The London Mulligan Will Ensure That Fewer Games Are Decided By Mulligans

A while ago, Wizards announced the London mulligan rule. The new rule will be in effect during Mythic Championship London, and it states that instead of drawing seven minus x cards, players draw seven cards and return x to the bottom of their deck. So, if you mulligan to four, instead of drawing four cards and scrying once, you draw seven cards and return three of them. In today’s article, I’m going to go over what the new mulligan rule actually means, who it is good or bad for, and how we should change our behavior to adapt to it.

Fewer Games Will Be Decided by Mulligans

This is really the only pro in the new rules, but it’s a very big one. Right now, mulliganing in Magic is too punishing, not necessarily because having an extra resource is an incredible advantage in the grand scheme of things but because you simply have less to work with in the beginning of the game, which means you fall behind and can’t recover. It’s less about not having that last removal spell for your opponent’s last creature and more about missing a land drop or not being able to present enough pressure early on to attack an opposing planeswalker.

Mulligans to five are even more punishing, and most players feel like the game is already lost when that happens. This is not true, but it’s honestly a bit too close for comfort—if you ever win on a mulligan to five (or four!), then you feel like you stole a game from your opponent against all odds. Some decks are more prone to mulliganing than others, as are some players, but every deck has unkeepable hands and hitting two in a row is not that uncommon.

The new mulligan rule should help a lot with this. Now, a six-card hand is significantly better than it was before, as you’re basically scrying away any of your cards, and not just one. It also makes you less likely to mulligan to five, and if you do mulligan to five then it makes sure you at least get to play the game. You’re still down two extra cards, but it’s of the “I’m missing a removal spell for their last creature” variety, and not of the “well I’m going to skip my turns 2, 3, 4, and 5 because I don’t have a land” variety.

In this regard, the new mulligan is a home run and I can’t wait to play with it.

That said, there are some other consequences we should keep in mind:

The new rule will be unavailable online before Mythic Championship London. If this rule changes things in Modern (and I believe it will), this will be a pretty big blow to people who don’t have access to a real-life team, as they will be simply unable to prepare using it. I am part of a big team and I am scared about not being able to test it before we meet, so I can’t imagine how someone that tests primarily online is going to prepare for this.

There will be more decision paralysis. Before, when you mulliganed, you had to make a binary decision on a single card—either it’s staying on top or going to the bottom. Now, you have to look at your entire hand and choose one out of seven cards, or a combination of any two out of seven, to send back. This can be several orders of magnitude more complex, especially given the fact that a lot of the scrys are not really decisions (because you either really need a land or really don’t need one).

Imagine, for example, the following hand with Modern Spirits on the draw:

Hallowed FountainFlooded StrandBreeding PoolAether VialSupreme PhantomSpell QuellerGeist of Saint Traft

Now, imagine you mulliganed to five. What do you keep?

Well, there are a couple of approaches. You could, for example, ship back two lands, and effectively keep a “one-land, Vial” hand, hoping that the Vial will take care of all your mana production for the rest of the game. Or you could send back the Vial, since you’re operating on only five cards, and keep three lands, Supreme Phantom, and Geist for your curve. Or you could send back the Supreme Phantom since it’s the individually weakest card, and you can’t afford for any card to be weak in a five-card hand, even if it will sort of ruin your curve. Or you could send back Vial and a land, and hope to topdeck a land to play your 3-drops. Or you could hedge, and keep two lands + Vial. That’s not even considering what your opponent can do—what if you keep one land, Vial and they play Thoughtseize?

Regardless of what is right, it’s an incredible amount of information to just throw at someone—it’s almost like doing a puzzle. I expect a lot of people will feel lost in the middle of their mulligans, especially mulligans to five.

This part of the change benefits good players or players who know their decks, to the detriment of less experienced players. It’s impossible to last-minute memorize your way out of this conundrum —you will invariably face situations you’ve never faced before, and you will have to think about them and hope to get them right. It will be very important that you are able to identify a path to victory with each hand, and that you can predict how the game is going to go so you know what groups of cards are important to keep. Often, you will not know what the right choice is, but you need to know what the potential groups of choices are (for example, in this hand I’d say that you can keep the third land or you can keep the Vial, and I don’t know which one is right, but I’m pretty sure that keeping all three lands and the Vial is wrong).

As an aside, this should make for very interesting and complex Keep or Mulligan articles in the future, so expect some of these with the new rule!

