Saturday, May 26, 2012

MiRUcle – Burn Deck in Disguise

Welcome back to Untap Target Player!  Today, I wanted to review a deck of mine that I’ve been testing over the last couple of weeks for the new Standard.  Standard is not usually my cup of tea – I don’t normally put a lot of thought into shuffling up a stack of sixty. Usually, if I’m playing Standard, I’ll rustle up some aggro cards, throw them together, and sling fairly mindlessly.  At least, that’s what I’d been doing until now.

This deck, one of my own design, has helped me branch out a little bit.  The deck is still not terribly complex, but it does require a fair amount of mental energy to pilot successfully.  It’s a red/blue deck built around burn and instants (big surprise, right?).  It does run Delver, but I wouldn't call it a "Delver" deck.  It just so happens that Delver fits really nicely into the other plan.  The other plan is abusing “miracle,” the new keyword from Avacyn Restored which allows you to topdeck and cast awesome spells at a fraction of their costs.  A highly variable and conditional mechanic, I attempted to abuse it as much as Standard would allow. 

The goal of the deck is to get Delver online to hit my opponent a couple times, and then burn them down with conventional burn and miracle burn while having mana available for some permission and control.  It also uses Noxious Revival to full effect, putting a spent miracle spell back on top of my deck for a paltry sum of 2 life. 

Although the list has changed a little bit over the past couple weeks, here is the most recent incarnation.

4 Delver of Secrets
4 Snapcaster Mage

4 Mana Leak
4 Ponder
4 Pillar of Flame
4 Thunderous Wrath
3 Bonfire of the Damned
3 Think Twice
2 Noxious Revival
2 Vapor Snag
2 Slagstorm
1 Faithless Looting

2 Desolate Lighthouse
4 Sulfur Falls
8 Mountain
9 Island

1 Vexing Devil
1 Stromkirk Noble
4 Incinerate
1 Noxious Revival
3 Devastation Tide
3 Dissipate
2 Steel Sabotage

Believe it or not, this plan has worked a surprising amount of the time.  Ponders help you set up Miracle and Delvers, Snapcaster Mages get back Mana Leaks (and even the occasional Thunderous Wrath).  I’ll go over the cards within it and explain each inclusion – I find these kinds of explanations help me understand the deck building process much better than just staring at a list.

Delver of Secrets

The only side worth noting.
Ahh, the bane of Standard and Legacy decks alike.  His inclusion is certainly the most mainstream one, but in this deck, it is an easy four-of.  This deck has 29 instants or sorceries, so this Delver will blind-flip more often than not, assuming no more than 3 instants or sorceriers are in your opener, and even just one hit makes him a Lava Spike.  I don’t expect much out of him because of his lightning-rod status, but even just a smack or two is worth it.  An unflipped (read: late game) Delver also makes a fine crony for the chump block brigade.
Not many people know this, but the man in the white shirt is actually an unflipped Delver of Secrets.
Snapcaster Mage

Steampunk Harry Potter.
Also an auto-four.  He gives you so much card advantage, and everything in your graveyard can potentially be a surprise play.  I have won so many games on the back of this guy, and he continues to be awesome in every deck I play him.  Surprisingly, this deck allows a lot more sub-optimal play of this guy.  I’ve casted him at the opponent’s EOT on two mana, flashing nothing back, for the additional two damage he’d garner me, and I’ve main phased him to cast Pillar of Flame and Ponder, too.  He is less at home here than in uber-instant decks, but he’s always a welcome draw. 

Mana Leak

They haven't leaked this in M13, have they?
This particular version is my preferred (and, well, I already had them like this), and I’ve just about always been pleased to play this one.  Even with the presence of Cavern of Souls and cheap aggro decks, Mana Leak still manages to counter the important stuff; equipments, un-Caverned Titans, Wurmcoil Engines, another counterspell.  It does it on the cheap, and your opponent has to play it around it for every major spell he wants to cast.  However, Mana Leak is not as powerful in the Standard of today.  Once, it was an auto-playset for blue control  However, this is no longer the case, and I have boarded out some or all of the copies of this card in matches over the last couple weeks.  It plays fairly weakly against cheap aggro and graveyard-based decks (in Zombie decks, this is both).  Nothing feels more awkward than Mana Leaking a Gravecrawler.


