You ship your opening hand back. Six spells and one land in Green-White Tokens: that's no good. Riffle shuffling and pounding your cards in and out of your deck like cresting waves rocking the side of your boat, you hope for a better six cards.
You're going first, and you draw your hand. This time around, it looks playable. You keep:
Next, because you mulliganned, you get to scry 1. You reach for your library, pull up the top card, and see this staring back at you:
You're playing Steve Rubin's build of Green-White Tokens from Grand Prix Pittsburgh.
So here you are. A big decision. Where does the Avacyn go: top or bottom?
What would you do?
Let's back up a bit.
Just a touch over a year ago, a fundamental change was made to Magic's mulligan system. If you mulligan below your starting hand size, you get to scry 1 after you decide to keep you hand—meaning you look at the top card of your library and either leave it on the top or move it to the bottom.
This change is a big deal. It's not often that Magic has a major rules change that directly impacts so many games—and this is one that happens before the first card is even played. Whether you leave that card on the top or the bottom can decide everything.
Leave the land on top? Maybe you get mana flooded and lose a close game. Ship it to the bottom? You draw one more spell early enough to press your advantage and win. The entire game can rest on this one simple decision, which you might make in the span of just a few seconds before the game begins.
Unlike evaluating a mulligan decision (which is an entire topic for a future article, certainly), where you look at a hand in context of itself and your deck, then decide if you want everything or nothing, this is a bit of a different, and highly interesting, decision. You are deciding if you want that card to join your current hand or not.
How do you decide whether to hire or fire that card? Let's look at that today.
Find What's Missing, Exclude What Isn't
When you choose to leave a card on top, you're taking the known. When you send it away, you're opting for a mystery card. To help you make these decisions, first you need to know what you're looking for.
The most common thing you'll want to look for in your scry involves first figuring out what your hand is missing and deciding whether this card helps fill that need or not.
The most basic example is with lands. Let's say you keep a hand with four spells, ranging from two to four mana, and two lands of both your colors. You scry and see a land on top. You'll want to keep that land so you can better cast your spells on time.
The above is just as true with the opposite as well: if you're light on spells, you'll generally want to leave a spell on top.
But sometime it's not that simple. Let's say you have the following borderline hand in a typical-looking White-Blue Spirits Limited deck: Plains, Plains, Island, Island, Stormrider Spirit, Emissary of the Sleepless.
You keep, then scry and see Gone Missing on top of your library.
What do you do?
Well, Gone Missing is another spell—and that's good. However, look at what it does: it doesn't fill the hole in your hand at all! It's another five-mana card. Furthermore, it's a card you generally want to use to generate advantage with a quicker draw, not something that's going to be good if you skip playing anything for the first few turns.
You'd rather have that Gone Missing, well...go missing. You need to dig one card deeper into your library as soon as possible to find some early game action here. I'd put it on the bottom of my library with little hesitation.
You keep and see a Plains on top.
Even though your hand is land starved, what you also are is color starved. If you draw an Island, you're ready to roll—whereas an extra Plains does very little for you. You need to find an Island, and I would send away that Plains to bring you closer to finding the Island on time to play your three-drop on turn three.
Of course, there are exceptions. There is a push and pull here with power level: if you're mana flooded and the top card of your library is, say, Descend upon the Sinful, you may want to keep it even though it's not going to fill the gaps in your hand. It can bail you out of a rough situation, and it's incredibly strong and worth the draw step to keep. Plus, if you have no way to shuffle, that also puts it on the bottom of your library, meaning that you're basically never going to draw it during the game.
So, what are some other methods for figuring out what you do and don't need? After all, excluding what you don't need can mean everything from sending away an unneeded creature when your hand has a perfect curve already all the way to sending away a card to make it more likely to find your combo piece. Well, a lot of that ties into...
Think Through the Game
When considering where to put the card, you should be asking yourself the following question: "Given my hand, how is this game going to play out?"
Look over your hand. Mentally run through the first few turns. How do you see the game playing out?
Let's go back to our White-Blue Spirits Draft deck. You have an opening hand of Plains, Island, Island, Selfless Spirit, Spectral Shepherd, and Emissary of the Sleepless. You keep, and see Moorland Drifter staring back at you.
What do you do?
Well, let's think through the hand.
On turn two, you're going to play that Selfless Spirit. On turn three, the Shepherd. So, where would this Drifter fit into your game plan?
You already have a two-drop you're fine playing on turn two. You have a Spirit you're happy to play on turn three. If you keep the Drifter, you're likely playing it turn four—but that's not very impressive.
On the other hand, if you send it to the bottom of your library, that gives you another chance to draw a four-drop to fill in your curve, a better three-drop, a removal spell, or even just lands to hit your Emissary on time.
I'd put the Drifter on the bottom of my library.
