Let’s Talk Mulligans

Rules Committee Member Sheldon Menery and his gang of Commander kings are in the midst of a big focus on mulligan changes! Which rule would you most like to see in place for the 100-card format down the road?

During the banned list announcement last week, we brought up mulligans. In case you missed it, here’s what we had to say:

There will be no rules changes this round, but given the success of the mulligan tests in Vancouver this year we are taking a close look at the
Commander mulligan. Our unique “EDH mulligan,” aka, Partial Paris, has always been a great tool to help ensure that each game of Commander was fair and
memorable as possible, but it has always had its downsides as well. We believe that the Vancouver mulligan might fill many of the same roles as Partial
Paris while alleviating some of those downsides. We’ll be making our final decision on whether to switch in the next cycle, so until then any input
that players can provide will be read and appreciated!

You can expect something definitive in the next announcement in January, but the message to take away here is that the days of the Partial Paris mulligan
are numbered. The main issue with the Partial Paris is that it allows a certain amount of hand sculpting. While that might be desirable in a competitive
environment, it’s not so much for us. We adopted it a long time ago when it seemed the best choice to give players the opportunity to start with a playable
hand; one of the problems is that it allowed players to craft an explosive start. Getting a starting hand that gets you into the game is our main goal.
Nothing is worse than wanting to play and not being able to. When you want to be a spectator, Magic can be great to watch. When you want to be an active
participant, spectating is the nut low. So where is the solution? Let me float a few ideas-but before I do, I’ll remind everyone that this is the
equivalent of me thinking out loud. Although we have thrown around a few things, none of these necessarily has the inside track on what we’re going to do
(although some don’t in truth have that much of a chance, but they’re good to frame the argument). I’m just trying to see what sticks to the wall. As
always, your opinions are welcome. If you have a great idea that’s not included below (or a variation thereof), ship it. We are happy to listen to
reasonable suggestions.

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I’ll operate under four basic criteria. First, we want to give players the best possible chance of having a playable starting hand. Second, we want to
ensure that in doing so, we’re not engendering or encouraging the kind of hand crafting that leads to early turn kills. This is a tall order. As much as
possible (and I understand this is a little idealistic), I’d like to see the mulligan go from a purely strategic decision (“does this hand give me an
explosive early lead in the game?”) to a playability decision (“can I at least be in the game with this grip?”). My personal preference (and this isn’t
necessarily shared by everyone on the RC) is that the only evaluation is “can I play it or not?” It’s a Boolean instead of an evaluation. Your mileage is
certainly welcome to vary. The real thing is that we just want folks to be playing Commander. That means both not having to watch because you can’t play
anything and not having to watch because someone else can play everything. Third, shuffling 99 cards between every mulligan
decision is pretty sucky. It wastes time that you could be instead playing. Shuffling isn’t completely off the table, but it’s definitely a thing. Not
shuffling (and I mean shuffling back in everything at the end) does two things. It inhibits hand sculpting for early combos because once a combo piece has
passed by, you can’t get it in a subsequent hand. Based on the liberal nature of the mulligan, however, it’s going to give you a better insight into what’s
left in the deck, which might lead to a different set of problems. Finally, the rule has to be both easily written and easily understood. Magic players are
reasonably clever, so we’re reasonably sure you can handle some complexity, but we don’t want you to have to have flowcharts, critical hit tables,
semaphores, or understand Morse Code to make sense of it (Side note: in honor of Jack Black’s band in High Fidelity “Kathleen Turner Overdrive,” I
wouldn’t mind having a band called “The David Morse Code”). I’ll also operate under the assumption that simply keeping Partial Paris is not an option. So
what’s on the table?

