s recently as a few weeks ago, when players explained that they had drafted mill-yourself decks in Innistrad Draft, it would (very reasonably) be assumed that they had drafted blue-black decks full of synergistic cards like Armored Skaab, Stitched Drake, Think Twice, and Silent Departure.
Armored Skaab | Art by Volkan Baga
These decks relied heavily on Armored Skaab, Deranged Assistant, and Forbidden Alchemy to turn on their Makeshift Maulers, pull ahead on cards by flipping over Think Twice, and control the tempo of the game by gaining access to a steady stream of Silent Departures. However, they would really only need to resolve one or two mill-yourself cards to turn their deck on, and would, in fact, often run into situations during drawn-out games where they couldn't flashback Forbidden Alchemy lest they deck themselves.
If a player had gone all-out, they would explain that they had drafted a Burning Vengeance deck. The successful Burning Vengeance decks run as many cheap flashback cards as they can get their hands on, allowing them to burn up opposing threats as quickly as their opponents can cast them. The deck eventually wins by either burning opponents out with a combination of Burning Vengeance plus Bump in the Night, by decking opponents with a Curse of the Bloody Tome or two, or through more traditional victory conditions such as an Army of the Damned or some big fliers.
That was before the dedicated green-blue-black mill-yourself deck rose to prominence...
Green-blue or green-blueblack mill-yourself decks look to use their graveyard as a resource in a much more dramatic way than their blue-black counterparts do.
Spider Spawning | Art by Daniel Ljunggren
These types of decks are able to exist, and thrive, solely because of the many powerful flashback cards in Innistrad, most notably Spider Spawning.
The first time that I got to witness a Spider Spawning deck in action, Magic illustrator and avid Magic player Jesper Ejsing was walloping me with it in a draft match. Jesper had drafted a black-green deck that was capable of winning games quickly with aggressive creatures like Darkthicket Wolf and Vampire Interloper. But if his aggressive plan didn't work out, he would switch over to an attrition-based game plan, trading cards at every opportunity and all the while filling up his graveyard with Ghoulcaller's Bells before eventually winning with a big Spider Spawning.
I was so fascinated with the deck, and Jesper was so happy playing it, that we wound up playing another fifteen or so games with it in our hotel lobby even though we both had to wake up early. I won (maybe) three of those games.
I was going to try experimenting with Spider Spawning decks more, but before I got the chance to I became enamored with mill decks that won with Ghoulcaller's Bell, Curse of the Bloody Tome, and Dream Twist. I would occasionally end up splashing green in these decks to take advantage of Spider Spawning and Gnaw to the Bone, but more often than not I would stick to blue-black.
Then I got to watch Brian David-Marshall draft green-blue-black mill-yourself a couple of times, and I was completely hooked.
While before I would be happy if I got passed a late Spider Spawning that I could try to squeeze into my mill decks, now I'll first-pick Spider Spawning over literally every other card in the set with the intention of building my deck around it.
The Problem with Olivia
The biggest "problems" that plague most bombs are that...
- You need to draw them.
- Even if you do draw them, your opponent can still kill them.
- They can push you into colors or archetypes that you don't want to be in.
Olivia Voldaren | Art by Eric Deschamps
If you cast a turn-four Bloodline Keeper and your opponent doesn't have a way to deal with it, you're almost certainly going to win. Same with Daybreak Ranger, Olivia Voldaren, Mikaeus, and a handful of other cards that are clearly head and shoulders above other cards at their point in the curve.
However, if you've drafted a mediocre black-red deck just so you can play your Olivia Voldaren, you're going to end up losing a lot of games where you don't draw her or your opponent has a way to deal with her.
Spider Spawning just doesn't suffer from these problems in the same way that a card like (the admittedly bonkers) Olivia Voldaren does.
You don't need to draw Spider Spawning for it to win you the game; you just need to get it into your graveyard. And with cards like Mulch, Armored Skaab, Dream Twist, and Deranged Assistant helping you rip through your library, that's not a particularly difficult task to accomplish.
