Mulligans

Making good mulligan decisions is all about assessing what tools your hand does and doesn’t have.  Every hand won’t necessarily have all of the tools you would like, and that is to be expected.  Your hands need to have enough of the tools to start progressing your gameplan.  If you hand is too heavy on some elements, it may need to go back, even if it has a good mix of lands and spells.  Your decisions will very frequently be altered by being on the play or draw and by whether or not you know what your opponent is playing.  I’m going to go over a few example hands, as the discussion of individual hands is likely far more useful than talking in the abstract.

The following scenarios assume you are playing a relatively stock mono white decklist, though some of the flex slots vary from question to question. This page began as a survey where 210 players rated the following hands on a scale of 1-5 (5 being the best) using these metrics:

5. Absolutely keep. The hand is powerful and has a clear gameplan.
4. Keep. The hand is strong, though it may not be optimal.
3. This hand could be a keep or mulligan. It has risks, but will be fine at last half of the time.
2. Mulligan. This hand has a serious issue that may lead to your loss if you keep.
1. Absolutely mulligan. The hand very likely results in your loss if you keep.


If you are interested in seeing the results in graph form and/or reading some of the survey responses, click here.


On the play, game 1, unknown opponent

(7)
Cavern of Souls
Rishadan Port
Mother of Runes
Stoneforge Mystic
Recruiter of the Guard
Sanctum Prelate
Phyrexian Revoker

Phil’s Rating: 2
Survey Rating: 3.5

I’d mulligan this one. It’s problematic on multiple levels. You don’t have true white mana with this hand and only two castable cards as is. Revoker isn’t the best card in most matchups, and you may not have enough information to correctly name with Revoker on turn 2 anyway. That leaves you Porting on turn 2 in all likelihood; Porting without a Vial or additional land drops to make afterwards isn’t the best proposition with a weak hand. If you miss on a land drop, you’re just stuck Porting while presenting little or no pressure. You also *really* want a true white source on the next turn to deploy Stoneforge on curve. If you hit a non-white land, you do get to fetch up something with Recruiter, but at that point, you’re probably way behind on tempo and can’t even get a Flickerwisp to start the card advantage train or a powerful WW card for the specific matchup like Mirran Crusader. This hand also absolutely folds to a Wasteland and is also pretty soft to a turn one removal spell.


On the play, game 1, unknown opponent

(7)
Rishadan Port
Wasteland
Aether Vial
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Stoneforge Mystic
Swords to Plowshares

Phil’s Rating: 4
Survey Rating: 3.56

I’m definitely keeping this one, accepting that it is not perfect. This is a “Force of Will Check” hand. If this Vial resolves, your extremely strong mana denial plan is going to really put you ahead against just about any deck in the format. If it doesn’t resolve, you still have three disruptive lands to buy some time until you draw the white source. The upside of this hand is so high that it justifies a keep despite some awkwardness.


On the play, game 1, unknown opponent

(7)
Plains
Stoneforge Mystic
Flickerwisp
Swords to Plowshares

Phil’s Rating: 4
Survey Rating: 3.78

This hand is very stable and redundant. Against popular decks like Czech Pile and Delver, this is a fine start. This hand is going to be stone cold dead to a fast combo deck, but since Legacy is pretty fair right now, that’s probably acceptable. Your first Stoneforge probably gets Batterskull to threaten a swift clock, and the follow up Stoneforge will require a second removal spell from your opponent.


On the play, game 1, unknown opponent

(7)
Wasteland
Aether Vial
Mother of Runes
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Umezawa’s Jitte
Stoneforge Mystic
Phyrexian Revoker.

Phil’s Rating: 3
Survey Rating: 2.58

This one is legitimately tricky. Aether Vial is certainly the best card in the deck, but without a second land or even a white source, this is very risky. Let’s say the Vial resolves. You don’t have a white source to put anything in that you get with Stoneforge, and your Thalia may prevent you from ever casting the Jitte depending on how things play out (especially if you use that Wasteland). If you keep this, you are accepting that a Force of Will crushes you with basically no chance of recovery. I’d probably send this one back.


On the draw, game 1, unknown opponent

(7)
Plains
Karakas
Rishadan Port
Mirran Crusader
Recruiter of the Guard
Flickerwisp
Swords to Plowshares

Phil’s Rating: 3
Survey Rating: 2.96

This hand is really slow. While this hand has a good mix of lands and spells, it might not do anything. If Swords to Plowshares doesn’t have a target in the matchup, the first play this hand has is on turn 3. Some opposing mana denial or a Daze could really hamper this hand as well. If you keep this hand, you are banking on drawing a one or two drop in your first two draw steps to have some early interaction. That’s a fine choice to make, but I’d probably ship it. I’d be afraid of my opponent getting under me with this hand, and I think a 6 card hand with a scry is likely better.


On the draw, game 1, unknown opponent

(7)
Plains
Aether Vial
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Flickerwisp
Mirran Crusader
Mother of Runes
Batterskull

Phil’s Rating: 4
Survey Rating: 3.49

This hand has an insane Vial curve that includes both protection and disruption. If we ignore the Batterskull in the hand and treat this like a 6 card hand, this is about as optimal as a six card hand could be. If that Batterskull was a land or another creature, this hand would probably get a five from me. Being on the draw gives you another shot at a land, a big difference from the previous one land Vial hand above; this hand is also much better at closing the game. The other nice thing about this hand is that most draws off the top are going to be good.


