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Budget Magic: Hideous Copy Mill (Standard 2022)


Anyoung, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! Mill is one of the most unique archetypes in Magic. Some people love it, some people hate it, but generally (with the one exception being Modern, sometimes), the plan of emptying your opponent's library isn't all that competitive. Thanks to Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, we currently have one of the best mill spells printed in years currently legal in Standard: Tasha's Hideous Laughter. The problem with building mill in Standard is that, beyond Laughter, there are only a couple of playable mill spells in Maddening Cacophony and Ruin Crab, which means we don't have the critical mass of mill spells needed to play a burn-style mill deck where you sling a bunch of mill spells and essentially burn the opponent out of the game by emptying their library. So, how can we make Standard mill work? Take the few good mill spells we have (especially Tasha's Hideous Laughter), and copy them as many times as possible with things like Rowan, Scholar of Sparks, Teach by Example, and Dual Strike! In some matchups, two Tasha's Hideous Laughter are enough to mill more than 30 cards, which should win us the game, backed by some incidental milling from cards like [[Ruin Crab]. Even in bad matchups, three copies of Tasha's Hideous Laughter are usually enough. As such, the plan of Hideous Copy Mill, as its name suggests, is to stall out the game with removal while we draw into a mill spell and at least one (and hopefully two) copy spells; then, we have our big mill turn where we copy Tasha's Hideous Laughter a few times and empty our opponent's library by surprise! The best part? The deck only has two mythics and 12 rares! Can the plan of copying Tasha's Hideous Laughter work in the pre-rotated Standard 2022 format? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Hideous Copy Mill

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The Deck

Hideous Copy Mill is basically a combo-mill deck. While our only realistic plan for winning the game is emptying our opponent's library, rather than milling incrementally a few cards at a time, we're trying to set up one big combo turn where we copy a Tasha's Hideous Laughter (or Maddening Cacophony) multiple times and empty our opponent's entire library at once!

The Mill

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As we talked about in the intro, there just aren't that many good mill spells in post-rotation Standard. In fact, our mill deck only has three cards that can help to empty our opponent's library. The best and most important is Tasha's Hideous Laughter. The wording on Tasha's Hideous Laughter—exiling cards from our opponent's library until 20 mana value has been exiled—means that we never know exactly how many cards it will mill. It's super dependent on the matchup and the situation. Generally speaking, it mills more against aggro and less against control and midrange since control and midrange tend to play more high-mana-value cards while aggro usually keeps its curve low to the ground. When I mathed out Tasha's Hideous Laughter for pre-rotation Standard, the average was somewhere around 13 cards, although, in practice, we often hit 15 to 20 in a lot of matchups. This means that while a single Tasha's Hideous Laughter isn't enough to win the game, two copies can be (especially if we can mill a bit earlier in the game and get our opponent down to around 30 cards in their library), and three copies are usually enough, even in less-than-great matchups.

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Backing up Tasha's Hideous Laughter are Maddening Cacophony and Ruin Crab. Ruin Crab is our best incidental mill card. As I mentioned a moment ago, we're usually trying to get our opponent down to around 30 cards in their library, which should make it so a copied Tasha's Hideous Laughter is lethal. A Ruin Crab that comes down early in the game usually mills at least nine cards and sometimes more, which, combined with our opponent drawing for their turn (and drawing an opening hand), quickly gets our opponent's library into the 3--card range. 

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As for Maddening Cacophony, milling eight cards for two mana is solid (offering another way to get our opponent into the 30-card range for the combo kill). While it's not as explosive as Tasha's Hideous Laughter is, it is a reasonable target for our spell-copying cards. If we happen to get to six mana and kick Maddening Cacophony to mill half of our opponent's library, this should always remove enough cards that a copied Tasha's Hideous Laughter can finish the job. 

Copying

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As far as copying our big mill spells, we have a few options. Teach by Example and Dual Strike are basically the same card, with the main difference being that we can foretell Dual Strike and cast it later for just a single mana. (This is helpful, allowing lines like foretelling Dual Strike on Turn 2 and then casting and copying a Tasha's Hideous Laughter on Turn 4, which can win the game on the spot if we have a Ruin Crab on Turn 1 and another Tasha's Hideous Laughter or Maddening Cacophony on Turn 3.) Meanwhile Rowan, Scholar of Sparks lets us copy spells with its ultimate, and while, in general, it's not good to plan on using a planeswalker ultimate, since Rowan costs just three mana and can ultimate after just two turns of using the +1, it's one of the easier planeswalkers to ultimate. Plus, the combo of Rowan and Will offers additional value. The static ability of making our spells cheaper helps to speed up the plan of copying our mill spells, and in a pinch, we can cast Will and draw some cards to help find our combo pieces.

Card Draw

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Outside of combo pieces, we have has some card draw and removal to help us find our mill and copy spells and stay alive long enough to cast them. Behold the Multiverse digs four cards deep for Tasha's Hideous Laughter and our copy spells while also helping to disguise our other foretell cards, Dual Strike and Saw It Coming. Plus, outside of our mill combo, our deck is pretty good at playing at instant speed, making Behold the Multiverse preferable to Expressive Iteration in this deck, even though Expressive Iteration probably is a more powerful card overall.

