Modern Focus: Mill

An article by    Gaming Magic the Gathering        0

”121.4. A player who attempts to draw a card from a library with no cards in it loses the game the next time a player would receive priority.” – Magic: the Gathering comprehensive rules, written by Wizards of the Coast (WotC), updated 3 July 2020.

A game of Magic: the Gathering can end for a few different reasons. While most games end when one player’s life total is reduced to 0, a game can also end when one player tries to draw from an empty deck (“library” in game terms). This is commonly referred to as being “decked” or “milled out”, the latter term being derived from the card Millstone, the earliest example of a card designed to create such a game state.

Ever since the printing of Millstone, winning via “milling” your opponent has enticed both casual players and seasoned pros. One of the earliest control decks in Magic, “The Deck”, could win via exiling its opponents’ creatures with Swords to Plowshares, reshuffling both players’ decks with Timetwister, and sitting back and waiting for its opponent to empty their now-smaller library first. Cards like Stroke of Genius, Brain Freeze, Nephalia Drownyard, and Grindstone have been centerpieces of noteworthy decks across multiple time periods and formats of Magic, all looking to run their opponents out of cards to draw. Personally, I’ve been playing Mill in Magic’s Modern format on and off ever since I got into the format in late 2013, and I still find myself coming back to the deck after all this time.

“Millstone” from Antiquities. Image credit: Kaja Foglio, Wizards of the Coast

On its surface, Modern Mill has a game plan similar to Burn, where you are trying to resolve a certain number of spells to run your opponent out of an in-game resource (life vs cards) as quickly as possible. In practice, Mill plays more like a blue-black (UB) control deck with combo and synergistic elements. You want to slow down and disrupt your opponent’s game plan, and get into a longer game where mill spells and inevitability empty out the opposing library. While a deck like Burn is focused on dealing 20 points of damage to the opponent as quickly as possible, Mill has fewer truly playable mill spells and effects, but runs more support cards than a deck like Burn to help facilitate its game plan. Many of these support cards take advantage of the fact that you are milling your opponent, so keeping the opposing graveyard well-stocked makes the rest of your deck better. A less obvious advantage of playing Mill is that it also allows you to see more of your opponent’s deck as you mill them out, and in the hands of a skilled pilot this extra information can lead to better decision-making both in-game and when sideboarding. Knowing the present metagame gives good players an advantage in competition, and this is especially true when playing Mill.

This article focuses on the Mill archetype as it exists in Modern, and on the traditional UB Mill deck. While there are a few variants of the deck in this format, they all trace their roots back to UB Mill, and understanding this baseline will help you understand these variations. Other decks in Modern and other formats can win via milling, but these are distinctly different archetypes and not my area of expertise.

Let me be up-front in saying that Mill is not a great deck in Modern. It’s probably not even a good deck, yet it has many die-hard fans who continue to practice the deck and innovate on its core concepts. This is a fine deck to play at local events like FNM, and is relatively inexpensive to purchase or rent on Magic Online. However, you’ll probably have a rough time playing this in a larger event without a good amount of practice and more than a little bit of luck.

If you’re new to Magic, I’ll be using the term “Mill” (uppercase M) to refer to this deck archetype, and variations of the term “mill” (lowercase m) to describe the act of putting cards directly from the top of a player’s library into their graveyard. While many Mill cards previously read “target player puts the top N cards of their library into their graveyard”, a recent rules update has shortened this phrase to “target player mills N cards”. Remember this last point for later.

Core

“Hedron Crab” from Zendikar. Image credit: Jesper Ejsing, Wizards of the Coast

I divide the non-land cards in Mill into three general categories: mill spells, support spells, and defensive spells. I’ll do my best to list the most commonly-played cards in each category at this point in time, though with any lower-tier deck there isn’t an established consensus on what the “best” build is. However, if you’re coming up with your own Mill list you’ll probably end up running most of these cards:

  • Mill Cards
    • Archive Trap: Thanks to the ubiquity of fetchlands and other “tutor” effects in Modern, this card can enable explosive starts and make otherwise marginal hands good. This card is an automatic 4-of, but don’t be afraid to sideboard it out against decks without a lot of searching (Humans, Prowess, Taxes etc.).
    • Glimpse the Unthinkable: Clean and efficient mill. An automatic 4-of, you will sometimes see lists running 1-2 copies of Breaking // Entering as extra copies of this card.
    • Hedron Crab: Another 4-of, this card might not look like much at first but those Landfall triggers can quickly add up. An unanswered Crab, or multiple Crabs in play at once, create a lot of milling.
    • Mesmeric Orb: A static Mill effect similar to Hedron Crab, this card is not always a 4-of but will always have a home in the deck. If you are comparing Mill to Burn this is your Eidolon of the Great Revel, in that it applies an additional cost to actions taken by your opponent.
    • There are a number of mill spells that are “on the bubble”, and are playable in the right Mill build. These include cards such as Manic Scribe, Fraying Sanity, and Mind Funeral, which can sometimes feel too underpowered, slow, or inconsistent for a deck like Mill. Feel free to play around with them, but as supplements to the stronger mill spells listed above rather than replacements.
  • Support Cards
    • Mission Briefing: This card lets you re-use instants and sorceries while also giving you some light card selection. It’s important to note that the wording on this card allows you to cast Archive Trap from your graveyard for its 0-mana alternate cost. You’ll sometimes see Snapcaster Mage played in this slot, especially in three-color Mill decks.
    • Surgical Extraction: In other decks, this card is often considered a trap for more inexperienced players. However, the nature of a Mill deck allows it to really shine. It’s obviously great to have in game 1 against combo decks, and it more generally rewards knowing your matchups and knowing which cards are the largest threats at any given point in a game. You will sometimes see Extirpate run in this slot as well or as extra copies of this effect. Some people are even beginning to experiment with Cling to Dust here, trading in combo hate for repeatable card advantage and lifegain.
    • Visions of Beyond: Remember Ancestral Recall? Landing a couple of mill effects give you a powerful way to refuel after the first few turns of the game. You’ll want to run four of these, though you shouldn’t be afraid to cast it as a cantrip if you get off to a slow start. The secret tech here is that your own graveyard also counts for its draw-3 mode. Into the Story can provide additional card draw if you want it, albeit at a higher mana cost.
    • Trapmaker’s Snare: This allows you to get an Archive Trap at the ready for any searching done by your opponent. There are “turbo Mill” varieties of the deck that want to cast as many free Archive Traps as possible, by using this card in conjunction with…
    • Scheming Symmetry: While this card is a far cry for Vampiric Tutor, a forced search for one mana can be useful in Mill, especially if it allows you to choose your next draw. You can also play fun mind games with this card and psych your opponent into tutoring up a useless card.
    • Search for Azcanta: An early card selection engine that gets even better later on, with the downside of spending mana to do nothing right away. Despite its slow nature, Search still finds its way into successful Mill lists, and you could also try Narset, Parter of Veils for a similar effect.
  • Defense
    • Crypt Incursion: This card is a great safety valve against any deck running creatures, buying you multiple turns depending on how successfully you’ve been milling them when you cast it. It’s common to run a couple of these maindeck, and keep an extra sideboard copy for more creature-heavy matchups.
    • Fatal Push: Arguably the best black removal spell in Modern, Fatal Push is particularly useful in this deck as an early answer to fast decks. There are several ways to turn on its Revolt clause as well. I advise four copies between your main deck and sideboard, though the distribution can vary depending on the meta.
    • Drown in the Loch: A newer addition to the deck, Drown in the Loch gives you flexible removal or countermagic when needed. Usually a 4-of, though if you run other similar effects feel free to go a little lower on these.
    • Ensnaring Bridge: No attacking? No problem! This mainstay of prison-style decks allow you to turtle up and mill your opponent away without worrying about combat damage. The low curve of the deck, and the fact that Hedron Crab encourages you to always play out your lands, means that you should be able to keep your hand empty to always keep Bridge on.
    • Collective Brutality: Lifegain, hand disruption, and removal in one convenient package. While this card shines against certain decks (looking at you, Burn), the limited ways in which Mill can gain card advantage makes its Escalate cost steeper than in other decks.

