A: Turn-1 Plays (4)
B: Turn-2 Plays (12)
C: Turn-3 Plays (8)
D: Situational Spells (12)
E: Fetchlands (8)
F: Fetch Targets (8)
The aim of this page is trying to determine the best Glimpse the Unthinkable -based strategy available in Modern, and design the optimal list accordingly. That is, my primer wants to get the most out of a Mill deck (which explains the label 'competitive'), with 'Mill deck' meaning a deck where targeting your opponent when casting something like Glimpse the Unthinkable is always (or quite so, actually) the best line of play.
The result provided by this analysis will be a deck that maximises the chances of attaining a turn 4 win, where we count as a win too chaining fogs (i.e. functional copies of Fog ) from turn 4 until we actually achieve victory. Test sessions and theoretical brooding have led me to every single card choice displayed here - as well as to surmise that Mill could do no better than this: THIS IS THE BEST TAKE ON THIS STRATEGY AVAILABLE IN MODERN.
I will unfurl a primer below, trying to give explanation; but if I took something inappropriately for granted, I will surely make plain upon request. Anyway, I will try to be thorough in expounding the reflections that took me to the present list.
This detailed article owns a lot to the comments it received. Such answers allowed me to clarify some points of this primer; therefore, I wish to give my thanks to every single contributor to the discussion. Grateful additional thanks are in order to a friend of mine doing the computing regarding the actual Mind Funeral 's effectiveness.
Building the decklist
Starting from perusing and sifting through the Modern pool so as to form an idea of what it can offer in order to build a Glimpse the Unthinkable -based deck focused on milling the opponent out, in this section I will rough-out this strategy's possibilities - fundamentally got at via multiple cycles of mutual adjustment between the cards which can be helpful to the strategy and the strategy itself in its many aspects, process which I am merely/mostly reporting the outcome of.
It is reasonable, before anything else, to explore and probe what a dedicated mill can accomplish when unchecked. In order to do so, I will display the viable mill-spell options, catalogued by CMC (Casting Mana Cost) and arranged by milled-cards/CMC ratio (expressing how many cards they mill for spent mana). (The cards which found a place in the decklist will have a separate comment below, so they get no coverage here.)
Chancellor of the Spires : as for the previous card, the conditions to achieve the effect of this card can be accounted for as factors in computing the average mill-power: thus the position in the list. The lesser the game lasts the stronger it is, making it very appealing in super explosive mill build - which cannot be built yet given the card pool.
Surgical Extraction : it can indeed be used as merely a mill card - even though a very ineffectual one.
Shriekhorn : since slow strategies are mostly easy match-ups, Shriekhorn is (for what it's worth) better than any Codex Shredder -like card, because the game against fast decks should not last more than 4 turns anyway (5 or more if covered by fogs). As 1-mana mill spell, it works well with a fast Crypt Incursion and it also rounds up the mill count of cards like Breaking / Entering or Mesmeric Orb so as to get an earlier Visions of Beyond or Shelldock Isle 's activation. If Shriekhorn is drawn in the first stages of the game, it's a 'mill 6 for 1 mana' spell, which is quite strong for a 1-mana mill spell; if it is drawn late, Mill generally doesn't care because it has a lot of things to play in mid- or late-game (at least against the frightening aggro decks): Mill is so slow that you will surely have mill spells to play on turn 4, and that is also why Shriekhorn taking turns to do its work is not a real problem: later in the game we will cast our expensive spells still in hand. Also it is not rare that the mana left available for our 1-mana spell is only-black: we couldn't cast Tome Scour , and that late Shriekhorn is better than a Tome Scour we couldn't cast. Though it is usually bad to spend a removal on Shriekhorn , it is a matter of consideration; on the other side, Shriekhorn don't get countered by Cursecatcher or Glen Elendra Archmage . In addition, like Hedron Crab Shriekhorn works perfectly with Set Adrift from the sideboard (turning it on early without spending two whole card - one to mill ourselves and one to mill their threat); and it is useful to have mill effects that are cheap (i.e. for milling away the card targeted by Set Adrift ) and instant (i.e. to win against Academy Ruins , in conjunction with Shelldock Isle + any mill spell or Hedron Crab + a fetchland or Archive Trap ), and this card covers both those roles. Again, like Tome Scour it's a turn 1 play (which are more important in some Mill builds like one engineered around Frayng Sanity) which smooths your toil of getting good Visions of Beyond , Crypt Incursion and Shelldock Isle and makes your Mesmeric Orb better in that you can still play Mesmeric Orb AND get early Visions of Beyond , Crypt Incursion and Shelldock Isle without giving up the late-game power (if played early) of Mesmeric Orb . But what sets it apart form Tome Scour is that Shriekhorn is good with Set Adrift , can let you draw 3 from Visions of Beyond alongside a lone Archive Trap (13+1+6=20), and mills 1 more card when needed (that is, when you play it early).
Minister of Inquiries : the issue with this card is that when it is bad (no good block/no block at all/block irrelevant/dies immediately..) it is really, really bad since it doesn't give any sort of residual advantage (the energies left are useless: following Minister of Inquiries will suffer the fate of the first) or it is too slow; all this while the ceiling is quite mediocre: best case scenario, it is as effective as one of the worse cards most mill deck could play: Shriekhorn . One should not play Minister of Inquiries unless wanting to go really deep in 1-CMC mill cards (which I do not recommended). Summing up: as a mill spell, Shriekhorn is way better; the fact Minister of Inquiries could block in a pinch is irrelevant (as with any creature we could play) since all decks wanting to attack with creatures has their way to deal with blockers (multiple attackers, trample, unblockable, removals..).
Tome Scour : unlike Shriekhorn , it is useful in late-game also. The flaws with Minister of Pain and the negligible (other reasons accounted for) difference in mill-power are the reasons why is usually better to play the fullset of Tome Scour before playing the first copy of Minister of Inquiries .
Memory Sluice : in a mill-oriented deck full of creatures and in a metagame without removals it would be good.
Merfolk Secretkeeper : for being a mere Shock at the opponent its remaining text is surprisingly good. It would probably fit in in a build with more creatures and Memory Sluice . It has no place anywhere else.
Manic Scribe : it needs a lot of work to be effective: it conceivably would require you to play a humungous amount of cards in any of combination of the following: Manamorphose , Street Wraith , Mishra's Bauble , Mesmeric Orb , Jace's Phantasm , Minister of Inquiries , Death's Approach , Dead Weight . The latter two are solid removal spell which also work towards getting delirium; unfortunately, removals are quite poor in a mill strategy (more below). As for Mesmeric Orb , you have to keep in mind that Manic Scribe curves out poorly into it and vice versa: if you play the artifact on turn 2, you cannot block early creatures (losing part of the effectiveness of Manic Scribe itself); if you play the creature first, on the other hand, you mill less cards from Mesmeric Orb - and, as an important consequence, failing to prime Manic Scribe , an early triggering of which is mostly the main reason reason to run Mesmeric Orb in a Manic Scribe -list (as Mesmeric Orb requires fogs to work effectively, not defences in the form of creatures - or removals, for argument's sake): in this case, Manic Scribe is to consider a mill spell (a very bad one) with minor upside for being able to block. But Manic Scribe cannot cover an important defensive role due to the issues it shares with Jace's Phantasm or Wight of Precinct Six as creatures in this deck (note that Hedron Crab is played regardless of those consideration because of the stratospheric power level, and because it is almost exclusively a mill spell). Mishra's Bauble , aside from being an orrible top deck, is overall a card we wouldn't normally want to play. The other cyclers demands from us a lot of life-points ( Manamorphose needs you to fetch for an untapped shockland: how can you possibly afford to waste time fetching tapped lands or play a basic Forest ?!) and that would twist the main plan too much; and if you play a lot of cyclers sure, you can trim some lands, but ultimately you have to cut spells too: the remaining spells had better to be high-quality ones, and Manic Scribe is too easily foiled while if it manages to stay on the battlefield with delirium active the reward is not so appealing overall (it even needs some turns to do something better than the alternatives!). All in all, Manic Scribe is a very bad card that gets only mediocre if supported by other cards, which unfortunately are incidentally quite bad in Mill.
Ashiok, Dream Render : played on turn 3 it mills a reasonable amount of cards for a 3-mana mill card or gains life points; however, Fraying Sanity is a better play virtually in any case on turn 3, making Ashiok, Dream Render far less appealing. The static ability shuts down opposing Chord of Calling , Neoform , Eldritch Evolution , and I would play Ashiok, Dream Render only as a combo breaker against a deck revolving aroundthose cards, though such decks are generally too fast to begin with and need to be attacked from a different angle.
Sanity Grinding : in order to give loosely the same performance as Mind Funeral , the deck has to feature an average of 1 blue mana in the casting cast of each single card; if the deck contains, say, 20 lands, it's about 1,66 per single spell: this is something difficult to achieve even in a monoblue deck - and preposterous in Modern. And if you play 1-mana spells, that means that you are loaded of double- and triple- mana costs: clumps of blue costs will be more frequent, further decreasing your odds of getting a good mill with it.