On the draw, game 1, vs unknown opponent. You have already mulliganed once

(6)
Plains
Rishadan Port
Swords to Plowshares
Flickerwisp

Phil’s Rating: 3
Survey Rating: 3.45

This hand certainly isn’t going back, as it has a mix of lands and spells. You’ll get to play Magic. D&T doesn’t normally play well from a five card hand, so the hand usually has to be hot garbage for me to go to five in the dark. You are going to need some help off the top of the deck to win here, but this falls into the “eh, it could be worse” sort of situations where you still certainly keep.


On the play, game 1, unknown opponent. You have already mulliganed once

(6)
Rishadan Port
Aether Vial
Mother of Runes
Stoneforge Mystic
Flickerwisp

Phil’s Rating: 4
Survey Rating: 3.28

This hand needs a white source incredibly badly. It basically does nothing without one. You get the scry to try and find it, and the upside is pretty good for a mull to six if you rip one. This hand is going to fold to a Force of Will, but likely no more than a five card hand would. These are the sorts of hands where though they don’t look good, you have to consider the average five card hand for the sake of comparison.


On the draw, game 2, vs Czech Pile

(7)
Plains
Karakas
Mirran Crusader
Flickerwisp
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

Phil’s Rating: 5
Survey Rating: 3.7

So this hand doesn’t have any early plays, which is not where you want to be against Czech Pile. There’s some possibility that your opponent might accelerate into an early Jace, and that would be a little tricky to beat. That being said, this hand has some of the best cards in the matchup and is also pretty resilient to something like a Hymn to Tourach picking it apart. I’m 100% keeping this hand, and with any disruptive elements off the top, this becomes pretty close to unbeatable. This hand just throws haymaker after haymaker at the opponent and makes them have it.


On the play, game 3 vs RB Reanimator (your deck has five pieces of graveyard hate in the board)

(7)
Karakas
Cavern of Souls
Rishadan Port
Wasteland
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Vryn Wingmare
Ethersworn Canonist

Phil’s Rating: 5
Survey Rating: 3.67

This hand is bonkers. While it doesn’t have a piece of graveyard hate, it has a crazy good mana disruption plan that threatens to just lock your opponent out of the game. Your opponent probably needs to go off on turn one with a non-legendary creature to win this game. It’s not worth shipping a hand this powerful to find a piece of graveyard hate.


On the draw, game 2, vs Grixis Delver

(7)
Karakas
Path to Exile
Swords to Plowshares
Rest in Peace
Mother of Runes
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Flickerwisp

Phil’s Rating: 3
Survey Rating: 2.9

This was the most hotly debated one of the entire survey. If your opponent does not have a Wasteland, you have all of the best cards in the matchup at your disposal and multiple cards that you can cast even if you brick on lands for a couple of turns. If your opponent has the Wasteland, you are probably stone cold dead. I think the one thing that makes this a possible keep is that you won game one (since you are on the draw for game 2). Keeping that in mind, you can choose to keep a questionable hand for game 2, intending to play a reasonable game for game 3 if it doesn’t pan out. This hand is very risky, and I’d have to make the decision in the moment. For a random league game, I’d probably keep this. In a paper event with big prizes, I’d consider mulliganing to give myself a chance to play Magic in the face of Wasteland.


Game 3, on the draw, vs Eldrazi

(7)
Wasteland
Rishadan Port
Karakas
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Batterskull

Phil’s Rating: 5
Survey Rating: 3.51

If does not matter how bad your hand is if your opponent has no opportunity to cast their spells. Your opponent has the chance to cast an Eldrazi Mimic to pressure you on turn one, otherwise the stream of Wastelands will keep them off of anything significant. There are very few scenarios where this doesn’t just cripple your opponent. Your opponent could play a turn 1 Sorcerous Spyglass and name Wasteland. Your opponent could play Eye of Ugin and multiple Eldrazi Mimics on turn 1. Otherwise I like our odds here.


Game 3, on the draw, vs Elves

(7)
Plains
Rishadan Port
Karakas
Mother of Runes
Containment Priest
Sword of Fire and Ice.

Phil’s Rating: 4
Survey Rating: 3.3

You have the best card in your deck vs Elves and a way to protect it. That alone makes it a keep. We’ll still need to get lucky to win, as always with this matchup, but this is a great start. Sword of Fire and Ice is no Umezawa’s Jitte, but it is repeated removal if we don’t draw better things to do with our mana.


Game 3, on the draw, vs Miracles

(7)
Plains
Karakas
Cavern of Souls
Recruiter of the Guard
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Elspeth, Knight Errant.

Phil’s Rating: 3
Survey Rating: 3.85

This is conceptually quite similar to the hand vs Czech Pile above, but I think there is more danger here. It’s very dangerous to leave Miracles unchecked in the early turns of the game. If they keep making land drops and cantrip while you do nothing, you might end up getting pretty far behind. There’s a real fear of Counterspell, Snapcaster Mage, Counterspell unraveling most of the power of this hand. Similarly, you might just fold to a naked Monastery Mentor on turn 3 if you aren’t presenting any pressure. A Jace with Force of Will backup would be equally disastrous. I don’t think this is a mulligan by any means, but you really need to draw something to play on turn 1 or 2 to get some early interaction from your opponent.


On the draw, game 2, vs D&T

(7)
Karakas
Cavern of Souls
Wasteland
Aether Vial
Flickerwisp
Swords to Plowshares
Umezawa’s Jitte.

Phil’s Rating: 4
Survey Rating: 4.15

This has the right sort of tools you are looking for in the matchup, although certainly some things could go wrong. You have the ability to answer an opposing Mother of Runes with this hand, which is quite important, as well as a set of cards that will let you get pretty aggressive with Jitte.



Again, if you are interested in seeing the results in graph form and/or reading some of the survey responses, click here.
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