Mill decks are one of the most popular deck strategies in the history of magic. Ever since Richard Garfield decided that when you run out of cards in your library you lose, players have been trying to mill their opponents out. There’s nothing worse than having your best card milled away while your opponent sits across from you smiling. It’s that feeling that has drawn so many of us to try to win without damage. That has drawn us to build our version of the best mill deck.
Why is it called milling? It starts back a long time ago when Magic was still very new. Antiquities had just released and in it was a card that caught some attention. As I said before people have always tried to deck their opponent ever since the game first started, but with the release of Antiquities they finally had a proactive way of doing that. The card, of course, is Millstone.
Because of the popularity surrounding mill decks I thought it would be fun to take a look at the best mill decks from the history of Magic, from powerful vintage strategies to standard powerhouses. Now obviously, I can’t hit them all so if I missed your favorite deck, or card, feel free to mention it in the comments below.In the early years of Magic milling was not so great. Deck builders just did not have the tools to make a deck that made milling the best option. That’s not to say people didn’t try. There were plenty of Blue White control decks whose plan was to counter every spell you played and destroy every creature that was on the battlefield. Those decks would then sometimes just run you out of cards. As more and more magic cards were printed, players had more options, and combos started emerging. Lets start out with the decklist that got me into Vintage. That’s right decking the opponent was a viable and powerful option even in vintage.
Vintage - Worldgorger Dragon Combo 2005
4 Worldgorger Dragon
1 Caller of the Claw
1 Ambassador Laquatus
4 Squee, Goblin Nabob
1 Chain of Vapor
1 Deep Analysis
1 Vampiric Tutor
4 Force of Will
1 Dance of the Dead
2 Animate Dead
1 Black Lotus
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Jet
1 Time Walk
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Sol Ring
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Mana Crypt
4 Bazaar of Baghdad
4 Underground Sea
4 Polluted Delta
2 Engineered Explosives
2 Sundering Titan
2 Chalice of the Void
1 Chain of Vapor
2 Coffin Purge
3 Null Rod
Worldgorger Dragon combo is a combo deck from the vintage format. The deck wins by finding a way to get Worldgorger Dragon into the graveyard and animate it with an enchantment. When the dragon comes into play it removes all other permanents you control removing the enchantment that’s animating it. That causes the dragon to go back to the graveyard bringing back all other permanents including all your lands untapped. The animate spell will come back looking for a permanent to target, so you target the dragon again. Rinse and repeat each time tapping your lands to make infinite mana. With enough mana, target a different creature in your graveyard. This deck uses Caller of the Claw to amass a sizeable army of 2/2s or Ambassador Laquatus to mill your opponent’s deck. This deck is easy to play but hard to master because if your opponent uses an enchantment removal or creature removal or stifle or bounce (or anything it seams), with the dragon’s remove from the game trigger on the stack, you lose all your permanents. That’s an acceptable risk when you can mill your opponent out as early as turn one.
Standard - Sanity Grinding 2009
4 Sanity Grinding
4 Dream Fracture
4 Jace Beleren
4 Broken Ambitions
4 Cryptic Command
4 Shelldock Isle
4 Memory Plunder
3 Oona, Queen of the Fae
4 Vendilion Clique
Lorwyn block standard can be remembered for two things: the horribly overpowered and oppressive Fairies deck and the strength of the blue cards starting with Cryptic Command. This mill deck takes the strength of the blue cards and the very forgettable card mechanic of Chroma to mill your opponent. The card Sanity Grinding mills your opponent for every blue mana symbol you reveal to the card, and Traumatize takes the top half of their deck and places it straight into the graveyard. Twincast either of these spells, and you are probably very close to winning right there. The rest of the deck contains counter spells and bounce spells. The perfect deck for the blue mage at heart.
Standard - Turbo Fog 2009
The Turbo Fog deck is one of the worst decks to play against. The deck wins by casting artifacts that let you draw extra cards per turn, and then uses fog effects and counter spells to not lose. Your opponent cannot do anything. They have all these extra cards but can’t attack or deal with your permanents. The deck really only starts getting crazy when you are drawing extra cards, so if you want to play this make sure you cast Font of Mythos or Howling Mine early to start drawing extra cards or you’re a bad control deck that will quickly run out of resources to handle your opponent.
Standard Nephalia Drownyard Control 2013
The older Magic grows I think Wizards of the Coast is willing to push older strategies. Take a look at Nephalia Drownyard. “A land that can double as a win condition. Sign me up,” said every control player ever. Now take a look at Duskmantle, House of Shadow. This card is terrible. But you can clearly see where the idea for the Drownyard came from.
So let’s take a look at this format defining, first place, deck. The deck takes advantage of the little 2/1 that could, (for those not in the know I’m talking about Snapcaster Mage) to flash back Azorius Charms and counterspells, and if your opponent is really unlucky, a big Sphinx’s Revelation. You take control of the game from the incremental advantages that your planeswalkers offer, all the while milling them for three a turn, and then six a turn, because why not? Your opponent definitely wanted to do nothing this game while watching you slowly eat their library alive.
