Keep Or Mulligan? Real-Life Examples and Outcomes

IslandGoSAMe uses real-life examples in this edition of Keep or Mulligan, and breaks down the outcomes of the decisions.

In the past few articles I’ve written in this series, I worked with a few friends to come up with interesting hands that i thought could be used to learn a lesson… but this week, we’re switching it up! All of these hands are ones that I, or another colleague of mine, has encountered before. I will also make sure to go into depth with the eventual outcome of the hand, as it’s important to know the types of directions “risky” decisions can lead to. 

Situation #1

You’re on the play with Gruul Vehicles against Mono-White Aggro. You’re in game three, and you’ve already mulliganed twice. Your hand is the following:

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My Answer:

Keep, bottoming Karplusan Forest & The Akroan War

This was actually a hand I encountered on stream a few days ago! This is pretty clearly a keep, but it was really a matter of which two of the three worst cards to put to the bottom. This hand is pretty decent against Mono-White aggro, two removal spells, and some great blockers to go along with it. My logic here is that The Akroan War really required you to already be pretty ahead on board for it to be super impactful against Mono-White, so that one seemed like the first card to put to the bottom.

Now, the second card was a little harder. I value the large body that Lovestruck Beast presents in this matchup very highly. It is able to check Adeline, Resplendant Cathar and the 1/1 White Human token it creates if you also case Heart’s Desire. It can also be used to get around Brave the Elements as well. Due to this fact, it’s pretty reasonable to want to bottom the Karplusan Forest and keep a somewhat risky one-lander. Even if you don’t hit for a few turns, your removal spells should allow you to continue to play the game until you can start slamming efficiently costed creatures.

I did enact this plan, putting The Akroan War and Karplusan Forest to the bottom of the deck. I proceeded to play the elf on turn one, and immediately drew the land to cast Heart’s Desire while leaving open Stomp for my opponent’s turn two play. This hand worked out, as I was able to use my adventure creatures to generate advantage, and the large blockers held out long enough for me to draw the rest of my mana, along with a Skysovereign, Consul Flagship to start mowing down my opponent’s creatures. 

Situation #2

You’re on the play with Mono-Green Devotion versus Atarka Red. You’re in game three, and your hand is the following: 

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My Answer:


This is a hand that I encountered in round two of a Pioneer RCQ that I played this past weekend. I was playing the Lovestruck Beast version of the deck, so I knew that if I mulliganed, the odds of the next two hands not containing at least one copy of either of the three-mana large creatures (Lovestruck Beast or Old Growth Troll) was approximately 16%. This card is super important in the matchup, because if they don’t have a Lava Coil for the Old Growth Troll, they are going to have a very difficult time getting through them. Additionally, Lovestruck Beast doesn’t even get stopped by the Coil! When coupled with the fact that this opening hand doesn’t even have the ability to cast it’s Cavalier of Thorns or Storm the Festival until the fourth turn of the game, this hand is a pretty clear mulligan.

I did end up mulliganing this hand, then I mulliganed the next one, and the next one, and the next one after that. I ended up keeping a three card hand containing Oath of Nissa, Elvish Mystic, and Lovestruck Beast. My deck was not very kind to me this game, and I very much lost this game. Despite this, I’m still pretty confident in my choice, because I know that you cannot win the game in that match-up unless you are presenting high speed or good blockers – which that initial opening hand had neither of. 

Situation #3

You’re on the draw with Mono-White Aggro versus an unknown opponent, and your hand is the following:

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My Answer:


This hand was one that occurred on stream yesterday, and I think I gave it a bit too much consideration after some retrospective thinking. This hand doesn’t actually pressure our opponent, and doesn’t keep the pressure off of us any better. This hand only really works if the first Luminarch Aspirant survives, and you get to play the second one while holding open a Brave the Elements. Obviously, if the first draw step is a one-mana creature, and one of the next two draws as well, then this hand begins to look good… but past that, this hand isn’t really able to apply much pressure at all.

I did end up mulliganing this hand after being pressured by my chat relentlessly to keep it. I ended up keeping a much more aggressive six-carder and ran over Rakdos Midrange. This hand might have actually been good here, but we still do lose the game to a single removal spell on the first Aspirant. 

Situation #4

You’re on the play with Bant Spirits against an unknown opponent, and your hand is the following:

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My Answer:


I was watching this match occur during round one of a Pioneer RCQ when I (luckily) got the bye, and it had the Spirits player in the tank for the longest time. Looking at this hand, we have two Mausoleum Wanderers, which apply a ton of pressure when combined together. This hand means that any spirit drawn on the second or third turn of the game allows you to attack for four, or potentially six if you draw a lord. In addition to this, each land you find brings you one step closer to your close-to-unbeatable late-game… triple Collected Company. Due to how aggressive this hand can be, I believe it is a keep on the play. It is also a keep on the draw, but for a different reason of it being able to play super well from behind. These Collected Companies can be used to “tempo” yourself back into a dominant position. There is a definite fail-rate with this type of hand, but there are actually only a small number of draws that don’t allow this hand to progress into a functioning gameplan with a larger amount of power.

The Spirits player I was observing ended up mulliganing this hand, which in the moment I found reasonable. This hand does initially look super risky and dependent on drawing lands. They kept a reasonable six, but proceeded to get two-for-one’d out of the game by Rakdos Midrange, a matchup where I think a hand like the initial seven would have shone against. 

Situation #5

You’re on the draw with Abzan Greasefang against Izzet Phoenix, and you’re in game one. Your hand is the following:

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My Answer:


This hand occurred in a video call with a group of friends who were playing last weekend’s Pioneer Challenge. They assumed their opponent was on Izzet Phoenix due to that person playing Izzet Phoenix for the past month. This hand was super close, as you had a piece of relevant interaction on turn one, as well as redundant pieces to the more fragile piece of your combo. Takenuma could be used as a graveyard-filler card to dig three deep for a vehicle to reanimate if Greasefang lived a turn cycle. However, this hand doesn’t do a lot in terms of guaranteeing a vehicle, and since you are playing against a deck that has a very large amount of removal (that can all take care of Greasefang) – it can be considered quite risky. In this matchup, you’re looking to have a Satyr Wayfinder or Grisly Salvage for turn two, so your opponent is never really able to tap-out of an interaction piece, and you apply pressure with Greasefangs or Esika’s Chariots. This hand can’t play the ideal game-plan that well, so they took a mulligan.

It turned out that the opponent was ACTUALLY on Lotus Field, and a hand that contained Thoughtseize and a turn three Greasefang with the potential of turn four vehicle would have been much better. Although this hand was definitely a mulligan against Izzet Phoenix, and even a random opponent, it did not turn out well in their game. My friends missed on a Grisly Salvage and died on turn four. 

Success is a Numbers Game

While going over and reflecting on what actually happen after these various mulligan decisions might help visualize to some the outcome of some risky hands, it is important to note that mulliganing is always just a numbers game. A lot of logical fallacies are thrown around when people talk about mulligans, and you’ll hear phrases such as “I would keep this risky hand if I was up a game, but never if I was down a game” or “this type of hand worked out the last two times, let’s try it again.” The way one should analyze a risky hand is by asking “what combination of things can occur for this hand to work, and what is the combined probability of all of those outcomes?” If that number sounds reasonable to you, then keep the hand! This is what we all do everytime we look at an opening-hand, even if we don’t realize that we are. With more difficult hands, we need to put a bit more brain-power into the calculation, but it’s all the same. Magic is a game about giving yourself the best chance to win at every step of the way, and the best way to gain the lead, is doing so before the first land is ever even played! 

  • 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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