Analyzing Recent Trends in Miracle Builds
Hey everybody, It's Nihilus Nix Naught here again, and today (as a part of my continuing obsession with Gadgetzan Auctioneer) I want to talk a bit about Miracle. Even though the nerf patch was almost a month ago and I'm sure we're all sick of hearing about its effects, nobody can deny that Miracle, while still an obviously strong deck, has had quite a difficult time establishing exactly what it wants to be doing in high level tournaments.
Now, there are obviously going to be small tweaks between different people's lists to make their list better against the field, but the versions we see in tournaments (and even the ladder) have fundamentally different game plans from one another. Some are still all-in on a combo, some have resorted to running Malygos, and most don't even run a dedicated combo anymore, instead preferring to have big Violet Teacherturns or pile a few Cold Bloods on a Shade of Naxxramasand Concealit for a few turns.
It's entirely plausible that one style will eventually “come out on top” and prove itself to be slightly better than the others, but at the moment, Miracle benefits from a sort of surprise factor: No longer can you be sure what plan I am on until I kill you with it. Added diversity is (almost) always a good thing, and the added mystery makes the deck more difficult to play correctly against and, in my opinion, almost completely makes up for the fact that Leeroy Jenkinsis a lot more situational nowadays. Combine this with my already positive opinion on the Starving Buzzardchanges, and my faith in Blizzard's ability to balance its games properly is confirmed.
All that aside, I want to talk about a few of the more common inclusions I've seen in lists that have done well recently, and go into detail about what each of them brings to the deck.
A Card Everyone Thought was Bad
By far the most common inclusion we've seen recently is Shade of Naxxramas. The idea is that he has a pretty high ceiling, and a pretty high floor that helps our gameplan anyway. He's really versatile, and despite the fact that we want to set up to win the game differently with each of the different builds, we will always be interested in making favorable board trades, since it isn't something we are particularly great at (we can kill most minions with spells, but our minions are mostly 3/3's or 4/4's and so they don't trade all that well themselves). That's just his floor, as well!
If we aren't on the Malygosplan, we probably have a couple Cold Blood's that we can pile on him the turn after we cast him with very little chance of getting interrupted. If we can chain a Concealor two on him, the damage builds up really quickly. Another trick we can do is drop him early, then just wait a while and use our multitude of spells to deal with enemy minions while he grows to a monstrous size to smash in a few times without even needing Cold Blood.
All in all, he's just a really versatile card that always does exactly what we want to be doing, regardless of our specific build. I have no doubt in my mind that he would have made his way into “old” Miracle eventually, but the balance changes just gave him an opportunity to do so and a slot to fill. He has pretty much become the standard, but I believe the first time we saw him in the deck was in Frescha's Build in the Prismata Cup (If I am incorrect, which I very well could be, let me know in the comments and I will change it).
As for what direction he pulls us in, should we choose to include him, the answer is none. Like I said, he appears in virtually all lists nowadays for a reason. His versatility fits most Miracle plans we are on without really pulling us toward any of them in particular, and is what really makes him an archetype staple in my opinion. If 'm playing Miracle, I'm playing two of him immediately.
A Card that Folds to Hunters
Violet Teacheris another card from his list we haven't seen in a while. While certainly not a particularly new innovation, the card didn't really have a place in the deck last meta due to the abundance of Hunter decks, specifically Unleash the Hounds, which is just brutal after all the hard work that the Teacher puts in.
Now that (in the tournament scene at least) Hunters are a lot less common, it's a lot safer to be putting a bunch of tokens onto the battlefield, and she certainly helps your curve now that the four drop slot is pretty much empty.
The idea is that, since you can make lots of tokens, you trade them off and can keep your threats alive to bash face with. This is certainly a fine gameplan, but I have to say that I personally don't like it at all. The best thing to be doing when you are able to draw your entire deck is go over the top, and while this plan does that to a certain extent, it lacks a real payoff like Savage Roaror Bloodlustto be able to win out of nowhere.
Again, this isn't to say that the plan is inherently bad by any means, as it certainly gets the job done, but I have a different philosophy of deckbuilding than the people playing the Teacher, and I want to be doing big things if I'm playing Miracle. Regardless of taste and preference, I definitely wouldn't recommend going this route on ladder.
A few popular streamers have found success with it, but Hunters are a lot more prevalent on ladder than they are in tournaments, and a lot of them still run Unleash the Hounds. Personally, I don't like it when my biggest win condition in a deck loses the game for me any percentage of the time.
All that said, slots are a hard-to-come-by commodity in Miracle lists since we always want to be running Shade of Naxxramas, and so running two more win conditions that have no real combo potential really pushes us into a comboless route. This is fine, but protecting your own minions is a lot more important than in combo versions since we need to be able to push through damage with our small minion pool, so we often have to use our spells without a Gadgetzan Auctioneeror Violet Teacherout to do so.
Fortunately, once we get her out, the Teacher does a good job of protecting our guys by herself since we can just trade off tokens most of the time, so the plan is pretty solid by itself. The deck is arguably a bit more mentally demanding to play since you have to make tougher decisions about when to play your spells, so don't play it if you aren't great with complicated decision trees (or if you prefer to go over-the-top like I do), but all-in-all it's a pretty decent addition if you like to grind out games.
