As previously discussed, I enjoy building decks designed for everyone to play from as a way to generate portable, self-contained play experiences that allow for spontaneous games without concern for other players bring decks or concern for bad match ups. I'm hoping in this post, I can show you that this method of play/deckbuilding can produce a wider variety of decks and to show my thought processes as I update them.
While my early forays in this were 2-player decks, more recently I've been focusing exclusively on multiplayer play. The current deck is the most recent iteration of the first theme I explored after my first pass through building a deck for each color: mill. The idea of each player playing a deck with the expectation of the deck running out and threatening death was always extremely fascinating to me as it upends a lot of fundamental aspects of Magic strategy. The original 2-player deck resulted in game play that was far more puzzle-like than traditional Magic as it was more about finding and using pieces in the right way than about attacking and tempo.
Through numerous play sessions, the patterns that have become obvious are the following: Simply attacking your opponent to death is safer, since if you mill the deck out, they can flip it around on you and kill you. This introduces a disparity of cards which are better in the early-midgame and cards that are at their best in the end-game or empty library. The emergent play which has turned out to be most satisfying is using aggressive creatures to pressure the opponent into using cards like Gomazoa to stay alive during the mid-game rather than saving them for when the library runs out. This lets actual hard removal be saved for other threats. During the end-game, random large bodies lose almost all of their value as they don't help you stay alive through an empty library, so getting value out of them in the mid-game is important.
Another fascinating aspect of the 2-player deck was the use of cycling and other key cantrips to fight over key dredge cards, most notably: Darkblast. I also liked seeing the flexibility of cards with cycling come up as a way to fight over the best cards on top of the library, a subgame, I was happy for the Panglacial Wurm deck to later explore with Mul Daya Channelers.
A surprising aspect of this environment was that pure mill cards were either just too bad or too oppressive. Archive Trap was cut because despite it being castable early for free and hardcast later, it had a pretty poor play pattern. Either it was just card disadvantage or it was a blowout out of nowhere when you empty the deck with an opponent's cycling trigger on the stack. Killing someone this way was cute the first time, but it's not good game play to support. False Memories is much closer to keepable, both with the reliably easy casting cost, but also the added utility of graveyard hate. The reduced number is more in line with the possiblity of a dredge trigger removing the library out of nowhere, meaning that at 7 or less, the library being emptied will be played around far more.
Ultimately, the basic play patterns settles down into this: The player who draws the better aggro bodies will try to mill the deck very little and just aggro the other player to death. The player who draws the better mill and end game cards will try to mill the deck faster to invalidate the board advantage and will try to prevent the aggro player from flipping the empty library.
Notable mechanical effects of this environment:
You must evaluate anything that puts cards back into the library very differently.
Gomazoa and similar cards let you stay alive on an empty library indefinitely, but they can get milled out after activating during upkeep.
Cathertic Adept and similar cards are repeatable mill, but more importantly let you kill people trying to stay alive during the end game. Killing them is essential if you're trying to stay alive with Gomazoa, for example.
Reckless Scholarmust be dealt with before the library empties or it will just kill someone.
The graveyard is likely to be shuffled back into the library one or more times. After that first time, players are mostly drawing spells. Cards getting exiled matters.
In the 2-player version a high percentage of the cards were milled each game, in the multiplayer version, most cards are drawn, so certain cards like Elixir of Immortality are far more likely to be cast than end up in the graveyard from the library. The 2-player play pattern is likely due to dredge being both a higher precentage of the cards in the deck and overall stronger to do.
Cards that are relevant from the graveyard will eventually make it there. You can count on them showing up every game, but whether they are drawn or milled and when during the game they show up will vary between games. Filth, is the most notable card in multiplayer, cards with dredge and cheap flashback were notable in 1v1.
With that out of the way, this post will be discussing the most recent update to the 4-player mill deck. You can read more about earlier versions in this blog post. First, here is the list I was working from prior to the changes:
What is clear to me from this old list is that it's hanging onto far too many aspects of the old 1v1 deck. It's trying to keep the curve artificially low, which isn't inherently bad, but clinging to cards like Viscera Dragger which don't have very stellar gameplay isn't all that great. Another aspect is that the deck tried to keep the Darkblast relevancy with all the tiny creatures and just making up for the larger card pool by adding a bunch of -1/-1 effects. This continues to keep the creatures from being replaced with anything bigger since the removal just won't be able to handle it.
This is most readily noticeable with Rancid Earth which is trying to play the role of board wipe and utility land hoser. This snapshot is taken just after Creeping Tar Pit and Ghost Quarter were removed from both lists, so there's fewer interactive reasons to include Rancid Earth for this role anyway. The 1 damage to everything was intended to have the play pattern of a board wipe since most of the end-game relevant bodies would die to it and you could also nab a relevant land.
