Milling: The Story of the Name

Illus. Yeong Hao Han

A lot of times, Magic: The Gathering slang has an intricate history. And sometimes, like with milling, it’s just based on a single card from the '90s.

Back in the day, much of the game's slang came as a shorthand way of saying you're doing something specific. It's not far from how a lot of words are formed in real life. But in Magic, it’s always a bit more special as there is a person, or card, or incident behind all of them.

Let’s go with a slang word at random: milling.

Milling means putting cards from the top of your library into the graveyard. It’s not the most exciting action, sure, but it is something people often do during a game, and it’s nice to have a word for it. But the etymology of it is a bit of a trip. For that, we need to go back to the way back year of 1994. 

That year, Antiquities became only the second expansion in Magic history. As such, it was still very much in the experimental phase on what worked and what didn’t work. Believe it or not, the act of putting cards directly into the graveyard from the library still wasn’t exactly anything. Until one card changed all that: Millstone.

A simple two mana card commanding the opponent to put the top two cards of their library into the graveyard, the card didn’t exactly blow any minds. But what it did do was still be enough to annoy opponents. So much so that players started calling the whole process “Milling”.

At first, the use baffled those at Wizards of the Coast - millstones crushed things, and this card just did not fit that definition. But, like most things at Magic, once the name started being used it stuck. By the times more tournaments sprung up, it became one of the more hallmark terms amongst players, as well as one of the first real magic player created words to stick around into slang.

And now it's an official term for the game.

So, for the past 30 years, we have had milling as Magic slang, all thanks to a single card - the first that dared do it. Oh, and players just confounding those at the company as to why they were doing it. At least for awhile.

Evan Symon

Evan Symon is a graduate of The University of Akron and has been a working journalist ever since with works published by Cracked, GeekNifty, the Pasadena Independent, California Globe, and, of course, Magic Untapped.