Hi everyone! Today I want to talk about mulligan decisions. How do you know what to look for in an opener? How do you know when to keep and when to mulligan? I’m going to do my best to answer these questions and share some advice on how to approach mulligan decisions, as well as some of my general philosophy regarding mulligans. As per usual I’ll be focusing on Legacy, but you can apply these ideas to other formats as well.

What constitutes a good opening hand differs from deck to deck, but the one thing all decks look for is having a plan. That is perhaps the most important thing when it comes to mulligan decisions, and roughly translates to having a hand that “does something.” This is where familiarity with your deck and experience in the matchup comes in handy. How do you know if a plan is good enough? Is your aggro deck capable of racing your combo opponent, or do you need to look for disruption as well? Can you afford to keep a slow hand against Delver on the back of a single removal spell? Knowing how to execute your Plan A usually isn’t difficult. Knowing what to do when your first option isn’t available is what separates good players from average ones.

Ask the right questions.

-What is the matchup about?

What is, in general, the deciding factor in this matchup? Is it card advantage? Tempo? Mana development? Answering this question should tell you what your number one priority in the matchup ought to be. If you need to be fast, don’t keep a slow hand just because it has a good ratio of lands and spells.

-What needs to happen for me to win with this hand?

Think through the first few turns of the game. What are the different ways that this hand could play out, and what do you need for it to be good enough?

“As long as my Deathrite Shaman survives I like my chances.”

“If my opponent doesn’t kill me on turn one my turn two Thalia, Guardian of Thraben should win me the game.”

“I need to draw a blue source in three draw steps.”

Breaking the decision down to a specific question this way lets you think about things more clearly. If you know what needs to happen for a given hand to work out you can calculate the probability that it will get there. This lets you weigh the pros and cons of the hand against each other in order to determine whether it’s good enough or not. Note that this process doesn’t necessarily have to involve any actual mathematical equations. Sufficient experience in a matchup should give you a reasonable idea of the likelihood of different scenarios occurring. The point isn’t getting to an exact number, but to organize your thought process in such a way as to give you a clear answer. You’ll get far better answers if you learn to ask the right questions.

Risk vs. Reward

Keeping a risky hand when it’s correct to do so requires a certain amount of discipline. Losing the game because you kept a hand that didn’t get there can be pretty demoralizing, and it might be tempting to look for a safer keep. But you should never let irrational fears get in the way of rational decisionmaking. Sometimes you have to accept that your best chance of winning the game involves keeping a hand that will straight up lose 25% of the time because you didn’t draw a second land.

On the flipside, there’s no point in keeping an unnecessarily risky hand if you know that you can do better on a mulligan. Keeping a greedy hand and then bricking for several turns is one of the easiest ways to lose what should be a good matchup for you.

As a general rule, the more favored I am in a matchup the more inclined I am to play it safe. If a matchup is good enough I don’t need the perfect draw. I just need a hand that lets me cast my spells. On the other hand, if the matchup requires it I’ll happily take more risks. It’s better to mulligan and give yourself a shot at getting lucky than keeping a hand that isn’t gonna cut it.


There are a few common traps that are easy to fall into when it comes to mulligan decisions. If you find yourself guilty of doing any of the following, that’s a good sign that you need to be more disciplined with your mulligan decisions.

“Lands and Spells”

This is a common mistake that is easy to make if you’re not paying attention. You see a hand that has three lands and four spells so you snap it off, not realizing it is missing a key piece. It could be the threat you need in your tempo oriented deck, a specific color of mana, or anything really. If the hand doesn’t do anything, don’t keep it. This all goes back to having a plan. Don’t keep a hand just because it has “lands and spells”. Look at what the hand does, and then only keep it if it’s good enough.

“I have so many lands in hand, I’m bound to draw spells”

This is a fallacy, plain and simple. It’s true that the probability of drawing a spell is slightly higher if you keep a land heavy hand, but it’s not that much higher. I’m not saying it’s never correct to keep a five-lander (hey, I’ve kept hands with seven lands before). I’m saying you shouldn’t base your decisions on the mistaken belief that you are somehow due for drawing a certain type of card.

In my experience, this kind of fallacious thinking is related to an aversion to mulliganing. You know your odds of winning on a double mulligan aren’t that high, so you convince yourself that your current hand is better than it is in order to justify keeping it. This brings us to the next trap I see people fall into.

“There’s no way I win if I go to five”

Isn’t there? That’s an oversimplification if I ever heard one! It’s true that in general you should be less picky with what hands you keep the lower you mulligan, but if the cards you’re holding aren’t gonna get the job done you’re better off throwing them back.

Think about your average keep and how often you end the game with additional resources to spare. Winning on five cards can be tough, no doubt. But it’s by no means undoable. Especially in a format as powerful as Legacy the right start can easily outclass your opponent. You could curve [casthaven]Mother of Runes[/casthaven] into [casthaven]Stoneforge Mystic[/casthaven] and never look back, or you could reanimate a [casthaven]Griselbrand[/casthaven] on turn two and end the game on the spot. Refusing to mulligan a bad hand only delays having to deal with the problem. Accept the fact that you’re faced with some bad variance and maybe you can still turn things around before it’s too late.

Sandro is a Magic player from Stockholm, Sweden. He’s been playing Goblins in Legacy for years. Follow him on Twitter @SandroRajalin

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