I consider myself a seasoned player of mill strategies, so let me start this off by getting one thing out of the way: Mill is not an amazing deck. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the archetype, but I understand that it is by no means on the level of something like Jund, or Humans. The key to winning with a deck like Mill is knowing the meta and understanding the decks. Much like how Lantern Control needs to know their opponent’s deck, we need to have a similar familiarity. Knowing what you’re up against can give you the edges needed to win, and when playing Mill you generally will need every percentage point you can get.
There are many ways to build mill in Modern. Most of the deck’s construction comes down to player preference. The first thing we generally need to decide is if you want to be Blue-Black (UB), or Esper (WUB). Mono-Blue is also a consideration, but suboptimal, and should only be considered for budget reasons. Luckily for mill, some matchups are favorable enough that you can still win with a less than stellar build.
First, I’ll show an example of an Esper build, then a budgetized Mono-U build, and then I’ll close it out with my current build. However, before I get into the tuned lists, I want to cover some cards that aren’t quite good enough for Modern, or have been less than effective.
The “Not Quite There” Cards
I’ll start with a fresh card, Patient Rebuilding, which also helps to illustrate a few important points about this style of deck. First, Wizards of the Coast is not afraid to print mill cards, which bodes very well for the archetype. None have been really “pushed”, but the reality of the situation is that one really good card might be all we need. Now, back to Patient Rebuilding—we cannot have a 5 drop enchantment that doesn’t affect the board the turn it is cast. The effect is really neat, but the rate (three cards) is very minimum. 1.5/10
Altar of the Brood is where I think some players get confused. A Mill deck is not a combo deck, but a combo deck can be a Mill deck. Think of Mill as a burn deck that targets a library, and Altar of the Brood is like putting Grapeshot in a Burn deck. There is a convoluted infinite combo that involves this and bouncing a creature as many times as you’d like. The issue is that this belongs in a combo deck, and not a mill deck. 2.5/10
Sphinx’s Tutelage is arguably one of the most playable Mill cards printed in some time. The difficulty with this card is that it suffers a similar problem as Altar of the Brood—this belongs in a combo or control deck as the finisher. On its own, in a mill deck, it really only provides supplemental support, depending on the matchup. However, when coupled with card draw, this enchantment can quickly win a game. With all that being said, you can still get lucky and mill a high rate for a small investment. I wouldn’t put this in my Mill deck, but I can see a time and place for it. 4/10
A classic—Traumatize. It’s the poster child for Mill, as it’s the biggest, flashiest Mill card ever printed. This card is horrible in Modern. Five mana is too much for this sorcery and it won’t take long to figure that out. Here’s a quick comparison: If you’re on the play, and you don’t mill a single card and your opponent only draws one card a turn, on your turn 5, Traumatize will mill 25 cards. That is the absolute best this card can do in Modern. The less cards that are in a library, the worse Traumatize is. This belongs in Commander, not Modern. 1.5/10
In limted formats, Jace, Memory Adept is an absolute bomb. Milling 10 out of 40 cards deck for a 0 ability is lights out, not to mention his +1 is solid. Unfortunately, Modern is much different. While this will effect the game when you cast it, paying five mana for a planeswalker that can’t protect itself, in a mill deck, is a death sentence. Throw it in your casual deck, planeswalkers are fun. 1/10
Both Jace’s Erasure and Psychic Corrosion fall into the same group of Mill cards that don’t really fit in a Mill deck. Make no mistake, they are both perfectly medium Mill cards, but medium doesn’t quite cut it. Jace’s Erasure gets a bit of an upgrade with Psychic Corrosion. It mills one additional card, plus it doesn’t target your opponents. I could see it (Psychic Corrosion) being a control finisher over being in a Modern Mill deck. For Standard, it’s much better, but still probably not good enough to make the archetype playable. 4.5/10
3 Darkslick Shores
2 Drowned Catacomb
2 Field of Ruin
1 Flooded Strand
1 Godless Shrine
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Oboro, Palace in the Clouds
4 Polluted Delta
1 Watery Grave
4 Hedron Crab
4 Archive Trap
2 Crypt Incursion
3 Fatal Push
4 Fraying Sanity
4 Glimpse the Unthinkable
4 Path to Exile
3 Surgical Extraction
4 Visions of Beyond
3 Ensnaring Bridge
4 Mesmeric Orb
2 Crypt Incursion
1 Engineered Explosives
2 Pithing Needle
3 Rest in Peace
2 Stony Silence
1 Supreme Verdict
Going white gives access to some powerful cards for this list. Four Path to Exile provides a bit of reach that UB or Mono-U can’t achieve. Out of the sideboard, Supreme Verdict, Stony Silence, Rest in Peace and Fragmentize stand out, but you’re not just limited to commonly played white sideboard cards. The white splash isn’t free, however, as this particular list runs a Godless Shrine and Plains, which are virtually worthless lands on their own. The money spells you want to cast in mill almost always cost U, so running a third color does have some sacrifices. All that being said, Esper is a perfectly reasonable choice when building Mill.