Merfolk > Boring hand
Ah, here it is!  It’s no Preordain or Brainstorm, or even an Index, but this does help an awful lot in setting up for Miracle as well as smoothing out your draws.  This deck plays out as a draw-go more often than not, and so capitalizing on your draws is really, really crucial, even if there’s no Delver in sight.  The option to shuffle is something I’ve used more than once, and it is a practiced skill with a deck like this.  It took a lot of matches to figure out the right time to shuffle and when I should keep the sorted cards on top.

Pillar of Flame

Only you can prevent Zombie recursion.
This card does work.  After matching up last week against a Zombie deck in a practice game, I realized how terrible I was at dealing with resolved undying creatures.  Herein is the perfect solution.  It’s cheap, efficient removal that gets the job done while getting rid of “when this creature dies” clauses and graveyard nonsense.  The only downside (and not an insignificant one) is its sorcery speed.  However, in certain matchups, that doesn’t matter all that much.  If it does, switch to Incinerates!

Thunderous Wrath

The workhorse and most frequent win condition of the deck.  Ironically, you don’t want to have this win condition in your opening hand for obvious reasons.  I win a large amount of games from this reasoning, regardless of T-wrath’s role in that success.  I have also hardcasted a lot of these guys, as my games tend to run pretty long.  This is quite inadvisable; while everyone taps out for a Titan, I tap out for…a Lava Axe.  Certainly, this card is MUCH worse in your hand, and you’ll almost always want to cast it on the miracle, even if you have other plans for the turn.  Rarely will that one red mana be missed.  There’s not much more that can be said about this card; regardless, it gets the job done.

Bonfire of the Damned

Hellishly good.
This is arguably the most variable of the Miracle cards in this deck, probably because of the level of disparity between a hardcasted one and a miracle one.  You don’t want to hit it early, or it’ll be a pretty wimpy Bonfire, and even if you draw it late, maybe while you’re Thinking Twice, what kind of impact is it going to have?  Even though I’ve managed to wind up getting three of this powerful sorcery in my deck, I’m a bit unsure of how good it actually is in this deck.  It is a sweet rip when I’m behind on board (nearly always the case), and it does hit their life total and creatures without targeting them.  I have often hardcasted it where X = 1 to kill a couple Avacyn’s Pilgrims or Birds of Paradise.  It’s pretty bad against control decks (as a lot of X spells are), and it is really only good against a certain kind of deck (aggro and/or weenie), and it also means you give up counter mana for maximum value.  Still, when you hit it just right, it feels so good.  If you haven’t noticed, this deck is more about fun than consistency.  The Bonfire is not immune from being boarded out, but it stays in there most of the time. 

Think Twice

The book has a Thunderous Wrath in it.
The defensive workhorse of the deck, it provides card advantage when I don’t counter anything and it’s able to activate Miracle on an opponent’s turn.  These two things, as well as the ability to flip a Delver, make this guy an easy inclusion.  I only played three because the prospect of Thinking Twice into another Think Twice urked me a little bit, and only in those long, drawn out games do I wish I had a fourth.  Solid turn two and turn three EOT play.  Just make sure you have a mana open for that Thunderous Wrath!

Noxious Revival

Making Reclaims disappear from the decks they were never in since 2011.
Here’s the gimmick to the whole deck!  It sets up the draw from a presumably stocked graveyard.  Thunderous Wrathing then Reviving it for my next draw step is a pretty solid, cost effective way to take half an opponent’s life total.  I’ve also found myself using it to guarantee a Delver flip or get back a much needed normal spell, like a Pillar of Flame for that Geralf’s Messenger (see below), or a Mana Leak for that spell I just gotta counter.  It is a useful utility card.  Originally I had three in the deck, but I boarded one out on the small, but nonzero possibility that it would be a dead draw.  It’s a great mid-game card to help you keep your advantage secure, or it can be that crucial enabler to put your Bonfire of the Damned back online for one last go.

