Patriot Games

Friday, 9 November 2012

Once more with feeling...

I originally started to write this blog before the invitational and then circumstance overtook me and I abandoned it for later use.  Now with the PTQ only one week away I think it is a great time to look at this subject, namely, the Mulligan.

Carey Mulligan - nothing to do with this blog...

The exact origins of the term Mulligan seem to be lost to history but it was originally a golf term meaning a free shot following a bad play previously from the same spot as the last one.  It is strictly disallowed in tournament play!  In Magic the mulligan is not only allowed but is an essential part of the game.

When Magic was young, a player could only mulligan if they revealed their hand and it was either 7 land cards or no land cards.  This was changed to the Paris Mulligan system we have now where a player elects to mulligan and draw a new hand containing one less card without revealing their original hand.

Rule number 45 - play this for 9, win the game!

So what does it take for you to decide to start the game with 1 less card in hand?  If you are "on     
the play" (going first) this can give up some serious card advantage (as we have discussed in the past, card advantage is king).  Land is the most common reason for having to take a mulligan, either too many or not enough.  If you have not already seen the video of Mike Boon keeping a one land hand at the invitational watch it here , it is a stark reminder of how quickly not taking a mulligan can destroy you.

It's all part of the plan...

Other than the whole land situation the second key factor when it comes to the mulligan is asking yourself the question "What does my hand do?"  This is vital, if your hand has only one plan and your opponent has the counterspell for it - game over.  Obviously a mix of land and spells would seem a good idea, but there is a lot of questions to answer before you can be sure if a hand can "get there".  Stolen from an article by Ken Krouner in 2003 here is a list of stuff to consider when you look at that opening hand:

Do I have any land at all?
Am I playing or drawing?
Is my deck aggressive or defensive?
Is my opponent's deck aggressive or defensive?
Do I have enough land to go with the spells I have?
Do I have the right colour mana?
Can I win the game if I don't draw more land (or spells, depending on what the hand is missing)?
What are my odds of drawing the missing pieces of this hand?
Is there a threat in my opponent's deck that I have a limited number of ways of dealing with - and can this hand deal with that threat in time, assuming that I get an average draw?
Do I have a good balance of threats and answers, considering my deck?
Do I have the mana to support the curve in my deck?
How many"comes into play tapped" lands do I have in my deck, and is drawing them as good as (or better than) drawing a regular land?
If my opponent comes out blazing, can I stabilise?
If my opponent deals with the threats I have drawn, can my deck recover?
How much worse is this hand than an average hand of one less card from this deck?
Do I have enough early game cards to set up a good board position?

Above all else do not be afraid of the mulligan. Keeping a hand of 7 cards that does nothing will lose you the game. Mulliganing down to 6 or 5 cards that actually do something is far better, remember games are won or lost on your decision. Always remember - if in doubt, mulligan!

Some numbers:

With a 60-card deck containing exactly 24 lands, your chance to have at least 2 lands and at least 2 non-lands in your opening hand of 7 cards is 84%. With 30 lands, it is 90%; with 18 lands, it is 69%. In an opening hand of 6 cards, these probabilities are 75%, 81% and 58%. 5 starting cards give you 59%, 65% and 45%; 4 cards 36%, 39% and 27%.

This means that with a typical mana distribution of 40%, you will already mulligan nearly every sixth of your initial hands just because they don’t meet the fundamental requirements of providing you with at least two lands and at least two non-lands! Also note how much each mulligan reduces your chances to meet that basic criteria even further – every fourth 6-card hand in a typical deck fails to do so.

Now for examples of slightly stricter requirements: Here are the probabilities for an aggressive deck (deck A), running on 21 lands, where you, quite reasonably, wish to have at least 2 lands and at least 3 non-lands in your opening hand, and for a controllish deck (deck B) running 28 lands, where you want to see at least 3 lands, but still at least 2 non-lands:

A: 74% with 7 cards; 59% with 6 cards; 35% with 5 cards; 0% with 4 cards.

B: 69% with 7 cards; 53% with 6 cards; 30% with 5 cards; 0% with 4 cards.

These are realistic mana distributions and seemingly reasonable requirements – but they already require you to mulligan more than every fourth hand with the aggressive deck, and for the controllish deck, they seem already too strict – would you really mulligan a two-lander in the hope of getting a three-lander or four-lander with only 6 cards (your chance for that is just a tad over fifty percent)? Don’t you think you’re better off hoping that an otherwise fine two-lander will deliver the needed additional land during your next draw steps than hoping for the miracle of a perfect 6-card hand and risking a totally unplayable one? (Actually, if you really need your land drops in a deck, it is usually a wiser course to use a lot of card draw for 2 or less mana than to rely on seeing 3 lands in your opening seven cards.)

Right, I will be back on Monday with more details of the PTQ and yet more blogging. This Sunday we are playing EDH at the shop from 11am - hope to see you there.

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