M14: Millstone and the mill deck

Now it’s on to evaluating artifacts, so we can determine whether it makes sense to maindeck artifact removal. Among the artifacts that I don’t have a good handle on yet is Millstone, even though I was forced to cobble together a U/B mill deck this weekend when I found both my colors cut off by the person to my right. I had Jace Memory Adept, Jace’s Mindseeker, Millstone, and 2 Tome Scours, but lacked early defense and was knocked out in the first round. Let’s look at the mill deck and evaluate how important Millstone is in that deck.

Other than Millstone, all the cards in the format that cause your opponent to mill/draw cards are blue:

  • Tome Scour (common) mills 5 cards.
  • Opportunity (uncommon) causes a target player to draw 4 cards, but you won’t usually want to target your opponent.
  • Traumatize (rare) mills half the library rounded down. If cast on turn 5, it will usually leave your opponent with 14-15 cards in their library.
  • Jace’s Mindseeker (rare) mills 5 cards and is a bomb even in the absence of any other mill cards because it’s still a 4/4 flyer that can give you a free spell.
  • Jace Memory Adept (mythic) can mill 10 cards each turn and is a bomb even in the absence of any other mill cards since it can single-handedly mill your opponent out in 2-3 turns if you can protect it.

An average draft will have only 1.2 Millstones and 2.4 Tome Scours, which are not enough to build a mill deck around, so you should only consider drafting the mill deck if you get Traumatize or are passed multiple Millstones late. (The mill on Jace’s Mindseeker is a one-time effect, and neither it nor Jace Memory Adept need a mill deck built around them. And late Tome Scours aren’t sufficient reason to draft a mill deck since you’d need to cast about 4-5 of them to win the game, which means you’d need to draft about 8-10 of them if that’s your only mill spell.)

Next, let’s figure out how fast you can mill an opponent out. Even if you play Millstone on turn 2 and mill your opponent on every subsequent turn, they still have 13 turns, which is usually enough for them to kill you, even in a slow format like M14. Even if you have a Tome Scour to go with your Millstone, they still have 11 turns to kill you. If you cast Traumatize on turn 5 instead of activating Millstone, your opponent still gets 10 turns. Even with a perfect draw consisting of a turn 2 Millstone, turn 5 Traumatize, and turn 6 Tome Scour (it’s better after the Traumatize), your opponent still has 8 turns to kill you; if you don’t have any creatures, they can accomplish that simply by playing a 2/2 creature on turn 2, a 2/2 creaure on turn 3, and attacking with both of them every turn. So clearly we need more than just the mill cards listed above.

Given this, I would say that Millstone is conditionally playable bordering on unplayable since it usually requires you to have certain rares before it is playable, and since takes a long time to mill out the opponent. However, it is still playable if you get those rares.

Blue does have several other cards that are quite effective in the mill deck:

  • Time Ebb allows you to get rid of a creature permanently if you can mill your opponent before their next draw step. And it slows them down significantly even if you can’t.
  • Frost Breath can buy you time by holding down your opponent’s 2 best creatures for 2 turns.
  • Essence Scatter and Negate have the same converted mana cost as a Millstone activation so you can decide whether you’d rather counter a spell your opponent is casting, or mill them and save the countermagic for another spell.
  • Archaeomancer allows you to reuse Tome Scours, Traumatize, or any of the spells listed above, and then chump blocks their largest creature.
  • Nephalia Seakite works well with countermagic.
  • Scroll Thief can block 2/2 creatures and force your opponent to play more defensively that they normally might. (Most people are far more scared of it drawing their opponent a card than they should be.)
  • Seacoast Drake and Armored Cancrix are unexciting but reasonable on defense.
  • Wall of Frost (uncommon) is one of the best defenders in the format because of its high toughness and because it effectively blocks 2 creatures if your opponent attacks each turn.
  • Elite Arcanist (rare) imprinted with Frost Breath, Fog, or Silence (rare) can potentially buy you a lot of time. Note that you can only imprint instants, so it does not work with Tome Scour.

What color is likely to work best with blue in a mill deck? On the one hand, white has great defenders in the form of Angelic Wall and Wall of Swords (uncommon), both of which fit quite well in this deck. Griffin Sentinel is also quite good on defense, and Pillarfield Ox and Siege Mastodon are okay if unexciting. Divine Favor can make a creature nearly impossible to get past, and if you’re lucky, you might also get Planar Cleansing (rare) which your opponent might be forced to overextend into if you have a Millstone on the table.

However, I think green actually has better defensive cards: Rumbling Baloth and Sporemound can gum up the ground effectively while Deadly Recluse and Giant Spider (and Plummet postboard) hold the air, Brindle Boar and Fog can neutralize entire combat steps (Fog is also great with Elite Arcanist, as mentioned above), Elvish Mystic and Verdant Haven help you get going faster, Briarpack Alpha (uncommon) and Rootwalla work well with countermagic, and Bramblecrush (uncommon) and Naturalize deal with troublesome noncreature permanents. The next time I try a mill deck, it will likely be U/G.

Finally, let’s look at the cards in M14 that are problematic for mill decks. Elixir of Immortality is the most concerning but is an uncommon, so an average 8-person draft will only have 1.2 of them. Cards that interact with the graveyard can also benefit your opponent if you’re milling them: Auramancer, Archaeomancer, Corpse Hauler, Rise of the Dark Realms, Shadowborn Demon, Vile Rebirth, Chandra’s Phoenix, Scavenging Ooze, and Trading Post. However, many of these are rare/mythic, and the rest aren’t scary enough that they make mill decks unplayable. So these cards shouldn’t concern you too much if it looks like you’re going to end up with a mill deck.

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