As far as the mana base goes, you’ll want to run a good mix of blue- and black-producing lands, as well as a number of fetchlands to enable your Hedron Crabs. Beyond those, there are a few lands that provide some additional utility to the deck that are worth considering:

  • Field of Ruin: This card combos with Hedron Crab by giving you an extra land drop, and with Archive Trap by forcing your opponent to search their library. You can also use this to disrupt the opposing game plan by taking them off of certain colors of mana, especially if they’re low or out of basic lands. Grabbing a land for yourself also means you can play a 1-mana spell such as Fatal Push or Visions of Beyond after a Field activation.
  • Shelldock Isle: This card gives you a free spell once your opponent is down to ≤ 20 cards in their library, for an extra bit of card advantage. However, Mill wants to establish some early pressure with its mill effects, so always coming into play tapped gives this land a noticeable downside.
  • Oboro, Palace in the Clouds: Provides extra synergy with Hedron Crab and Fatal Push, and can dodge generic land destruction and Island-specific hate. However, as it’s an expensive card with only marginal upside, it’s not a requirement in the deck.
  • Mystic Sanctuary: While this card is much better in other Modern decks and not commonly found in Mill, the instant- and sorcery-heavy nature of the deck means that it’s worth considering. Just be careful about using it in conjunction with Mesmeric Orb.

Options

As mentioned previously, the core of a Mill deck is a UB spells-heavy list. However, there are a few established variations on the deck that can provide additional flexibility.

  • Creature Mill: Do you like the combat step? Then consider including cards like Jace’s Phantasm, Vantress Gargoyle, or Thieves’ Guild Enforcer in your deck. These creatures become stronger once you’ve milled a few cards, and can give the deck some sorely-needed board presence on both defense and offense.
  • Sultai Mill: Splashing green in UB Mill lets you run powerful answers like Abrupt Decay, Assassin’s Trophy, and Veil of Summer. More recently, this deck has also adopted noted good cards Arcum’s Astrolabe and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath to give it great grinding ability and a back-up win condition. At least, that’s what you could play when I started working on this article, and Astrolabe has since been banned in Modern. Now running green means taking more damage from fetchlands and shocklands in a deck that already lacks ways of protecting its life total, yet the tools that green gives make this variant still worth considering in some form. Uro also continues to be nuts, and synergizes with both Hedron Crab and Mesmeric Orb.
  • Esper Mill: The main draw of a white splash is having Path to Exile as powerful and cheap removal that also synergizes with Archive Trap. You also gain access to useful UW/BW spells like Teferi, Time Raveler and Kaya’s Guile, as well as white’s traditionally strong suite of sideboard cards. The white splash was almost mandatory before the printing of Fatal Push but has since fallen off, and it comes with the usual issues of a more painful manabase.

Sideboard

Having access to blue and black mana gives you strong answers to certain types of cards and strategies, while leaving you weaker to others. This section lists sideboard cards that I have seen in Mill over the years, omitting anything already discussed in the previous sections. As always, your deck’s sideboard should be tuned to answer the metagame you are expecting to see.

