Saturday evening after Grand Prix Los Angeles, it was all anyone could talk about.
"Did you hear about the Mill deck that went undefeated on Day 1?!?"
I have to admit, I rolled my eyes a little at it. Mill has been around Modern in various incarnations since the inception of the format, and for years players have been trying to make everyone's favorite casual deck work on a competitive level. Despite this, it never really took off until Grand Prix Los Angeles in the hands of Jinlin Li, though after an 8-0-1 start to the tournament it failed to crack the Top 32, narrowly missing the cut. Most chalked the hot start up to variance, though there were certainly more players interested in the deck than ever before.
I didn't have any firsthand experience with the archetype until Modern at my LGS last week, where I watched it wreck everyone who played against it. After the deck pulled off yet another undefeated run locally, I had to find out what the fuss was all about.
A lot of Mill aficionados have espoused the virtues of the Esper build of the deck, adding white to Li's blue/black list for some sideboard options that are quite powerful. For these videos I wanted to stay true to the original list that started the craze, so the only thing I changed, upon advice from Mill veterans, was cutting the Jace's Phantasms for Surgical Extractions. This is the biggest talking point of the deck.
Jace's Phantasm allowed the deck to operate on a completely different angle than players expected, forcing opponents to keep in their removal when sideboarding, lest they just die to four attacks from the Phantasm. It comes at a cost: more of the opponent's removal is live in game one. While it feels great when they don't have removal and you kill with damage in your Mill deck, there are also plenty of times where you're one card short of milling them out – your primary game plan – and you don't get there because you drew Jace's Phantasm instead.
Surgical Extraction in the Jace's Phantasm spot has many benefits. There are the obvious blowouts against Abzan Company or Living End or Storm or Snapcaster Mage decks, but it's another card alongside Crypt Incursion that gives you a way to remove Emrakul, the Aeons Torn at instant speed, a must. And considering that Nahiri/Emrakul is seemingly everywhere these days, more ways to remove the big baddie are certainly welcomed (One note – if you play Surgical Extractions maindeck you can likely replace some or all of the Extirpates in the sideboard).
The deck's gameplan is straightforward – mill all of your opponent's cards as fast as possible. Crypt Incursion not only hits that pesky Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, but it also gains you a ton of life to live long enough to mill out your aggro opponents, while Profane Memento out of the sideboard adds in even more lifegain to the scenario. Ensnaring Bridge in game one is also often a lockout against many of the aggressive decks in the field, including the Merfolk deck that went on to win Grand Prix Los Angeles.
After sideboarding you can occasionally expect to play against things like Leyline of Sanctity that can make your game pretty tough. Set Adrift may seem like a weird answer in that scenario, but thanks to delve you can set up a turn where you play it for cheap and then immediately mill the Leyline away so you're free to keep milling.
This deck is a blast to play, and statistics show that if you play the deck long enough one day you'll get to live the dream and cast four Archive Traps on the first turn of the game, neatly defeating your opponent on the first turn.
Hey, it could happen.
Enjoy the matches!