The Mill by the Dross: Drafting U/B Control in Ravnica

I keep having success drafting Blue/Black decks online. I guess milling is not sexy enough compared to hasty fliers, Saproling generators or graveyard recursion. Anyway, here’s a draft article for the masses, for those of you keeping your winter nights warm with the magic of Ravnica draft.

It’s been a while since I’ve plied my skills at draft analysis. A big part of that has been because, well, I’d hardly been doing any in recent months (to reiterate, I have been both poor and living no where near a decent game store). But, with a) the release of Ravnica and b) my recent promotion and hefty, hefty raise and, of course, the thing that’s been keeping me from slitting my wrists since I moved to the Middle of Nowhere, c) high-speed Internet, I’ve been doing a lot of RAV-RAV-RAV drafting and getting back up to speed.

Initially, I was having a lot of success drafting the U/B mill deck, as no one else was drafting it. It’s not like I didn’t try to play the other three guilds on occasion. But I kept getting passed Vedalken Entrancers and Psychic Drains and figured, okay, I’m not going to complain here. I guess milling is not sexy enough compared to hasty fliers, Saproling generators or graveyard recursion.

Lately, it seems the cat’s out of the bag, the Chamber of Secrets has been opened and people are finally clued into how good this archetype is. No longer am I getting those late Vedalken Entrancers and seeing Psychic Drains going around the table. Now, I’m having to fight for those cards if I want to go the mill route.

Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I’m going to borrow the Klassic Kartin’ Ken method of draft evaluation (which, of course, he took from Geordie Tait, who took it from… somebody, I’m sure – remember, after all, the ancient Egyptians coined the phrase “there is nothing new under the sun,” proving that over 6000 years ago, all the good ideas were already taken).


1. Last Gasp

Yes, the first pick in the mill deck is a removal spell. Why removal first? Because, hands down, it’s the best common in the format, and you’ll be fighting for it with both G/B and G/W/b drafters. On the bright side, though, there are three or four very good removal spells in the common slot, so even if you whiff here, there’s other options available.

2. Vedalken Entrancer

If I’m going to be controversial, I might as well start early. I’ve found there are two kinds of draft tables: those that get the power of the mill deck and those that don’t. If you are at the latter table, you’ll get those Entrancers late and can load up on good stuff early. If you are at a table with drafters who are clued into the power of the mill deck and you want to go that route, the Entrancer is the poster child for the mill deck and you must have at least one if not more of this card in your deck. I advise take the first one early and then see what develops, if you can cut them early, you can hopefully keep other drafters out of the mill deck and then pick up more Entrancers late.

So goes the theory.

Note that I did not say cutting Blue. There are two viable U/B decks in Ravnica draft, the control/mill deck and the beatdown/fliers deck. Cards like Moroii, Halcyon Glaze and Snapping Drake are much more at home in the beatdown variant, and you can pass those without worrying too much about getting screwed over later in your colors.

3. Disembowel

I actually like this card a bit more than Last Gasp, I kid(ney) you not. You may think I’ve got some spleenin’ to do, but if you can stomach it, I’ll tell you why you shouldn’t have to make a gut-check and grab this card early. Hate the puns? Too bad. You know what they say, liver let live. It’s instant speed removal that can’t be foiled by the like of Seeds of Strength or Gather Courage, and with enough mana, kills anything. It’s a bit more expensive, though, so it slides down here.

4. Stinkweed Imp

Stinky is another card that you used to be able to get late but has become more popular recently. This is another creature that opponents are going to be reluctant to swing into, and while the dredge cost is expensive, it’s not prohibitive.

5. Drift of Phantasms

Drifts are also integral to the mill deck. They block almost everything and are nigh-indestructible, and have a limited tutoring ability built in. Who cares about attacking? The mill deck needs good blockers, and they don’t get better than this. Suck up as many as you can.

6. Tidewater Minion

The yin to the Entrancer’s yang (or is that the mongoose to my snake…?), the Minion is another must-have-one-of-if-not-more card for the mill deck. In addition to being a buff Red Zone blocker, the turbo mill it provides will usually carry you to victory once it starts cranking. Not a milling card per se but it’s considered an integral part of the archetype and for that reason, it’s ranked this high.

