Posted in GRAND PRIX SHIZUOKA 2015 on January 11, 2015

By Frank Karsten

Khans of Tarkir Block Limited is full of temptations. With so many powerful multicolored cards, it can be difficult to resist the temptation to stretch your mana base. Take a look, for example, at the following deck registered by 2006 Player of the Year Shota Yasooka yesterday:

Shota Yasooka – 5-color sealed deck, Grand Prix Shizuoka 2015

Download Arena Decklist

Featuring the casual curve of turn-2 Rattleclaw Mystic, turn-3 Savage Knuckleblade, turn-4 Butcher of the Horde, turn-5 Sagu Mauler, and turn-6 Duneblast, this is quite an exciting collection of cards. They’re all in different colors, but thanks two Banners, a Rattleclaw Mystic, and a bunch of lands, Yasooka was able to make the mana work out: He had 9 black sources for his main color and 6 sources for green, blue, red, and white.

But I'm not going to focus too much on the specific contents of the deck, especially since we’re drafting today. I just presented it to provide a context for one of the more difficult challenges arising from multicolor decks: which hands to mulligan and which hands to keep?

To understand how to deal with hands containing too many or too few colors, I walked around the room to seek out the opinion of several pros in attendance today. As fate would have it, I found Martin Jůza, Ivan Floch, and Christian Calcano sitting together while discussing one of Martin’s recent opening hands. (That hand, for the record, was Sorin, Solemn Visitor, Hordeling Outburst, Bloodfire Mentor, 3 Plains, and 1 Swamp, and the trio of globetrotters couldn’t reach a consensus on whether or not the strength of Sorin alone would be sufficient to keep a hand that lacked a source for Martin’s main color.)

From left to right - Ivan Floch, Martin Jůza, and Christian Calcano

I presented them with three opening hands taken from the decklist shown above.

A hand with amazing spells but only two lands

Calcano: “I’d keep it on the draw. If you draw a land, you at least have a morph and a way to protect it. I’d probably keep it on the play too, but it would be a sketchy keep.”

Floch: “I would keep it on the draw, but I would mulligan it on the play.”

Jůza: “18 lands and 2 Banners? I would keep this on the draw. You have Duneblast too, which is one of the best cards in the deck. On the play, it’s more difficult. Savage Knuckleblade will be hard to cast because you only have 6 green sources, and if you get behind it will be really hard to come back. I’d probably mulligan this on the play.”

I see two key lessons here. First, land-light hands can be more readily kept on the draw than because you have an extra turn to find the land. Second, hands containing the best card in your deck should also be kept more readily because it improves your chance of victory if you find the lands.

A hand with a perfect mix of lands and spells, but missing a crucial color

Calcano: “That’s action right there! If you draw a Banner, you can go turn-3 Banner, Disowned Ancestor. On the draw I would keep, but on the play I would mulligan. There’s something you have to know about my mulligan decisions, though: I grew up playing with Gerard Fabiano, and he never mulligans. Ever. Then again, in this format, with all multi-color stuff, it is difficult to hit your colors if you go down to six cards, so keeping loose hands is more acceptable.”

Floch: “Nine black sources? I mull on the play, but I’m not sure what I would do on the draw.”

Jůza: “You guys are loose. Mulligan! Even if you draw a black land soon, you can still only cast one spell a turn and you have not done anything yet.”

An important lesson here is that it is essential to know how many sources of every color you have in your deck. With a hand like this, there’s a world of difference between a deck with 6 black sources and a deck with 9 black sources.

A hand with 6 lands and only 1 weak spell, but with perfect mana

Calcano: “This hand needs one more spell. Put any non-land card instead of the Swamp and I snap-keep. But I cannot keep this hand. You still have 12 more lands and 2 Banners in your deck; the risk of mana flood is too high.”

Floch: “Mulligan. On the play, I almost want to keep it, but I still mulligan. The reason why I’m more willing to keep this on the play than on the draw is that you’re not going to miss any land drops with this hand, and thus you can play any spells you draw sooner. In contrast, hands that are under-landed are easier to keep on the draw.”

Jůza: “Mulligan. If you want to gamble, play Russian roulette. Err, I mean the regular roulette--not the Russian variety.”

I think there are two useful lessons here. First, perfect mana is not everything; you need more than one spell even in a high-power deck like this. Second, it’s easier to keep hands that are land-flooded on the play than on the draw.

Mulligan decisions remain an important part of the game, and although consensus is hard to reach, the right mulligans can be the difference between and a loss.