Threshold for non game winning Mill

This is stemming mostly from the discussion around Ashiok, Dream Render from the latest episode of So Many Insane Plays. In the episode, it is speculated that Ashiok's mill with exile is powerful enough and plentiful enough that it could win games on it's own, ostensibly by removing wincons from your opponents deck and giving you inevitability in a drawn out game. Obviously Ashiok has a TON of other utility outside of milling cards which pushes him into a new category, but it made me question how we as a community treat mill on a whole.

Conventional wisdom is that strictly mill cards in the traditional sense are unplayable unless they win you the game on the spot, something like a painterstone combo. The logic is that because mill is off the top, anything that does not kill your opponent on the spot is just milling random cards, and that the mill is just as likely to mill your opponents good cards as it is cards they did not want to draw. Compound that with all the graveyard strategies in the game and mill is typically just garbage.

So it got me thinking while you cannot control what gets milled, your opponent put those cards in their list for a reason. There are games that players can look back at (Typically limited but it can happen in any format) where a card that milled cards from your opponents list won you the game because of what it milled, so while it is random it can be powerful.

I think the concept of milling directly into exile, should that become the new norm, possibly shifts our paradigm. By removing the possibility of giving your opponent graveyard fuel, you take away most of the risk inherent in milling someone. Playing mill cards that exile for the sake of potentially removing vital pieces from an opponents combo or synergies and providing inevitability could become worth playing. If they do you then just need to weigh if taking a chance to mill a key card and attacking a library is worth the trade off for playing cards that do not affect the board or stack. Is it worth spending mana and a card to potentially remove part of keyvault some of the time?

So here is my question. How many cards would a card have to mill directly to exile for it to be worth playing just for that ability (and not all the other things that Ashiok brings.) Let say you have this card:

Super Tomb Scour - U
Sorcery
Your opponent removes the top X cards from the top of their deck and puts them into exile.

What would X have to be for this card to be playable?

The chances of milling your opponent’s wincon is equal to the chance that they draw the wincon because you milled them (i.e. their wincon would’ve been too far into their deck if you didn’t mill them). This means that non-game-winning mill is only useful if:
a. They see their whole deck but don’t mill out (possible with cards like preordain and dig)
b. They’re playing tutors

I’m not sure what the right answer is, but that’s important to consider.

for single wincons yes, milling is random, and milling unknown cards is net neutral in effect until it kills them, discounting graveyard synergies by assuming this is exile mill. How does this work out for composite wincons? vault+key for the sake of simplicity, and because it can be 1 of each of those as opposed to playsets of another wincon. hitting half of the pair makes the other no longer (fully) functional. let's say our example mill is Traumatize, milling half. Milling half would have a 50% chance of eliminating a mentor, say, and a 50% chance of bringing it closer(not that it wouldn't have been found eventually despite sitting in the bottom half at the moment given cantrips and tutors and fetches). For a 2 part combo, it would have a roughly 75% chance to hit at least one of the 2 parts unless I'm missing something.

as a practical concern, exiling parts of your opponent's deck may just help them with cards like the new Karn, or standard all-star crackling drake

If the goal is to strip wincons, just play sadistic sacrament.

I do not think mill into exile will become a new norm, I think it's specific to Ashiok here. a lot of mill cards are mill so that they can also function in self-mill archetypes in draft, etc.

I'm not sure your assertion that they have equal chances to draw or discard the wincon is correct. Here is why.

Let's say in my example X =20 and your opponent has 40 cards left in their deck. They have one wincon in the deck (again, for simplicity sake).

I have a 50% chance of removing that wincon in this example. If I don't hit the wincon I increase the odds that you draw it from 2.5% to 5%. While I increased the odds of you drawing that card by the same percentage I just had to mill it, you only gained 2.5% to draw it. 50% for me to win on the spot vs giving you slightly better odds to draw it seems like a really good shot, and discounting all the other utility in this obviously very simplified it seems like better odds to remove the threat I need to remove than the odds surrounding me sideboarding in answers to the card and then being in a position to have them when I need them and be in a position to play them.

My point here is that mill like Ashiok, with exile included, is actually a proactive way to remove threats, which I don't think we ever really considered with mill in the past. I still believe you will use this mill more so in tandem with other cards in a mill strategy before you included it into a general deck as a value play, but knowing what the value of it helps us evaluate how good these cards could be when the mill/exile effect is tacked onto another card in the future, potentially as value add to the cards primary effect.

Another supporting example appears in Hearthstone, where exile/mill effects have been observed in similar ways to work. I understand it is a different game but there are similarities enough that I think it is relevant. In that game there is a card that is simply a very generic creature (think 2/2 or 2/3 for 2CMC in magic) that milled the top card of your opponents deck when it came into play, and there are a significant number of matches in that game that milling has been the catalyst for winning.

Deck size in Hearthstone is 30 with a 3 card starting hand, so in magic this would be the equivalent of a 2/3 for 2 that milled 2. There is also no graveyard in HS, so in effect all mill effects also exile. Most cards can be played in 2's with the exception of legendary cards which are limited to 1 (so in effect eaiser to draw than any given restricted list card in magic.)

This card has been observed plenty of times milling 1 card and forcing concedes because of what it milled. In games where it does not mill a card that causes an auto-concede there, it can often be accredited with long term gains in the control match up. Very few cases can be looked at where the random mill off the deck tangibly cost the game for that deck Not everyone ran the card, but enough of them did that it became ubiquitous win the story line.