Mono Blue Budget Mill
4 Ghost Quarter
2 Shelldock Isle
4 Hedron Crab
4 Manic Scribe
4 Mind Sculpt
3 Fraying Sanity
4 Vapor Snag
4 Tome Scour
4 Thought Scour
1 Engulf the Shore
2 Winds of Rebuke
4 Compelling Argument
2 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Entrancing Melody
4 Jace’s Phantasm
2 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Spell Pierce
1 Engulf the Shore
1 Torpor Orb
2 Sun Droplet
This is a budget list I put together, and it’s been surprisingly fun and competitive. It’s a great way to get into Modern and you may even win some games. When you’re playing budget, you tend to run into creature heavy strategies or decks that really can’t do much interacting. I’d recommend playing something like this before moving into the more expensive decks as a way to gauge your interest. The sideboard can be catered towards whatever you expect to play against, as most FNM-style Modern events won’t be 100-percent tier one decks. This list is just over $50, but realistically, you can probably score most of these cards for next to nothing.
U/B Mill by Jeremy Lichtenberger
2 Flooded Strand
1 Oboro, Palace in the Clouds
4 Polluted Delta
2 Shelldock Isle
2 Watery Grave
4 Field of Ruin
1 Darkslick Shores
4 Hedron Crab
2 Manic Scribe
4 Archive Trap
4 Fatal Push
4 Glimpse the Unthinkable
4 Mesmeric Orb
2 Surgical Extraction
4 Visions of Beyond
2 Trapmaker’s Snare
2 Crypt Incursion
1 Echoing Truth
1 Fraying Sanity
1 Mind Funeral
2 Ensnaring Bridge
4 Mesmeric Orb
1 Mindbreak Trap
1 Ravenous Trap
1 Set Adrift
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Surgical Extraction
1 Profane Memento
1 Hurkyl’s Recall
1 Echoing Truth
1 Sorcerous Spyglass
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
Now we’re talking. This is the list I played in SCG Minneapolis and my deck tech with Nick Miller was featured here.
The reason I choose U/B over Esper or Mono-U is purely preference. This list fits my play style and I feel the most comfortable playing it against a large, open field. There’s a stark contrast between my list and other lists, as you’ll notice it’s not a consistent slew of 4-ofs. This is due to the amount of times I’ve played it and how I try to specifically tune my 75 towards the current meta, which changes often. I’ll go over each selection so you’ll have a good idea of my thought process behind each card. The primary purpose of playing this list and this deck is to mill my opponents as fast and efficiently as possible—I want to exist between the realm of combo and controlling mill decks.
Much like burn, sometimes we have to trade life points to advance our strategy. Fetchlands provide a key resource when we have Hedron Crab out. I prefer a bit of a basic heavy list due to running the full set of Field of Ruin, and being able to fetch for a basic sometimes can be the difference between winning and losing. Field of Ruin changed the game—previous lists used Ghost Quarter, and more often than not I was using them on myself. Now, not only do we get to trigger Hedron Crab with additional landfall, but we force our opponent to search while attacking their mana base. It’s the best of all worlds! Field is only dead against decks that play basics, but most decks should have a target or two.
Shelldock Isle gives us extra reach against discard or counter spell decks. It allows us to hide cards for later, often times being the card you need to close a game out. Since these come into play tapped, I prefer to only run two copies. Keeping track of your opponent’s library is your responsibility, so make sure they have 20 or less before you activate this. Oboro, Palace in the Clouds gives the deck a guaranteed land drop to trigger Hedron Crabs. If you’re budget conscious, you can turn this into basic Island, but I assure you, Oboro can and will pull its weight in longer games.