Startled Awake : if Mill ever needed 4-drops, here we have one.
Driven by the milled-cards/CMC ratio and by the rule-of-thumb of trying not to end up empty-handed too quickly, it is easy to developed a nearly optimal 'straight-mill' list; the full optimization is not interesting, because it could change very little the outcome of the test. Some lone testing permits to infer that the deck is capable of winning reliably on turn 5 if uncontested (with a linear and easy gameplay: no stress involved, for what it's worth); as a side note, interestingly enough the two extreme versions too of an aggro mill deck - both built to make full use of number of cards and the mana available, but one exploiting the cards with the best milled cards/CMC ratio (demanding 20-21 lands) and one trying to hit all of its land drops up to turn 5 without flooding (24 lands total; calculations below) - win on turn 5 when uncontested. However, a turn 5 win is patently too slow for Modern. This means that some sort of protection is needed in order to compete with the metagame. In addition, there are cards that against us entail a more or less automatic loss for us if unchecked: they deserve special attention (unless you hope to just dogde them). Here's a list of the most problematic ones: Eidolon of the Great Revel , Leyline of Combustion , Thalia, Guardian of Thraben , Unsettled Mariner , Laboratory Maniac , Jace, Wielder of Mysteries , Platinum Angel , Leyline of Sanctity , Wheel of Sun and Moon , permanent land denial ( Leonin Arbiter , Aven Mindcensor , Blood Moon , Choke , Karn, the Great Creator ), Nexus of Fate , Progenitus , Emrakul, the Aeons Torn , Gaea's Blessing Struggle / Survive Loaming Shaman (searched through something like Chord of Calling ) and other effects that shuffle the graveyard back into the deck, and finally permanents that make your opponent skip her draw phase and letting her simply wait for you to deck yourself ( Colfenor's Plans , Dragon Appeasement , Molten Firebird , Null Profusion , Possessed Portal , Psychic Possession , Sundial of the Infinite : good for us they aren't playable in any present strategy!!). So, we must not only fend off their main strategy, but also concern ourselves with a way (at least with help from the sideboard) to deal with locking creatures, locking permanents and shuffle-effects present in the metagame, if we just don't plan to dodge matchups involving those cards.
The cards in the deck can be thus roughly divided into two categories, according to the different roles played (in your ususal game at least: i.e. Hedron Crab is not counted for as an emergency blocker, because it is very very rare and unreliable to use that card this way): there are the ones milling, and the ones that keep the player alive or deal with lockers or shuffle effects - which I will call very comprehensively 'defence cards'. In the following part I will provide a list of the different types of defence cards available, as well as of the most effective (for our purposes) cards in Modern comprised in those categories.
Kiora's Dismissal : bouncers only works early against a starting Leyline of Sanctity ; Kiora's Dismissal , like Echoing Truth , can deal with multiple Leyline of Sanctity , but it can also be a functional fog-effect against Aura when Leyline of Sanctity is dealt with.
Void Snare : unlike Echoing Truth it deals with only against a single Leyline of Sanctity and it is mediocre even at that. Since removing Leyline of Sanctity would be quite its only purpose, it seems bad; but 2 mana is a critical cost for Mill because most of its cards cost 2 and need to be played early, so Void Snare can indeed fulfill that role better than most other options.
Noxious Revival : it can be useful to get a much needed spell like Set Adrift , Darkness or Glimpse the Unthinkable depending on the situation; on this respect, they are an alternative to Snapcaster Mage that cost no mana - even if the card is acquired later, it costs life (it isn't worth it to splash for it) and it provides card disadvantage.
Nature's Claim : the best option if splashing.
Back to Nature : the best card against Aura.
Hide / Seek : if we can produce it surely save slots (being also an answer to a single Emrakul, the Aeons Torn ), but then the life loss from shocklands becomes huge and casting the Boros part early would still be unreliable at least.
Extirpate : if you need graveyard hate not respondable to. But even against Jeskai Nahiri, the Harbinger -decks drawing cards and exiling ALL graveyard is way better, so we should rely on cards like Nihil Spellbomb . And keeping 1 mana up for this every time can be taxing too many times.
Ravenous Trap : it is superior to the hate in form of permanent ( Leyline of the Void , Rest in Piece, Tormod's Crypt , Nihil Spellbomb , Relic of Progenitus ) in that it is less disruptable (i.e. Boros Prison would often remove our piece via Nahiri, the Harbinger , Banishing Light or Wear / Tear before we ever mill Emrakul, the Aeons Torn ; Living End has got Beast Within even in the maindeck..). In addition, Ravenous Trap 's alternative casting cost's condition is quite easy to achieve, even in your opponent's turn: it is possible to do so by via Shriekhorn , Mesmeric Orb , Shelldock Isle casting any mill spell, Hedron Crab + a fetchland, even (not reliable but possible) Archive Trap . It is even possible that the opponent met the condition on its own, even during her turn, simply by playing her game (again, you should not rely on this, but it happens often enough). It is the cleanest way to deal with Emrakul, the Aeons Torn when it is played in a single copy (as it is in Boros Prison). Also helpful against Dredge (even if not necessary). However, if you are more concerned of counterspells than of artifact-removals (as against Jeskai) this card should be avoided in favor of something else. A marginal attractive feature of the card is that it allows the following scenario: you are against an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn -deck and they have dealt with your first piece of graveyard-hate, you do not have another one and still you cannot afford to wait for drawing into one; then a viable (even if desperate) course of action is to cast your mill spells anyway, and if you mill an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and they have 20+ cards in their graveyard you can cast your Visions of Beyond s hoping to draw a Ravenous Trap to cast still with Emrakul, the Aeons Torn 's shuffle trigger on the stack. Still, it is not so good against Living End: it is unlikely to meet the condition against them with a timing that is favourable for us. Finally, if the opponent is packing Ricochet Trap (like Living End does), Ravenous Trap can easily be worse than permanent hate.
Trapmaker's Snare : it searches for Ravenous Trap ; not so useful for getting an Archive Trap , since Archive Trap already underwhelming as it is (more below); I would never play a card planning to use it often times only for getting that effect overcosted by 2 mana, if not in a superdedicated deck. I would only play Trapmaker's Snare with the purpose of getting Archive Trap against Death's Shadow -decks and Burn, but I’m not sure the upgrade to a mill card you get in those cases is worth having a bad gravehard-hate in the sideboard slots meant for those kind of card.
Tormod's Crypt : better than Relic of Progenitus alongside Nihil Spellbomb if the former costs too much for your list: keeping 1 mana up every time is not always affordable, since even a control deck can put up pressure in form of a clock or threatening a lock. Important note: graveyard hate in the form of permanents suffers from the same issue of Ensnaring Bridge (more below): artifact/enchantment hate is usually brought in even blindly from the sideboard just to switch them in for useless cards in the maindeck: for some, Wear / Tear in Nahiri, the Harbinger -decks, Nature's Claim in any form of ramp strategy, Dredge or Tron (in this case alongside the already-in-the-maindeck Oblivion Stone and Karn Liberated ; but graveyard hate matters there only if they play Emrakul, the Aeons Torn at least in the sideboard), Ingot Chewer and Beast Within in Living End. And you have to beware of any random Ancient Grudge or Stony Silence !! The opponent can often destroy our precious permanent (or making it useless) before it having accomplished anything (exiling a milled Emrakul, the Aeons Torn , or a heap of creatures ready to enter the battlefield from Dredge or Living End).
Nihil Spellbomb : against graveyard, better than the alternatives until Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is played alongside with counterspells. The drawing clause is the reason why this kind of card is to be preferred to e.g. Tormod's Crypt : thus we can be 'flooded' with this kind of effect without actually 'drowning', alleviating any potential lacking of mill spells.
Sentinel Totem : virtually they are the copies number 5-8 of Nihil Spellbomb when you do not really need Set Adrift , and better than any alternative until Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is played alongside with counterspells; however since Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is sometimes played alongside Chalice of the Void , we don't want to have all of our grave-hate costing 1 mana (they can deal with the first one, so we are likely to need to play another one after their Chalice of the Void on 1; and we have to save our Set Adrift for Leyline of Sanctity ). Pay attention to the attrition with Set Adrift .
