Taking a trip to Paris – The art of mulliganing by Michael Maxwell

Taking a trip to Paris – The art of mulliganing by Michael Maxwell

Mulliganing is an art. The 5 scenarios I talk about in here are designed to generate discussion, as there is no right or wrong answer. Even if two people agree that a hand is a mulligan or a keep, their reasoning can be totally different and equally correct.

Pro players agree on many things, but one of the areas you’ll find the most disagreement in is when it comes to mulligans. Gerard Fabiano almost never mulligans, whereas Martin Juza is happy to go to 6 or even 5 more often than most. They cant both be right, can they? Well, yes and no.

In this article we will explore the important questions we should all be asking ourselves when looking at our opening hand, and I will try to address some of the common scenarios you’ll face when mulliganing. In the constructed examples we’ll assume the decks I’m talking about are ‘stock’ lists.

Scenario 1: The nut hand missing an important colour.

Lets say you’re playing Naya in extended, and game 1, against an unknown opponent, you open the following 7:

Arid Mesa


Birds of Paradise

Lotus Cobra

Fauna Shaman

Bloodbraid Elf


This hand would be pretty much the nuts, if you had a green source. So, is this a keep or not? For some people, it depends if you are on the play or the draw. Personally, although it is difficult, I have come to always mulligan this hand. If you get a green source in the first 2 turns you have a pretty good shot at winning, but I have lost too many games to keeping this hand and then not getting to even play a spell to keep this. Do you like to take the risk, or is this a ship for you too?

Scenario 2: No sideboard action.

Standard now, and we’re playing R/G Valakut against B/R Vampires and it’s game 2, we’re on the draw. Here’s your 7:



Terramorphic expanse

Khalni heart expedition


Primeval Titan

Avenger of Zendikar

So, you have the turn 4 Titan followed up with avenger, very likely to be good enough– if we live that long. Unfortunately, we haven’t drawn any of the removal we boarded in. Is this a keep on the draw? What about on the play? What if you know they’ve boarded in Demon of Deaths Gate?

Lets try another example, this time from Legacy.

We’re playing Zoo, and our dastardly opponent has just killed us with Tendrils of Agony on turn 2 in game 1. You open your 7, and this is what you have:

Bloodstained Mire


Wild Nacatl

Wild Nacatl

Kird Ape

Kird Ape


An extremely aggressive hand, but where are the Gaddock Teegs, Mindbreak Traps and other hate cards we brought in? Is this hand aggressive enough to get him too low to cast Ad Nauseam for enough to kill us? Or do we instantly ship this to look for sideboard cards?

Scenario 3: The metagame call.

Back to extended, and this time we’re Jund. It’s game one, and we don’t know what our opponent is playing. We open this:

Raging Ravine

Copperline Gorge

Verdant Catacombs

Lightning Bolt

Lightning Bolt

Kitchen Finks

Kitchen Finks

Any aggro deck is going to have a very hard time beating this opening hand – Tempered Steel, Mono-Red, Mythic, and Putrid Leeches are all going to have a tough time getting through this. On the other hand, this is going to need a lot of help to beat any combo deck or 4cc. Would you keep this? Does it matter if you’re on the play or draw?

How about if we’re a control deck – let’s go with U/W Control in standard, and again we’ll assume its game 1 against an unknown opponent:

Celestial Colonnade

Glacial Fortress


Seachrome Coast

Day of Judgement

Wall of Omens

Gideon Jura

This is going to make life very difficult for Vampires, Boros, or any other aggro deck. On the other hand, U/B Control and Valakut are going to walk all over us without some good draws – do you keep this? Does it matter if this is at FNM or a PTQ?

Scenario 4: The limited bombs.

We’ve all been there – draft or sealed, sometimes you open a pretty poor hand but with your best cards in. Limited is always a bit more complicated, as mulligan decisions depend so much on the contents of your deck. Lets imagine though that you have a fairly average R/W Metalcraft deck, and you open this:





Hoard-Smelter Dragon

Steel Hellkite

Chrome Steed

Is this a keep in draft? What about sealed? What if you know your opponent is on the poison plan?

Does your decision change if your deck is fairly rubbish other than the 2 Dragons? What if it’s the best deck you’ve ever had?

Scenario 5: The tap dance.

U/B Control in standard this time, and game 2 against Boros on the draw we have this 7:

Creeping Tar Pit

Creeping Tar Pit

Drowned Catacombs

Doom Blade

Ratchet Bomb

Grave Titan

Sea Gate Oracle

Tap lands are great, if they don’t mess up your curve too much. If one of these lands were a basic, or a Darkslick Shores, then we’d be set. But is this too slow, on the draw, against an aggro deck like boros?

What about this draw, from G/W quest?

Sunpetal Grove

Sunpetal Grove

Stirring Wildwood

Birds of Paradise

Fauna Shaman

Squadron Hawk


Do the taplands slow this hand down too much? Or will the birds make up for the lost tempo? And there’s always a chance you’ll draw an untapped land in the first turn or two.

So, there we have it. 5 scenarios that I’m sure we’ve all come across many times. What do you do in these situations? Which hands do you keep and which do you throw back? Hopefully this article has shown you that mulligans aren’t an exact science, and if you showed 10 people these hands I bet you would get 10 different answers as to why they are a keep or a mulligan.

Thanks for reading, and please give your thoughts on any of these scenarios in the comments!

Michael Maxwell

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