Darkslick Shores is more of a personal preference, from my experience. I only run one, but I’ve seen people run a full playset. I try to keep my 75 low to the ground and playing two spells on turn four is very important to me. Darkslick Shores can be great early, but backbreaking later. I recommend starting with three copies and adjusting from there.
Hedron Crab is THE mill creature. It’s about the only card that can be found in any mill list. It’s the Lightning Bolt of any mill deck, except it is recursive. It doesn’t block very well, and eats otherwise dead removal, but there’s no reason to ever go without it. I run four and everyone should. Always.
Manic Scribe doesn’t find its way to most mill lists, but I’m still partial to it. The 0/3 body is a much better blocker, as there are many two power attackers in Modern. It’s also another recursive mill source once delirium is enabled. Scribe doesn’t mill a ton, like our other spells, but it’s a multipurpose card that also gets around Leyline of Sanctity. My primary reason for running any right now is that creature heavy strategies have started to become more prevalent and I like having a way to get around Leyline. Sometimes it’s just a two mana blocker that mills three, but since my list is aiming to be fast, I may only need one turn.
I’m partial to Jace’s Phantasm, but don’t have room for it at the moment. It also doesn’t work well with Ensnaring Bridge I’ve been working on trying to fit it back in, but I generally bring it in when I feel that it will perform well. The 5/5 flying blocker/attacker can stonewall an assault or close a game out before you can mill them out. What I’ve run into lately is that a single 5/5 flyer is often not enough to make a difference vs these decks that go wide, very fast (Humans, Hollow One, Elves, etc.) It’s 100% up to the player, as if you feel you can succeed with Jace’s Phantasm, throw them in.
Snapcaster Mage generally plays very well in a mill deck. Being able to rebuy spells cannot be understated when your spells are extremely powerful. The reason I don’t run any is mainly due to my focus on casting trap cards. Some of my older lists had Snapcaster, but when Field of Ruin was printed, I shifted to relying on Archive Trap to do the heavy lifting. Again, it comes down to personal preference and you can easily run 2x Snapcaster in place of my 2x Manic Scribe.
As I mentioned in the last paragraph, Archive Trap is the reason we’re here. Many decks in Modern search their deck often, and having a free spell that hits for 13 cards is massive. Combined with Field of Ruin, we have a backbreaking synergy that oftentimes includes Hedron Crab. Field on turn three with one Archive Trap in hand not only mills six via Crab and makes our opponent search, but also restricts our opponents mana while giving us another land to cast spells with. Archive Trap used to be a dead card vs decks like Humans or Affinity, but thanks to Field of Ruin, it’s never dead. Verses mono color decks, it is pretty hard to get fired off, but those decks are few and far between.
To go along with our 4 copies of Archive trap, we have 2x Trapmaker’s Snare. It’s a very underplayed card, but I am a firm believer in it. Not only does it act as copies five and six of Archive Trap, but it’s a two mana tutor for the traps that come out of the sideboard. Your opponent doesn’t have to search in order to fire this off and find an Archive Trap. You can preemptively grab a trap and use it later. You might notice that not many Mill players utilize Trapmaker’s Snare, and that’s fine. The beauty of Mill is that it’s an archetype, not a deck, so you can play with what fits your style and/or meta.
Not much to say about Glimpse the Unthinkable. 10 cards for 2 mana is the best face value rate of any mill card (this includes you, Traumatize.) It’s the Boros Charm of Mill. Now that it has been reprinted, it drastically decreased the overall value of buying a playset.
I have a love/hate relationship with Mind Funeral. Pros: It can mill the most cards per spell in the deck. I’ve hit as much as 28 cards in one cast. It also costs three mana, so it gives you another mill spell to cast if your opponent has a Chalice on two or Spell Snare. Cons: I can mill the least of any of your spells. I’ve hit as few as six. Additionally, it costs three mana, which can clog your hand if you have Ensnaring Bridge and other cards in hand. It can be fun to cast, but I find myself disappointed about one in three times I cast it. You have to look at land density of an opposing deck to make the determination. Decks that run around 20 lands generally mill around 12 cards on average. Decks like Jund or Control that have 24+ lands are on the lower end of the spectrum, coming in averaging around eight cards per cast. All in all, it’s up to you how many you run. There are times when I consider Breaking//Entering over Mind Funeral, but Mind Funeral can sometimes be that longshot card that you need to win.
