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The Art of Mulligans, Part III

Dec. 27, 2005
By Zvi Mowshowitz
Special to The Magic Lampoon
     Last week I mentioned that the scope of this column
was broadening to include any decisions I can make for
you in a game of Magic, but this week I have ever better
news to deliver: due to the popularity of my last two
articles, this column will now exclusively address the vast
and interesting topic of mulligans. This means that I'll be
able to comment on the riveting history of the mulligan,
speculate on what's in store for the mulligan, but mostly, I
can rant for pages and pages about how everything you
ever thought is wrong. Sounds like fun!
     Today, I'd like to apply what we've already learned
about mulligans to examples from contemporary decks.
However, my editor reminds me that that's just what I did
last week, so then I got really creative and decided to tap
into the annals of Magic (a wonderful experience if you
ever get the chance) and create some sample hands from
the decks of yore. One deck in particular struck my fancy
because it allows me to show how mulliganing correctly
can help even the simplest of strategies. I'm speaking of
course of the classic Timetwister/Black Lotus deck,
whose basic victory plan is to cost more than the
net-worth of your opponent. The decklist is as follows:

LotusTwiser circa 1994
40 Black Lotus
40 Timetwister

     Now onto some "random" hands:
Would you keep this hand?
      The first thing you should say to yourself when you
look at this hand is, "No lands? There's no way I can keep
this." This is true in most situations, however, if you
closely examine the text of the cards (I know, the art is
pretty too), you'll notice that Black Lotus produces mana
at no cost, something very few nonland cards do. In fact,
my calculations tell me that due to the fact that Lotus can
produce three mana without even requiring a land-drop, it
is worth approximately 3.5 lands. So we can easily see
how this hand doesn't have zero lands; it has seven!
      But, if we remember correctly from the first
installment of this series, a seven-land hand is an
automatic mulligan, so it turns out that our initial impulse
to mulligan was indeed justified. This leads me to another
key-concept: trusting gut feelings. You may notice in my
articles I tend to stress extreme analysis, analysis of even
small and seemingly meaningless choices. This is because
I get paid to write. You, however, are a casual gamer
who does not get paid to play. So go ahead and keep
one-land hands -- see if I care!
What about this one?
      This is what I like to call the "one missing piece"
hand. Why? Because I'm a freaking genius, that's why.  
You see, assuming you draw a Black Lotus you're set.  
It's "missing" because you don't have it, and it's a "piece"
because it solves the puzzle. See? Missing ... piece. The
"one" is there because you need only one card. One …
missing … piece. Say it slowly; that's it. Good job!
      All right, so what I, err ... you, have to consider is
whether the cost of mulliganing this hand outweighs the
cost of not having the needed piece. Since I totally
fabricated the hand, it's completely meaningless; the
chances of you actually drawing this hand are less than
0.7 percent.  If I drew this hand, the first thing I'd do is
buy a lottery ticket, and then, I'd probably mulligan it.
How about this?
      This hand presents a really fascinating decision:
while you're quite likely to win turn one with it, if your
opponent notices the incongruous Werebear you may
very well receive a game or match loss for an improper
decklist. Determining whether its correct to mulligan here
requires careful self-examination of your own cheating
skills. Do you think you could slip that Werebear under
the Twisters without your opponent noticing?  If so, this
is a keeper; if not, shuffle them up.
      That's it for this article. If you have any questions,
feel free to ask them; if you have any comments or
suggestions, you're wrong. Tune in next week when I
write essentially the same thing but use different pictures
to stress my points. Until then, may you never keep a
hand.

-- Sam Hopkins