Let’s take your example and assume that your opponent only draws one card a turn, and that the game lasts n more turns. n<=20 because we’re assuming the traumatize wasn’t going to mill you out. That means that the opponent was never going to draw their wincon if you didn’t traumatize them and it was in the bottom half. So 50% chance to get rid of their wincon, but 50% chance to give them access to a wincon they didn’t have otherwise. However, you’re probably right in practice. If you take into account draw spells you can go through your whole deck and still have more draws available to you and not get milled out, which means the mill card removed access to cards in your deck without directly killing you.

Note that in hearthstone it’s different because a) you have a smaller deck, so you’re more likely to go through the whole thing and b) you don’t lose when you run out of cards in deck, so removing cards from an opponent’s library is relevant in more situations where decking is not.

@inkfathombiomage said in Threshold for non game winning Mill:

Note that in hearthstone it’s different because a) you have a smaller deck, so you’re more likely to go through the whole thing and b) you don’t lose when you run out of cards in deck, so removing cards from an opponent’s library is relevant in more situations where decking is not.

I dont think it is that different as to not be relevant. Hearthstone games on average last around the same number of turns as magic, sometimes a bit more. You don't outright lose in that game when you run out of deck, you do however start progressively start losing more and more life every turn because of it and eventually it will kill you. There are mill strategies for just that reason.

We regard a card like sadistic sacrament fringe playable because it is targeted mill, we know what it will hit, but there is not a gaurentee that the cards we remove would ever be drawn in the first place. Where as people dont play blind mill for this very reason, they do play sacrament.

I guess my question then becomes how much value does this type of mill add when it is incidental/value added to the card. If Ashiok did not mill but still did everything else, how would we regard him? I think its clear that the mill into exile adds something we ascribe some value to, but how much?

Even if its exile based mill, mill is almost completely worthless against Workshops and some other decks. You'd have to make the X number excessively high, like 15+, which would be a huge power creep from mill effects in the past and would adversely affect the format.

Heartstone the deck size is literally half and the biggest mill deck functions by putting more cards in its own deck (rather than reducing its opponent's deck size). I think its almost totally different here.

If you set X=20 or something ridiculous like that it might be worthwhile, but only because it makes progress towards a mill victory. If you only want to consider the value of exiling the cards (like if you imagined that there was no possibility of removing their whole deck for whatever reason), I'm not sure any value of X is better than any other value.

@protoaddict said in Threshold for non game winning Mill:

Let's say in my example X =20 and your opponent has 40 cards left in their deck. They have one wincon in the deck (again, for simplicity sake).

I think the thing with this example is that there are better cards if your opponent truly has one win condition in their deck. One mana to have a 50/50 chance of winning on the spot seems great, but for two mana you could play Seek and have a 100% chance. That along with Sadistic Sacrament (which hits their backups too, if they have them) are pretty fringe cards because they're very narrow as it is, but they do destroy a deck that doesn't have a way to win without a crucial one-of. So if we're considering random mill, I think we have to consider what it does or doesn't do against "normal" decks that have a bunch of threats, because if you're targeting the decks that fall apart without one card you probably wouldn't choose to play Super Tomb Scour anyway.

Jester's cap has seen some play in MUD.

Now most deck have 3 or more wincon maindeck. If you blind mill them of 20 cards you only have 3% to hit all three wincon.
This order of magnitude make blind mill almost irrelevant.

Let's put it this way: if Traumatize costed 1 mana it would be unplayable. IF it costed one mana AND exiled the graveyard afterwards like Ashiok does, then it would probably be a SB card against decks that have few killcons or against grindy matchups where you exile half their library and the grindy game will be in your favor - you'd SB out all your wincons, play the ultimate control role and deck them (well, it would also be good against Dredge of course).
So I'd say the card you're looking for is a 1-mana-ashioked-Traumatize.

last edited by fsecco

@fsecco if traumatize cost 1 mana it'd be played in dredge with mental missteps and forces to protect it. but self-mill is essentially a completely different card evaluation situation than this thread.

@blindtherapy oh yeah, I'm considering the card only mills opponents, since that's what the thread is about. Forgot Traumatize actually reads "target player".

@fsecco ashiok is capable of self-mill, which is probably going to be more relevant in legacy where it clears brainstorms than it is in this format. I think part of the card's versatility is targetting self, while still crypting the opponent.

@blindtherapy it sure will, as in Modern too. Gives more fuel to Snapcaster too.

@InkfathomBiomage has it correct in their original post, IMO.

Against a deck with no tutors, milling X cards is provably useless (and often counterproductive) unless the opponent will see more than 60-X cards over the course of the game.

So what does X need to be for mill to become playable? Let's assume that we're playing against Workshops or Hatebears, with no card-draw engine. We can conservatively estimate the length of the game as 10 turns, so that the opponent will naturally draw 17 cards. This means that the opponent starts with 43 cards of buffer in their library, and 20 life, for a ratio of 2.15 cards:life.

Glimpse the Unthinkable therefore is roughly equivalent to a burn spell that deals 4.65 damage for 2 mana: that's worse than Lava Axe, and clearly unplayable. Archive Trap deals a very respectable 6 virtual damage for one card and zero mana, and is the best mill spell that I'm aware of.

In addition to problem with efficiency, mill has a problem with consistency: a one-mana mill-10 card is probably strong enough to be playable, but along with Archive Trap that's not enough to build a deck around. You're probably better off building the Vintage Snapcaster-Bolts deck.

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