Breaking//Entering is a budget version of Glimpse the Unthinkable, and it’s really not that far off. The only real down side is that it mills 2 less than Glimpse. I wouldn’t bother trying to figure out if it’s possible to find a red source to cast both halves of the card, as that’s just digging too deep.
Visions of Beyond is, at worst, a cantrip. In a pinch, it cycles for a new card when you really need to find something fast. However, when you mill your opponent, this becomes Ancestral Recall. Being able to Field your opponent, Trap them and find a basic Island to Ancestral, it quickly becomes an unfair advantage. I have no desire to cut any of these, but personal preference will dictate if others want them and in the same amount.
Fatal Push is an absolutely necessary card in Modern. There are a ton of juicy targets for Push and it takes up very little real estate in the deck. I’ve experimented with other removal spells like Go for the Throat, Cast Down and Dismember. I’ve also gone down to 2 copies of Push in order to be a more mill heavy deck, but I found that this deck needs some level of early interaction in the form of creature removal.
Crypt Incursion fluctuates between main and sideboard for me, depending on the meta when I’m registering. If I anticipate a heavy amount of creatures, I go up to 2 in the main, but usually not more than 2 in the 75. The first Crypt Incursion is great. The second is usually not needed.
Artifacts, Enchantments and Planeswalkers
Mesmeric Orb is one of the most powerful cards Mill has access to, but it can also be fairly lackluster, given the matchup. It’s a consistent mill engine that can’t usually be blown up game one. It’s very powerful verses control decks, but is also great against green based or creature decks. It also turns on delirium very quickly if you’re playing Manic Scribe.
One of the ways that a Mill deck can survive long enough to win is by including a powerful prison effect. Ensnaring Bridge is one of the least fun decks in Modern, but it exists. There are other decks in Modern that run Bridge, so it is a known quantity. Personally, I try not to lean too heavily on it, so I generally only run two copies in the 75. If you run the full four, you might suffer from a hand full of cards and your bridge might become ineffective. Still, some decks absolutely cannot beat a resolved Bridge game one, so use that to your advantage.
Fraying Sanity is weird. On the surface, it’s a win-more card that doesn’t actually do anything on its own. Coupled with mill spells, it becomes an insane card doubling machine. It pairs very well with Archive Trap, as you can play Fraying Sanity on turn three and still be able to play your Traps. The downside, in my experience, is that it needs other cards to succeed and it costs three mana. It can be difficult to free your hand if you’re holding this, Ensnaring Bridge, Mind Funeral and other cards. I’m currently on one copy and it feels just about perfect for my 75.
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Ashiok. In my U/B Processors deck, I feature 3x in the mainboard. While it may seem that Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver would be a great fit in Mill, sadly I haven’t had success with it. That doesn’t mean it can’t be included in the 75, as Ashiok does well against Control decks, but I found that the games I would want Ashiok were games I was already favored in.
Gameplay, practice and mastering Mill
While Mill seems like it wouldn’t be that interactive, it’s one of the least goldfishable (is that a word) decks in Modern. Trap is dependent upon your opponent, Push can be live or dead, Mesmeric Orb is dependent on tapped cards, Mind Funeral needs an actual deck to hit, etc. The only real way to get good is to play games. Lots and lots of games. The unfortunate part about needing reps is that you have to either find friends that are ok playing against Mill over and over, or play in events. Bringing it to your local game store and playing everyone that will say yes is a great start. As I have reiterated, Mill is an archetype, not a deck. There is no one list that everyone plays, but rather a 75 catered to your playstyle and meta. It’s important to play often and adjust accordingly in order to give yourself the best chance of winning.
You have to know what you’re up against if you want to master Mill, and the best way to figure out your path to victory is knowing what you’re going to run into. I’ve compiled a ‘short’ list of decks you can reasonably expect to run into during any given event. FNM or casual will be different as you will run into more random, low power decks. I recommend not just reading my sideboard guide, but more importantly understanding why specific cards come in or out. That way, you can make your own determinations. “Mill a person, they will mill cards for a game. Teach a person to mill and they will mill for life.”
