by Steve ‘DDT’ Giannopoulos
If you often play some casual Magic or even sometimes the odd casual Modern/Legacy tournament at your local store, you have often probably tried to figure out how to make a decent or somewhat competitive mill deck for yourself or a friend. I’m not talking about the Painted Stone deck as that’s mainly just a 2-card combo deck. I mean milling them the hard way!
The main advantage to building something like this is that it’s actually a good archetype deck to keep around and test against or play many casual games. Kind of like testing your deck’s resilience/speed versus a burn deck. It’s also really good at randomly disrupting combo decks such as Scapeshift/Valakut and Pestermite/Splinter Twin since it can actually mill enough combo pieces to the point where they cannot combo properly (more versus Valakut, since Pestermite has Kiki-Jiki and Deceiver Exarch)
Of course I didn’t just come up with this deck out of the blue. I did however feel that a lot of people currently playing Magic are not aware that it ever existed. I see them try out cards like Tome Scour, Traumatize and Glimpse the Unthinkable. I ,in vain, try to convince them that there are much better ways to mill your opponent all the while keeping permanents /blockers in play. Ways that can even result in you attacking them sometimes (no, not Consuming Aberration).
Some other time bro!
The deck uses Hedron crab and some strategically placed Archive Traps to mill out your opponent. It also has many tutors that are mostly instant speed. It clogs the board enough for you to not get totally overrun by various aggro decks as well. Without further ado, here’s the old decklist:
Ranger of Crabs
4 Birds of Paradise
1 Marsh Flats
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Scalding Tarn
4 Terramorphic Expanse
3 Verdant Catacombs
4 Archive Trap
3 Path to Exile
1 Pitfall Trap
4 Trapmaker’s Snare
4 Hedron Crab
4 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Noble Hierarch
4 Ranger of Eos
I have fond memories playing this at my local FNM‘s and having a blast. Most of my losses would come at the hands of the then popular Jund decks that everyone was tired of facing. I kept the deck for quite some time even after it was no longer Standard legal. It was fun to try this deck out at certain random Legacy and Extended tournaments back in the day. I speak like it’s been forever, but it’s only about 2.5 years ago. It does really feel like an eternity though.
The Ins and Outs
Antoine Ruel’s invitational card back then
Much like Snapcaster Mage came to be, so did Ranger of Eos. Magic Invitational tournaments were held up until 2007 and the winner got to design their own card (with their ‘likeness’ on the art of the card as well). It’s pretty cool as it can fetch sooo many utility creatures (as well as mana dorks) and it will only get better as more cards are released (such as Deathrite Shaman not too long ago).
As most of you have undoubtedly figured out : he is going to go fetch a couple of Hedron Crabs most of the time. When he’s not doing that he can grab us a couple of chump blockers or mana accelerators (in case we want to cast a big Wargate or hardcast Archive Traps).
His 3/2 body is pretty relevant and he can pretty much trade with quite a few things in order to soak up the damage that is dealt to us. He sometimes gets to attack but that’s not really our Plan A. If he gets to take down an opposing planeswalker then he’s done way more than his fair share. Once he’s gotten the Hedron Crabs, we can now focus on a good old Zendikar mechanic – Landfall.
Just drop those lands and let your Hedron Crabs start milling away your opponent’s library. A fetch means 6 cards, usually and obviously it just doubles if you have 2 Hedron Crabs out. If your opponent does not really have much in terms of removal (usually you know this by Game 2), you can go ahead and drop Hedron Crab on turn 1 then a fetchland (yes, even Terramorphic Expanse) on Turn 2.
Fetchlands have never been this exciting (aside from their price tag)
It’s a Trap !
Indeed it is. The deck runs no less than four Trapmaker’s Snare (you soooo had to go look it up eh?) This seems really scrubby, but it does a few things here:
A) It thins out our deck.
Between this and fetches (which remove basics from our deck as well) we are left with more chance to draw our support cards.
B) It like having 8 Archive Traps in the deck.
C) Allows us to run a few other Traps
While not too exciting, getting a Pitfall Trap and casting it versus an annoying ground beater is pretty cool. Post-sideboard we also have Ravenous Trap against decks that utilize their graveyard or run Eldrazi creatures.
Trapmaker’s Snare is not a Trap itself as that would be rather ‘over the top’ deck thinning.
We can also ‘force’ them to search their deck with everyone’s favorite removal spell:
Take the bait?
Of course they don’t ‘have to’, in which case you get a ‘drawback-less’ removal. Alternatively, you can use it on your own creatures if you have some Hedron Crabs out to trigger Landfall and get some bonus mill. If you hit an opposing mana dork with this and they kind of needed the mana, they really almost have no choice but to search.
The other random advantage is that a lot of decks do not run many basic lands these days. Between the low basic count and your mills, they may very well be left with one or no actual lands to fetch.
Fetch it up!
This deck has a pretty high number of tutors (even when you don’t count the fetches).
