The Modern Rogue Report – Who Wants to be a Mill-ionaire?
“Tiger, Tiger Woods, y’all”
Aaaaaand welcome back for the 15th instalment of The Rogue Report!
I’m Cody, and I hope I’m not the only person that remembers that quote from the movie-remake Down to Earth with Chris Rock.
This week, I’m exploring one of the most recognisable strategies in Magic: Mill! But as easily recognisable as it is, this approach to deck building can be refreshing and is a very different play-style than some of “the norm” decks.
In a nutshell, when playing Mill you have to view things differently. Your opponent starts at 60 life. Your route to victory is to deplete their deck total to zero and then have them draw a card, thus losing the game. This all changes of course, if the opponent is playing more than 60 cards. Or if they’re playing Battle of Wits/Babel. Yeah, I’ve totally seen a Mill vs. Battle of Wits match before.
Pro tip: not a good match.
Another pro tip: it’s about as rare to see Battle of Wits as it is seeing a Unicorn.
Ignoring that specific example, your opponent will have 60 cards in their deck in a normal scenario. Then, after drawing an opening seven cards, their “life total” becomes 53.
It’s also worth mentioning for anyone that doesn’t know, all it means to “mill” cards is to put them directly from your library into your graveyard. For example:
This card basically reads “Target opponent mills seven”. This can be used to describe most effects that move cards from the deck to the graveyard. Mill as a strategy is sometimes otherwise known as “Deck Destruction”.
Most Magic players that have been around the block once or twice LOVE to hate on Mill. Mill continues to be seen as an inferior, “casual” strategy, despite the fact that it can occasionally post respectable results in bigger events. We’re going to take a gander at a UB Mill list that took 32nd place at Grand Prix Lyon, in February. Unapologetically, Mill tries to eliminate cards you chose to put in your deck, not allowing you to play them. That is truly the nectar of the meme-loving, casual dank-lords.
What do we have here?
Dario Fassler’s UB Mill
4 Hedron Crab
4 Manic Scribe
1 Surgical Extraction
1 Devour Flesh
1 Echoing Truth
1 Crypt Incursion
4 Leyline of the Void
2 Night of Souls’ Betrayal
2 Set Adrift
On Card Selection…
- Fraying Sanity – while not included in this, can sometimes be included in the main board. I’ve seen it as a two-of and it plays really well with Mesmeric Orb, incrementally. Overall, it’s probably too low impact to take a full turn off, casting a three-drop spell that does nothing immediately. It does essentially double the effect of all other mill spells though. It’s worth considering in further adaptations, but for now I think this card is better suited in a two-card Mill combo strategy with Traumatize.
- Trapmaker’s Snare – probably pretty bad, but I’ve been known to play a one-of in my Mill lists. It’s a two-mana search for target Archive Trap. Basic purpose here is to be copy number five of Archive Trap, just costing two-mana instead.
- Ethereal Haze/Darkness – You can get them with the old one-black mana Fog with Darkness, however there are reasons why Ethereal Haze can be better. Ethereal Haze crawled under my scope when Grishoalbrand was running rampant in the format. It was a turn faster than Ad Nauseam, and Ethereal Haze is able to stop the damage from creatures, not just combat damage. This was useful vs. Borborygmos Enraged. Likely the most common use now is to get around Eidolon of the Great Revel damage for a full turn or avoiding Grim Lavamancer damage. Not a hugely impacting spell, and not particularly in-line with the Mill plan, but sometimes a copy of two is necessary in the 75.
- Jace’s Phantasm – An alternative way to close the game. I hear flying 5/5’s are pretty good. As Jeremy Lichtenberger wrote here, Jace’s Phantasm can create some interesting plays: “My opponent would play fetchland, pass. I would drop Phantasm and pass it back, end step they would fetch and Bolt the phantasm, and in response I would Archive Trap them turning my 1/1 into a 5/5.”