  • Countermagic
    • Ceremonious Rejection: Eldrazi Tron is a tough matchup for Mill, and this card is great for slowing them down. Tagging a Chalice of the Void in particular can be vital.
    • Disdainful Stroke: Mill can struggle with removing high CMC permanents, so pack these if you need help against big mana or slower decks.
    • Force of Negation: Great for letting you tap out to cast Mill spells and still keep your defenses up, but the extra card from its alternative cost can be tough to get back. For when you feel you absolutely need to counter a non-creature spell on the opposing side.
    • Mystical Dispute: Dispute has proven itself as a powerful anti-counterspell counterspell, with the added bonus of handling other problematic blue permanents (particularly planeswalkers). Pack these if you’re expecting to see a lot of Control decks.
    • Remand: This classic tempo counterspell pairs nicely with Surgical Extraction.
    • Spell Pierce: Provides early interaction, but doesn’t deal with the early fast creatures that are good against Mill.
  • Removal
    • Aether Gust: Countermagic and removal, this handles Uro as well as the more obnoxious cards in Gruul Midrange/Ponza.
    • Damnation, Bontu’s Last Reckoning, Languish, Witch’s Vengeance, Aetherize etc.: Mill struggles when facing down multiple creatures, so being able to kill two or more creatures with one card is very important.
    • Diabolic Edict, Devour Flesh, Liliana’s Triumph: A classic out to Bogles and other decks that rely on a single kitted-out creature.
    • Dismember: A low-cost answer to larger creatures, but be careful about your life total when running this card.
    • Echoing Truth: Bounce removal with potential to tag multiple permanents. Also provides a great out to token-based strategies.
    • Eliminate: Mill has trouble dealing with resolved planeswalkers, and this card deals with the powerful two- and three-mana planeswalkers that have emerged in Modern over the last year or so.
    • Engineered Explosives: A classic catch-all answer, though better suited for a three-color Mill deck.
    • Hero’s Downfall: A no-frills answer to creatures and planeswalkers. Better suited for higher CMC cards that can’t be answered by Fatal Push or Eliminate.
    • Infernal Reckoning: Eldrazi killer, with some bonus lifegain.
    • Plague Engineer: A great answer to go-wide and tribal decks, or really any deck that you think will attack you.
    • Set Adrift: When combined with any mill effect, this is a hard answer to all non-land permanents. Mesmeric Orb and Hedron Crab are your friends when running this card.
    • Winds of Rebuke: A basic bounce spell with a little bit of mill included.
  • Graveyard Hate
    • Ashiok, Dream Render: Ashiok can mill as many as 20 cards for three mana, which is a pretty good rate, and also shuts down any tutor effects your opponent attempts to use (but does not excuse them from searching off of your Field of Ruin activations!). However, the exiling effect attached to its mill trigger powers down many of your non-mill cards, so care should be taken when running this card. If you’re not in a rush to mill your opponent out, it’s often correct to wait to cast an Ashiok until after you’re able to get value out of a Visions or Incursion.
    • Grafdigger’s Cage: A number of decks utilize their graveyard as a resource, and Cage shuts nearly all of that down. As a bonus, it stops effects like Collected Company and Chord of Calling that put creatures from a library into play! My personal favorite piece of permanent graveyard hate for Mill.
    • Leyline of the Void: For when you absolutely, positively need to keep cards out of your opponent’s graveyard. Similar to Ashiok, the price of canceling out your Drowns, Visions, and Incursions is high, so make sure you are prepared to pay it.
    • Profane Memento: While not exactly graveyard hate, this card works very well against a particular graveyard deck in Dredge, and is useful against other creature-heavy decks. Getting Memento + Orb down together against an aggro deck is a joy and a treat.
    • Ravenous Trap: A one-time graveyard wipe, you’ll often be able to cast Ravenous Trap for free. This card can also be grabbed with Trapmaker’s Snare if you’re running it.
  • Miscellaneous
    • Discard (Duress, Inquisition of Kozilek, Thoughtseize etc.): While discard is one of black’s hallmark mechanics, Mill is already favored against combo decks where post-board discard is useful. However, running 3-4 Inquisition of Kozilek against faster decks can give you extra breathing room in the early game.
    • Leyline of Sanctity: A white card in a Dimir deck? Leyline is powerful protection against burn and discard spells, which Mill can really struggle against. However, you had better be prepared to mulligan aggressively for it.
    • Torpor Orb: My personal favorite sideboard card in Modern, Torpor Orb has numerous applications. Humans, Spirits, Primeval Titan, UGx Control and “Twin”-style decks (ones involving Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker or Felidar Guardian combos) all utilize powerful “enters the battlefield” effects that are shut down by Torpor Orb. Just be careful against the “Escape Titans” (Uro and Kroxa) as this causes them to stick around when played from your opponent’s hand!
    • Unmoored Ego: This card provides an additional Surgical-style effect, with the key advantage of being able to remove cards that automatically go back into a library from a graveyard (Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, Nexus of Fate, Worldspine Wurm). While these cards aren’t as common in Modern right now, they can provide huge headaches for Mill, so remember Unmoored Ego if you expect to encounter them. Lost Legacy and Necromentia can perform a similar function.

