Short Guide to Mulligans

Taking a mulligan is always a hard decision. Every time. We do our best to justify keeping our hands, because going to six and not knowing what you are going to draw is scary. However, its not that bad.

First off, its an option you don’t have in many games. You can’t change your beginning hand in Poker. You aren’t screwed automatically. You have a chance. And often a good one.

How many games have you won where you still have cards in hand? Probably plenty. If you win games, you win games with cards in hand at times. Options are nice, but apparently you didn’t need all of them in those games. There will be more games where you don’t need those either. So, again, its not that bad.

Parts of the Deck

Most of players are happy if they draw lands and spells, some are actually happy with only lands. However, its not that simple. Sure, you’ll want both, but quite a few decks need more than that to function.

I like to run pretty straight-forward, mono-colored decks. I have 24-28 creatures and the rest is other spells used to facilitate my gameplan. I have to have some amount of lands and creatures in my starting hand to keep it, but usually there’s more detail than that.

Lets take a UW-Heroic, or a Hexproof deck. Now, instead of watching for two things (lands and spells), you are actually watching for three things (lands, creatures and enablers). If you don’t have some of each in your seven, you probably need to mulligan. Two parts are mandatory. You can’t start without lands, or creatures to use your enablers on. Of course, your deck isn’t really doing anything, if you don’t have enablers either.

On the other hand, these decks often mulligan very well. Winning with five is actually pretty common. If you can keep your seven, your opponent is in trouble. Mulliganing is more of a rule than an exception with these decks.

Then there’s the mana consideration. Above, the deck was divided into different parts pretty roughly, and that’s just one way to do it. However, realistically, those parts will be often divided into subparts. In a color with more than one color, you might have to mulligan hands just because you don’t have the necessary color of mana. You might have to ponder on taking a mulligan if you have no accelerants in a ramp deck.

Know Your Opponent

My current deck is heavily based on Brave Sheep by Tom Ross (actually after having tested some stuff, I’ve gone back and I’m now only one sideboard card off). A fun deck, often underestimated by your opponents. However, not always easy to assess.

Last Friday, I drew this hand in the third game of a match, while on the draw:

PlainsPlainsPlainsBoros ReckonerFiendslayer Paladin
Fiendslayer PaladinArchangel of Thune

Is that a good hand?

I was playing against an UWR control deck, so yes, that was a good hand. Pretty slow, sure, but with three creatures that are kind of problematic for a deck which relies heavily on burn to control the board, this was actually a very good hand. On the other hand, it was a slow hand, so I would have preferred a 1, or 2-drop in there. I can’t count on those, since there aren’t that many in the deck.

Often things like Thoughtseize can be crucial. You might not want to take a mulligan just because you don’t have one, but you might consider it strongly if the rest of your hand is even a bit iffy.

Plan

I’ve played various version of this deck recently. This list is a bit out of date, but lets not worry about that right now. Now, suppose you drew this hand:

SwampThoughtseizeThoughtseizeRakdos CacklerThrill-Kill Assassin
Ultimate PriceLifebane Zombie

Would you keep?

With only 22 lands and plenty of 1-drops, this is actually something you’ll encounter quite often. Only one land, but still plenty of spells to cast.

Now, I’ve won plenty of games with this kind of hands, even while missing several land drops. Not only are you putting early pressure on your opponent, but you’re also disrupting his plan with your discard spells. So, without any extra information, I’d keep. I can form a plan here. Especially if I’m on the play, this can be devastating for any opponent. Its not quite as good on the draw, but there you have an extra draw to find another land, so that’s good as well.

The plan is this: Cast the Cackler first, then after, attack your opponents hand twice in a row. Its a good start that will devastate many opponents at least until you can get going.

Virtual Mulligan

Sometimes you’ll have “virtual mulligans”. Maybe you have five lands in hand and you know you’ll never need more than four. Maybe you have removal and you know you’re opponent doesn’t play any. Maybe you have a Doom Blade and your opponent is playing monoblack.

Basically your hand includes a dead card. You should be on the lookout for these situations. They should be taken into account in your mulligan decisions. If the rest of your hand is not up to par, the superfluous card should not matter.

Knowing Your Deck

How many lands does your hand need to function? Most decks need quite a few. At least more than you can reasonably expect in your opening hand. In most decks, you can reasonably expect 2.8 lands. That’s with a 24 lands in the deck. So, you’ll often have to settle for a hand with two lands. Generally you don’t want that, but if you take a mulligan, your chances of getting a starting hand with three lands is going to fall considerably. So, unless your deck requires you to definitely have three lands to start with, don’t mulligan just because you only have two.

However, with all the things I’ve said above, you need to understand how the deck functions. Experience will help, so go out and get some.

Mulliganing is hard to learn too. You might win with poor hands and lose with great hands. This will bias your thinking. It might be a good idea to keep notes on mulligans. You are already probably keeping notes on life totals. Just jot down next to them your mulligans. If you are playing casually or in a REL Regular, you might as well write down your hand whether you mulligan or not (in shorthand of your own, so as to not let your opponent know what you are playing with).

Anyhow, the most important thing to remember is that don’t be afraid to mulligan. It won’t mean an automatic loss. Sometimes they work for you.

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