Too-Specific Top 10 – “Mill”

(Island | Art by Piotr Dura)

Ingesting the New Keyword

Welcome to Too-Specific Top 10, where if there isn’t a category to rank our pet card at the top of, we’ll just make one up! (Did you know that Crumbling Sanctuary is the only artifact that mills cards to exile based on damage?

Core Set 2021 brought us something that’s been a long time coming: a mill keyword! And while it is a heck of a space saver when it comes to printing Magic cards, there is still an issue: not all cards that “mill” are covered under the mill keyword. No, there are any number of cards that mill in a much more final fashion that still need to be printed out word for word.


Top 10 Mill Cards (That Actually Exile)

There are all sorts of cards that get included in mill decks that don’t fit the technical definition of the new mill keyword, but the simplest example of them is the Eldrazi-based Ingest mechanic out of Battle for Zendikar.

I couldn’t have put it better myself. So, going off of Ingest‘s reminder text, we know what “Exile Mill” is. So now the question is… what isn’t it?

Self-mill is an entire strategy that we see all the time in Commander, but the exile clause on these cards puts them in an entirely different category. For the most part, it is extremely difficult to get cards back from exile, so rather than what you see with a lot of decks that mill to your graveyard and then use the graveyard as a resource, these cards are instead meant to be instituting their own drawback. As a result, the finishing power Arc-Slogger provided in its old Mirrodin standard does not translate well to Commander for the most part, whereas if it milled to the graveyard, I would go out on a limb and say that it would be a staple in red artifact decks looking to recur from the graveyard. Similarly, Thought Lash is a risky pillow fort card that is currently only played in 600 decks, but would most definitely be in just about every Muldrotha, the Gravetide deck if it milled to graveyard. With those effects, and the drawback on Diminishing Returns that keeps it from being a fairly reasonably-priced wheel for wheel decks, I think our first stipulation should be that cards must mill not only ourselves but also (or only) our opponents in some fashion.

Even cards that mill our opponents’ cards to exile still don’t always quite fit that definition, however. From Etali, Primal Storm to Ornate Kanzashi, there is no shortage of cards that allow you to exile your opponents’ cards from the top of the library only to be able to cast them. While this could certainly be crafted into part of a mill strategy, it is usually not the main intent of the cards, themselves.

There are many other cards like Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh, Ashiok, Nightmare Muse, Jeleva, Nephalia’s Scourge, Stolen Goods, and Pyxis of Pandemonium that actually mill quite well while also allowing for the casting of the exiled cards. By and large, however, we should be fine to exclude impulsive draw effects, no matter what library they’re drawing from. The interesting case, however, is Pako, Arcane Retriever. On its own, the card doesn’t allow for the casting of the cards that it’s “milled”, but only because you need the other half of its Partner pairing (Haldan, Avid Arcanist) to do so. You’ll see that this case was complex enough that I didn’t even bother trying to find a specific case rule for it in this week’s criteria, instead calling out a card by name for the first time in the history of Too-Specific Top 10!

Finally, however, there is one last wrinkle: cards which do mill to exile, but seem to do so mostly as a means to track or affect effects. The Imprint mechanic is probably the best example of this, however there are many cards which fall under this category. While it may seem like splitting hairs, many of these cards do seem to have mill as their primary aim, such as Circu, Dimir Lobotomist and Mindreaver, with another ability that references the milled cards as gravy. With that in mind, then, I have decided to use the looser wording of “using the exiled card as a means to make a decision”, and made judgments individually as I proceeded down the list. Speaking of…

Criteria: Cards which can cause other cards to be exiled from the top of an opponent’s library that do not also allow the playing, casting, or putting onto the battlefield of said cards (sorry, Oblivion Sower), or the use of the exiled card as a means to make a decision (Sorry, Timesifter). Additionally, Pako, Arcane Retriever specifically is not in consideration for this week’s list. As is tradition, all results are ordered by EDHREC score.

10. Benthic Infiltrator

(489 Inclusions, 0% of 217,803 Decks)

The true Millstone of the “mill to exile” troupe, Benthic Infiltrator is the slow, sure death of one card and one life a turn. While some would argue that that’s more slow than sure, especially at three mana, it is nonetheless a means of ending a game eventually. Most decks playing this, however, appear to be both on a budget and are more interested in the unblockable strategy at large. Besides, four toughness isn’t anything to sneeze at!

Okay, I’m gonna level with you, there are probably better cards than this to be playing, even on a budget. Still, jank and theme decks are out there, and I, for one, wouldn’t stop the folks piloting them from their fun for all the optimized builds in the world.

