Deep Analysis - Self-Mill
(Varina, Lich Queen | Art by Igor Kieryluk)
Did you know that EDHREC has an EDH Wiki? Go check it out, if you haven’t already; it’s written by the community for the community, and there’s a lot of cool stuff in there! Deep Analysis is series where we learn about an archetype using its Wiki page, then apply this new knowledge to build a deck.
In this article we'll be covering the Self-Mill archetype.
"Self-mill is a strategy that focuses on placing as much of one’s own library into the graveyard as quickly as possible, most commonly for the purposes of using cards in that graveyard for additional resources, recursion, and/or reanimation."
Self-Mill is a flexible archetype because, while the name describes our general gameplan, it doesn't really tell us what we're doing with it. The most common types of Self-Mill decks are either Spellslinger-based or creature-based; both of these have similar patterns, but their payoffs are different.
Dimir is the core color combination for Self-Mill. Blue offers plenty of enablers, while black provides both enablers and payoffs.
Golgari loves building up a graveyard for their usual shenanigans. Green works very similar to black, providing a solid combination of enablers and payoffs, which makes the color combination work. It's important to note that this color combination somewhat locks decks leaning towards this archetype into being more creature-centric.
Sultai has all the Golgari/Dimir goodies, coupled with some of the most powerful commanders out there. One nice thing about this color combination's commander pool is how they tend to be build-enabling, making each deck unique.
Grixis is an undervalued color combination for this, even though it has Kess, Dissident Mage, which is a very popular commander for the strategy. The addition of red to Dimir makes the archetype that much more explosive, and having more wheel and discards effects really smooths out the early/ mid-game.
An Example Deck
There are plenty of different directions that we can take. Varina, Lich Queen, for example, is a great commander for a Self-Mill strategy: she's in a good color combination and she supports Zombies, a tribe that really benefits from the archetype. However, even though she's a great tribal commander, I tend to enjoy playing her more in control shells (I even wrote an article about her a couple years back). Varina is a great mana sink that allows us to play an effective reactive game where we eventually start creating Zombie tokens that can be used to dig through our deck, fueling Varina even more, gain life, and establish a prominent board state.
These cards are our enablers; they feed Varina and allow us to do play some nice payoffs. There are basically two types: consistent and one-shot.
These are slower sources of Mill; their value lies in either providing constant value or having some secondary effect also attached to itself, or both.
- Codex Shredder
- Mesmeric Orb
- Wand of Vertebrae
- Egon, God of Death
- Perpetual Timepiece
- Court of Cunning
One-shot effects are great for setting us up in the earlier portions of the game. After that, their value rapidly diminishes because we can fuel our graveyard just by playing cards. Plus, the consistent sources can also keep a constant flow of cards. One thing to notice is that they're all Zombies, which interacts pretty well with our commander.
We run low on payoffs, but it's a more of a conscious choice than a lack of options. It's pretty easy to find them with all the Milling going around, so, by putting fewer in, we have a more consistent deck.
The thieves combo is the combination of a "thief" effect, like Notion Thief, and a wheel effect. This combo is great because we can have access to both parts of it in our graveyard, and they help us control our opponents by denying them cards. Now, it's important to recognize that some wheel effects reset our graveyard, which might be seen as counterproductive, because it undoes all the self-mill work we've done. However, I think we should look at this as an opportunity, since filling the graveyard is what helps us find this combo in the first place, and after all, we'll have to discard lots of cards right back into the graveyard afterward!
Now let’s go check what we should be looking out for when playing with a Self-Mill deck.
"Self-mill decks are exceptionally vulnerable to effects that exile cards from graveyards, such as Relic of Progenitus. Such effects can wholly undo an entire game's worth of work from a self-mill deck and significantly hamper their strategy by eliminating an enormous pool of card advantage.
Self-mill decks that focus on eliminating their entire library run the risk of losing the game when they attempt to draw a card from an empty library if they do not locate a game-winning card such as Laboratory Maniac. This can make the self-mill deck hyper-reliant on a few key cards, which allows opponents to vastly incapacitate their strategy if those linchpin cards are removed."
Graveyard hate is something that we should always worry about; some of our most effective pieces of our gameplan consist on using them either to fuel Varina or to cast spells from the graveyard. However, there's one silver lining: our commander is a powerful engine that can help us recover from bad situations, although we often need a little push to get started, and she offers a clear line of play that isn't as reliant on the graveyard.
Decking out is certainly something that we should worry about in longer games. We do have some three different Timetwister effects, and they do help us, but it's still dangerous.
If you like making Zombie tokens but aren't particularly fond of the control shell above, Sidisi, Brood Tyrant is a great commander that has a somewhat similar kit.
If the spellslinger/control aspects are more your thing, Kess, Dissident Mage is a powerhouse option.
If you want something very different, but which still retains the above deck's flexibility, Lazav, the Multifarious is a toolbox commander you may enjoy.
Commander-Specific and Color-Specific Cards
If you do decide to give self-mill a try, but don't know which cards in the list above are strictly there for self-mill or just for that commander, I've compiled some parting lists to help sort it out!
- Anointed Procession
- Training Grounds
- From Under the Floorboards
- (Both Zombie lords are kind of reliant on having the Zombie tokens)
Color-Specific cards: White
- Talisman of Hierarchy
- Talisman of Progress
- Anointed Procession
- Anguished Unmaking
- Dovin's Veto
- Path to Exile
- Swords to Plowshares
- Day of Judgment
- Merciless Eviction
- Unburial Rites
- Wrath of God
And that’s it for this article. Now I want to hear from you! Share your thoughts on this list or on Self-Mill based decks in general. What archetype do you want to see covered next?
While this series will focus on just archetypes, there’s a ton of other cool community-built content in the Wiki. Check it out, and feel free to contribute, if you’d like!