7. Induce Paranoia

A bit lower than you might think for the only true hard counter available. It does have the drawbacks of a) having to keep UUBx open to optimize it and b) being a really crappy blocker. But, oh, when you nail a Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi or Brainspoil with it, the swing that it generates gives you major momentum from that point on.

8. Brainspoil

Speaking of Brainspoil… it’s the most powerful of the Black kill cards, but also the most expensive and it’s not without it’s drawbacks as well. If you haven’t noticed, the bulk of the powerhouse removal or mill cards cost a minimum of four mana, so the deck tends to teeter on the expensive side when it comes to the mana curve. At least, with the double Black requirement, you’ll only be fighting the G/B decks for it, and not the decks that are only splashing Black.

9. Clinging Darkness

Strictly speaking, it’s the weakest of the Black removal spells in the common slot, but it’s actually one of the strongest cards for the U/B mill deck. What it doesn’t kill, it turns into a zero- or low-power Wall; in essence, it’s a Black Pacifism, and one that the aggressive G/B deck doesn’t have as much use for, so the opportunity to get it later in drafts should be there.

10. Vedalken Dismisser

Time Ebb on a stick. A very expensive stick. It’s a great tempo card and, if you have seven mana and an Entrancer handy, pseudo-removal. That six mana, though, puts him a little on the prohibitive side against faster decks.

11. Thoughtpicker Witch

It’s almost an afterthought, but it is a one-drop, which the archetype is almost devoid of and the ability is cheap, mana-wise (and it’s RFG, too). The only downside is that his ability is really more Saproling-friendly (hence, he’s more welcome in the Golgari build), but he’s good to use with blockers about to die in combat.

12. Lurking Informant

Lurking Informant is the poor man’s Entrancer; more expensive to use, mills half the cards and has only half the ass of our favorite 1/4 creature (we do like our creatures to be wearing the XXL pants), although it has a few positives: it’s a cheap two-drop and it allows you to manipulate your own library as well. If you end up getting shafted on Entrancers, he’ll do, Pig, he’ll do.

13. Tattered Drake

Tattered Drakes are like broccoli, you hate it, but you gotta eat it. Five mana – six if you want to save it in combat the turn you cast it – is a lot for a 2/2 flier. But an active Drake or two can do things Drifts can’t; kill opposing creatures in combat and go on the offensive.

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14. Dimir Signet/Golgari Signet

You’ll obviously want a Signet or two. The question is when to grab them. Around here feels about right.

15. Peel From Reality

Among the best of the bounce spells available, and obviously makes for an effective combat trick and/or with 187 critters. It’s an effective anti-radiance card and will foil the various powerful Auras…the fear of this card has caused more than one opponent to enchant one of my creatures with a Galvanic Arc.

16. Convolute

My only problem with poor man’s Mana Leak is the casting cost. If it along the lines of, say, Miscalculation – costing two mana for a two point Power Sink – it’d actually be better, since in the early game, I want to be dropping Drifts, Entrancers and Minions, and the mill deck is not chock-full of two drops. That being said, it’s the best of the soft counters available.

17. Compulsive Research

18. Consult the Necrosages

These could arguably go higher, and I like to have at least one of these in a deck. Sometimes they’ll just come in a run and you can squeeze in two or three. Consult is solid and versatile, though I find I seldom use the discard effect. Compulsive Research is great in the late game when you’ve got lands to spare, and it can target your opponent, which can be synergistic with the mill strategy. That situation has never come up for me, but it’s worth remembering.

19. Sewerdreg

More valuable as a blocker or when I’ve got to go aggro against B/G rather than a limited Shred Memory. I’ve run it when short of decent power dorks. He’s…okay. And that’s okay.

