What’s the Play?

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.

What’s the Play?

Scenario 1:

You’re playing the Hogaak mirror in Modern. You are on the play in game two and your opening hand is:

Carrion FeederSatyr WayfinderBloodghastBloodstained MireGemstone MineSwamp (339)Nature's Claim

Do you keep or Mulligan?

My answer: Keep.

Normally I don’t like keeping slow hands with the Hogaak deck, since it’s so broken and capable of so many busted draws, but I value having an answer to Leyline in my hand very highly in the mirror post-board. I think that, post-board, you want any functional hand with Leyline or any functional hand with a Leyline answer, and though this hand isn’t exactly good, it certainly is functional and you have outs to just play a turn-two Hogaak if they don’t play Leyline.

Scenario 2:

You’re playing Hogaak versus Mardu Death’s Shadow with Tidehollow Scullers. You’re on the play and you mulligan your first hand. Your second hand contains these cards:

Lightning AxeSatyr WayfinderGemstone MineFaithless LootingBloodghastStitcher's SupplierStitcher's Supplier

Which card do you put back?

My answer: Satyr Wayfinder

I believe you cannot put back Faithless Looting under any circumstance, but all the other cards have pros and cons. Ultimately, my answer is Satyr Wayfinder because I want to keep Lightning Axe for Tidehollow Sculler or Death’s Shadow, and I believe Stitcher’s Supplier offers you the best chance of playing a turn two Vengevine. You’re going to lead with Faithless Looting and ideally you can play two Stitcher’s Suppliers on turn two, so you have eight cards that you’re milling to potentially find a Vengevine (or Hogaak, though Wayfinder enables that too). Stitcher’s Supplier number two is also the best in case you don’t draw a second land, so you can still play a Hogaak on turn three. If they Thoughtseize you, it also leaves you with the most outs to play Vengevine on turn two. Overall, I think it just offers the most upside.

Scenario 3:

You’re playing Izzet Phoenix against Bant Ramp (the version with creature ramp–Incubation Druid, Paradise Druid and Llanowar Elves). It’s game 1 and you’re on the draw. Your opponent leads with tapped Sunpetal Grove, and your hand on turn 1 is this:

Goblin ElectromancerGoblin ElectromancerIsland (335)Mountain (343)ShockChart a CourseOptOpt

What's the Play

What’s your turn 1 play?

My answer: Mountain.

I think in this matchup it’s extremely important to kill a mana creature, and I think the likelihood they have a mana creature is high–they could even have Llanowar Elves and not have been able to play it, for example. If they have Paradise Druid (or no mana creature at all) then you waste your turn 1, but I think the optimal sequence here is going to be ShockGoblin Electromancer, so you want to enable yourself to do that. If you lead with Island, then you can play Opt into Opt + Shock, but I think you really just want to play Electromancer on turn two.

I know these decks are a bit outdated, but I think the principle here is very important: you need to understand what your opponent is doing and consider that when you’re making your plays. I think if you’re seeing the Elf in front of you, then killing it is automatic, but here you’re not seeing it. But you have to “imagine” it anyway, and in this case I believe the chance to kill it is worth not casting Opt turn 1.

Scenario 4:

You’re playing the GP Denver-winning Scapeshift deck in Standard. You’re on the play in game 1 of an unknown matchup. Your opening hand is:

Arboreal GrazerGrowth SpiralBreeding PoolForest (347)Sunpetal GroveTemple GardenAzorius Guildgate (243)

Do you keep or mulligan?

My answer: Keep.

This hand is basically all lands, but I think this is what you signed up for when you played this Scapeshift deck. The downside here is you flood out and die horribly, but the upside is that you’re accelerating a lot and can play anything that you draw. With Grazer you have some defense already, and with the Growth Spiral that gives you an extra draw to find action, so I think this is worth keeping.

Scenario 5:

You’re playing Humans versus Hogaak in Modern. You’re on the play and it’s game 1. Your opening hand is:

AEther VialChampion of the ParishThalia, Guardian of ThrabenUnclaimed TerritoryCavern of SoulsCavern of SoulsThalia's Lieutenant

Do you keep or mulligan?

My answer: Mulligan.

Against most people this hand would be a keep, as it seems to have most things you’re looking for–lands, Vial, some disruption and a relatively fast clock. However, against Hogaak I think this hand is just not good enough–if they play a fast Hogaak or Vengevine (which they do most of the time), then you just can’t break through, and Thalia really doesn’t do much in this matchup so it hardly counts as disruption. You have some very good cards against them (Meddling Mage, Reflector Mage, and to a lesser extent Mantis Rider) but you need to draw them early or they are not effective enough. If you replace Thalia with Meddling Mage or Reflector Mage I’d keep, but playing ground creatures that don’t disrupt your opponent and don’t attack through blockers is not a successful recipe in this matchup.

Scenario 6:

You’re playing Modern Horizons draft and you’re on the draw. Your deck is UGb Snow, splashing for Dead of Winter, but is otherwise not very high power. It’s game two and your opponent played a lot of creature removal and exhausted your win conditions game 1, so you boarded in Stream of Thought. Your deck has 7 snow lands.

Your opening hand is:

Stream of ThoughtRime TenderChillerpillarConifer WurmArcum's Astrolabe - FoilTranquil ThicketTranquil Thicket

Keep or Mulligan?

My answer: Keep.

There’s definitely a chance this hand will go wrong (you could not draw a Snow land at all and then your hand is truly weak), but I think you have enough chances for that that it’s worth keeping. It’s not like the hand is incredible if you keep, but your deck is not too strong anyway, so you can’t go around taking mulligans looking for perfection.

Scenario 7:

Imagine you kept the above hand. Your turn 1 draw is Abominable Treefolk, so you play Tranquil Thicket and pass. Your turn two draw is a second Rime Tender. Your opponent has played a second Swamp. What do you do on turn two?

My answer: Play Tranquil Thicket.

Trying to draw a Snow land is very appealing (since you can then play Astrolabe and then your Rime Tenders are on), but it’s an incredibly risky play, and it’s not like you don’t need to find more lands after that anyway. I think if the top card of your deck is actually a Snow Land, it’s better for you to just play Astrolabe + Rime Tender on turn three than to cycle it and play Astrolabe on turn two. Playing the Thicket allows you to play Rime Tenders on turns three and four to buy some time if you brick, which I think is more valuable than simply hoping you topdeck a bunch of lands in a row.

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