It’s better to be more proactive. Most of the time, proactive decks know what type of cards they want to keep, and reactive decks don’t. This means that you’d much rather be a proactive deck if you have a choice on what to send back.

Imagine, for example, this opening hand from a control deck:

Hallowed FountainFlooded StrandIsland (335)Plains (331)Path to ExileSpell SnareJace, the Mind Sculptor

What do you send back here? Probably a land, but then you might end up with Path to Exile against a deck with no targets, or Spell Snare against a deck with no targets. If you have to send two back, then what? Which direction do you gamble on? Control decks always have cards that are great versus one type of deck and horrible versus another, and not knowing which ones you need as you are resolving your mulligans is a huge cost. An aggro deck, by comparison, will usually just send back its extra land, the duplicate spot in its curve, or its flat-out worst card. This is a big advantage for proactive decks that don’t care what they’re playing against.

Information Will Be Even More Important Than Before

The fact that you have to make this decision before the match even starts puts a premium on knowing what your opponent is playing beforehand. This is overall a disadvantage for players who are more high profile (and therefore more prone to feature matches or deck techs, and are overall more identifiable), and players who are commonly associated with one style of deck and are playing that deck in the event (like Craig Wescoe with White Aggro decks or Guillaume Wafo-Tapa with Blue Control decks).

To give you an example: At the last Mythic Championship, I had an opponent tell me as we sat down that they knew what I was playing because they saw me approaching the head judge to check for marked foils (I was playing Nexus and wanted to know if I would have to proxy them). I talked to the head judge in round 2, and the person who told me this was my round 8 opponent. My opponent not only took notice of what happened, but remembered that it had happened to me specifically, six hours after it happened. A lot of people went to check with the head judge—there were people talking to the head judge right before I was doing it—and I’d wager that my opponent would not have remembered them (in fact, I couldn’t tell you who the people talking to the head judge right before me were). But I am a known player, so my deck choice stuck with my opponent, to the point where they remembered it six hours later when we played.

This is something that happens when you are a more high profile player, and we all learn to live with it and accept it, but this mulligan rule definitely means that it’s more pronounced now.

Combo Decks Mulligan Better Now

In general, combo decks come in two forms: quantity or quality. “Quantity decks” try to amass a critical mass of resources: Storm, Scapeshift, Burn, etc. Those decks don’t benefit too much from this rule because they don’t want to mulligan regardless. “Quality decks” try to gather specific resources rather than just a bunch of them, and these decks do benefit because if you get what you are looking for, then it doesn’t matter how many cards you’re down—you’re going to win the game anyway.

The biggest example of this is Vintage Dredge. It always mulligans any hand without Bazaar of Baghdad, and usually wins when it draws it in its opening hand. If you’re playing that Dredge deck, then you don’t care how many cards you start with—all you care about is that you have Bazaar, which you’re over 99% to have with the new rule.

Obviously, Vintage Dredge is as far on that side of the spectrum as you can get, but this can happen in other formats too. Take, for example, Lantern. Lantern wants to find Ensnaring Bridge first and foremost, and then wants to Lantern lock the opponent with mill pieces. If you do find Ensnaring Bridge, then you don’t care that you started with five or even four cards because you’re going to win the game anyway. A deck like Goryo’s Vengeance/Griselbrand doesn’t care if it starts on five cards if those five are a combination of lands, Faithless Lootings, Goryo’s Vengeances, and Griselbrands. A deck like Restore Balance might even welcome starting on fewer cards!

You could argue that sure, combo decks find their pieces more, but then so do other decks when they’re trying to find hate cards. This is true (you can mulligan to Leyline 99% of the time just as easily as Bazaar), but there’s the important caveat that this is only going to be true in games 2 and 3, so even if it balances out in the end, the combo deck still has an advantage in game 1 that it didn’t have before, so it still benefits from the rule. Besides, your combo opponent can also mulligan for cards that remove the hate cards (e.g. Nature’s Claim), so it’s not as clear cut as that. It’s undeniable that the rule benefits combo decks.

Overall, reducing the number of bad games in Magic is a very noble goal. This rule is great for Limited, which it improves without changing anything else, and it’s also probably good for Standard, as it’s unlikely to impact your deck selection enough (though it does make decks like Esper a little worse, so this has to be kept in mind by the design team). In Modern, however, it’s likely to have a more significant impact, and then all bets are off. It’s possible that “slightly more combo, slightly less Jeskai” is the extent of it, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if some absurd combo deck showed up strictly because of this rule, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

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