Modern, in its current climate, remains as diverse and engaging as ever. With Pioneer becoming incredibly popular in recent times, it's beginning to feel a little stale due to a lack of answers to combat the top strategies. However, Modern is displaying the opposite where fringe archetypes are now starting to demonstrate success.
Despite Urza and Snowblade strategies remaining the top of the metagame, there are indications that the format can healthily combat this. One example is a recent resurgence of Gruul Midrange (also known as Ponza) to take advantage of strategies that intend to be greedy with their mana. This means you can play against a myriad of archetypes in Modern without worrying about playing the same deck in quick succession (I'm looking at you, Pioneer Dimir Inverter). Not only is this more fun, but it enables you to accumulate knowledge about the various strategies Modern has to offer, allowing you to become equipped to combat rogue strategies. Or, you can play one of those strategies yourself, like Mill, one of Modern's most-loved fringe archetypes.
Mill has remained a fringe strategy in Modern for years and continues to be well loved, with a passionate player base that strongly cares about milling out their opponents. Mill has shared comparisons with Burn over the years, as it cares about dealing "damage" to the opponent (milling away cards). Usually, Burn only needs to deal 20 points of damage to win. Mill aims to deal 53 points of "damage" in a game, and even with your opponent drawing a card on their turn, there remains plenty of effort to get your opponent to zero. Despite what seems a tough feat, it is achievable with the myriad of spells that Mill utilizes to hasten this approach. Along with dedicated mill spells, the deck adopts a disruptive subtheme that makes opponents play to its rhythm. Modern Mill uses the Dimir color pairing, with black to offer disruption and blue being the primary color for Mill spells. Mill has the capability of taking down events if opponents are unprepared for it, and boasts a great Amulet Titan matchup at present.
Let's begin by looking at a typical Modern Mill list. The list below belongs to dgreen16, who achieved a 6-1 finish with it at the Magic Online Players Tour Qualifier last month.
Given that Dimir Mill is jam-packed with potent Mill spells, there's little room for flexibility as your game plan remains the same throughout. Despite this, we have seen a handful of new cards making their way into Mill lists, the key cards being Mission Briefing from Guilds of Ravnica and Drown in the Loch from Throne of Eldraine.
Mission Briefing complements what Mill wants to achieve with great effect. Although Mission Briefing may behave similarly to Snapcaster Mage, the nuances in wording matter. Flashback is an alternative cost, so you would not be able to pay another alternative cost to cast Archive Trap (for example), which would be five mana. However, with how Mission Briefing is worded, you can cast Archive Trap for the alternative cost with Mission Briefing, making Mission Briefing a two-mana Glimpse the Unthinkable that can mill 13 cards. Archive Trap and Glimpse the Unthinkable are the two best Mill spells within the strategy, and giving them extra mileage through Mission Briefing is a powerful approach.
Drown in the Loch is the ideal card for the Mill archetype. Drown in the Loch operates as a Logic Knot with removal packed into one, with easy criteria to meet, which makes it a cheap and efficient form of interaction for a strategy that likes to switch into control. Usually, you'll be able to remove or counter anything at all with this card, and there should be a playset in your Dimir Mill lists. Like most optimized Modern lists, this build of Dimir Mill comes to a steep $580 which is not always achievable when first building the strategy.
However, we can break this down to offer a semi-competitive Mill strategy on a budget. To keep costs down, I recommend beginning with Mono-Blue Mill as it allows you to become comfortable playing the strategy and maintains consistency. You can use Mono-Blue Mill from Standard as a foundation for Modern Mono-Blue Mill, as cards like Merfolk Secretkeeper and Into the Story can transfer over.
Secondly, choosing Mono-Blue streamlines your game plan. Modern and Pioneer are known for expensive manabases, which can make it challenging to play a consistent two-color strategy if you are unable to invest in the lands. Besides, Mono-Blue Mill creates a solid foundation for the strategy where some of these cards can port into optimal Dimir Mill—and at $130, it offers reasonable mileage on your cards.
Sanity Grinding makes Mono-Blue Mill tick, and acts as a budget Glimpse the Unthinkable given the amount of blue in our casting costs. We aren't completely leaning on the Mill plan either, as we're packing disruption in Archmage's Charm, which can draw you (or the opponent) two cards to keep the spells coming or remove tricky one-mana permanents in play.
