Last updated on September 5, 2022
Phenax, God of Deception | Illustration by Ryan Barger
One of the first rules that Magic players are taught is that when your life total hits zero, you instantly lose the game. But for some, attacking with creatures is too traditional.
Mill is typically the go-to for players that want to explore alternate ways to win the game. While mill has spent a long time being mostly unsupported, mill decks have come to shine in multiple formats including Commander in the past couple years.
Today I want to explore this archetype and all the different flavors associated with it. Be it to augment a couple rogues or to finish off a long turn of storming off, mill decks come in many different forms. Let me introduce you to the most basic elements and then guide you through the menagerie of mill cards.
Ready? Let’s get started!
What is Mill in MTG?
Millstone | Illustration by Yeong Hao Han
Mill is a keyworded ability. When a card tells you (or target player) to mill, that player has to put as many cards as specified from the top of their library into their graveyard. If a player can’t put enough cards into their graveyard this way, they stop after the last card has been put into the graveyard.
Some cards that mill might exile the cards instead of putting them into the graveyard, but the key point of any mill card is that it can be used either to facilitate graveyard strategies (by milling yourself) or to exhaust your opponent’s resources (by milling them).
Why is it Called Mill in Magic?
While it’s now a keyworded ability, mill has been called mill ever since Millstone was printed. It’s been an official keyword since Core Set 2021, where players rejoiced when they didn’t have to explain to new players why this particular mechanic was named after a dinky card from Antiquities.
Best Blue Mill Cards
Blue is traditionally the best at milling players. While the effect is secondary in black, no one really compares. So here’s the best of the best.
#18. Increasing Confusion
As a 1-shot, paying X to mill X is somewhat unimpressive on rate. There’s no shortage of ways to kill your opponent when you have the luxury of having excess of mana available.
#17. Startled Awake / Persistent Nightmare
Another mill card that’s somewhat clunky but rewards you for incidentally milling yourself. It’s unlikely that Startled Awake gets cast more than once unless you’re in the long game, but the threat of recurring this card over and over makes it a potent option.
#16. Dreamborn Muse
I love cards that encourage players to do more things rather than just sit back. Punishing your opponents for doing nothing while fueling your own graveyard at the same time makes Dreamborn Muse one of my favorite mill cards, even though the 3/3 body is quite vulnerable.
#15. Sphinx’s Tutelage
Exceptionally strong against mono-color decks, this card is mostly just a better version of Jace’s Erasure and Teferi’s Tutelage. It also made a couple appearances in Standard in rare situations where mill was used in a win condition in Izzet () decks that drew cards with reckless abandon.
#14. Jace, Wielder of Mysteries
Less effective at milling your opponent than the other Jace, Jace, Wielder of Mysteries mostly sees play competitively as another version of Thassa’s Oracle. Being a card advantage engine with incidental mill while also being its own payoff make this a rather complete package.
#13. Cephalid Illusionist
Cephalid Illusionist is mostly used for nefarious purposes when combined with cards like Shuko or Nomads En-Kor. Note that this only has the capacity to mill you, so it’s mostly used in conjunction with Narcomoeba, Dread Return, and Thassa’s Oracle to win the game on the spot.
#12. Maddening Cacophony
The biggest strike against cards that mill half a library is that they’re clunky and usually don’t have the best rate. Maddening Cacophony avoids that by always having a strong outlet: eight cards for two mana.
Dying to a swarm of creatures is a common way for mill players to die in multiplayer situations, so having a card like Riddlekeeper that effectively punishes that by encouraging aggressive opponents to look elsewhere is particularly good.
#10. Brain Freeze
#9. Court of Cunning
Court of Cunning is a cool alternate win condition that’s at its strongest against control decks that don’t have a way to attack you. Providing a steady stream of cards along with inevitability, this is one of the scariest cards you can play against controlling decks. But it will make you a target in multiplayer games.
#8. Jace, Memory Adept
Among the many planeswalkers printed, Jace, Memory Adept comes the closest to being the mill-themed planeswalker. This iteration of Jace gives another level of inevitability and demands that your opponent be able to attack it, which releases a bit of the pressure on your own life total.
#7. Fraying Sanity
Enchantments are a lot harder to interact with than creatures, which is why Fraying Sanity is mostly a more resilient version of Bruvac the Grandiloquent. The downside is that it’s worse than Bruvac is in multiplayer formats as a curse. But then again, you’re probably playing both in that case.
#6. Fractured Sanity
Modern Horizons 2 proved to be a shot in the arm for a lot of different strategies, and Fractured Sanity is what mill got. The best thing about this card is its flexibility. Milling 14 cards for three mana is as good a rate for a 1-shot effect as you can get, and you can always cycle it in a pinch.