Sideboarding with Mill is where we hopefully gain percentage points over most decks, because most decks don’t have a plan for Mill. Modern is extremely diverse right now, so for some matchups you might just have to use your best judgement. The downside of playing Mill is that you really have to keep up with the meta and adjust your 75 accordingly. With that said, here’s how I sideboard in some of the common matchups and how I view the matchup as a whole.
Humans: Difficulty 7/10 Post board 6.5/10
Humans does everything very well, and it seems like anytime you think you have a game plan, they quickly ruin it. The only cards we actually care about are Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Kitesail Freebooter and Meddling Mage. The rest serve to really just beat us down. Fatal Push is one of the strongest cards in the matchup, but Ensnaring Bridge pulls its weight as well. The problem usually is trying to land a bridge on turn 3, as they always have one of the above 3 cards to stop you or slow you from casting it. Humans also doesn’t search their library, meaning Field of Ruin is the only way to enable Trap. Fortunately, their mana base has a single basic plains (depending on the variant,) so it’s possible to choke them on mana, somewhat. Depending on how many Crypt Incursions you have in the main, you might be able to squeak out a win game 1, but it’s not the easiest matchup.
Cards In: Echoing Truth, Damnation, Engineered Explosives, Crypt Incursion, Profane Momento
Cards Out: Surgical Extraction x2, Fraying Sanity, Trapmaker’s Snare x2.
Your sideboard may vary from mine, and in fact my sideboard varies on a weekly basis, but here’s my general game plan. Surgical’s are bad in matchups with redundancies. Sure, you might hit a Meddling Mage and then Surgical it, but they will just smack you with something else. Fraying Sanity comes out in matchups where speed is key and your opponent isn’t actively searching. Pithing Needle is only for Vial, but it can be worth the slot. If you have Profane Momento, this is the perfect deck to for it. Again, Trapmaker’s Snare (in this build) aren’t optimal due to a lack of searching.
Jeskai Control: 5/10 Post board 4/10
This is a very winnable matchup. Jeskai control is the best control deck right now, and mill typically has a great control matchup. The sideboarding here is similar to facing U/W or U/B control. The only cards we care about are Snapcaster Mage, Logic Knot and their burn spells. Their only win cons are Snapcaster, Colonnade and burn spells, of which they have around 22 points of damage in total. Mesmeric Orb is big game here and resolving one is your top priority. A resolved Orb is only dealt with by a Cryptic Command. These decks recently adapted Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and while it can temporarily stop an Orb, we don’t care too much about him. They also fetch fairly often and our Field of Ruin can eliminate one of their 3 win cons in Celestial Colonnade. Post board they may have a few more counterspells and wear tear, but we bring much more to the table.
Cards In: Dispel x3, Grafdigger’s Cage, Pithing Needle, Negate.
Cards Out: Ensnaring Bridge x2, Crypt Incursion x2, Fatal Push x2
Bridge is an obvious cut as the only beat downs they serve are from a 2/1 and sometimes a 4/4 land. Crypt Incursion is bad for the same reason, as they only have four creatures in total. 6+ if they run Clique. Clique is the main reason to keep 2x copies of Push in the deck, as it presents a fairly fast clock and lands early. My sideboard is heavy on Dispel for the burn matchup and here it serves to blank counterspells and burn. Needle (or Spyglass) means whichever walker they happen to be running won’t be doing anything relevant. The only reason this matchup is a 5 out of 10 and not lower is that it’s possible to get burned out randomly if you’re not careful.
Burn: 8.5/10 Post board 5.5/10
If you’re playing in a paper event, you can almost always bet that you’ll be facing Burn at least once in the weekend. This matchup is a sheer race and who gets to be on the play usually has the advantage. Since their deck is mostly redundant burn spells, the only cards we really care about are Eidolon of the Great Revel and Searing Blaze. Burn does fetch very often, so traps are great in the matchup. Eidolon on the board means that we will probably lose the race unless we happen to get a few Archive Traps and Hedron Crab triggers. The light at the end of the tunnel is that our sideboard is well equipped for the fight.
