“Mill, Mill, Mill, always go for a two nil,” is something that you might hear from an experienced Gwent player that has been cursed to only speak in rhymes, probably for playing with Viper Witcher Alchemists. While the current state of everyone’s favorite archetype has been that of a usually non-competitive entity that reappears every now and then, but gets crushed by almost anything for as long as the formula that we’ve opened up with is followed, Mill has been a force to be reckoned with in the past. When do you ask? And what made it so strong? Well, let’s go together on a journey through hell then!
Nilfgaard Added to the Game – Closed Beta
The oldest possible point to which we can trace the history of Mill as an archetype is the day Nilgaard was added to the game. It was on February 6th, 2017 – over 4 years ago. Even though pinpointing the starting point is more than easy, covering every single change would be more difficult, as exactly 20 Beta updates came out after the Nilfgaardian faction was added to the game, and thus not every single stage of the cards of interest will be covered, but the basic ideas and overarching themes of what made the very cards important for Mill’s identity will be highlighted. With that out of the way, we can finally draw some conclusions, or cards? Hmm…
What other card could we start with, but the manliest commander gifted with a voice that would keep Luciano Pavarotti in shame, the one and only Tibor Eggebracht. Tibor had been included in the initial NG card batch and became a staple for his raw power and very thematical ability. The card synergized with Mill, but also Reveal, an archetype lost to time. Notice the lack of tags and provisions. The prior of the two was addressed in due time, when Tibor was given an officer tag that has been abandoned in an attempt to presumably simplify the game with homecoming’s arrival. The latter was only introduced with homecoming, as the Beta deckbuilding was only limited by the amount of Gold (and Silver) cards you could put into your deck, 4 and 6 respectively.
After Tibor was added, many minor changes followed to mitigate his sheer power. A very interesting observation can be made by noticing the “Regressing” keyword that was given to him on August 29, 2017, though his ability had been nerfed by it before, but only at that very point it was codified as a new keyword. Back in the Beta times, cards could increase their base value (Strengthen) just as the Veteran keyword or Viy do today, but it was much more common to see such an occurrence, in fact you could actively strengthen almost any card with various tools. Furthermore, the existence of Renew allowed you to resurrect Tibor and not only use him as a finisher, or mill an extra card, but also to get unstoppable + 15 points by strengthening a card that had been already given this treatment. Other nerfs included adding Permadeath (=Doomed) to cards or allowing them to only work when the opponent didn’t pass (=Truce) to make milling a bit harder.
Hand in hand with Tibor, Vilgefortz became immediately a fan favorite because of his badass card art, chilling voice lines, and a powerful, flexible ability. On top of that, he was also included in the initial batch, and allowed multiple archetypes to branch out, most notably Mill but to a smaller extend also Reveal. Contrary to Tibor, though, Vilgefortz had a “Truce” condition in a certain form for his offensive ability from the very beginning, presumably to allow opponents a counter-play to such a powerful blow, but also to make milling more difficult. We also have to note that there was no such thing as card limit for your hand, so making your opponent draw a card could never result in them just discarding it. Lastly, “drawing a bronze card” could seem both as a drawback and an advantage, but we’ll elaborate on how this could be further interacted with further down when we’ll talk about the Mill Bronzes. In any case, Vilgefortz was contrary to his current form, possibly one of the best and strongest NG golds and found his place in many decks, regardless of whether they aimed to mill opponents cards and soul, or not.
The very first Bronze card that we can mention and what a beast it is. Avallac’h’s potential to Mill used to be out of this world. Two cards to get out of your opponent is a very impressive start, but this is where we just begin. First of all, getting 2 cards yourself allows you to potentially hit some of your important deck inclusions, prolong the early rounds and Mill even further. Furthermore, if you manage to mill your opponent, Avallac’h gives you 2 card advantage just like if nothing happened. Well, and beyond that all, you can of course resurrect him with Renew, replay with one of the NG leader abilities with a bit of setup, re-enable the leader ability with Cahir (who’s role was taken over by Damien in Homecoming Gwent), oh and have I mentioned that the re-enabling was done on deploy? Naturally, orders were only introduced with homecoming. As if that wasn’t enough, you could get 3 bronze Snowdrops that would boost self by 1 whenever you draw a card… Are you scared yet?