Spider Spawning is significantly more difficult to deal with than cards like Bloodline Keeper (which can get smoked by a Brimstone Volley, bounced by a Silent Departure, hunted down with Prey Upon, etc). Rolling Temblor, Blasphemous Act, Divine Reckoning, and counterspells such as Dissipate are about the only ways* to reliably deal with an army of Spider Spawning tokens in the format... and even these answers can come up a bit short when Spider Spawning gets cast for a second or a third time (thanks to Runic Repetition and/or Memory's Journey).
*Note that Curse of Oblivion, Curse of Death's Hold, Falkenrath Noble, Rage Thrower, Selhoff Occultist, Purify the Grave, and Nevermore are also able to neutralize Spider Spawning—just less reliably than a dedicated board sweeper or a counterspell can.
I'm extremely happy, at least for now, to be drafting green-blue-black mill-yourself except for in the rare circumstances when multiple other people at the table are trying to draft the deck.
Not only that, but if I pass an Olivia Voldaren, I'll know (with relative certainty) that the player to my left will move into red-black to be able to play her. That puts me into a great position in pack two, since I won't be fighting with the player to my left over colors.
This should go without saying, but if you're drafting a dedicated mill-yourself deck, you're going to need a lot of ways to put cards into your own graveyard.
Dream Twist, Mulch, Deranged Assistant, Forbidden Alchemy, Armored Skaab, and Civilized Scholar are typically the best options – but Ghoulcaller's Bell can also be a fine addition.
Mulch | Art by Christopher Moeller
Mulch is an absolute all-star in this type of deck. It fills up your graveyard with creatures and flashback spells, while simultaneously giving you the lands that you need to cast your flashback spells. Heck, it can even help fix your mana (which is oh-so-important when you're splashing a third color to flash back Spider Spawning).
And even when Mulch is "bad," it's often very good. I had a game last week where I cast Mulch on turn two, and I turned over three creatures and a Ghoulcaller's Bell. No flashback cards. No lands...
My opponent (and some other members of the peanut gallery) were commenting about how that was about the worst Mulch imaginable. Meanwhile, I was pretty happy with my Mulch as I knew it was going to allow me to gain an extra 12 life with the Gnaw to the Bone that was in my hand and generate an additional three (or six) 1/2 spiders when I eventually found my Spider Spawning.
Dream Twist | Art by Dan Scott
Dream Twist is another card that really stands out in green-blue-black mill-yourself.
While the blue-black decks would occasionally need to turn to Dream Twist to mill themselves—this was particularly common in decks that were loaded up with Stitched Drakes so they could, you know, actually cast their 3/4 fliers on turn three—under most circumstances, a couple of Armored Skaabs, a Deranged Assistant, and a Forbidden Alchemy would be a more than sufficient amount of self-mill for their decks to work.
While milling a Dream Twist by other means is an okay thing to do in a blue-black mill-yourself deck, it just doesn't mean that much. Players sometimes justify its inclusion through logic such as "If you mill six cards from your own deck, and the only flashback card that you turn over is a Think Twice, you're still going to be even on cards." But in green-blue-black mill-yourself decks that are actively looking to get as much of their library as possible (and in some cases all of it) into their graveyard, finding ways to continue to mill yourself is absolutely crucial. And Dream Twist does just that.
Spider Spawning is far and away the best route to victory in mill-yourself decks, but even if you don't get any Spider Spawnings, or your opponent finds a way to deal with your Spider tokens, the deck can still win with relative ease.
Stitched Drake | Art by Chrin Rahn
Deploying some quick fliers such as Delver of Secrets and Stitched Drake and backing them up with Silent Departure and Gnaw to the Bone is always a good plan, and it can act as a very effective plan B even in decks that have two copies of Spider Spawning.
An oversized creature (or two) plus Unburial Rites can always do the trick. A Wreath of Geists on an Invisible Stalker will end things in a hurry. And a couple of Curse of the Bloody Tomes can allow you to deck your opponent before you deck yourself. (Make sure that you have enough ways to stall out the game before you try to deck your opponents—it can take a while).
You can also win by "looping" Dream Twist with Runic Repetition and Memory's Journey.