20. Dimir House Guard

He does double duty quite well, especially on those rare occasions (hopefully rare) that you’ve gotta go for the life totals. For the mill deck, he’s there as a blocker and tutor for an Entrancer. If you’ve only managed to get a hold of one Entrancer for your deck, you might want to draft a House Guard a little higher than this. [Peeps still sleepin’ on da House. Shocking. – Knut]

21. Dimir Infiltrator

The one-power unblockable attacker would be more welcome if there were Ninjas in this set. There aren’t. More attractive is the three-toughness rump for two mana and being able to transmute for Last Gasp or Psychic Drain.

22. Dimir Aqueduct/Golgari Rot Farm

You certainly like to have one or two of these, but I seldom go out of my way to get them.

23. Strands of Undeath

Drop this on an Entrancer, and you’ve got a nigh-unstoppable-but-very-slow soft lock. The discard isn’t too bad, either. The only downside is that (as previously mentioned) is that the deck is chock full of expensive four and five drops), so this card might not squeeze into a steep mana curve.

24. Perplex

Oh, how it taunts you, this card, with its Sisyphean temptations. Counterspell meets Mindslicer, with transmute! What’s not to like? A lot, actually. When I first started drafting the U/B mill deck, I’d shoehorn these in, thinking, “Aha, what will my opponent do when he’s forced to discard his hand?” Too frequently, it was, “Okay, fine by me,” he’d discard two or three cards and beat me about the head and shoulders with whatever I didn’t counter. Perplex is great on turn three when your opponent has a full hand and rapidly fades in value from there. At the very least you can hunt up a Drift with it.

25. Roofstalker Wight

It’s a two-drop with a respectable two power and can fly. It can fill the two-drop void in the deck, but more often than not, it’s just there to trade with something else.

26. Snapping Drake

Snappy here is as good a place as any to go into further detail regarding the razor’s edge that is the mill deck. What happens if you don’t draw any Entrancers, or you got stuck with no Entrancers but maybe a singleton of Duskmantle, House of Shadow and Lurking Informant? There are times that you’ll have to go on the offense, and almost all of the creatures in the deck are pretty crappy at that, so creatures that can do double duty – block and attack effectively – shouldn’t be scoffed at. Where, then, should a card like Snapping Drake go? If your draft is going badly, Snappy becomes a much better card for the backup plan and should be drafted higher. If all is going according to plan and you’ve got a clutch of Entrancers, Minions and removal spells, then ship Snappy off to the next drafter.

27. Shred Memory

There are occasions you’ll need something to deal with Golgari threats, like Moldervine Cloak or Shambling Shell. And it transmutes too. So it’s not completely worthless.

28. Dimir Machinations

It seems powerful. If you can snag a bomb with it, then I suppose you could run it. But three cards out of forty does not a great mill strategy make. I’ve had this card played against me several times and I’ve never lost because of it. Stupid play errors, though, that’s another story.

29. Surveilling Sprite

Has good synergy with Thoughtpicker Witch. Mostly just there to chump in combat and draw you a card.

30. Stasis Cell

If you completely whiffed on removal spells, it’s runnable. It does have the added advantage of being able to be moved from threat to threat. But that casting cost, ugh…

31. Quickchange

Once in a blue moon I’ve been able to decide that, you know, your Skyknight Legionnaire would look much better if it was Blue and Black. Why, what do you know, all my creatures happen to be those colors! Thank you for not only untapping them but also enabling all my Drifts to kill your fliers. You are really too kind. Good game. Truly evil with Cleansing Beam and Brightflame, and it’s a cantrip.

32. Sadistic Augermage

Sometimes you just need a warm body, and at three power, that’s enough to trade with a lot of cards in the red zone. The ability is occasionally relevant with the mill strategy as well.

33. Muddle the Mixture

Really, far too limited a counterspell, and if you need the transmute ability you should have gotten a few Dimir Infiltrators – they can at least block. Worth playing if you fear a bomb like Brightflame or your opponent has a lot of Black kill spells, but draft is generally not a format ruled by instants.

34. Terraformer

Mostly just a Gray Ogre to trade in combat with another dork. If you’re splashing other colors, the ability can occasionally be relevant.

