The World Championships are this weekend, and the best players from across the globe will be showing up to compete in a day of Standard, a day of Innistrad Booster Draft, and a day of Modern before cutting to the Top 8 where the players will once again bust out their Standard decks to determine the 2011 World Champion.
Every player competing in Worlds understands just how crucial it is to have a good finish in the Limited portion, and consequently pro players have spent as much time as possible drafting Innistrad during the weeks leading up to the event.
This marathon-esque level of drafting allows players to refine their understandings of archetypes that they might have otherwise dismissed in favor of obviously strong strategies such as green-white aggro. Blue-black mill-yourself and other blue graveyard based strategies have risen to prominence over recent weeks as people have learned more about the archetype.
Why are people trying to mill themselves? Is it because they just want to get the game over with as quickly as possible, and they think that the fastest way they can do that is by decking themselves?
Of course not (well, at least not unless they have Laboratory Maniac...).
People are trying to mill themselves so they can make the most of the many graveyard-dependent cards that this set has to offer to put together a deck that has an exceptionally strong late-game plan, a natural resilience to bombs, and the ability to put together very quick victories with Stitched Drakes and Makeshift Maulers backed by cheap removal and bounce spells.
Let's take a closer look at some of the cards that make the graveyard-dependent archetypes work!
Using Your Graveyard as a Resource
One of the first things that you need to understand to succeed with a mill-yourself deck is that, no, you don't need to build your mill-yourself deck around an extremely mechanically dependent card like Burning Vengeance or Laboratory Maniac to succeed (and in fact those cards can turn out to be pretty big traps, as they require an immense commitment to the archetype). Sure, there are times when you will be able to make good use of these cards, but you shouldn't sabotage your draft on the off-chance that things will come together perfectly.
There are plenty of less extreme things that you can do with your graveyard that are just as, if not more, powerful than the over-the-top things that you might look to do with a Burning Vengeance.
Makeshift Mauler, Stitched Drake, and the positively huge Skaab Goliath are all slow, difficult-to-cast cards in decks that don't have ways to dump cards into their graveyards. Similarly, Ghoulraiser and Ghoulcaller's Chant can be very mediocre (unless you already happen to have a bunch of Zombies), Harvest Pyre can be quite clunky, and your flashback spells can be somewhat underwhelming if you don't have a way to fill up your graveyard.
But if you can put cards into your graveyard quickly, these cards become pretty fantastic. Harvest Pyre can kill almost anything for a mere two mana, Stitched Drake is a three-mana 3/4 flier, and Ghoulcaller's Chant becomes a virtual tutor if you have enough ways to mill yourself.
The very presence of a Ghoulcaller's Chant or an Unburial Rites in your blue-black mill-yourself deck can allow you to craft your game plans around one or two cards. If your deck has a bunch of good self-milling cards, a couple of Ghoulcaller's Chants, and a Reaper from the Abyss, all that you'll need to do is survive and you should be able to take over with your bomb.
But even if you don't have a bomb that's half as strong as Reaper from the Abyss, if you use Ghoulcaller's Chant to bring back a Stitched Drake and a Ghoulraiser, you're going to be in pretty good shape.
Forbidden Alchemy, Armored Skaab, Deranged Assistant, and Civilized Scholar are the most effective (and commonly used) graveyard-filling cards in the format. Forbidden Alchemy, and Armored Skaab allow you to fill up your 'yard in a hurry, making it easy to cast your Makeshift Mauler on turn four and immediately turning your Harvest Pyres into virtual Terminates.
Civilized Scholar is an excellent way to enable graveyard-dependent cards. Even if your opponent has a removal spell to deal with your Civilized Scholar before you can loot with it, you will still be able to use your (now dead) Civilized Scholar to cast your Stitched Drake.
Other Graveyard-Filling Cards
Selhoff Occultist and Murder of Crows are both good at filling up graveyards if creatures are already dying. While these cards will certainly provide key graveyard-filling roles from time to time, you don't want to rely on them as your primary way of putting cards into your graveyard.
You should think of them as complementary cards that can work nicely to help keep your graveyard filled, and that you can eventually use as victory conditions.
Mulch is a card that doesn't get anywhere near as much respect as it should. If all you're doing is dumping Travel Preparations into your graveyard, then you probably don't want to waste time on Mulch in your aggressive green-white deck. But if you're fortunate enough to open two copies of Kessig Cagebreakers, then you will have a very real need to get your graveyard full.
