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Eternal Poopdeck Challenge! #2: Mill

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern, Vintage

The Mill deck. Who hasn’t tried to build a deck to satisfy the win condition – or more properly, the lose condition – described in the Magic: The Gathering Comprehensive Rules for when a player cannot draw a card? Here is how the relevant rules read:

“104.3c If a player is required to draw more cards than are left in his or her library, he or she draws the remaining cards, and then loses the game the next time a player would receive priority. (This is a state-based action. See rule 704.)

704.5b If a player attempted to draw a card from a library with no cards in it since the last time state-based actions were checked, he or she loses the game.”

We were given the namesake Millstone in Antiquities way back in 1994, Grindstone appeared in Tempest in 1997, and in 2001 the Holy Grail combo of Traumatize and Haunting Echoes arrived in Odyssey for a mere ten mana! Traumatize has a steep cost at five mana, but it netted half of a target player’s library. And with that extra five black mana you have in your second main phase, you could just cast Haunting Echoes to finish!

 

 

Ambassador Laquatus entered the next year as an infinite mana sink mill device. This legend found his way into Vintage decks as a combo with Worldgorger Dragon in 2005:

The goal with this deck was simple: get the Worldgorger Dragon into your graveyard and then reanimate it with one of your reanimate spells, such as Animate Dead. This causes the dragon to enter the battlefield and exiles all of your other permanents, including Animate Dead. Animate Dead states “When Animate Dead leaves the battlefield, that creature’s controller sacrifices it.” As we sacrifice our Worldgorger Dragon, it tells us to “return all exiled cards to the battlefield under their owners’ control.” Well now we get that Animate Dead back which needs a new target. We also get back all of our lands which can be tapped for mana before we decide again to target the Worldgorger Dragon with the Animate Dead.

If we repeat this as often as we like, we can create infinite mana and hopefully use that to work through our deck, usually with Bazaar of Baghdad. When Ambassador Laquatus ends up in our graveyard, we then break the cycle of targeting the dragon. The blue legend comes onto our battlefield and we immediately sink our infinite mana into his ability and mill away our opponent’s library.

There have of course been many variations on this deck throughout the years. With Worldgorger Dragon recently unbanned in Legacy, it will be interesting to see if anyone can break this card in that format. Be sure and check out Tyler Priemer’s article on the subject from last week here.  He even includes a milling win condition with Altar of the Brood in one of his Legacy brews!

There was one twist put into the infinite milling mix in 2004 that made this win condition slightly more complicated: card slingers began abusing Darksteel Colossus as their Tinker target. This presence of this fatty in a deck you are milling could delay the win by a turn. Similar problems would arise down the road with Progenitus and Blightsteel Colossus. When Emrakul, the Aeons Torn arrived in 2010, it became even more problematic. With opponents shuffling their graveyards back into their libraries, some decks brought in Tormod’s Crypt and other such devices from their sideboards to combat this problem.

The same block that gave us the Darksteel Colossus also gave us another milling artifact with Grinding Station.

With an infinite supply of creatures, this little gem could mill away our opponents library. That possibility brings the bonus poopdeck of the week in the Modern format:

Three card combos…well those are the stuff that dreams are made of, right? Here is what you are looking to setup with this deck:

With eight each of zero casting cost artifact creatures, stations, and Enduring Renewal/Idyllic Tutor, along with ten cantrips, it is fairly easy to assemble the combo on turn four.

Let’s see…where were we? Milling! Judgment (2002) gave us Scalpelexis and Scourge (2003) delivered Raven Guild Master. Both of these blue creatures include caveats to remove cards from the game from the top of the library belonging to the player they damage. Scourge also brought us Brain Freeze which uses the Storm mechanic to mill three cards for each copy. In combination with Tidespout Tyrant (from Dissension in 2006), Vintage decks were able to again create infinite mana and/or storm counts and then win via Brain Freezing their opponents. Getting the eight mana Djinn into play was usually accomplished with Oath of Druids in a list like this one from around 2008:

The goal was to resolve Oath of Druids, hopefully using a Forbidden Orchard in the process to give your opponent a spirit token. When your turn arrives and you have less creatures than your opponent, Oath triggers and you wind up with Tidespout Tyrant in play. With two moxes and his bounce ability, you can build infinite storm and Brain Freeze out your opponent after you have bounced their entire board! Even without the moxen, it was pretty easy to bounce your opponent out of the game.

Earlier in the same block as Tidespout Tyrant, Ravnica: City of Guilds (2005) delivered the two mana Glimpse the Unthinkable. For just UB, at sorcery speed, you could have a target player put the top ten cards of his or her library into his or her graveyard! This was the most economic mill spell to come along yet.

This card holds a steep price ten years later, largely due to the affection for milling cards held by casual players.

In 2007 Lorwyn introduced us to Jace Beleren. This planeswalker’s ultimate ability (for 10 loyalty) reads “Target player puts the top twenty cards of his or her library into his or her graveyard.” More than ten years after the game’s designers gave us the Millstone, they still held a spot in the game for the milling mechanic.