No, your eyes are not misleading you, the border isn’t gold, as Sweers is the very first example of a now abandoned card categorization, the very first Silver card. It is not as important what Silver cards used to do, but for the sake of clarity, we can say that they were basically cheaper golds that you could get more of in your deck and had more interactions with specials, leaders and other cards. Back to Sweers, though. The first thing we need to mention is that there were more than two copies of bronzes available to be placed into your deck in the Beta, the maximum you could get were three. Furthermore, there were many ways to multiply the copies, most notably the infamous Nekkers, who would boost self regardless of where they were by 1 whenever you consumed a card and pulled out another copy of self if you consumed them. Do you know Viy? Well, put every single boost he makes on a bronze unit and allow the unit to be multiplied by a different bronze unit, Blue Stripes style. It was… Broken! But, here comes mister Sweers! In a single turn discard 10 cards, each of them possibly worth over 15 points, EZ! While other match-ups could work very well too, this was the point of completion, absolution, the Nirvana of any NG player. There have been attempts to nerf Sweers by making him weaken self for every card he sends to “the farm”, but ultimately, the card was completely reworked due to its binary nature and the change to the amount of Bronzes you can have in Homecoming.
Is there even anything to be said? Albrich is, or used to be, a pretty decent card. Consistency, milling, Reveal support. Alongside with Stregobor, whose ability used to be almost the exact same to the current one of his (Both players draw a one-powered unit from the top of their deck.) but it procs on deploy akin to Albrich, you had a relatively reliable way of pushing your opponent to their limits. Bear in mind that the usual number of cards hasn’t changed with homecoming and tended to be 25, just like it is now, though exceptions existed, such as the 40-card Foltest. Albrich was eventually given the Truce treatment, so that he couldn’t keep on milling after an opponent passes.
Imagine Snowdrop’s passive, times three, in an archetype that draws everything, everywhere, and in every possible way. Sounds great! Alba Spearmen became one of the many bronze engines that were scratched in the minimalist vision of the early Homecoming and their ability was later reintroduced, at least partially, on a gold card. Beta NG Soldiers weren’t as much of an established archetype as Alchemy, Reveal or Spies (Think of cards such as Ramon or Ard Feainn Crossbowman that were only added in the Iron Judgment expansion.) and therefore, it would be rather difficult to find more use for Alba Spearmen outside of Mill. Nonetheless, there used to be a combo that you could theoretically pull off in any deck, as it was the game itself and its most basic mechanics what became your partner in crime, the enabler to the Spearmen’s point potential… What could that be, you’re asking?
Resilience? Would you guess that? You’re missing the final piece of the puzzle, my dear Watson. When Resilience is given to Alba Spearmen not only is the engine sent to the next round, but the process of drawing and shuffling away cards at the beginning of your next round actually boosts the Spearmen for every card touched! And this affected both players! To be frank, this was more of a funny combo, but still, resilience itself is scary enough. Have I also mentioned that for a decent chunk of the Beta’s cycle, the resilient cards would not reset at the start of next round? Beta Dwarves PTSD still makes some of us wake up in cold sweat to this very day.
The best, or the worst, depending on how you look at it, for the last. Magne Division is, well was, essentially a conditional, Bronze card advantage provider. If you managed to make your opponent waste his bronze cards, this lovely bunch of chaps would draw you a card and not give anything else to your opponent, easy! Do you find Ciri Dash problematic and too powerful? Here’s her cousin that works out 24/7, no in fact there’s at least three cousins, so get ready for a beating! Of course, if even a single crafty Bronze card decided to stay in the deck of your opponent’s, it would be if not much more difficult, then almost impossible to achieve this effect, nonetheless that card still shines even outside of that. Drawing synergies and consistency the card offers allowed it to function on its own, nonetheless it was its borderline broken potential that made it a lurking threat. The card was changed to become a special cards tutor, and finally reworked in early Homecoming to become an engine.
It would be difficult to point out exactly what the status of Mill was, as it is over a year of a game’s cycle with many balance changes that we’re a bit awkwardly cramping together, nonetheless if we were to look at what made Mill so much more viable in the Beta than in its current form, and keep the most general point of view, we could possibly mention among the main reasons:
- Powerful cards that provide both milling and tempo.
- Possibility to replay cards many more times and exploit their potential.
- More thinning in general. For instance, Bronze tutors existed in the Beta.
- Bronze card support for Mill + Three cards of each.
- Binary Match-ups – such as Nekkers.
- General level of “brokenness.” Beta balance was not as neat as the one of Homecoming.
And what came next, you might ask? Homecoming Gwent threw the idea of Mill as an archetype overboard and while a lot of cards actually kept their abilities, or were given very similar ones, the absence of tutors that had been either reworked or did not find enough play, limitations of bronze support cards (With the exception of the so expensive then Viper Witchers, now Kingslayers.) and further changes to the game’s environment pushed Mill to the sidelines. Most recently, Kolgrim has brought the archetype back to the public eye, but we can presume that it won’t be enough to push it into the fully competitive circles in a long run. Only time will tell, though. With that we must part our ways. Thank you very much for reading our article and if you’ve enjoyed it, make sure to comment about what archetype would you like to see next time.