Deck primer: UW Miracles (Bourbon and Coke) in 7 Point Highlander

Bourbon and Coke is a UW Miracles-like control deck centred on Balance and Entreat the Angels that once had bourbon and coke spilled all over it.  It started as a blue-white-red control deck around 2015, when I switched black for red to play Dack Fayden and Young Pyromancer.  Earlier I had played blue-white-black control, porting the Vintage deck with which I had learned to play competitive Magic (see here and here). I continued to view the deck simply as a three-coloured control deck, which after Steve O’Connell (aka Zherbus) I understood to be a metagame deck, continually adapting to the expected metagame.  I always played Balance, but Entreat the Angels came later as a suggestion from Dan Abraham based on his Legacy play as I struggled to close games when moving from an untimed league format to single-day tournaments.  At the time I struggled against green-creature decks with equipment, and Mystical Tutor for Balance or Entreat solved this match-up to my satisfaction, defining the deck. The deck relies on synergies and not simply raw power, so it falls under the Synergy Control Archetype in 7 Point Highlander.

Every deck is a work-in-progress insofar as a format remains unsolved.  The list discussed here will change, even drastically.  This article offers a snapshot of my current thinking, with ideas that should help to guide future changes.

Deck list as of July 2022

Moving to straight blue-white

Dack Fayden is no longer mandatory in a control deck due to the increasing speed of the format.  (Questing Beast also doesn’t help.)  This, combined with the pointing of Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, now gives a blue-white-red control deck little reason to play red.  Expressive Iteration, Lightning Bolt, Bonecrusher Giant and sideboard Red Elemental Blast, Pyroblast and Wear // Tear are good but not worth the third colour.  Meanwhile, a Blood Moon plan, while strategically useful, has always interfered with the win conditions, notably Entreat the Angels and Monastery Mentor. (Blue Moon is a good deck but not the focus of this article.)  Thus the deck can now focus on blue and white exclusively.  This may make the deck look like UW Miracles to many familiar with the Legacy format. By accident, the shift to two colours makes the deck fairly budget-friendly!  And it allows you to add an eighth point under the new Accessibility Rule at the small cost of downgrading Tundra to Prairie Stream.

In 7 Point Highlander, the third colour is often well worth it.  But there are small advantages to playing only two colours, on top of the main advantages of being more able to play with and through non-basic hate, and being more able to use the Accessibility Rule.  You can play snow casting costs (like Arcum’s Astrolabe) and colourless utility lands (like Ash Barrens) with less risk of colour screw.  In a three-plus-colour deck, Astrolabe can subtly make your mana worse, against expectations, because you always need to fetch a basic in case you draw Astrolabe.

The evolution to straight blue-white gives the deck another trump card against three-or-four-colour midrange piles in maindeck Back to Basics.  (And with Gush now pointed, fewer opponents will be able to Gush through Back to Basics.) This is very valuable, since midrange piles have always threatened to overpower a less-than-four-colour control deck through sheer card quality, even powering through the other trump cards in this deck.  Those other trump cards are as follows.

  • Balance.  This card is more broken than Ancestral Recall when properly built toward and timed.  With Balance, you can punish an opponent for winning the board with creatures, or functionally Mind Twist a combo opponent after playing out your hand.
  • Entreat the Angels.  This is a combo-like win condition after the early game that is especially valuable against decks light on counter magic.  It provides a lot of win condition for a single card via recursion with Mystic Sanctuary, which can itself be replayed after being bounced with Daze or Gush.  The printing of Mystic Sanctuary has sustained the relevance of Entreat, which might have otherwise fallen by the wayside due to its often being slow and clunky in a fast format.  The combination of Entreat, Mystic Sanctuary, Daze, and Gush gives you a lot of late-game power.  Much of the deck is focussed on ensuring your survival earlier. Five mana is the sweet spot for Entreat, creating three tokens. Only cast it for less when pressed.
  • The Reality Chip.  Future Sight is a game-ending bomb like Entreat but it proved too risky tempo-wise, especially post-board against a Red Elemental Blast, until it appeared in a more efficient form named The Reality Chip, which also has the big advantage of granting a second target to Stoneforge Mystic (after Batterskull).