Cards In: Dispel x3, Negate, Profane Momento, Crypt Incursion
Cards Out: Surgical Extraction x2, Ensnaring Bridge x2, Fraying Sanity, Trapmaker’s Snare
Now we’re talking. Profane Momento can gain us vital life points very early in the game, which will buy turn after turn. The counterspells will blank their weight in damage with ease and the additional Crypt Incursion will carry us across the finish line. It’s notable that some Burn players are aware of our lifegain, so do your best to play around Skullcrack. The single copy of Trapmaker’s Snare comes out to make way for vital cards and because they run Eidolon, it’s not always efficient to Snare into Trap. Manic Scribe isn’t in many player’s decks, but here it shines. Granted it’s another target for Searing Blaze, but it blocks 2 power creatures all day. Game one usually feels unwinnable, but after you sideboard, you should be well equipped to knock out the burn player sitting across from you.
Affinity: 8/10 Post board 6.5/10
Affinity is another one of those decks you can expect to run into at a paper event. Unfortunately we’re at the mercy of the opening 7 for both decks. Affinity doesn’t search, which means we have to wait for Fields to come online, and that could be the end of the game if you don’t have any interaction. Individually, we don’t care about anything in their deck, as they all serve to kill us. Fatal Push, Crypt Incursion and Echoing Truth are our only interactions that can buy us time. If your opponent has a slower hand and you’re on the play, you have a decent chance of victory. Post board we get some tools to fight and, as usual, our opponents really don’t have much.
Cards In: Engineered Explosives, Hurkyl’s Recall, Damnation, Crypt Incursion, Profane Momento x2, Pithing Needle
Cards Out: Surgical Extraction x2, Trapmaker’s Snare x2, Archive Trap x2, Ensnaring Bridge
We bring in an army of cards to send the robots back to whatever time they came from. We operate on the assumption that our opponent won’t search and we won’t get time to make them search, so both Snares and 2x Trap come out. Having one is still handy for Shelldock Isle, a late game hard cast or if we Field them. Surgicals are bad because this is a hyper redundant deck, and while Cranial Plating and Ravager are powerful, we can still lose to Signal Pest beats. One Bridge will suffice since most of the time they can attack under it. Occasionally Bridge stops plating creatures or a team with +1/+1 counters. EE on 0, 1 or 2 can be great. Hurkyl’s Recall is best served warm, meaning at the end of your opponents turn. Especially if they fired up creature lands. Sure, we take some damage, but we set them back two or more turns. Needle or Spyglass can shutdown whatever threat is most imminent and the rest is up to you. It’s a fairly difficult matchup, but also opening 7 dependent.
Jund: 6.5/10 Post Board 6/10
Jund does everything well and has an answer for many of our problematic cards. Tarmogoyf is often massive on turn two, and can very easily close a game out. They also pack hand disruption which can be annoying. On top of all of that, they have Kolaghan’s Command, Abrupt Decay and Malestrom Pulse to deal with Ensnaring Bridge. Don’t be scared though, because Mill has an added advantage vs 3+ color decks: punishing the mana. Jund searches often and is susceptible to Field of Ruin, so keep an eye on your opponent’s graveyard. They might be close to being off of one color completely without you knowing it. These matchups are a slugfest and often game 1 comes down to a single turn for either side.
Cards In: Damnation
Cards Out: Cyrpt Incursion
As you can see, I board very lightly for the matchup. There isn’t much I really want to bring in here. If I’m running Spell Pierce, this is a great matchup for it. Damnation answers creature heavy starts and Crypt Incursion often isn’t enough to save you from the onslaught. More experienced Mill players will edge out an extra point, while less experienced players might find themselves losing the matchup about 55% of the time.
Tron: 2.5/10 Post Board 1/10
I can’t overstate this matchup enough. You will win. For comparison awhile back, I tracked 100 matches on MTGO with Mill. Of my 28 matches vs Tron, I lost 2 single games. You can win through a turn 3 Karn, Turn 4 Ugin. With that said, don’t play foolishly because you know you’ll win. You might just punt the game away. The only truly relevant cards in this matchup are Tron lands. On top of Tron searching very often, we have 4 Field of Ruin and the 2 Surgical Extractions easily close things out. Mill as fast as possible while looking to take them off Tron and game one will be yours.
Cards In: Pithing Needle, Surgical Extraction, Negate, Set Adrift, Mindbreak Trap.
