Hello and welcome to What’s the Play! Here’s how it works: I provide a scenario and you try to determine the correct solution. Once you do, vote your choice in the poll and check back later in the week to see if it agrees with mine.
For all mulligan rules, we’re going to use the regular mulligan. That is, you mulligan to 6 or 5 or 4 and then scry.
What’s the Play?
You’re playing Izzet Phoenix against Titanshift. It’s game 3, and you’re on the play. This is your opening hand:
For reference, this is how you sideboarded.
-2 Gut Shot
+2 Blood Moon
+1 Alpine Moon
+1 Beacon Bolt
+2 Spell Pierce
My Answer: Keep.
If you aren’t familiar with this hand, it’s one that Ross Meriam had in an SCG tournament. Ross opted to mulligan the hand, and wrote a comprehensive article explaining why.
However, despite all the explanation, I think Ross is wrong, and in my mind it’s not particularly close.
This hand just has so much going for it. You can lead with Faithless Looting, which draws two cards while also putting your clock in the graveyard, then you have cantrips to return these Phoenixes and the Bolt to finish them off. You’re also going to see an extra five cards with this hand, on top of draw steps, so if you absolutely need Blood Moon or Alpine Moon (or Spell Pierce for interaction) you have a decent shot at them (though it’s not a given that you need them).
Ultimately, Ross’s calculations make it seem like everything has to go perfectly for you to win by creating a ton of scenarios in which you lose, but don’t explain why they’re more likely to go perfectly on a mull to 6 than with this hand. Some amount of your 6-card hands are just unplayable; they have no land, for example. Many will be just worse versions of this hand (a bunch of cantrips with 1 fewer card, or fewer Phoenixes to put in the grave which results in a much worse clock). Even if you do find one of your sideboard cards, they could just have a way to answer them, or you could have such a feeble clock that you just die to a Primeval Titan attacking you. Am I supposed to just mulligan literally every hand that doesn’t contain the cards Blood Moon or Alpine Moon? Because you’d be hard-pressed to create a hand that doesn’t contain them and is better than this one.
I am one of the more “pro-mulligan” pros you will find, but I think it’s a big mistake to mulligan this hand. Sometimes, hands that look like keeps can just be keeps. Yeah, some things have to go right for you to win with this hand, but I think it’s way fewer things than if you mulligan to 6.
You’re playing Red against Gruul, post-board. You boarded this:
+4 Lava Coil
You believe they board out Domri, Llanowar Elves and Legion Warboss (you can’t know for sure; they’ve boarded similarly to this in the past against an identical deck, but they were on the draw and now they’re on the play, so they could have mixed things up).
This is your turn two and you’ve just connected with Fanatical Firebrand.
My Answer: Option 2 – Cast Ghitu Lavarunner and Pass
As a general rule, especially post-sideboard, I don’t like just jamming an early Light up the Stage because there are too many cards you can hit that will not do anything. Your deck has 4 Frenzy and 2 Phoenix that you will just throw away if you hit, and if you get a Daredevil, a Lava Coil or even a burn spell it’s not good. You already have a play for future turns, and you don’t need to make land drops right now. There’s just a huge chance your Light up the Stage will be underwhelming if you cast it here, so I’d rather just save it for later. If I did not have a third land, however, then I would cast it to try to hit it, but given that I have a land already I feel no need to cast the card.
As for holding Lightning Strike, there’s no real reason to, as your opponent’s turn three plays are Spellbreaker, which you can’t Lightning Strike anyway, and Legion Warboss, which you can kill with Chainwhirler + Firebrand. It’s only bad for you if your opponent kills the Firebrand at the end of the turn (and not the Lavarunner), and has the Legion Warboss (when you suspect they sided it out, and you think it’s right to side it out), and even if they have it then it’s not disastrous by any means.
You’re playing the same matchup. You both board the same way. It’s game 2 and you’re on the draw. This is your opening hand.
My Answer: Keep
I think this is very close and the way the decks are boarded influences it a ton. Post-board, you go up to 4 Frenzy and 2 Phoenix, as well as 4 Dire-Fleet Daredevil, which means the fourth land is likely to be useful; they also have more removal and you take out some cheap cards, so it’s harder to turn on Light up the Stage and you could just find yourself without a way to turn on spectacle. So, this is a plus for keeping.
On the other hand, you have a Shock in hand, and Shock is pretty bad once they take out Elf and Warboss; only Growth Chamber Guardian is still a target. Of course you can’t be sure they sideboard this way, especially on the play (they could switch on the play or draw), but it is your suspicion. So, Shock is likely to be the worst card in your deck, give or take.
