Among the deck archetypes most reviled by Magic players as a whole, “mill” decks often fall somewhere between land destruction and Tempest-era Shadow decks.
What do these three have in common? Why, they’re all about playing around one’s opponent. Instead of directly interacting with his or her life total or board presence, these annoyances simply sidestep your foe’s entire gameplan. After all, they can’t win with no mana, or nothing to draw, or an unstoppable offense. It’s called non-interaction.
But hey– haters gonna hate, right? After all, your enemies are likely to complain about any deck type you play, so why not roll the one that metaphorically represents driving your opponent insane by grinding away his mind? If that sounds like fun for you, you’re in luck: Jace’s Dream Puppets is more than equipped to cause figurative and literal insanity.
Grind, mill, slap, chop… with patience
No matter what verb you use to describe the act of emptying a player’s library into his or her graveyard, your bound to enjoy Dream Puppets. Not only does it feature dozens of ways to make your enemy draw to zero cards (and by extension, zero thoughts), it’s also home to lots of hilarious blue control cards. Sure, you could run a tubrocharged mill-only deck that regularly hoses Crosswinds and Obedient Dead, but you’ll find yourself on life support against Goblin Ganglands or even Celestial Light. It’s all about balance.
After all, you can cast Tome Scour any turn in the game for the same effect, but playing a Clone this turn will have an impact on how long you live. There are times when zippy milling will get the job done faster or activate your Phantasms a turn earlier, but in general, tempo comes before library-busting.
After heavy experimentation, I’ve devised a Dream Puppets deck list that has just enough early game tools to (sometimes) make it out alive versus the fastest decks. These key, momentum killing cards (like Aether Adept and Crippling Chill) are supplemented by cheap, cost-effective grinding options that will slowly (but surely) empty your foe’s thoughtbank. As with my Exalted Darkness deck guide, I’m going to begin with the full list available, and slowly populate the article with my thoughts as free time permits.
Dream Puppets card-by-card analysis
Hedron Crab: 5.0
Incredibly effective as a first or second turn drop (before your second land, of course), Hedron Crab can single handedly burn off half your enemy’s deck if left unchecked. The fact that he’s a paltry 0/2 creature usually means he’s spared from removal, and often wrongfully so. This little bastard can also hold off small threats and chump later in the game, well after you’ve gotten enough use out of its Landfall ability!
Jace’s Phantasm: 5.0
While old school Magic players will consider a 1/1 flyer a good deal for the price, the truth is that this little beast will hit the ground as a 5/5 more often than not. There are dozens of ways to swing for 25% life by turn two or three with this guy, the most fun of which involves Chancellor of the Spires. These beastly jellyfish will often be your only offense and defense.
While you’ll almost certainly overpay for the creature you Clone, consider the added cost a tax for the incredible selection this creature offers. For the unimaginative, that’s often a copy of the fattest thing on the battlefield. But why not echo your previously played Aether Adept to further stymie your opponent’s offense? Or create a third Hedron Crab, right before playing another land and milling for nine. The possibilities are endless.
Mind Sculpt: 3.5
Perhaps not the best card in general Magic, Mind Sculpt is great at shaving off enough of your opponent’s deck to activate your Phantasms or find something juicy to Body Double. When playing, always remember that, for the most part, it doesn’t matter when you cast this card, so play other threats or leave mana for counters in the early game, unless you really need 10 cards in the graveyard right now.
I shouldn’t have to explain why you always need to run two copies of Counterspell. Just remember: you only have two (maybe three with Dream Fracture). Only cancel an opponent’s play if letting it through would cause immediate and catastrophic reversal of momentum.
Dream Fracture: 4.0
You need all the counters you can get, and while this isn’t as good as Counterspell, it’s nothing to scoff at. The extra card draw going to your opponent will rarely matter (they are unlikely to have the mana to use it immediately most of the time), and the fact that you force them to dig actually helps your deck win. As a neat trick, Dream Fracture one of your own spells you don’t need; you’ll draw two cards. Funnier still with Jace’s Erasure out.
Though Scour: 4.0
By no means overpowering, Though Scour is a nearly free cantrip (self replacing card) that helps you achieve your win condition quicker. Don’t judge it by its own utility, but instead by the fact that its inclusion in your deck almost allows you to run a sub-60 card list. You can treat this card as a non entity, drawing into threats you’d rather have. A nasty combo trick: mill from eight to ten for a surprise boost to Jace’s Phantasm.
