Anything But: Pauper Mill

Black sheep. Not just a movie featuring David Spade and the late Chris Farley. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the idiom, black sheep is a term used to describe the odd man out in a group who no one likes. Imagine, if you will, a bucket of golf balls and right in the middle of it is a tennis ball. This is kind of how I view the idea of a mill deck in Magic. This approach to the game is often considered to be a bit more casual; however, it has seen some popularity as a rogue strategy in several formats. We’ll take a look at how it has shown up in Pauper in just a minute, but first let’s jump into our look at the metagame…

Last week in the Competitive Corner I talked about how we had one day where we had two results posted and another where we did not get any results. This week we had another day where we had no results posted. To me it was bad enough when Wizards decided they would start putting out fewer results, but when they decided to give us only one result per day per format I had assumed they would do just that. I know the official response we get every time this doesn’t happen. It tends to run somewhere along the lines of, “oops sorry there was some error and it didn’t happen”. To me it is just disappointing. This week’s results are short for June 28th, which I apologize for. While there was nothing I could do about it, I find that missing data to be enough to make already restricted results even worse.

Daily Event Results 6/27 – 7/11

Well, it finally has happened. FissurePost has finally fallen from the top spot in the metagame. In case you don’t realize what an incredible feat this is, consider the fact that FissurePost has been the number-one deck in Pauper since April. That means that the deck has been the top deck for over three months. The fact that the deck has been so strong for the past three and a half months had many of us in the Pauper community wondering why nothing was being done to perhaps end its rule. I sometimes wonder if the metagame has ears because I’ve been having discussions with several people recently over the fact that we thought Wizards would have to step in soon, and just like that, the deck drops out of the top spot. Not only did it drop from number one, but the deck also dropped out of the top three! For those three months I’ve continued to provide discussion on people moving away from the deck, and even giving options to play something else in last week’s article. I find this similar to awhile ago when I started writing about Pauper full time and DelverBlue was holding down that top spot for months. As soon as I started really talking about the fact that nothing had competed for the spot, it dropped off. If history is any indicator, then we can probably expect the top deck to be a bit more fluid from here on out.

Out new top three consists of Stompy, DelverBlue, and Affinity. These three are no strangers to the top three, but with FissurePost holding the top spot for months, they had been fighting for the two remaining spots. Stompy has come in with a solid performance, and the deck has become quite interesting because there is now quite a bit of customization in the creature base now. What used to be a rather small collection of creatures run as full sets can now be found just as easily as a bunch of 2-count choices. Beyond the top three we have an increase in Eye Candy showings by almost double. As many of my readers know, I’m a big opponent of the deck; however, I do wonder if I haven’t done something to influence this new result. Maybe that is giving myself too much credit, but in last week’s article, I talked about how in most Daily Events, the most-played deck was Affinity, and then stated that the best deck to beat Affinity was Eye Candy. MBC also had a solid week climbing up to 22 showings, and we see the reappearance of MUC well beyond simply the rogue boundary.

Here’s this week’s rogues…

1. Elves – 5
2. FamiliarStorm – 5
3. Hexproof – 5
4. DimirTrinket – 4
5. MWA – 3
6. Reality Acid – 3
7. RebelPost – 3
8. Teachings – 3
9. WatchRites – 2
10. DimirPost – 2
11. UB Control – 1
12. Cyborgs – 1
13. RGLD – 1

For a second week we have 38 rogue showings, which I think is great for the format. Hopefully they don’t peak here and we keep seeing this diversity throughout our Daily Events. There are some names here that have been regulars, but have fallen down into the depths of rogue-ism such as Elves and Hexproof, but we’re encountering a metagame that I feel just isn’t as friendly to these decks as the environment has been in the past. Teachings made a comeback after a long hiatus, but still remains a hard deck to play in the format as long as Temporal Fissure variants are heavily played. I believe the only new name on the list is going to be a new variant on the RGLD deck as run by deluxeicoff. The deck showed up only once this week, but it managed to go undefeated in that showing.

