long

Sensei’s Divining Top is banned in Modern and the DCI is on record saying the time factor is a major reason why. All things considered, if a card is a problem in tournament play, that is a great reason to ban it.

Trinisphere was restricted in Vintage because it was “unfun.” There is a precedent for banning and restricting because people find the card unsavory and it creates a negative tournament experience.

But if you’re going to go after cards for being pure and simple time-wasters, then Top is a drop in the bucket compared to fetchlands.

I have a hard time lending credence to a time-based argument when there are other, more popular cards that cause the same problem.

2. Draws as Punishment for Being Unprepared

Getting a draw is a real drawback (get it) of playing Miracles if you don’t know the deck well. Andrea wrote:

The time issue is also a problem. Miracles guides often say: “To play Miracles, you have to be well prepared. Otherwise, you’ll take a draw.” Expert players will play quickly, but what if my friend wants to play Miracles for a tournament for the first time? He basically can’t—not only because he can’t play as fast, but because he will cause problems for his opponent who might get an unwanted draw because my friend plays at a reasonable speed rather than the hyper-speed required to play this deck.

So what is there to do?

Don’t play Miracles if you aren’t prepared and can’t pilot it in a timely fashion.

Sphinx’s Revelation and Esper Dragons often caused players to get unwanted draws if they played slowly. Draws are a natural part of what happens when people play control decks that extend the game and Miracles is no exception to this general rule.

To say a deck is too hard for inexperienced players to pilot well isn’t an argument I can get behind. I actually find it refreshing that a good deck has a high learning curve that requires its players to invest a high degree of practice in order to get results.

As far as the last part goes, giving opponents unwanted draws is easily reconciled: “If your slow play and inexperience caused the draw, concede.” On the other side of the coin, when playing against Miracles, it is perfectly reasonable to concede a game once it becomes clear that your chances to win are slim. If you make them play it out once they have Counterbalance, Jace, and Top in play and the match ends in a tie, it is just as much your fault as it is theirs!

I don’t like the idea of banning a card because it is difficult for inexperienced players to play, especially in Legacy where the overwhelming majority of players have a ton of Magic and format-specific knowledge.

Brave New Metagame

For the record, I recognize that Sensei’s Divining Top is a completely absurd Magic card. At various points in time I’ve even suggested that it ought to be banned in Legacy.

The biggest reason that I decided to write a defense for Sensei’s Divining Top in Legacy today is that I believe Magic may be on the brink of some major Legacy shake-ups in the next year or so.

In particular, I think the Eldrazi invasion in Legacy is a significant turning point. If it turns out to be real and the Eldrazi live up to their potential, it may be important to the sustained health of the format that Miracles (or at least Top) is a part of it.

Generally speaking, I think that Eldrazi are quite good against Miracles. I lost to it twice at GP Columbus. Basically, everything the deck does is annoying for Miracles:

These are all painful when you are trying to play a blue-based control deck. I’d like to give Legacy at least another B&R announcement to see how the Eldrazi continue to impact the format before deciding to pull the plug on Top.

One last point about Eldrazi: the perception is that Eldrazi didn’t do well last weekend. The deck did poorly at converting into money finishes, but actually had a very high conversion rate from Day 1 into Day 2. That tells me that the strategy is inherently strong, but the decks and pilots need time to catch up to the rest of the field.

Players have been fine tuning and practicing with Miracles and Delver for years and years now. Eldrazi has existed for only a fraction of that amount of time. Once the pilots and refinements begin to catch up, we are likely to see those conversion rates improve drastically.

I hope that the DCI gives Miracles at least that amount of time before they decide whether to ban Miracles.

I really enjoy playing Miracles in Legacy. I’ll also be the first to admit that I think it is one of the most powerful decks in the format. With that being said, Miracles does do a few nice positive things for the format. In particular, I like that it keeps Wasteland decks honest by playing with a ton of basics. Legacy without Miracles risks becoming “Wasteland + Stifle: the format.”

I also like that Miracles is a good control deck in a game where control decks are becoming dinosaurs. There are virtually no good pure control decks in Modern. Vintage is prison versus combo. A good control deck in an Eternal format is utterly unique.

I respect the reasons that people might gravitate toward wanting to see Top banned (and there are some pretty good ones). But none of those reasons resonate strongly enough with me that I’m unwilling to sit tight and see what happens with Eldrazi over the summer first.

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