Turning the corner

While I wrote above that this deck is a control deck, it has evolved into something of an aggro-control deck of the type that I discussed with Dan Abraham here.  Three things led me to add more aggressive elements to the deck: writing that article with Dan; wanting to avoid draws in timed rounds; and increasingly disliking counter magic because of the increasing efficiency of threats.  The de-pointing of Stoneforge Mystic to zero was a key step in enabling more aggression.  (The life gain from Batterskull is also a key defensive tool.)  As an aggro-control deck, the deck typically plays defensively in the early game but in a way that seeks to gain tempo advantages that can help the deck turn the corner, that is, suddenly become the aggressor.  A perfect card for turning the corner is Murktide Regent.  (One Delve card is the right number for my tastes because I never want to be stuck with two.)  Balance is also a key card for turning the corner, and its use in this deck is akin to Anatoli Lightfoot’s use of Time Walk, as analysed in my aggro-control article with Dan.  However, while Time Walk rewards (or enables) board development with creatures, Balance rewards board development with artifacts, enchantments and planeswalkers, and the use of other effects that sidestep Balance like the Adventure mechanic.  You can Balance and then pull ahead using this development, simultaneously defending and attacking.  Seemingly innocuous cards like Scrabbling Claws and Search for Azcanta can function as piggy banks that you break to derive value post-Balance, pulling ahead on cards. Meanwhile, they provide a bit of utility pre-Balance, sometimes helping to find Balance. Put a coin in your piggy bank, wait, then break the piggy bank to get your coin back. That is, play a card to the board, Balance, then activate the card in some way to get your card back.

Sensei’s Divining Top is the ideal piggy bank.  Top also enables Entreat the Angels, especially by allowing you to trigger Miracle in the opponent’s turn.  Top also combines with The Reality Chip, allowing you to draw many cards and, ideally, create many Monk and Prowess triggers with Monastery Mentor.  While this is a three-card combo, each card is importantly valuable on its own.  All of this makes Top worth the point in this deck, even if Top is mostly pointed for reasons relating to tournament logistics rather than power level.  Jace, the Mind Sculptor, at zero points, also strengthens the deck, because the synergy with both Balance and Entreat is sufficient to off-set the card being weak to, for instance, Spell Pierce and attacks from opposing creatures.  But don’t go all the way to Brainstone: that card is simply too inefficient, being very close to Conch Horn.

Low to the ground but with breakthrough potential

The deck’s average mana value is two.  You need to keep it this low to stay in the game in a fast format.  Don’t mess around with sweet three drops.  Keep things low to the ground but have the breakthrough power to win no matter how long and grindy the game may become.  With that said, don’t skimp on land.  You don’t want to mulligan too much or work too hard to find your third land, since you have other things to do, like defend against aggression or set up for Balance.  Irrigated Farmland and Otawara, Soaring City help you to play a responsible number of lands while not flooding.  The 20-land tempo deck across from you will stumble more often than you, though not as painfully.  You cannot afford to stumble because you are already planning on going on the back foot.  You go on the back foot to push harder onto the front foot later.  Ideally you use the opponent’s momentum against them via Balance.

As Dan and I discuss in our article, aggro-control features early-threat potential.  But the early-threat potential in this deck is low, limited to just Stoneforge Mystic into Batterskull and Mentor with free counter back-up. Baubles synergise with Balance, Mentor and sometimes even Entreat (by allowing you to trigger Miracle in the opponent’s turn). The deck can play out like a combo-control deck where you combo out with Entreat late or Balance early.  To leverage Balance, the deck prefers to deploy its hand rather than stockpile cards.

