This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series Ancient Wisdom

By Old Man Fred

Fred’s General EDH Disclaimer:
My first exposure to the term YMMV on the internet was on the EDH rules page. After asking six people all at once on AIM what it meant, only one was able to tell me. It means Your Mileage May Vary. That means what I’m about to say, while written to be as broad as possible, is not applicable to every person in every play group everywhere. If some guy in your play group uses Evil Eye of Orms-By-Gore in every deck, and that somehow makes what I’m about to say totally wrong, don’t flame me. Your mileage may vary.

The Why
Why do we play Magic? I haven’t done the research. But Wizards of the Cost, who obviously has an interest in the answer, has. They’ve determined that Magic players play for different reasons. If you haven’t already, go read Mark Rosewater’s classic article explaining the different player types entitled “Timmy, Johnny, Spike.” As much as I despise the classification, I am a “Johnny.”

Here’s how Mark Rosewater describes Johnny:

“Johnny is the creative gamer to whom Magic is a form of self-expression. Johnny likes to win, but he wants to win with style. It’s very important to Johnny that he win on his own terms. As such, it’s important to Johnny that he’s using his own deck. Playing Magic is an opportunity for Johnny to show off his creativity.”

“Johnny likes a challenge. Johnny enjoys winning with cards that no one else wants to use. He likes making decks that win in innovative ways. What sets Johnny apart from the other profiles is that Johnny enjoys deckbuilding as much as (or more than) he enjoys playing. Johnny loves the cool interactions of the cards. He loves combo decks. Johnny is happiest when he’s exploring uncharted territory.”

That’s me, with one exception: I’ve seen too many unfair and unfun combo plays in my time to love combo decks, and despise them (I stopped playing Legacy, for example, after they “fixed” the format, and I lost on turn zero to a combo deck). I see deck building as a challenge and a form of self expression.

To that end, I’m willing to try unusual things as long as they interest me. For the longest time I resisted building a Sharuum the Hegemon deck because it held no interest to me. It was too easy to make, too powerful, and too obvious a deck choice. After Scars of Mirrodin came out I built one, but only because I could draw from four artifact blocks’ worth of artifacts to build it (Saga, Mirrodin, Shards, Scars), and even then, I only included cards I found interesting. Despite much magnificent internal synergy, I’ve never fully powered it up. That’d be too easy.

So I’ll often challenge myself to build certain decks with certain generals, and make the decks work; take a sub optimal idea and make a functional EDH deck out of it. There’s skill in this task, because you need to understand why and how decks work.

The Who

By now, many of you who have bought the Commander Precon with The Mimeoplasm in it have discovered an obscure and much overlooked legendary creature named Szadek, Lord of Secrets. He first came to us in Ravnica block. The blue/black color combination (known as Dimir) had a theme of milling. He’s potent but expensive.

One day while flipping through a pile of gold cards I came across him. He spoke to me, told me his sad tale of lifelong obscurity, and put the question to me: “Should not every card be played at least once?” This was reasoning I could not argue with. “And,” he continued “As a legendary creature, should I not be a general?” True enough. So I promoted him to general, and built a deck around him.

The Why, Part II: Why Not

Frankly, mill is a bad strategy in EDH. In a 60 card deck, Millstone, the card eponymous for the entire strategy, mills two cards per turn. If you have multiple millstones, in a tightly constructed control deck, this can be an actual strategy for victory. I remember when Feldon’s Cane was in Type 2, and when Type 2 had a restricted list, hearing that Feldon’s Cane had been unrestricted. When I asked why this was done, I was told it was because Millstone decks were all the rage, and this was a way of dealing with that (yes, I’ve been playing Magic a long time). Back in 1995-1996, blue/white control decks could control things enough to kill someone with a Millstone.