Excluding Jace's Phantasm to the sideboard may be a weird omission to make, but it's for game two where your opponent sides out the removal, allowing you to bring in a hefty threat. Within this list, Shelldock Isle and Archive Trap are the priciest cards, but are the backbone of the Mill archetype. Shelldock Isle allows you to cast a free spell with achievable criteria, and Archive Trap punishes strategies that run fetch lands (trust me, it's a lot). Both of these port into Dimir Mill so their investment is worthwhile.
Deviating from Modern briefly, Mill is also a well-loved strategy in Pauper, where it utilizes various Fog effects alongside Mill to promote a control game plan. The Pauper variant adopts the Simic color pairing instead of mono-blue or Dimir.
Compared to other articles, the cards in Modern Mill do not transfer well in terms of card mileage for Pauper, however, it is a fun strategy nonetheless if you enjoy playing Mill in Modern and want to dip your toes into other formats.
If you want to evolve from Mono-Blue Mill into Dimir Mill, we have a semi-optimal variant of Dimir Mill for under $300 which uses a good chunk of the Mono-Blue Mill cards for optimal use.
As mentioned above, most of the cost comes in lands like Polluted Delta, Watery Grave and Darkslick Shores. By opening up into a second color, we unlock powerful spells that grant us a disruption package featuring Inquisition of Kozilek and Collective Brutality. You can get away with Flooded Strands over Polluted Delta if needed, however, tread with caution as you won't be able to fetch basic Swamp. A good compromise is running Prismatic Vista as this would grant access to finding basics and should be run alongside the set of Polluted Delta eventually. Extirpate is a budget alternative on Surgical Extraction. Given that we see so many cards through milling, you can pluck threats that may cause issues later on. However, I would run both Surgical Extraction and Extirpate eventually, with Surgical Extraction in the mainboard.
Compared to the optimal version, we are missing a few key prison pieces in Ensnaring Bridge and Mesmeric Orb due to their steep price tag. These are what makes Dimir Mill potent as you can lock the opponent out and mill away cards. To offset this, we have added a couple of Bontu's Last Reckoning to sweep the board against aggressive strategies. Once you have acquired Mesmeric Orbs, I would recommend demoting Bontu's Last Reckoning to the sideboard, and taking out a Mission Briefing and Fatal Push to include the artifact. Ensnaring Bridge is best suited in the sideboard to side in against aggressive archetypes but can vary on the metagame you have locally.
Lastly, Oboro, Palace in the Clouds has a neat synergy with Hedron Crab. Oboro is not essential in Dimir Mill, however, it does offer an additional line to victory if you have locked the opponent out, and I recommend picking one up eventually.
There are a couple of tips to keep in mind while playing Mill, and it is often a misunderstood strategy given it has a linear primary game plan.
The templating on Field of Ruin ignores Ashiok, Dream Render's ability. With this, you can force your opponent to search with Field of Ruin (which also triggers Hedron Crab), allowing you to cast Archive Trap for its alternative cost with an Ashiok in play.
If you want to promote graveyard maintenance, you can choose to mill yourself and exile your opponent's graveyard with Ashiok's plus ability, however, this can create tension with Drown in the Loch, so be mindful when you choose to utilize the nightmare Planeswalker.
Also, it's good practice to count your opponent's graveyard (with permission) to figure out how many cards are left in their library, and keep a note of it during the game. By collecting this information, you get a better picture of which Mill spells to use that would be effective in the given scenario.
Once you are feeling confident with Dimir Mill, there are options to go into Esper or Sultai Mill for Teferi, Time Raveler or Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath and Assassin's Trophy respectively. However, while being creative has its benefits, it's easy to lose sight of the original goal of the strategy. Generally speaking, Dimir Mill is the de facto color pairing as it's streamlined enough and has the spells to back it up. Splashing into other colors may dilute your consistency.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Mill is one of the most-loved fringe Modern archetypes out there. Although it receives deep criticism for playing a linear game plan, it offers various lines and approaches that may not always lead to milling your opponent out.
One of the best characteristics of Modern is witnessing fringe archetypes seeing success, which proves that commitment can pay off without extensive metagaming. Pouring hours into a strategy you love can reap rewards in the future, and growing into an archetype specialist is never a bad thing. It's one of the features that makes Modern truly unique, so now is a good time to shuffle up and count to 53.