Spiketail Drakeling is symptomatic of another problem. It's a bandaid intended to make it easier to fight key spells at any time without having to leave mana open so you can continue to deploy your hand. As it is here, the deck has too few ways to stay alive on an empty library and too many ways to stop people attempting to do so. The deck also has a lot less aggro than would be needed to kill people off regularly in multiplayer.
Nearly a third of the deck was changed in this most recent update, though cards I wanted to include had been stockpiling for a few sets. The Panglacial Wurm updates and a key realization were the catalyst of this overhaul. With it, the similarities of the existing 2-player deck and the multiplayer deck will now diverge, though it's possible that the 2-player deck would be more healthy if it went down this path as well. The highly complex puzzle-style of the old method was only really suitable for playing with players that could easily grasp the deep strategy and adjust to the radically different context easily. The changes happening make the deck much more accessible to people learning to play it since it's just a lot harder to die to mill.
First, the mana base contains many duplicates now. I decided that it wasn't worth buying a bunch of different dual lands if there were some that had decent in-deck play. Cycling will never not be good and the option is handy and also removes the need for Evolving Wilds which, while it was nice to occasionally shuffle the deck, becomes bad when the land gets put back in the deck but there are no more basics to find. The scry lands also greatly increase the number of situations where you get to peek at the top of the deck before deciding if you want to cycle or loot. Sunken Hollow might get changed over to copies of Drowned Catacomb or Dismal Backwater eventually depending on how the number of untapped lands shakes out. I'm additionally trying out the Desert Tribal effects of Inpu Rivulet and Ifnir Deadlands with their accompanying cycling deserts over Cabal Pit and Nephalia Drownyard. Drownyard in particular was too oppressive against end game cards like Gomazoa which can be dealt with in many ways already and the land won't be possible to interact with as I'm taking out the last of the land destruction effects.
(Also of note here is that I am now totally willing to double up on cards that have the gameplay I'm looking for. The viable card pool for this kind of deck is incredibly small.)
Second, almost all of the graveyard hate is gone. Bojuka Bog, Nihil Spellbomb, and even Delve, to a degree were all dampening the reliability of certain graveyard effects. Gravepurge in particular has always had reliability issues with the number of turns you could add to the game with it. Bojuka Bog wasn't necessarily the most oppressive effect here since it would only ever happen as a sorcery, and when drawn in the opening hand, would often have to be played out. Nihil Spellbomb was the oppressive one here since it could just sit in play all game and get rid of everything at the end, which shuts off far too many end game cards. Even Bloodcurdler was doing too much at safely exiling things from the graveyard. Instead, we're now trying Graven Abomination, Corpse Lunge, and Ruin Rat. This change is a buff to aggro decks since every graveyard shuffle will always be putting back a lot of cards. It's possible I'll put Bojuka Bog back in at some point to introduce more variance.
The main reason for this rather large change to graveyard hate is the third: The graveyard is now intended as a mana sink much as the Panglacial Wurm was intended. I want there to be things in the graveyard that the player who floods out can do. Undead Gladiator, Champion of Wits, Forbidden Alchemy, and Sever the Bloodline all fill this role. I would like 1-2 more quality cards that are good enough to cast without the flashback and can be a helpful late mana sink, but existing cards don't quite do what I'd like. These cards required the graveyard hate nerf in order to fulfill their role of being available when a player floods out.
With those overall changes in place, I'll now go over specific cards.
Commit / Memory is the most notable inclusion replacing Memory Lapse. It is a reliable end game copy of Metamorphose while still doing things in the mid game. However, it has a flashback Timetwister. This is a single-use reshuffle effect that will reliably show up each game, but it also resets everyone's hand size and could theoretically cause the last player to draw to die from an empty library. With the graveyard hate changes, it's not clear how likely this will happen or the general implications of giving everyone seven fresh cards. It obviously encourages players to play out their hands and play lands and as a shuffle effect, it adds time to the aggro clock. It will be the card I'll be watching most closely.
Rancid Earth is cut. I considered replacing it with Wail of the Nim as a similar effect but with a combat trick component on top but decided against it since average creature size is going up quite a bit. Slum Reaper replaces Fleshbag Marauder as a slightly bigger creature that dodges removal aimed at 1/1s. It's intended that this body is intended as an upgrade to one of your creatures. It's possible that this deck really just wants something closer to Barter in Blood instead. Fixed mass sacrifice feels better than a board wipe since it simply cuts numbers down rather than hating on certain things.