Here’s how the undefeated odds are looking…

The first thing I want to address on this list is the removal of FamiliarStorm. I believe I stated last week that the deck was on the verge of falling off due to minimum requirements, but it has finally happened. I find this to be a bit of a bittersweet type of reality because as I noted last week, while the deck continues to have a small number of total showings, it does manage to have one of the best undefeated records. We’ll have to see, but with few showings week to week, I find it hard to imagine that the deck will make its way back onto this list anytime soon. Beyond that there was only one real movement on the week with Eye Candy stepping over Goblins. This change is not really surprising in any way when we take a look at the numbers. As I stated earlier, the Eye Candy deck almost doubled its showings, and Goblins had a tough week as it once again barely kept itself in the double digits.

Here’s this week’s Daily Event breakdown…

Fast Stats!
Daily Event: 5625298
Number of Players: 72
Deck Types Represented: 21
Packs Won: 157

There were 72 players who showed up for this event. Among these 72 players, there were 21 different deck types represented with the most prevalent being Affinity as it always is. Here’s the full breakdown…

Affinity – 13
Stompy – 11
Eye Candy – 7
Burn – 5
DelverBlue – 4
Hexproof – 3
FissurePost – 3
IzzetPost – 3
MBC – 3
Orz Aggro – 3
Goblins – 2
UB Control – 2
Infect – 2
Elves – 2
FamiliarStorm – 1
Teachings – 1
GreenPost – 1
SimicPost – 1
Boros Kitty – 1
Izzet Aggro – 1
MWA – 1

There continues to be a significant number of rogue decks in this event, which is a good thing to see. By the end of the second round, there had already been sixteen players eliminated as well as two players who dropped after first-round losses and two players who didn’t show up for their first-round matches. Another sixteen players would be forced to drop from the tournament by the end of the third round with no hope of ending in the money. This week’s condolences go out to ATura33, DirkNight, jaspax, Poobah, Shaffawaffa5, and sneakattackkid, who all started out 2-0, but lost the last two matches, putting prizes out of reach. Here’s how the decks matched up this week…

Eliminating outliers, this week’s top performer was Goblins with a 71% win percentage. This was a great showing for a deck that often lies in or just above our rogue line. Other top decks included Hexproof at just under 67%, FissurePost at just under 64%, Affinity at approximately 57%, and Stompy at 52%. There were decks such as GreenPost, which had only a single player who ended up in the money, giving the deck a 75% win rate that comes off a bit biased. Beyond these few decks, however, most decks showed up with a less than 50% win rate. On the low end of things we saw MBC and IzzetPost coming in at a 37.5% win rate. There were also a number of bad games put up by the surprising number of players who decided to run versions of Orz Aggro. Continuing on the bottom end of things we had Elves, which went 0-2 before dropping. It’s a deck that has been oddly impressive in recent weeks; however, this past week it has really dropped in success. We’ve even seen some regular grinders who had been playing Elves deciding to back off the deck in favor of other aggro options such as Stompy.

There were five players who went undefeated this week with Affinity earning the most undefeated showings. Beyond those two showings there were also undefeated showings from Stompy, Hexproof, and Goblins despite some lower total numbers. It was a good week for Affinity, which also pulled in four 3-1 showings as well. There were a total of seventeen other players who managed to end up at 3-1 to walk away “in the money” with a total of 157 packs earned.

Mono-Blue Control (MUC)

The deck in itself is not a new concept. I’ve even discussed the deck several times in past articles. It would seem every time I jump into discussing DelverBlue or any variant of blue control, it has to be mentioned. That being said, I still wanted to take the chance and spotlight the deck this week. There was really only one “new” deck on the scene and if I were completely honest, it wasn’t something I really wanted to spotlight. I think MUC is the deck that should be focused in celebration for the fact that the deck managed to go from almost non-existent to a 12-showing week.

