Limited Lessons – The Mill Deck in Triple Shadowmoor Draft

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Monday, May 26th – Patrick Chapin is busy recovering from Pro Tour: Hollywood, and thus his article will appear later this week. In his place, we have Nick Eisel’s take on the innovative Milling draft strategy available in triple Shadowmoor. If attacking for two just ain’t your thing, look no further…

As promised, this week I’ll be detailing the other unconventional archetype available in triple Shadowmoor, the Mill Deck.

Before I dive into any actual strategy regarding the deck, I want to outline a few things you need to know before attempting something risky like this. The most important thing about this deck is that you shouldn’t go into a draft looking to force it. The best way to approach a strategy like this is to slide into it if the packs open favorably and you see Drowner Initiates and Memory Sluices that will almost certainly table back to you. This is a strategy you always want to have in the back of your mind for the times when you see the cards getting opened because it can reap huge rewards when it works.

The big strength of this archetype comes from the fact that most of the cards that make it work are totally unplayable elsewhere. I’ve tried a few different iterations of the archetype, such as UB, UW, and Mono-Blue, and while all were good, Mono-Blue was definitely the best. This is still a small sample size, as it’s not often a draft comes up where you’re able to audible into this deck in the first place, let alone try out different color combinations. The overwhelming majority of the cards you want are Blue, but I’ll talk about some of the off-color options as well.

Drafting the Deck

The game plan here is pretty simple: mill out the opponent as quickly as possible while still employing enough control elements so that you don’t die first.

The Tools

Drowner Initiate
This guy is the main reason to enter a strategy such as this one, and you’ll clearly need multiples if you plan on being successful. He is quite good at what he does, and yet another reason that you want as much of your deck as possible to be Blue. The nice thing is that he comes down early, so that every spell afterwards should mill two cards unless you’re put into a bind where you have to play it without the spare mana. He also plays nicely with the other reason to draft this deck…

Memory Sluice
When my roommate and I were first looking over the spoiler, I jokingly suggested that the Dimir archetype could be back. At this time, Drowner wasn’t even previewed so it seemed quite unlikely. At any rate, having a common that essentially functions as Glimpse the Unthinkable goes a long way towards making a mill strategy work. I’d say overall Drowner is slightly more important than this since it triggers off every spell. This still packs a huge punch, as Drowner is a cheap guy to enable the Conspire and this mills ten with Drowner in play.

These two commons are the keys which make the archetype even exist, and the beauty of it is that you don’t have to pick them highly as they are totally unplayable in other decks.


The best way to make this archetype work is to bend to the needs of the tools listed above. Drowner likes cheap spells, and Sluice likes cheap Blue guys so that it can be reliably Conspired. The rest of the strategy is built around these two ideas, and I’m going to highlight some of the cards that make it work.

Oona’s Gatewarden and Zealous Guardian
These guys fit both requirements above, and sadly the Guardian is quite good in this archetype despite being a vanilla 1/1 for one. The Gatewarden is a great blocker as I outlined in The Gun archetype a few weeks back. Neither of these are that great, so again they are more cards you can get very late that fit the deck perfectly.

Parapet Watchers
Since the goal is to be Mono-Blue or close to it, this guy is a great blocker in the middle or late game, when you’re just waiting to draw that last Blue spell or two to win the game with Drowner.

Briarberry Cohort
This guy gets prioritized by archetypes like UW, so I wouldn’t worry about taking him super highly. Since the goal isn’t to win by damage anyway, it only matters that he’s a cheap guy that can block a flier if necessary, and that’s not a huge deal here. By all means take him, but he’s not necessary to the functionality of the archetype at all.

This is Uncommon but I’m mentioning it here because it’s an absolute windmill slam in a slow controlling deck like this. Besides Oona herself, or Swans of Bryn Argoll, this is the one card I’d want most in my mill decks.

Obviously the list of creatures doesn’t end here, but this are the ones that are especially important to note in this deck. Remember, cheap guys enable both mill cards so you want a lot of them. Midrange guys like the Hill Giants are also fine to make sure you have enough total guys to Conspire regularly.

Defense/Control Elements

Since this is another one of my “do nothing” archetypes, some control elements will surely be required. Keep in mind that the cheaper the better, as you will have to wait a turn to cast them with Drowner out.

This is the one archetype where I think this card is better than Consign to Dream. There are a few reasons for this. The first is that you’re already building your deck so that you can Conspire Blue spells on a regular basis, so it shouldn’t be a problem firing this off for the full effect. Second, and this is possibly more important than the first reason: you will be sitting there playing 1/1s and not really doing a whole lot, which forces the opponent to put pressure on you and allows you to wreck him with this spell. Finally, with a Conspired Aethertow you can stack the abilities so that you’re able to mill one creature from the Aethertow with Drowner’s ability.

In summation, Aethertow is the bomb in this deck.

Torpor Dust
It doesn’t look like much, but this baby will buy you lots of time. It also has Flash, so you can keep your mana up for bounce or counters and then play it on their end step and mill them.