Do Nothing

In this option, the official mulligan rule of Commander is the official mulligan rule of Magic. The multiplayer option would kick in, so you would go
7-7-6-5 and so on, with a scry 1 if you take less than seven. The upside to this is that it’s easy, both from a comprehension standpoint and a
rules-writing one. No one has to learn anything new, do anything that they’re not doing in other formats, and no one has to add anything to the Magic
Comprehensive Rules. The downside is that it might not be enough. In a 100-card singleton deck (although I suppose you’re actually drawing from just 99),
variance is pretty high. While we enjoy a reasonable amount of variance as one of the hallmarks of the format, it might simply be too much. Someone that
understands the math a little better than I do might be able to speak to that more intelligently. Shuffling in between would apply, since that’s what you
do in the official rules.

Set Number Pattern

This is any option that stipulates a specific number of cards you draw based on how many times you’ve mulliganed-like 7-7-6-6-5-5 and so on, or
7-7-7-6-6-6, etc. This could be done with the shuffle or the no shuffle option (although, again, the shuffle is pretty dreary). The upside is that you’re
more likely to get a playable hand. The downside is that you have to remember which number you’re on. “Did I take 6 twice or just once?”
Additionally (and again, here is where a math person could weigh in), 7-7-6-6 might not be statistically significant from 7-7-6-5, meaning that it might
matter in so few cases that it’s not worth the trouble to write a rule over.

More Scrying

I’ve heard this idea more than once, so I thought I’d float it out there. Basically, the number you scry is equal to seven minus the number of cards you’re
keeping. If you go to 6, it’s scry 1, at 5 it’s scry 2, and so forth. The main argument for it is increased potential playability of the hand. The argument
against is that it might be too hand-sculpty. This is more of an option than a mulligan in its own right-an upgrade, if you will. Like spinny rims.

Starting with Basic Lands

This is more of a rules change than an actual mulligan, but it’s one that’s been bandied about (although not too much by us in any serious form) since the
early days of the format. With this one, you start with a number of basic lands in your hand (three seems to be the one most folks gravitate towards), then
fill your hand up to seven, with no additional mulligan. The upside is that you’re almost always going to get a playable hand (although I’ll tell you that
I consider seven lands a playable hand and some folks don’t). You’ll also have access (should you choose to) to all your colors, which is especially
important in a three-color deck. Perhaps you could draw your first four, then choose lands-but that’s drifting a little too far back on the hand crafting
axis. An additional downside is that it might encourage people to really short their land counts. The whole idea seems way more drastic than we need.

0, 1, 6, 7

A throwback to Magic’s oldest days, you can reveal a hand with 0, 1, 6, or 7 lands (or any variation on the four), ship it and draw seven more. This can
obviously be combined with shuffling or not, although not shuffling here seems a little awkward in the 6 or 7 land cases. There wouldn’t be a scry because
you you’re still at 7 cards.

Draw More, Keep 7

A kind of uber-scry, this one lets you draw up to a set number (10? 14?) and keep the 7 you want. It seems like it’s a little too far along the path of
hand sculpting, especially the higher the numbers go. The downside is that the mulligans themselves might take too long, as players spend time evaluating
potential lines of play for more cards.

The Gis Mulligan

The brainchild of fellow Magic Judge Hall of Fame inductee Gis Hoogendijk, this is the mulligan that the RC plays with when we play together (and has been
for quite some years). It’s the one we’ll use when I again start hosting games at home, but I don’t invite to the house to play Magic people that I don’t
trust. In short, it’s “draw seven; if you can’t play it, exile it and draw seven more. Repeat until you get a playable hand, then shuffle in everything you
exiled. Don’t abuse this.” Obviously, this is only works in trusted groups and may seriously warp deckbuilding. It doesn’t seem like unleashing this is a
good idea in an environment where there are people you don’t know and trust and who don’t have the same goals for the game that you do. The upside is that
you’re nearly always in nearly every game. The downside is that “don’t abuse this” is way too vague. You can’t write it into a rule; you certainly can’t
code it online. It means way too many things to way too many people. It’s a great house rule, although I understand that there are even groups who play
together all the time that it wouldn’t be right for (like the highly competitive ones). It’s great for players who like longer games. If no one has the
expectation of winning before turn 10, then there’s not much to worry about. For the most part, I listed it here because since it’s the one the RC uses,
it’d be disingenuous to pretend it doesn’t exist.