Staying Alive

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As far as interaction, we have Frost Bite to deal with creatures in the early game, Saw It Coming as a counter, and Battle of Frost and Fire as a sweeper. Battle of Frost and Fire probably looks really strange in the deck, and in some ways, it is. We don't have any spells that have a mana value of five or greater, so the last lore counter doesn't really do anything. But being able to sweep away a board full of creatures is super helpful against aggro, and scrying three is a good way to find a Tasha's Hideous Laughter or copy spell (if we already have the Laughter) to close out the game.

The Mana

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One thing I really appreciate about Standard 2022 is that you can build a solid two-color mana base out of just commons. While Prismari Campus and Volatile Fjord coming into play tapped is annoying on occasion, the mana in Standard 2022 is pretty bad in general, and most decks have tapped lands, which makes our ultra-budget mana base feel less bad in comparison. Sure, in a perfect world, we'd have a playset of Riverglide Pathway, but it's not really necessary. The mana felt solid and consistent, if a little slow. Plus, both of our dual lands have a bit of upside, with Volatile Fjord being a snow land to help power up Frost Bite and the scry from Prismari Campus being a nice bit of protection from flooding out.

Playing the Deck

The most important thing to realize about Copy Mill is that it plays like a combo-control deck. Remember: the main goal is to get the opponent down to around 30 cards in their library and then copy Tasha's Hideous Laughter once (or even twice) to close out the game. This means that in the early turns of the game, we're mostly killing and countering our opponent's stuff and digging through our deck to find our combo pieces. While we do sometimes get hands where we have a bunch of Tasha's Hideous Laughters and Maddening Cacophonys and can win by firing them off on Turn 2, most often, we're holding our mill spells in hand in the early game and playing the control role as we set up the combo.

Rowan, Scholar of Sparks is really matchup dependent. Against aggro, it is pretty lacking, and it's usually not worth spending counters and removal to protect because our opponent will likely be able to find a way to keep it from ultimating anyway, and Rowan isn't that good without the ultimate, especially against aggro. On the other hand, Rowan, Scholar of Sparks is one of our best cards against control. We can get it down on Turn 3, often before our opponent can leave up a counter, and rush the ultimate, which is close to unbeatable for control since it invalidates all of their counters (since even if our opponent copies the original, we can pay two mana to make a copy, which should resolve) and lets us draw a ton of cards with Behold the Multiverse. Against control and midrange, it's usually worth spending resources aggressively to protect Rowan, Scholar of Sparks long enough to get the ultimate because the ultimate should win us the game.

Finally, I'm not sold on Battle of Frost and Fire in the deck. Heading into our games, I was worried that we would get run over by aggro if we didn't have a sweeper, but in practice, we never cast a Battle of Frost and Fire, and we mostly crushed aggro because Tasha's Hideous Laughter is so insane against decks with a low average mana value. Next time I play the deck, I'll at least trim a couple of copies of the saga, and I might just drop it altogether for some combination of Expressive Iteration and more targeted removal.

Wrap-Up

All in all, we finished 5-3 with Hideous Copy Mill, which is a pretty solid record for an oddball budget deck, and we came super close to winning two other matches, ending up one land short of beating Mono-Black Aggro and a couple of cards short of finishing Izzet Dragons. I expected the deck to be janky and fun, but it actually ended up being surprisingly competitive too!

As far as changes to make to the budget build of the deck, as I mentioned before, I'm probably going to cut Battle of Frost and Fire. It seems like we can beat aggro without it, and if we replace it with something like Expressive Iteration or targeted removal like Demon Bolt, we can cut four more rares from the deck, bringing the total cost down to two mythics and eight rares! 

So, should you play Hideous Copy Mill? I think the answer is yes, especially if you like mill or copy decks. It's unique, fun, and cheap, which is exactly what you're looking for in a budget deck. Plus, based on our matches, it felt reasonably competitive too. Tasha's Hideous Laughter is surprisingly strong, and the plan of copying it a few times, while jank looking, actually worked pretty well in practice.

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The version of Hideous Copy Mill we played for the video had a total of 14 rares and mythics, but we can make the deck even cheaper with some careful cuts. The only rares that are uncuttable are our mill spells Tasha's Hideous Laughter and Maddening Cacophony. This means we can cut Battle of Frost and Fire for two copies of Demon Bolt and two Expressive Iteration and drop Rowan, Scholar of Sparks for two more copies of Teach by Example, leaving us with a deck that isn't that much different or worse (especially considering we were planning to cut Battle of Frost and Fire anyway) than the one we played for the video but with a total cost of just eight rares and zero mythics!

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Finally, the non-budget build of Hideous Copy Mill is strange. It's tempting to just throw powerful stand-alone cards in our colors (like Goldspan Dragon or Alrund's Epiphany) into the deck, just because they are good, but the best Izzet cards in Standard 2022 don't really synergize with our primary plan of milling our opponent out of the game. As such, rather than throwing in random busted mythics just because we can, we're taking a lighter touch with the upgrade, sticking to our mill plan and mostly just updating the mana base to include Faceless Haven, Riverglide Pathway, Shatterskull Smashing, and Sea Gate Restoration

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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