#5. Bruvac the Grandiloquent
A card tailor-made for Commander mill strategies, Bruvac the Grandiloquent is a little overkill in situations outside of Commander where you usually just want to have cards that straight-up do the thing without exposing yourself too much to creature-based removal.
#4. Tasha’s Hideous Laughter
#3. Ruin Crab
A little fatter than its sibling, Hedron Crab, Ruin Crab loses some points on being less versatile since it can only target opponents. Still, it’s Hedron Crab five through eight, which is all you can really ask for.
#2. Hedron Crab
Speaking of Hedron Crab, remember what I said earlier about mill decks generally avoiding creatures because it gives the opponent an avenue to interact with them? Most competitive mill decks play four copies of Hedron Crab anyways because it’s just that absurd with fetch lands.
#1. Archive Trap
If you could play 10 copies of this card in your mill decks, you should and you would.
Best Black Mill Cards
Black cards that mill are usually tied to other effects, like draining life or offering ways to reanimate creatures when self-milling. Still, it’s the only color that really gets dedicated mill cards in its pie, so let’s go over what the color has to offer.
#8. Geth, Lord of the Vault
Geth, Lord of the Vault was one of the first strong mill cards in black. While the reanimation aspect is the reason to play it, it’s still pretty strong as a foundation if for some reason you love mill but don’t want to play with blue cards.
#7. Lord of the Forsaken
Mill is more of a means to an end when it comes to black, usually to fuel reanimation strategies. Lord of the Forsaken seems to follow this trend.
#5. Syr Konrad, the Grim
A complete monster in Throne of Eldraine Limited, Syr Konrad, the Grim gives you an additional path to victory and lets you kill opponents simultaneously with big mill cards in multiplayer. Just like Dreadhound.
#4. Extractor Demon
Hey, another card that rewards you for milling yourself! Extractor Demon rewards you for dealing with creatures and then comes back for more. It synergizes strongly with cards like Damnation and Toxic Deluge, which are often one of the main incentives for playing black to morph your mill build into more of a control deck.
#3. Dread Summons
Another mill X spell, Dread Summons makes a huge army of Zombies and scales well in multiplayer settings. Given that you’re often rewarded for having cards in your own graveyard in mill strategies, this card really does it all. Gumming up the ground with 2/2s goes a long way to avoid getting run over.
#2. Undead Butler
Gravediggers usually command a 4-mana premium so the Butler is bananas on rate. Especially given that it fuels itself.
#1. Stitcher’s Supplier
As far as graveyard enablers are concerned, Stitcher’s Supplier is probably the best thing you can do on turn 1 outside of maybe Hedron Crab. This is a mainstay in larger formats where you’re incentivized to pour cards into your graveyards. Being a piece of sacrifice fodder also helps a lot.
Best Green Mill Cards
Green is honestly mostly here as a formality. Red and white have next to nothing as far as mill is concerned while green has at least a few synergies that reward you for putting lands into your graveyard.
One of the better enablers of the Innistrad self-mill archetype, Splinterfright grows into a giant monster, albeit slowly. Unfortunately that isn’t very impressive since creatures have grown significantly in size and efficiency since this card’s printing.
#2. World Shaper
#1. Grapple with the Past
Best Multicolored Mill Cards
As expected there aren’t very many multicolor mill cards given how it’s mostly a blue mechanic, but there are a few good ones.
#5. Nemesis of Reason
#4. Anowon, the Ruin Thief
The king of the rogues, Anowon, the Ruin Thief offers a tribal strategy that emphasizes incidental milling on small evasive creatures. Rewarding strong hits with card draw means you get to reward your early aggression with mid-game card advantage to power through more controlling strategies.
#3. Ashiok, Dream Render
Ashiok, Dream Render mostly sees play for its static ability. It thrives in Modern as a foil to decks like Amulet Titan.
Mill decks are traditionally very strong against toolbox decks that do a lot of library-searching, so Ashiok, is much less impressive in dedicated mill strategies.
#2. Phenax, God of Deception
The god of mill. Phenax, God of Deception approaches mill from a unique angle and opens the door to weird combos with cards like Intruder Alarm, which offers another flavor to mill decks rather than just being spell-based count-to-60 (or 100) decks.
#1. Glimpse the Unthinkable
The original big mill card. Probably one of the most popular cards among casual players, Glimpse the Unthinkable slowly crested the $30 mark on the secondary markets before being reprinted in Iconic Masters. It did so while seeing next to no play competitively, and copies were sparse because they had such an incredibly high demand among players that just love alternate win conditions.
Best Colorless Mill Cards
#6. Sands of Delirium
Sands of Delirium is kind of a Helix Pinnacle. Most of the mill cards you play have a far better return on investment in terms of cards milled per mana spent, so this is unlikely to show up in mill strategies unless it’s part of some weird combo.
