It’s been a quiet week in Magic since last Monday—an expected ban of Omnath, Locus of Creation and a couple of less-anticipated bans has shaken up Standard without a dominant deck filling the vacuum. Red decks are certainly powerful—Embercleave and Bonecrusher Giant were strong enough even with Omnath and Uro around, so nothing’s changed there—and Rogues are putting up respectable numbers. But we’ve finally moving back to a rock-paper-scissors metagame instead of a scissors-mirror-match one.

One thing I have faced consistently as I hit the ladder is Mill. Gold Tier is lousy with Ruin Crab and Merfolk Secretkeeper. It’s a fragile deck, as any kind of aggression just steamrolls it; but I’m playing a midrange Dimir Control deck, which is bad at pressure and can’t trade precious cards for one-drop Crabs. It’s somewhat shameful to admit, as someone who’s played Glimpse the Unthinkable since 2005, even when he shouldn’t, but I’m losing to Mill decks—including one game where my Witch’s Vengeance set to Crab met a Didn’t Say Please.

I’m relatively hard to tilt, at least as far as gameplay goes. But after that match, I closed my laptop and pulled up Twitter—always a bad sign—where I learned about the sleep-disrupting process of carcinisation. Essentially, in the early 20th century, biologists noticed that the evolutionary patterns of crabs didn’t suggest a common ancestor, but several—in other words, crabs have evolved several times from different species. There’s a lot of technical ramifications to this, involving phrases like “crab-like habitus/morphotype” and “complex coherence concatenations,” but the gist is that evolution so loved the crab that it created it several times. Crabs are, apparently—and please keep in mind this is coming from an English major and not an evolutionary biologist—one of nature’s perfect forms.

Once I’d read a couple articles about this and looked up a bunch of pictures of crabs with cigarettes to reset my brain, I was inspired to do something I haven’t done in some months: build a Commander deck from scratch. My regular Commander group has disbanded during the pandemic; while I’ve met up with some folks periodically for outdoor sessions, I haven’t felt inspired to build anything new. But the combination of a vicious loss to Crab Burn and a fortuitous Jumpstart pack has gotten me back in the saddle and back in love with Mill.

Here’s what we’re working with, Crab Tribal Phenax!

Commander: Phenax, God of Deception

Creatures: Hedron Crab, Ruin Crab, Wall of Junk, Wall of Tombstones, Iceberg Cancrix, Snapcaster Mage, Tymaret, Chosen from Death, Wall of Tears, Wall of Blood, Horseshoe Crab, Bruvac, the Grandiloquent, Bontu, the Glorified, Galvanic Alchemist, Thunder Wall, Erebos, God of the Dead, Charix, the Raging Isle, Knacksaw Clique, Mnemonic Wall, Doomwake Giant, Nemesis of Reason, The Scarab God, Consuming Aberration, Phyrexian Colossus, Chancellor of the Spires, Isleback Spawn

Planeswalkers: Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, Jace, Memory Adept, Jace, Ingenious Mind-Mage

Enchantments: Crab Umbra, Marit Lage’s Slumber, Thassa’s Ire, Patient Rebuilding, Retreat to Coralhelm, Copy Enchantment, Teferi’s Tutelage, Psychic Corrosion, Fraying Sanity, Sphinx’s Tutelage, Mirrormade

Instants and Sorceries: Chain Stasis, Visions of Beyond, Maddening Cacophony, Glimpse the Unthinkable, Toxic Deluge, Dead of Winter, Breaking Wave, Damnation, Startled Awake, Agadeem’s Awakening, Sea Gate Restoration, Black Sun’s Zenith, Mind Grind

Artifacts: Sol Ring, Slagwurm Armor, Grindstone, Mesmeric Orb, Thousand-Year Elixir, Umbral Mantle, Oblivion Stone, Ensnaring Bridge, Conqueror’s Galleon

Lands: 17 Snow-Covered Island, 11 Snow-Covered Swamp, Watery Grave, Nephalia Drownyard, Morphic Pool, Polluted Delta, Clearwater Pathway, Drowned Catacomb, Fabled Passage, Scrying Sheets, Frost Marsh, Minamo, School at Water’s Edge

Traditionally, Mill hasn’t been good enough in Commander—you’re not just trying to chew through a single 100-card deck, but up to five. Glimpse the Unthinkable and Tome Scour aren’t going to get you there, any more than running pure Burn decks in Commander will deal the total 120+ damage you need them to. Instead, I’m running with a repeatable Mill deck—there are still explosive games where you land an early Bruvac and a Cacophony for an instant win, but you can also run a control game and mill three or six or nine with a Tutelage or two.

There are only 34 Crabs in Magic, but they’re surprisingly coherent and geared towards milling. Obviously, our little Zendikar scuttlers are the best, but with a Phenax out, Horseshoe Crab is a one-mana Ambassador Laquatus. Charix, of course, just slices off a full quarter of a deck, and can potentially end the game through regular damage.

Originally, I was running Morphling, because with Phenax out, it reads (3)(U): target player mills twelve cards, but the nostalgia was stronger than the card. Phyrexian Colossus becomes “Pay 8 life: Target player mills 8,” which isn’t a great rate, but can close out a game. I’m also having a hard time imagining a Commander deck that leaves out the on-color Mythic modal double-faced cardsAgadeem’s Awakening and, to a lesser extent, Sea Gate Restoration have justified their inclusion every time.

Eater of the Dead is the classic tech with Phenax, but I left them out of the list. Add them if your personal metagame is faster and meaner. Likewise, I left out the Dramatic Reversal/Isochron Scepter combo. Fun stuff, but more obnoxious than even I’m comfortable with. Intruder Alarm is also on the bench—it’s the card that was hardest to leave out, but it’s too powerful for a fun playgroup. By all means, play it if you’re interested in running the table.

This deck doesn’t make any friends, especially now that Mill finally has hit critical mass and can be played in Standard and Historic. That said, you haven’t lived until you’ve made a Marit Lage token and not attacked with it, in favor of tapping it to mill twenty off the top. It’s the sort of obnoxious deck that draws out my favorite reaction, whether in response to my decks or to my comedy: the exasperated laugh where they’re mad at you for making them laugh and mad at themselves for laughing.

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.