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Budget Magic: $27 Mono-Blue Mill (Standard, Magic Arena)


སྐུ་གཟུགས་བཟང་པོ།, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! Last week, the Magic gods frowned upon us as everyone figured out that Mono-Black Aggro was good between when I recorded the video and when it went live, causing the price of the deck to spike outside of our normal budget range. As such, we're looking to set things right this week by playing one of the cheapest decks in the series' history: $27 Mono-Blue Mill! Throne of Eldraine brought with it a bunch of interesting support cards for the mill archetype, which, when combined with some holdovers from last Standard like Drowned Secrets, give us the critical mass of mill cards necessary to make a (possibly?) competitive deck! Can Mill work in Standard on a $27 budget? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we can talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Mono-Blue Mill (Standard, Magic Arena)

The Deck

As its name suggests, Mono-Blue Mill is a mill deck. Rather than attacking our opponent's life total, our main goal is to empty their library, causing our opponent to lose to drawing with no cards left in their deck. The deck plays like an odd control deck, looking to stall out the game while slowly but steadily dumping card by card from our opponent's library into their graveyard.

The Engine

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One of the biggest challenges of building Mill in Standard is that we don't have cards like Glimpse the Unthinkable or Archive Trap that mill a big chunk of our opponent's library in one shot. Instead, we rely on casting a bunch of cards that mill smaller amounts while also having some extra utility (like being a creature or a counterspell). This makes Drowned Secrets the best (and most important) card in our deck. If we can sneak it onto the battlefield on Turn 2, every other spell in our deck comes with the kicker of milling our opponent for two cards. While Drowned Secrets doesn't have the same immediate impact as something like Archive Trap, over the course of the game, it often ends up milling just as many (and sometimes even more) cards, for just two mana. While we don't need to go crazy and mulligan until we find a Drowned Secrets or anything like that, it is the card we want to see most in our opening hand since it makes all of our other cards so much better by adding the "mill two" kicker.

The Mill

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Merfolk Secretkeeper and Wall of Lost Thoughts are very close to the same card in our deck: for two mana, they mill our opponent for four cards and leave behind a 0/4 body for blocking our opponent's threats. That said, Merfolk Secretkeeper is technically slightly better since it counts as two blue spells for Drowned Secrets purposes. While milling four isn't a ton, leaving behind a body is a pretty big deal since we're a mono-blue deck that doesn't have much hard removal. Our main plan against creature-based decks is to use cards like Merfolk Secretkeeper and Wall of Lost Thoughts to stonewall early-game creatures and eventually chump block bigger threats to buy enough time to cast a bunch of mill cards and (hopefully) empty our opponent's library.

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Overwhelmed Apprentice is actually quite similar to Merfolk Secretkeeper and Wall of Lost Thoughts, in that it mills a couple of cards while also putting a body on the battlefield to play defense. The downside is that it only mills two cards, although it makes up for this by also allowing us to scry two. Combined with Witching Well to give us eight one-mana scry effects, Overwhelmed Apprentice allows us to cut all the way back to 22 lands (giving us a couple of non-land card slots to play more mill cards) while still being able to consistently hit our land drops.

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It's almost not right to consider Vantress Gargoyle a mill card because when it comes to putting cards from our opponent's library into their graveyard, it's actually very slow and clunky (although every little bit helps). Instead, Vantress Gargoyle is really a backup plan that happens to mill a card or two every once in a while. In a deck that's overflowing with mill cards, we can usually turn Vantress Gargoyle into an attacker as early as Turn 3. And while it is far from our primary goal, every once in a while, we pick up a win by playing a couple of 5/4 fliers, hoping our opponent doesn't draw a removal spell, and beating our opponent down in the air. Even if Vantress Gargoyle doesn't kill our opponent, having a big flying threat does help solve two problems with the deck. First, while cards like Merfolk Secretkeeper and Wall of Lost Thoughts are fine blockers, thanks to their lack of power, they can't ever kill our opponent's attackers. As a 5/4, Vantress Gargoyle often trades up with a more expensive threat. Second, Vantress Gargoyle gives us a creature that can pressure planeswalkers, and as you'll see as we talk about our next group of mill cards, something like Teferi, Time Raveler sitting on the battlefield can throw a big wrench into our plans.