#5. Sword of Body and Mind
Sword of Body and Mind is known as one of the most oppressive equipments in Limited. One hit from a creature wielding this sword and you’re pretty much done. I know a number of Cube owners who’ve decided to cut this card rather than having a complete set of swords in their Cube because of how unfair it is.
#4. Grinding Station
#3. Altar of Dementia
Another old-school combo card, Grindstone and Painter’s Servant make a deadly duo. Painter strats have been given new life in Legacy thanks in large part to Urza’s Saga being able to find this card as early as turn 3.
#1. Mesmeric Orb
Mesmeric Orb turns your opponent’s mana decisions into a dilemma. Do you play fast to try and beat the mill menace, or do you take it slow so that you don’t devastate yourself from the Orb? Pretty much every deck taps lands for mana, which makes this one of the most broadly applicable mill cards in any format.
Best Mill Payoffs
Are you looking more than to just straight-up go the distance with your mill cards? Here are some cards that can squeeze some extra value out of them.
Rise of the Dark Realms
Rise of the Dark Realms‘ mass reanimation in a long game where everyone’s binned dozens of cards will likely end things on the spot.
While this is technically a straight-up mill card, Psychic Spiral also rewards you for milling yourself by hitting your opponent pound-for-pound for every card you’ve “lost.”
While Surgical Extraction isn’t so much of a synergy, but putting a bunch of your opponent’s cards into the graveyard gives you the opportunity to snipe key cards from combo decks. It also lets you get around pesky Eldrazi titan triggers and removes some of mill’s vulnerabilities in accelerating the game plan of graveyard decks.
Is Mill Good in Commander?
Mill isn’t a competitive win condition in Commander. The biggest drawback to using mill as a win condition in Commander is fairly obvious: everyone has 100 cards instead of 60.
Mill can also struggle against decks featuring an Eldrazi titan or two in formats like Commander where battlecruiser Magic is fairly commonplace. Kozilek, Butcher of Truth and Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre show up in a lot of ramp decks.
Who’s the Best Mill Commander?
I’m pretty sure you’d be sorely disappointed if I gave you just one answer, so I figure I might as well give you a top five!
#5. Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker
Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker is unfortunately pretty slow, somewhat inefficient, and kinda clunky. But it gives you access to both blue and black as a commander, and milling some 10 cards per hit ain’t too shabby.
#4. Anowon, the Ruin Thief
Anowon, the Ruin Thief is pretty much only there for rogue tribal where it sort of wins by default. It’s still a bit better than Mirko because you can expect to draw more cards that mill your opponent.
#3. Oona, Queen of the Fae
Oona, Queen of the Fae is a mana sink that produces a pile of Faerie Rogues. While often played merely as a commander for a faerie tribal deck, its ability to exile cards rather than just putting them into the graveyards is incredibly potent in a format rife with graveyard synergies and recursion.
#2. Phenax, the God of Deception
The mill buttlord! Plonking a bunch of Doorkeeper-style cards into your deck will get the job done with Phenax, God of Deception, and it makes sense that you’d want to wall up defensively in a deck that features a slow alternate win condition as its main strategy.
#1. Bruvac the Grandiloquent
Ah, Bruvac the Grandiloquent. The undisputed boss hog of mill commanders.
Doubling up on all of your mills is the most straightforward push that all-in mill decks needed in Commander. The lone strike against Bruvac is that its identity as a commander is mono-blue, which means you lose access to a lot of powerful black control cards, tutors, and sweet graveyard interaction.
Is Mill the Same as Discard?
No, mill and discard are two separate mechanics. While a lot of older cards have “discard X cards from the top of your library,” milling isn’t the same as discard. Sorry about that, but it’s better to leave your Megrims on the shelf.
Can You Mill an Empty Library?
Technically you can mill an empty library, but it won’t have any effect. But what happens when one is to draw from an empty library? Well, I’m glad you asked, because…
Can You Lose to Mill?
You can’t lose the game directly to mill. Only once you attempt to draw a card from an empty library do you lose the game. So if you have an empty library but you also have a copy of Noxious Revival in hand, then you may live another day.
What Happens if You Can’t Draw in Magic?
As I just mentioned, attempting to draw a card from an empty library will lose you the game on the spot. But there are a number of ways to avoid this fate.
Archive Trap | Illustration by Jason Felix
For many it starts with a simple question: “my opponent has played all the cards in their deck, what happens now?” Whether you’ve ground your opponent into the dust by exhausting all of their threats, gone all-in on emptying their library, or even just used a singular card as a showstopper in your combo deck, mill offers no shortage of diverse paths to get there despite appearing to be a linear win condition.
What are your best stories of milling someone out? Have your Sealed opponents gotten too greedy drawing cards? Were you the last player standing after five hours of Commander? Share your best stories in the comments below or in the official Draftsim Discord.
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