You Don’t Mulligan Enough

Mulligans are a tricky art in Magic: the Gathering. I’m not the first to say this, but outside of proper playtesting and gameplay strategy, mulligan decisions are going to be one of, if not the most, impactful decision you’ll make in a match.

I’ll come right out and say it: You probably don’t mulligan enough.

Those 1-land hands that look so awesome? They look awesome because you drew too many spells.

Those 3-land hands that have no winning plan whatsoever without drawing into your “good stuff?” They’ll often leave you wanting.

Let’s jump into some examples.

You open up your 7-card hand and find:

Island
Celestial Colonnade
Sword of Feast & Famine
Mana Leak
Mana Leak
Spell Pierce
Plains

You’ve got lands! You’ve got spells! You’ve even got your Sword without having to tutor it up!

And you’ve also got a crappy hand against a random opponent. Against an Aggro deck, you’re going to be struggling to keep up. If you’re on the draw, you’ve got no chance unless they’ve got a godawful draw.

The first thing you have to do when you look at your hand is decide what your plan of attack is going to be. With this hand, there really is no attack. There are no threats! You’ve got three answers, a piece of equipment, and three lands.

Okay, so that was an easy example. What about this?

Teetering Peaks
Mountain
Arid Mesa
Lightning Bolt
Burst Lightning
Burst Lightning
Koth of the Hammer

Again, lands and spells. Good lands (everyone knows Mountains are best, of course) and good spells, at that! But again, ask yourself what your gameplan is going to be:

Play lands, kill their guys, drop a 4th turn Koth? What if they don’t have guys to kill? What if they have a Spell Pierce for your Koth? You’re all of a sudden looking at a hand of removal, no attackers, and a 4-drop for a deck that wants to be showing lethal damage on turns 4 or 5.

Ship it.

Mountain
Goblin Guide
Goblin Guide
Plated Geopede
Lightning Bolt
Burst Lightning

Let’s say you mulligan that to the above hand. Of course, we’re in Magical Christmas Land, and this is an easy keep. But didn’t I say 1-landers were disappointing? Yes, but this deck has an extremely strong gameplan: Draw a Mountain (or a couple lands!) and win.

The difference between this hand and the 7-card above it is that the 6-card hand has an extremely powerful early game with a little bit of good fortune. The 7-card hand has a moderately powerful early game with a lot of good fortune. I like the odds of the former much more!

Let’s take a hand from Grand Prix Dallas that I kept in error against Eldrazi Green, playing Pyromancer Ascension (boarded into the Shape Anew/Blightsteel Colossus plan):

Halimar Depths
Preordain
Preordain
Spell Pierce
Shape Anew
Mana Leak
Lightning Bolt

I had already mulliganed to 6 in game 2, and I had ended up keeping a nearly identical hand before getting crushed by a turn 3 Terastodon. What’s the problem with this hand? I’ve got Halimar Depths to dig, two Preordains, and some permission. I even have part 1 of my transformational combo in hand!

Except what happens if Halimar Depths blanks on land?

My first mistake was not having the Pyromancer Ascension combo in my deck postboard, but my second mistake was keeping a hand that didn’t have a lot going on. I had permission to stop his ramp, but I would have to choose between digging with Preordain or keeping mana up to counter. As the game played out, my Halimar Depths blanked on land and I had to cash in both Preordains to dig for land instead of my combo pieces.

I lost that game, and it ended up Day 2 dreams in round 8 of 9.

Steps to assessing your starting hand quality:

Am I on the play or the draw?

I’ll keep looser hands on the draw, but that’s with the caveat that your opponent gets first crack at playing threats each turn. Can your draw handle a turn 1 Goblin Guide? What about a turn 4 Primeval Titan? What about a turn 3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor? If your opponent is playing a known quantity, you can narrow your options further.

Assuming a normal distribution of draws from here on out, how well does this hand fight your opponent’s game plan?

It does no good to keep a hand with 2 lands and 5 Bolt effects if my opponent is playing a creatureless deck or if I need to be playing out recurring threats (creatures) in the early game!

If it’s post sideboard, what threats am I likely going to have to adjust my gameplay for to accommodate?

Some matches don’t even feel like the same 2 decks are playing between preboard and postboard. Don’t let your strategy crumble because you didn’t take this simple fact into consideration! If, for example, your gameplan revolves around Sword of Feast and Famine, you have to account for your opponent being likely to try and answer your card.

Sounds obvious, right? Well, it isn’t always.

In Pro Tour Columbus, I was playing R/B Goblins with Aether Vial and Burning Wish. Early in Day 2, I played a match against U/B Reanimator where I kept a sketchy hand with an Aether Vial, lands, two Cabal Therapy, and no Goblins. I figured my disruption was so important that I couldn’t risk going down another card.

Of course, as the game played out, I had no where near enough pressure to win the game, even though I nuked his hand early. He had plenty of time to draw out of his predicament and land a Fatty before I could kill him.

Similarly, if you’re keeping a hand with a critical 1-, 2-, or 3-drop in Standard right now, what happens if you get hit with Inquisition of Kozilek? What happens if your opponent matches your creatures 1-for-1 with their removal, or even worse, 2-for-1 or better?

Sideboard cards can change the game completely.

If you’re keeping a hand with Inquisition of Kozilek and Duress because they’re strong in the matchup, but your opponent drops a Leyline of Sanctity turn 0, you’re going to be wishing you mulliganed. That’s not much different than starting the game off with a pair of mulligans as is!

In Standard, very few hard counters have been making their way into maindecks. However, postboard, every Blue mage could potentially have access to Flashfreeze, Negate, Deprive, and more! Are you prepared to stop playing around just Mana Leak and consider some of the more oppressive options they could have? I sure hope so!

If you take one thing away from this article, let it be this: Objectively assess your opening 7 card hand. Realistically, some number of those cards may very well be dead or suboptimal against your opponent. Any such cards are virtual mulligans to begin with, so feel free to ship them back, draw 6 better cards, and crush souls!

Oh, and the best advice I can give you when you first look at your opening 7? Don’t. Watch your opponent instead as they look at their 7. They’ll rarely even notice you care.

Thanks for reading.

Dylan Lerch

The Brewery (http://mtgbrewery.wordpress.com/)

Quiet Speculation (http://www.quietspeculation.com/)

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Posted on April 26, 2011, in Extras. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I recently played a game with my nephew. I was playing a white weenie-equipment deck and had 1 plains, a few 1 drops and some equipment. I went with the hand without a care in the world. 6 turns later and I’m still stuck with only 1 plains on the battlefield. I did lose on the next turn 😦

    I’ve always found it hard to mulligan. I don’t know why. I know it’s better to have a good hand of 6 cards than an average hand of 7 yet I hardly like to mulligan. Maybe it’s just one of those things.

  2. Nice writeup dood. Well done.

  3. Grant_champion

    A decent article to be sure, though I’m not sure if it was a little on the basic side or I just actually mulligan enough. I liked that you have sample hands from all three basic archetypes of control, combo, and aggro. Thanks for the write-up.

    • Hi Grant,

      Thanks for making your way over here. 🙂 The examples were intentionally basic, and I’d be happy to write up a more advanced walkthrough on mulligans for any matchup out there. Any requests?

      Dylan

  4. I probably don’t mulligan enough. Thanks.

  1. Pingback: You Don’t Mulligan Enough « The Brewery

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