To Keep, or Not to Keep, That is the Question
If you ask one-hundred competitive Magic: The Gathering players what the hardest aspect of the game is to learn that will positively affect your winrate, I would be surprised if the majority didn’t say “Mulliganing.” Being able to look at a set of seven cards, and attempt to formulate an entire gameplan around those, plus the likelihood of drawing other pieces in the next few turns, is something that a lot of players are still learning how to do. Today, let’s walk through some sample situations (some have happened to me) that could come up in your next game. We’ll then go over why I believe them to be a good starting hand, or why you should ship each hand back.
You’re on the play with Esper Greasefang. You’re against an unknown opponent, and your hand is the following:
This is a pretty easy one to start off with. Although you have your entire combo starting off in your hand (Greasefang, a way to discard a vehicle, and a vehicle), your mana is really bad here. You’re going to need to make a decision on turn 1 with 0 information on whether you want your Pathway to be on Blue or Black, and when you end up choosing Blue, you need to dig for lands, and only lands. Your curve is going to be super awkward even if you end up finding two lands in your first two draws, you’ll never have a good chance to cast this Thoughtseize. Esper Greasefang usually only plays twenty or twenty-one lands, so the odds of finding one land within two cards (Consider gives you two looks), and then ANOTHER land in three cards (from casting Faithful Mending) is a combined probability of 44.5%. This is a risky one, but ultimately, I would mulligan.
You’re on the draw with Mono Green Devotion. You’re in game two against Rakdos Midrange, and they kept their starting seven. Your hand is the following:
So this is a hand that I actually ended up keeping during the Top 4 of my most recent local 2k tournament, and I ended up losing this game, but I still know it was correct. This hand threatens to cast a turn three Storm the Festival even if we don’t find the third land, and is still ultimately very powerful. We will have our game plan shut down by a Thoughtseize however, but with more than six mana at our disposal, it means any payoff we draw should be good enough to win the game.
Note: I lost this game because my opponent cast a Legion’s End on my Llanowar Elves :(.
You’re on the play with Mono-Red Aggro. You’re against an unknown opponent, and your hand is the following:
Let me introduce you to some high-level concepts. In the IslandGoSAMe school of Mono-Red, we can apply to this hand something we like to call “Kumano Theory.” Kumano Theory states: “If your hand has a Kumano, a creature, and two lands, you’re going to win the game.” This hand does have a few flaws, such as how we have two Chandras, and there is no way for us to sequence our lands to cast her on exactly turn three, but that doesn’t matter too much, as we have all we need: 1 Kumano, 1 Swiftspear, 2 lands, and a dream. This card applies so much pressure for one mana, so it’s ok if the value engine of this deck is going to be a little slow to be turned on.
You’re on the draw with Boros Heroic. You’re in game two against Lotus Field Combo, they’ve kept seven, and you’ve already mulliganed to six. Your hand is the following:
Keep, bottom a Plains
There’s no one-mana creature here, but what we lack in mana efficiency, we make up for in raw power. In a matchup where your opponent has minimal blockers, and even less removal spells, Illuminator and Courage will almost always be a two turn clock on its own. It is so easy to make this guy five power, you don’t need Arcanist at all, you’re mostly using it to guarantee a spell to discard to the connive trigger. Therefore, we are bottoming a land to make the Illuminator larger, and most likely winning this postboard game.
You’re on the draw with Mono Blue Spirits. You’re in game three against Mono-Red Embercleave, and they mulliganed to six. Your hand is the following:
This hand has a lot of great tools to work with in this particular matchup, Aether Gust and Brazen Borrower are both good at slowing down our opponent so they can’t get their ball rolling, but there’s an issue here: we’re not applying any pressure. Bouncing our opponent’s things, no matter how good it is against Anax, doesn’t do too much when we are not progressing the game in any meaningful way. A lonely Supreme Phantom isn’t a good enough clock, and us being on the draw means if our opponent has any great plays on turn one or two, we’re even more on the backfoot. We’re going to have to ship this to find some aggression as well as disruption.
You’re on the draw with Izzet Phoenix. You’re up against an unknown opponent, and your hand is the following:
On first glance, this one might be on you want to throw back, there’s no cantrip and no way to fill the graveyard for the Treasure Cruise. However, this is where Ledger Shredder comes in. In these versions of Phoenix, we are able to keep riskier hands like this off the back of this card, it allows us to discard Phoenix, fill up our graveyard, all for a pretty low mana investment. Sometimes, our opponents just ignore this card as well, allowing us to get some nice free value from it. Overall, even though this hand doesn’t have a ton of power to it, I think that Ledger Shredder is the glue that holds together this hand enough to keep it.
You’re on the play with Rakdos Sacrifice. You’re against an unknown opponent, and your hand is the following:
Blood Crypt, Urborg Tomb of Yawgmoth, Witches’ Oven, Claim the Firstborn, Claim the Firstborn, Ob Nixilis the Adversary, Village Rites
This is one of those hands that needs our opponent to play something into our hand. Without that happening, we have so many dead cards. If we get paired up against something like UW Control, we’re going to have a rough time getting enough meaningful resources together to win a cohesive game. However, against most decks, you’ll be able to steal one of their creatures and sacrifice it to Village Rites to find more creatures in order to start the train rolling with Ob Nixilis. This hand looks a bit clunky at first, but if you just go through the lines and think about what could happen in the first few turns of the game, you realize that your hand actually does do most of what you’re looking for: stop your opponent’s aggression, drawing cards, and finding a route to end the game.
I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.
While these answers can vary from player to player, most of the explanations I gave should give people some groundwork to start evaluating their own hands in a more critical light. Now that the London Mulligan exists, it not only gets more difficult to mulligan properly, but we are now much more heavily incentivised to mulligan. This is one of the most important skills to learn to level up your game, so hopefully when I come back next month with more of these, you’ll be ready to tackle some more questionable hands.
If you guessed them all correct, be sure to say something in the comments or to me on Twitter, so I can make sure that the next ones will be a bit more difficult!