The Future of the London Mulligan, Open Deck Lists, and the Prerelease Mythic Championship


MC London tested three different concepts: the new mulligan rule, open deck lists, and a prerelease Mythic Championship. Today, I’ll analyze the three proposed changes individually, and give my opinion on whether I think they should be implemented, as well as what changes I’d make to each of them.

The London Mulligan

There was mostly a consensus that the London mulligan was good for Limited. The ability to mulligan to six or to five and to have a normal game after that was just incredible. Before the London mulligan, I always felt like the game was lost when I had to mulligan to 5. Now you’re still behind, but you can play Magic and make up for your deficit during the game. In the end, the two cards matter, but they can be recouped—there are a lot of card advantage mechanisms in Magic. The biggest issue is that you just don’t do anything on a mulligan to 5. Now you can still have a good early game and try to claw back from your hole.

There was only one concern about it, and that was the complexity. The new mulligan rule leads to more mulligans and to more decision making (since instead of choosing “top or bottom” with your scry you have to choose one or two cards to put back, which means way more variables).

In practice, I did not find the complexity level too daunting (though it could be for a less experienced player), but the rounds did take significantly longer—there were more draws in the Limited portion of the tournament than ever before. But it was a prerelease tournament, which meant that people should naturally take longer. The set is also very high complexity, and may have contributed to the games being longer (that sort of exemplifies the problem with trying multiple new variables at once—we know that something caused a delay, but we don’t know one or combination of the things it was or how big a part each of them played). Regardless, even if there was a small delay because of the mulligan rule, I think it was a home run for Limited and should be kept.

Modern was a different thing. I was super scared someone was going to break the format in half with a deck that could mulligan into a perfect hand every time, but that didn’t happen (though it still could with War of the Spark and Modern Horizons). Still, some decks benefit way more than others (like Dredge or Tron) and the number of mulligans was through the roof.

WotC asked us to keep track of mulligans and to provide them the information. I know that I kept my first seven-card opening hand in Constructed in round 8 of the tournament—my fifth match of Constructed. I saw people reporting several wins on mulligans to three or four, and I almost won a game on a mulligan to two against Humans.

By itself, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, there’s nothing intrinsically bad about more mulligans, given that we choose to take them. It’s not like no opening hands were ever playable. We just thought we could do better. But there were a couple of negative side effects of so many mulligans being taken successfully:

  1. It does make the games take longer. When you shuffle three times per game (which was very common in my matches on either side), things naturally take a while.
  2. The die roll is more important. One of the few advantages of being on the draw used to be that you could afford to keep riskier hands, or that if you mulliganed you were less likely to have non-games. Even then, being on the play was still substantially better in the majority of the matchups. Now, the downsides are diminished—you don’t have to keep riskier hands, and if you mulligan to six or five you will still have a functional draw rather than passing on turns 2 and 3. In many of the matchups I played (the Tron mirror, versus Humans, versus Titan-Breach), it felt like being on the play was the most important thing by a lot. To put things in perspective: imagine that someone asks you, “There was a Tron mirror. One player mulliganed to five. Who won?” With the old rule, I would say that the answer was likely to be “whoever kept seven won.” Under the new rule, I’d say the answer is likely to be, “whoever was on the play won.”
  3. The games are more repetitive. People say “restriction breeds creativity,” and it’s also true for Magic. Sometimes we don’t draw everything we need, so we have to adapt, and game states look different. Now, with the new rule, some decks will always have what they need, which means games will feel the same. A Titan/Breach deck is simply always going to have turn-4 Titan. A Tron deck will always have turn-3 Tron. A Dredge deck will always dredge on turn-2. There’s no “hoping something goes wrong.” Things will almost never go wrong. I think this is a big downside.

So in the end, is the new rule good for Modern? I think that for current Modern, it’s a small negative. Non-interactive decks get the most out of it, the die roll becomes super important, and games are repetitive, which I think outweighs the benefits of having better games when someone is just trying to mulligan with their fair deck.

So if I believe the new rule is good for Limited and bad for Modern, do I think it should exist? The answer is yes. It’s also very good for Standard (it has the same upsides as Limited and very few of the downsides for Modern, as decks aren’t as streamlined and don’t do nearly as many broken things), and it’s a much bigger improvement for these formats than it is a negative for Modern (and probably Legacy, though I haven’t played that one). To clarify: I think the change is hugely beneficial for Standard and Limited, and slightly negative for Modern, which means overall I think Magic is better if it’s adopted universally.