Tome Scour: 2.5
Tome Scout is everything people hate about library erosion decks. There’s no flavor, no impact on the board, and it’s just a boring, narrow card. That said, it’s basically the equivalent of a Shock, since it hits your enemy’s “life” for about 10%. Unfortunately, Shock can also kill creatures and is instant speed. Don’t use this as anything except low-CMC filler.
Narrow, but cheap. Unsummon can give you beneficial combat scenarios, delay threats, or destroy tokens, but it’s important to remember this card is never a permanent solution. It’s best to save Unsummon for situations that your enemies will never see coming, like bouncing a tribal chief to remove +1/+1 bonuses from a horde of goblins or elves right before blocking.
Visions of Beyond: 3.0
I’m torn on Visions of Beyond. On the one hand, the prospect of playing Ancestral Recall is too damn powerful to pass up. On the other hand, this card more frequently ends up being a single mana cantrip. If you’re stuck for filler in your last few spots, this card certainly can’t hurt, but don’t hold out all game hoping to get a 3-for-1 that may never come.
People rag on cards like Prosperity because they’re symmetric. Yeah, you get to draw cards, but so does your opponent! But just like symmetrical burn, your deck is better poised to handle the influx of spells and lands than that of your victim, especially when you have Jace’s Erasure or Dreamborn Muse on the table. Warning: this card is suicide against Born of Flame.
Aether Adept: 5.0
Early game or late, few cards are as welcome a sight as Aether Adept. Played on turn 3, she can undo an opponent’s entire turn, then hang around to block when it comes back. Played late game, she can clear a flying blocker to let your Phantasms swing for lethal damage. Don’t forget other applications: bouncing Clones/Body Doubles to recast for new targets, or returning creatures to remove pesky auras.
Jace’s Erasure: 3.5
While I’ve vacillated on this card’s value repeatedly, the math doesn’t lie: it usually yields much better milling for two mana than you’d get out of many other cards. Yes, it’s easier to stop since it’s an enchantment, but there’s a certain psychological effect to its permanence: making foes cringe whenever you draw. Combos with basically everything, especially Prosperity and Howling Mine.
Sapphire Medallion: 3.5
As the only deck in Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 that has tons of card draw and cheap, quickfire spells, Dream Puppets is alone in recommendations for Medallion inclusion. Unlike your opponent (in most cases), you actually can empty a hand of seven+ cards quickly. Combine with Howling Mine, Prosperity, or Sturmgeist, and you will very quickly get and stay ahead. Keep in mind, however, that a turn 2 play is a signal to your foe: “I don’t have Counterspell.”
Into the Roil: 5.0
The case could be made that Boomerang would have helped Dream Puppets more, but bounce is bounce, and Into the Roil is flexible enough to earn both spots in your deck. The option for a cantrip adds lots of value, but don’t hold out for four mana if it means taking massive damage in the interim. This zippy instant also makes for a great rescue option should your Chancellor draw the ire of a removal spell.
While I appreciate that this artifact’s ability is free (as Dream Puppets is often starved for open lands in the early game), it simply takes this milling machine too long to build momentum. By the time you decide to stop adding counters and start reaping your rewards, the game may well have been decided. If you’re looking for “free” mill, you’re better off taking Jace’s Erasure.
Sands of Delirium: 3.0
While it’s not free like Grind Clock nor does it offer cascading power, Sands of Delirium offers something else: flexibility. Have one extra mana? Mill them for one. Have ten extra mana? Start practicing your evil, evil cackle. You will need mana available to make this card work, but its versatility pretty much guarantees it will never be a dead draw.
Cephalid Broker: 2.5
More useful for digging through your own deck than emptying your opponent’s, these thought-provoking octo-people are a little too slow to make a difference in the long run. Yes, they can provide necessary answers in a long drawn-out control game, but will usually lead to your demise against faster decks.
Vedalken Entrancer: 2.0
With a 1/4 body, you might be tempted to enlist this hypnotist to defend against Goblins or Peacekeepers. In most situations, though, his single point of power isn’t enough to deter a heavy attack. And, unlick Cephalid Broker or the Muse, the Entrancer’s ability will almost never help you out in any meaningful way, assuming you have the time/mana to even use it.