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Rounding out our mill package, we have Didn't Say Please and Thought Collapse, which are literally the same card: Cancel that also mills our opponent for three cards. The upside of our milling counters is that they can deal with pretty much anything (outside of Shifting Ceretops, which we don't talk about here in Mono-Blue Mill land), for the fairly reasonable cost of three mana. The downside, as we talked about a moment ago, is that something like Teferi, Time Raveler can leave both Didn't Say Please and Thought Collapse rotting in our hand. If we can keep Teferi off the board, Didn't Say Please and Thought Collapse allow us to play a weird control-mill game, where we try to stick a copy or two of Drowned Secrets, always leave up a counterspell for whatever threat our opponent might have (while hopefully using the rest of our mana to cast cheap mill cards during our turn), and slowly mill away our opponent's library as we counter their threats.

Card Draw

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Another challenge of Standard mill is that it takes a lot of mill spells to actually get our opponent's library all the way empty (especially if we don't happen to draw Drowned Secrets to speed up the process). Having some card advantage helps to make sure we draw enough mill cards to actually finish off our opponent. Into the Story is pretty great in our deck. Since our opponent should always have at least seven (and hopefully way more) cards in their graveyard, it almost always draws us four cards for four mana at instant speed, which is way above the curve in Standard. Meanwhile, Witching Well works alongside Overwhelmed Apprentice in our "one-mana scry" slot, allowing us to trim back a bit on lands while still hitting all of our land drops. Then, later in the game, we can cash it in for two more cards. 

Removal

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As a mono-blue deck, we don't have any hard removal, so we make do with Callous Dismissal. In theory, our counterspells can deal with just about anything our opponent can throw at us, but there are times where our opponent will manage to slip a threat through our defenses. Callous Dismissal gives us a way to bounce something like Teferi, Time Raveler back to our opponent's hand, and then, in theory, we can counter it when our opponent tries to recast it. While being sorcery speed is a bit of a drawback, making a 1/1 Zombie Army is a nice bonus, giving us another chump blocker to keep our life total high as we mill our opponent. It's also worth mentioning that in the late game. we often use Callous Dismissal on one of our own mill creatures to reuse its enters-the-battlefield trigger and generate more Drowned Secrets triggers. Even with just a single Drowned Secrets on the battlefield, something like Merfolk Secretkeeper (both the adventure and creature modes) into Callous Dismissal on Merfolk Secretkeeper into Merfolk Secretkeeper again ends up milling 18 cards for a total of six mana, making it a great way to close out the game once our opponent's library starts to dwindle.

The Mana

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The mana base is pretty simple, but I did want to briefly mention our two non-basic lands. Castle Vantress is just a one-of to help keep the budget low, but in a deck with a massive 21 Islands, we could easily play more copies and they would be good. If you have extra around, you might as well toss a couple more in over Islands. Meanwhile, Mystic Sanctuary is actually very, very good in our deck. In the late game, being able to put a counterspell back on the top of our deck to use the next turn is nice, and getting back Into the Story to draw four more cards is a great deal. The only drawback is that we occasionally have a land that comes into play tapped in the early game, but our deck is slow enough that this isn't really that much of a problem in practice.

The Sideboard

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The cards in our sideboard are designed to do three things: help improve our matchup against aggressive creature decks (by far our worst matchup), fight three-mana planeswalkers (especially Teferi, Time Raveler but also Narset, Parter of Veils and Oko, Thief of Crowns), and answer graveyard-based decks (which we actually help by filling their graveyard with our mill spells). For creature matchups, we have a motley crew of blue cards, with So Tiny being our Sword to Plowshares, Warrant // Warden often permanently answering a creature since we can put it on top of our opponent's deck and then mill it away, Run Away Together offering some fun tricks where we can bounce our opponent's best thing and one of our enters-the-battlefield mill creatures, and Flood of Tears being our (very bad) Wrath of God

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As we've talked about before, Teferi, Time Raveler and other cheap planeswalkers like Narset and Oko are especially brutal for our deck since we don't have many creatures that can actually attack them. While Didn't Say Please and Thought Collapse help, they are sometimes too slow (especially if we are on the draw). To solve this problem, we have Negate and Mystical Dispute, which give us counters that are cheap enough to answer something like Teferi, Time Raveler no matter who wins the die roll. I often trim some of our three-mana mill counterspells to make room for Negate and Mystical Dispute in matchups where they are necessary.

