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Milling Yourself to Victory


I play a lot of Limited. Here in Rhode Island, we do a lot of drafting. I live in the smallest state in the country, but we have four major Magic stores, each with a huge number of players. At FNM, each store averages around thirty players. That may not seem like much, but keep in mind that each store is only a twenty to thirty minute drive away from each other.

What that means is that any time I want to draft, I can. So, I draft a lot! I was drafting six times a week before I took my trip around the world to all of the GPs. Now I’m not drafting as much, but I still draft a few times a week, and I don’t even play Magic Online.

Drafting the same set over and over again can become a little boring after a while. After I become familiar with a Draft format, I like to look for new archetypes that no one is playing—just to make Draft games more interesting. For example, in Scars block Draft, my favorite deck to draft was Furnace Celebration, and I drafted it whenever possible. Then, I started drafting U/B Proliferate, based on Inexorable Tide. Drafting different decks keeps thing fresh and keeps you on your game. Winning with the same creature decks over and over again can become a little dull.

Today, I’m going to talk about a different way to win in Innistrad Draft: drafting combo.

U/G Spiders

The first deck I want to talk about is a U/G deck with which you mill yourself to put a ton of creatures into your graveyard, then win with a gigantic Spider Spawning. I first saw this deck at Worlds, where my boyfriend drafted in the Draft Open. He showed me the deck, and it just looked awesome. It had a ton of ways to mill yourself—like Armored Skaab, Forbidden Alchemy, and Mulch. He had a Splinterfright and two Spider Spawnings. He even splashed Red for Kessig Wolf Run! I immediately fell in love with the archetype and tried to draft it whenever I could.

At the StarCityGames Invitational two weeks ago, I participated in the judge Draft. (I’ve been a local judge for about ten years; most people don’t know that about me.) I was able to draft the Spider Combo deck there to great success. Here’s the deck:

This is a great example of the U/G mill-yourself deck. It has a lot of ways to put your creatures in the graveyard, win conditions like Splinterfright and Boneyard Wurm, and a Memory's Journey just so you don’t draw yourself out. It even has a Laboratory Maniac for the alternate win condition!

The best part about drafting this archetype is its versatility. It has three different ways to win: Spider Spawning, Laboratory Maniac, and good, old-fashioned beatdown.

When drafting this deck, you really want to look for cards like Mulch, Armored Skaab, Civilized Scholar, and Forbidden Alchemy. They are key to this deck, because without ways to mill yourself, you’ll just end up with a bad U/G deck. Mulch, in particular, is very important, because you usually need a lot of lands in play for your Flashback spells, and it helps you find your splash color. Usually, cards like Mulch are not picked very highly, so if you see one fifth-pick or later, it’s probably safe to say that the archetype is open.

Once you are in this archetype, you need to draft a Spider Spawning as aggressively as possible. The deck usually won’t work without it. I’d even pick it over a good rare or removal spell. If there just isn’t one there, cards like Boneyard Wurm and Splinterfright are fine, but they’re just inferior to Spider Spawning. Boneyard Wurm should be pretty easy to pick up—the card is just terrible in any deck but this one. Of course, Splinterfright is much more difficult to obtain because of its rarity, so it’s worth picking up as soon as you see it.

The support cards needed for this deck are removal spells and cards that buy you time while you set up your combo. You want to draft removal like Grasp of Phantoms, Silent Departure, and Blazing Torch whenever possible. Splashable removal is good, too. As you can see in the list above, I splashed Sever the Bloodline in my deck. Gnaw to the Bone is also extremely important in this deck. It can buy you enough time to get to 7 mana to flash back your Spider Spawning. You want to start at least one, but having a few in your sideboard is good against the super-fast decks.

As for creatures, you want to draft creatures as you would for any other deck. Keep your curve in mind. You want to be able to win the game with creatures if you can’t assemble your combo. Flyers like Moon Heron, Murder of Crows, and Battleground Geist are all fine. You want guys such as Darkthicket Wolf and Gatstaf Shepherd in the 2-drop slot, Selhoff Occultist in your 3-drop slot, and Festerhide Boar and Ulvenwald Mystics in the 4. Defensive creatures like Fortress Crab are good, too.