Cards Out: Fatal Push x3, Crypt Incursion x2
Here we trim the fat slightly in Fatal Push and Crypt Incursion. The only reason to keep any amounts of Push in is your opponent will probably have Thought-Knot Seer. Mindbreak Trap isn’t even that good in this matchup, but it’s better than Push or Crypt Incursion, so it gets to party too. If you absolutely hate Tron, this matchup will leave you warm and fuzzy!
Valakut/Scapeshift: 2/10 Post board 1.5/10
This is another run away match that can sometimes feel more winnable than Tron. Every mountain that gets milled is one less to trigger Valakut, and often the only way they can kill you is with Primevil Titan beats. Play this similar to Tron and remember they have a limited amount of green sources.
Cards In: Negate, Surgical Extraction, Damnation, Set Adrift
Cards Out: Fatal Push x4
Push is all but dead unless they are a Bloodbraid version, in which case you might want a few copies. The name of the game is still to mill quickly. You want to get to the point that, even if your opponent can Scapeshift, they won’t have enough mountains to kill you. Aim your Surgicals at Prime time, Valakut and Bloodbraid, if they have it. Post board they might have Thragtusk as well, but you shouldn’t be too concerned with that. This is yet another ultra-favorable matchup that is very hard to lose.
Storm: 9/10 Post board 6/10
Short of facing a deck that has Emmy mainboard, Storm is about as tough as it gets game one, and that’s all thanks to one card: Past in Flames. Mill basically fuels Storm’s graveyard extremely fast. So fast, that you could die turn two if you milled over a Past in Flames. This matchup would be nearly unwinnable game one if it weren’t for Surgical Extraction. The key to winning game one is first identifying that you’re playing against Storm before you do any serious Milling. Once you’ve identified that you’re facing Storm, you have two options. Option 1, do very, very little and hope to draw a Surgical, then try to nail Grapeshot before you lose. Option 2, mill as fast as possible and cross your fingers. Without Surgical, neither of these options are great.
Cards In: Mindbreak Trap, Surgical Extraction, Engineered Explosives, Ravenous Trap, Negate, Dispel x3, Grafdigger’s Cage
Cards Out: Ensnaring Bridge x2, Crypt Incursion x2, Archive Trap x3, Manic Scribe x2
As expected with such a bad matchup, a ton of cards come in. Bridge is useless here and Crypt Incursion will only gain you a few life points. Unless your opponent is on Fetch Storm, they won’t be searching their library. In addition, I’ve found myself not casting Archive Trap due to the fact that I wasn’t ready to mill my opponent yet. Manic Scribe is mostly lackluster here and needs to come out to make room. This is where our Trapmaker’s Snare pull double duty. They can fetch both Ravenous Trap and Mindbreak trap, which in turn cannot be answered by Storm. Their only counterspells return the spell to your hand, and our traps cost us 0. Often your opponent will let a Trapmaker’s Snare resolve, thinking you’re going to get an Archive Trap. The game plan games two and three is to control the pace of the game and pick your fights. You have to have knowledge of how Storm operates in order to effectively fight them. Surgical Grapeshot and/or Empty the Warrens and the game is over. Engineered Explosives is just in case you need to take out a bunch of goblins or even a few mana reducers. With practice, you’ll find yourself beating storm about as often as they beat you. Sometimes more frequently!
Bogles: 6.5/10 post board 6/10
Bogles, or GW Hexproof has started to come back into the spotlight, so it’s worth noting a few things regarding the matchup. First and foremost, some versions run the full four Leyline of Sanctity in the main board. If that’s the case, the percentage drops a fair amount. Ensnaring Bridge is a key card to winning pre-sideboard, as is Mesmeric Orb and Manic Scribe. This is a matchup where Scribe pulls his weight. The only way around Leyline is to bounce it with our single copy of Echoing Truth, or to mill around it with Mesmeric Orb and Manic Scribe. It all comes down to if they open with pre-game effects or not.
Cards In: Set Adrift, Engineered Explosives, Damnation, Negate
Cards Out: Fatal Push x2, Surgical Extraction x2
Post board we don’t gain a huge advantage, but we do get some game. Two copies of Push stay in to combat Kor Spiritdancer, but the other two and Surgical have to go. Set Adrift takes care of Leyline swiftly, while Engineered Explosives decimates the board. Negate is great for problematic cards or if your opponent is set to hard cast a Leyline. Much like game one, post board we have to hope to dodge Leyline, then keep on task milling efficiently.
