Drafters’ Corner: Mulling Over Mulligans

“To mull or not to mull?”, that is the question every player asks at the start of each game. For this week’s article, I’ll be talking about how to make mulligan decisions and go over some sample hands. For a primer to this article, I would recommend reading my previous Drafting 101 article first which has a short introduction on mulligans.

Mulligan System

Before talking about mulligan decisions, it’s important to first understand the current mulligan system being implemented. Post mulligan, there is equal chances of getting 2, 3 or 4 power hands. This has 3 main implications for draft mulligans. Firstly, because the odds of getting extremely power screwed, you can afford to be slightly greedier with your mulligans. Secondly, because of the generous mulligan system, it is important to have early plays to avoid simply being run over.

Lastly, because the mulligan system only considers pure power cards, Initiate of the Sands, Seek Power and to a lesser extent, Avirax Familiar and Amber Acolyte, are great cards to run to mitigate power screw and artificially increase your power count post-mulligan. With such cards in your deck, you can also afford to be slightly greedier with your mulligans.

Play vs Draw

Having an extra draw step when on the draw allows for greedier keeps. For example, a 2 power hand with no 2 drops, but good 3+ drops is almost always a no-go when you are on a play, but a keep could be considered when you are on the draw.

The strength of certain cards can also vary greatly depending on whether you are on the play or draw. Low cost infiltrate cards (such as Blood Beetle, Lethrai Ranger) are much stronger when you are on the play since they are harder to answer on curve to prevent infiltrates. In contrast, reactive cards (such as Static Bolt, Talon of Nostrix) are stronger when you are on the draw. Playing either of those onto an empty board is not ideal.

Ideal Amount of Power

As a general rule of thumb, mulling a hand with 1, 5 or 6 power is usually correct. In most decks, the ideal amount of power in your opening hand is 3. 2 or 4 power hands with good card quality and nice curve outs could also be marginal keeps. How aggressive or control-oriented can also influence your power requirements. Aggressive decks are more likely to keep 2-power hands while control-oriented decks can consider keeping a 4-power hand if it has good early defensive drops.

Rule of 3

One common piece of advice that top drafters like to give is the rule of 3. What this means is that if your hand has nothing to do for the first 3 turns, you should always mull. Not playing anything for the first 3 turns is one of the easiest ways to get run over in draft. Ideally, you want a hand with something to do on turn 2 and something else to follow up with on turn 3. If you are missing a turn 2 play, you generally want a strong turn 3 play (e.g. Auric Sentry, Brightmace Paladin) to compensate and prevent falling behind on board.

“Dead” Cards

Another factor that I use to decide mulligans is the number of “dead” cards in my hand. Firstly, any card that I do not have the correct influence to play is considered “dead”. Secondly, cards costing 5 or more is also considered “dead”. This is because there is a high chance that I won’t be able to cast these cards at a reasonable time and hence, they are likely to just be clogging up my hand as unplayable cards. I never kept a hand with more than 2 dead cards, and 2 dead cards is the fringe scenario that I could be tempted into keeping if the rest of the cards are of sufficiently high quality.

Deck Constitution

One of the most important factors to take into account is the deck itself. Knowing the game plan of the deck and the strengths and weaknesses of the deck can allow you to make more informed choices. A deck with a well-balanced curve can afford to be more aggressive with the mulligans. Knowing what are your best units and how much power you wish to hit can also make you a better judge of your current hand quality. While these concepts are pretty abstract and hard to nail down, hopefully the following sample hands would make it more clear.

Sample Hands

For this article, we will be looking at sample hands from 2 of my recent draft decks, a Praxis deck with a Primal Splash and a straight Hooru deck (Note these decks were before the balance changes).

Deck 1: Praxis with a Primal Splash

DecklistFor this deck, I actually had a tough time deciding whether I wanted to cut the Jawbone Hatchet or Amaran Archeologist for the 18th power.  However, with 3 fetches (2 Amber Acolyte, 1 Amaran Archeologist), 1 Avirax Familar and a cycle in the form of Dispel, I felt justified to slightly cheat on power. There is an argument for cutting Amaran Archeologist for a sigil, but given the FFF influence cost of Flamestoker, I valued his fixing ability very highly.

For this deck, the general gameplan was to go for an aggressive opening with my low cost minions and keeping the opponent’s board clear with my removal suite. The 2 Cannonbearers and Flamestoker provided a form of late game insurance.

Hand 12

Two power hands are generally an iffy keep. While this hand has the potential to ramp up to 4 with a single power draw, having 2 “dead” cards in the form of Amaran Archeologist and Cannonbearer makes this hand an easy mull.

Final Decision: Mulligan

Hand 2 3.PNG

4 power hands is not what you want to see as an aggressive deck. Moreover, without a turn 2 play, I am highly unlikely to be able to spark Hatchet, making it an extremely weak card.

Final Decision: Mulligan

Hand 34

This hand is an unfortunate mulligan. While it has the potential to go nuts with a single Time sigil drawn, there are 4 “dead” cards currently. If one of the Fire sigils were a Banner or a Time sigil, this hand would be a snap keep. Even though I might miss the 3rd power, I can always just turn my Stranger into a 3/3 flier.