If you're playing a red-green Werewolf deck, you're going to have very good reason to stay away from Mulch. But if you have two copies of Harvest Pyre, then suddenly Mulch will serve a very real purpose for you
You can play three, four, or even five copies of Harvest Pyre if you have ways to get cards into your graveyard in a hurry. If you don't have any Mulches or Armored Skaabs, though, then you might find that you're best off leaving your Harvest Pyres in your sideboard.
The presence of card-drawing instants like Think Twice and Forbidden Alchemy can make counterspells such as Dissipate, and Lost in the Mist better because you have something to do with your mana even if your opponent doesn't cast anything that you want to counter.
The more cards that you play that don't actually affect the board, the worse things will be for you if you fall behind.
Armored Skaab at least brings a 1/4 body with it, so you won't necessarily fall behind on the board the turn that you cast it. But if you want to spend turn after turn crafting your hand, and filling up your graveyard with cards like Forbidden Alchemy, then you're going to need an abundance of cheap answers such as Typhoid Rats, Dead Weight, and Sensory Deprivation to make sure that you don't just lose to a Merciless Predator or a Bloodcrazed Neonate before you're able to get things going.
If you already have the pieces you need for your mill-yourself deck to work well during the mid to late game, don't be afraid to take Sensory Deprivation over "more powerful" cards. After all, it doesn't matter how powerful your cards are if you're dead before you can cast them.
Are you trying to use your flashback spells as two spells for the price of one? Or are you trying to dump cards into your graveyard to get access to extra spells for free?
Getting flashback cards into your graveyard is one of the best things that you can do with self-milling cards, and can in fact make excellent inclusions of cards that you would never otherwise consider playing.
Feeling of Dread is a very good card in aggressive white-blue decks, but it isn't usually something that you want to draw when you're playing a more controlling strategy. When you can get it for free by flipping it into your graveyard with a Forbidden Alchemy or an Armored Skaab, then it suddenly becomes a very worthwhile inclusion.
Note that you can build an entire plan around Rolling Temblor when you can reliably fill up your graveyard. Heck, even the seemingly innocuous Fortress Crab can play a key defensive role for you if you know that you are going to be able to consistently cast Rolling Temblor when you hit six mana.
What If You Don't Get All the Right Pieces?
If you manage to pick up a bunch of mill-yourself cards, but you don't get that many graveyard dependent cards—or you get a bunch of Harvest Pyres, and Stitched Drakes, but very few ways to fill up your graveyard—then you're going to have a problem on your hands.
Once you get a few picks into the second pack, you should be able to tell if things aren't coming together the way you had hoped they would. At this point, you'll need to make a very real decision. Are you going to continue pushing hard on the graveyard theme in hopes that the missing pieces will be there for you in the third pack? Or are you going to look for a backup plan — a way to win when your deck doesn't come together the way you want it to?
If you find that you can pick up an Invisible Stalker (or two if you're lucky) and some Equipment, you may be able to steal some wins that way. Or maybe you'll take every Silent Departure that you are able to get your hands on in hopes of pulling out some quick wins with otherwise unimpressive cards such as Walking Corpse and Rotting Fensnake. Or maybe you'll take those Spectral Flights that you see coming around, and try to fly in for a quick victory with a 4/4 Diregraf Ghoul on turn two.
These might not be ideal plans—they're fragile—but sometimes you need to go for a high-variance strategy, particularly when your deck didn't come together the way you wanted it to.
Don't Help Your Opponent If You Don't Have To
Let's step away from the world of Armored Skaab and Forbidden Alchemy for a second to look at a new hypothetical situation. It's turn four, and you just traded your Selhoff Occultist for your opponent's Markov Patrician. Who do you mill?
Unless you are playing a dedicated mill deck, or Game 1 went exceptionally long and you know that your opponent doesn't have any relevant flashback cards, then you should always mill yourself.
Even if you don't have any flashback cards or graveyard-dependent cards of your own, such as Makeshift Mauler or Corpse Lunge, there's a very good chance that milling your opponent will actively help them.
So don't do it!
Even if you aren't specifically building your deck around mill-yourself cards, there are a ton of good things that you can do with your graveyard in Innistrad. You just need to keep your eyes open for them.