There I was lying in bed watching Michael Majors kill his opponent on turn five in the finals of the Grand Prix. But this was not in the traditional sense. You know where you attack someone from 20 to 0 or even pull the Tom Ross special and do the full 10 infect. Oh no my friend this was the mythical “cards in library?” routine. Have I got your attention?
The original concept for the deck Majors won with came from Pro Tour regular Andrew Cuneo. Cuneo created and also played the deck to a respectable 6-4 in the Standard portion of the Pro Tour. I will call this performance better than expected from an outside viewpoint simply because traditionally mill strategies aren’t good. I know every time in a draft that my opponent casts a Dreadwaters I know I’ve already won. There are a couple of fundamental problems with attempting to mill your opponent rather than simply attacking for lethal.
First there has to be a card you can build your mill strategy around. Historically cards like Millstone, Grindstone, Archive Trap, Traumatize and Glimpse the Unthinkable have given players who have enjoyed the mill strategy hope. When looking at the last three you can see how you need multiple copies of each to put a dent in your opponent’s library. This is what makes this strategy traditionally quite bad. If you also consider the fact that generally speaking there’s never more than one or two of these cards legal at the same time and you have a real issue here. Also there’s the problem of a 60 card deck vs 20 life points. It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out 60 is more than 20. This also means that games will go longer for you to win because you have to work harder to remove all those cards from their deck. This is why aggressive decks are tough for mill strategies to handle since those kinds of decks are designed to win the game fast while you’re trying to win the game at a much slower pace.
The question is what makes this deck different from any other mill strategy around? [Insert Sphinx’s Tutelage]
This may seem eerily similar to the Legacy staple and personal favorite Grindstone. Sphinx’s Tutelage is in most ways strictly better than Grindstone. The only major difference between the two is that Painter’s Servant combos with Grindstone whereas Tutelage doesn’t because of the little land wording in there. The reason it’s so good is there isn’t an activation cost with milling your opponent. All it requires is a way to draw a card. But then when you build a deck around drawing as many cards as possible as fast as possible all of a sudden it snowballs out of control. Tutelage being an enchantment also means it’s harder to remove from play once it gets there. There is also that relatively expensive but still useful ability attached to Tutelage that allows you to dig a little further and mill a little more. Let’s compare and contrast the two lists of Cuneo and Majors and see what’s different and along with seeing how these decks really tick.
Cuneo UR Mill
Majors UR Mill
Majors Main Deck Difference:
Majors Sideboard Deck Difference:
As you can see Majors predicted that with the performance of both UR Artifacts and Mono Red Aggro at the Pro Tour that they would be popular choices for the Grand Prix and he made some adjustments to help combat that. Since the deck is already favored against the control and midrange strategies because of how long they take to kill you, taking more steps to help out the aggressive matchups makes sense.
You can really begin to understand why Cuneo went 6-4 and Majors went 16-1-1. Cuneo seemed a lot less prepared for the aggressive decks or at least underestimated how many there where. It’s certainly possible that he was still beating them, but those four losses suggest to me he lost to some amount of robots and little red men. Majors on the other hand looked like he had no problems with either thanks to Annul and additional Whelming Waves and Fiery Impulses out of the board.
What a difference a weekend can make though. The metagame had shifted drastically at the Grand Prix. At the Pro Tour there was an overabundance of aggressive strategies and that was showcased in the top 8. When you look at the Grand Prix there were just two such decks that represented the aggressive side of Magic in the top 8. The shift to control and midrange strategies make sense. When you go into a format with no idea of what the decks to beat are it’s hard to prepare a proper removal suite. When you have a grasp of what the decks to beat are you can prepare your deck to beat those decks by incorporating proper removal spells. As a result you see a large uptick of midrange and control decks. Both of these archetypes are just terrific if you’re on the mill plan.
Alas the reason why Majors won was quite simple. He dodged the majority of what aggressive decks where in the field and played against mostly midrange and control strategies. These decks simply have trouble beating a deck like mill for a few of reasons. For an example let’s take a deck like Abzan Control. Game one the deck simply has a lot of dead weight – cards you don’t want to draw. With the mill deck only playing four creatures and Abzan Control playing eight removal spells there’s already some dead weight there. The beauty of mill is that because of Tormented Voice and Sphinx’s Tutelage these cards allow you to discard all of the dead weight and play just the “good” cards in each particular matchup. Another problem a deck like Abzan Control faces is the deck simply can’t pressure mill very fast. A perfect draw for Abzan Control that would involve killing the mill player as fast as possible involves drawing multiple Siege Rhino and Tasigur, the Golden Fang. Even this however suffers by the fact that bare minimum, you’re looking at turn six or seven before they’re dead. That’s also assuming the mill deck doesn’t interact in any way. Did I mention Majors decked his opponent in the finals on turn five?
Coming out of the Grand Prix it’s funny and safe to say that mill could very well be one of the top public enemies. As I highlighted earlier there are a couple ways to go about beating mill. The only loss Majors suffered came at the hands of Abzan Aggro. This doesn’t really come as much of a surprise since the deck provides early pressure and disruptive qualities like Thoughtseize and Dromoka’s Command that really gives decks like mill a problem. If you’re worried you’ll be seeing a lot of mill in your future consider playing a deck with Dromoka’s Command. Not only is the card fantastic against mill since you have a main deck way to deal with Sphinx’s Tutelage, but the card is fantastic against both UR Artifacts and RDW which are certainly still going to be popular only a week removed from the Pro Tour.
I can’t emphasize enough how much I am really digging this standard format. There are so many archetypes to choose from and all of which seem quite viable week to week. Just looking at the entire Grand Prix top eight there’s eight different archetypes there alone. This just drives the point home that anything is viable at this point and what’s good this week is most likely bad the next. Try and stay ahead of the curve. Until next time.
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