A Card that is a Giant Dragon
Malygosis the next card I want to talk about. He's also a relatively old addition to the deck, but he's still worth mentioning here. The idea when we play him is pretty straightforward: on turn ten, cast Malygosand Conceal, then kill them with a flurry of spells the next turn. The deck is a blast to play, and doesn't have to attack through Sludge Belcherto win, which is a huge plus. The biggest drawback, though, is that he puts a pretty huge constraint on your deckbuilding process. If we decide to play him, he automatically brings a pair of Sinister Strikes with him.
We also have to play both copies of every damaging spell at our disposal, which isn't as big of an issue since we wanted to ply mot of those anyway, but it's still to a stricter degree than with most lists. Another big issue is that if they have some way of healing themselves, like the Warrior and Priest do, we have a harder time then other lists with them, because we trade two extra minions that can deal consistent damage to them for burst damage in the form of the Sinister Strikes.
To top it all off, we are already playing a lot of marginally playable situational cards, and by adding a nine cost dragon and two cards that are completely useless by themselves, we make the variance in our draws a lot more prominent, which isn't something we really want to do. These are some pretty big drawbacks, and in the world where Leeroy was cheap enough to consistently combo with, Malygoswas rarely the preferred option.
All that said, I can't stress how great it is to be able to ignore the problem card that is Sludge Belcher, and that alone makes up for its disadvantages. Combine that with the surprise factor that I talked about earlier no matter what your build is, and it becomes clear that Malygod is a legitimate contender in the current field. Here is a sample decklist for anyone who wants to see what Malygod normally looks like. I would've posted a version that did well in a recent tournament, but couldn't find one, for which I apologize.
A Card that is Way too Good
Sludge Belcheris on the short list of the most obnoxious cards in Hearthstone, and is probably the most individually powerful five drop in the game. He is played in every class, and for a good reason: He is the single best minion at protecting your other minions. If you have a board that includes him and an Auctioneer, your opponent has to has to have eleven damage between three sources in specific amounts to kill him. He just does the job better than any other minion could hope to do. All that said, he is rather expensive for our deck, and really locks us into a creature-heavy build, since we don't have enough slots left over to put in some sort of combo. This is Ignite's list from the Prismata Cup, which is a good example of what I'm talking about.
Seven five drops is a lot, but since we don't even have something like Shade of Naxxramasor Violet Teacherto go over the top with, we have to bring the bulk. If we run Sludge Belcher, we become a much more defensive deck, but like Violet Teacher, he is really good at furthering the type of strategy he pulls us toward, which is nice. He is also probably the best card in the game against both Zoolock and Hunter, so I highly recommend this version on the ladder if control is your thing.
A Bunch of Other Cards
Next I want to talk about Alexstrasza, Leeroy Jenkinsand Sprint. While these cards are obviously completely different, I'm grouping them together here because they are the most rarely used of the options we're going to talk about today, and because they were all used in one relatively recent list by Tarei that did well in the Blizzcon 2014 NA Qualifiers tournament.
This list has quite a few things going on with these card. First, though I'm not a particularly big fan of running Sprintin Miracle, when we have a combo that requires us to go to turn ten at the earliest, the inclusion makes sense. It also helps search for an Auctioneer in a pinch, and helps us get to our all-important Queen of Life in a timely manner. Speaking of Alexstrasza, she does a lot of work here, and I love the idea of including her in general, even without Leeroy Jenkins.
On ten mana, this list can go Leeroy into Shadowstepinto hero power to put an opponent to two even if they deal with Alexstraszaand we have an empty board otherwise. More importantly, it proves that we can still run everyone's favorite chicken eater if we like, we just have to make a few concessions. One being that we need to run a nine mana Dragon Aspect to make him worthwhile. Not a huge impact, but it does mean that we are playing for the late game, and can afford to trade our minion for theirs, since the incidental chip damage won't matter, and since finding two damage from one of our spells (or a random unanswered Shade of Naxxramas) isn't that difficult in a deck full of cheap spells. I can't really recommend it for ladder, of course, since decks are a lot more aggressive, but this style seems really good in a tournament setting where control is much more prevalent.
I Hate Goodbyes
I'm really bad at conclusions, and even worse at bringing things to a concise point, so all I can really say here is that I hope this article has helped some of you fellow Miracle enthusiasts decide which of the multitude of current styles of Miracle fits you best. Obviously most lists aren't going to fall squarely into one of the decklists I've linked to here, but it is always worthwhile to try to dissect what each card in other people's decks brings to an archetype.
Anyway, let me know if I missed anything you guys consider important, like a particular card you see a lot of players running, or an important aspect of one of the cards I mentioned that I've overlooked. And for Trump's sake, someone call me out on my dislike of Violet Teacher. It isn't a good, civil argument unless someone resorts to calling me names. Most of all, thanks for reading, guys. Getting my thoughts across to you all means quite a lot to me.