With these cards in mind, this is the Mill list I had been playing in the first half of 2020:

Craig’s Modern Mill (Jan-Jun 2020)

Lands (22)
Bloodstained Mire
Darkslick Shores
Field of Ruin
Flooded Strand
Island
Oboro, Palace in the Clouds
Polluted Delta
Shelldock Isle
Swamp
Watery Grave

Creatures (8)
Hedron Crab
Jace’s Phantasm

Spells (30)
Archive Trap
Crypt Incursion
Drown in the Loch
Fatal Push
Glimpse the Unthinkable
Mesmeric Orb
Mission Briefing
Surgical Extraction
Visions of Beyond
Sideboard (15)
Crypt Incursion
Echoing Truth
Fatal Push
Grafdigger’s Cage
Leyline of Sanctity
Plague Engineer
Set Adrift
Surgical Extraction
Torpor Orb

The main deck featured the most commonly-used cards in this archetype, with Jace’s Phantasm as a “flex slot” to provide both defense and an alternate path to victory. These slots are where cards like Manic Scribe, Fraying Sanity, and Search for Azcanta will go if you choose to play them. While Surgical Extraction, Fatal Push, and Crypt Incursion are almost always found in Mill decks, you’ll frequently see 2-3 main deck copies with an additional sideboard copy, as these cards are better in game 1 against some decks than against others (you don’t want to draw three copies of Fatal Push against a creature-light Control deck!). The sideboard cards are either extra copies of maindeck effects, or very broad answers to common strategies in the format.

Match-ups

“Glimpse the Unthinkable” from Ravnica: City of Guilds. Image credit: Brandon Kitkouski, Wizards of the Coast

One of the best things about Modern is that the metagame is always shifting. This also makes it difficult to give up-to-date matchup and sideboard information. Generally speaking, Mill is favored against combo decks, good against other control decks, and weak to fast aggro and midrange decks. Some popular or more noteworthy matchups are detailed below:

  • “Big Mana” decks (anything involving Primeval Titan, Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, or the Tron lands): These are generally pretty good matchups for Mill. While not considered pure combo decks, they rely on getting certain lands into play to fuel victory. This means they do a lot of searching, and that you have a number of different targets for Surgical Extraction. Be aggressive in throwing them off of their gameplan early, then finish them while they try to regroup.
  • Combo: As I’ve discussed previously, Mill is very good at disrupting most combo decks through a combination of milling and graveyard hate. Understanding how different meta decks work is particularly crucial in these matchups, so pay attention to what you’re milling and make sure they can’t turn around and take advantage of what you’ve milled (such as in Storm or an Urza, Lord High Artificer deck). It’s also a good idea to board in permanent removal against these decks, as they will often bring in protection spells such as Leyline of Sanctity after game 1.
  • Death’s Shadow: Death’s Shadow is a tricky deck to categorize, so it’s tough to give general advice for this matchup. While DS decks are relatively threat-light, they can protect these threats very well through a mix of discard and countermagic, and will sometimes use their own graveyard as a resource. If you are able to keep them off of these few threats, you can outlast them while they look for another out. You can also set up defenses and focus on keeping those defenses up, then moving to mill them out once they’re low on interaction. It really depends on the Death’s Shadow build you are facing.
  • Decks with Burn Spells (Burn, R or UR Prowess/Blitz): These decks are tough matchups because their speed and deck construction makes a lot of your staple spells bad. Try to play defensively early on and hope that they burn themselves out of cards. Crypt Incursion is big, but milling enough cards for it to matter can be a tall order. On the bright side, you should have plenty of deck space to answer your opponent after game 1, so sideboard aggressively and remember to force the long game as much as possible.
  • Dredge: You can let Dredge do some of the work for you, but be careful about how much work you do for them. Be smart about your graveyard hate cards as well- it’s better to save Surgical Extraction for non-creature spells that could otherwise be exiled with Crypt Incursion if you can. Note that a card like Grafdigger’s Cage won’t stop the mill trigger on Creeping Chill, but you can stop the trigger by using a Surgical Extraction or Cling to Dust with the trigger on the stack.
  • Eldrazi Tron: With large fast creatures, planeswalkers, and Chalice of the Void, this matchup feels like a cross between a big mana deck (good matchup) and a tribal aggro deck (bad matchup). Infernal Reckoning and Ceremonious Rejection are all-stars here, and countermagic helps to keep their planeswalkers out of your hair. They also share a weakness with more traditional Tron decks where they rely on getting certain lands into play, so your Archive Traps should often be live and you’ll have Surgical Extraction targets in abundance (though it’s often correct to cast Surgical Extraction on an Eldrazi Temple instead of a Tron land).
  • Jund (and other Midrange): The problem Mill faces against midrange decks like Jund is a question of card quality. Midrange decks rely on many small synergies to be successful, so milling away certain cards means that a skilled Jund player can simply pivot to a different line of play. Discard spells are also tougher for Mill to recover from, since its topdecks are worse than Jund’s topdecks. Think about ways that you can gain card advantage through your sideboard choices against Midrange. Against a removal-heavy Jund list for example, taking out your Hedron Crabs and Mesmeric Orbs turns cards like Fatal Push and Abrupt Decay into dead draws, negating some of the opposing card advantage. Against Tarmogoyf or cards using the Delirium mechanic, you can also use cards like Surgical Extraction to manage the opposing graveyard and mitigate their effectiveness.
  • Tribal Aggro (Humans, Goblins, Spirits, Merfolk etc.): While slower than Burn and Prowess decks, tribal decks have more threats than you can reasonably answer in a game, so it’s best to focus on dealing with the cards that will actually kill you. With a good draw you can sometimes race these decks, but sometimes you need to find the right defense or support card at the right time. These decks are why you pack Plague Engineer, Damnation and Ensnaring Bridge.
  • Ux Control: Long Control games give Mill an extra advantage as Control continues to draw cards. They also tend to have smaller board states which makes your relative lack of board presence less of an issue. These are great matchups for incremental mill (Orb, Scribe, Ashiok) and Surgical Extraction-type effects, so long as you keep an eye on which cards in their deck are there to close out the game. In the past, I have had success in using cards like Surgical Extraction to take away Control’s countermagic to limit their stack-based interaction, but this is a less effective strategy now that Control’s countermagic options are more diverse. Decks running Yorion, Sky Nomad look scary because of their larger size, but you have enough Mill effects to get through an 80-card if you protect those effects.