Final Decision: Mulligan

Hand 47.PNG

While this is effectively a 5 power hand, being able to have running plays from turn 2 onwards makes it a tempting keep. Moreover, if I fetched a Fire Sigil with my Amber Acolyte, I will have the right influence to cast all the cards in my deck. Sequencing the power plays for this hand is important as well. By playing a Banner turn 1, I would be able to play both Amber Acolyte and Striped Araktodon on turn 3 and turn 4 even if the Stranger gets removed. I should also play the Fire Sigil turn 2 so that if I draw my hatchet, I am able to still play Banner and Hatchet on turn 3 to avoid having a depleted power.

Final Decision: Keep

Hand 59.PNG

This hand is extremely marginal. Flamestoker is a dead card until I hit 6 power. Moreover, Teleport is relatively situational. However, opening with a Stranger into Accelerated Evolution is still a decent opening.  Having most of my influence is what sways me towards a keep, but I can see the rationale behind a mulligan if I was on the play.

Final Decision: Toss-up (leaning towards keep) if on the play, Keep if on the draw

Hand 610.PNG

Remember everything I said about tempo being important? Well, this hand retorts, who needs tempo when you are nearly guaranteed a turn 6 “I win” card? I would snap keep this hand despite it looking slightly weak at first glance. Outside of consecutive power draws or my other 2 6-drops, this hand has nearly no bad draws since I have the influence to play all of my other cards.

Final Decision: Keep

Hand 711.PNG

Having Bladekin Apprentice in my opening hand makes it an extremely tempting keep. However, with 2 “dead” cards in my hand and Copper Conduit only really being worth casting at 5 power or more, I actually have nothing to do after playing Bladekin Apprentice and the Stranger. Moreover, without any of my removal spells, my entire snowball can be easily stopped by a Bold Adventurer or any other 3 health units.

Final Decision: Mulligan

Hand 814.PNG

This hand is a snap keep in my opinion. Going turn 1 Oni Ronin into turn 2 Accelerated Evolution is an extremely powerful and hard to answer opening. Having Time Weaver and 4 power in my hand also means that I am likely to play it on curve and effectively remove a card from my opponent’s hand.

Final Decision: Keep

Deck 2: Hooru

Decklist.PNGThis deck also has an more midrange slant where it orients more heavily around getting in early damage with District Infantry and finishing the game with my huge fliers. With regards to the power base, there is an argument to swap a Justice Sigil for a Primal Sigil to have equal sources. However, I felt that increasing the chances of being able to play my District Infantry on turn 1 is slightly more important than the increased chances of hitting double primal by turn 4 for Shelterwing Rider and Jotun Cyclops. Notably, this deck has only 5 2-drops and 3 3-drops. Thus, I need to be more conservative with my mulligans in general, but also more aggressively throwing back hands with no early game as I am unlikely to draw into them.

Hand 11.PNG

Given the low number of 2-drops in this deck, a 2-power hand is much more sketchy. The 2 high-cost drops are also unlikely to come down anytime soon, making this hand an easy mulligan.

Final Decision: Mulligan

Hand 22.PNG

Without knowing the deck, this hand is a very marginal call. However, given that my deck is low on good 2 and 3 drops, this hand is a easy keep for me. Moreover, if I am able to trigger the looting effect on Crafty Yeti, it becomes a decent 3-drop.

Final Decision: Keep

Hand 33.PNG

This hand is very marginal. However, there’s a chance of high rolling with Tranquil Scholar to pull me ahead. Moreover, I have plays for turn 2 to turn 4 regardless of my draws, which is significantly better than most hands I would expect to see. Again, this ties back to the point that I have to be more conservative given the lack of early game in this deck.

Final Decision: Keep

Hand 45.PNG

This is not a great hand. However, having a good play on turn 2 and likely a good follow-up on turn 4 makes me much more inclined to keep this hand. I can’t reasonably expect to mulligan into a significantly better hand given my below average early game and thus, I would keep this hand.

Final Decision: Keep

Hand 57.PNG

This is a pretty decent hand in general. Moreover, knowing that most of my strongest units are 4 cost or more, a 4 power hand is not as bad as it is for most other decks. Lastly, having things to do for my first 3 turns makes this hand a snap keep.

Final Decision: Keep

Hand 611.PNG

This is an extremely marginal hand. At first glance, a 2 power hand is almost an auto-mulligan given the mid-high curve that out deck has. However, if we were to draw consecutive power, this hand curves out insanely well with power-efficient drops from 2 power to 5 power. On the play, I have 67% chance of hitting my 3rd power drop on curve, while on the draw, that increases to 82%. Given that this hand becomes significantly worse if I miss the 3rd power drop, I would mulligan if I were on the play, but keep if I were on the draw.

Final Decision: Mull if on the play, Keep if on the draw

Hand 713.PNG

At first glance, this does not seem like an ideal hand for a midrange deck, with nothing costing above 2. However, opening with District Infantry, into Stranger, into Argenport Soldier and District Infantry is probably one of the strongest openings that any deck, including aggro decks, can have. So even though this hand does not seem to synergize with the overall gameplan of the deck, it has a good chance of simply running over the opponent regardless of future draws, making it an easy keep in my books.

Final Decision: Keep

Hand 814.PNG

This is another hand that is worth considering for a keep due to the 2 and 3 drop, similar to Hand 6. However, the key difference is that this hand is missing a 4-drop. Moreover, it has 2 dead cards in the form of the 6-power bombs, making it a mull.

Final Decision: Mull

Conclusion

I know there’s been requests for more in-depth articles going over mulligans and I hope this article helped to provide more insight into the mulligan decision. Do let me know if you’ve enjoyed this article and if you would like to see more articles of this type in the reddit thread.

May the mulligans be ever in your favor,
Flash2351