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Budget Magic: $94 (20 tix) Modern UB Mill

Howdy Budget Magic lovers, it's that time of the week once again. Today we are charging back into Modern with an archetype I never expected I would be playing competitively: UB Mill. Mill decks have a weird stigma in competitive Magic where it is often viewed as a "noob" or casual deck, but I've really never understood why. In essence, playing a mill strategy is just like playing a burn deck with the downside that your "burn" is a bit less powerful and can never take out a problematic creature, but it also has some odd upsides due to the support cards available to the archetype. We'll talk more about the similarities and differences between mill and burn in a minute, but first let's get to the videos. Oh, just a quick reminder — if you enjoy the Budget Magic series and the other video content here on MTGGoldfish, make sure to subscribe to the MTGGoldfish Youtube Channel for all the latest and greatest. 

UB Mill Deck Tech

UB Mill vs 5-Color Humans?

UB Mill vs Grixis

UB Mill vs Dredge

UB Mill vs Waste Not Combo (featuring unintentional special guest: the wizard from Walking the Planes - Nathan Holt)

I mentioned in the intro that playing mill is much the same as playing burn. Think about it — two constants in every game of competitive Magic is that players start with 20 life and (typically) 60 cards in their deck. A burn deck is designed to get your opponent's life total from 20 to zero as fast as possible, while a mill deck's goal is to get an opponents library from 60 to zero as quickly as possible. 

What this means is that milling one card is one-third the power of dealing one damage to an opponent. Take for example, Bump in the Night and Dream Twist. Bump in the Night deals three damage to an opponent, which takes away 15 percent of their starting life total. Dream Twist mills three cards, which takes away 5 percent of an opponent's starting library. This is the drawback of mill — you are playing a bunch of what amount to overcosted burn spells. In fact, if you translate all the mill cards in the deck to burn damage, the only one that I think would see play in modern is Archive Trap which is almost an instant speed Lava Axe that you can cast for free if your opponent cracks a fetchland. I hear you asking, "if mill is just overcosted burn, why would I ever choose to play a mill deck over a burn deck?" Here are a few good reasons: 

  1. You only need to mill 53 cards to win since your opponent draws a seven card opening hand, which is almost equivalent of an opponent going land, fetch, take two every single game. 
  2. You get to start with one-third of an Underworld Dreams on the battlefield, so every time your opponent draws a card they are actually losing a fraction of a life point. 
  3. You get support cards that are not available to burn including a gain 54 life for 2B, a one mana dragon, and an Ancestral Recall
  4. You get to randomly hose some fringe strategies that are looking to abuse their graveyard. For instance Dredge is something like a 90/10 underdog to a mill deck. 
  5. Losing to mill has to be one of the most frustrating things for some competitive players who tend to view it as a deck for noobs or casuals. If your opponent flips the table during game one, you should end up with a free match win by DQ. 

The Mill

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Hedron Crab is a one mana creature that basically reads "whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, deal one damage to target player." While this might not seem all that impressive, the triggers really start to add up after a while, especially with fetchlands. Mr. Crabs is the reason we run six total copies of Evolving Wilds and Terramorphic Expanse in our deck as well. In the late game it also becomes a valuable chump blocker which is actually super important. Sometimes the ability to absorb a Tarmogoyf attack and get one more untap step is the difference between your opponent winning the game with 7 cards in their library and losing the game on their draw step. 

Breaking // Entering is a budget alternative to Glimpse the Unthinkable. It ends up being almost three damage for two mana. Obviously we can never cast the Entering side, but that's fine. Outside of Archive Trap, this is the most consistently efficient mill card in our deck. 

Mind Funeral ranges from below-average to amazing. It basically reads "roll a six-sided die, deal that amount of damage to target opponent." If we assume that the typical Modern deck is about one-third land, an average Mind Funeral should mill about twelve cards (less against control decks and more against aggro). The trouble is you can never really count on it, which makes calculating the "burn" amount difficult for the deck. 