Leyline of the Void : when we are worried only about 1-time-effect cards such as Emrakul, the Aeons Torn , its little artifact counterparts are better (unless playing multiple Emrakul, the Aeons Torn s becomes the norm, or Storm and Living End are relevant matchups). Anyway, when played together with the artifacts it opens up to undesiderable scenarios: you could keep hands with only your complementary single-use graveyard hate (like Nihil Spellbomb ) as graveyard hate, in the early game it could happen they deal with that piece or you are forced to use it, yet you need another one for their next bunch of creatures (Dredge, Living End) or because you have not exiled yet their Emrakul, the Aeons Torn ; at such point, if you drew into your Leyline of the Void your game could become quite clunky since in the worst case scenario you are going to spend the whole turn casting it: hope they don't have a clock already. The lesson is that Leyline of the Void gives its best if played as your only graveyard hate (as we are indeed doing here), since otherwise you are compromised with bad game developings which are overall not acceptable. Mind that many of your cards get worse with an online Leyline of the Void : Fraying Sanity , Surgical Extraction , Visions of Beyond in my list. Note that Leyline of the Void is not needed in every metagame. In fact, we can usually beat graveyard strategies simply overlapping the effects of our other defence cards. Probably Dredge now would be the sole reason to play Leyline of the Void (and only because of Creeping Chill ), but there's a chance we don't really need it even there and we would still expose ourselves to the risk of stumbling on their common answers (enchantment removals).
Unmoored Ego : against cards Emrakul, the Aeons Torn , especially if played in multiples, and the only clean answer against an in-deck Nexus of Fate or Progenitus ; marginal utility against combo decks in general. The drawing potentially attached is irrelevant at that point. However this kind of cards makes you spend the whole turn for casting them, when even a control deck can put up pressure in form of a clock or threatening a lock: be sure that in your plan casting it is game winning or that the opponent is usually too slow to punish you.
Bitter Ordeal : better than Unmoored Ego if you need to take away different cards (like Lightning Storm and Laboratory Maniac against Ad Nauseam); it requires cracking fetchlands. Not a good plan in any other case.
Jace's Phantasm : the role of Jace's Phantasm is certainly NOT blocking against aggro NOR attacking vs combo, since they are both losing propositions: it is to be a blocker against midrange decks, making it a value defence card: if they have the answer to your first Jace's Phantasm , maybe they haven't it for the second one which will block any creature send at us apart from Tarmogoyf and can even kill them quickly if they kept a hand with only reaction yet none directed at creatures. This is the reason why is better to play proactive cards in general instead of reactive ones, and this is why Jace's Phantasm gets better (and is good only) in multiples: if you play it, don't play it in less than 4 copies. Maxing them out also give you one of the best lines of play Mill could carry out against a combo deck: Jace's Phantasm into Jace's Phantasm into enabler ( Archive Trap , Hedron Crab , Glimpse the Unthinkable , Mind Funeral ); still it is so rare to get that you shouldn’t count on it, and it is thereof a resutl that can be disregarded. However, Jace's Phantasm turns on midrange's removals ( Hedron Crab nets value before dying, so it doesn't really count) and they always have it; even post sideboarding they could not side out all of theirs removals because of nothing better to put in, so you should always take out Jace's Phantasm for your own removals (especially against Tarmogoyf s, which Jace's Phantasm can’t block well). So it is bad even against midrange decks. Don't play it.
Vantress Gargoyle : an overpriced Jace's Phantasm with the downside of being set back by a condition in order to be able to block. Still, having access to Jace's Phantasm number 5-8 winks at us with the possibility of more turn-4 wins ( Jace's Phantasm on turn 1, enabler on turn 2, Jace's Phantasm or Vantress Gargoyle on turn 3, win on turn 4).
Wight of Precinct Six : it would be big only if your opponent plays many creatures, and in that case it would be useless both at defending your life total and attacking through that many blockers. This is a poor card.
Rotting Regisaur : probably too slow against anything you would side it against, and Aura just laugh at it.
Vampire of the Dire Moon : against Burn, but in general worse than a 1-mana removal spell. Probably a (bad) side-in against decks like Jund.
Baral, Chief of Compliance : good vs Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in that it also blocks well against decks that want her; otherwise, Baral, Chief of Compliance can't help us much since we mostly have only colored mana to pay. Worse than a 1-mana removal in most cases.
Snapcaster Mage and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy : if you ever plan to count them among the mill spells, I assume you want to cast an effective mill spell in timely fashion - i.e. a 2-CMC one like Glimpse the Unthinkable ; but since at that amount of mana we already have better options (among them, combining hefty spells left in hand), their presence in the deck is justified only by their potential defensive capabilities. So let's break them down. As for inserting Snapcaster Mage in the deck because it being a creature is part of the value that the card can add to the deck, I must point out that that part of value is irrelevant in this type of deck: the reason is that there's a common issue with creatures in this deck-type, concerning the inability to block effectively when needed most (namely, against wide-aggro decks; or, for what it's worth, against decks that combine pressure and removals, letting them use their removal with no loss in tempo); least of all to attack. Regarding the inclusion of Snapcaster Mage because the value it would add to the deck is us to be able to cast a good spell lategame - granted that the extra value makes worth having that good spell overcosted (which is often unaffordable for this deck) - then the trouble is worth if the deck can prolong the game consistently - namely, if the defence cards are good enough and in sufficient number (something very difficult to achieve in a non-dedicated deck like Mill). So, if the versatility and the fact of being a creature do not accomplish much for themselves, it has to cover a proper role in the strategy - that is to say milling or defending: if more mill spell in the deck are needed, then play more of them instead of Snapcaster Mage ; if affordable defence is needed, then it must flashback almost always a 1-mana defence spells: but a removal (even with the supporting body from Snapcaster Mage ) is not nearly sufficient, and flashbacking a fog-effect is really not the place to be: 3 mana for that kind of effect entails losing the whole turn because of mana shortness, making the spell pretty useless. And flashbacking a Visions of Beyond is very costly in terms of mana: what is the decks that allows you to do that that investiment without punishing you for that? Not even Jund is so slow. All in all, Snapcaster Mage works bad with the only route this strategy can go down (as I will argue below): employing fogs. Snapcaster Mage , Jace, Vryn's Prodigy are so inefficient that they make fogs useless because they hinder you in trying to win the game the following turn: at that amount of mana (4 mana to net game-progressing value, for each of them) I'd better be casting two mill spells. And Mill is so slow that you will surely have 2 spare mill spells to play on turn 4. Wrapping up: this deck gains nothing in playing Snapcaster Mage , whether under the 'creature' respect, or under the 'spell' respect (defensive, milling, or Visions of Beyond -esque). The high versatility of the card means nothing when none of its potential uses is effective for the deck's plan.
Spellskite : if you have some free slots in your sideboard, this is meant to be an ace against any Infect-like deck; it is also good against Aura, so that you can keep a starting hand without enchantment-removals for Leyline of Sanctity if you see this because it buys a lot of time (if not winning the game by itself). However, Spellskite does nothing against Lantern or Ad Nauseam (which sport Leyline of Sanctity from the side), so that it couldn't fully complement your enchantment-removal suite. It has (hopefully) marginal utility against Burn. A shame that vs Infect and Burn, the decks it should hose, it is not so useful: too many removals in the first case (as I'll argue, we cannot afford to back it up), too little utility in the second one. In fact, Infect has plenty of ways to deal with it: Nature's Claim which Infect can even side-in regardless (not recommended though) because of our high artifact count (especially if we play Shriekhorn ), and Dismember and Twisted Image which Infect could again side-in regardless (not recommended though) because of Hedron Crab and possible Spellskite s.
Stinkweed Imp : useful against Infect if supported by removals.
Perimeter Captain : possibly with cards like Steel Wall or Wall of Runes . Walls in general are good if the field is only of little aggro decks with few creatures AND no way to go over opposing creatures (through removals, going wide.. sure, it is a non-sense).
Timely Reinforcements : one of the best way to deal with Burn, with little application anywhere else; options need to be diversified for this to be useful: with removals and Crypt Incursion or Phyrexian Unlife , perhaps.
I am considering almost only 1-mana or less because if it costs more than that we will most probably fall behind for being unable to cast our already no-impact mill spells (the most important and numerous ones cost 2+ mana).
Disfigure : it is the best cheap instant removal in UB next to Fatal Push to answer quickly and neatly annoying cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben , Goblin Guide , Eidolon of the Great Revel , Leonin Arbiter , Tidehollow Sculler or Aven Mindcensor ; therefore it should be played in fullset before any other functional spell ( Fatal Push aside) if going down this route. Just keep in mind that (especially against Infect) Disfigure is utterly blanked by Mutagenic Growth , which is quite catastrophic. Turn-1 lifeloss-free spot-removal are also incidentally of some utility against aggro decks; Profane Memento is comparable in this role, but it doesn't help against the above listed threats or Infect. Useful against Infect, Burn, Hatebears; can come in also against aggro decks like Merfolk, Affinity and Elves.
Darkblast : vs Infect. At its best if you can diversify the answers (like in combination with Spellskite or Immortal Coil , better if both) so to have a shot at winning defending from multiple angles; but even alone sometimes it is gamebreaking enough for the Infect player. It can certainly do wonders with Immortal Coil against Infect, but it is bad against Burn where it cannot kill anything (at least spending only 1 mana, which is fundamental) or versus Hatebears ( Thalia, Guardian of Thraben aside). It can be used in a pinch to fuel Set Adrift , but such effect is redundant if playing 1-mana mill spells. Against Affinity is not a good side-in because it is not always good even in the early stages of the game - actually, the only ones where you are supposed to use it.
