Mill Decks In Magic: The Gathering Are A Goddamn Bummer

“Dishonourable” isn’t a word you hear a lot in Magic: The Gathering. It’s good to win and bad to lose, and whatever strategy most consistently gets you that win is good in itself, too.

Knights know that’s not the case—that there are both honourable and undignified ways to win — which is a little ironic, because ever since Magic: The Gathering introduced its new, Arthurian-themed set Throne of Eldraine, a strategy I just can’t abide by has become very, very popular: milling.

Winning a game of Magic: The Gathering typically means knocking an opponent’s health to or below zero. Players will use a variety of strategies, including throwing big monsters on the field, denying opponents’ plays or gaining life, to keep their health up and push opponents’ health down.

There’s another, less common win condition for Magic: The Gathering that in reality is better described as more of a loss condition for your opponent: attempting to draw a card from an empty deck. The corresponding strategy to get you there is called “milling,” when you force your opponent to discard as many cards as possible into their graveyard.

Outside a Magic: The Gathering prerelease draft in Flushing, Queens, earlier this year, I attempted to explain to a man with a very large vape why mill decks are dishonourable.

“It’s not the game,” I said. “You’re playing your life total game and your opponent is playing their mill game — it’s hard to interact with, plus, they’re barely interacting with my play strategy!” He took a deep rip off that big boy and explained how it’s exactly the game. And the way you counter it is to win faster or add more cards to your deck. Bystanders agreed; milling is a legit strategy if it gets you that win.

I didn’t encounter a lot of mill decks out in the wild of Magic: The Gathering’s online iteration, Magic Arena, until publisher Wizards of the Coast released Throne of Eldraine last week. Now, they’re everywhere.

In games with pre-made decks, the mill strategy abounds, as players build decks around the very many new cards that transfer opponents’ libraries to their graveyards: “Merfolk Secretkeeper,” “Didn’t Say Please,” “Folio of Fancies,” “Syr Konrad, the Grim,” etc. The Magic subreddits and blogs are full of advice on how to build optimal Throne of Eldraine mill decks on the cheap.

In my online draft games, where players construct decks using a set of cards limited by what CPUs pick, I’ve had my entire library milled just after taking my enemy down to one or two health — twice in one day. (Some Magic Arena players suspect that the mill strategy is so common in these online Throne of Eldraine drafts because of the way CPUs select cards.)

As long as there have been Magic: The Gathering forums, there have been Magic players who complain that mill decks are exclusively for newbies, that they’re not competitive, that it’s insulting to lose to and can make the loser too tilted to shake hands after a match.

These complaints hinge on winning and losing. For me, after spending an hour, a day, weeks, or months building a deck with interlocking mechanics, delightful synergy, and satisfying traps, it wholly and completely sucks for an opponent to circumvent it and toss all your cards in the garbage.

With the limited resources of a card draft, it always makes sense to grab onto the best win strategy, and milling, for better or worse, seems to be a popular one. Yet milling is one of those things that calls into question whether winning is the most important thing of all.

It’s not dishonourable for a knight to stab their opponent, but it is dishonourable for them to dig a ditch on the opponent’s side of the battlefield and fill it with quicksand before the swords are out. And is winning really more important than honour?

Spoiler: It is. Sorry, knights. But I’d argue that the biggest flex of all is to win the game head-to-head with all the back-and-forth drama that makes a good game of Magic so addictive.


Comments

    Pfft.. are you on of those people who also say Blue Control is the worst color ever? =P

    Mill Decks are games for long term strategists... whats the use being a general if you have no more forces? And honorable combat of fighting head to head? Thats for muscle brain meat heads!

    And with graveyard interactions a thing now in modern magic with dredge and reanimator decks Mill isnt exactly as bad... if anything you are more likely helping that G/B dredge deck to murder you =P

      Mill decks are great fun in tournaments, but I think they're awful in ladders and online ranked play, mostly because they tend to be extremely slow. When you're doing ladder climbs an important metric is win rate over time, and slow decks really screw with that for both participants. Online, I'd much rather get in, find myself outclassed and lose in 5 minutes (and then play another 3-4 matches in the same time) than go through 30 minutes of tedious 'I might be able to come back from this if...nope' for the same outcome.

      It's an interesting distinction between the tabletop game and the online game. I was never frustrated by mill decks in tabletop tournaments, but I find the momentum shift quite frustrating in Arena.

    It’s good to win and bad to lose.I'd suggest this attitude is the real problem, for both parties.

    @cecilia-d-anastasio
    "The corresponding strategy to get you there is called “milling,” when you force your opponent to discard as many cards as possible into their graveyard."

    No, that would be discard.

    "Milling" is when the cards are moved from a players LIBRARY to graveyard or exile.
    It was originally coined from decks that took advantage of the card Millstone.
    Card: Millstone
    Cost: 2
    Effect: {2}, {T}: Target player puts the top two cards of their library into their graveyard.

    "Mill decks are exclusively for newbies" ?? I would love to see these forums where that is said. I have been playing since '93 and would not call Mill a "newbie" deck. Mill can be hard to play, but they tend to have a lot of answers for simple aggro "knight" decks and are incredibly intricate and entertaining.

    I completely agree with the "man with a very large vape" and you are completely, and objectively, wrong. Having played against, with and through; standard Mill, Elemental Augury combo, Grindstone+Painter servant, Glimpse the Unthinkable etc. Mill decks are, and will always be a viable strategy in Magic. To say otherwise is just being disingenuous, as you would appear to have little to no idea of the variety and complexity of the strategies available in MtG.

    I would also guess that you complain about Mind's Desire, Eggs, and Lich's Mirror decks, or that there was "no green power cards" printed in the most recent set....

    This just makes me miss the days of Esper reanimator in Innistrad standard with Laboratory Maniac as an alternate win condition.

    Why mill your opponent when you can mill yourself?

    Knights know that’s not the case—that there are both honourable and undignified ways to win Knights also know that when it comes down to it and you and your enemy are both trying to survive, honour doesn't mean crap and your will to survive is what matters.

    it’s hard to interact with, plus, they’re barely interacting with my play strategy!

    But that's strategy, not engaging your opponent on their terms is the one the basic principles.

    Milldecks are siege warfare - denial of resources. Only a fool thinks honour has anything to do with fighting. That said, it is still a game and there's some ettiquite i think needs to be followed. Don't just take the land out and then let them draw themselves to death. Do try to mill them quickly. Basically if you're going to mill, don't tourture them with it. On the flip side, don't whine about people playing your weaknesses against you and calling it dishonourable because you're a poor loser.

    I think most people missed the last paragraph. The author understands that her complaint is silly, she just dislikes that strategy and needed the rant.

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