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Dream Twist is the worst mill card in our deck; it basically deals two-damage for three mana if you cast it and flash it back. This said, it is still a mill card and it gets slightly better post-board when Dream Twist into Surgical Extraction can preemptively deal with some problematic cards. 

Thought Scour isn't generally thought of as a mill card since its most common use is to cycle while filling your own graveyard for delve and Snapcaster Mage, but we always want to target our opponent with the "mill two" ability. The bigger deal is that it replaces itself, so it comes pretty close to being a Needle Drop in our deck. 

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Archive Trap is the premium mill card in Modern — it is so good that we are willing to play a Trapmaker's Snare as a fifth copy. As I said before, it is basically an instant speed Lava Axe that you can cast for free if your opponent cracks a fetch. While the god-hand is four Archive Traps — which allows you to win the game on turn two assuming your opponent fetches — doesn't happen all that often, the possibility does exist. 

One of the odd aspects of Archive Trap is that is scares opponents away from cracking, or even playing fetchlands. It creates this funny sub-game (almost like Stifle in Legacy) which makes the opponent think really hard about a decision that is typically second nature in Modern. In Legacy, the timing of using a fetchland can literally be a game winning/losing decision, but Modern players aren't use to thinking this way — they just crack their fetches at the end of turn. While I might be reading too much into this, my working theory is that having to think about when to crack a fetch takes away from our opponent's finite amount of brain power and could make other aspects of their game suffer as a result. 

The Payoffs

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These three cards are the reason to play a mill deck over a burn deck. They don't take too much effort to turn on and once they are active, they are incredibly powerful. With twenty cards in a graveyard, Visions of Beyond is literally Ancestral Recall; plus you can always cycle it if things are not going according to plan. Jace's Phantasm is a 5/5 flier on turn two much of the time — stats that put it among the most efficient threats ever printed. Finally, Crypt Incursion gains a ton of life (my current record is 54), offers main deck hate against things like Bloodghast and Gravecrawler, while also weakening opposing delve cards to some extent. Most importantly, it is a way to buy several more draw steps to topdeck the one or two mill spells needed to finish off our opponent's library.

The Sideboard

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Dismember serves two main purposes. First, it is another answer to the Splinter Twin combo, which is always something to be aware of in Modern. Second, it replaces Doom Blade in matchups where only hitting "non-black creature" is a legitimate draw back. For instance, against Tasigur, the Golden Fang or Gurmag Angler. The more I think about it, it is probably just better to have the Dismembers in the mainand and move the Doom Blades to the board. 

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One card I was very concerned about in building this deck was Leyline of Sanctity, which we literally cannot beat. I thought about using Echoing Truth but, unlike a "big turn" combo deck like storm, our mill deck isn't typically going to be able to win the game on a one turn reprieve from the Leyline of Sanctity lock; we needed a permanent answer. The idea is that we can use Set Adrift to put the Leyline of Sanctity on top of our opponent library and then use one of our many mill card to get rid of it for good. 

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Modern has a lot of decks looking to abuse the graveyard in one way or another and as a result both of these cards are extremely important to winning against specific decks. Surgical Extraction is a targeted answer to things like Bloodghast, Griselbrand or Life from the Loam, and is powerful enough to swing some matchups on its own. Ravenous Trap, on the other hand, is an answer to Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and other "shuffle your graveyard into your library effects." You can't plan on being successful with a mill deck in Modern without a plan to answer these triggers, and Ravenous Trap is by far the best option since it hits the entire graveyard; Surgical Extraction and Crypt Incursion will exile the Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, but the rest of the graveyard will still be shuffled back in undoing all of our hard work. Plus we can usually cast it for free with its "trap" cost and we can tutor for it at instant speed with our Trapmaker's Snare


I'll leave you today with a less budget friendly version of mill which managed to 4-0 a Modern Daily Event a couple months ago. If you are looking to add some money to the deck, this seems like a reasonably starting point. 


Amway, that's all for today. Leave your thoughts, ideas and improvements in the comments. As always, you can reach me on Twitter (or MTGO) @SaffronOlive. 

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