Curse of Chains
The big thing here is that this is very cheap and should effectively deal with most threats. I’m unsure whether I like this or Torpor Dust better, as I usually have a mix of both and they both have their niche applications.

Put Away
I probably wouldn’t want more than one of this in a dedicated mill deck with multiple Drowners. This is just so slow to get going if you’re assuming you have at least one Drowner in play, and the only decent benefit is that you get to shuffle a Memory Sluice back in and hope you topdeck it again.

Spell Syphon
I actually like this card in the archetype quite a bit. Since the deck is reliant on cheap spells and cheap creatures, this counter seems like a perfect fit. If only there were a way to make a ton of Blue token creatures so that this card wasn’t dead in the late game, the archetype would be good to go. This is yet another common that nobody else wants, so you can easily get multiples.

Turn to Mist
I mainly use this card to protect my Drowner, but it can also kill an opposing Aura or buy you some time in a pinch. This is definitely great for the deck, since there aren’t many ways to protect your 1/1 flagship from opposing removal.

This guy is good for your top-end and a pretty good ground defender. I wouldn’t be overjoyed to play one, but he’s definitely alright in this deck.

The list could go on and on here, with cards I talk about seemingly every week like Silkbind Faerie and Consign to Dream, but I’m going to just do a summary instead. While the Faerie isn’t even on the above list, it’s definitely the best common pick for the archetype since you will get the milling cards late in the draft anyway. The way you get into a deck like this is by taking good Blue cards early on and then seeing Drowners and Sluices going around the table. At that point you can decide to gamble and audible into the deck.

Essentially, you want to stay cheap when possible and remember that this is a deck that needs to live long enough to mill about 30 cards. This is a very doable task with the tools available, but you want to be taking enough control elements to ensure you live to see it happen.

Card Draw

If the deck is able to draw a bunch of cards, it would seem that winning would be easy with multiple Memory Sluices.

Cerulean Wisps
I wasn’t sure which category to put this under, as it can serve a bunch of roles. First, it can be another tap on a key turn with Silkbind Faerie. Second, it plays well with Conspire. Third, it’s essentially a free mill of two cards with Drowner, since it replaces itself. This card is excellent in the deck and I’d be fine playing multiples if I had a few Drowners.

Ghastly Discovery
This is another common reason to want to Conspire regularly. Digging four cards deep is pretty strong and should get you going in the right direction. I’ve tried this in other archetypes and it usually just ends up being a Catalog since you want to be aggressive. This archetype, however, is the perfect fit for the card.

Flow of Ideas
This is an absolute bomb in the archetype. I can’t imagine casting this for six cards or more and not winning unless I was already too far behind to mill them out before I was dead.

Advice from the Fae
Another card without a home that fits extremely well. Since the plan is to play 1/1 dorks, you should have more guys than the opponent and get the extra card from this. It also digs deep, which is good for finding Sluices.

Scarscale Ritual
I like this card in general, but it is unplayable in this archetype as it kills most of the creatures you’ll be playing. Definitely something to avoid.

Moonring Island
I have no idea in which section this belongs either, but somehow it’s actually playable in this deck. The idea, of course, is that you can look at their top card in the mid-game and leave it up there if it’s a land and you’re not under pressure. This does come into play tapped, which can be an issue, but I think I’d still play one and lord knows nobody else wants it.

Other Color Options

Like I said earlier, most of my experience in this deck has been with Mono-Blue. I do think you can go with some other color options if you choose to experiment, and I wanted to outline some of the things you can think about. Obviously you can splash anything into a single colored deck, and splashing for Red removal could be a good option.

For White, the cards I’ve liked so far in this deck are Ballynock Cohort and Burrenton Medic. The Cohort is a great blocker, and this deck can play any of the UW hybrid cards to power it up. The Medic is just a great control card if you’re able to get it online, which this deck should have no problem doing. The one time I ended up in UW I really wished I would’ve just taken more Blue cards though, as it hurts not being able to trigger Drowner with every spell.

For Black, I splashed two Lock Corrigans in a semi-failed attempt at a Mill deck. The idea there was that they could be alternate win conditions or just good blockers in the late-game. That deck didn’t turn out so well.

If anyone else has experience with adding other colors to this archetype please feel free to share thoughts in the forums, but so far I’ve mainly liked Mono-Blue when I was in this deck.

I was going to list two decks here but they honestly looked very similar and were maybe 7-8 cards different, so I’ll just list the best mill deck I’ve had so far.

3 Drowner Initiate
3 Memory Sluice
Cerulean Wisps
2 Oona’s Gatewarden
2 Zealous Guardian
Briarberry Cohort
Puresight Merrow
Spell Syphon
Curse of Chains
Turn to Mist
Torpor Dust
Advice from the Fae
Ghastly Discovery
Silkbind Faerie
2 Aethertow
Oona, Queen of the Fae
16 Island

Hopefully this article was informative for those times when you see the mill cards going around and are able to switch into the archetype. Again, this isn’t something you want to go out and try at your local FNM just because you read about it, but it’s a nice strategy to have in your toolbox when the situation arises.

Nick Eisel
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