9. Ruination Guide

(548 Inclusions, 0% of 217,803 Decks)

Ruination Guide‘s humble inclusion numbers are nothing to write home about, but unfortunately even those probably have little to do with our main mill theme. Instead, its secondary ability of giving colorless creatures +1/+0 appears to be the main reason for inclusion, mostly in Morph and Eldrazi Tribal decks, from the looks of its EDHREC page. There is some minor play in Rona, Disciple of Gix decks, as well, which makes me feel obligated to point out to would-be brewers of this severely under-loved commander that Ingest doesn’t actually work with Rona’s ability.

8. Circu, Dimir Lobotomist

(Helms 295 Decks, Rank #358; 436 Inclusions, 0% of 114,306 Decks)

Circu, Dimir Lobotomist might prove to be a bit more popular if a Mishra, Artificer Prodigy-type workaround could be figured out for him. Until then, however, he is simply a Dimir mill commander with some extra text on the bottom where there should be some italics. That said, he is a pretty decent mill Storm commander if you’re willing to put the work in, allowing you cast cheap cantrips to get to your bombs and engines quickly while also milling enemies along the way. Could you just build a regular Storm deck instead that wins through easier means? Sure, but where’s the fun in that?

7. Thoughtpicker Witch

(787 Inclusions, 0% of 214,163 Decks)

While Thoughtpicker Witch will never be Viscera Seer, she does see play in a lot of the same decks (68% of the decks that play Thoughtpicker Witch also include a Viscera Seer, actually). Having to pay for your sacrifice outlet is definitely a ding against the card, but given her one-mana cost to hit the battlefield and the fact that you can use her ability to interrupt most of the one-mana tutors in the game, Thoughtpicker Witch is a decent choice for your Aristocrats deck if you’re in a high-powered meta, and probably should be seeing a bit more play.

As for using her in dedicated mill decks, however… that seems like a tough sell.

6. Fathom Feeder

(816 Inclusions, 1% of 114,306 Decks)

The best of the Ingest cards per EDHREC score, Fathom Feeder fits right into a mill build that has the possibility of generating infinite mana, or just a need to be able to draw cards in a pinch. Add deathtouch into the mix, and you have a creature that will get through to mill often or can block a big threat in the late game. While you won’t often find mill decks that also want a focus on combat, Fathom Feeder does enough outside of it that it’s sure to shine in most Dimir builds trying to diminish some libraries, if only folks would give it a try.

5. Dimir Machinations

(1,352 Inclusions, 1% of 214,163 Decks)

One of three Transmute cards that let you search for cards that cost three mana, Dimir Machinations is the version that fits solidly into the mill version. With that said, even in that environment, it’s still the least popular of the three options.

Honestly, even the little play that we’re seeing here for Dimir Machinations confused me until I looked at its EDHREC page. The answer to why 1,352 decks have decided to play this card is actually fairly simple: it’s the only mono-black version of the Transmute effect. Or, in more plain terms, it goes and gets Food Chain in Jund.

4. Oona, Queen of the Fae

(Helms 895 Decks, Rank #135; 1,743 Inclusions, 2% of 114,306 Decks)

Finally, an honest-to-goodness mill commander! Okay, Circu, Dimir Lobotomist fit that mold, too, but here’s one that you’ve actually seen in play before! In similar fashion to the Big Mana Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief decks of old, Oona, Queen of the Fae is a heck of a mana sink that can come straight out of the command zone. The difference is that, instead of killing problem creatures, it mills opponents while also making hordes of tokens at instant speed. That means that you can plop down Faerie after Faerie while triggering Altar of the Brood to mill even more cards, then sacrifice all those Faeries to Ashnod’s Altar to keep the chain going!

…Except it would appear that most folks have opted out of that particular strategy to instead go for a Laboratory Maniac win, because we can’t have nice things in today’s Commander meta.

3. Sire of Stagnation

(6,257 Inclusions, 5% of 114,306 Decks)

If there is one thing I’m hoping to see a heavy heaping of in Zendikar Rising, it’s the reverse Landfall featured on Sire of Stagnation. Not only is it hugely flavorful in a Yin & Yang kind of way, but it’s also just a trigger that is bound to be seen time and again in any game of Commander. As for the card, itself, Sire of Stagnation is more than worth its six mana pricetag, punishing opponents with every land that they lay down while drawing you cards in the process. Throw a 5/7 body on there for good measure, and you have a staple that’s seeing play in 45% of all mill decks on EDHREC, and rightfully so. As for the other 55%? My guess is that most of them are probably more aptly described as self-mill.

