March 31, 2017

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Going for the Gold – Mulligans and Optimizing Your Hand Selection

While staying at home watching coverage this weekend, I decided that I would make my next few articles about helping my readers improve certain skills within the game. Since there are very few subjects that are talked about as much as taking a mulligan is, it seems like a good starting point.

To get everyone up to speed, what is a mulligan?

It is a means of balancing bad draws within your opening hand. When you draw your starting hand, you are free to shuffle it back into your deck if you are dissatisfied with it. Each time you reject your hand this way, you draw one less card than you had before. As a result of the update at Pro Tour Vancouver 2015, you can scry 1 at the end of this process.

Now, everyone knows that you should probably mulligan hands that contain 0, 1, 6 or 7 lands. Having too few lands won’t allow you to play your spells. Conversely, having too many lands will mean that you don’t have enough spells to play. So let’s get started:

Hand #1: Aether Revolt Limited (on the play)

 

Would you keep or mulligan this hand?

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This is an easy mulligan. You cannot play any of your spells, and you need to draw at least 3 lands in a row (one of them being a Mountain) to be in this game.
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Let’s try another.

Hand #2: Aether Revolt Standard

 

Would you keep or mulligan this hand?

This is a much harder question, and one that you cannot answer without putting it into context. What am I playing? What is my opponent playing? Who is on the play? Is this before or after sideboarding? If sideboarding has occurred, what is my post-sideboard strategy? This scenario came up for me at Pro Tour Dublin 2017 when I was on the draw in game three versus a Jeskai Saheeli deck. I was playing RB Aggressive Vehicles with the following decklist:

RB Aggro

Lands: (23)
Foreboding Ruins
10 Mountain
Smoldering Marsh
Swamp

Creatures: (22)
Bomat Courier
Forerunner of Slaughter
Inventor’s Apprentice
Pia Nalaar
Scrapheap Scrounger
Weldfast Engineer

Planeswalkers: (2)
Chandra, Torch of Defiance

Vehicles: (4)
Heart of Kiran

Spells: (9)
Incendiary Flow
Shock
Unlicensed Disintegration

Sideboard: (15)
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Collective Brutality
Fatal Push
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Key to the City
Transgress the Mind

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As you can see here, and based on the way I sideboarded in this matchup, I would need to get an early stream of creatures to put pressure on my opponent. Because of the threat of the combo, I kept in Unlicensed Disintegration, but if I just played as a control deck I would easily get crushed by Glimmer of Genius and its best friend, Torrential Gearhulk. This is a clear mulligan because of my role.
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Hand #3: Modern against Mono Red Burn (Game 3 on the play)

 

Note: Your deck contains 4 Circle of Protection: Red and 4 Kor Firewalker after sideboard, none of which your opponent can interact with.

Would you keep or mulligan this hand?

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While this is a decent hand, based on your knowledge of your deck after sideboard you should take a mulligan here. You have 8 cards in your deck that can auto win the game for you. There are few games that will come up like this, but when they do you must utilize a mulligan effectively to find them.
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Hand #4: Legacy Helm Combo (Game 1 on the draw versus known Dredge opponent)

 

Would you keep or mulligan this hand?

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Despite not having a land in your hand, this would be a keep. You have the one card that answers their entire deck, and at the same time is half of your deck’s combo. Because this is game one, it is very unlikely that they will be able to answer it. Even if they have a way to remove the Leyline of the Void, you have a Force of Will to protect it.
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Hand #5: Kaladesh Limited (Game 3 on the draw with a fast RG deck with 10 two drops versus a slow RW deck that has shown that it can only beat you with a Skysovereign, Consul Flagship)

 

Note: Your only artifact removal spell is Appetite for the Unnatural.

Would you keep or mulligan this hand?

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This is clearly one of the worse hands you could have in your opening 7 range. Even, if you have an above average hand, you can still lose to the mythic vehicle. There is nothing more frustrating in Magic than beating your opponent on all axes, and still losing to a game ending bomb if they play it early enough. Appetite will prevent this though, and if you are certain that nothing else in their deck will really offer much resistance, it makes this a decent keep. This only means that you should not play the Appetite on another artifact or enchantment they cast, unless you are going to die or if Skysovereign, Consul Flagship would not save them.

This hand just requires a mountain to be competitive, and you also have a lot of draws that will let you play a creature on turn 2 before the Weldfast Monitor.
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Hand #6: Abzan (Modern – Game 2 on a mulligan to 6 on the play)

 
 

Would you keep or mulligan this hand?

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This is a tough one. You have one of the two trumps in this matchup, the most important being Stony Silence which turns all of their creatures into overcosted pieces of metal. Because of how crippling Stony Silence is, and with an available scry, I will reluctantly keep this hand. Affinity is a very fast deck, and without having a removal spell into a creature, Stony Silence is your only reprieve. I think that if you had this hand on five cards, minus the Lingering Souls, you would keep also.
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So to summarize the most important factors to consider when taking a mulligan is:

  1. Do you have enough lands/spells to reasonably play out the first few turns of the game
  2. Are all your mana requirements taken care of? If not, do you still have a good reason to keep this hand?
  3. Does your current hand have the ability to enact the plan that you have in this matchup for the pre/post-sideboarded game?
  4. Are there any cards in your hand/deck that increase your odds of winning significantly upon casting it? (Stony Silence vs Affinity, Spellskite vs Bogles, Rest in Peace vs Dredge)
  5. Do you need a card that’s in your hand to prevent losing to their bomb? (This is more relevant when you only have 1 or 2 copies of that type of effect)

Anyways, how do you feel about the change in pace of these articles? Did you like it, hate it, or are you indifferent? Either way, I’d love to hear from you.

Also, let me know what you think about my mulligan decisions and if you agree or disagree. Post in the comments below or tweet at me (@SammyTMTG). And, if you want to keep up with my articles and happenings, please make sure you hit the follow button for Twitter @ SammyTMTG. I’ll see you next week for another article on improving your magical skills!

Until then,

Sammy T