Mill Decks in the World of Hearthstone

Mill decks are popping up and they can catch you off guard. I'm going to talk about mill decks and how to play, build, and beat them.

Introduction

You just finished crafting the cards for a brand new Handlock deck. You immediately head to the ladder with your new deck and win your first two games with ease. You’re super excited to get streaking and get to the high ranks so you can hone your skills and decks at high levels. You queue up again and see that your opponent is a rogue. Knowing that Rogue decks are generally a good matchup for Handlock, you look forward to what you think is an easy win. Then, on turn 3, your opponent plays a coldlight-oracle. You quickly hit the “thank you” emote and proceed with your next turn, dropping a twilight drake. The game goes on and suddenly, the opponent shadowsteps his oracle back and plays it again. You burn a few cards, but don’t think too much of it, because you’re holding two mountain-giants and you have just enough mana to play both of them since your hand is so full. You do this, and then the rogue does something very strange: it shadowsteps the oracle again and then plays vanish, returning the giants to your hand….. or so you think….. instead, the giants burn into nothingness because your hand is too full! The next turn, the Rogue plays a clockwork giant and from there, as your cards are slowly burning away, your opponent snowballs the game, leaving you confused and distraught. Have you ever experienced a moment like this? I know I have! Though they are not a common sight on the ladder, mill decks can easily steal a win from an unprepared player, and that is why I’m here.

I’m going to talk about mill decks and how to play, build, and beat them.

What is a Mill Deck?

A mill deck is a deck that seeks to win the game by forcing the opponent to draw, whether through fatigue, or by playing cards that benefit from the opponent having a large hand, such as the above-mentioned clockwork giant and vanish. The idea of a mill deck originates from the TCG Magic the Gathering, that I’m sure the majority of you are familiar with. In Magic, there are many cards that force the opponent to either draw cards, or discard cards from the top of their deck. In Magic, if your deck runs down to zero cards, you lose, so forcing the opponent’s deck to zero can actually cause you to win the game. Employing this strategy is referred to as “milling” the opponent. In Hearthstone, however, there are fewer cards that reduce the opponent’s deck size, forcing mill players to employ alternate strategies as well. Since Hearthstone’s “mill decks” are not truly reliant upon fatigue alone for victory, I prefer to think of them as “hand-manipulation decks.” In the world of Hearthstone, any deck that forces the opponent to draw intentionally can be considered a mill deck and as we will see in a moment, there are many ways that a “mill” strategy can play out.

Mill Cards

Every mill deck will include some or all of the following cards. They are very synergistic with the mill strategy, and allow you to manipulate your opponent’s deck and hand, hopefully to victory.

coldlight-oracle

This card is the single most important card to any mill deck. In the world of hearthstone, 2 cards is actually a significant portion of the opponent’s deck, and until we find a way to give our opponents fel-reavers, the Oracle will remain the best way to force an opponent to draw.

Dancing-swords

Though for most decks, the deathrattle is too much of a risk for the Swords to see much play, in a mill deck, the deathrattle is actually a benefit, and the strong stats of the Swords give the mill player a way to protect his/her early game or apply some pressure.

goblin-sapper

Another solid minion that synergizes with the mill concept. His stats are terrible if your opponent has a small hand, but if you can force your opponent to draw enough, this guy can become quite the terror.

Deathlord

This card is like a defensive version of dancing-swords. The minion that is summoned by the Deathlord comes out of the opponent’s deck, which thins their deck more, prepping them for fatigue. However, the card doesn’t go into the opponent’s hand, making this card not synergize with…….

clockwork-giant

This guy is the most important card that has been given to mill decks. Before, mill decks lacked any major mid-late game minions that synergized with the mill concept. Now, while forcing your opponent to draw cards, you are also creating sort of a Handlock effect for yourself by making your Clockwork Giants cheaper to cast. If you can play one or two of these guys and burn away or remove your opponents big threats, the Clockwork Giant can act as a win condition for a mill deck, or can stall long enough to win the game through fatigue.

youthful-brewmaster & ancient-brewmaster

These cards return coldlight-oracle to your hand, so you can make your opponent draw even more cards! ancient-brewmaster has too high of a mana cost to be considered for most lists, I included him here as an option. The youthful-brewmaster though is a chap card that can allow you to do all kinds of milling on the opponent.

antique-healbot

Though this card doesn’t directly aid in the milling process, the huge amount of healing power from this card can help you to survive long enough to burn out your opponent’s deck.

These are the main neutral cards that make up a mill deck, but then, depending on the class you play, you can have even more tools in your arsenal. Rogue and Druid are the two most common mill deck types, so we’ll take a look at those first.

King Mukla

The bananas clog your opponent’s hand, making it easier to burn their important cards.

Rogue:

Rogue mill decks are probably the most competitively viable mill decks in Hearthstone. This is due to their access to the key mill cards shadowstep, sap and vanish. Shadowstep allows you to play coldlight-oracle more often than any other class, which makes Rogue players able to more easily mill their opponents than most classes. When an opponent’s hand is full, as often happens when they are facing a mill deck, ANY card that would otherwise enter their hand gets burned up. This means that if you play sap or vanish when an opponent’s hand is full then these cards become very powerful hard removal. Because of these options, mill rogue has more options than other mill decks and can be a force to contend with. I chose to include a vanilla millrogue list with this article that can get you started if you wanna try out a mill deck for yourself or see what a list might look like.