Streamer @sqlut put out a sideboard guide for Mill in 2018, and while a lot has changed in the format since then I am including it here as an example of some of the sideboarding choices you can make with the deck:
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1sa8cfMnxX37tlIM-3NfvPC3WFs1K5qrhE9xc3guD6bI/edit

 

Looking Ahead

“Patient Rebuilding” from Core set 2019. Image credit: Magali Villeneuve, Wizards of the Coast

That’s a lot of words about a Modern deck which, by the admission of myself and its other fans, is on the outside of the format looking in. What would it take for Mill to actually be an established and respected factor in the format? Unfortunately, I don’t think Mill will ever be a Tier 1 or even 2 deck with its current toolset and with current card design philosophy. There are a few factors that go into this:

  • The quality and quantity of mill spells just isn’t there right now. While WotC continues to print new mill effects in Magic, many of which can be playable in the right shell, there hasn’t been a mill card that’s been widely adopted in the deck printed since Zendikar in 2009. While the deck has gained a lot of good support spells in recent years, it hasn’t gained any truly playable mill spells in a long time. Mill vs Burn comparison are played out in my opinion, but the traditional Mill shell is like running Burn using Monastery Swiftspear, Eidolon of the Great Revel, Lava Spike and Skewer the Critics as your only damage spells. Not fun.
  • The Mill gameplan itself doesn’t leave you much time to affect the board state. You can Glimpse, Trap, or Crab to your heart’s content, but your opponent will still be able to play out their hand and build their own board state, and if you’re unable to mill away certain key cards then all of those mill spells haven’t affected your opponent’s hand or board. At the same time, spending a turn to use removal on your opponent’s creatures is a turn not spent milling them out. Balancing your time and resources between milling your opponent out and interacting with their gameplan can be a difficult problem to solve, and the deck really punishes misplays along these lines.
  • Designing sets to have fun Limited play necessitates weakened mill spells. The previous two points kind of feed into this last one. Draft and Sealed play involve 40-card decks, which means milling your opponent out requires 20 fewer cards than in Constructed play. Mill effects, especially repeatable ones, can thus become powerful build-arounds in these formats, and so WotC plays it safe when designing these cards.