35. Flight of Fancy

The two cards are nice, but all your best blockers should already fly. More at home in an aggressive Blue deck.

36. Terrarion

Useful if you are splashing colors or desperate for a 23rd card.

37. Necromantic Thirst

If the stars are perfectly aligned, this almost becomes a Pacifism or a Raise Dead. That’s happened for me, oh, say, never. Theoretically usable in a more aggressive deck to recur dead creatures, but, as you should have figured out by now, this is not an aggro deck.

After this, we’re into the truly unplayables.

38. Drake Familiar

39. Dizzy Spell (unless you’re savagely missing like KK and have a deck full of Marks of Eviction)

40. Infectious Host

41. Zephyr Spirit

On to the uncommons:

1. Mark of Eviction (0.8)

If KK is peeved at me for stealing his draft analysis style, maybe rating this card as the top uncommon will appease him. The mill deck likes this card because a) it’s cheap, keeping Thoughtpicker Witch company in the otherwise barren one-drop slot and b) it’s reusable, slowing down your opponent turn after turn. Combined with Strands of Undeath, other splashed Auras, Keening Banshee or Vedalken Dismisser, it gets sick – in a good way.

2. Belltower Sphinx (0.9)

Drift of Phantasms on the juice. Like the Drifts, there’s only a handful of spells that can deal with it, and it is not a card your opponent wants to attack into. The only negative is the five mana casting cost, but that’s more than fair for this bomb.

3.Psychic Drain (1.3)

The days when this would get passed around the table have long since passed (if it does get passed around the table to you, then you are permitted to do the Dance of Joy (goat optional)). It’s win condition and life gain in one spiffy package, which is never unwelcome in a slow control deck. The only thing I don’t like about this card is that it’s pretty worthless until you have a lot of land in play, but once you do, good game.

4. Keening Banshee (2.8)

As has hopefully been established by this point, the mill deck simply wants to hide behind blockers and kill creatures while it mills the opponent’s library away, all the live long day. Here’s a creature that does both. Strongest against the Boros’ low-toughness attackers, all around solid, definitely a high pick.

5. Wizened Snitches (5.1)

I am never unhappy to snag a Wizened Snitches, and I will always run it main, due to the synergy with any of your milling cards. The Snitches let you see into your opponent’s future and in combination with an Entrancer or Duskmantle…hmmm, the crystal ball is hazy…wait, wait, yes, there it is! Another land! By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth, you doth be good at drawing those.

6. Duskmantle, House of Shadow (6.6)

This rating might be a scosh high, but if you end up shorted on Entrancers, you need something to fill out the mill deck. A bit more mana intensive but outside of Faith’s Fetters or land destruction, impossible to stop. Funny thing: I have never, ever been in a draft when I didn’t see multiples of this card come to me late. Not that I’m complaining.

7. Darkblast (7.5)

I had the lower on my list for a while, but then had a series of games where X/1’s like Elvish Skysweeper and Thundersong Trumpeter made my life miserable. Reusable kill is always welcome and the dredge cost is reasonable.

8. Remand (7.7)

In the early game, it’s a Time Walk. Late game, it’s a cantrip. For a measly two mana. What’s not to love?

9. Dimir Guildmage (9.5)

I’m not as high on this guy as other players. The abilities are deceivingly mediocre, at least in the early game. Late game, when you hopefully have oodles of mana, then he approaches bomb status. In the early game, though, I’m more than happy to simply throw him out there to either draw out a kill spell or trade with another dork in combat.

10. Moroii (9.8)

Much more at home in the aggro U/B deck, but it does make a very good blocker, as long as you aren’t in danger of losing to the loss of life. See also Drake, Snapping.

11. Junktroller (12.5)

A fine, fine blocker (which the mill deck adores to no end), and the ability can be useful against dredge tricks and recurring your own spells in a long game. It’s also the best anti-mill card out there, so it’s worth taking as a hate-draft as well.

12. Golgari Thug (13.1)

I might have this guy undervalued a bit. Basically, for the price of a draw step, he lets you get back an Entrancer or Minion that got sent to the grumper. This card’s value goes up if you are low on creatures or are facing a deck that has a lot of removal for your Entrancers.