Druid:

Mill Druid is also a strong mill variant. One reason is that, druid has a sea of very powerful taunt minions, such as druid-of-the-claw, and ancient-of-war. Also, Druid’s only form of hard removal, which provides too much of a drawback for most Druid decks to run, actually helps to burn out the opponent. naturalize removes an opponent’s minion and also forces them to draw two cards, which speeds up the thinning of the opponent’s deck. grove-tender can help to make the opponent draw more cards as well. Finally, the new Druid card tree-of-life can force the game into a super long one, allowing a mill deck even more time to stall out in order to win by fatigue. A druid is more likely to legitimately “mill” the opponent than the rogue, since it has such incredible stalling options, but it has fewer tricks than the Rogue and can’t as easily chain coldlight-oracles.

Though these are the two main mill decks that you’ll run into, other classes have interesting mill, or hand manipulation tools at their disposal as well:

Paladin:

Paladin has a lot of healing options such as guardian-of-kings and holy-light. Also, though it isn’t directly a “mill” card, if you increase your opponent’s hand size a lot, you can play divine-favor to catch up, and then possibly drop some clockwork-giants for very cheap.

Mage:

Freeeeeezzzzeeeeeeee. Mages can use freezing spells, such as frost-nova and blizzard to stall for days. ice-block can stall as well. Sadly, though, mages have nothing that directly benefits the mill strategy.

Warlock:

Don’t do it. Warlock’s hero power directly runs against the mill strategy, and Warlock’s removal options aren’t as strong as other classes, so Warlock is not a good choice for mill decks.

Warrior:

A mill deck could be made with iron-juggernaut, but such a strategy is probably too inconsistent and gimmicky to accomplish much. Otherwise, Warrior has some pretty solid control options, such as execute and brawl.

Shaman:

Since coldlight-oracle is a murloc, you may be able to work him into a Shaman murloc deck, but such a deck isn’t really going to be very good for milling.

Hunter:

You might be able to use freezing-trap to get a burn effect on a full hand, but this strategy is very easily counterable since the trap activates during your opponents turn.

Priest:

Again, Priest can stall, but it has no true milling strength.

Playing/Playing Against Mill Decks

Mill decks are control decks by their nature. They seek to win the game by stalling until they can achieve their win condition, which is either to mill the opponent’s entire deck, or win by use of Clockwork-giant and goblin-sapper. Because of their slower nature, they struggle against aggressive decks. In fact, it’s almost impossible to win a game as a mill deck when your opponent is playing an aggro deck. This is because aggro decks outspeed mill decks, and mill decks don’t have as much room as traditional control decks for anti-aggro cards. However, against another control deck, mill decks can be very destructive. This is because control decks tend to have larger hand sizes to begin with, and tend to wait until later in the game to play their threats, giving mill decks more time to burn out the opponent’s deck. There are three very important elements of a mill game that both players need to consider if they want to win.

1. Timer

If you start the game with 3-4 cards, this means you have 26-27 cards in your deck, which means that, under normal circumstances, you will go into fatigue in about 27 turns. Two coldlight oracles reduces this number by two each time it’s played, which means if both coldlights are drawn by the mill player,then the game will go into fatigue in 23 turns. With mill cards flying around, this can easily go down to about 15-18 turns, so keep that in mind, whichever side of the coin you’re on. As a mill deck, you can seek to survive to this late-game point, and as a non-mill deck, you can make sure to draw as few additional cards as possible in order to keep this timer at a high number.

2. Hand Size

Pay very close attention to hand sizes and remember the following combos:

3-4 Mana: 4 cards(Coldlight, Shadowstep) (Coldlight, Brewmaster)

5-6 Mana: 6 cards (Coldlight, double Shadowstep) (Coldlight, Brewmaster, double Naturalize)

8 Mana: The Ultimate Combo: 8 cards (double Coldlight, double Shadowstep)

This can help you to know how much you, or your opponent can mill in a turn. And can also help you know when a Clockwork Giant may be coming.

3. Mana Efficiency:

This is more for the non-mill player in the matchup, but can be helpful information for a mill player as well. The best way to beat a mill deck is to keep your hand size small, and the way to keep your hand size small is to be mana efficient. This means do your best to make use of each and every mana crystal each and every turn. This will keep your hand size very small and will help you beat the less consistent mill deck.

Conclusion

Mill decks are a very fun and interesting deck type. Though they are not the most competitively viable decks in the game, you need to be prepared for them so you can be sure to beat the one diehard mill player on the ladder. And if you’re bored, or every aggro deck suddenly drops off the face of the ladder, you can give a mill deck of your own a go sometime. Thanks for reading everyone! Have an awesome day! Email me at [email protected] or add me: my tag is chinchillord #1811.