Dead Weight : same as above, but against little creatures.
Vampiric Link : mostly against Burn: enchanting their creatures to buffer the damage, or something like Jace's Phantasm to gain a ton of life; on their Eidolon of the Great Revel is hilarious; marginal use as a pseudo-removal against other decks.
Collective Brutality : great to catch up against fast creatures decks (especially Infect and Burn) and small utility against other aggro decks. A little help as an additional pseudo-gravehate against Living End (it discards Violent Outburst and Demonic Dread ), Goryo's Vengeance -decks (it discards the namesake card, but it is no use if they play Emrakul, the Aeons Torn ), Jeskai Nahiri, the Harbinger -decks (it discards counterspells/ Wear / Tear ) and Storm (it kills Goblin Electromancer and discards something).
Drown in the Loch : terminate and counterspell in one card is surely interesting even if the card works only in the lategame. Still, as the delining of how our strategy should pan out and the matchups walkthrough highlight, they are unneeded but in the most controlling shells, which are a losing proposition to begin with.
Path to Exile : the best removal for us; but do not expect the opponet to search for the basic land (more below): she won't, or she will have already won. The issue is that splashing for removals (taking additional damage from your lands) clashes with adopting removals as part of the maindeck defence.
Winds of Abandon : another way to actually force tour opponent to search. Interesting in a combo shell.
Engineered Explosives : typical answer to fast decks and especially to Aura, but against the latter you should already play enchantment removals for Leyline of Sanctity . Good when there are almost only permanents at 0- or 1-mana (even if you can produce more than 2 colors; in that case you are aiming at a single problematic permanent).
Damnation : classic mass-removal, useful against most creature-decks and a quality card against Jund; beware of the land count of your deck before playing this: it should not go in 20-landers.
Yahenni's Expertise : it certainly seems strong when the first effect is good. Yet I wonder what deck it can cripple in a timely fashion.. none, i guess?
Supreme Verdict : the to-go-card if in need of a white mass-removal or of an uncounterable one (sometimes it can be relevant, as against Merfolks).
With 'fogs' I mean functional copies of Fog .
Immortal Coil : it is great vs both Burn and Infect: if you happen to have Mesmeric Orb too on the battlefield, they must remove it; and in a pinch, you can mill yourself with your cheap spells while pointing the big ones at the opponent. You just have to survive until turn 4, which vs Burn you can accomplish with Crypt Incursion and vs Infect with Darkness . Unfortunately, sometimes they will have a removal for Immortal Coil (they could side in removal for your artifacts regardless, even if only in fear of a Spellskite ). But it is still better than Spellskite (with a little help) because vs Burn Spellskite does too little, and of these reactive cards from Infect, only Nature's Claim is a matter of concern for Immortal Coil . A great choice against those decks if you have room in your sideboard (a single slot would be ideal I guess).
Profane Memento : playing this card early against an aggro deck can gain around 30 life over the course of the game: it is outstandingly comparable to 1/1,5 fog-effect cast in the late-game; however, it is not useful if drawn later, and the risk does not seem really rewarding to me (the opposite of Archive Trap in this respect; more below). Also versus Burn (where life gain is the priority, and this kind of effect should give its best) due to its low creature count Profane Memento is utterly useless (while Crypt Incursion is still viable thanks to the 3x multiplier). In general, it is too narrow: to be effective, your opponent have to try to win by damage (not through a combo like Elves, though) and featuring a very very high creature count in her deck. So, Profane Memento is a fog in the best case scenario and useless otherwise: you'd better play Fatal Push over it, because like Profane Memento it is a fog in the best case scenario and useless otherwise - yet it is your best defence card in some niche situations and matchups.
Ensnaring Bridge : this card is soft to incidental artifact/permanent hate (even maindeck, mainly because of Abrupt Decay , Assassin's Trophy , Maelstrom Pulse , Kolaghan's Command , Qasali Pridemage , Engineered Explosives , Oblivion Stone , Karn Liberated , Beast Within , Pillage , Reclamation Sage ...), and you cannot afford to lose that easily your only line of defence since (a problem in common with adopting spot removals as the main defence) it will most probably not be followed by additional defence. Hate is to be expected as heavy played especially after sideboard, when the opponent brings in a lot of marginally useful or even probably dead cards (graveyard hate, artifact- or enchantment-removal..) because they have a bunch of surely dead cards maindeck against us; Ancient Grudge is the most frequent of the brought-in, and it can even be cast from graveyard after we mill it (sure, if they get Ensnaring Bridge they won't destroy your Mesmeric Orb .. but to what end, if you cannot live long enough?). Also, it works bad with Archive Trap which can remain unused in hand; or with untimely/unlucky Visions of Beyond (even if cast in your opponent's end phase) or with land-heavy/light draw (lands/cards will remain stuck in hand). It is useful to note that more than one of these events can happen simultaneously, making the card looking silly more often than not (even with finalized and fine-grained deck-building and tight play). Finally, 0-force creatures like Noble Hierarch and little creatures in general (from Infect, Affinity.. which can buff their creatures after having attacked, or even move Cranial Plating at instant speed) can attack regardless: I understand that a Noble Hierarch will take and eternity to kill, but when Ensnaring Bridge is cast or is fully operational (turn 4-5 at least) we will have already taken a lot of damage; the potential support from a timely Crypt Incursion is not to be reckoned on: any list can almost always win with a well placed resolution of that spell, or with casting more than one defence card (hoping to not drawing too many of them). Jace's Phantasm to block the critter passing through Ensnaring Bridge is not enough: any removal pointed at any of those cards makes the other one completely useless. To make Ensnaring Bridge really work either you have you play suboptimal spells (probaly creatures like Manic Scribe or Jace's Phantasm so as to block early until you empty up your hand, and to block low-power creatures late; read below for why they are bad) or lowering your curve much more than normally appropriate - thus relying on the topdeck for multiple times: your deck has to be built to make this route viable, i.e. it must sport spells that are both cheaper than normal AND stronger than normal, unless you are sure that it won't be removed (at least for a while; but not every deck is Merfolk or Eldrazi!). That said, Ensnaring Bridge does not even help the Infect, Burn, Leyline of Sanctity - or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn -decks matchup, which are the most hard ones (preventing Emrakul, the Aeons Torn from attacking still leaves open the question of how we win). As for Aura, the matchup is nearly impossible post side even with Ensnaring Bridge . I understand that they need to draw a removal for it, but on the other hand you probably need to draw your own removal for Leyline of Sanctity meanwhile. if you plan to play Surgical Extraction on their answer to Ensnaring Bridge , you are assuming that they are not diversifying their answer, that you are milling (against a Leyline of Sanctity most certainly!!), that you mill a specific card played in few copies, that they haven't drawn it meanwhile and already destroyed your Ensnaring Bridge , all this assuming too that you drew an early Set Adrift and an early Ensnaring Bridge with sufficient lands (and a mill spell for Set Adrift ). These requirements are not realistic; at least you should concede that you cannot win against a Leyline of Sanctity even with an Ensnaring Bridge ; but such a concession means that the matchup is clearly unfavourable so that that Ensnaring Bridge is strong against Aura is but a biased argument. In general against other decks, even when the stars align and you meet the relevant conditions I just remebered, pointing Surgical Extraction at their answers to Ensnaring Bridge only works half of the time because near half of the aggro decks run Ancient Grudge , which is an instant spell.
Fog : very good if the splash is worth it.
These cards are meant to be brought in only against Burn (or quite so).
Sun Droplet : good with blockers or removals, otherwise useless. Way better if played in multiple copies.
Leyline of Sanctity : vs Burn it is a real life-gainer - shielding you from burn spells. But it is unreliable, favors dead draws and must in any case be supported by removals: you would die from their creatures before you could mill them out, and you even have at least 1 card less in hand (we are talking about the case where you have it first-hand); Eidolon of the Great Revel would be still unbeatable, and they can destroy your Leyline of Sanctity at some point with Destructive Revelry .
Chalice of the Void : since we have a hard time finding suitable 1-drops (see below) we can put them completely aside (apart from our blowout-cards: Hedron Crab and Visions of Beyond ) and play this; however Chalice of the Void suffers pretty much from the same limits of Leyline of Sanctity against Burn, which is the deck it is aimed for (what is left of the sideboard can deal what the rest of the metagame which is not a Leyline of Sanctity -deck, but there neither a Chalice of the Void would help).
Serum Powder : it would be used to maximaze the chances to see at least one enchantment-removal or a graveyard-hate post board: we really need to have them in hand at the beginning of the game. However, it is probably better to split the answers - even if doing so lowers the chances to see them compared to them together with Serum Powder - to have more impactful options in every stage of the game (especially if the first ones are dealt with, i.e. with counterspells).
