Three Rules to Mill By
A Designer Journal on Mill in Star Wars: Destiny
Star Wars™: Destiny is a game that spans the entire Star Wars saga. You’ll find iconic characters from every era, and the chance to play out the “what if” battles of your imagination. With characters as powerful and varied as Boba Fett, Rey, Darth Maul, Leia Organa, and Poe Dameron taking the field, the only way to find out which team will triumph is to play.
There are countless teams of Star Wars characters that you can lead to battle in Star Wars: Destiny, and in the same way, there are different ways to pursue victory. Many decks seek to win by dealing damage, cutting down their enemies with lightsabers or blaster fire. Other players can claim victory by “milling”—discarding their opponent’s entire deck and the cards in their hand.
Today, Star Wars: Destiny developer Aaron Haltom shares his thoughts on the mill archetype and its place in Star Wars: Destiny!
The Three Rules
When two players sit across from each other to play a game, there is an implicit understanding that they intend to engage in a fun and challenging battle of wits. To these players, a good experience generally follows this set of unwritten rules:
- Both players are playing the same game. If one player is trying to play chess while the other is trying to play checkers, the game will be mystifying, to say the least.
- Both players generally want the game to be fair and to be balanced enough that either player has a good chance of winning. For games like Star Wars: Destiny, the inclusion of an element of chance also means that even if a player loses ground in the early game, they have some hope of making a comeback.
- There should be interactivity in the game. The way you play the game should change based on what your opponent is doing. Players should have some ability to disrupt or outpace each other’s strategies.
When one player uses a strategy that radically alters the game’s fundamental play pattern, wins by a crushing margin, or completely turns off interactivity, at least one of the above rules has been broken. There is a tangible feeling of a breach of etiquette, and this can leave players feeling bitter about these particular losses. This feeling is called an NPE, or Negative Play Experience, and it’s Public Enemy #1 when you’re trying to make a fun game.
Mill Loves to Break the Rules
In Star Wars: Destiny, one of the most controversial deck archetypes is mill, which wins by running the opponent out of cards in their hand and deck. Mill decks are often branded as NPEs because they have a tendency to violate one or more of the three rules listed above.
Most often, mill decks violate Rule 1. Star Wars: Destiny has a very distinct play pattern: play supports and upgrades, activate characters, reroll until you hit high damage, mitigate your opponent’s damage, and try to defeat their characters before they defeat yours. A mill deck plays very differently, however, largely ignoring the damage race and instead focusing entirely on the card economy of the game. For most players, it can be quite a shock the first time they lose to a mill deck—they felt like they were “ahead” for the whole game, only to run out of cards at the end. While the race between the mill deck and the damage deck might have been fair and balanced, the mill deck uses a very different means to get to its end goal, which can lead to the frustrating feeling that players aren’t playing the same game at all.
Mill decks have also addled their opponents by violating Rules 2 and 3. The hero mill deck that rose to prominence after the release of Legacies involves General Rieekan (Empire at War, 24), paired with two other cheap characters to put a ton of health on the board and passively mill the opponent while focusing on pure defense. While innovative, this deck can be a big-time violator of Rule 2. Playing against the Rieekan deck can be oppressive and one-sided because that deck is so good at playing defensively that it can almost entirely shut down an offense. Naturally, this can be quite tedious, because your defeat seems inevitable and it takes a long time to happen.
On the villain side, the most popular mill deck was infamous for its non-interactivity. The deck used Thrawn (Empire at War, 4) and Unkar Plutt (Spirit of Rebellion, 21)—two characters that could make the opponent discard cards while generating huge amounts of resources. The mill player could then use that pile of resources to play Buy Out (Empire at War, 80) and discard their opponent’s whole deck in one action. Whether or not this deck was balanced in the broader metagame, it was certainly capable of violating Rule 3. It’s not a very interactive experience to have your whole deck stripped away in one action and, just like that, the game is over.
In Defense of Mill
The purpose of this article isn’t to make mill sound like an easy path to victory. There are a lot of fast and aggressive decks that can chew right through a mill deck’s defenses long before their deck runs out of cards. With speed and aggression being a common theme among top competitive decks, this has largely kept mill from becoming too strong in the meta.
Furthermore, losing by running out of cards is a necessary possibility in Star Wars: Destiny to balance out the fast pace that players can burn through their decks. Frantically searching your deck for combo pieces or constantly discarding cards to reroll should have real consequences—specifically, the threat that you might lose by decking yourself.
Having a viable mill archetype helps keep the metagame healthy by acting as a potential counter to slower control decks and narrowly-focused combo decks. The decks that have a bad match-up against mill, though, often have a good match-up against aggro decks, and aggro decks, in turn, have a good match-up against mill. This rock-paper-scissors dynamic can be very healthy for a diverse metagame, provided the effect is not too stark. If your bad match-ups are uphill battles, that challenge is healthy, as long as these games still feel winnable.
Though some decks can have quite a bad match-up with mill, this is not a death sentence so much as a challenge to adapt your strategies. First and foremost, playing against a mill deck requires players to adapt their strategies and play the game much differently. When playing against mill, you should discard to reroll as rarely as possible. You should consider resolving sides of your dice that you usually wouldn’t, like disrupt, and you should rethink how you use removal, targeting more resource and discard dice than damage dice. It’s also imperative to get a good upgrade or two out early, before all of those get stripped from your deck. The cards you include in your deck can also protect you against mill. If your opponent is primarily discarding from your hand, look to cards like Luke's Protection (Two-Player Game, 32) or Ancient Lightsaber (Empire at War, 49) to put another card on your deck and buy yourself an extra turn at the end of the game. If your opponent is primarily discarding from your deck, look to cards like Chance Cube (Empire at War, 57) or Hera Syndulla (Empire at War, 25) that can buy you time by bouncing cards from play back into your hand.
Making Mill Feel Better
Moving forward with the lessons we’ve learned so far, our goal is to support mill in such a way that it becomes more fun and interactive, while still remaining a force to be reckoned with.
Imagine a mill deck that eats away an opponent’s deck incrementally, racing against damage. This deck should remain interactive and chance-based, drawing its most powerful mill effects from its dice and supplementing with other removal and defense cards. Ideally, this deck might even abide by Rule 1—it could have a hybrid approach, including enough damage to knock out key characters and buy more time, depending on the match-up.
This kind of play could be encouraged by cards that can do damage or discard interchangeably, or more situational effects that let you get both for the price of one. We’ve had a lot of fun designing new mill cards in this direction, and we hope that you enjoy what we come up with.
Until next time—good luck and happy shuffling!
The card game team's newest member, “The Wild Thing” Aaron Haltom, designs for Star Wars: Destiny by day and rocks out on the drums by night. Before joining the FFG card game team, he worked as a most triumphant freelance game designer (and copywriter) for two and a half years. A Bill and Ted enthusiast, Aaron regularly walks the walk of “party on” and “be excellent to each other.”