The next year gave us Sanity Grinding in Eventide and Memory Sluice from Shadowmoor. But it was another card from the latter set which would create a blazingly fast mill combo. Painter’s Servant states “As Painter’s Servant enters the battlefield, choose a color. All cards that aren’t on the battlefield, spells, and permanents are the chosen color in addition to their other colors.” Combine that with the text from Grindstone which says when you spend three mana and tap it “Target player puts the top two cards of his or her library into his or her graveyard. If both cards share a color, repeat this process.” For three colorless mana a player can drop both of these into the battlefield and for three more, mill their opponent’s entire library.

This combo has found success in Vintage and in Legacy over the years in decks such as this Legacy list from Nam Tran:

This deck used Brainstorms, Goblin Welders, and Transmute Artifacts to assemble the two card combo extremely fast. With four artifact lands to bump up the quantity of targets for the Welders and Transmutes, the pilots of this deck do not care much if their artifact combo pieces are countered.

Vintage took this combo and made it even faster. Several ‘Two Card Monte’ deck lists appeared running the Grindstone/Painter’s Servant Combo alongside another infinite mill combo:

These decks run four copies of each element of both combos and could often win the game on the first turn. Here is a sample list from circa 2010:

You can still run into updated versions and many variations of ‘Two Card Monte’ at a tournament today. They are easily disrupted, but they have lost none of their speed.

Mill spells continued to appear and Alara Reborn gave us this beauty:

For three mana we could mill a target opponent until we saw four lands go by. This may sound innocuous, but given how light on lands some Vintage decks are, it could be very potent. Take a look at the top eight decklists from the Vintage World Championships in 2014. The average number of lands in these decks was 15.5 lands. That means that about one in every four cards will be a land on average and depending where they fall, you might hit 15 cards with a single Mind Funeral.

The mill mechanic dropped a tremendous trap in our lap in Zendikar with Archive Trap which mills the top thirteen cards of a target opponent. This instant speed spell shares the same cost as Force of Will, but also has an alternative cost: “If an opponent searched his or her library this turn, you may pay {0} rather than pay Archive Trap’s mana cost.”

Fortunately for the aspiring mill player, most Vintage decks search their libraries early and often whether it be via fetchlands or tutors. Unfortunately, the majority of Mishra’s Workshop decks will not be searching much at all.

Another role player of millage also appeared in Zendikar. The Hedron Crab comes into play for just one blue mana and gives you the landfall ability to mill three cards with each land. Thus a play of Mox Sapphire, Hedron Crab, Polluted Delta fetching into Island would burn six cards.

Mill cards have continued to appear and will likely keep being created and printed in future sets. We’ve seen Vision Charm, Dream Twist, Psychic Spiral, Thought Scour, Breaking (from Breaking // Entering), Chancellor of the Spires, Duskmantle Guildmage, more Jaces, Sword of Body and Mind, Ballustrade Spy/Undercity Informer, Mind Grind, and Tome Scour. We will likely see mill and grind cards continue to be created. For reference, there is a fairly exhaustive list of related cards here.

We have looked at the combo decks that can mill your opponents’ libraries completely once they have assembled their combo and they can be very fast and powerful. Any combination of cards creating a win in Vintage will inevitably be compared to the most compact pair of them all:

With only four mana required for assembling infinite turns, this combo will be the benchmark of all combos for the foreseeable future in Vintage. One reason folks can succeed nearly as often with others is Time Vault’s restriction in the format: there can be only one.

Since we have already seen how these combo mill decks can function, today we are going to look at a different type of Vintage mill deck. This one is going make the mill death painfully slow, but not so slow as to allow our opponent to win. We are going to build a Vintage mill poopdeck!

We’ll start by choosing a select few milling spells. Our mark for maximum efficiency seems to be at least five cards for each mana spent. Tome Scour hits the mark for economy and efficiency milling five cards for a single blue mana, although Hedron Crab can often beat this with six cards and encore performances. Glimpse the Unthinkable and Mind Funeral both hit the mark. Archive Trap usually plays for zero mana, but don’t forget that the hardcasting cost can be paid if you’ve got the mana available. Sometimes folks forget that fact with spells like Archive Trap, Force of Will, and Mindbreak Trap.

If we slap four of each of those into our deck, we end up with 16 mill spells. If we put Hedron Crab’s milling ability at four and Mind Funeral at 15, those 16 cards have the potential to mill a 168 card deck! Look out Battle of Wits players!

Perennial creative Vintage brewmaster Mark Trogdon played a deck with some of these cards and added the not-often-seen-in-Vintage Twincast for utility for his mill spells and for others in the deck.

The blue fork requires two blue mana, but has proven to be very interesting to test with. Nothing quite beats when your opponent fetches a land and you play Archive Trap after with a Twincast to boot. After that maneuver, your opponent has less than half their deck remaining. And they have thinned their deck out for your upcoming Mind Funerals. If you add four Twincasts to our 16 mill spells listed earlier, our potential to mill grows even greater.

Where Twincast really proves itself interesting is in counter battles. I have had Twincasts copying Force of Will, Misdirection, Ancestral Recall, and even Dig Through Time with interactive outcomes.