Force of Negation : good for protecting you before the game even begins, or against glass-cannon strategies. You really shouldn't worry about the card disadvantage between Visions of Beyond , Shelldock Isle and Fraying Sanity .
Scheming Symmetry : the first thing that catches our eye is that we can mill the opponent's card making the effect lopsided. Unfortunately it cannot help us against Leyline of Sanctity looking for Set Adrift , since we cannot target our opponent. It can be a way to force your opponent to search number 5-8 after Field of Ruin , but that seems not optimal for every Mill deck. It is good in a combo version because your cards values are so much different in a game, but bad in an aggro version because there you only care about redundancy achieved with spells of similar power level; plus card disadvantage is bad when leaning to going aggro by being redundant. Scheming Symmetry in a turbo mill shell would be nice if it hadn't some unfortunate implications. Let's analyse such a build in order to understand if at least our best case scenario build works out. If we play Scheming Symmetry alongside Mesmeric Orb , we have resigned ourselves to have Scheming Symmetry acting merely as an enabler - meaning we are aiming at best to spend a whole card just to cast an otherwise useless card ( Archive Trap ). How can we exploit the tutor part of the card? Scheming Symmetry needs enablers on its own in order for us to do so. Acting as Scheming Symmetry enablers we have: Hedron Crab , which however acts as such only from turn 3, because if we start with Hedron Crab we usually open the game up either with Shelldock Isle , with Island or with Prismatic Vista for Island , so that we'll get only on turn 2 and Hedron Crab as an enabler only as early as turn 3. Then we get our 2-mana millers or Archive Trap searchers, yet they can be coupled with Scheming Symmetry only from turn 3 on. Finally from turn 4 we also get Mind Funeral , but that's too late since we would draw our chosen card only on the following turn, which is too late. If we adopt Surgical Extraction , we can probably enable a fast Scheming Symmetry - but it would be as if we mulliganed to 5 cards, since we would spend as many as 2 whole cards that don't advance our game plan only to put a usually replaceable cards on top. And fogging for 2 mana is not worth it because it's too expensive, even across multiple turns. I therefore expect Scheming Symmetry only to play a role in more comboish decks, or resign ourselves just to have it as an additional enabler for Archive Trap .
Claim / Fame and Unearth : they mainly reanimate Hedron Crab , which is our best mill spell by a long shot; but, though we can mill Hedron Crab with Mesmeric Orb , non-interactive decks don't kill our Hedron Crab s and against interactives ones the risk of having non-functional hands with Claim / Fame or Unearth and no Hedron Crab makes it not worth it. In the sidelines, they bring back a Snapcaster Mage for a big spell or a Jace's Phantasm .
Mission Briefing : since surveil is so much bad in a deck playing Mesmeric Orb , one of our stronger mill cards, Mission Briefing is either a Snapcaster Mage debased by lesser defensive capabilities or a super-situational Trapmaker's Snare when it copies an Archive Trap for 0 - and you don't want to play neither to begin with. As with Snapcaster Mage and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy , the flexibility does not make up for the inefficiency.
I will consider only palatable cards for a UB build; potential splashing is to be appropriately integrated.
Mystic Sanctuary : it grants you the spell you need on the following turn without turning up with card disadvantage (unlike Noxious Revival ), it works bad with Mesmeric Orb unless you fetch it after the triggers. Overall, its a super conditional Sheldock Isle without the card advantage granted by the latter, so much that we are not really interested.
Oboro, Palace in the Clouds : it is wonderful with Hedron Crab when not drawing lands, and can give double when needed (if not playing other lands). It is of no use in decks with so many lands that they are guaranteed to make all of their land drops till late in game. Excellent at getting revolt for Fatal Push . Like most of the following cards it is good against Choke .
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth : even more than Oboro, Palace in the Clouds , it is good to squeeze colored mana out of Field of Ruins in fast games and fixing mana occasionally in general. Nonetheless, just like Oboro, Palace in the Clouds it is paradoxically good when playing few lands (as with many lands you have more choices), but then you'll have more pressing priorities like playing enough basic lands.
Sunken Ruins : later in the game it is an untapped double land. But with the full commitment to Field of Ruins and Shelldock Isle it gets very bad. The same consideration made for River of Tears apply here, with the relevant extra of fixing colors (1) from Island / Shelldock Isle for an early Glimpse the Unthinkable / Breaking / Entering / Mind Funeral + Darkness , or (2) from Swamp in order to activate Shelldock Isle (colored mana is highly stressed even lategame). This is of great help when you naturally draw the wrong lands or if you need to fetch for basics more than you would in order to be conservative with your life points. It actually saves more than a single life point over the course of a typical game.
Darkslick Shores : very strong in the early game, I suggest not play more than 1 because the second copy is ugly (you want fetches early in any case for Hedron Crab s). And if you have too many fetchlands in the deck - since you could find yourself fetching in the very first turn, which is not ideal because later fetches have less targets (and permit fewer choices) and because fetches are meant to feed Hedron Crab s. You should play it if you are not playing Crypt Incursion , Darkness or Fraying Sanity since in such case we want to make full use of our mana from turn 1 to turn 5; and we should already feature Shelldock Isle as a surely tapped land on later turns.
Sunken Hollow : good with fetches both for taking it or for playing it untapped; but we can't afford too many lands that can't cast a turn 1 Hedron Crab against fast decks.
Drowed Catacombs: like Sunken Hollow it is good with fetches since they let you play it untapped; but again we can't afford too many lands that can't cast a turn 1 Hedron Crab against fast decks.
Port Town : no Mill deck can play that many basics: it will always come into play tapped.
Lonely Sandbar , Barren Moor and Fetid Pools : the drawing part is pretty irrelevant since you will happen to manage to cycle only in half of the games (the slow ones) you play against grindy decks - and never anywhere else. And foremostly entering tapped really muder them.
Waterveil Cavern : good if we are not playing Crypt Incursion , Darkness or Fraying Sanity (in such case we want to make full use of our mana from turn 1 to turn 5) and we do not go much deep as to colored mana requirements (like if we play Shriekhorn instead of Breaking / Entering ).
Nephalia Drownyard : it is not against slow decks that we need a hand.
Ipnu Rivulet : same as above for a one-shot use in exchange of producing blue painful mana (which makes it better than Nephalia Drownyard ). In other words, we would get to activate it only against those rare slow control decks, against which we have already the edge: an additional double land (perhaps a fetch?) as an insurance against color-screw, a basic land more against random Blood Moon s or more simply another painless land are in any other case more valuable than Ipnu Rivulet .
Ghost Quarter : if mana permits (almost all of our cards need only colored mana to be cast), especially if used as part of a removal-based defence strategy (it kills manlands) or a color/land-denial tactical ingredient. Ghost Quarter is of any use only in the early stages of the game (i.e. usually not further than turn 2, because the relevant threaths can easily come down with the amount of mana available at that point, and we want the opponent to search); but then you are behind in the game by a land drop and a card just to be able to cast a card in your hand ( Archive Trap ) that is not even that good: if you activate Ghost Quarter on turn 2 and the game lasts, say, 5 turns, casting Archive Trap costs you 4 mana! It's functionally like a Startled Awake that requires a combination of 2 (otherwise dead) cards in order to be cast (even if you would already play Archive Trap regardless of the synergy) - and if the opponent doesn't search, Archive Trap is most probably bound to stay in hand for the rest of the game! I am aware that being card-conservative is not an integral part of this strategy, so it would not be a big deal to have a built-in two-cards mini-combo; but this particular plan implies an unnecessary squander of resources for a really mediocre achievement. Even if everything goes as wanted - which is something not granted at all, given the choices offered to the opponent and the incongruence with other objectives (i.e. casting spells and staying alive) - even if you succed in ghosting, extracting, pathing someting and then trapping/funeraling, you end up without cards and nothing accomplished ( Visions of Beyond or Shelldock Isle are not even ready at that point!), and you will get crushed even by an opposing Snapcaster Mage cast on turn 2. Especially considering that Ghost Quarter , Path to Exile and Surgical Extraction wouldn't have taken you any further in regards of your own plan. The wrap-up is that I would never use Ghost Quarter if I am not planning to use it as a manland-removal very often, obviously in the frame of a removal-based maindeck defence strategy - and you should not do it.
Academy Ruins : great tech: late game it retrives mill spells ( Shriekhorn , Mesmeric Orb ), defence cards ( Ensnaring Bridge , Engineered Explosives ..) or grave-hate ( Nihil Spellbomb , Relic of Progenitus , Tormod's Crypt ..); and it can recoup those items because you already used them once/they have been destroyed, because you auto-milled them with Mesmeric Orb or because you milled them with other spells (e.g. you are milling yourself as a part of an alternative plan..) - so Academy Ruins is very versatile. However, playing a colorless mana source (like Ghost Quarter ) in a deck with so few lands and too many very specific color-requirements (nearly every single spell, and Shelldock Isle s..) makes for very awkward sequences on your part: the games in which you draw it without planning to use its unique ability (very very few) see you in too bad a spot. It is thus sideboard material; but at that point you probably want an additional grave-hate (since it will be the most frequently recurred kind of card).