Modern - UB Mill 2013
3 Augur of Bolas
4 Hedron Crab
4 Archive Trap
3 Breaking // Entering
4 Crypt Incursion
4 Glimpse the Unthinkable
3 Mesmeric Orb
4 Mind Funeral
2 Surgical Extraction
4 Thought Scour
4 Visions of Beyond
4 Darkslick Shores
2 Ghost Quarter
3 Misty Rainforest
2 Oboro, Palace in the Clouds
1 Scalding Tarn
3 Shelldock Isle
2 Watery Grave
2 Echoing Truth
2 Engineered Explosives
2 Hurkyl's Recall
2 Inquisition of Kozilek
3 Slaughter Pact
The last mill deck that I want to mention is I’ve seen pop up in Modern recently. It’s a mill deck for the mill deck fan in all of us. No controlling the game. You just want to mill your opponent and you want to mill them now. You start the milling party off as soon as turn one playing Hedron Crab to make your opponent mill 6 cards every time you play a fetch land. Next you cast Glimpse the Unthinkable or Breaking // Entering to mill another healthy chunk of cards from your opponent. The deck has some cards that can continuously mill them like the before mentioned Hedron Crab or Mesmeric Orb. And what’s that mister aggro deck? Attack you for eight damage. In response, cast crypt incursion? Gain Twenty-Four? Yeah, Good Game?
I also like this in Modern because some decks have a difficult time to win if you mill away some of there cards. Pod has a few combo pieces and if they get milled it can be difficult, to not only combo, but also move up the Birthing Pod chain. Splinter twin has some combo pieces that if enough get milled it seems very difficult to win. Just hope that they don’t already have the pieces in their hand because this deck doesn’t have that many ways to interact besides Surgical Extracting away a discarded combo piece. Overall, I think this deck could be a lot of fun to play, just stay away from Living End decks, anything playing Vengevine and Emrakul, the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
I hope you enjoyed this trip down the Mill Deck memory lane train. Mill decks have always been a favorite among the casual kitchen table magic players, but I wanted to highlight some decks that have also been seen at the top tables of competitive magic as well. If nothing else I hope you can look at these lists and see cards that you can include in your favorite mill deck. But which one is the best mill deck? Well that’s up to you.
Because I know people like bonus sections. I’d like to highlight my top 20 picks for my favorite mill cards in magic. Disclaimer, I’m mostly a Spike but I do have my have some Johnny and Timmy moments too so take these picks as such. Hopefully some of these are new to you and you can add them to your favorite decks. Though obviously some of them have already been mentioned they are my favorite picks for best mill cards. In no particular order…
- Brain Freeze – This card is great and easily abuse able, especially when you play a format where you cast zero cost artifacts that tap for mana
- Dampen Thought – A card that can create its own draft strategy is good enough for me.
- Glimpse the Unthinkable – The best of the best
- Sanity Grinding – You have to love a card that forces you to deck build. People already love to play blue why not give them another reason.
- Traumatize – There’s nothing that brings out the kid in me than milling half their deck.
- Ambassador Laquatus – This card was in one of the first decks I played. It played no other way to mill them other than this. The card is good. The deck was not.
- Geth, Lord of the Vault – I like this as a commander and the ability to mill infinite will keep people on their toes.
- Hedron Crab – Innocent at first, until you start hoping they don’t draw a land, then its usually game over.
- Jace, Memory Adept – Big Jace does not disappoint. Milling ten is no joke and hey if you want to you can just draw cards
- Jace Beleren – This Jace has two ways to mill your opponent and one of them almost seems fair.
- Grinding Station – This says combo all over it. Well not literally.
- Sword of Body and Mind – The worst of the sword cycle is still pretty good. Draft this in cube and its bonkers.
- Mind Grind – I really like the flavor of this card and who knows maybe you’ll play against manaless dredge or two-land belcher. It could happen.
- Consuming Aberration – A giant beast, well technically a horror, that mills every time they play a spell and also grows to horribly large sizes. (Hey, not bad. I could be the next LSV.)
- Archive Trap – So you want to use that fetch land to fix your mana, mill thirteen for zero mana.
- Vision Charm – A mill card with versatility.
- Altar of Dementia – Find a way to make infinite guys and you can mill everyone at the table.
- Mind Funeral – Because the anticipation that you mill them for a high number is enough.
- Millstone – Because I’m a sucker for nostalgia not because its good.
- Grindstone – Legacy powerful mill card that combos with Painters Servant to mill their whole deck.
- Raven Guild Master – A creature that attacks and makes your opponent mill ten. So what if it has to deal damage.
- Mesmeric Orb – A reusable way to mill your opponent. And when you beat them you get to laugh at them because they lost to Mesmeric Orb.
- Ancestral Recall – Because there was once a vintage deck that won by casting this on your opponent an infinite number of times. Still counts.
I know that’s more than twenty but I’m all about giving you value. Now go forth and mill. (Or some other wittier closing comment.)
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