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It might seem weird to have Ashiok, Dream Render in the sideboard rather than in the main deck since on its face, it looks like one of the best mill cards in Standard, potentially milling 20 cards all by itself for just three mana. The problem is that Ashiok, Dream Render exiles our opponent's graveyard whenever we activate it, which turns off Vantress Gargoyle and also Into the Story. As such, we have Ashiok, Dream Render in the sideboard to bring in against decks that are using their graveyard for value (Esper Stax or anything with Arclight Phoenix or Commander the Dreadhorde, for example). It's also worth keeping in mind that Ashiok, Dream Render can be good against some Field of the Dead decks since it shuts down our opponent's ability to search their library for lands with cards like Golos, Tireless Pilgrim or Circuitous Route

Wrap-Up

All in all, Mono-Blue Mill actually felt pretty solid. We finished our five matches with a 3-2 record but came extremely close to going 4-1 (in our match against Golgari Adventures, we ended up just a card short of milling our opponent out). We absolutely crushed slower controlling decks and actually did a surprisingly good job against midrange creature decks as well, even beating a Turn 3 Rotting Regisaur that attacked us for something like 10 straight turns by chump blocking it with our random mill dorks). On the other hand, we did get to see the downside of being Mono-Blue Mill against Mono-Red Goblins: the matchup against aggro creature decks that can go wide is really, really tough since we don't have much real removal or any lifegain. 

As far as changes I'd make to the budget build now that we've played some matches with it, I'm actually pretty happy with how it turned out. The sideboard is still a bit rough. I keep thinking we should have more copies of Warrant // Warden somewhere, but I'm not exactly sure what to cut. But in general, I'd run back Mono-Blue Mill exactly as it is. Apart from struggling against go-wide aggro, the deck was surprisingly strong.

If you like the idea of milling opponents out in Standard or are just looking for a super-cheap deck, I'd high recommend Mono-Blue Mill. While the weakness to aggro likely means it will never beat a Grand Prix–winning list, you can certainly post a good record with it on Magic Arena (where Mono-Blue Mill is also super cheap, at just 9 main-deck rares and zero mythics) or at your local Friday Night Magic. It also has some interesting upgrade potential. While the cost of dual lands make it hard to do on a budget, both blue-white and blue-black mill could go a long way to solving the deck's aggro issue by adding sweepers, hard removal, and / or lifegain to the sideboard.

Ultra-Budget Mill

No ultra-budget list this week, $27 is already as cheap as it gets!

For our non-budget list this week, we splash into black. While there are probably some small upgrades that can be made to the mono-blue build, like additional copies of Castle Vantress, to really improve the deck's weaknesses, we need to move into a second color for hard removal and sweepers. In the main deck, black gives us Drown in the Loch over a couple of our three-mana counterspells, offering both removal and an additional counter. In our deck, it should be a hard version of both starting as early as Turn 2, thanks to our ability to fill our opponent's graveyard. Then, in the sideboard, we get Ritual of Soot as a sweeper, Thought Erasure as an extra way to answer annoying threats, and Murderous Rider as a clean answer to not just creatures but planeswalkers as well. While these upgrades do increase the deck's price quite a bit, it's still just $150, with almost all of the increase coming from a playset of Watery Grave and Fabled Passage to make the mana work. If you're looking to play Mill as competitively as possible, this is where I'd start, although splashing into white is another option that offers potential. Still, Drown in the Loch is too good to pass up in a dedicated mill deck.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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