Right now, the negative impact of the rule in older formats is small enough that I would adopt it everywhere for simplicity’s sake. But it’s possible that WotC doesn’t consider it a “minimal negative” and it’s also possible that it becomes a stronger negative in the future when a new combo deck emerges.

If we ever get to a point where the London Mulligan and Modern cannot coexist, my preference is for either changing Modern (banning whatever the problem is) or to simply have different mulligan rules for different formats. This idea has been suggested before and it’s often labeled “too complicated,” but I honestly don’t think it would be. We already deal with very different rules for different formats, starting with card legality, which is a much bigger difference. There’s also deck size—Constructed formats have 60+ card main decks and 15- card sideboards, and Limited formats have 40+ card decks and unlimited sideboards. Yet, we manage to live with that just fine. I don’t think this is the ideal outcome (the ideal outcome is adopting it everywhere), but adopting it only for some formats is a better outcome than adopting it nowhere.

Open Deck Lists

Open deck lists were an experiment for MC London. Here is how it worked:

At every Constructed round except for the first, players would give their opponents a list with their entire main deck, and cards in their sideboards (but without quantity). So, a list would look like this:

4 Aether Vial
4 Champion of the Parish
4 Noble Hierarch

Sideboard:

Dismember
Deputy of Detention
Damping Sphere
Stony Silence
Ravenous Trap

Players would have one minute to memorize their opponents’ lists, and then they were not accessible for the remainder of the match.

This simply had to be done. Knowing your opponent’s deck was too big an advantage, and it could happen for a variety of reasons (they could have had a feature match or a deck tech, you could have played near them, you could have passed by them, you could know them, you could have scouted them specifically, you could even have seen them talking to a judge, which happened to me in a previous MC, etc.). This was especially key with the new mulligan rule, because knowing which hands to mulligan or to keep was very important, as was knowing which card to put back. If I mulligan to six should I return Path to Exile or Negate?

Having open deck lists stops this from being a problem, which I think is very good. There are downsides (you can’t surprise people, and innovation is less rewarded and therefore less likely to happen), but I think that for major tournaments such as Mythic Championships, it has to happen. You simply can’t have someone be at a disadvantage for the entire tournament because they were in a feature match round 1 and their entire deck was on display. I actually felt the way they handled sideboards was good—you at least kept some of the surprise.  That said, here are some things I would change:

  • Deck lists should be shown starting with the first round of Constructed. I understand why they want it to be like this (since there can be no scouting in round 1, you don’t have to prevent it), but I think that’s misguided. If I’m playing a tournament where the rules are open deck lists, I’m going to build my deck with the assumption that I know what my opponents are playing. I will make choices knowing I will have this information. Then, randomly, in one of the rounds I won’t. To me, this is similar to having 15 rounds with the London mulligan but one with the Vancouver mulligan, or having a random round where players start at 25 life. Open deck lists is as much a rule of the tournament as either of those, and it makes no sense to me that for one of the rounds, the rule just doesn’t apply.{On top of that, not having open deck lists for one round meant that we couldn’t talk about our decks to other people before the start of the tournament without feeling like we were giving up a competitive advantage. I thought one of the good things about having them be public was that it would lift a weight off our shoulders. Once deck lists were due, we could have real conversations with other competitors without having to be secretive about our deck and the team deck. With closed deck lists for one round, I still felt like I might put a teammate at a disadvantage if I told someone our deck, which meant I kept the secrecy up even though it was not very pleasant.
  • Deck lists should always be public. Either things are public or they aren’t—having one minute to memorize a deck list and then have to remember it isn’t where I would choose to spend my brainpower, and it’s especially weird because some decks are just more memorable than others. For example, when I looked at a Humans deck list, all I cared about was how many basics they had for Ghost Quarter. When I looked at a U/W list, I had to memorize that they had one Negate, one Spell Pierce, one Remand, one Mana Leak, two Logic Knot, and three Cryptic, which was slightly different than what my previous U/W opponent had. I don’t think this should be a thing players have to worry about.

There is concern that if deck lists can be accessed at any time it would slow down the game too much, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case. People are only going to reference them when they actually matter, and not all the time. If you do encounter a problem, just treat them like any note (or anything in the game, really). When I Thoughtseize my opponent, I can write it down and then reference that at any time, right? Making me have to memorize the list is similar to making me have to memorize Thoughtseize cards. It’s just unnecessary.

