Essential Magic Articles

Deck Arson: The Art of Burning Libraries

by Michael Keen


Milling is a concept that is nearly as old as Magic itself, and while many players embrace and use the strategy in a variety of ways, some newer and even veteran card slingers do not fully understand or accept milling as a viable strategy.  This article is not meant to establish mill as the be all end all of Magic deck types, but rather to dispel some of the myths surrounding the archetype and honestly disclose both the pros and cons of this core Magic technique.


In the simplest terms, milling can be described as running your opponent(s) out of cards.  The official Magic rules state that “any time a player must draw a card from an empty library, he/she loses the game”.  The term “milling” itself originated with the card Millstone.  In its earliest form, these millstone decks strove to lock down the game using blue control elements while slowly using the deck’s namesake to whittle away at the opponent’s library.  For a number of years, this style of deck was the only viable way to win in this fashion and thus the word “mill” became synonymous with “decking” your opponent.

In more recent years Wizards of the Coast has truly embraced milling as a strategy, releasing a slew of powerful cards that target an opponent’s library.  While still primarily a blue and artifact based mechanic, mill has also spilled over pretty heavily into black as well, albeit in modified forms.


So, now that we understand mill as a concept, what makes it worthwhile?  The best aspect of the mill strategy is that it operates as an alternate win condition.  The average game of Magic is ended when one of the duelists involved is reduced to 0 life or less.  However, with mill we could care less about life totals because we are attacking the players’ libraries instead.  This is a huge factor as most decks revolve around protecting their life total.  Therefore, key mechanics such as life gain, damage prevention, etc. become useless in the face of a mill deck.

Also, when milling, every single turn is bringing us closer to our win condition, because essentially, drawing is milling.  Whereas a normal, damage-based deck can stall out and find itself unable to deliver the coup de grace’, given enough time, nearly every deck will run out of cards.  In addition, throwing a player’s library into his or her graveyard also carries the happy coincidence of oftentimes destroying combo decks.  Such decks may only run one or two copies of their “kill” card, relying on either tutoring or stalling the game long enough to draw a copy.  Tossing all their finishers and power cards in the graveyard before they ever get a chance to draw them is a good way to force a quick concession from such decks.

Silver Bullets-

Like all strategies in this game we love so much, there are certain cards and styles of decks that completely wreck milling as a viable strategy.  First among them are any cards that cause players to shuffle their graveyard back into their library.  There have been several of these cards over the years, such as Feldon's Cane and Reminisce and running into such a card during play is usually a death knell for a standard mill deck.  Creatures like Guile that recur from the graveyard to the library can also cause huge problems when it comes to finishing power.  Luckily, most decks don’t run cards like these unless they are key to the deck’s own strategy, and in my experience, such decks are rare.  There are counters to these problems, such as sideboarding a few Leyline of the Voids or some Relic of Progenitus, but for the most part I find that it’s not worth it.  There are more common threats out there to be concerned with, like super aggressive creature decks, or early combo decks that carry a more justifiable case for sideboard space.

Last edited 5/19/2009 11:07:18 AM Page 1 of 3  Prev  Next  Go to page:

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