Like Top, Lutri, the Spellchaser helps you to pull ahead post-Balance, simply by paying three mana to pick it up.  A good time to pick up Lutri is when you have nothing else to do, have Force of Negation in hand, or have a bounce spell in hand to answer anything that might come down while you are tapped out.  Lutri effectively always starts the game in your hand, whereas any other pointed card might languish in your deck the entire game.  This is a very unique asymmetry. This is not to say that Lutri is better than any other non-Companion card, but it has proven good enough at two points.  It helps you to pull ahead post-Balance, especially copying Gush, and to win the game via damage.  Balance has a high build-around cost in that it interferes with the type, and therefore number, of win conditions you can put in your deck — in particular, creatures tend to get in the way.  This is no small thing with the quality of creatures being printed.  Monastery Mentor also invites you to play few creatures.  So whenever there is opportunity to add a win condition that synergises with Balance or other elements of the deck, it is worth trying, because defensive decks such as this can tend to go to time during a tournament, especially in anything like a control mirror.  As such, this deck continues to add threats, wherever advantageous. Unlicensed Hearse is the most recent of them.

My brief testing with Personal Tutor was unfavourable. Telegraphing Balance lets the opponent play around it. And if you have already seen Balance, but do not yet have enough mana for Entreat, then what do you tutor for? Expressive Iteration was fine as a floor when playing red. An advantage of Mystical Tutor is being able to tutor for an instant like Gush or Mission Briefing. One card-disadvantage tutor is enough.

I really value a deck that can win almost no matter the situation.  I also value a deck that is impossible to hate out.  This deck has no glaring vulnerability to exploit, which means you can take it to the same metagame and opponents time and again.  Any weakness to aggro, shared by all aggro-control decks, can be straightforwardly addressed post-board.  Another way to attack this deck is to load up on effects that sidestep Balance, such as Wrenn and Six.  Dan Abraham’s Teferi, Time Raveler and Malevolent Hermit have also proven especially strong, switching off my Entreat.

Playing tips

When playing the deck, it can help to first do the more efficient things (like removing a threat with Portable Hole) and then later do the less efficient things (like picking up Lutri or equipping The Reality Chip).  This tip probably applies to any fair deck.  Prioritise gaining tempo advantages while surviving, as per the default aggro-control game plan.  However, if you see a chance to sort of combo out with Balance or Entreat, then work toward it, since typically you will more than recuperate the tempo you lose while setting up.  If you can afford to delay comboing out to gain greater advantage, it can be worthwhile.  Usually it is wrong to Balance just to gain a two-for-one. Because you want piggy banks pre-Balance, it is better to play to the board first and durdle later, so play Scrabbling Claws before Preordain, unless you really need Preordain’s selection to hit your land drop.  Don’t expect your first creature to survive.  You play so few that the first is usually a lightning rod.  Your early creatures are efficient enough that you shouldn’t lose too much tempo when your opponent has the removal.

Teferi, Time Raveler, with its +1 ability, allows you to Balance in the opponent’s draw step.  Moreover, it allows you to do so with spells, including sorceries like Preordain, on the stack, so they are not in your hand when Balance resolves.  That is game-breaking, especially if you can strand the opponent with zero cards in hand.  It feels fair when you manage to achieve this, since you had to jump through a few hoops, but it does not feel fair for the opponent.  This deck is capable of a few sequences like that, mostly involving Balance, Entreat or Mentor. Teferi’s +1 ability also allows you to respond to triggers, like Mystic Sanctuary’s, with a sorcery. This can be handy if you want to, for instance, target Entreat with Sanctuary but also use Sanctuary’s mana immediately to play a sorcery like Preordain.  Because Mystic Sanctuary is an Island, you can tutor it into play if anyone hits you with Boseiju, Who Endures, which is awesome.

Mission Briefing gives you another Balance and the Surveil helps to set up Entreat.  Mission Briefing can also give you another Gush or Daze to bounce Mystic Sanctuary, or another Force of Negation when you are finally ahead on board.  Mission Briefing helps trigger Mentor.  It is a core part of the deck.  It is slightly inefficient but very flexible and subtly scales in power as the game goes on, as you gain targets and mana.

Vendilion Clique provides invaluable hand disruption against combo for a deck that lacks black for Thoughtseize and family.  Clique also puts Entreat back into your deck if Entreat is ever stranded in your hand.  This pushes Clique into must-play territory for this deck.  Hard-casting Entreat for five mana isn’t great but at least then it is in your bin for Mystic Sanctuary, so sometimes it has to be done. Don’t be afraid to side out Clique against midrange, where the hand disruption and 3/1 flier are not overly impactful.