- Mind Funeral – Can be an absolutely disgusting card against the right decks. It can actually be devastating against the wrong decks too, but that takes some serious luck. I’ve found the card to be more reliable in matches such as Robots where the opponent is playing approximately 16 lands. This cuts the opponent off of 25% of the lands in their deck and probably mills a significantly larger number of cards than average. Also worth noting, while not a BETTER card than other mill spells, it’s sometime included if the pilot fears playing against Chalice of the Void. The name of the game here is all about diversifying our spells’ converted mana costs.
- Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver – I have a crush on this card. It’s so fun to play. It does a great job of pressuring control decks as a non-creature threat, can be effective against mid-range by protecting with their creatures. The one scenario I particularly like it in is vs. Titanshift. I took this move from a friend of mine who used to run Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver in Tribal Zoo’s sideboard. Although he could cast it on turn two off of a turn one Noble Hierarch, even on turn three, slamming and eating cards from the deck is great. The idea here is to toss down an Ashiok and start eating mountains from their library. Unfortunately, turn two Ashiok seems good, turn three might be too slow to be reliable.
- Path to Exile – this used to be included in some mill lists to “force” the opponent to search their deck. It is common knowledge now, though, that Path to Exile is a “may” effect and the opponent can simply not search, halting all of your multiple Archive Trap shenanigans.
- Other cards to consider in the sideboard based on expected meta: Ceremonious Rejection (vs. Robots, Eldrazi), Mindbreak Trap (vs. Storm), Profane Memento (vs. creature heavy strategies), Ravenous Trap (vs. graveyard-dependent strategies), Extirpate (vs. combo, etc.), etc.
- Does the opponent board in removal? The creatures in Mill are heavy-hitting engines, however there are only eight creatures in total. This can make side boarding awkward for the opponent as most of their creature removal may be completely dead.
- Mesmeric Orb isn’t my favourite card in the deck as it seems relatively slow. Things get faster when the opponent has a bunch of creatures going sideways, too. However, that means our life total is likely being pressured. Mesmeric Orb is a safe two-drop play that can definitely Mill it’s worth over the course of a game, but it’s true value lies in the fact that it helps mill our own library a little bit to help turn on Manic Scribe‘s delirium ability.
- Worried about the opponent dropping a Leyline of Sanctity? Fret no more, just look to get multiple Manic Scribes going; the delirium ability does not target.
- Field of Ruin is already included in the list above, but I wanted to touch on it briefly. This card was a wonderful addition to the deck, as it ACTUALLY forces the opponent to search their deck. This can be ever-necessary against smart-Alec’s who just won’t search their library. A big part of getting there with Mill is the old surprise Archive Trap. After the first one though, the opponent usually begins searching as little as possible, even neglecting to resolve Path to Exile searches. Field of Ruin adds a bit of inevitability to the search and lets Archive Trap not be a dead card (if the opponent refuses to search otherwise). Archive Trap can be cast for 5-mana, sure, but that’s not where we want to be.
- Can’t mill the opponent due to an Eldrazi titan in their deck? (ie. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn shuffle ability) NO PROBLEM! Whenever the titan in question hits the graveyard, with the ability on the stack you can Surgical Extraction or Extirpate the card! The shuffle will still happen but thankfully, not perpetually.
Thanks for dropping by! That’s it for this week on The Modern Rogue Report. For a more in depth look into UB Mill, consult this primer (a source for some of the points in this article).
Ever played mill before? What were some of your favourite cards to use? Are there any that I’ve missed here?
Don’t be afraid to like/share/comment below, I’d love to hear all of your mill stories, and/or suggestions and questions.
A big shout out goes to friends Justin F. for discussing some light card applications, Jade M. for the half-decent reason to play Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver and Jordan G. for the inspiration, and always having fun with mill no matter how it did.
Maybe next week we’ll be cracking some earth, maybe we’ll do our best impression of Will Ferrell in ELF; who knows?
Catch you next time!