EDH is different, not only because the decks are 40 cards larger, but the consistency isn’t nearly the same. Four Millstones can really do some library damage against 60 cards. One does much less. Glimpse the Unthinkable, a black/blue sorcery that mills for 10 cards gets nearly 20% of a deck when played on turn two against a sixty card deck, but only gets 11% of an EDH if played on turn two. Additionally, EDH is generally played as a multiplayer format, which destroys the math of the whole archetype. People say that if you’re in a four player game, your deck needs to be able to deal 120 damage. This isn’t so, because your opponents will also be clubbing one another over the head, so you’re probably not going to need to deal all 120 points of damage, because any damage you do will be synergistic with your opponents’ damage to one another.

If you’re milling someone, you don’t just have to mill 100 cards, you have to mill 300 cards, and since nobody plays mill decks, you can’t count on synergy with your opponents decks. Simply speaking, if you’re milling, no one else is helping your club your opponents over the head.

So If It’s Bad, Then Why…?

So, mill is a bad strategy in EDH. This is no secret. Anyone who has played a few games of EDH (and probably people who haven’t) can do the math and realize how bad a general strategy it is.

Why was I doing this again? Because it’s there. How many mill decks are there in EDH? I’ve been part of two different and diverse play groups. I will tell you there are nearly none. If you deck someone in EDH, it’s rarely purposeful, unless its part of some freakish combo. You automatically get props for being ballsy enough to play mill in EDH. That’s the whole point. Szadek is never going to be an amazing feared power deck, the point is the challenge of building it and making it work, and the recognition from other players of seeing it done.

So Do It Already, and Here’s How

To be able to successfully build a functioning EDH mill deck, you need to acknowledge the information in the paragraphs above, digest it, nut up, and build a tight deck that can survive long enough to do its job (and point out to everyone at the table, at every occasion, how insane it is to play a non-combo based mill deck in EDH). Time is on your side. EDH games are often long, people draw lots of cards, so lots of crazy stuff happens. Use this to your advantage. People in EDH games burn their libraries alot.

What I did with Szadek was build a black/blue control deck with mill elements. Control is hard to do in EDH. In a duel, you control what your opponent plays, you sweep their board, you blow their stuff up, and you keep them under your thumb enough that they can’t beat you down. This doesn’t work the same in EDH. You can’t control three or more people. The math just doesn’t work. So all you need to do is scrape by long enough to make your parts work.

They’ve Given Us the Tools, Use ‘Em Already!

Back in 1995-1996, we had one tool in our tool box: Millstone. It was the offense, because that’s all there was. The past several years, Wizards of the Cost has given us more and more tools, bigger and better Millstones to do the job with. Some of these cards are better than others.
Any card you use to mill someone needs to fit one of three criteria:

1. It needs to be repeatable
2. It needs to get many cards
3. It needs to be so brutal that the cards it gets are worth the slot.

I tend to shy away from that second category. The card Nightmare Incursion certainly qualifies for the second and third categories, but it’s so brutal and unfun that I’d rather not use it (if you make the game very unfun for people, it defeats the point of a social game; pillaging someone’s deck is depriving them of the joy of playing their deck and will often ruin the game for them). Additionally, one shot cards without the potential for huge payoffs aren’t really that great. Glimpse the Unthinkable may hit for ten cards, but that’s only a small fraction of what you need.

Some interesting cards fit into one or more the first two categories are:

  • Jace’s Erasure – If you’re playing black/blue, you should be drawing some serious cards. (If not, you’re doing something wrong.) This also screws up certain tutors and other cards that use the top card of the library. Combine this with Brainstorm for instant speed fun.
  • Trade Secrets – There’s a certain amount of politics involved in EDH. This is a way to make fun friends, draw cards, and subtly achieve your goal at the same time. People are greedy. This card is amazing. Especially combined with the above card.
  • Traumatize – This card was once part of a brutal tedious two card combo with Haunting Echoes. That combo is somewhat less amazing (read: Horrible) in EDH. However, this card scales up from the 60 card game, and gets you where you need to go.
  • Brain Freeze – This card is also potentially used in combo decks. Since I have such a strong objection to combo decks, I don’t use it that way. However, fun, weird, unpredictable things happen in EDH. If you end up witnessing a three way counter war, someone drops ten artifacts in a turn, or one of many other possible scenarios, this card can do some serious milling.
  • Mind Funeral – This card has potential to mill for a lot. People do plenty of land searching in EDH. It’s a format where Land Tax and Thawing Glaciers both see play. My own observations say this card gets 10 to 12 cards on average in a normal 60 card duel, which puts it in Glimpse the Unthinkable range. But if used at the right time, for example after someone points out they’ve Land Taxed out all their basic lands, then this can hit for a huge payoff.
  • Mindcrank – This is a newer card, and I honestly haven’t seen it in action. However, I used to use Crumbling Sanctuary, which I stopped using after it killed me. This hits your opponents and lets their efforts to damage your opponents work for you.
  • Psychic Drain – This is an X mill spell. If you can generate a lot of mana in black/blue (which is entirely possible) then its worth playing. This also feeds your goal of helping you survive to mill more.
  • Telemin Performance – This card can mill for zero and get you a Wall of Wood, or it can mill for 80 cards. Or sometimes it just kills people. Use it on the right person (pro-tip: the right person is the guy with the fewest creatures, so long as none of those creatures are named Phage).
  • Twincast – This card is essential. Often fork effects depend heavily on what your opponent is playing. In this case, it should work well. Traumatize two opponents instead of one (do I really need to explain this further?).
  • Keening Stone – This is the probably best card ever made for EDH mill decks. It’s amazing and it wins games by itself. Often you can play it and activate it the same turn in EDH. This is almost a certain win after a Traumatize. And the card feeds itself. Even if your Mind Funeral only mills for eight, those eight feed the Keening Stone. This is the MVP of any EDH mill deck. One piece of advice: hold it in your hand until someone has a stacked graveyard. No point in dropping this, having it sit around, and getting blown up before it can be used.

One Final Note

Mill often pisses people off. They don’t like seeing their stuff get milled away. As mill is a slow strategy, you might as well spread the milling around. It also often feeds people’s deck engines. Figure out who those decks are, and mill them less.

Fred’s Bonus:
Just so you don’t think I don’t practice what I preach, here is the deck listing for my Szadek deck. This just happens to be the current listing as of this writing1. I’ll often swap things in and out of the deck as needed.

Szadek, Lord of Secrets

Mill Effects:
Helm of Obedience
Thought Dissector
Keening Stone
Psychic Drain
Mind Crank
Mind Funeral
Brain Freeze
Jace’s Erasure

Spell Contortion

Card Draw/Card Advantage:
Ancestral Vision
Trade Secrets
Future Sight
Fact or Fiction
Syphon Mind
Rhystic Study
Whispers of the Muse
Phyrexian Arena

Hideous End
Doom Blade
Ashes to Ashes
Crystal Shard

General Protection:
Darksteel Plate
Diplomatic Immunity
Whispersilk Cloak
Mask of Riddles

Controls and Theft:
Control Magic
Volitions Reins
Phyrexian Infiltrator
Beacon of Unrest
Telemin Performance
Body Double
Memory Plunder

Demonic Tutor
Diabolic Tutor

Mana Artifacts:
Dimir Signet
Thran Dynamo
Mind Stone
Gilded Lotus

Because It’s There:
Chancellor of the Spires
Feldon’s Cane
Vile Consumption
Profane Command
Decree of Pain

Lonely Sandbar
Halimar Depths
Academy Ruins
Dreadship Reef
Jwar Isle Refuge
Salt Marsh
Frost Marsh
Tainted Isle
River of Tears
Sunken Ruins
Duskmantle, House of Shadow
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Cabal Coffers
Terramorphic Expanse
Miren, the Moaning Well
Minamo, School at Water’s Edhe
Shizo, Death’s Storehouse
Svyelunite Temple
Ebon Stronghold
11 Island
10 Swamp

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