Mardu Pyromancer: 6.5/10 Post Board 5.5/10
Mardu Pyromancer has quickly risen to the top of the meta as far as power level. It’s a strong deck that packs a surprise: Blood Moon. If you aren’t mindful during game one, you might find yourself soft locked out due to Blood Moon. They also play at least three copies of Kolaghan’s Command, and that card is a headache. If that wasn’t enough to worry about, we stock their graveyard with Lingering Souls and Faithless Looting and power out Bedlam Reveler’s fast. Fortunately, your opponent may have to make tough decisions as to when to cast that Reveler. Something we have going for us is how many tokens these decks pump out. Tokens are great mill fodder when it comes to Mesmeric Orb. The only reason I rated this matchup as a 6.5 is because of Blood Moon. Without it, it’s closer to a 5.
Cards In: Engineered Explosives, Negate, Damnation, Surgical Extraction
Cards Out: Crypt Incursion x2, Ensnaring Bridge x2
Bridge comes out because most of their attackers are 1 power, and Crypt Incursion is lackluster due to a grand total of 8 creatures in their deck. EE does a great job cleaning up tokens here, but it can be tricky to dodge both discard spells and K Command. I bring in the third copy of Surgical to fight their win cons. While Mardu Pyro is a strong deck, it leans very heavily on Bedlam Reveler and Young Pyromancer. If you take those out, their advances slow to a crawl. Also be mindful that some versions run up to three copies of Kambal, Consul of Allocation. He can be pretty annoying and his damage adds up quickly.
Hollow One: 3-9/10 Post board 6/10
Hollow One is one of the most random, occasionally annoying decks you’ll play. Sometimes they have it all and you die before you get to do much. With a full four copies of Gurmag Angler, you can assume that they will be casting it for B as soon as turn 2. Mill also fills their graveyard with Bloodghast and Flamewake Phoenix, which are all too happy to be sent there. Our power to fight and win this matchup rely on Ensnaring Bridge and Crypt Incursion. Hollow One cannot kill a Bridge game one, so if you land it and keep your hand low, you won’t be taking big hits. Crypt Incursion can gain massive chunks of life and exile problematic cards. Surgical Extraction as does well, depending on where you aim it. Where I point mine depends entirely on how the game is going, what’s in the yard and what’s in play.
Cards In: Grafdigger’s Cage, Surgical Extraction, Damnation, Negate, Ravenous Trap
Cards Out: Fraying Sanity, Mind Funeral, Archive Trap x2, Fatal Push
Sideboarding is a delicate balance vs Hollow One. The aim is to cut the top end of the curve so you have an easier time dumping your hand. Granted Archive Trap costs 0 when they search, sometimes it might sit in your hand for a few turns. Grafdigger’s Cage stops all the recursion, so you can gain some breathing space and enact your plans. Ravenous Trap is usually for turns where a large amount of cards hit the bin, and you will definitely be taking a ton of damage via Bloodghasts/Phoenix. All in all, this is a winnable matchup if your opponent has openers that aren’t insane.
There are plenty of other decks I didn’t cover, but hopefully this will help guide players in the right direction when it comes to sideboarding with Mill. As I’ve said before, the sideboard changes for nearly every event, so it’s important to understand why certain cards come in.
Looking forward and Final Thoughts
Wizards announced that we would be returning to Ravnica again, and with that, I suspect the return of Dimir. Dimir gave us many powerful mill effects and I hope that they will not disappoint us. Wizards has also shown us that they aren’t afraid to pump out mill cards (Fraying Sanity, Manic Scribe, Startled Awake, etc) so maybe we will finally get the needed cards to push Mill into a serious contender.
Mill isn’t a deck for everyone. It has a very obvious weakness, but that weakness can quickly transition to a win if you play correctly. Mill isn’t a great deck in the grand scheme of things, but neither was Skred, and that won a 2,016 person GP. Mill players don’t play it because it’s the best deck in the format, they play it because it’s their favorite deck in the format. With practice, fine tuning and studying the meta, anyone can pilot a 75 of mill based cards to victory!
Jeremy Lichtneberger has been playing Magic since the mid 90s. He loves to brew in all formats – especially Standard and Modern – but is more than happy to just talk decks and game theory. He also writes for MTGStocks.com.