I think at this point in time we’re all familiar with the basic differences between MUC and DelverBlue. These two decks represent the face of blue control variants in the Pauper format. The biggest difference between the two usually comes down to the fact that DelverBlue can play a more aggressive, aggro-based game, whereas MUC will run a heavier non-creature and countermagic base. In my past experience DelverBlue will run a max 11 countermagic spells. However, as this MUC list illustrates, the deck is running 16 countermagic spells. This is a pretty standard MUC core deck where you’re going to be relying upon Delver of Secrets and Spire Golems to do all your damage. The small creature base is usually the reasoning for needing so much countermagic so that you can protect those creatures and keep the way clear for them to swing through.

There are some other advantages to running MUC over DelverBlue including the option to actually interact with the creatures once they get past your countermagic and onto the field. While DelverBlue has started running Snaps, these can often be used as additional countermagic options, but MUC gives the player options including Quicksand, Piracy Charm, and even Repeal. I think my favorite card choice in this particular list is going to be the use of Miscalculation. One of the advantages that DelverBlue tends to have is better options for card draw. MUC looks to make up for the lack of say Ninja of the Deep Hours by adding other draw options such as Oona’s Grace and cantrips on other spells like Exclude, but even then it can still find itself drawing significantly fewer cards than the DelverBlue players. It is not uncommon in MUC to see this spot being used for Mana Leaks, but what Miscalculation does is reduce the amount required for an opponent to stop you from countering in exchange for giving you the ability to cycle the card. This simple exchange can prove to be incredibly beneficial as you’ll be able to help dig for perhaps another spell you need in a particular situation or even just draw a card when you’ve already got a hand full of countermagic options.

From the beginning of our days as Magic beginners, we’re given a small set of finite rules. These rules restrict deck size, card quantity, and even win conditions. We start out by learning the most basic ways to win a game; you can reduce an opponent’s life total to zero or you can get your opponent to the point where they no longer have a deck to draw from. Later on in our understanding of the game, we do get introduced to some additional win conditions that can get a little more complicated. This includes things like Infect, which we should all be familiar with thanks to its strength before the recent bannings. With Infect you can now simply build up 10 poison counters to win a game. Other instant win effects come into play in formats beyond Pauper when you get access to cards such as Door to Nothingness.

Because we’re limited to commons, this means we don’t have access to these win condition cards and instead have to rely on other methods to win games. What it usually comes down to is going to be getting your opponent’s life total to zero. This becomes easily the most efficient way to win games in not only this format, but in most others as well. Infect was a great alternative, but again it is something that has been basically banned down into rogue status. It still works, but it is nowhere near as strong as it once was before we lost Invigorate. This leaves us with the idea of removing all cards from your opponent’s library, also known as milling an opponent. When you’re playing in formats with a larger card pool, you do get some access to interesting ways to achieve this particular goal. Take, for example, the combination of Painter’s Servant and Grindstone, which mills out an opponent instantly. We’ve even been given access to more casual options such as Mind Grind, which can be paired with heavy mana generation to mill an opponent.

In Pauper our options aren’t nearly as good, but that doesn’t mean that players who want to achieve a mill victory are completely out of luck. We do have access to a number of spells that have mostly been used as filler in casual mill decks throughout the ages of Magic. I think at some time or another most of us have tried to make a mill deck work in Pauper. One of the very first articles I wrote after my return to the game as a Pauper devotee was actually focused on this very idea. Here’s a look at that deck…

The idea behind the deck was to basically focus on two spells I thought were some of the best options for milling an opponent that Pauper had. The first was Dream Twist, which worked as two spells in one thanks to the flashback ability. The second was perhaps a bit more of the focus of the deck: Shriekhorn. The mill ability of the Shriekhorn is relatively underwhelming, but the deck looked to Glint Hawk and Steady Progress to get more activations.

