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Around the Wheel: Mirko Vosk Dimir


There is something about an alternate win condition. Magic: the Gathering is a game about breaking the rules, right? We have this set of rules, but some of our most powerful cards use their own text to supersede the rules we know. Haste, for example: creatures can't attack the turn they come into play. However, if they have Haste, they can. It seems normal to most of us, but this is an example of the game breaking its own rules. So when a card like Battle of Wits or Coalition Victory comes along, we get excited - "wait, I can win the game without killing my opponent? Sweet!"

But since the beginning there has always been one alternate win condition. Taken from the official rules:

104.3c If a player is required to draw more cards than are left in their library, they draw the remaining cards and then lose the game the next time a player would receive priority.

This has had deck-builders' boats floating since it was discovered. Rather than attacking with creatures or throwing seven Lightning Bolts at the opponent, if we can find a way to get them to not have any cards in their library, then the game will kill them automatically on the next draw step! Then Wizards printed Millstone in Antiquities and an entire genre was built: Mill.

Now, those of us who play Commander know that certain things great in heads-up aren't as good in a multiplayer format. In heads-up, we need to do 20 damage to win, so a Bloodghast with its hasty two damage that keeps coming back is great, and Lightning Bolt with its three-for-one is a fabulous deal. But in a four-person Commander pod, we need to deal 120 damage to win the game (or, I suppose, 63 with the same creature). Suddenly that Bolt isn't as appealing.

Mill suffers the same problem: in heads-up with 60 card decks, we probably need to mill 45 cards, rather than just do 20 damage. In Commander, we probably have to mill close to 80 cards per opponent, for a total of 240 cards. So while Archive Trap takes a real chunk of cards in a heads-up game, in Commander, it scratches the surface. (This calculation even ignores that most Commander decks have at least some graveyard component, so milling in small bits is at least less painful if not actively helping your opponents!)

However, I decided I wanted to see if we could make ub (the colors most commonly associated with Mill) viable in Commander, so I asked for help, and the imitable Stephen Johnson, fellow writer here on CSI and fabulous deck-builder, came to my aid. The answer to making it work, it turns out, is combo.

We know we don't want to mill for three or seven or ten at a time; we really want to mill someone all at once. He reminded me of a couple things: Phenax, God of Deception begs to be run with Eater of the Dead, for example, and there's nothing like Duskmantle Guildmage (or Bloodchief Ascension) with good ol' Mindcrank. This is important, actually. One of the first two plus Mindcrank create an infinite loop as soon as one of the parts is triggered. So with seven mana and the Guildmage and 'crank on the table, you can activate the Guildmage's first ability, then activate the second. The target will mill two, which will cause them to lose two life... which causes them to mill two more, which makes them lose two life, and on until, well, probably they die from life loss, actually, since they'll likely have more cards than life. Traumatize and Keening Stone are great together, if a bit mana intensive, but we can deal with that. But the best one he shared, and why I'll look forward to playing Commander with him, is this. He Spell Crumpled an opponent's spell, then put it on the bottom of his opponent's library. He untapped and played Tunnel Vision, naming the card he'd just countered. All but one card went in the bin, and the opponent lost the game the next turn. Sweet.

That means it's combo deck time. Let's see what we can do if we go all-in on these combos as win-cons.

Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker

Mirko Vosk | Commander | Mark Wischkaemper

As we know, the way I like to go through a deck list is usually with My Deck Tickled a Sliver. Combo decks, however, work a little differently, so rather than talk about MDTAS directly, we're going to walk through it but acknowledge we won't have all the normal pieces in the normal way.

We do have mana, though - in fact, we're going to need a fair amount of it to make this deck work. Our main spell, Tunnel Vision, is six mana, and it's going to be common we're going to need to pair it with a Reito Lantern activation or some other effect, so nine and 10 mana in a turn won't be uncommon. That means we want to hit our land drops and add some extra mana to the board. We've got 40 lands, and most of them are there just to make and fix mana. A couple of extra things like the Blighted lands are there, but mostly, we're making mana. The nice thing is, our first few turns are going to be fairly slow, so we can run lands that come into play tapped with no hesitation at all. Then we've got eight mana rocks, all three mana or less. Mind Stone is the only one making colorless and only one mana, but it draws a card later so it's worth it. Otherwise, we're making colors or multiple. The hope is to play one or two of these in the first four or five turns so by the time we get to turn eight we've got 10 mana, ready to mill someone out.

We're running very little draw. Instead, we're running a suite of Transmute spells. Transmute is a funny method of tutoring for cards. It is both face-up and limiting, so I suspect our 75% friends will generally be okay with it. But it effectively gives us multiple copies of our specific combo pieces, including Tunnel Vision. So while much of the deck is designed around the Spell Crumple/Tunnel Vision nastiness, we'll need to look at our opening hand to determine which combo we want to go for. If we have a Mindcrank and Muddle the Mixture, probably better to go Guildmage/'crank early and lean on Mirko Vosk to do just a little damage to get the party started. This is a bit of a risk; there's an argument that getting some draw in here will help to dig for pieces, but in this case it feels (to me) we need to run a fair amount of support for the combos, and we only have room for one kind of card advantage, so let's use the one that gets us the precise cards we need. A meaner way would be to go with actual tutors from Black, but this janky way goes with Mill in Commander, don't you think?

We've got Crumple/Tunnel Vision, Traumatize/Keening Stone, and Guildmage or Ascension/Mindcrank. Our three combos. That's how we win, because each one will cause an opponent to lose very quickly after it happens. As previously stated, we look at our opening hand, assess what we can get, and start quietly working toward assembling the combo. One of the weaknesses of mill in Commander is often it needs to survive until there's only one opponent left, but in this case we're nasty enough we won't need to wait: each of our combos can be activated multiple times. That means we merely need to have good threat assessment and kill the most dangerous opponent first.

To deal with other people's threats, we've got a small suite of point removal (Black is generously giving us spells that destroy creatures and planeswalkers, which is nice of it) and a larger batch of Wrath effects. Since we most often won't be trying to win until turn eight or ten, we'll likely need to Wrath at least once just to stay alive. There's also a small grouping of Counterspells, but we want to keep at least one for when we go for a combo just to protect it. Don't throw one around just because you've got it.

Then we have our ways to rebuy our combos. First off, there are more ways than Spell Crumple to put things on the bottom of a library, so we've got a bunch. That's helpful, because once we've found Tunnel Vision we can keep buying it back with Archaeomancer and a bunch of other ways to recur it. Then we can hit opponents one by one until everyone is out. The nice thing is, our ability to buy back instants and sorceries helps us with Traumatize as well, in the event we've gone the Keening Stone route. Plus it can get us back a Transmute card so we can hunt down something else.

We play lands and a bit of ramp. We probably Wrath the board. We determine which combo to go for, and we go for it. Then we win. That simple.

It's possible a Pestilence or Syphon Soul might be a good idea to get the Guildmage/'crank combo going or just to help get Bloodchief Ascension online. At this point we're leaning pretty hard on Mirko Vosk to do that damage for us. Also, we need to be aware if an opponent gives themselves Hexproof, because we can't hit them with Tunnel Vision. If it's a problem, Cyclonic Rift will help. Me? I like when a deck has a specific weakness, because it means someone else built that specific strength, which is cool. If you're having trouble with the odd creature that can't be destroyed, maybe Thaumatic Compass in place of Arcane Signet. Maze of Ith can work wonders.

I did consider going with Phenax walls, but Stephen's ideas were just too good.

Next time: br. No ideas yet. Thoughts? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading.

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