Vapor Snag

Raymond Swanland even makes Unsummon look cool.
This is by far the narrowest inclusion in the deck, but it didn’t start that way.  Originally I played a playset of these within the deck, as this deck began life several months ago as a pre-DKA U/W Delver Tempo deck with Champions of the Parish, Delvers, Mirran Crusaders, and Feelings of Dread.  It had a full squad of Vapor Snags, too, and so I just moved them right over.  However, after playtesting in MiRUcle, it turned out that it was pretty darn worthless.  Without a board presence that would otherwise stop my opponent’s creatures and little to punch back with, Vapor Snag forfeits its value.  Most of the time, it plays out being a fairly lousy Fog or a way to bounce my own Snapcaster at the cost of one life.  It was a lesson in deckbuilding, and I still play two for the offchance that I fight a deck that it really hurts, like Frites or one-creature decks (Stromkirk Noble, Sword holders, etc.)  Even then, it is a delay, not a solution, and it almost always boards out.  I may very well replace it outright, but I haven’t decided for what yet.

Lightning Bolts for everyone!
This was once a sideboard card but has since made the maindeck for its ability to constantly impress.  Being a sweeper or a dome to the face for three mana is very flexible and solid.  Naturally, it boards out against most control matchups, but even if you’ve got one in hand, it can double as a Lava Spike in a pinch, and that deserves an inclusion from me.  Three damage is also a magic number to kill a lot of stuff, including Fiend Hunters, Wurmcoil Tokens, Glissa, Dungeon Geists…the list is pretty long, so you’ll almost always get value.

Faithless Looting

Maybe they should keyword this ability to "Loot twice."
This singleton inclusion has actually never surfaced in a match since I put it in, which could mean two things.  One, maybe I need more of them, or two, I just don’t need it at all.  This was once a third Noxious Revival, but the Faithless Looting let me pitch Miracle spells mistakenly drawn and recur them with my other two Revivals.  I can’t tell you how well it’s played; since its inclusion two tournaments ago, I have never drawn it, and I board it out for other stuff in tight, fast matchups where I don’t have time, or mana, to loot.

Desolate Lighthouse

Some of the homicidal spirits must be dead Merfolk Looters, then.
A pretty simple inclusion for its part, as it functions to filter my draw and trigger Miracle on an opponent’s turn.

Sulfur Falls

Beautiful.  U/R lands are my favorite.
I love the M10-style enemy dual lands!  I love enemy color decks anyway, but I think this was a welcome expansion of a good design.  It provides invaluable support to this deck’s intense color demands.

The basic lands in this deck have fluctuated as the cards themselves have; Mountains have become greater in value, while I’ve cut a couple Islands.  What I really hope is they make a Scars of Mirrodin-style dual land cycle in the next Block.  Boy, I hope they do.


Vexing Devil is the missing piece in this awkward puzzle.  He seems really awesome in this deck, especially as a sideboard choice, I just need more.  The Stromkirk Noble is filler until I can wrangle up a playset of this guy.  The idea is to board them in if game one is a Delver fest and they side in all their Delver hate (Daybreak Ranger, Whipflare, Ratchet Bomb).  Once a playset is obtained, I will likely remove one of the Devastation Tides, the Stromkirk Noble and the extra Noxious Revival.  The extra Noxious Revival sides in against either non-standard win condition decks (like mill or Planeswalker control) where my life total is less of a concern.

Incinerate often sides in one-for-one over Pillar of Flame in matchups where Pillar’s advantage is mitigated or its disadvantages (lower output and sorcery speed) are especially relevant.  I still like Pillar of Flame in the maindeck for its cheap cost and better applications against aggro, where I’m a little worse off otherwise.  Incinerate hits a little harder, and it’s an instant, but I just feel better about the Pillar maindeck.  This may change over time.

