March 1, 2018

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Adventures in Standard: Trying to Make Mill Work

Picture this, if you will: me and a friend from my playgroup are sitting around at work during downtime, discussing Magic around the time we were seeing spoilers for Amonkhet come around. We get to talking about what our predictions for the set would be like, and I focus in on a little card called Compelling Argument. It’s not often that you see a cheap mill spell coming around. We both had the exact same idea to make a competent mill deck. However, this proved a lot more challenge than I had initially expected.

With tons of cards like Winds of Rebuke, Ipnu Rivulet, Compelling Argument and Fraying Sanity in the same block, one would think that mill would have been a huge thing. There was just one problem, every deck archetype that succeeds in Standard has one or two cards that helps it win matches. In this rotation and the last, that card for mill either had too high of a CMC, or just wasn’t reliable enough to make it consistently awesome.

Add in the fact that cards like Commit // Memory exist to combat mill directly, and suddenly it doesn’t look like such a good idea. However, Scavenger Grounds helped compete with that and between your typical control spells and dedicated mill spells, things went well for a while.

Then the last rotation happened and one of the bigger win conditions of mill, Startled Awake, was replaced with Fleet Swallower. Suddenly mill got a lot slower and less reliable. You also lost out on brilliant control pieces like Engulf the Shore and plenty of other flavour cards. It went from being a fun deck that you could surprise your opponent with at an FNM with to something that wasn’t really worth playing at all. It wasn’t even that functional in casual play unless you were playing against a really awful deck.

However, I am not one to back down from a challenge. Mill in Standard never really had its day in the sun when I had a chance to play it, and it was something I had put a lot of time into trying to build. Fast forward to the present day, and we see a return to my struggle to create a coherent and somewhat successful mill deck that’s Standard legal.

Everything’s Coming Up Mill-House

Artifact (4)
Abandoned Sarcophagus
Dowsing Dagger

Creature (11)
Fleet Swallower
Mist-Cloaked Herald
Siren Stormtamer
Slither Blade

Enchantment (10)
Curious Obsession
Navigator’s Ruin
Fraying Sanity

Instant (7)
Admiral’s Order
Negate

Sorcery (6)
Compelling Argument
River’s Rebuke

Land (22)
Ipnu Rivulet
16 Island
Scavenger Grounds

This version of the deck is probably the most finite and coherent version I’ve come up with since last rotation.

What you’re looking at here is pretty straightforward. You want to use one of your unblockable creatures to flip Dowsing Dagger and hard cast Fleet Swallower as soon as possible. The hope is that you already have at least one Fraying Sanity on the board by then. Then if all goes to plan, you should be able to make short work of your opponent.

Of course, if that doesn’t work, you have enough control to go long using Abandoned Sarcophagus to cast and recast Compelling Argument. This is while Fraying Sanity is on the board so you can use the Raid ability of Navigator’s Ruin to assist. You can win somewhat reliably on turn five with Swallower, but the longer secondary route is a lot more fun, especially in casual matches.

As always, Scavenger Grounds is there to protect you from a player shuffling their graveyard into their library and is slotted in as opposed to, say, something like Sentinel Totem due to the fact that Grounds has a lot more utility across the board and can be laid out for nothing as a land, something that almost always takes people by surprise in my local meta.

This deck isn’t 100% competitive, especially in a format where tribal creatures are extremely viable and wide board states are terribly common. However, if you play your cards right, you could take a few FNMs by surprise.

I don’t know what I’ll do once the new rotation hits later this year though. Hopefully the Core Set brings in some pieces that set this off and gives continued hope that mill will be strong in the months to come.