As you can tell by the lack of a sideboard, this was initially put together as a bit more of a casual option. That being said, I was humbled to see someone in a past Daily Event who was attempting to give it a run as a competitive option. The deck has some issues and I’d want to make some updates to it if I were venturing down that road again. For example, I was using Screeching Silcaws for added mill since we were already so artifact-focused, but the size of that creature just doesn’t help. Perhaps I’d look to add in Kor Skyfishers in a similar way that Boros Kitty uses them alongside the Glint Hawks to reuse artifacts. The deck also finds itself in a metagame that is not only a bit more focused on aggro, but also these aggro decks are getting faster by the day. I think it’s a cool idea, but it also suffers from the popularity of Affinity. Since Affinity is so heavily played, people are easily going to be running a selection of anti-artifact spells in their decks, and this one is actually very reliant on keeping those Shriekhorns around. Sure, the deck is running some countermagic, but you never know when one might slip by you. If anyone wants to take the idea and play around with it to make it competitive, feel free!

Despite the fact that my deck was focused on a more casual environment, there are some other decks that have managed to work their way into at least one Daily Event showings list. These lists come down to a common deck building strategy that has become known as Turbo Fog. Turbo Fog is one of those decks that is likely to make some casual fans of the game gnash their teeth in a similar way to land destruction or mass discard strategies. For those who are not familiar with the strategy behind Turbo Fog, it works simply by spending a few turns getting set up to a point where it can completely mill out an opponent while constantly casting Fog effects to keep alive. The idea is that you cast enough Fogs that you’ll keep yourself alive until your opponent has been milled out.

At the time of creating my deck, I wanted to focus on the artifact path, thinking that I could avoid having to fill my deck with numerous Fog effects. Part of the motivation was some new cards being printed in Innistrad Block that had a focus on milling. While a number of these were created for self-mill in order to use other, like-flavored abilities, there were several that could be used on an opponent. Between Innistrad and M12, we had access to what would become the workhorse cards in a Pauper-based Turbo Fog deck…

Either or both of these enchantments can work as the mill engine for a Turbo Fog deck. Having these enchantments work as the mill engine provides a more solid foundation for this type of deck. The difference between using one of these mill enchantments versus various mill spells such as Dream Twist is that you can mill more cards off of the enchantment while taking up fewer card slots in the deck. Take, for example, the deck I put together where it devoted fourteen different cards to milling out an opponent, not to mention other spells that were put in there just to help keep those pieces working. By focusing on the use of these enchantments to mill instead of all those individual spells, you can limit your mill choices down to anywhere from four to eight cards in a deck. So with the mill engine of your deck established, the next thing that you have to decide is what you’re going to use for your Fog effects…

While we usually think about green when talking about Fog effects, you can see by this deck that white actually has quite a few damage prevention spells as well. The deck brings in straight-up damage prevention in the forms of Dawn Charm and Holy Day, but also focuses a lot of its efforts on the use of Pacifism enchantments. Prismatic Strands is a prevention spell we’ve all become familiar with in Pauper due to the fact that it was arguably the strongest answer to Grapeshot when TPPS and UR Storm were kings of the format. The best part, as always, comes down to the flashback ability, which gives you two spells for the price of one card slot.

This deck also gets great use of Pentarch Ward, which creates that color protection for your walls and provides card draw. You’d be surprised how important card draw can be for a Turbo Fog deck. You need the ability to draw for two major reasons. The first, and perhaps most obvious, is that you need to find your mill engine. If you can’t find Curse of the Bloody Tome when playing this deck, then you won’t be able to win games, end of story. The second reason that card draw is important is because you need to keep refilling your hand with Fog effects. You’ll quickly find that when you’re basically required to cast a Fog each turn that you’ll run out of cards in hand very fast so you’ll need the ability to keep finding additional Fog effects to maintain the one per turn cast rate. This deck then works to round out its choice of Fog effects through an interesting combination of Palace Guards and Wall of Glares. These creatures both have the ability to block any number of creatures, and when enchanted with a Pentarch Ward or Ghostly Possession, they can stop all creatures coming your way.

