Keep or Mull: January 2023

Brush up on your Pioneer mulligan game with IslandGoSAMe!

You don’t have a plan, do you?

One of the most common mistakes people make when evaluating opening hands in Magic: the Gathering is that people just tend to look for a good spell-to-land ratio. While this can sometimes lead to serviceable opening hands that can cast spells and play Magic, it fails to account for the synergy between the cards kept. You should always be looking to form a gameplan with any set of cards, at any stage of the game, and that is no different on turn zero. The way each plan is formed is different between each deck however. When playing an aggressive deck, you should be asking yourself “Is this curve of creatures enough to overwhelm my opponent? Do I have enough gas to keep going if they have removal?” When playing a combo deck, you should ask “Does this hand set up my combo before the average deck will win the game?” 

When evaluating these sample opening hands, try to determine what the game will play out like, and if that is good enough to justify keeping each hand. 

Situation #1:

You’re on the play with Mono White Humans, and you’re in game one vs an unknown opponent. Your hand is the following:

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My Answer


Hands like this are usually difficult to evaluate, because the strength in this hand relies on Thalia being good enough to single-handedly carry the game. Against a deck such as Lotus Field, this hand is very passable. Even though it is not that fast of a clock, it would theoretically be good enough to slow down the opponent for enough time to close the game. However, when playing against the majority of the rest of the field, the possibility that this hand does near nothing is way too high. Two copies of Thalia is really rough, as if our opponent decides to not prioritize killing her, then we have no real play past turn two. Without any Mutavaults to provide early aggression to go along with our one and two drops, this hand seems to be much too threat-light to compete. 

Situation #2:

You’re on the draw with Gruul Vehicles vs an unknown opponent. Your hand is the following:

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My Answer


At first glance, this hand actually looks pretty reasonable. As long as we hit our lands, we are casting a spell every turn, and using our mana pretty effectively. The issue arrives when we look at what this hand actually does against most decks, and we ask ourselves “Is this actually good enough?” I’m gonna have to go with “No”. 

On the draw, this hand is way too slow to apply any real aggression. This deck plays eight mana-Elves, and mulliganing for those is usually a great way to ensure that you are playing ahead of the curve. With a hand like this, we are casting Lovestruck Beasts and Skysovereigns, but we’re not effectively applying any real pressure until turn four. While this type of hand is good against another creature deck such as Mono White Humans, it doesn’t have the tools to really close a game, or to grind against any control deck. Gruul Vehicles is a deck that really wants to start with one of the mana dork elves on turn one, so because of that, I would mulligan to six with this hand, both on the play and on the draw. 

Situation #3:

You’re on the draw with Rakdos Midrange in game two, and you’re playing against Rakdos Midrange. Your hand is the following:

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My Answer


This one should be a bit easier, but could trick some people who do not have a lot of experience with Rakdos Midrange. Double Bankbuster is great when facing the mirror, but not when you’re keeping them with the risk of missing your second land and immediately losing the game. Sheoldred is also great in the matchup, but it gets a LOT better as the game goes later, once your opponent has already used up all of their removal spells. Since this hand is pretty threat-light, Sheoldred will most likely be removed within the turn cycle she comes down.

While this does have a lot of the tools you are looking for in the Rakdos matchup, the deck is always full of these effects postboard anyway, so keeping a risky hand like this is not going to worth it, as any reasonable hand will usually have at least one Bankbuster or Fable of the Mirror Breaker, both of these cards fill similar roles in the matchup. 

Situation #4:

You’re on the draw with Selesnya Angels, and you’re playing against an unknown opponent. Your hand is the following:

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My Answer


This hand is decent if you know you can survive into the long game, which the Angels deck is usually great at doing. The lifegain cards allow you to play a longer game versus the aggro and midrange decks, and you then utilize Collected Companies and Kayla’s Reconstructions to gain an advantage. However, this hand doesn’t really fit with that gameplan at all. Unless we draw another untapped land by turn two, we’re not casting Giada until turn three, and the two Inspiring Overseers don’t do a great job at pressuring our opponent, all they are doing is helping us find our lands to cast this Collected Company, the only real gas in this hand. 

This hand doesn’t have a gameplan that fits with any of the plans that this deck usually looks to accomplish. We need to draw lands as well as the key missing pieces to have this hand become reasonable. Since this hand is lacking in both of these fronts, this is definitely a mulligan.

Situation #5:

You’re on the draw with Lotus Field combo, and you’re against an unknown opponent. Your hand is the following:

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My Answer


This hand has a lot of awkwardness, but I think all the pieces come together to form a cohesive gameplan. The second Lotus Field is going to be most irrelevant in this hand, so we can ignore it. However, we’re still able to play the Hope Tender on turn two, play Lotus Field on three, use Hope Tender to untap the Field, and then have enough mana left over to use the Impulse to find something like a Sylvan Scrying AND cast it on that turn. At that point, we are currently set up to start comboing off on turn four with the Pour over the Pages.

While this hand is a bit weak to a removal spell on the Hope Tender, this hand still functions reasonably well without it, even if the combo turn would end up being a turn slower. Either way this hand plays out, it is still a reasonable enough keep.

So, what’s the plan?

Humans are terrible at estimating probability correctly. There have been a multitude of studies over the past 20 years showing that our minds are just not properly hardwired to correctly assess probabilities, especially in the presence of intense emotions or situations, such as playing a high-stakes match in a tournament. This is why I believe mulliganing is one of the most difficult skills to learn in Magic the Gathering, as it forces us to estimate the probability of the “success” of a seven card hand, while also needing to take into account some amount more cards being drawn within the next few turns. One of the only ways for players to get better at this skill is to practice, so you know what to do. Click my name right below here, read and interact with all of the previous Keep-or-Mulligan articles, and play some games of your own! Don’t be afraid to spend longer than usually looking at your opening hand, there is no shame in taking time to think. 

  • IslandGoSAMe

    Pioneer Competitive Guide

    Sam is an OG Pioneer player, brewing decks with his team since day one of this format, fleshing out the early metagame with the rest of the MTGO grinders. He knows the ins and outs of the format and spends way too much time playing it. He is known for creating Jeskai Lukka Fires, World Tree Combo, and Omnath Turns, and continues to create new and awesome decks while providing video content for all to consume.

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One comment

  1. I’ve been playing lotus field for a long time, and the last hand “keep or mull”, the keep is not acceptable.
    I’ve kept this hand a few times, both on the play and on the draw, and I don’t keep it anymore. Versus rakdos I lost every time it kept.

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