Currently sees play in some Modern ‘Soul Sisters’ builds
Any permanent, yes even a land (or preferably a fetchland)
It’s much better than it looks
Criminally underplayed in Modern
You’re probably going to be shuffling this deck quite a bit, so I’d suggest get some heavy-duty plastics. While I did not manage to find them, I recall there were these really really long lasting Ultra Pro sleeves back in the day. Mind you this was probably about 15 years ago or more. It looked as though someone cut out the Ultra Pro 9-pocket sleeves into individual sleeves. The plastics were thicker and to this day I am only missing one to be able to sleeve up a 60-card deck. I never seem to have them on hand while drafting and every time I come across them at home I curse the Ultra Pro gods.
If anyone out there would have a set to sell or even a few random sleeves, would you be kind enough to ship me them? I would offer some random store credit or something else. I searched long enough online for these and cannot even find so much as a picture. I guess I’ll post one on Carte Blanche Hobbies Facebook page eventually.
I’m not sure if you really ever sideboard in casual games, but assuming you do – you probably want the full 75 heavy duty sleeves. Having to switch sleeves when you sideboard is a total b*tch!
I really love Knight of the Reliquary in general and I feel that she is practically the glue that holds this deck together. She’s usually rather big the turn you cast her and she keeps the whole crab mill thing going every turn. You can often even get to attack with her and win that way. The current Modern metagame somehow does not allow for her to see much play and this reflects on her market price. I would pick up my playset now since the card can only really go up in value. I like both artworks of this card personally.
This is clearly the version that attacks more
We have only 4 Forests and 2 Plains in the above list, but feel free to add some Temple Gardens, Hallowed Fountains or Breeding Pools to it. You can keep some basics since you run some Terramorphic Expanses and you need to remember that the Ravnica dual lands were not Standard-legal at the time. As long as you can playtest a few games and it seems that you can cast things properly while keeping the fetch/land ratio more or less the same then you’re doing it right.
Well, not quite. It’s not exactly legal.
That’s a shame, but it doesn’t take much to make it legal. Can you spot the intruder? The random elephant in the room? It’s probably tricky, since it’s not really elephant-sized, it’s actually quite a small, innocent-looking card:
…Aaaand I now just notice that there is a guy’s face in the background of this card
How can we remedy this problem if we truly want to play this in our local modern tournaments? Simple: do what the rest of the modern deck are doing.
Run either Serum Visions or Sleight of Hand. They are both Modern’s Brainstorms – a way to dig for card quality while maintaining card parity. The funny thing is that in this deck you are probably not sad to see lands at all. Sometimes leaving something on top with Scry won’t even matter if you’re going to fetch for a land anyways, so don’t waste much time there. Actually, try not to take too much time searching in general as it is probably going to be unpleasant for your opponents. It might not matter much if you don’t know them personally, but it’s somewhat of a consideration when playing versus your friends. This is the main reason why I advocate a tutor-free Commander format (but that will be addressed further in a future article).
Learning when to block
This is a tougher one for newer players, but you get better at it over time. While this deck does not offer much in terms of combat, you might want to block only when absolutely necessary. Sure, it might seem nice to soak up 4 damage randomly with a Birds of Paradise early game but it’s probably a terrible idea. Unless you blocked an infect creature or a creature that has a very powerful ‘when this creature deals combat damage’ effect, you probably didn’t do much. The Birds also represents more mana for when you get the cast Wargate later on or need to hard cast an Archive Trap.
If you absolutely need to add defensive measures in the main deck without sacrificing the core of the deck, you may want to check out the Bant-colored manlands from Worldwake. You can tutor them up with Knight of the Reliquary, but keep in mind however, that they don’t pay too nicely with fetches.
The biggest of the two
Celestial Colonnade allows us to even further go on offense when we can. It does required 5 other mana to activate and I don’t know how often that’s going to happen.
The red headed stepchild of the Worldwake manlands cycle
While you don’t really want to run any lands that come into play tapped more than you need to (Terramorphic Expanse), Stirring Wildwood is easier on the mana and offers a very reasonably-sized body. I would test the deck out with one copy of it and see how it does.
Sadly, none of these can come into play ready to block for us. Even assuming you fetch them with Knight of the Reliquary, you are going to be unable to block with them right away. The lands were available in Standard at the time and the deck did not run them since they were deemed too slow, but you may want to remember that Bloodbraid Elf was legal in that format. If it cascaded into a Blightning we were in big trouble. Maelstrom Pulse meant we could run the risk of losing all out Hedron Crabs to one card as well.
Modern competitive Mill ?
While the deck is very cute and synergetic, I am pretty sure it’s not a Tier 1 deck in the current Modern metagame. I have been playing a mill deck that is more Tier 2 in Modern and I’ll be writing about it soon. I don’t think I can write this stuff fast enough to make it ‘Mill Week’ on Carteblanchehobbies, but maybe ‘Mill Month?”