Liliana's Elite replaces Bloodcurdler to join Jace's Phantasm as a small creature that gets big from mill, but then shrinks back down when more time is added to the game due to a shuffle effect. I like this play pattern overall. Liliana's Elite instead of Whight of Precint Six because it feels like it's going to be rather large rather easily, though compared to Jace's Phantasm, it doesn't get to grow from spells, but it can grow sooner and in combat using removal.
Cathartic Adept and Selhoff Oculist become Vortex Elemental and Grizzled Angler. Cathartic Adept was a bit too oppressive in the endgame for a 1-drop that also messes with draws in the midgame. Grizzled Angler picks up that activated ability but can only use it once towards the end, so getting use out of that single activation will be tricky. It also transforms into a big body that will retain value after a shuffle back, feeling powerful. The Occultist was just odd ambient mill that other players could trigger, but it really didn't do very much as a 2/3. Vortex Elemental is a very good 1-drop I always had eyes for that has the same good game play as Gomazoa and Void Stalker: It's great on an empty library and your opponents can pressure you into using it early.
Thorn of the Black Rose replaces Viscera Dragger. The old 3/3 was not that attractive. It wasn't enough of a threat to bother casting and it just didn't do much outside of the 1v1 deck. Monarchy is highly interesting in this deck as one can get stuck drawing 2 cards on an empty library and dying. The extra cards are always valuable, so it will be interesting to see how the dynamic shapes up, especially when life totals get low. (I did add a rule in the attachments.)
Filigree Familiar replaces Runed Servitor. I used to think Runed Servitor was the best thing ever for this sort of thing, but trading off a 2/2 in multiplayer is not good and the game play of trying to kill everyone with its trigger was undesirable. The fox also introduces a spec of life gain to the deck that can be recurred by desperate players.
Bloodsoaked Champion replaces Gravecrawler. Zombies were always a rarity and one of the few things that made the unearth creatures worth casting. Raid is just more reliable to make use of with those bad creatures going away. It's possible that the ambient damage this provides won't be needed with the other buffs to aggression and nerfs to mill.
Nevermaker replaces Spiektail Drakeling. Still flies in the air for 2, but can 2-for-1 sometimes on defense and also will always at least "trade" with a 5/5. It has a spec of end-game relevance but needs to be killed and an opponent can do that, though you still get to remove something else in play when that happens.
Wasteland Strangler & Kindly Stranger. These are two value bodies that have been added that are very strong draws. Kindly Stranger is better since you control when the removal happens, though it's far less relevant after a shuffle. The strangler is decent removal and also introduces a way to get back cards from exile. Filth is the most notable candidate for this, so this slot will have to be monitored. These two are a bit strong, though as a multiplayer environment, I'm hoping the dynamics will dampen the power spike of drawing these. They will be valuable targets of theft and reanimation for all players so it's not clear what the implications of that will be in practice.
Corpse Churn replaces Plunge into Darkness. As with Archive Trap, Plunge turned out to be a bit too anticlimatic. It was a pretty decent, if costly card filter spell, but Corpse Churn should just be the clean version of what we want. With the removal of the fetchlands, it's possible I'll switch Grim Discovery over to a second copy of Corpse Churn just to get a bit more cards in the graveyard. It does have a little bit of counterplay against Filth.
Winds of Rebuke replaces False Memories. Instead of graveyard hate, this provides bounce, which is mechanically relevant on those key turns when the library is empty. It can also protect creatures from removal or mess up a combat trick. I like that this helps mill a decent chunk and is at present the biggest mill effect of any singular card. It's very possible I'll double up on this eventually.
Outside of that, there are some cards I'm having trouble finding suitable replacements for. Peek, Deep Analysis, Soratami Cloudskater, Consign / Oblivion are all cards I'm not really satisfied with. Peek was more relevant when it could dredge Nightmare Void when powerful spells were more of a thing. Now it's just a road bump cantrip and there are few times when you care about choosing when to draw a card. Even if there were, cards with cycling offer more options. Of note: Removing cantrips in bulk will make the deck larger, more varied, and harder to mill out.
Deep Analysis just needs to go. I don't even really want to replace it with a draw spell since there's a second copy of Words of Wisdom now and I don't think a second copy of Flux would do much. I feel like I'd want something that makes it harder for aggro decks since they've gotten so much better, preferably something that's close to a dead draw when an aggro deck draws it, though I don't want a pure mill spell.
Soratami Cloudskater hasn't transitioned well from 1v1 where it was still fairly tame. Monarch makes it better somewhat, but stunting mana development is just very weak now and looting away lands is less necessary.
Consign / Oblivion was a trial at the beginning of these changes but it's very quickly become apparent that the play pattern here is not working out. I believe this will be replaced with Barter in Blood in short order.