Here is what we have built so far:

4 Archive Trap
4 Glimpse the Unthinkable
4 Mind Funeral
4 Hedron Crab
4 Twincast

That leaves 40 card slots remaining. We will need some protection to help us survive past the early game. We won’t be milling all 53 cards of our opponent on turn one. We will go with this for protection:

4 Force of Will
2 Flusterstorm
1 Misdirection

Do not forget that we’ve got four Twincasts which can also protect.

We will need to get to our mill cards as soon as possible. Luckily, the Vintage format give us plenty of options here. We have one additional option with this card:

 

 

This card was made to go in our mill deck and has the potential to give us four more copies of Ancestral Recall. In testing, this card has become active as early as turn one or two. Even without twenty card in ANY GRAVEYARD, the card still cantrips at instant speed. For card draw and selection, we are going to go with this suite:

4 Gush
4 Visions of Beyond
2 Preordain
1 Brainstorm
1 Ponder
1 Ancestral Recall

We will need a mana base to support this poopdeck. We are almost entirely blue, but with do have eight cards maindeck which require black mana. We also have a creature with Landfall that loves fetchlands. We can also support a small level of broken artifact mana because this is Vintage after all and it never hurts to have two blue or just more than one mana available on turn one. Here is our mana base:

1 Black Lotus
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Lotus Petal
1 Chrome Mox
4 Flooded Strand
4 Polluted Delta
3 Underground Sea
3 Island
1 Swamp

That gives us twenty mana sources and finishes our mill list like this:

Our goal is to win by milling and this deck can get that done quite effectively. Archive Trap is, of course, your best friend. Dropping an Archive Trap onto the table after your opponent has used a top deck tutor is a very satisfying feeling. You can also get this feeling by cracking a fetchland if your opponent has mistakenly topdeck tutored while you have a Hedron Crab in play. Glimpse the Unthinkable and Mind Funeral are sorceries and diligence must be used on when these bombs can drop.

What is enemy number one? This guy:

 

If your opponent is holding this little gem in their opening hand, they will probably not be able to contain themselves when they see you milling their library into their graveyard. Indeed, this can be difficult. With Gifts Ungiven just getting unrestricted, folks are now playing Recoup again which can help save milled sorceries like Yawgmoth’s Will. Timetwister can also be a bother when they have both players shuffle their graveyards back into their libraries.

You can gain a lot of information from your first mill which can affect how you and your opponent will play out the remainder of the match. They will often have to heavily alter their game plan and you will also get some quizzical looks from your opponents when they reach over to read your cards. You should be able to get a good read on what your opponent is playing if you haven’t already. With that knowledge, you will probably know how they stand with what they have remaining and what has been dumped into their graveyard.

It is possible to include elements to exile your opponent’s graveyard within this poopdeck. Cards like Nihil Spellbomb, Tormod’s Crypt, Grave Consequences, Leyline of the Void, Rest in Piece, Planar Void, and Bojuka Bog can assure that these milled cards are gone forever. An Extract could also assure your opponent no longer has access to Yawgmoth’s Will. Deathrite Shaman can also hit recurrable threats and add mana. Extirpate and/or Surgical Extraction can target troublesome cards in their graveyard. These methods are worthy of testing, but may dilute the milling effectiveness. There was a time when a single Extract could defeat your opponent in Vintage, but there are typically many more win conditions now.

The worst matchup for this mill deck is against the decks in the format which do not often search their libraries: Mishra’s Workshop decks. These decks often roll out prison pieces and permanents like there is no tomorrow. To be honest, you have got to get really lucky to beat them in the first game. The crabs help with your permanent count, but unless they are using their Kuldotha Forgemaster or occasional Expedition Map, your Archive Traps, Flusterstorms, and Misdirection are useless game one. One strategy might be to Ghost Quarter them even though the search is a “may” ability.

Maybe it is just a good idea to dedicate most of your sideboard to shoring up the Workshop match. We will start with these:

3 Steel Sabotage
3 Hurkyl’s Recall
2 Dismember
1 Sol Ring
1 Mana Crypt
2 Ancient Tomb

The first six cards above will try to keep those pesky prison artifacts from coming into or staying in play. The Dismembers will help with Lodestone Golems and other creatures. The next four will add to our permanent count and give us a mana boost to help overcome prison effects. Hopefully by bringing in these 12 cards we can have shot at games two and three verses Workshop-based decks.

Our last three sideboard cards will address the issues mentioned above with problem cards, most notably Yawgmoth’s Will. These three cards can help:

1 Extract
2 Extirpate

With these, we can either Extract the Yawgmoth’s Will out completely or hit it when it drops into the graveyard.

Well, there you have it. The Eternal Poopdeck Challenge #2 has created a Vintage Mill deck that can wreak some havoc on unsuspecting spellslingers. At the very least, it will have them thinking in different directions and scratching their heads as the read your cards. Experiment! Maybe Brain Freeze fits better in the Hedron Crab slot? Until next time, have fun!

Matt Hazard
@winedope

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