13. Telling Time (15.5)

Why so low? Well, it’s not bad per se…it just doesn’t excite me. I value this about the same as Compulsive Research, which is more expensive but also a little more versatile.

14. Nightmare Void (16.5)

This is another card I’m really not too sure where to rank. On the one hand, it’s been good for me against slower decks, picking fatties and bombs out of my opponent’s hands, and it’s reusable. On the other hand, it’s been dead against opponents that drop their hands by turn five. It’s worth having, at the very least in the sideboard, but if it fights for a lot of other four drops in your deck it may have to go to the sideboard.

15. Cyclopean Snare (18.5)

A five mana Icy Manipulator is still an Icy Manipulator. If you’ve got the mana to sink into it, it’s going to lock down your opponent’s best creature every turn.

16. Clutch of the Undercity (22.5)

It’s the one true Boomerang effect in the set, but it also costs four mana (stop me if you’ve heard it before) and the Undermine effect is something you really don’t care about.

17. Mausoleum Turnkey (23.5)

No, he’s not a turkey… not quite. He does double duty, trading in combat and getting back goodies from the graveyard. If the graveyard is empty or the graveyard is full of crappy creatures, his value decreases. Set up correctly, though, he’s similar to Belltower Sphinx; a card an opponent does not want to attack into.

18. Vigor Mortis (26.5)

It’s a quicker, pricier Golgari Thug. It gets better if you’ve splashed green with Golgari Signet or Golgari Rot Farm.

19. Peregrine Mask (27.5)

Don’t laugh. Tidewater Minion is pretty nasty by himself, but what happens if you make him a flying, first strike 4/4?

20. Lore Broker (28.3)

You could consider this a mill card, but I’ve always been leery of cards that offer a symmetrical bonus to all players. If he’s making my main deck, I’m getting ready for the next draft.

21. Flow of Ideas (28.5)

Just too expensive to see much use, especially when I only have three Islands in play.

22. Mnemonic Nexus (30.5)

If you are worried about running into the mirror, then this is a good card. Otherwise, it’s useless. Worth hating late to keep other players from getting it, I suppose.

From here, we get to our “and, for $39, I’ll take the ceramic dog” cards. If you get that reference… you’re too damn old.

21. Vindictive Mob

22. Ethereal Usher

23. Carrion Howler

24. Undercity Shade

25. Netherborn Phalanx

26. Halcyon Glaze

27. Twisted Justice


You’ll probably never see these. I hardly ever do. But it’s good to know where they stand, ya know?

1. Hex (0.1)

Yes, removal at the top again. This is the absolutely number one must pick card for the mill deck. It’s a freakin’ one-sided Wrath of God here, people. You stall them out with Drifts and Minions, they drop more creatures to try to overwhelm you, then boom! Thank you, drive through.

2. Glimpse the Unthinkable (0.2)

Gets the #2 slot narrowly since this card mills anywhere between one third to your entire opponents deck – for two mana.

3. Dimir Doppleganger (1.8)

Let’s look at the plusses: it can duplicate a dead Entrancer, Minion or Drift; it can drain your opponent’s graveyard, being an anti-dredge card, and it can always change into something else more useful. The minuses: the ability is a bit expensive. I’d say the plusses are winning at this point.

4. Circu, Dimir Lobotomist (1.9)

A little lower on the list, but barely – it’s still bomb-biggity good. He does have two small negatives: one, he does no milling by himself, but turns every spell into a mill effect (so he’s not as good with a near-empty hand) and two, he tends to come into play with a bullseye on him. Minor drawbacks, but worth remembering.

5. Szadek, Lord of Secrets (4.2)

Szadek will win you the game in two turns. Szadek also costs seven mana, and creatures are easier to deal with in this format than two mana sorceries. I mean, it’s not like he’s bad, and he makes for a fine fine blocker if need be…but that seven mana for something that gets flummoxed by Stinkweed Imp… oy.