On the flip side, if that Moorland Drifter were a four-mana creature, I'd keep it. At four mana, it fills your curve nicely. No, it's not the land you need to get to your five-drop or to cast your four-drop—but you'll likely find one of those, and if you do, then you have a perfect curve.
Thinking through your future turns can be pretty informative about what you should do next.
Know Yourself (And, if Possible, Your Enemy)
There's a whole additional layer of context to look at: what your deck is!
When making this decision, you can take your entire deck into consideration. This is especially relevant in Constructed; you are looking for consistency and playing four copies of the majority of your cards. You have a coherent strategy. What do you want to draw to make this hand work?
Let's start moving back toward the Green-White Tokens example at the beginning of this article. Your opening hand is: Fortified Village, Plains, Forest, Dromoka's Command, Archangel Avacyn, and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.
You scry and your top card is a Canopy Vista.
What do you do?
Well, let's look at your deck. You have eight solid two-drops you could draw, plus Oath of Nissa and Evolutionary Leap, which at least gives you a turn-two play. (Not to mention Den Protector if you really want to.)
Furthermore, you know your deck has 26 lands. While you do need a fourth and fifth land, you are pretty likely to find more.
I'd send the Vista away. There is a lot more early action you can draw, and you should be able to find lands.
This can go even further when you start to know about your opponent's deck. Things begin to get even more interesting there.
Let's say you keep a hand without creatures and see Evolutionary Leap on top of your library. Normally, you would be likely to ship that thing away. But if you know your opponent is playing a control deck, for example, you absolutely want to keep that Leap there: it's one of your strongest cards in the matchup, and this gives you an extra tool.
It doesn't even have to be that extreme at the individual card level. If your opponent is aggressive—whether in Constructed or Limited—you probably want to leave your cheap, interactive creatures and spells on top of your library. If they're slower, you have time to cast your more expensive spells. (Of course, if you're an aggressive deck, perhaps you want to stay as low to the floor as possible on your curve to get ahead of the slower deck in the early game!)
Really, it's all an extension of knowing your matchups. Apply that knowledge wisely here.
So, what would I do in the situation from the beginning from the article? As a reminder, here's your opening hand:
And you just saw an Archangel Avacyn on top of your library
What do you do?
Well, let's run through and apply some of the various methods we've talked about today.
What does this hand have and what is it missing?
This hand has a two-drop, so you have an early play, which is nice. You have a spell to follow it up with if they're a creature deck and you absolutely need a play—Sylvan Advocate will win most early Dromoka's Command fights—and you have Gideon to lay down and start doing his thing.
You're missing a couple things. First, you're missing that fourth land. With 26 lands in your deck, there's a good chance you'll find it by turn four, but certainly no guarantee. Second, you're missing a good follow-up play to that Advocate. You could potentially cast Dromoka's Command, but that's not really the ideal turn-three play. A Nissa or another two-drop would be a great pickup here.
Given my hand, how is this game going to play out?
As it is, you're likely to play that Advocate turn two, then either pass on turn three or use Dromoka's Command, depending on the deck. If you draw the land necessary for Gideon, you'll certainly play him down. This leaves a hole in something else to do pre-Gideon.
What do I know about my own deck and about my opponent's?
Green-White Tokens, at its core, is a deck that wants an early game presence to be successful. If it tries to put its pieces together too late, it can begin to run into trouble. The more early game you can muster, the better you're going to be able to press the advantage with that Gideon.
In this situation as described, you don't know anything about your opponent. If they're playing a mirror, then I'm far more likely to want to keep the Avacyn. But in the dark, I wouldn't assume it.
Given all of this, nothing in there makes me super excited to keep Avacyn here. Avacyn is a very strong card, no doubt, but you're playing Constructed—your deck is full of strong cards. I can see arguments both ways, but I would rather dig to hit my drops early and give me a slightly better chance of making that fourth land drop.
My conclusion: send that Avacyn away!
From Top to Bottom
This is just one situation, and there are endless potential scry/mulligan decisions. Hopefully, the tools here arm you with information to make your opening scry as potent as possible.
Magic can be a game of inches. Master the art of this scry, and it just nudges you another little bit forward toward victory.
What did you think? What would you do here? Let me know by hitting me up on Twitter or Tumblr, or by sending me an e-mail at BeyondBasicsMagic@gmail.com. (Please try and e-mail in English, if you can.)
Additionally, if you have any plays, situations, or questions you'd like to see discussed in a future Beyond the Basics, send them my way! I'm going to have an upcoming mailbag column, and who knows—your message may be the one that inspires an entire article around it.
One final note: this weekend is Pro Tour Eldritch Moon, coming to you live from Sydney, Australia! If you're looking to up your game, I always recommend watching the Pro Tours; one of the best ways to learn is by watching some of the best play and figuring out why they're making the plays they are. You can check out more about Pro Tour Eldritch Moon by clicking here.
I'll talk with you again next week. Happy scrying!