In the end, I think the pros outweight the cons. Lava Coil is very good versus that matchup, and, post-board, playing your 4s is important and, with 20 lands not trivial to accomplish. So, begrudgingly, I would keep.
You’re playing the same matchup, and it’s the middle of game 2. Your opponent’s last turn was just playing Gruul Spellbreaker with 2 mana up, and they didn’t kill your Runaway Steam-Kin, so you believe that, at least last turn, they didn’t have a Lightning Strike or Lava Coil in hand (though they could conceivably have had Shock and not wanted to use it). They draw and attack with everything.
My answer: Option 3 (Phoenix on Phoenix, double-block a Spellbreaker with a 2/2 and a 2/1, take 5)
This was actually a play that happened in my MPL match vs Rei Sato, and this was the option I chose.
First, we’re going to rule out the alternatives of not blocking their Phoenix. I think you want to set up Goblin Chainwhirler to kill the token and both of these end up with you taking a lot of damage anyway, so there isn’t much to gain. This eliminates options 5 and 6.
Next, we should establish the value of our creatures. I think the 4/4 Steam-Kin is more valuable than 2/2 Steam-Kin + 2/1 Viashino. If the 4/4 lives, next turn you have access to 7 mana, which means you can play Chainwhirler (which you will have to) and the second Rekindling Phoenix. This leaves you with a much better board than if you are just forced to cast Chainwhirler. So, this rules out option 2 as well.
In this spot, I’m always blocking Phoenix with Phoenix, and double-blocking a Spellbreaker. The only question left is whether I’m also trading my 4/4, or I’m taking 4. Overall, my 4/4 is simply better than their 4/4, because it translates into Rekindling Phoenix and a 3/3 the following turn, and then I keep Steam-Kin alive for my Experimental Frenzy turns, which is quite powerful. If I’m at 9 life, then I think it’s a straight-up better play to take the 4 damage, given that I’d still be at 4. At 8, however, if I don’t block I fall to 3 life, which means I die to a topdecked Lightning Strike or Dire-Fleet Daredevil if I can’t close out the game quickly enough.
In the end, I decided that not blocking would leave me in an enough better spot versus blocking that it was worth the four life. I chose option 3, which meant I kept my 4/4 Steam-Kin and went to 3 life. I think that is the right option, but I’m honestly not sure. I’ve had mixed opinions from pro players I asked. If I had to make the play again, though, I’d make the same one.
If you want to know what actually happened (not that it’s relevant to the question, but if you’re curious), Rei Shocked my Phoenix and played a Thrashing Brontodon. On my turn, I got to kill his Phoenix token with Chainwhirler and play another Phoenix, which gave me board supremacy and meant he no longer had good attacks. I drew Lava Coil for his Brontodon the very next turn and played that plus Frenzy, but then he drew Lightning Strike and I died. If I block differently, then I’m at 4 more life, but the board is my Chainwhirler against his Brontodon, which isn’t good for me, and then my next turns are worse (I can only play one spell per turn and my Frenzy is worse), so I think I probably end up losing anyway, but I’m not sure.
You’re playing Brian Boss’s Feather deck that made Top 8 of GP Kansas City (you can read Brian’s tournament report here).
You’re on the draw against an unknown opponent. You mulligan and this is your hand:
You Scry and see a Plains. Do you keep the plains on top or scry it to the bottom?
My answer: Scry it to the bottom
This is a very common situation: do you keep a land that cannot cast my 2-drops if it gets closer to me casting my 3-drops?” I think the answer to this is almost always “no,” unless you also have four and five-drops you might want to cast and your 2s don’t matter as much. In a situation like this, it’s compounded by the fact that your 3-drop also needs red mana. It would possibly be different if it was a card that cost 1WW, then you would be able to play it off a third Plains.
In this spot, if you keep the Plains on top, you still have to draw a Mountain to cast anything, so you’re basically never gaining here unless the next card is Mountain and you then don’t draw a second Plains to play Feather (so it gains in a situation where the top of your deck is Plains, Mountain, and then no white mana; it loses in every spot in which the second card isn’t specifically a Mountain). In this case, your creatures and spells also scry, so if you are able to find a Mountain it should be much easier to find the second Plains.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments!
Make sure you vote and then tune in tomorrow for my answers–I’m looking forward to seeing if you agree with me!