After my last article and tournament experience, I have telegraphed what I think is my next step in advancing to the next level of Magic play, and that is making logical decisions about which hands I should keep, and which hands I should mulligan. I think that within games, my play is where it needs to be, and I just lose to cards I don’t see coming because they aren’t played as often, and are kind of out of left field, and right now I’m ok with losing games that way.
Take this last Friday, for example, where I was playing a Jeskai list. I like those colors, and even though I don’t think they’re too strong in Standard right now, I figured I would give the new list that has been popping up a go, since Origins will be rotating in very soon, and this would be my last chance to play it.
In round one, I found myself against a Temur Company deck. The deck was sweet, as it ran a plethora of 3 drops, as it was trying to utilize Collected Company to full effect. Savage Knuckleblade, Goblin Rabblemaster, Courser of Kruphix, even Illusory Angel showed up to the party! As I’m sitting on my side of the table, up cards against my opponent, I am thwacking him for 3 damage a turn with my Mantis Rider. I’ve staved off his threats until this point, and I have a Valorous Stance and a Lightning Strike in hand, so I can pretty much handle anything he throws at me.
Then, out of nowhere, maindeck even, comes the Stormbreath Dragon. Thinking back, I should saved a Disdainful Stroke that I had used a turn or so previous, but how am I to know that my opponent balls so hard that he runs five mana creatures in an otherwise Collected Company strategy?
As I have mentioned, losing games like this to off-the-wall cards that show up (but I shouldn’t expect to show up) in off-the-wall brews at my local game store is something I am fine with. Could I see this deck show up at a local IQ or PPTQ down the road? Sure. Would I play against it there? Probably not. Not a very likely thing to happen, so while I learned from that experience, it’s not something I expect to recur on a regular basis.
Something I can expect to recur on a regular basis, are mulligan decisions. You’ll know from last week’s article, that mostly, the only games that I had lost at the PPTQ that I had attended were due to me keeping subpar hands. The rounds that I had won, I went in with the mentality that I should only keep hands that I think can win me the tournament, and then the rounds that I had lost, I kind of just went “Ok yeah this has spells and the mana to cast them, seems fine enough.”
If your goal is to win these events, and it should be if you’re playing in them, then your mind can’t deviate from the former state of mind. This is something I’ve finally realized I’ve been doing, and I also believe is the next step I have to take. I’ll go back to what my friend says, that I posted a couple of months ago. “Mulliganing is not a punishment.”
With that, I’m back with some more opening hands for you folks to ponder on whether to mulligan or keep. Let’s get started!
I’ll begin with an opening hand that I remember from the PPTQ. You’re playing UR Splinter Twin in Modern, on the draw, against an unknown opponent.
This hand seems fine. You have Serum Visions for your first turn, you have interactive spells beyond your first turn, you have half of the combo, and it’s the interactive half, and you have perfect mana.
Mulligan. I kept during the tournament, and thinking about this hand now, it should have been an easy decision to mulligan. You’re on the draw, so Remand is a very bad card. We aren’t casting it until our opponent’s turn 3 most likely, where if our opponent is faster than us at all (be it something like Affinity, or just goes turn 2 Tarmogoyf or Dark Confidant), have have to keep Remand mana up and try to interact with the board.
Another thing with this hand, is we have no good spells for Snapcaster Mage to play with. What is our plan with this hand? Turn 1 Serum Visions, turn 2 Remand mana, then on turn 3 we don’t keep Remand up, and Snapcaster Serum Visions on our own turn? That seems really bad.
If we’re playing against a very slow opponent, this hand is just ok. Against almost any other deck, this hand is just bad. This is why I lost that game, and consequently, that match. My opponent was on Affinity, by the way, and I just sat there and got knocked in the head.
Let’s look at another Modern deck, RG Tron. Let’s take a sample hand:
We are on the play against an unknown opponent in game 1. Keep or mulligan?
We have to treat the GR Tron deck as a kind of get there combo deck. That is, we know the deck loses to very fast strategies, but we have to be as quick to affect the board as our deck is able to allow us, so that we can have a shot at winning our good matchups. This hand looks sweet. We have 2 of our Urza’s pieces, 2 search pieces, an extra draw and game against Tarmogoyf and Snapcaster Mage, and a bomb as well.
Even though, if you’ve ever watched Tron players play their games in Modern, Tron just always gets there, I think this is a very risky hand. At the start, two of our cards are dead, since we have no colored mana with which to cast them. We do have some draws off of Relic and our next turn, but the strength of Relic of Progenitus is no in cantripping. It is slowing down cards like Tarmogoyf, Scavenging Ooze, and Snapcaster Mage, so popping it on turn 2 for a draw is not ideal.
So if we brick a draw in 2 turns, we are really far behind. We need a green source for the Ancient Stirrings to do anything. Then, we need to use one Ancient Stirrings to find our other tron piece. And we may not even find it off of one Ancient Stirrings, which means we have to sink another turn to try and find another tron piece. I think if we mulligan this hand, we can definitely get a better six cards. I think that throwing the two Urza’s lands away is worth having a chance to actually play Magic against our opponent.
Let’s move to Standard now, even though the format is changing soon, I don’t think we’ll see some of the lynchpin strategies of the format leave anytime soon. Let’s take a look at Abzan Megamorph, on the play, against an unknown opponent.
I don’t think we can ask for a better hand. Maybe if we trade a land for something like a Siege Rhino or Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, but this is pretty close to perfect. We have our best turn 2 play, and 2 turn 3 plays, one of which can be played before we even scry if we choose. The only thing that is bad about this hand, is if our Satyr Wayfinder finds nothing, but that’s the kind of risk we take by playing a card like that.
Finally, let’s have a look at Esper Dragons on the draw against an unknown opponent.
This hand is similar to Splinter Twin hand above. If we’re on the play, this hand is much better. But since we’re on the draw here, this is a straight mulligan. We have no cards that play to the board other than Ashiok, and she can only affect the board on our turn 4 in the best case. Even though we have scrys, I think that it’s too risky to keep a hand like this. If the Dissolve was a Hero’s Downfall, something that helped us when we are behind, something that Dissolve doesn’t do for us, then this hand is close to a keep, but that Dissolve won’t kill a Goblin Rabblemaster on time, so I think this hand is very hard to keep.
I hope everyone had fun at your Magic: Origins prerelease events. I was unable to attend due to family fun stuff, but from what I understand, the set is a blast! I can’t wait to start playing with the set next week, and tinkering with all new goodies!
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