In fact, having public deck lists at all times might actually leave more time for the games themselves. Normally, when you get paired versus someone, you sit down, shuffle, take mulligans, and then wait with your opening hand for the timer to start. As soon as the clock starts, you play your first land. With the new rule, you need to know what your opponent is playing before you decide to keep or mulligan, so you have to wait for the 1-minute period. Once that is done, you then decide to keep or mulligan and resolve your mulligans. The outcome of that (especially when many mulligans are taken) is that you play your first land when minutes have already gone by on the clock.

If we cannot have public deck lists, then I think the next best alternative is to give a slightly longer review period (1:30 to 2 minutes), and allowing another review period during sideboarding, so there are fewer things to memorize (plus sometimes during game 1 you realize you should have paid attention to something that you didn’t, such as basic land count).

One concern I saw mentioned is that this would create a discrepancy between the Mythic Championships and other tournaments. I think this is true. This rule isn’t really good for local tournaments like FNM or even a GP, and then players are not be able to recreate the same context they saw the decks in, which might be awkward if a deck is only playable because of this rule (reactive decks, for example, get better). One reason we thought U/W was going to be slightly worse against Humans in this tournament, for example, was because they’d know exactly which sweeper to name with Meddling Mage, whereas in normal tournaments I often saw people naming Terminus versus a deck with Supreme Verdict and vice-versa. In theory, you could, then, have a format in which Humans beats U/W at the Pro Tour but not at the local level.

Even individual cards often get better or worse because of this rule. At MC London, we decided that Ravenous Trap was a better card against Dredge than Leyline of the Void, since Dredge could just mulligan to Nature’s Claim. In a normal tournament, our list might contain four copies of Ravenous Trap and zero Leylines. But once people had access to deck lists, they would know not to board in Nature’s Claims. Therefore, the right play might be to play three Ravenous Traps and one Leyline, even though it’s the inferior card, because our opponents wouldn’t know the quantities, and so would have to bring in all Nature’s Claims to combat our potential 4 Leylines.

In the end, though, even though I agree that having a different rule does make for a different format (which is also why I believe it should happen from the first round), I think that’s OK. We already have different rules for Bo1 and Bo3, for example, and I think that’s good. It’s more important to make each format individually good than to have uniform rules for this (especially since this one is pretty harmless).

Prerelease Mythic Championship

MC London was, for a lot of players, a prerelease. The set had just been previewed and wasn’t available for online play. That would have been a pretty cool experience, except that it wasn’t actually a prerelease for all players. Most teams figured out it wasn’t smart to show up to a tournament worth this much on zero testing, and took measures to make sure they could practice.

Our team, for example, printed several sets of playtest cards as soon as the set was up. We had 10 of each common, 6 of each uncommon, 4 of each rare, and 2 of each mythic, and then we fabricated boosters with a reasonable color balance and drafted dozens of times in the week that we had. Almost all the other big teams that I know of did something similar.

In practice, having a prerelease PT didn’t make things any different for a lot of the players. All it did was make them harder. I did as many Drafts as I did every other time, except it took a lot longer and it was less convenient. Some people, however, didn’t have the time, the team, or the resources to pull this off, and then they were forced to play a prerelease against people who had 15 Drafts under their belts.

Other than this big disparity, there was also the issue that the players didn’t know what was going on and the set was very complicated. We had many draws at the tournament and no doubt many, many warnings for illegal plays, as well as players being surprised that their cards didn’t work the way they wanted. Watching the best players in the world is cool, but watching players who don’t really know what their cards do, through no fault of their own, is way less interesting. From what I gather, it also wasn’t great for the viewers, who had a harder time following the games with cards they didn’t know, and on top of that viewership suffered because a lot of people were at the prerelease.

In the end, I think having a prerelease PT was a cool experiment, but I don’t believe it should be done in the future. If it is, something has to change to make sure every player can actually practice with the set if they want to.

So, to sum it up:

London Mulligan: I feel strongly that it should be kept. If it turns out to be a problem in Modern or Legacy, I prefer having different mulligan rules for each format over not adopting it in any format.

Open Deck Lists: They are mandatory if we are to live in a world where you want players to do interviews, deck techs, and feature matches, but I would make them public during the entire game rather than having a review period, and I would have them start in round 1.

Prerelease MC: It was cool, but the logistical issues are not worth it, plus it’s very unfair to people who don’t have the resources that some of the players do. If it’s to happen in the future, all players should have access to the set.

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