Just as burn decks are always reasonable, no matter the Standard environment, mill decks are never quite good enough. Oh sure, there’s the occasional “Jace’s Sanctum plus Day’s Undoing” deck, but the archetype as a whole never puts up results in Standard or Modern (or gods forfend, Legacy). Currently, you could argue that Kethis Combo is a mill deck, but it’s a mill deck in the same way that a hot dog is a sandwich—all the components are there, and the functionality is the same, but it feels perverse to categorize it as such. I love the deck, but it’s a combo deck, not a mill deck; that distinction is important.

At their core, Mill decks are Burn decks, not combo decks—both are trying to count to a specific number as quickly as possible without much in the way of on-the-board interaction. Burn wants to deal 16-20 damage in packets of two or three and Mill wants to flip over 53 cards as quickly as possible. Back in 1995, control decks often won by milling—literally through Millstone, grinding away two cards at a time. Since then, we’ve gotten more tools—from the blunt instruments of Glimpse the Unthinkable and Traumatize to the more random Mind Funeral and Mind Grind and the under-respected Mesmeric Orb—but mill decks still hover outside of the limelight. This may change with the release of Thrones of Eldraine, however, as Standard has a critical mass of cards that shave the top of your opponent’s library down.

I’m most exciting about a card that benefits from a mill strategy but doesn’t demand one: Drown in the Loch, a flexible and powerful spell, assuming you can guarantee your opponent has five or more cards in their graveyard. I think we can make that happen:

Everything’s Coming Up Mill

Creatures (15)
Overwhelmed Apprentice
Merfolk Secretkeeper
Vantress Gargoyle
Brazen Borrower
God-Eternal Kefnet

Spells (22)
Ashiok, Dream Render
Scheming Symmetry
Drowned Secrets
Drown in the Loch
Mission Briefing
Didn't Say Please
Enter the God-Eternals
Lands (23)
Watery Grave
13 Island
Mystic Sanctuary

Sideboard (15)
Cavalier of Gales
Jace, Wielder of Mysteries
Vantress Gargoyle
Sorcerous Spyglass
Witch's Vengeance
Ritual of Soot

First off, the one-drops in this deck are wild—eight total plays on turn one hit our opponent’s library for two to four cards and can leave behind a chump blocker (or a potential chump blocker in Merfolk Secretkeeper). Persistent Petitioners is, I’m surprised to report, a trap. Too low-impact in small numbers, and too hard to gather together in a deck that’s trying to run a more controlling strategy. We’d need to run at least a dozen, and, quite simply, there are better things to be doing. Save that for Best of One and strange fringe Zombie Hunt-style decks.

Originally, I was running a couple of Wishclaw Talismans, but that truly was too limited and clunky. While a great multiplayer politics card, tutoring for value is often a mistake and, outside of a dedicated combo deck, I don’t think Wishclaw Talisman is worth it to shave a mana off Diabolic Tutor. Same with Scheming Symmetry. While it feels utterly cruel and hilarious to have them tutor, only to knock it off the top with an Ashiok; you’re better off running good cards, rather than bad cards to make your good cards better. I’m still running one copy, as it’s vital to get Drowned Secrets online as fast as possible, and it’s a reasonable card to flash back with Mission Briefing.

I think Vandress Gargoyle is underrespected in general, and snapped up a playset; but I’m concerned about it in this deck, as it has a fair amount of tension with Ashiok. This may not be the best shell for it, so I’ve cut it down to two, with two in the board—it closes out games, but it also periodically gets shut down.

What does work for the deck is the fantastic Vendilion Clique 2.0 of Brazen Borrower. Sending your creatures on an adventure and casting them from exile are two separate spells, allowing our Adventure-ready creatures to count double for Drowned Secrets. Brazen Borrower can become a mill engine in its own right with a Drowned Secrets out and can buy you some time to set that engine up by bouncing your opponent’s permanents—and itself. Same with Kefnet, who blocks, doubles up spells for Drowned Secrets (Enter the God Eternals is the dream here), and ends games in short order.

A single Ashiok mills for twenty if unaddressed—that’ll happen infrequently, but the full playset gives you the chance to mill between fifteen and twenty-five cards. The concern is that their ability exiles the graveyard—turning off your Vantress Gargoyles and Drown in the Lochs—but the quick mill offered by Ashiok outweighs any disadvantages. Finally, Enter the God-Eternals is pricey, but it slams the door on aggressive decks and, in a mill deck, often acts as a three-for-one.

The deck matches up well against aggressive decks—cheap blockers that augment your Mill plan are exactly what the deck needs to survive until your haymakers come online. In terms of weaknesses, I don’t like its chances against Vampires; but since the core of that deck rotates out as Eldraine comes in, we don’t have to face it. Until a Reanimator or Kethis Combo without Dominaria (not likely) spring up, we don’t have a natural predator. Generally, Mill decks fold to Leyline of Sanctity or similar Hexproof-granting cards. That’s not likely to happen in Standard; but with Jace, Wielders of Mysteries in the sideboard, we can pivot to an even more humorous gameplan: milling ourselves.

The last time I truly tried to make Mill work in Standard was back in Shards-Zendikar Standard, slapping down Archive Traps and Hedron Crabs. It was a fragile engine back then, and had no real way to interact with the opponent (at least, before the printing of Jace, the Mind Sculptor). Guilds-Throne Standard feels different—with more option and two different direction to take them in, in either Turbo-Mill or a more aggressive, Vantress Gargoyle-led Blue Skies/Mill hybrid, it feels as though Mill is primed to succeed. But then again, that might be the Hogaak hangover talking. We won’t know until we test it against whatever Thrones of Eldraine brings, but it’s worth picking up an old faithful archetype again.

A lifelong resident of the Carolinas and a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Rob has played Magic since he picked a Darkling Stalker up off the soccer field at summer camp. He works for nonprofits as an educational strategies developer and, in his off-hours, enjoys writing fiction, playing games, and exploring new beers.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.