The Art Of The Mulligan: Eight Case Studies

Ken looks at eight archetypical hands from StarCityGames readers, and decides what’s mulligan-worthy and what’s not? When should you roll with what you got and when should you send it packing? Ken shows you how, and why!

For starters, I wanted to thank everyone for the response I got on my mulliganning article. It always makes me feel good when my e-mail is filled with praise, feedback, or even bashing; I like to know my words have an impact, so thank you. I tried to reply to everyone I didn’t include in this article; if I missed you, I am sorry.

I couldn’t use all the scenarios, so I tried to choose the most complicated ones or at least the most debatable. Here are the highlights from the feedback I received.


When playing Standard with a twenty-two land deck, would you keep this hand?

1 Birds of Paradise

1 Forest

1 Call of the Herd

1 Firebolt

1 Elephant Guide

1 Wild Mongrel

1 Basking Rootwalla

Ken says: I think you have to send this hand back without more information. If you know for a fact that your Birds will survive until your second turn, go ahead and keep. But going second against control or going first or second against an unknown opponent, I would send it back. You are in big trouble if your Birds die with such a shallow mana base. This one is tricky – but like I said, you are always safer erring on the side of the mulligan.

I also assume this is a post-8th Edition R/G list, as it includes the Birds. This means that you are running more Mossfire Valleys to make up for the Karplusan Forest loss, as this means that the land you do draw can screw you.

Jarrod Bright, Australia:

Mono Black Control, drawing first vs. Psychatog, game 2 has won game 1

Opening Hand



Cabal Coffers



Skeletal Scrying


Ken says: Drawing first, you should absolutely keep this hand. The biggest problem with this hand is the presence of Corrupt – but Duress, Scrying and Mirari are all bombs in the matchup. You have two land and the potential to cycle the Scrying for one, if necessary. Assuming the Tog player has switched to the Infestation plan, you really need to keep this and hope it pans out.

Mike Leonard, England

Round 4 of a PTQ event, opponent playing Goblins, I am playing Astral Slide in game 2 and I am one up. My opponent is going to play.

Mana Base

8 Mountains

9 Plains

4 Secluded Steppe

4 Forgotten Cave

2 Temple of the False God

Opening Hand

2 Silver Knight

1 Starstorm

1 Akroma’s Vengeance

1 Dragon Scales

1 Plains

1 Forgotten Cave

Ken says: Playing first, you absolutely send this back. You are a heavy favorite in this matchup; the last thing you want to do is lose to mana troubles. In a deck with such a heavy land count, you can mulligan and feel good about it.

Drawing first, it is much less clear. I probably would have kept it. If you draw almost any other land on your first or second turn, you are in good shape – and if that land is a plains, you almost outright win. Keeping seems to be the right play, but you still run the risk of mana screw.

Wim Vanrie, Belgium

Here’s a hand from Onslaught Block Limited. I get hands like these frequently in draft, and I always keep them… Sometimes this works out, sometimes it doesn’t… I’m hoping for you to tell me what I should

do in the future.

Playing first, R/G/u splashing Rush of Knowledge and Shoreline Raider

Mana Base

1 Island

1 Forgotten Cave

8 Forest

7 Mountain

Opening Hand


Spark Spray

Chartooth Cougar

Wirewood Guardian

Treespring Lorian

Skirk Marauder

Rush of Knowledge

…or something similar. The main components are one main-color land, a one-mana cycler of that land type, two landcyclers (one of which fetches your other main color), two three-drops (mostly morph creatures off course), one late-game card and the fact you’re playing first.

What do you do?

Ken says: I would send this back. In your best-case scenario, you draw a second land and start working with a mediocre hand. In your worst-case scenario, you are completely mana screwed and lose in five turns. An unimpressive hand that can outright lose you the game with the wrong series of draws should always go back.

Michael Thicke, US

Playing first, Type 2 Blue/Green madness.