Beyond this idea of Pacifisms and indestructible creatures, there is also another blue-white combination that goes unexplored in this particular deck. In M12 we also were given access to Stonehorn Dignitary, which forces an opponent to skip their combat phase when it enters the battlefield. Thanks to the numerous new options we’ve been granted for additional Momentary Blink spells, we now have a great way to abuse this. Consider the Mnemonic Wall and Ghostly Flicker combo alone to keep blinking the Stonehorn Dignitary over and over. Even a slower option like a bought back Capsize could provide you with the ability to reuse the Stonehorn Dignitary’s ability if you could find the mana to do so. Consider this type of deck paired with other “enters the battlefield” creatures and you might have something there. The only hold up would probably be the heavy mana cost required to play this type of deck, but who knows maybe we’ll see an 8-post version of Turbo Fog at some point in the future.

So let’s take a look now at a more traditional version of what Turbo Fog would look like…

As you can see, this version of the deck resorts simply to using more traditional Fog effects. One of the best Fog effects granted to the deck with the use of green is Moment’s Peace, which also gets a flashback cost and grants you two uses for the cost of that single slot. Moreover, the deck gets use of Respite, which not only prevents damage, but also provides you with a bit of life gain to give you some breathing space in between attacks. This is a combination used in other versions of Turbo Fog that do not have the commons limitation because recurrent, or a large amount of, life gain can act as damage prevention in later turns without needing to use another spell.

When it comes to the mill engine, this deck has to take a much different approach because Curse of the Bloody Tome is triggered upon upkeep, whereas the Jace’s Erasure does require you to draw cards in order to activate the mill ability. Some might argue that this is the more beneficial way to go because, as I mentioned earlier, you kind of have the need to be drawing cards any ways in order to keep you casting Fogs each turn. As I always say the best way to run any type of “combo” deck is that you need to find the pieces and protect them. Thanks to the use of Jace’s Erasure the deck can use Muddle the Mixture as a makeshift tutor, which can also find Fogs. Beyond that you obviously have Counterspells and even Reclaim to either get more Fogs or save a destroyed enchantment. Are you getting tired of the word ‘fog’ yet???

When it comes to draw spells the deck brings in some of the best. We have classics like Brainstorm and Accumulated Knowledge to draw a significant number of cards, and the ability to reuse Deep Analysis as well as Think Twice, but the real winner can be Tolarian Winds. Obviously a Turbo Fog deck would be something that allowed you to draw a specific number of cards no matter how many you have in hand, but we do have some limitations in Pauper. What you’re best off looking out for is to be able to discard things like Think Twice or any of the many other flashback cards you have in deck.

I’m not entirely sure that there is room in our current metagame for a regular showing by at least some version of a Turbo Fog deck. We are in a very aggro-heavy metagame, which should reasonably be an okay matchup for the deck. I think where it really struggles is finding the mill engine pieces. To get the deck really going at its best ability, you need to be able to find and successfully play one of those mill enchantments as early as its mana cost will allow. That being said, I encourage people to always try something new and venture out of their box!

Well until next time all don’t forget to check me out on Twitter @MTGOJustSin to give input on upcoming articles, leave comments, or participate in the general ramblings about the game we all know and love!

  1. Hey, great article per usual. Just wanted to say I think the mill strategy is intriguing in the current meta, but I worry about two issues. Before I start I just want to say feel free to disagree, know that I am aware that it is a list you are suggesting in your casual section so I am taking the lists with a grain of salt, and I am writing to only to encourage discussion in the pauper community.

    My first issue with the milling + fog approach is the viablity of it with the m14 rules changes. In a couple of weeks people will be able to board in 15 extra cards against the turbofog player. I don’t think it will cripple the strategy, and im not sure it is even a good choice to do that, but I felt it should be mentioned. It’s like if you’re playing a burn deck and you are giving your opponent the option of starting at 20-25 life games two and three. So if I was going to try this list, I would do it in the next few days. Second is the recent adoption of flaring pain to Eyecandy. On paper the cyclops matchup is nearly unwinable postboard because of this lone card. The milling also aids them, allowing them to find the flaring pain earlier due to the flashback. So i guess, if I was going to play this list I would add some additional countermagic in the sideboard.

    Anyway, that’s all I have. Thanks again for all your hard work in the pauper community, and I write for mtgostrat if you want to get me back ;-p

  2. Perhaps the new sideboard rules will lead to stronger mill cards! However, I doubt it very much :-(

  3. Everyone should feel free to leave their thoughts :) The first was casual, but what I was getting at was the two fog lists were actually lists that have shown in past Daily Events, once for the UW and twice for the UG.