Gemstone Caverns : it could be sideboard material, allowing you to catch-up on mana when the opponent starts if you see it in starting hand, and if you can afford to have a quite sure dead draw in the course of the game (colorless mana ends up being pretty useless, especially the list highlighted here). All of these conditions are met if you have to draw first against aggro or combo; but sideboard slots are pretty important: so there is no room here. As if additional motivation were needed, against anything else a dead card is more liable to exert influence upon a game win/loss. Pondering alternatives routes, adopting Gemstone Caverns in the main plan can only be detrimental: since you will always want to play second, the card is of any use if you need to draw a very specific card along the course of the whole game (and not only in you first hand: if it is so, it is better to mulligan than hoping to draw it otherwise), and if neither you (without that card) or your opponent put any pressure: only this way drawing first is of any utility, i.e. when 'drawing first' means 'drawing extra' (because the card drawn is the only relevant, and after that you close the game). Said that, aside from some combo mirror or a dedicated strategy I cannot see any profitable use of Gemstone Caverns - and much less in Mill.
Now I will showcase some popular or peculiar plans I found bad, and exhibit reasons for my judgement:
Fraying Sanity build-arounds
The aim of the deck is having a reliable turn-4 kill via a Fraying Sanity , two Archive Trap (or four without a Fraying Sanity out) and a Field of Ruin / Scheming Symmetry / Winds of Abandon . Scheming Symmetry combined with Thought Scour , Noxious Revival or Surgical Extraction is a one-sided Vampiric Tutor , so that you virtually have 8 Fraying Sanity , 12 ways to force your opponent to search, and 16 Archive Trap (counting in Trapmaker's Snare and Merchant Scroll ) plus lucky synergies with spare copies of Thought Scour and Noxious Revival . Make a 4-of the 10 cards I mentioned, add 20 lands and you have a real deck capable of winning on turn 4 a very considerable amount of times (statistically speaking); it even packs a little of incidental disruption in Thought Scour (against opponent's Serum Visions starts), Noxious Revival (against Snapcaster Mage , for one), Surgical Extraction , Field of Ruin and Winds of Abandon - which is not every Mill deck can boast. Unfortunately, there is no way Glimpse the Unthinkable fits in here, so such a deck doesn't concern this page (though I suggest you to give it a try, because it is probably better than anything we can accomplish with Glimpse the Unthinkable ). However, note that despite such build gets us properly a monodimensional Archive Trap deck, we get to be very responsive against opponents' Surgical Extraction s because we can fizzle their spell with our own Noxious Revival s or Surgical Extraction s (obviously failing to find suitable cards to exile). Moving to explore different scenarios, having Fraying Sanity in a turbo-mill build including cheap mill spells is too much high variance - because if you don't stick a turn-3 Fraying Sanity your deck won't go anywhere. A way to curb such shortcoming is having Pyromancer Ascension acting as Fraying Sanity number 5-8; however, without chaining cantrips (the classical and more logical way to prime it) you are compelled to mill yourself before starting to actually mill your opponent, making wins achieved through Pyromancer Ascension demanding more turns you could afford - and often more cards you would have available anyway. Let's leave Pyromancer Ascension to cantrip-based decks, the best ones of which ironically aim to achieve victory through decking their opponents anyway ( Thought Scour - Noxious Revival - Manamorphose combo). Fraying Sanity combos out with Traumatize , though such a deck would be but a worse Ad Nauseam; in any case there Glimpse the Unthinkable would be redundant: in a build with Glimpse the Unthinkable , Archive Trap would achieve the same result as Traumatize with the perk of being more all-around.
Scheming Symmetry for faster wins
A turbo mill deck including Scheming Symmetry has already resigned itself to have the card merely covering the role of Archive Trap enabler number 5-8 - as we have seen analyzing the card. Such a mill deck when uncontested boasts about the same turn 4 and turn 5 win percentages respectively as an unopposed turbo mill deck including Darkness (where you count as turn 4 win a game when you can cast a turn 4 Darkness and win on the following turn and so on), which is fantastically a glorious achievement for Mill strategies. Still, I'm not sold on using Scheming Symmetry this way because I find such a shell to lose many point as to Mill's win percentage against decks such as control and Jund: we used to beat them more or less easily because of redundancy (the control matchup amounting to a bye and the Jund one being almost even), which Scheming Symmetry builds give up on altogether. Any other win prospects remain unvaried, with the alarming note that Set Adrift becomes generally uncastable. Given such assumptions, I'd still stick with the redundant Darkness build at the moment. So, even if Scheming Symmetry finally allows Mill to be focused on its own plan and still be able to win games (which is a first), it makes you lose win percentage points overall. Though, it remains a strong contender.
Playing so mana-orientedly requires a lot of payoff in bigger spells than usual. We could thus choose to play 4-mana mill spells, but those are very unexciting: they are nothing better than Startled Awake and Snapcaster Mage , and both are kinda inefficient and overall weak; or we could aim at protracting the game - though it is hardly advisable since, again, Modern features too many strategies to fend off while the available answers are in the best case scenario either weak with wide applications, or too selective. So the bigger upside of mana dorks seems to be that either they help you cast Fraying Sanity on turn 2 (allowing for a more likely turn 4 win) or to get a double-mill-spell turn not only on turn 4-5, but also on turn 3. Yet getting spells on curve is hard enough that most times Birds of Paradise without an early Fraying Sanity will do nothing; and we do not have enough 3-mana spells worth playing, so that frequently the mana available from Birds of Paradise will be useless both on turn 2 and on turn 4 (since many spells will cost only 2 mana). In the end, because it relies either on a perfect hand or on an early Fraying Sanity in order to be of any use, giving up fogs (the only kind of card you could really cut from my list, since I already play too few mill spells than ideal) for Birds of Paradise do not grant you nearly enough turn 4 wins to make up for the switch.
Esnaring Bridge builds
Ensnaring Bridge itself has been already analysed in detail in its own entry in the fog list. To summarize the main concerns: it works poorly with other cards; it requires playing subotimal cards (blockers, removals, Surgical Extraction to get rid of what can deal with it hoping they play only cards with the same name as an answer to it, cards that make you lessen the number of cards in your hand like Noxious Revival or Collective Brutality which are too narrow, and perhaps even millers like Shriekhorn that are cheaper than what you would play in order to win without it!!) and adopting sometimes suboptimal lines of play (casting spells in an untimely manner, like a Surgical Extraction on an irrelevant target or a Visions of Beyond for 1) to be effective which overall end up being too much setbacking; it costs too much and comes in too late to take you ahead in tempo when thwarted; not being a catch-all answer to creatures in a meaningful way can be easy exploited by opponents (little creatures); too fragile, i.e. exposed to common and played-regardless removal spells: much like with creatures (even with in a surely lesser, but still seizable extent) you cannot afford your only line of defence to be disrupted that easily. Face the reality: in Mill Ensnaring Bridge is better than a fog only against decks particurlarly soft against it AND you are mana flooding or screwing really bad, BUT not enough to make your Ensnaring Bridge vain; fogs in Mill are way better than that. Ensnaring Bridge gives the best of itself in Mill when comprised in a shell which maximases both the chances at getting Ensnaring Bridge and defend it against aggro, AND the chances to abase combo decks milling and extracting their combo enabler. Those are the only goals which don't struggle against each other, and here Glimpse the Unthinkable helps out getting a deterministic win supporting the extraction effects with the maximum reasonable efficency. Such a way of building Mill is the only one you can find nowadays anywhere else on the internet apart from this webpage. Albeit, playing that way we still would be not that consistent against combo because of the low quantity of early millers, and we would probably lose any post-board game against fair decks because they usually can diversify very well their answers to Ensnaring Bridge , putting us in no position to stem their flood of threats or even to race them.
I also tried to attack with creatures in games 2-3 where the main plan is undermined (namely against Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or Leyline of Sanctity ): this should dodge usual hate against a spell-based combo deck as Mill is. A starting point might feature this sideboard: 2 Tasigur, the Golden Fang , 4 Gurmag Angler , 4 Sibsig Muckdraggers , 4 Shambling Attendants (/ Tarmogoyf if -splashed), 1 Laboratory Maniac . The plan would be to mill ourself and cast those huge creatures. Because against Leyline of Sanctity we cannot mill the opponent ( Mesmeric Orb would be too slow), and against Emrakul, the Aeons Torn it would very risky (and those are the cases in which this plan would be needed most), it is no use playing Jace's Phantasm or Wight of Precinct Six . Laboratory Maniac allows for an alternative win - which, even if very hazardous, it is a welcome out when the game would be otherwise unwinnable; if it is accidentaly milled out, it can even be recurred by Sibsig Muckdraggers . The problem is that this plan is too slow: Ad Nausem can win long before letal damage, and Aura can set up a gigantic lifelink creature we could never overcome, and it also has Path to Exile for our Laboratory Maniac (even if we can win at instant speed via Visions of Beyond ). Shouldn't this be enough, Burn and Infect remain unwinnable match-ups. As for Death's Shadow , fetchlands alone are not sufficient to put it online.