Dragon Djinn seems like it should rock more.

6. Cerulean Sphinx (4.4)

There are times that you may have to go on the offense with the mill deck – in this case, a creature that can do double duty, both block and attack effectively, is necessary. This is an almost indestructible creature (shoot it, it just goes back to the library) that can kill most any creature in combat. It’s always good to have a backup plan. I learned that by watching The A-Team. That, and always have drugged milk handy for Mr. T.

7. Helldozer (4.7)

More at home in an aggro deck, and the activation cost is a major mana sink. That being said, if he can start eating your opponent’s lands, no land is just as good as no library, and he’s a fat body to boot. Could be rated higher or lower, feel free to discuss.

8. Tunnel Vision (6.4)

Speaking of expensive…this is a more erratic, more expensive and potentially more game-winning card than Glimpse the Unthinkable. It’s just so erratic, though…you could mill two, you could mill twenty, pick your poison. Although, if you have a Junktroller in play, this does become an “I win” card.

9. Followed Footsteps (8.8)

Of the Blue-heavy decks, this card is probably at its best in this archetype, since most of the creatures you want to enchant with it are difficult to get rid of – the trio of Drifts, Minions and Entrancers – and not likely to be killed/burned out in response. An endless supply of Drifts is going to be hard to punch through. Have you ever driven through the American Southwest and seen those mounds of tumbleweeds stacked ten feet high against barbed wire fences? Yeah, it’s like that.

10. Moonlight Bargain (9.1)

Compared to the other card drawing effects in the format – Compulsive Research, Telling Time and Consult the Necrosages – it’s far more expensive, both in terms of mana cost and the life requirement – but it does dig you deeper into your library. With a deck that often walks the razor’s edge when it comes to life totals, it’s that 2 life per card requirement that worries me, but it’s not a big worry.

11. Dream Leash (9.9)

For five mana, you can steal your opponent’s best creature (or permanent). Provided they attacked with it first, tapped it or you’re playing with Cyclopean Snare. Situational but powerful. [Okay, I’ll ask… have you played with Dream Leash? I was letting Szadek below Circu slide because of the whole “sick and tired of getting Fury Shielded out” element, but Control Magic is re-damn-diculous, even if it is only on tapped things. – Knut, who only asks they forums they be polite, as always]

12. Bloodletter Quill (10.4)

Slightly less painful card than Moonlight Bargain, but you can control how much it hurts.

13. Shadow of Doubt (10.8)

With Civic Wayfinder becoming more popular, this becomes a little more useful other than just being a two-mana cantrip. Nothing wrong with a two-mana cantrip, mind you.

14. Spawnbroker (12.2)

This is a tricky card to grade. In the right situation, you’re going to trade Spawnbroker for another one-power creature. Maybe Selesnaya Evangel, a card that’s a pain in the ass to deal with otherwise? Or perhaps another Entrancer. Who knows?

15. Dark Confidant (15.4)

Why so low? Because the mill deck is chock full of expensive four, five and six mana cards, and Bob could kill you in three turns. Love him in a cheaper deck…not this one. Mind you, if you like playing with fire, go for it.

16. Necroplasm (21.1)

It’s value goes up if you’re facing off against a weenie army. Just find a way to get rid of it before it blows up all your Drifts, you dig?

17. Copy Enchantment (32.1)

Could be a bomb if your opponent has a lot of Auras. That’s kind of hard to count on unless you know for a fact you passed a lot of them.

And the rest go to the trade binder:

18. Empty the Catacombs

19. Sins of the Past

20. Nullstone Gargoyle

21. Mindleech Mass

22. Grozoth

23. Hunted Horror

24. Hunted Phantasm

25. Eye of the Storm

26. Woebringer Demon

27. Blood Funnel

If you’ve made it this far: congratulations! I wish you much fun in your journey to frustrate, annoy and harangue your opponents by milling them to death! Please redirect your flames to the forums, where they shall keep me warm on these cold winter nights. Bonus points for those who get all the literary references in the title of said article… who will then get a $39 ceramic dog.