May 1, 2019617 views

Five Ways the London Mulligan Impacts Modern

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For those unaware, the Mythic Championship in London this past weekend featured a new mulligan rule as an experiment to address the number of quick, non-interactive games that sometimes occur when players start with less than seven cards. After taking a mulligan, you still draw a full hand of seven cards, then select one of those seven cards to put back on the bottom of your library. If you mulligan twice, you draw seven and put two back, etc. On the surface, this is more powerful than a simple scry. Instead of just being able to make a decision on the top card of your library, you get to choose which card to put back, leading to better five and six card hands overall. All other things being equal, a stronger mulligan rule will narrow the win percentage gap and lead to more "real" games of Magic, but what other consequences will there be in a format like Modern with so many powerful strategies? As I think the feedback has been generally positive, there's a good chance that the London mulligan rule will be here to stay. I've been testing with it for the past month and can say fairly conclusively that it does, in fact, lead to more competitive games. While everyone was originally worried about broken combos and being able to find specific hate cards, some of the more subtle effects had a profound influence on the Mythic Championship metagame.


1. Deck Fail Rates Drop Significantly Every deck has a fail rate, which is to say that there are some percentage of games where it simply fails to execute its game plan in a reasonable time frame. For some decks, that could just mean missing your second land drop for a few turns, while others may never find key signature cards like Ensnaring Bridge or Ad Nauseam. Even if you mulligan aggressively, some speculative keeps simply don't pan out. The London mulligan rule lets you see more cards in those second and third hands, helping you find those important cards as well as a better mix of lands and spells. The biggest winners in this regard are decks like Tron and Dredge that can function perfectly well with a small number of cards, as long as they start with the right enablers.


2. Players Will Mulligan More Often This is simple mathematics. When you decide to mulligan, the judgment you are often making is that your average six card hand will be better than your initial seven. As six card hands are a little stronger with the new mulligan rule, it's only natural that it places a higher standard on what you should be willing to keep. As the risk of mulliganing into oblivion is also reduced, players will generally be more willing to gamble. UW Control is an example of a deck that benefits from the fact that opponents will mulligan more, as it relies on answering threats on a one-for-one basis before eventually taking over with a planeswalker. By the same token, cards like Liliana of the Veil go up in value as starting with fewer cards means players will be exhausted of resources more quickly.


3. Disruption Goes Up in Value As players mulligan more often for good hands, they will, on average, start with less total resources, leading to a fragility that makes them more susceptible to disruption like Thoughtseize that answer threats on a one-for-one basis. The hands that players do keep are also more likely to be very good. These two factors ensure that disruption is both more important and more effective. While early suggestions were that combo would be heavily advantaged, reactive decks actually gain a fair bit from the metagame shift as well as from the in-game decisions players are encouraged to make. Although midrange attrition decks like BG and UW benefit from this situation, another card that improves significantly is Burning Inquiry, which wreaks havoc on smaller, more fragile hands. While the metagame seemed to keep Hollow One from showing up in numbers at the Mythic Championships, it could be an archetype to keep an eye on.


4. Card Disadvantage is More Costly With players starting with fewer cards in hand, sacrificing resources for utility suddenly becomes a much riskier proposition. While it was considered for a ban in the last update, Faithless Looting is a good example of a card that suffers from the new mulligan rule. Losing a card to filter through your deck is a much bigger cost on a mulligan to five than with a full seven card hand. Assassin's Trophy also takes a hit, as having less resources to work with overall makes each a little more valuable. If nothing else, this regression to the mean was perhaps a good enough reason to leave Faithless Looting in the format for now, at least its adjusted power level can be assessed.


5. Consistency is a Less Valued Commodity While the London mulligan rule does technically lead to better draws regardless of your archetype, decks do not all benefit in equal amounts. As we've established, decks that rely on finding key cards improve significantly, and those relying on disruption receive a tangential boost. By comparison, decks already designed with consistency in mind, or that require a critical mass of resources, tend to take a relative step backwards. Titan Shift, for example, is a deck predominantly made up of lands and ramp spells that mulligans fairly infrequently. While you do need to start with a green source in hand, you mainly just want to make sure you're hitting land drops and accelerating to one of your gamebreaking plays. Most opening hands are functional, and the new mulligan rule won't change your game plan significantly. Burn operates on a similar wavelength as it really just wants to keep casting burn spells. When talking about critical mass, Storm and Affinity are examples of decks that care a lot about total resources. Affinity wants as many artifacts as possible to take advantage of overpowered Arcbound Ravagers and Cranial Platings, while Storm needs to cast enough spells to ensure a lethal Grapeshot. While these more consistent decks do benefit from the London mulligan, they remain heavily incentivized to keep their opening hands whenever possible. Though, as we saw in London, they are, of course, still capable of putting up good results, especially if the metagame shifts in their favor.
Overall, I do think that the London mulligan represents an improvement to the Modern format, and expect it to be permanently adopted once Wizards of the Coast tabulates the results of the initial experiment. The Mythic Championship didn't go that well for me this time around, but I did learn a lot about how this rule changes the format and anticipate plenty of opportunities to put that to good use as we look ahead to Modern Horizons. Thanks for reading!
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Justin Lingg, CongoBill, and 2 others
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Do you think the new mulligan rule will let low cmc decks (burn, 8-whack, affinity, etc) cut a land or two without losing consistency?