Is Mill, or at least non-combo Mill, just a dead-end archetype then? Not so fast my friend! As mentioned previously, the act of milling was recently turned into a keyword within Magic. As discussed by Gavin Verhey on Good Morning Magic, having “mills N” as shorthand allows for new exploration into milling as a game mechanic. Cards that mill now have extra room for other rules text as should be evident when comparing Fraying Sanity and Bruvac the Grandiloquent. Other cards can now look for the specific act of milling when it occurs in a game, like how Disinformation Campaign has a trigger that looks for the use of the Surveil keyword. While the timing of this change and the Magic set design schedule makes it unlikely that we’ll see Mill cards that take advantage of this new potential right away, this change opens up a lot of new design space for Mill, and in my opinion that alone is reason for optimism.

One newer Mill card that caught my attention is Thieves’ Guild Enforcer, from Core Set 2021. A card like this offers a few things that Mill as a Modern strategy lacks, even if it doesn’t do any one of these things at a powerful level:

  • It gives Mill a proactive turn 1 play. While Mill has a fairly low mana curve, many of its 1-CMC spells are poor plays on the first turn of the game. While a turn 1 Enforcer milling two cards might not be impressive on its own, it starts milling right away and puts a creature onto the board at the same time.
  • It allows Mill to play to the board while also milling the opponent. Magic players tend to enjoy interactive games of Magic. However, mill effects rarely affect the board state in a meaningful way. Enforcer can mill a few cards and then stick around as a threatening body, throwing an additional wrinkle into combat.
  • It allows Mill to hold up interaction, and advance its gameplan with that mana when interaction isn’t necessary. The majority of Mill spells are sorcery-speed, which means that Mill has to choose between advancing its gameplan or responding to its opponent’s actions. Enforcer can be flashed in, either as a blocker or at end-of-turn to be an attacker the following turn, and still do some milling in the process.

While Thieves’ Guild Enforcer isn’t a slam-dunk inclusion in Modern Mill, it demonstrates a few trends that I would like to see in future cards for the archetype. My hope is that Thieves’ Guild Enforcer shows that WotC is interested in pushing Mill cards in these design directions!

Acknowledgements

“MTG Mill” is a Mill-centric Discord server with a number of tutorials and a fairly active userbase, I encourage you to join if you want to know more about the deck (the current server icon is Hedron Crab). I’d also like to thank the following users who offered analysis and feedback for this article:
DréMaurice
EnricoDandoloThaDOV
Orbs go brrrrr
Otter
PatryTimeAustion
zmunkeyxz

Alex Hempelmann (@alex_hempe on Twitter) wrote a Mill primer in 2019 that was both an inspiration and a reference for this article, you can check it out at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1p3scc96ZTWr2hIQbjYunDxrh1uwSJBEyKjBMowquieA/edit?fbclid=IwAR3jdcbV_8WGxqqEZFMjZ9gOoQOM3aJbBB9pTi3zZ7JPucBCmxSvB_vVtDk#

Thanks to the community at Goonhammer for giving me a chance to write this article. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a while and I never had a reason beyond personal gratification until now. I hope you learned something about Magic from reading it!

Appendices

A1. Pending Decklist Changes

In light of recent metagame shifts, I am considering the following changes to my previous decklist:

Out: 1 Shelldock Isle, 4 Jace’s Phantasm, 2 Mission Briefing, 4 Leyline of Sanctity (SB), 1 Echoing Truth (SB).

In: 1 Castle Locthwain, 4 Thieves’ Guild Enforcer, 2 Into the Story, 1 Damnation (SB), 2 Aether Gust (SB), 2 Cling to Dust (SB).

This is admittedly a more experimental take on the deck, but now that the Modern metagame has settled after the banning of Arcum’s Astrolabe I am curious to see how the deck might benefit from additional card draw and creature presence. These choices lean more into the Control-like nature of Mill, allowing it to play more at instant speed.

A2. Mill Streamers

Check out the following Twitch and YouTube channels for some gameplay and analysis of this archetype!

https://twitch.tv/blitzmtg

https://www.twitch.tv/bababaws94

https://www.twitch.tv/coomback

https://www.twitch.tv/delthar2

https://www.twitch.tv/thatmillguy

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMH4OyLqPhQWwdeuD_46yQA

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