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By: Plainswalker83, Marcus Brunstetter
Nov 27 2014 1:00pm
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   We have all been there. We win the die roll, draw our 7 and then start to look at them. It is then that we get that queasy feeling. Is this hand good enough to keep? Should I ship  it and hope for a better 6? Most of time it is easy to decide whether or not to mull but sometimes those decisions can be the difference between winning and losing. That's what I want to talk about in this article. Keep in mind I am not a pro player but I have been playing magic for about 15 years and have played in tournaments ranging from FNM to a GP. In those tournaments I have made many right and wrong choices so I have learned plenty. This will be some of the wisdom that I have gleaned over the years. Here are a few rules I have learned from reading other articles while researching this one.

  1. Know your deck.

  2. Know your Match-up

  3. Are you on the play or draw?

    Using those is how we will determine if the hand is keepable or not. Make sense? Ok well let's just get to it. I will start with some easier decisions and move onto harder ones. First up lets go with a current standard favorite of mine Abzan Aggro played by Aaron Barich at the last SCG open. For reference I will include the decklist.

     There is the deck it possesses a lot of raw power but also has a greedy mana base. So let's look at a sample hand using a random hand generator.

Siege Rhino Plains Boon Satyr Siege Rhino Llanowar Wastes Caves of Koilos Caves of Koilos

     I know seeing a hand with 4 lands and 2 Rhinos is pretty great though is no second source of green and you want to be out of the gates pretty quickly. So is this hand keepable? I would say yes on the draw, though it is nowhere near ideal. Having 2 Rhinos would allow you to gain some of the life you may have lost by turns 4 and 5 though you would have to hope for some great draws before that. Even though the hand is viable on the play I would probably mull to 6 especially if I was playing against control or something with a lot of removal. The reason being by the time I got to those turns they would have an answer for any threat I could produce. Remember the point of this deck is to be fast and go underneath your opponents. I would rather see a 2 land hand with a few 1 drops and  a Lion, Deathdealer, or Heir. I have played a lot of aggro and sometimes it can be tempting to keep the 1 lander with double or triple 1 drops. Yes there are times where it worked out beautifully with me drawing the second land allowing me to flood the board with aggressive creatures. Yet other times it ends very poorly and can quickly lead to you losing the game due to a greedy keep.

    Using this Abzan deck as an example is very helpful for a few reasons. Like most of standard it has a 3 color mana base. Which means you really need to know your deck when deciding to take a mulligan. You would have to know what the chances of you drawing into another source of colored mana are and how many lands were left in your deck etc... Knowing the odds of drawing another land allows you to make much more informed decisions when you mulligan. Ok let's look at another deck with 1 less color and see if we can decide whether or not to keep the starting 7.

    I have been playing this  deck ever since I saw Ross place with it at the open. Although the mana is better than a 3 color aggro deck there are still 6 ETB lands which can lead to some pretty awkward turn 1s. Also in this deck is similar to the hated Bant hexproof of standard past. You want a creature, something that triggers heroic or prowess, and enough land to do it all. So let's take a peek at a sample hand and see what we get.

Plains Stratus Walk Ordeal of Heliod Feat of Resistance Temple of Enlightenment Hero of Iroas Gods Willing

    Ok this hand does look pretty great. It fits all the criteria of land, creature, and spells that trigger heroic. Though there are some flaws. Flaw number 1 no second creature. Which means if your hero is defeated you are back to square 1. Because if that it would be best to play your here on turn 3 and hope you draw into a 3rd land to keep protection up for him. That does lead to a slower game though and with this deck you definitely want to be a step ahead of your opponent not playing defensively. Let's apply our 3 rules and see what happens. As I said this is an easy keep and this is why. Knowing your deck you know that you have 20 more sources of mana left in your deck and 15 of them come into play untapped. You already have your source of blue which allows you to play not only Stratus Walk but the best card in the deck, Ordeal of Thassa. You won't really know your matchup right away unless you were scouting the field of if its top 8 and on MTGO that is kind of impossible. Though if you have a general knowledge of the meta you can almost tell what they will have by the lands they play. For instance you would open with your scry land and if they play the same land as you, Temple of Mystery, Forest, or Island it would be pretty safe to throw out your hero on turn 2. Anything else I might keep him until I have mana to protect him. He can die pretty easily to Lightning Strike, Magma Jet or Bile Blight and all of those cards are getting pretty popular. All of that changes if you draw into another creature though. In this case being on the play or draw does not matter because this hand is an easy keep.