    That’s a great idea about the sideboard change, though I do wonder if that would really be a worth while strategy for playing mill because you consider of those 15 cards in your sideboard you usually have say 4 cards that are relevant against a specific matchup so I’d imagine it’d be like bringing in say even eight dead cards so while you wouldn’t mill as fast you’d run a chance of drawing much slower and hitting lots of dead cards perhaps making the fog player not need to fog

  4. I’ve tested both the bottom mill decks, with pretty limited success. Using UW I kept going up against Affinity, who ignored ALL my protection and fog effects and simply killed my with his Disciples of the Vault. I also agree that Flaring Pain is a pretty big issue, especially since we’re milling our opponents and the card has Flashback, so they’re that much more likely to see it in any given game.

  5. Great Content, man!!!

    When you said about “Wizards would have to step in soon”, you mean that Wizards should review the ban list bcus the FissurePost deck ??? I mean, and if “yes”, which card you’d think that deserves a ban ??? My opinion…Ghostly Flicker ;)

    Oh, i cant forget that…sorry about my ignorance…but, which deck is called “Eye Candy” ??? I didn’t see the URCyclops/URFiend/URdelvercyclopsfiendcombo( :P ) here, you know, that “combo” deck using Kiln Fiend and Nivix Cyclops, so i think you’re calling it “Eye Candy”, right ???

    Anyway i enjoyed this, keep doing man, cya!


  6. Not to be a buzz kill, but what in the world would these mill decks do against a temporal fissure deck? Allowing them to have even 4 or 5 turns to assemble their combo with no pressure on board is already asking for trouble… I shudder to think how many turns they will have against a mill deck to assemble the perfect storm and lock you out of the game.

  7. @ Fred – the current BnR list is a whole can of worms too large for comments :P things are O-K currently I think, but not good, I’m curious to see what the downturn in FissurePost brings about and yes the deck referred to as “Eye Candy” is the clops fiend deck, it was suggested I switch the name

    @ Michael – yea I imagine the fissure decks would be an awkward game, but the idea was based on the slip in the past week and increase in stompy

  8. I have had the most luck using mill as a concurrent win condition. I hate playing turbo fog almost as much as everyone else hates playing against it…just boring. this list lets you play a real game of magic and mill at the same time.
    2 Azorius Chancery
    2 Kabira Crossroads
    3 Quicksand
    4 Evolving wilds
    3 Plains
    8 Island
    22 lands

    2 Standard Bearer
    4 Lone Missionary
    4 Kor Skyfisher
    4 Fathom Seer
    4 Squadron Hawk
    4 Whirlpool Rider
    22 creatures

    2 Momentary blink
    4 Journey to Nowhere
    4 Jace’s Erasure
    3 Muddle the Mixture
    3 Oblivion Ring
    16 spells

    2 Mizzium skin
    2 Circle of protection: Green
    2 Circle of protection: Red
    2 Standard Bearer
    3 Reprisal
    4 Deprive
    15 Sideboard

    The blinks should probably be Gush, but I’m not made of money :-) The deprives in the board should maybe be counterspells, but they help fill your hand for the riders.
    Admittedly, I haven’t been able to test this in tourneys, but it has held its own against several good decks in single duels. it may or may not be competitive, but it is more fun to play than your average mill deck and the creatures give you another tactic if the mill isn’t working. Give it a try and see what you think!

  9. Great article, thanks for continuing this stream of good content!

    On a completely different note:

    I think the majority of the Pauper community has really gotten the taste for bannings after Grapeshot and Empty got the axe. I think it’s a really hot topic and I would love to see some more spotlight thrown in its direction such that we can discuss it properly!

  10. Only problem I see with turbo fog decks is if they’re going to face a post deck with Ulamog’s Crusher. they still have to sac 2 permanents when it attacks. Of course you can get lucky enough to mill them out :(. Funny deck idea though.