The Modified (or “Three Land”) Gis

This has been the official mulligan of my local game store, Armada Games, and it has been for going on five years.
It’s a little more complex than most (although still not beyond the comprehension of most Commander players). It goes like this: the first one is free (so
basically the multiplayer rule), but you exile any hand you ship. After the first one, if you don’t have at least three lands, you can reveal it, then
exile it and draw seven more. Repeat the process until you get a hand with three lands (or one that you otherwise want to keep-maybe it has two lands,
Kodama’s Reach and Solemn Simulacrum in it and you’re feeling lucky). Then shuffle in all the exiled cards. Here’s the kicker: once you get to a hand of
three lands, you have to keep it. Even if the lands don’t produce mana or aren’t in the colors of the spells, you’re stuck with it. We had to add in the
reveal because some folks weren’t being honest about what they had in their hands. The good news with this one is that it leads to a high percentage of
playable hands. Like any reasonable mulligan, you occasionally get screwed, but over these years, I’ve seen this one have a pretty good track record.
Downsides include the reveal (so much for your super secret tech) and once again the encouragement of shorting land counts. We’ve seen folks go as low as
30 lands because they knew they’d start with three.

Gis in Exile

This one came from the fertile mind of fellow RC member Gavin Duggan, and I’ll confess that I named it about six seconds ago (mostly because I was thinking
about this cool Irish music band from Belgium called Snakes in Exile; I saw them a number of times back in the 90s and have two of their CDs-just think
about it for a second: a Belgian Irish band). It’s reasonably simple: Draw seven. If you don’t like it, exile it and draw seven more. Repeat until you get
seven you like. Seems like all upside, right? Here’s the kick in the Jacobs: the exiled cards stay exiled (dust off your Riftsweeper colletion!). Now
shipping the hand has serious consequences. It’s a significant detriment to graveyard recursion decks and dedicated combo decks, since you could be forced
to throw away one of your crucial pieces. I’m not sure I consider that such a bad thing, but I know there are people and groups that love combo so much
that it might drive them away from the format. Of course, I might wonder if it would scare away fewer people than the number having to deal with dedicated
combo decks has driven off (please don’t confuse “combo” with “dedicated combo.” The former eventually does a thing; the latter is, well, dedicated, to
doing it as quickly as possible). And before I get the hate mail (which, if you are so inclined, should be directed in manifesto form to [email protected]), dedicated combo is perfectly acceptable play style and you’re not a bad person
for playing it. Turn 3 combo kills are toxic to this format, however, and we’re going to actively discourage them in multiple ways. That doesn’t
mean we can completely eliminate them (without banning another 100 cards or so); we’re simply going to continue to nudge people in a different direction.

I have a sincere hope that the right mulligan rule might be able to put away the pitchforks for two of the format’s current bogeymen, Sol Ring and Mana
Crypt. Many folks feel that if you’re able to mulligan into a hand with one (or both) of these in it (which they feel Partial Paris does), then they’re
problematic cards. To some extent, although it’s not really an overriding concern, we’d like to assuage the fears of those players who see the cards in a
far more frightening light than we do.

We’ll have a decision in January. Keep those cards and letters coming. If you have a serious idea, send it along via email (as opposed to just replying in
the forums, since sometimes comments get lost in there). Until such a time, PP is still the official mulligan of the format. That said, we encourage you to
try out any of these or any other that you’re currently using to see what works out best for your group, then tell us about your results. We’re definitely

I’ve decided that for the Decks Without Comment feature between now and Grand Prix Atlanta, I’ll be listing the decks that I’m bringing to the event. Be