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Taking a Trip to Paris: Looking at Hands to Mulligan

Written by Tim Bachmann on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

Taking a Trip to Paris:  Looking at Hands to Mulligan

Tim Bachmann

Hailing from northeast Pennsylvania, Tim has been playing since Mirrodin, and has been playing competitively since Dragons of Tarkir. With aspirations of playing on the Pro Tour, Tim plays in as many PPTQs and GPs as he can.

With no area tournaments going on this week, I want to start this article with a quote from a friend I hold in high regard when it comes to Magic (not that I hold him in low regard in other aspects).

“Mulliganing is not a punishment.  It’s a decision just like any other you make inside of the game.” – Kyle Shane.

If you read last week’s article, this is the friend with the R/W deck at the end of that piece.  I try to keep these words in the back of my mind whenever I’m playing, but sometimes, they slip when I’m promised sweet deals by my opening hands.  Deals with the Devil, I’ll call them.  Like, for the low low price of only 2 lands in your hand, you can have three Siege Rhinos!

I believe this is a very sound piece of advice, and ties into another quote that I will paraphrase, as I don’t recall the exact source.

“A high majority of games that you lose, YOU lose.”

That is to say, what some people may chalk up to as poor luck when they draw no land on a loose, land-light hand, can be traced back to a simple decision that could have changed the outcome of the game.  That decision, is the decision to mulligan.

Granted, there are times where variance is a very real factor in this ultimately chance-based card game, when, despite a player’s best efforts, the fates will just not side with him/her, most of the time a player loses outside of play mistakes or poor lines of play in game should be attributed back to one of the first choices the player makes.

A lot of factors weigh in the decision to mulligan a hand.  The first, and most obvious, I feel, is the land-to-spell ratio.  In almost all game 1, blind scenarios, where decks between players are unknown, I think there are a few easily decided hands that should be mulliganed, where the land-to-spell ratio is at the extreme: the no-lander, and the all-lander.  I think it’s pretty safe to assume, that unless you’re a mad-man, in a wide open format where there are fast aggressive decks and slower control decks, these are the hands that need the least explanation.

The only time one of these hands is seemingly appealing is the all-lander, and that’s as a pure control deck against another control style deck, where making your lands drops is the primary objective.

To explore other potential mulligans, let’s take a few looks at some examples that I’ve recently been faced with.  Let’s begin with what I believe to be a relatively easy decision.

Game 1, you’re on the play with Abzan Control against an unknown opponent.  He’s a sweet dude because he has a Chewbacca playmat that he drew a mustache on with a sharpie.  Your opening hand is:

Do you keep this hand or ship it back for 6?

I think this is a pretty easy keep.  All of our early game spells are castable (at the cost of life because Llanowar Wastes), so we can have a chump blocker in Den Protector for any overly aggressive strategy, and also to get back our Abzan Charms if our opponent is playing anything slower than the red decks, we have double Abzan Charm which is good against almost any deck in the format, and we have a scry land to look a potential card deeper.  We have game against everything here, so I’m more than happy to play this hand.

How about this next scenario.  You’re on the draw playing Esper Dragons in game 1 against another unknown opponent.  Your opening seven looks like this:

Are we keeping this hand or seeing what our deck offers?

This is a lot closer than the last scenario.  I think again we keep this hand.  This is more borderline than the first one, but let’s look at this.  We have a counter plus scry on turn three.  We hit all of our land drops to turn 5, so with our three in hand scry effects, it’s pretty safe to bottom any land.  There is some risk about our opponent playing underneath us especially on the draw, but I think we can definitely do a lot worse if we mulligan to 6, especially with the shoddy manabase this deck sports.

Our next scenario, we’re playing the Atarka red deck.  We are on the play, again, against an unknown opponent in game 1.  Boom, we’re already winning.  We draw up our seven and see this:

Here, I think we have to ship this hand.  The power in this deck is not only in its synergies, but with the speed at which you are able to deploy threats.  If we kept this, we are kind of going all in on the Monastery Swiftspear.  If that gets dealt with at all, either by a blocker or removal, our gameplan is really bad.  Yes, we’re able to hit all of our spells on time, and we have a nice spell curve, and if our opponent keeps a poor hand and can’t handle our swiftspear, then we probably win.  However, the likelihood our opponent is playing with any number of discard, counter, or creature kill spells, or even creatures with mana cost two or less is pretty high.  I say we ship this back.

Finally, you’re playing Abzan aggro.  You are on the draw against an unknown opponent.  Your hand looks like this:

This is definitely a playable hand, but do you keep it?

I would throw this hand straight in the trash.  This is currently a six card hand.  Yes we have a scry to help us find something, and we have enough plays in the early games, but given people are playing more edict effects like Foul-Tongue invocation or Mardu Charm than before, as well as Silumgar’s Scorn, we can’t jam the deathdealer on turn 2 without playing Thoughtseize on turn 1, which means we play untapped lands on turn 1 and 2.

To me, that means we can’t deploy the deathdealer until turn 3, since we have to Thoughtseize first, and want to play Temple of Malady on turn 1, because if I draw land and then higher curve creatures, I want to play them on curve, and don’t want to worry about having my lands tapped.  So if we have our deathdealer dealt with, we are out of this game for the most part.

For a deck with a manabase as notorious as this deck’s, I think we can’t afford to have luck deal us our creatures and white sources.

Mulliganing is a skill that I think the majority of players do not spend enough time practicing.  I know that it’s probably the most common mistake I make in a tournament setting, either because the deck tries to sell me on these great hands upon which the deck never delivers, or because I get lazy and don’t want to shuffle my deck again.  Whatever the reason, I think that poor mulliganing CAN’T be a reason you lose any of your matches.  Just remember our quotes from earlier:

“Mulliganing is not a punishment.  It’s a decision just like any other you make inside of the game.”

“A high majority of games that you lose, YOU lose.”

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