What cards should not be drafted for this archetype? You don’t want creatures such as Stitched Drake, Makeshift Mauler, and Skaab Goliath. These creatures have great stats for their cost and are very easy to cast in this deck, but the last thing you want to do is remove creatures from your graveyard. Try to avoid these creatures whenever possible—they’re a trap!

The last aspect to this deck is the infinite combo. You don’t need this in your deck to work, but it can be relevant. The combo is Memory's Journey and Runic Repetition. You use Memory's Journey to shuffle your good cards into your library, then cast Runic Repetition to return Memory's Journey to your hand. Then, you shuffle in your Runic Repetition, cast it to return something else, like Gnaw to the Bone, and flash back Memory's Journey, again targeting Runic Repetition. Repeat as necessary. You can do silly things with this combo—like casting a Gnaw to the Bone every turn. If you are gaining 20 life each turn, it’s very tough for your opponent to beat you. You are likely to end up decking him (you’ll hope he scoops before that happens, especially if you are at 100 or more life!).

I’ve seen a few variations of this deck. Instead of a Black splash, I’ve seen a Red splash for Heretic's Punishment. With the Memory's Journey plus Runic Repetition combo, you can shuffle in your most expensive spell (perhaps Blasphemous Act) and kill your opponent by activating Heretic's Punishment every turn. The Red splash also gives you access to better removal, such as Harvest Pyre and Brimstone Volley.

Burning Vengeance

The next deck I want to discuss is Burning Vengeance. This deck is a blast to play and very powerful, but it’s a lot harder to make it work. Usually in this deck, the only win condition is Burning Vengeance. You need to draft a ton of Flashback spells over good creatures, so the creature count in this deck is very low. In addition, most of the creatures are small support creatures, like Deranged Assistant and Selhoff Occultist. In a deck with eight to ten creatures, with half of them having a power of 2 or less, you probably aren’t going to get there by attacking.

The important spells in this deck, besides Burning Vengeance, are the Flashback cards. Geistflame, Silent Departure, Grasp of Phantoms, Bump in the Night, Think Twice, and Desperate Ravings are all very good. Dream Twist is essential in this archetype because it allows you to mill yourself and it works with Burning Vengeance. Dream Twist is also terrible in any other deck, so you can pick these up late and most likely grab all of them.

It’s also important to draft ways to mill yourself. Just like in the U/G deck, cards like Forbidden Alchemy, Armored Skaab, and Civilized Scholar are great ways to fill up your graveyard.

On the rare side, Snapcaster Mage, Mindshrieker, and Devil's Play are great additions to this deck if you are lucky enough to open them.

As for creatures, this deck is very creature-light, so it’s important to draft defensive creatures like Fortress Crab, but you should also pick up efficient flyers like Moon Heron so you can deliver the final points of damage. Delver of Secrets is pretty sweet in this deck, too. Unlike in U/G Spiders, creatures like Stitched Drake and Makeshift Mauler are great in this deck—you will be milling yourself a lot and don’t mind removing creatures from your graveyard. Keep your creature count in mind though, because if you don’t have a lot of creatures, you may not be able to cast these guys. I’d say you need at least eight other creatures in your deck to play one of these cards.

I have never had the honor of drafting this deck. It’s become pretty popular in my draft group, so people either hate the cards early or try to force it. My friend was lucky enough to draft Burning Vengeance in one of the team drafts I did a few weeks ago. Here’s his list:

My friend ended up going 2–1 in the Draft. He lost the match in which he milled his Burning Vengeance both games. The problem we encountered was that once our opponents figured out that the Burning Vengeance deck was being drafted (because the card didn’t table, for example), it was very easy to hate the cards from the Vengeance player. My friend could have had a second Burning Vengeance, but there were too many haters out there. This occurs frequently in team drafts, but in eight-man drafts on Magic online, FNM, or even a Grand Prix, hating is less likely to happen. With the second Burning Vengeance in his deck, my friend probably would have gone 3–0 in the Draft.

It all worked out in the end, though, because my team won the Draft, and I even got the Snapcaster Mage!


I think that Innistrad Limited is a great format. The cards are so synergistic, and the format never gets boring. These combo decks are a blast to play. I hope you’re able to try one of these archetypes out the next time you draft, whether it’s at FNM or in the Top 8 of a PTQ.

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