2. Jace, the Mind Sculptor

(9,017 Inclusions, 4% of 217,803 Decks)

You might be seeing a few more copies of this chase card around your tables with its recent reprinting in Double Masters, although I wouldn’t count on it, what with his price tag still sitting at $75. Still, there’s no arguing that Jace, the Mind Sculptor has always deserved the hype in any format, from his long-worded scry that adds loyalty counters two-at-a-time, to his Brainstorm for zero, to his Unsummon ability that is still on the cheap loyalty-wise if not mana-wise. What is less common, however, is his twelve-cost ultimate. The wait for those that do get to tick him down for twelve is worth it, however, exiling an entire player’s library and replacing it with their current hand. Yes, as in putting them on a most-likely sub-seven turn clock while also discarding their entire hand. Actually, those of us that have ever played against Stunted Growth know that putting the cards on top of your library is often much, much worse than simply discarding them.

Still, it’s an ultimate. Those never happen, right?

right?

1. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

(Helms 222 Decks, Rank #411; 11,672 Inclusions, 3% of 412,524 Decks)

I’ve spent what feels like a lot of time this year tweaking lists to make sure they don’t end up with an Eldrazi titan at the top of them, so this one’s for you if you’re a fan of the big spaghetti monsters plotting the multiverse’s demise from within all of its cracks. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger may only be the fourth-most popular Eldrazi, with no Annihilator trigger or shuffle clause, but that in no way means that it is not a huge problem anytime you get to tap ten for it. A cast trigger that allows for the exiling of two permanents is enough to take the wind out of any deck’s sails even if the 10/10 indestructible body is countered before it hits the battlefield. If it does manage to stick, however, then swinging in for ten and a quarter of your opponents’ library every turn will quickly end a game in one way or another.


Honorable Mentions

I’ve been doing this less since I started including my Scryfall searches in the body of my articles, but given the amount of manual searching I had to do this time around, I felt a few folks might be interested in the rest of this list that wouldn’t want to have to repeat my legwork:

11. Psychic Surgery
12. Raven Guild Master
13. Thought Harvester
14. Scrib Nibblers
15. Vile Aggregate
16. Dimensional Infiltrator
17. Mist Intruder
18. Salvage Drone
19. Dominator Drone
20. Sludge Crawler
21. Crumbling Sanctuary
22. Grimoire Thief
23. Culling Drone
24. Scalpelexis
25. Ashnod’s Cylix
26. Sealed Fate
27. Jester’s Scepter
28. Mindreaver

Did I include this list just to talk about how my pet card Crumbling Sanctuary should be higher on it? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe take 30 damage in the form of cards from your library, there. That’ll teach ya to ask questions!

Nuts and Bolts

There always seems to be a bit of interest in how these lists are made (this seems like a good time to stress once again that they are based on EDHREC score, NOT my personal opinion…), and people are often surprised that I’m not using any special data or .json from EDHREC, but rather just muddling my way through with some Scryfall knowledge! For your enjoyment/research, here is this week’s Scryfall search. You’ll notice that this week’s search wasn’t precise, rather I had to go through and manually add cards as I found them. This is fairly common, as often there isn’t an easy means to get an exact search, and attempting to do so would actually weed out potential contenders.


What Do You Think?

Mill has always been a difficult and unpopular strategy in EDH, but there has always been a core tenet of players that have pursued it anyhow. For me, personally, that’s come in the form of Group Hug or Persistent Petitioners, but I’m genuinely interested in what ways you personally have pursued the titanic task of milling three other players out of 100 cards each. In the meantime, however…

And finally, what do you think of milling to exile? Is it an effect that you’d like to see more often? Is it too powerful to see more widespread use, or simply a “bad” version of mill that’s standing in the way of letting mill players use their graveyard?

Let us know in the comments, and we’ll see you at the absolutely-removed-from-the-freaking-game-forever zone known as your Local Gaming Store’s card donation box. People could use the free cards these days, you know?

Doug has been an avid Magic player since Fallen Empires, when his older brother traded him some epic blue Homarids for all of his Islands. As for Commander, he's been playing since 2010, when he started off by making a two-player oriented G/R Land Destruction deck. Nailed it. In his spare time when he's not playing Magic, writing about Magic or doing his day job, he runs a YouTube channel or two, keeps up a College Football Computer Poll, and is attempting to gif every scene of the Star Wars prequels.