Welcome to another edition of Keep or Mulligan: London Mulligan. The idea here is that I present you with a hand, tell you how many cards you mulliganed down to, and then you think about what you would send back and compare it to my answer. Assume that you’re keeping all hands in the article. So let’s start:

Hand #1

You’re playing Arclight Phoenix in Modern. You’re on the play against an unknown opponent. You mulligan and this is your 7-card hand:

Arclight PhoenixThing in the Ice // Awoken HorrorScalding TarnSteam VentsLightning BoltThought ScourManamorphose

What do you put back?

My Answer

 Arclight Phoenix

Arclight Phoenix is the deck’s namesake and arguably its most important card, but in this particular hand it’s the piece that belongs the least. I see this as a Thing in the Ice hand—you want to play that and then activate it, and for that you need spells. If you know what your opponent is playing and know that Lightning Bolt isn’t good versus them, then that’s what you should probably ship, but against an unknown opponent, I’d rather keep my Bolt over a Phoenix that I have currently no way to discard.

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Hand #2

You’re playing Hardened Scales in Modern. You’re on the play against an unknown opponent and you mulligan to 6. This is your hand:

Forest (347)Hardened ScalesArcbound WorkerBlinkmoth NexusArcbound RavagerMox OpalDarksteel Citadel

What do you put back?

My Answer

 Hardened Scales

Hardened Scales is the deck’s namesake and arguably its most important card, but in this particular hand… I’m kidding, I’m kidding.

My real answer: Blinkmoth Nexus

With this hand, I want to go turn 1 Forest -> Hardened Scales turn 2 -> Citadel, Mox, Worker, Ravager. The ability to play Arcbound Worker on turn 2 instead of on turn 3 is worth the fact that you end up with a land that’s in theory worse (Darksteel Citadel over Blinkmoth Nexus), since it lets you have a lot more leeway with your counters (if they somehow kill the Ravager, for example, you have something to pump already).

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Hand #3

Now imagine you are in the same scenario with the same hand, but instead you mulliganed to five:

Forest (347)Hardened ScalesArcbound WorkerBlinkmoth NexusArcbound RavagerMox OpalDarksteel Citadel

Which TWO cards do you put back?

My Answer

 Mox Opal and Blinkmoth Nexus

Once you have to put two cards back, things change a little. I can no longer have the sequence of plays I wanted in the first scenario, and putting back Mox Opal seems pretty easy, as it’s either not going to be on or it’s going to have nothing to accelerate into. In fact, Mox Opal is a pretty resource-intensive card, and I’d wager that it’s going to be sent back in the great majority of your mulligans to five.

The remaining question, then, is whether you want Blinkmoth Nexus or if you still want Darksteel Citadel. Originally, I meant for this scenario to be an illustration of how, once you have to send back two cards, then things change a little and you should consider what to send in pairs and not as two individual cards that don’t work. My inclination was that you should send back Mox Opal and Darksteel Citadel, which would hopefully be an “aha” moment (since I said I’d send back Blinkmoth Nexus in the last scenario, but now that you’re on 5 I send back two different cards). But upon more consideration, I think it’s better to keep the Darksteel Citadel over the Blinkmoth Nexus, specifically because of Lightning Bolt. Without the Mox, you’re going to be playing a naked Ravager on turn 2, and then it runs the risk of dying.

One alternative is to play the Arcbound Worker on turn 2 and Ravager on turn 3 if they seem like they can produce red mana, but I think that, overall, you’re better off casting the Ravager with the Darksteel Citadel and ignoring the Blinkmoth Nexus for this particular hand. You do lose out on a threat, but you’re kind of all-in on Ravager anyway here, and you already have something to transfer the counters to if you really have to.

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Hand #4

You’re playing Mono-Red in best-of-1 Standard. You’re on the play against an unknown opponent. You’ve mulliganed once. Your hand is:

Mountain (343)Mountain (343)Mountain (343)Experimental FrenzyGoblin ChainwhirlerFanatical FirebrandRunaway Steam-Kin

What do you send back?

My Answer

 Fanatical Firebrand

You don’t need a 1-drop in this red deck, and the rest of your hand is all curved out. Being on the play and having Goblin Chainwhirler means you’re insulated from most potentially problematic starts from your opponent (such as an early Venerated Loxodon or a turn 2 Runaway Steam-Kin), so you’re almost never going to have to kill a creature on turn 1.

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Hand #5

You’re playing Esper in best-of-1 Standard and you’re on the play against another Esper deck (so you’re playing the Esper mirror).  Your opening hand is:

Glacial FortressWatery GraveHallowed FountainGodless ShrineTeferi, Hero of DominariaTeferi, Hero of DominariaNegate

What do you send back?

My Answer

 Godless Shrine

The first big decision is whether you should send back a land or a Teferi. In the control mirror, you always want to hit your land drops, so it might be appealing to send back a Teferi, but a lot of it is also about having more cards that matter than your opponent, and Teferi is a card that matters. It’s especially bad without shuffle effects, as sending that Teferi to the bottom is basically the same as removing it from your deck, barring Azcanta activations. Here you have to keep the Teferi and hope you draw land.

Then comes the decision of which land to send back. You have duplicates of U/W duals, which maybe means you should send back Hallowed Fountain, but I think you’re actually constrained on blue mana more than anything in this matchup, as it’s not uncommon to want to cast, for example, two Absorbs. Sending back Godless Shrine does mean that you can’t cast Vraska’s Contempt if you draw that and a U/W land specifically, but it’s worth the risk to make sure in a very long game you can fight a counter war.

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Hand #6

You’re playing Sultai Midrange in best-of-3 Standard. It’s game 1 and you’re on the play versus Sultai Midrange (so you’re playing the Sultai mirror). You mulligan to 5 and this is your opening hand:

Llanowar ElvesWildgrowth WalkerMerfolk BranchwalkerVivien ReidForest (347)Swamp (339)Overgrown Tomb

Which TWO cards do you put back?

My Answer

 Wildgrowth Walker and Swamp

Having a very aggressive Wildgrowth Walker draw is a possible path to victory in the mirror, but it’s unlikely that it happens when you’ve mulliganed to 5, as you’ll simply lack the followup to do it. In my opinion, the best thing to do here is to play turbo Vivien Reid and hope that she runs away with the game.

I think then you have two valid options: the first is to keep all lands and hope that you draw something to fill your curve and protect Vivien. The second is to keep Branchwalker so that you have a body to run interference. If you hit land with the explore it’s obviously better to keep the Branchwalker, but if you end up binning a card then you’re in a worse spot. You’ve mulliganed to five, which means you really can’t afford to play a 3/2 for 2 that’s not going to advance your game plan in any way, but it also means that you need material, and you need some things to go your way, so I would keep the Branchwalker over the land here because getting lucky in this particular spot seems easier than having things go well elsewhere.

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