If you are able to mill your entire library, and you have a single Memory's Journey and a single Runic Repetition in your deck, you can set it up so that you're drawing the perfect card (almost) every turn for the rest of the game.
When you run out of cards in your library, you simply cast Memory's Journey returning the card (or three) that you want to draw. If the game is going to go on for a while after you've flashed back Memory's Journey, then one of the cards that you return will need to be Runic Repetition, which you will then use to return your exiled Memory's Journey so you don't deck yourself.
Memory's Journey | Art by Slawomir Maniak
The perfect card might be a removal spell to deal with a Kessig Cagebreakers, or it might be a Gnaw to the Bone to gain you dozens of life a turn, or it might be a Dream Twist, allowing you to quickly deck your opponent. (Be aware that your opponent can break up this loop with a Purify the Grave or a Dissipate to remove your Runic Repetition.)
Silent Departure, Grasp of Phantoms, and Gnaw to the Bone are three of the best support cards that this deck can get its hands on.
Gnaw to the Bone | Art by Scott Chou
Typically, life gain spells (spells that do nothing but gain you life) just aren't good enough to include in your decks. Sure, there are times when you might board in an Angel's Mercy in a Magic 2012 draft if your opponent won Game 1 by casting three Lava Axes. But outside of extreme corner cases, or when your life gain spell has an additional effect, they won't usually make the cut.
Gnaw to the Bone is different.
Not only does Gnaw to the Bone gain significantly more life than (most) previous life gain spells, consistently gaining 10 to 16 life each use, you can also find it reliably with your self-mill. Gnaw to the Bone allows you to develop inevitability against aggressive decks and decks with big threats alike.
If you can get your hands on one or two copies of Gnaw to the Bone for your green-blue mill-yourself deck make sure that you grab it. You won't be disappointed.
Surprisingly Underwhelming Options
While it's normally an exceptionally strong card, Claustrophobia just isn't great in most green-blue mill-yourself decks.
If you're winning with Spider Spawnings and stalling the game out with Gnaw to the Bones, then you're going to need a critical density of creatures.
In addition to your normal need for flashback cards, if you're trying to fly to victory with Delver of Secrets, then you're going to need a good number of instants and sorceries so they can turn into Insectile Aberrations.
Because it isn't a creature, it isn't a flashback spell, and it isn't even an instant or sorcery, Claustrophobia can be a bit out of place. Yes, you should still take it if there's a weak pack, and you'll still want to run it—but you shouldn't prioritize it over other essential pieces for the deck.
(Note that if you haven't committed to drafting green-blue mill-yourself yet, then by all means take Claustrophobia early. But if it's pack three and I know what I'm drafting, I won't hesitate to take a Mulch over Claustrophobia).
Prey Upon and Blazing Torch suffer from a number of problems in green-blue-black mill-yourself decks that they don't normally encounter. If you have multiple copies of Stitched Drake, Grave Bramble, and the like, then Prey Upon will be a very attractive option. But if you are struggling to get enough creatures for your deck, then you're going to want to stay away from Prey Upon and Blazing Torch.
Striking a Balance
If you're looking to take advantage of cards like Spider Spawning and Gnaw to the Bone that require you to have an abundance of creatures in your graveyard, then you're going to need a good number of creatures... but you also need a good number of flashback cards and ways to mill yourself.
So how do you strike that balance?
I'll generally run between ten and fourteen creatures to make sure that I can get enough mileage out of my Spider Spawnings and Gnaw to the Bones (and so I can actually kill my opponents with creatures if it comes to that). I'll include as many flashback cards as I can get my hands on and roughly one to four enchantments/artifacts.
If you are able to pick up the right pieces for the green-blue-black mill-yourself deck (which should be relatively easy to do if you see yourself getting passed late Mulches and Dream Twists), then you will be in a great position to go undefeated in your draft.
We here at DailyMTG.com are going to have the next two weeks off for the holidays. During that time we will be rerunning some of our favorite articles of the year.
What am I going to do during my time off? Draft, of course! So if you're doing any Magic Online drafts during the next couple of weeks, don't be at all surprised if you see me in your queue.
So until next time, may your holiday season be full of drafts and sealed decks!