Dan and I have discussed the nature and role of cantrips.  After this chat, I experimented with cantrips more, and Serum Visions really impressed me.  Its ceiling is very high.  There are situations, not even rare, when it performs better than Ponder, Preordain and Brainstorm.  Serum Visions is especially good when you are not Delving too much (so won’t prefer Mental Note and Thought Scour) and when you value the forward planning, as you do in a defensive deck.  Meanwhile, I find that Consider sufficiently balances the advantages of Mental Note and Opt to be worth playing.  I suspect any blue deck needs a good reason not to play Serum Visions and Consider.  The problem with Portent is that it can fail to draw you into a land right when you need it, which is half the point of playing cantrips.

I’m experimenting with Swift Reconfiguration as both early removal and a defensive option against removal for one of my creatures that can provide benefit outside of combat, like Mentor and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy.  Post-board I also want to Swift Reconfiguration Gideon of the Trials, making Gideon impossible to attack or damage, meaning the opponent can only win through Gideon’s emblem if they find the right removal.  On Thin Ice is a more sensible but less interesting option. Detention Vortex is another experiment in defensively gaining tempo early.

Gideon of the Trials is a genuinely good card against Thassa’s Oracle decks.  But those decks are sufficiently depowered now for Gideon to sit in the sideboard.  The early white-white mana requirement is also too demanding for maindeck Back to Basics.  Gideon can pull weight against burn, performing tricks like switching off Pyrostatic Pillar.  Gideon can cause headaches for tempo decks, switching off their primary threat (or ‘Queen’) and forcing the opponent to play additional creatures into a potential Balance.  Gideon can also play a useful beatdown role in a control mirror, being hard to deal with if the opponent lacks white for exile-based removal.  Gideon is very handy, but there is always pressure on the three-mana slot in a fast format, so he belongs in the sideboard for now. Phyrexian Furnace sits in the sideboard because you can no longer afford to draw both Furnace and Scrabbling Claws in the early turns: the tempo loss they represent is too costly in a fast format.

Spell Pierce is currently relegated to the sideboard as a metagame consideration, being weak against midrange.  It can also be weak late game and you no longer have Dack Fayden to cycle it away, though you do now have Back to Basics to keep it relevant.  (Read the aggro-control article I wrote with Dan to see how Anatoli Lightfoot used light mana disruption to retain the relevance of his soft permission).

Hybernation hits Choke and Carpet of Flowers, along with the green creatures.  That is handy, because you no longer have Wear // Tear to remove those game-warping enchantments.  Cathar Commando is another sideboard option to help replace Wear // Tear.  I don’t mess around against artifact decks, because I know first-hand how powerful they can be.  I want Hurkyl’s Recall and Rebuild these days over Null Rod and Stony Silence because I don’t want to die to the robots already on board and I want to bounce artifact lands, putting the opponent way behind. Rebuild and Serenity can mess with your own artifacts but it is worth it. Spellseeker and Muddle the Mixture tutor for Hurkyl’s Recall. They can also tutor up other decent targets if the match-up means you can tolerate tapping three mana in you main phase. Non-blue midrange decks can fold to Entreat, making Spellseeker for Mystical Tutor (into Entreat) serviceable. You can side out Daze, especially on the draw, when you expect the game to be a long grind, say against midrange or control. Finally, Hard Evidence, Hydroblast and Perimeter Captain help you to defend against aggro.

This deck has some fans, perhaps because people want to play Balance or control or blue-white-red control, in particular.  There are also some sceptics.  That is a good sign.  It means you are taking some risks and trusting your own judgement and experience.  As Patrick Chapin wrote, inspiringly, “Brilliant ideas are stupid ideas that worked” (Next Level Deckbuilding, p. 9).  The core ideas of this deck have worked, bringing me enjoyment, greater understanding and some small-tournament wins.

The original 2019 deck tech can be viewed below. While many of the deck’s cards have changed, and will continue to, the core ideas first explained in the deck tech are still being applied.

The deck’s original ideas are still being applied.

Summary