Sideboarding 4 Prized Amalgam + 4 Bloodghast + 4 Haunted Dead + 3 Stitchwing Skaab : we mill ourselves, activate Haunted Dead / Stitchwing Skaab which at the same time puts possible creatures from hand into the graveyard, and attack until we win. Unfortunately, this plan has an average turn 5/6 kill, too slow against anybody. And against Aura we still cannot win mainly because of lifelink. I’ve seen adopting this as a maindeck plan for Mill, relying on a sideboard of only mill spells to beat the maindeck-plan hosers; still, it is too slow to win and therefore a bad idea.
Otherwise, an option is featuring an ' Unburial Rites -package', with Iona, Shield of Emeria and the like: milling ourself, we can cast Unburial Rites quite reliably on turn 4. The problem is that this plan is an 'all-in' and very fragile one; also, we cannot choose which reanimation-targets go into the graveyard, unlike than via Gifts Ungiven : the wrong one will be most likely unsufficient to win (and sometimes even the 'right' one). And it is too slow most of the times.
A last attemptive down this road might see roughly the following 15 cards: 4 Laboratory Maniac , 4 Jace, Wielder of Mysteries , 4 Noxious Revival , 3 Swan Song . Mill yourself, make sure to draw a game-winner (via Noxious Revival if necessary) and cast it protected with counterspells. Unfortunately, this plan is very very slow - too much to compete. Lantern, Ad Nauseam, Storm, Aura, Boros Prison are the typical decks playing Leyline of Sanctity in the 75 right now. Boros Prison, Jeskai Nahiri, Blue Moon, Goryo's Vengeance on the other hand are the decks sporting at least an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn . It seems to that each and every of them can win faster than us or disrupt our Laboratory Maniac combo: Lantern has got Assissin's Trophy and Surgical Extraction ; Ad Nauseam, Storm, Aura and Goryo's Vengeance represent fast wins (even with fewer cards than normal due to mullingans into Leyline of Sanctity ); Storm, Goryo's Vengeance and Boros Prison have got Blood Moon , to which Boros Prison adds Chalice of the Void and perhaps even a Boil ; finally Jeskai Nahiri and Blue Moon are full of counterspells. All this sometimes accompanied by reactive cards from time to time incidentally good against us: creature/artifact/permament removals, meaning that we cannot rely on that Hedron Crab or Mesmeric Orb not even post side, and more importantly if they happen to side them all out they would put them back the following game in order to kill Larboratory Maniac - so that we couldn't adopt the same plan twice against them, which is a serious problem since we wouldn't have another plan in the matchup. I would never play a transforming sideboard that can never win.
Thopter Foundry + Sword of the Meek : surely we can easily have some artifact for the first activation of Thopter Foundry even if we don't have a Sword of the Meek : those two in addition to Shriekhorn and Mesmeric Orb already amount to 16! We can as well mill ourselves until we get Sword of the Meek into the graveyard if we already have Thopter Foundry in play ( Mesmeric Orb even does that naturally!). This plan is a very neat and easy addition to the whole strategy. Sadly, it does not solve any of Mill's common problems; it doesn't even help against aggro: it is too slow if not supported by removals.
We could sideboard some Madcap Experiment , some Platinum Emperion and a Steam Vents . But Platinum Emperion doesn't really help against Leyline of Sanctity and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn ; and Burn can win at the fourth turn, and in the worst case they can draw a removal any time (they will bring in artifact removals). Because of these issues, I never really tried this route.
In this section I will expose my most important conclusions from the above analysis, from theoretical thinking and from testing. These conclusions are the foundations which the decklist is built upon. I notice nobody is arrived yet at my conclusions: this can be due to a number of factors. (1) Pro-players tend to avoid to try to enhance bad decks. (2) Mill match-ups are so skewed that if the match-up is favorable, you can win with any Mill build - while if it is unfavorable, you will lose no matter what cards or strategy you employ. The depth of my research also retains all the potential to break away from the vitious circle provocated by the information cascade Patrick Chapin talks about here: http://www.starcitygames.com/magic/fundamentals/12201_Information_Cascades_in_Magic.html ; reading my reasoning, people could just stop copying bad Mill lists from the internet: this should improve their winning consistency, though not so much because of what said just above. The data from testing, tournament results and personal experience, as Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa lucidly reminds us at http://www.channelfireball.com/articles/8-biases-that-are-making-you-worse-at-magic/ , should be reckoned as only loosely representative of the win-trend in the match-up and actually serve the purpose of giving out hints at what can go bad or well, and to what extent: results and experience are not meant to ratify expectations on a deck's performance but to offer hints about what happens in certain circumstances - hopefully giving raise to useful insights. If someone finds out that some of the issues I mentioned are scarcely influent overall (and consequently that my conclusions are out of place), either by appropriate arguments or data, than that is an improvement in the Mill lore in general (in the case of data, the successive and desiderable step of answering the 'how much?'-question would be resolving the 'why?'-question). Yet, especially given that Mill is hardly played at all (for all good reason; and even when it is, as I pointed out, it is misplayed), I expect any proposed data to be inappropriate; I therefore envisage only dataless arguments to play a role in our decisions on the matter. This isn’t much of an issue because data only serve the purpose of corroborating a thesis by giving out examples (possibly not covertly unappropriate): arguments can (and should) be assessed totally independently from data (which is a world apart from the greatly welcome probability calculation).
Jace's Phantasm , the most notably of them, is a defensive card that has the advantage of becoming a threat if the opponent stumbles (badly); but it is useless in far too many matchups, while where useful it is still marginal (it is a gamebreaker defence card if, again, the opponent stumbles badly). All in all, creatures either to block or to attack (even if they offer an alternative way to win) are grossly ineffectual: opposing strategies can either go wide with creatures or cast a removal after having played their relevant threat ( Tarmogoyf , Affinity/Infect/Zoo ones..) - this way they even suffer from no tempo loss, because the opportunity cost to cast a removal spell at that point is negligible: they can win with what they have on the board, and playing additional creatures would hardly affect the turn in which they threaten letal damage. Also, creature decks usually have their ways to make blocking creatures obsolete - by having huge trampling creatures (like Aura's of Suicide's ones) or unblockable/color-protected ones (like the ones from Infect, or because of Islandwalk from Merfolks). (As a little note, direct-mill spells like Breaking / Entering are obviously better than Mesmeric Orb with something like Jace's Phantasm or Wight of Precinct Six , while the artifact on the other hand reduces actively the cost for delving the likes of Gurmag Angler : there is little of a conflict here for the 'fringe mill spell' slot.) Remarkably, blockers are redundant and superfluous in the defensive role if something like Fog is reckoned on as part of the plan for staying in the game. Finally, creatures are detrimental in the control/midrange matchup (they get to keep removals even post side since they don't have much better to bring in), against which normally the plan is to take advantage of Mill's difficult-to-disrupt gameplan (i.e. it wins by means of spells); defence slots (main- or sideboard ones alike) are better used to cover up holes in the strategy, as opposed to playing creatures and then having still to deal with creature-decks post side as well as with the other common issues.
Because we tend to feature at least a little less defence cards than a reactive deck, the opponent will hold superfluos threat in hand at no cost (i.e. they would not affect the turn in which she threaten to win, even playing around potential spot-removals): this way they can play around potential mass-removals or Mesmeric Orb (because of the lands they would tap to cast the creatures). In a similar (and quite likely) scenario, a Damnation -like card is useless, since we would waste our whole turn and the opponent still could eventually cast the creatures held in hand until then. Also, there are haste or flash('ed') creatures and manlands, which make our efforts much less rewarding because we would likely be at very low life at that point; here are some: Goblin Guide , Monastery Swiftspear , Snapcaster Mage , Vendilion Clique , Spell Queller , Restoration Angel , Collected Company , Chord of Calling , Through the Breach , Aether Vial , Mutavault , Treetop Village , Raging Ravine , Hissing Quagmire , Shambling Vent , Stirring Wildwood , Celestial Colonnade .