   Modern on the other hand has decisions that can be a bit tougher. Here is the winning list from GP Madrid.

    This deck has a lot of cantrips and a lot of play to it. Those things are great but sometime it can lead to some really tough mulligan decisions. For instance I can be a very optimistic player and think that I can 'get there" because I have in the past and the hand can be so good if I got x,y, or z. However in a tournament setting it would often times be much better going to a random 6 than a subpar 7. Take a gander at yet another opening hand.

Serum Visions Wooded Foothills Lightning Bolt Island Misty Rainforest Misty Rainforest Breeding Pool

    Ok see what I mean by wanting to keep because you might get there? This hand has 3 fetches, card draw/scry and removal/burn. Anything you draw you can cast, all you would need is threat. Although it I would be tempted to keep I would definitely mull this hand. Here is why. Knowing that your deck needs a threat to win whether it be Goyf, Delver, or Young PZ means you want one of them ASAP. I would prefer one opening hand. It is your spells that makes them all better and in this case you would most likely have to burn both of them just to keep up in the game. Now let's say you kept and drew Young Pyromancer then what you do? You would have a 2/1 and nothing to take advantage of him with. Yes this hand can take lands out of your deck and "thin" your deck but that is a marginal reason to keep. I think a random six would be much better based on those reasons. What about if you knew you were playing against Pod, Tron, or perhaps another Delver of Secrets deck. That would be even more of a reason for you to mull. In modern you want some sort of interaction. Whether it be removal, counter, or hand disruption. This hand has 1 Lightning Bolt which is not enough to get the job done. If you kept this and took too long to set up you would be giving your opponent time to have an answer for any of the threats you could draw. Lastly the play or draw. On the play I think this is an even easier decision, you have nothing to do except cast Visions and is not ideal. On the draw is what makes this hand tempting. You would feel that odds of drawing another land are slim (because you know your deck) and would assume that gas would be coming to you. The only issue is what if it's just a Spell Pierce or a Gitaxian Probe. With all of those factors mulling to six is the best option.

    Those are just some examples, I know there are millions of scenarios out there but I wanted to give some basics for now. As I said I am no pro or expert just wanted to take what I have learned and try to pass it on. As you play your deck more something else that comes easier is the time it takes you decide on keeping or mulling. Those seconds can be very important if you struggle with the decision your opponent can gain valuable information from you. Sensing that your hand is subpar. Though that is only really in paper magic. In MTGO they will just assume you are AFK or a slow player.

    My next article will be on legacy. That can have some very complex decisions and often times can lead to winning or losing all because of the hand you kept or shipped back. I hope that I am able to help out even some with my scattered wisdom and I hope all is well and that you have a Happy Thanksgiving or had a good one depending when this gets put up!


Pretty good! by CZML at Thu, 11/27/2014 - 14:45
CZML's picture

I agree with your assessment of every hand but the first. I would mulligan the first hand no matter what, because a Boon Satyr on turn 3 on the draw is awful and you don't have enough time to find your second green source on the play. Otherwise, I think the article was spot on!

Thanks for the comment by Plainswalker83 at Fri, 11/28/2014 - 00:38
Plainswalker83's picture

Thanks for the comment Casper. I do understand what you mean, that's why I said it is not ideal. I just can't fault someone for wanting to keep a double Rhino hand. In that deck just drawing one of the 2 drops makes that hand much better.

I like the article man. Nice by Joe Fiorini at Fri, 11/28/2014 - 13:00
Joe Fiorini's picture

I like the article man. Nice work. I've been playing kiki pod lately and it is seriously hard to decide what hands to keep or toss away.

I like strategic articles a lot, keep it up.

Thanks for the positive by Plainswalker83 at Fri, 11/28/2014 - 14:25
Plainswalker83's picture

Thanks for the positive feedback Joe. I plan on keeping it up :)

My question by Rerepete at Sat, 11/29/2014 - 14:38
Rerepete's picture

Looking at that modern Temur list, why there is so many 1 ofs and 2 ofs. That and the complete lack of Gut Shot

As far a Gut Shot goes, by Procrastination at Sat, 11/29/2014 - 21:15
Procrastination's picture

As far a Gut Shot goes, either the Temur player hadn't gone up the development tree to use Gut Shot yet, or they felt it wasn't necessary. It's possible that the card is only useful when the meta becomes as inbred as the online one has, so leaving it right was the correct call?