Last updated on September 5, 2022

Phenax, God of Deception - Illustration by Ryan Barger

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

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?

Millstone

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

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.

Where Increasing Confusion shines is its flashback ability. Let’s say you incidentally mill yourself with Dreamborn Muse. Now you have an extra card at your disposal later on.

#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

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

Sphinx's Tutelage

Another strong mill enchantment, Sphinx’s Tutelage was one of my favorite win conditions in Magic Origins Limited.

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

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

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

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. 

#11. Riddlekeeper

Riddlekeeper

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

Brain Freeze

Ah, storm. One of the most ridiculous keywords ever printed. There’s a good reason we hardly ever see it printed anymore. Brain Freeze isn’t really a mill card, it’s generally just a combo payoff. 

#9. Court of Cunning

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

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

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

Fractured Sanity MH2

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

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

Tasha's Hideous Laughter

Tasha’s Hideous Laughter is at its best in faster formats like Modern where mana costs are generally low. Maybe not the best mill card in Commander.

#3. Ruin Crab

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

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

Archive Trap

Archive Trap is the best card in Modern mill strategies. In most situations it mills 13 cards for free, which is better than any other card on this list.

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

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

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.

#6. Dreadhound

Dreadhound

A big fat dog with an efficient body and a strong effect to fight on another axis in long games. Dreadhound is kind of expensive and mostly played as a game-ender in Limited.

#5. Syr Konrad, the Grim

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

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

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

Undead Butler

Undead Butler may merely look like copies five through eight of Stitcher’s Supplier, but the ability to grind a bit of value with it is certainly worth the extra mana.

Gravediggers usually command a 4-mana premium so the Butler is bananas on rate. Especially given that it fuels itself.

#1. Stitcher’s Supplier

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.

#3. Splinterfright

Splinterfright

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

World Shaper

World Shaper is slow and clunky, but having a Splendid Reclamation as a payoff is pretty big. A great payoff with the dismal body of a Hill Giant.

#1. Grapple with the Past

Grapple with the Past

Grapple with the Past saw a fair bit of play in Standard to enable cards like Grim Flayer and Emrakul, the Promised End. Though it hasn’t really stuck anywhere since then, it had its time in the sun.

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

Nemesis of Reason

A big chonker that casts Glimpse the Unthinkable every time it attacks. Nemesis of Reason is somewhat slow and vulnerable, but quite effective in slower formats with large player counts.

#4. Anowon, the Ruin Thief

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grinding Station

Find a loop to make artifacts and Grinding Station lets you go off. This is currently the star of one of the cooler sleeper decks in Modern where it enables some fun lines with Underworld Breach.

#3. Altar of Dementia

Altar of Dementia

I’ll always have fond memories of Altar of Dementia for enabling truly degenerate things with Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis in the darkest days of Modern’s combo winter.

#2. Grindstone

Grindstone

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

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

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.

Psychic Spiral

Psychic Spiral

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.”

Surgical Extraction

Surgical Extraction

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

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

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

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

Phenax, 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

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.

My personal favorite is Obstinate Familiar, although perhaps the most well-known card for this purpose is Laboratory Maniac. Of course, there’s always the less cool Platinum Angel.

Wrap Up

Archive Trap - Illustration by Jason Felix

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.

Thank you for reading!

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2 Comments

  • Avatar
    Xelistren July 18, 2022 10:59 am

    2 of the best artifact mill cards I have seen neither made the list. The 2 are trepidation blade, buffs the creature it is equipped to and mills to a land (anywhere between 1 and 30 cards). And mind crank which is used heavily in mill combo decks.

    • Avatar
      Dan Troha July 18, 2022 11:03 am

      Good suggestions, thanks!

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