Devastation Tide is a weird animal.  It resets the board in a sense, but there are only some matchups where it’s particularly relevant.  It plays well with tokens and planeswalkers, as well as for removing problem permanents, even for just a turn.  It is stronger if I take out Delvers, too, so I need to sideboard carefully to maximize Devastation Tide’s relatively narrow effectiveness.

Dissipate is by far the MVP of the sideboard.  It is such a hard stop to a lot of different strategies and can act as Mana Leak #5-7 as needed.  Snapcasting for a Dissipate feels, just, so awesome.  It sometimes boards in directly for, but often in addition to, Mana Leaks if my opponent’s strategy revolves around a single creature or spell resolving so I know I’ll have one of them in hand when the time comes. 

Steel Sabotage is another relic from the W/U Human deck and, after boarding it in on rare occasion, is just about strictly worse than Crush in most circumstances.  I will be subbing out the Sabotages for Crushes; I won’t take Shatters, because most artifact creatures that are relevant are better dealt with in other ways or shouldn’t be dealt with by means of a "destroy" spell (Wurmcoil Engine and Jens, I’m lookin’ atchu.) 

I’ve battled a lot of different kinds of decks with this MiRUcle pile, and so I’ve gotten a lot of different insights.  Since my last post, I’ve participated in a Friday Night Magic and a Tuesday Night Magic (the more casual Standard tournament) at Something 2 Do. 

Last Friday, I went to see if I could repeat my undefeated performance once again and pocket a bit of cash.  I arrived after work and playtested the deck hard, even trying it against some other early comers.  I had trouble drawing well against a control deck, and I was completely useless against a Zombie deck, which ushered in the Pillars of Flame maindeck for the night and to current.  But let’s go to the tourney itself!  As a disclaimer, I didn’t take notes, so I don’t recall every detail, so just look at this as a summary and commentary of how the deck played against certain matchups.

In round one, I sat down at a high table number against Mikhail.  We shuffled for a long while and I kept a good hand of Delver, Ponder and some other nonsense (what else matters with a turn 1 Delver?).  He resolved a Stromkirk Noble, though, and I thought long and hard about my future.  Off the top, I ripped some instant (don’t remember) and I Pondered, finding a perfectly timed pair of Pillars of Flame.  I drew it, smacked the Noble, and started to swing.  The following turn, he resolved two Stromkirk Nobles.  Bonfire of the Damned, anyone?  Boy, I could be in real trouble now.  They were unblockable against my deck, so I had to kill them soon, before they got too big to swat.  Although I used another Pillar of Flame on one, I was worried where I’d find the other one.  A Snapcaster a turn or two latter answered that, and I eventually widdled him down by keeping his board clear of threats.  In game two, I sided in Incinerates which turned out to be super-important, frying a Bloodline Keeper and Olivia Voldaren.  He couldn’t make anything stick, and I burned him to negative life.  I will say that, in a casual game afterward, he trounced me with an unanswerable swarm of Lord of Lineage pumped tokens.  I was lucky on my draw in my tournament games; his vampire deck had me over a barrel otherwise.

In round two, I played against a fellow named Ryan and his pile of Humans, ready to battle.  Well, it took them a game to be ready to battle.  I slammed in with Delvers and burn pretty hard in Game 1, but he assembled an unanswerable squad of Mayors of Avabruck and Champions of the Parish to slap me silly in game two.  Game three was a lot more like game one, and I kept his board clear enough to bash in for the gold. 

In round three, I was at the top table, fighting Dylan, and this match was recorded!  Kevin Klotz, a recent friend met through a non-Magic-related friend, also happens to run the channel KlotzProductions on YouTube.  He posts high-quality commentary of Something 2 Do matches every week, and mine are up now!

In round four, I was just one match away from making it into prizes.  I sat down across from Ben, a fellow perhaps just a couple years younger than myself.  In game one, his deck became all too clear – Zombies.  He resolved a Geralf’s Messenger, but I thankfully had drawn a Pillar in my starting seven.  He resolved another, and I cast another Pillar.  He cast a third Geralf’s Messenger and, casting a Noxious Revival to put my Pillar of Flame on top, drew and shot his third Messenger.  However, I was now at 12 life, and the powerful Zombies had done their damage.  He cast a Falkenrath Aristocrat and smashed me three times for game.  In game two, I had trouble hitting Blue mana; he had a slower start, but he was able to resolve another Aristocrat while I was unable to cast my Dissipate.  I tried to Pillar of Flame it on my turn, forgetting that any creature sacrificed to it makes it indestructible, not just a Human.  I couldn’t deal with the Falkenrath Aristocrat, and it sealed the deal after he resolved a second one.