Removal spells are bad against wide-aggro decks, and even exiling a creature for one mana with no downside (eg resolving a Path to Exile with our opponent declining to search for the land) is not useful here by any means: this deck do not care about card/value advantage, and cannot consistently/effectively follow up the removal spell with other spot-defence cards, blockers or mass-removals because of the dedication of slots a mill strategy requires. Defence cards in Modern are typically of a too wide use and little effective (like Fatal Push or even Path to Exile ) or too narrow (like Stony Silence or Phyrexian Unlife ) to produce an effective defence against the many strategies in Modern - or at least slow them down. Actually, this is something not even a dedicated control deck can accomplish; let alone Mill with only a few slot reserved to defence! And if you manage to squeeze in more slots, it would be like a Burn deck playing 12 Path to Exile -like cards - blatantly inconsistent! The alternative to comparing Mill to Burn is slowing the plan enough to make big plays (like Snapcaster Mage , or Startled Awake ); but again this is not possible. Since we cannot back up our removal spell following it up with another defence play, we actually cast that removal spell in order to gain tempo and not to control the board; and since the tempo given by a removal spell is at most one turn (because of redundancy/protection), why not playing the most efficient Time Walk Modern has to offers in fogs? In other words: we don't have space for removal because we need space for mill: we need to defend against too many things and we are not a Control deck. And if we perchance adopt fogs (as we will), if we lower the number of mill spell even fogs themselves become useless as you cannot win within the time gained (at some point you end up without cards at the very least). Please note that I am not saying that playing removals in Modern is bad. I am claiming that spot-removals are bad as main defence in a Mill deck (but sometimes they are a nice support out of the sideboard even there). Removal spells against an average deck (Zoo, Merfolk, even Burn), against which spot-removal should be meant, is good only in the first or the second turn (and, incidentally, you really cannot do it on the second turn because you have to do other things as a lot of cards we cannot avoid to play cost 2 or more). Against those decks, the 'value' (of exchanging one card - our removal spell - for an opponent's card of our choice - her most threatening creature) that can be gained in later turns means nothing if you cannot survive. Conversely, against decks with few creatures we can surely bring in spot-removals from the sideboard.
So, if an 'all-in' defence plan of any of the kinds suggested above is not enough (as argued extensively), one could think of 'mixing' the lines of defence - that is playing a bunch of creatures, spot- and mass-removals, lifegain spells and Ensnaring Bridge . Unfortunaley, because any of those is effective enough, a lot of defence spells should be played; but this deck can afford to play a lot of defence-dedicated cards only if they guarantee to keep the player alive until she has drawn and resolved the needed mill spells (which, in this instance, have to be very scarse due to the deck's intrinsic composition); and even this kind of defence strategy cannot lead the game there - not even nearly reliably. Another solution would be to play a mix of silver-bullets, in the sense of cards so strong (particularly, defensively) against certain kinds of deck that they can win by themselves - or at least gain a ton of time. But there are only so much of such cards in Modern for our deck, and most of them are effective only with severe limitations and reserves even when they should be strong (I'm thinking of Ensnaring Bridge and Surgical Extraction ); those cards should be so strong to win the game by themselves or gaining a lot of time, but nearly none of them can do it even against the deck they are meant to be effective. "There are a ton of different answers: surely there is a combination of them that is effective to our ends" is not a argument we should heed to, as the thesis is simply false: there isn't such a combination. Take the match-up against Infect, the prototypic deck that demands from us to be really reactive (i.e. assuming the controller role) if we go down this route: even playing up to 20 removal spells plus other kinds of defence that would be played regardless of this particular matchup and are still better than other maindeck cards (like Surgical Extraction , for the example's sake) the battle is pretty unwinnable: you have roughly as many removals as your opponent has creatures (each of which is a real threat, even Noble Hierarch late in the game), and you need to play the '1for1' game while matching perfectly your removal spell with their threat ( Darkblast generates an virtually infinite source of removals, but the possibility of reiterating Darkblast comes with the price of skipping your drawings) - and you have to do this until you cast your fifth big mill spell, so that you have milled all the around 50 cards of the opponent's deck: you would have to be lucky for a very long time, because the mill spell density would be very low due to the removals' count. Finally, all of this endeavor and luck can be simply vanquished by a single copy of any of their defence cards ( Apostle's Blessing , Vines of Vastwood , Spell Pierce ..). Other fast decks are only (if any) a little slower than Infect is, but not so much that you could afford to play differently than against the latter: the traditional way of surviving here only entails losing any game against aggro decks. On the other hand, playing less defence cards of the 'mixed' kind for additional mill spells in order to win faster could be fruitful only if the defences are quite effectful on the development of the game; and none of them can do that: even mass-removals are generally too much costly to be played without support from cheaper defence cards, and Ensnaring Bridge is too frail and unreliable to be an 'all-in' kind of defence. Lastly, conterspells and discard spells don't address any of our problems (fast aggro, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn -decks, Infect, Burn, Hatebear..). Regarding us playing discard effects ( Inquisition of Kozilek , Thoughtseize ...), some of the worst enemies of the deck - i.e. aggro strategies, which defence cards are mainly meant against - are by definition extremely redundant: discarding only results in a tempo loss in your opponent's favor. As you can see, that my suggestion of going Aggro (or, in any case, running a Combo that plays like an Aggro) with mill cards is due to the fact that I am overestimating Aggro because I don't have the skills to take advantage of traditional reactive cards is obviously not a good argument: I offered proper reasons for my thinking so. Mill is super consistent in winning on turn 5, with some welcome turn 4 wins - while on the other hand trying to actually interact with our opponent makes our winnings more rarefied: I advocate we should capitalise on Mill strong points instead of trying and controlling the game more. Let me sum up. Some piece of interaction is always ineffective against something, because of a natural resistence (e.g. a removal against a spell like Ad Nauseam or Living End , or a Murderous Cut or a Dismember against an early Goblin Guide ..) or because the opponent manages to nullify your thwarting attempt (e.g. Vines of Vastwood responding to a removal..); this causes the defence you were trying to put up to crumble more often than it is acceptable (or at least more often than with the adoption of the following alternative). On the other hand (as I am about to argue) fogs can only be frustrated by counterspells and discard spells, so they are harder to disrupt; and we happen to need just that little window of extra time in order to win (i.e. manage to play our fifth turn). In the end, Mill does not have to be necessarily a control deck because it is slower than any other deck: it is actually better for it to be a super-focused proactive deck with a powerful disruption working against the part of metagame offering us the best chances to win a match of Magic - i.e. fogs in any envisionable metagame, as they always happen to be more versatile than you would think in any field.
Because of the exclusion of the alternative forms of defence/disruption, we have finally come to define the kind of defence the maindeck strategy should adopt: fog-effects. Hopefully, psychologically speaking, this preference is not to be due to an instance of the 'availability bias' (i.e. I would value the probability of a kind of defence to be effective based on the lower complexity of the situation to envisage: it is simple and immediate to imagine a situation in which a timely Fog swings the game in your favor, while it is more difficult to estimate the effectiveness over the course of the whole game of a sequence of Fatal Push into Snapcaster Mage + Fatal Push ): I believe that my assertions are compellingly motivated. Now, this kind of defence is of any effect only if the turn gained by playing the relative spell is enough to win the game; so the deck has to be very fast and mill-oriented. Mill cannot play too many fog-effects without diluting the milling plan so much that we couldn’t win not even when our opponent bricks out; diluting the milling department also makes fogs much less effective (if not completely useless): even leaving aside decks that can ignore fog-effects (like Ad Nauseam), if you play too many of them you give the opponent more time to get cards to nullify their action: it is true that fogs recycle themselves (you gain an additional draw step at least), nonetheless if you play too many fogs a deck featuring counterspells can find one of those (they counter the fog and win), while a deck with discard spells can simply target an important mill spell - making the time (and the card) gained quite irrelevant; were it not enough, if they find a Grim Lavamancer or a Scavenging Ooze your Crypt Incursion quickly becomes useless (if playing it). Ensnaring Bridge easy wins are balanced out by the fact that it cannot be operational early in a Mill deck in any realistic list; and it is expoused to way more disruption than a fog-spell is (only counterspells and discards deal with fogs), while fogs too are game winning when cast on turn 4 (exactly the time at which Ensnaring Bridge , with a bit of luck, can be operational) - because a deck built around fogs can win the very turn after it (note: an Ensnaring Bridge deck too has to be built around Ensnaring Bridge , as reminded in my comments at the card). So you don't really have to (always) chain multiple fogs in order to attain a win. As for the control matchup (if that exists), it is so good (a good reason to play this deck, actually) that what defence card you run is not relevant, since they hardly put any pressure and they cannot run a lot of counters: you can easily afford to have a bunch of dead cards (your fogs) in the matchup, and you can in any case switch them post side with better cards. A discard spells-based deck is to be fought by means of redundancy: the fog-plan is not useful (even if you need some fogs - or, better, removals - in order to survive an early Tarmogoyf ). And on the defence side of the plan, you'd better play only fogs, since it is a common play keeping hands of only mill spell and searching aggressively for a fog with Visions of Beyond and Shelldock Isle : it is better to maximize the change to make this plan successful, since it happens very very often. If you are still skeptical about fogs usefulness, and you still hold prejudices against Fog -like cards so that you can't believe in the Time Walk comparison, let's examine what the typical fog (i.e. Darkness ) does for us: for 1 mana, it draws 1 card, mills the opponent for 1 (or many more if we have Mesmeric Orb !), and most importantly ramps our mana adding 3/4 mana depending on the number of lands we have in play, thus allowing us to close the game or finally getting that