Unlike Howling Mine and Font of Mythos, this symmetrical card never benefits your opponent. And while its attacks on your own mind/library may not seem welcome at first, they do present you the opportunity to cast Chancellor of the Spires for the low, low cost of Body Double (5 CMC). More indirectly, Dreamborn Muse forces your opponent to play recklessly, emptying cards he or she might normally hold back… perhaps right into one of your Mind Controls!
Font of Mythos: 2.5
I’m tempted to rate this card-drawing engine over Howling Mine, but at four mana, it’s hard to justify. Dreamborn Muse will often create just as much (if not more) chaos, plus she can attack and block. On the other hand, the Font (I assume Comic Sans?) can quickly flood your opponent’s hand, as three cards a turn is usually too much to ever play. I wouldn’t include this unless you’re also stacking Jace’s Erasure and lots of bounce.
Sleep works best when you benefit from both offense (tapped creatures can’t block) and defense (nor can they attack). Since you’ll primarily be using Sleep to stave off death, it’s not at its best in Dream Puppets. Crosswinds, on the other hand, would have absolutely adored this card… especially when imprinted on Panoptic Mirror.
Wheel and Deal: 2.0
There’s only one good time to make your opponent draw seven cards, and that’s when it’s enough to kill him/her (either directly or by triggering Dreamborn Muse for a total of 14 cards). At almost every other point in the game, this card is suicide, filling your enemy’s hands with threats and answers. If you must force draws, at least use Prosperity and get something out of it for yourself.
Mind Control: 3.5
While a UUUU-costed version might be more welcome (are you reading this, Wizards designers?), Mind Control is a hilarious play following a turn 3 Aether Adept and turn 4 Into the Roil. By the time your opponent actually gets to play something, it’s yours for the taking! This doesn’t quite have the versatility of Clone or Body Double, which works against it. And keep in mind equipping a Mind Controlled creature with Sword of Body and Mind will leave you in a really bad position.
Body Double: 4.0
Like Clone, Body Double is a card that’s marked up for versatility. Get a Dreamborn Muse in play for a few turns, and Body Double can net you the best creature in either your opponent’s deck or your own deck! And unlike reanimation spells, this card only copies your target, so you’re free to Body Double it again… then Clone your Body Double. You can actually get four copies of a singleton from any graveyard in this manner!
Telemin Performance: 2.5
While I was originally a fan, this artful act is simply too random to merit five mana. Sometimes you’ll rip through ten cards and drop a gigantic angel on the table; other times you’ll flip a goddamn Primordial Hydra from the top and get essentially nothing. A strong card against Obedient Dead, but that’s usually it.
Forced Fruition: 3.5
At six mana, this seemingly terrible enchantment is often unplayable. Even when it does drop, it… helps your foe? Not exactly. With a “penalty” of seven cards a spell, your opponent will be unlikely to cast more than three or four more spells the entire game once this is in play. To that effect, if it can be resolved, it’s a game-winning lockout. However, bounce and enchantment removal can simply fill your enemy’s hands for “free.”
Chancellor of the Spires: 3.5
I’m not usually a fan of blue fatties, but turn zero milling is pretty sexy since it can be followed up with soon-to-be 5/5 flyers. In addition, the Chancellor‘s ETB (entering the battlefield) effect is incredibly powerful, especially against some of the more annoying decks. For instance, you’re probably aware by now that using Chancellor on Rite of Replication yields infinite copies (and possibly an extra turn via Time Warp to seal the deal immediately, as well).
Dream Puppets deck guide
- 2 Hedron Crab
- 4 Jace’s Phantasm
- 3 Thought Scour
- 2 Tome Scour // 2 Jace’s Erasure // 2 Visions of Beyond
- 2 Unsummon
- 2 Counterspell
- 2 Into the Roil
- 3 Mind Sculpt
- 2 Aether Adept
- 3 Crippling Chill
- 1 Dream Fracture
- 2 Sword of Body and Mind
- 2 Clone
- 2 Dreamborn Muse
- 2 Body Double
- 1 Mind Control
- 1 Chancellor of the Spires
- 25 Island