A 3-1 finish was not at all bad, and I pulled my 3rd Bonfire of the Damned from among my three prize packs, so it was still a successful night in the realm of Magic.

I also played this past Tuesday on a bit on a lark.  I was hoping to meet a friend there, but was unable to, and came alone instead.  I came in just moments after the first round was paired and seated, but the TO decided to be nice and let me join with a first round bye (as opposed to a first round loss, which is what most other places do).  I had made very few adjustments to the deck since Friday, if any; I honestly can’t recall.

In round two, round one for me, I sat across from Derek, a sharp RN with glasses and a friendly handshake.  We shuffled up for game one, and my Delver went to work on his life total.  After getting him low enough without seeing much of his deck, having countered a Batterskull, we went to game two.  In game two, my Delvers hit even harder, and I was able to knock him down to zero with similar efficiency.  My Delver flips had been crucial for success there, and it seemed he had kind of a mill package going, with two Nephalia Drownyards online by the end of it.  He couldn’t find his sideboarded Witchbane Orbs, a surefire end to my Miracle shenanigans, which clinched game two.

In round three, I sat down from Nick, a familiar face around Something 2 Do but someone with whom I had not conversed.  We introduced ourselves and started up.  My board development was pretty flimsy, and his deck, a blinking human deck with the likes of Restoration Angel, Blade Splicer and Huntmaster of the Fells, handed me a solid loss.  I took a while to sideboard and a while to play and, although I had made some strong plays in game two, I couldn’t seal the deal, and it went to time.  With a single game win, he won the match 1-0. 

Now, sitting at 2-1 with a bye, I just hoped to win my final match for a shot at some packs.  My opponent, venerable grinder Justin and fellow gamer from Bluegrass Magic, sat down on the other side of the table.  Justin, a very tight and talented player, was playing an Elf Run deck with Swords, Elves and Strangleroot Geist.  He Galvanic Blasted my flipped Delver and it was inevitably placed on defense; I never hit him for more than a scratch before we were shuffling up for game two.  In game two, I played very loosely, missing two Delver flips and a bad Ponder stack.  I lost, needless to say, having punting an almost unwinnable board state against an equipped Thrun, The Last Troll, a creature that I absolutely could not deal with in combat or spells.

So a finish of 2-2, one being a bye, is not too great.  Although I did get some unfortunate draws, it is clear that this deck can be inconsistent and is often not very interactive with an opponent’s board when it needs to be.  If I have to defend myself with combat alone, I often come up short.  Regardless of this, I am very pleased with how well this brew has played, and I’ll continue to tweak it in the coming months as my main Standard deck.  It’s nice to be able to get behind one on a more long-term basis.  I already have the pieces (mostly) so that’s a nice thing to note.  Now I need to keep my eye on the metagame and play each game tightly, looking for any place I can improve it.

If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments below.  I have a tendency to be proud about decks I’ve made up, but collaboration is an invaluable tool for every Magic player, and I welcome it.  There are some things I’m considering for this deck.  I’ve considered Temporal Mastery, though I feel like it would be inconsistently good, as it is most often used to count on getting an additional step; a main phase, a draw phase or a combat phase, something I’m not always in want of, except maybe a draw phase.  I have too few creatures to really capitalize on it, and it is very difficult to cast reliably if I have it in hand.  It also exiles upon resolution, so I can’t abuse it with Noxious Revival.

Let me know, and if you like the blog, please give me a follow!  I’ve been watching, and I see that a lot of people read this blog, so I hope you’ll follow me to let me know who my regular readers are.

Until next time, don’t forget to untap!

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