Opening Hand

2 Forest

2 Basking Rootwalla

Careful Study

Arrogant Wurm

Mana Leak

Ken says: Send it back! U/G Madness is one of the easiest decks to mulligan with. If you don’t have a madness outlet or a castable Careful Study, hit the road. You will rarely win with a hand like this unless you draw like a champ. People see castable spells and auto keep, but Basking Rootwallas will never win a game by themselves. And your only two-drop, which is not a madness outlet, is uncastable.

No Netterstrøm, unknown

Drawing first with a W/R deck  against unknown opponent. My deck features eleven soldiers (including a Daru Stinger), some good fliers, and a little burn. Nothing costs more than six mana. No bombs beside Stinger, but I maindecked Wipe Clean and Sandskin due to a mediocre card pool.

Mana Base:

10 Plains

7 Mountain

1 Noble Templar

Opening Hand:

3 Mountain

1 Deftblade Elite

1 Daru Stinger

1 Aven Liberator

1 Wing Shards

Ken says: Send it. Liberator is the only castable spell in your hand and Liberator face down in a Soldier deck is rarely good. For the Stinger to ever be good, you need to draw many non-Plains. I don’t like this hand at all. You are a sitting duck.

Marcel, United States:

Playing second in a W/R Control Mirror in Onslaught Block. It’s the first game in the top 8, and you know each other’s deck. This is a true mirror (both Maher’s version with a different sideboard and Temple maindecked)

Mana Base

2 Temple of the False God

4 Secluded Steppe

4 Forgotten Cave

10 Plains

7 Mountain

Opening Hand

1 Mountain

1 Temple of the False God

2 Eternal Dragon

2 Lightning Rift

1 Akroma’s Vengeance

So do you keep that one?

Ken says: The obvious problem here is not drawing a land on your first turn. On your send turn, there are nine lands out of the remaining twenty-five that will be almost as bad as a spell. The good news is you have a lot of your best weapons in the mirror: In fact, you can draw a cycling land and still probably come back to win with this hand.

I think you have to keep it. You are just in way too dominant a position if you do draw a land, and it isn’t critical that you get it right away in this match-up.

Nick Lynn, United States:

U/B/w (for Windborn Muse only) deck, going first against a janky Dragon Fangs-based R/G deck with Silvos and Dragon Mage with some removal – I think Solar Blast, Skirk Volcanist, Spark Spray, and maybe Scattershot. I have only one Lingering Death to deal with these bombs once they hit the table. My deck is not that fast, but it has a lot of flying guys at three and four mana, as well as two Twisted Abominations. All of my blue guys are a single blue or morph.

Mana Base

9 Swamp

7 Island

2 Plains

Opening Hand:

2 Swamp

2 Island

1 Plains

Cabal Interrogator


I guess the issues here are that if he has no removal for the Interrogator, I can wreck him – but if he has an answer, I am left without threats and he knows to play around Infest. However, that interrogator is my best shot against Silvos and Mage. As it stood, I kept and ripped land for the next four turns, but was able to Infest away his board and hand at seven life.

Ken says: I have seen hands like this all the time. I think a big part of this is how you rate Infest. I see Infest as a support card rather than a bomb, and Interrogator is the same. Sounds to me like a land-flooded hand like this needs to go back in favor of a more tempo-oriented draw. It sounds like the Interrogator can be dealt with rather easily, and the long game that seems really bad for you despite the Abominations. In this matchup, you want an aggressive draw with fliers – and without that, you can you just scoop to Snarling Undorak. Send it back.

So there are some more examples. I used some that I would keep, too, just so you don’t think I choose six-card hands every time. If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me or post in the forums. If I didn’t get back to you on your e-mail regarding the previous article, feel free to e-mail me again.

Sorry I am about a week late with this one, but work caught up with me. I will be in Atlanta, hopefully picking up some Pro Tour points in an effort to stay on the train. If you haven’t done so already, cast your votes for the Invitational. Everyone’s voice should be heard – and if you want to vote for me, well, that would be just swell.


Ken Krouner

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