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Level Up: Mastering Mulligans

Graeme takes a moment to go over mulligans across Magic the Gathering and Commander



Time to read: 7 minutes

“It’s game 3 and you are on the play. You’re playing for all the marbles in the last round of Friday Night Magic at your LGS. You draw your hand of cards and see no lands again. Your opponent has kept on 7 and it feels like the match is slowly slipping between your hands. It’s 2018 and you’re using the Vancouver Mulligan and so you ship it back and draw 5 cards next. You see a slow hand with 1 land and decide that you need to keep it although you’re aren’t happy with it and scry 1. You give an exasperated sigh and plan on trying your best but it already feels like you’ve lost.” 

For those who have been playing Magic the Gathering for years the above scenario isn’t a far stretch of the imagination. We’ve all played a game that feels lost to bad luck and variance which is part of the game we love. While variance can be cruel sometimes, the decision to keep or ship back a hand is a lot more nuanced than at first glance. The topic of mulligans is by no means a new topic to Magic but one that I think is often left unaddressed when talking about Commander. So today, I thought I’d cover why mulligans were created, the current mulligan rule, the 3 levels of mulligans and how to mulligan better in Commander. 

So why were mulligans created?

Mulligans were created to prevent non-games like our above scenario, but also to speed up tournament play. The London Mulligan is indisputably the strongest mulligan to see play to date and a far cry from the original no lands/all lands mulligan. At its inception, many players were concerned with its potential power for combos decks in older formats such as Legacy and Vintage. However over time, the London Mulligan has shown that while strong it hasn’t broken the game. There are some content creators today arguing that Magic is less interesting and less varied with the new mulligan rule but I’d argue it is much more important to lose to critical decisions than luck alone.  In the age of modern card design, the London Mulligan seems right at home and isn’t likely to go anywhere. 

So what does the London Mulligan look like?

Well, if you are new to Magic the Gathering, the game has a much expanded and detailed set of rules than many other games known as the comprehensive rules text.  The London Mulligan reads as follows:   

103.4 Each player draws a number of cards equal to their starting hand size, which is normally seven. (Some effects can modify a player’s starting hand size.) A player who is dissatisfied with their initial hand may take a mulligan. First, the starting player declares whether they will take a mulligan. Then each other player in turn order does the same. Once each player has made a declaration, all players who decided to take mulligans do so at the same time. To take a mulligan, a player shuffles the cards in their hand back into their library, draws a new hand of cards equal to their starting hand size, then puts a number of those cards equal to the number of times that player has taken a mulligan on the bottom of their library in any order. Once a player chooses not to take a mulligan, the remaining cards become that player’s opening hand, and that player may not take any further mulligans. This process is then repeated until no player takes a mulligan. A player can take mulligans until their opening hand would be zero cards, after which they may not take further mulligans.

In simpler terms:

  • Draw seven cards every time you mulligan
  • When you are satisfied, you place a card on the bottom of your library for each time you mulliganed 
  • Don’t scry (Unlike the Vancouver Mulligan)

The London Mulligan is used across all of Magic the Gathering with a small twist when it comes to Commander. For those who don’t know, Commander in the past few years chose to adapt the same mulligan as competitive play to simplify its rules compared to other formats. The rules committee also goes further and informally invites players to mulligan for free once per game, even in two-player games. They also suggest that you skip shuffling between mulligans and instead set aside unwanted hands and draw a new hand until you are satisfied. While these changes seem a bit arbitrary on the surface, it is very much inline with the more casual nature of Commander which focuses on fun, ease of play and interesting gameplay over competition.

The 3 Levels of Mulligans

In the following section, I’m going to break down 3 levels of mulligans and what to focus on given your experience and level of play. 


For those new to the game, choosing to mulligan should be about how playable your hand is.  It’s not enough anymore to say any hand with lands and spells is playable.  Here’s what we are looking for:

  • 2-5 lands/mana sources in lower powered games OR 2-4 lands/ mana sources in high powered games
  • Ability to cast spells in the first two turns of the game
  • Lands/mana sources of all your colors at least for the early game


For those who have been playing for a while, at an intermediate level we want to think about our game plan. Knowing your game plan comes with having experience with your deck and how you plan to win the game.  Are you trying to buy time and escape the early game to control the board or are you simply trying to win as fast as possible?  Knowing how your deck works will help you leverage your opening hand. Let’s look at some examples:

  • Aggressive decks need very little mana to enact their gameplan.  A hand with 1-2 lands can be keepable if the rest of the cards are gas!  This is a deck looking to go as fast as possible and in Commander, it will look like an all-in combo deck like Godo, Bandit Warlord or like a Voltron one like Galea, Kindler of Hope. 
  • Control needs a much more balanced hand of lands and spells.  If a control deck falls behind on lands the opponent can overload their ability to counterspell and control the game.  Once a control deck gets out of the early game, it is much better positioned to win.
  • Midrange looks to have the right half of their deck for any given match up.  Often Midrange decks have relevant cards for all opponents but also have less optimal cards.  In Commander, midrange can look like Stax looking to shut down unfair strategies and grind their opponents down.
  • Combo decks can have elements of all of the above strategies.  Often the presence of blue means you are going to be much more patient and will therefore be looking for a more balanced hand. In contrast, a mono-red combo deck like the above Godo looks to win before opponents can leave up interaction so want 1-2 lands and all the fast mana it can find.

At an intermediate level, we want to think about our game plan and how our hands can help us towards it or not. This doesn’t happen overnight and can take pilots years of practice to master for a given deck,


At the advanced level of play we start to consider not only what our game plan is but what our opponent’s game plans might be.  This helps us look at the match-up and see what our role is in the game.  Are we on the offensive or defensive? This can also go one step further and contain specific insight into your local meta or playgroup. 

For Example:

  • Do you need early game interaction for a T1 Ragivan, Nimble Pilferer? 
  • Are you looking for specific cards to give you an edge?  (Like sideboard cards in Game 2&3)
  • Knowing if you can play off-curve and develop slower and leave up more interaction
  • How you plan to win against your opponents deck

With advanced levels of play, Magic the Gathering starts to look like grandmasters of chess looking 5 turns into the future.  It is only with a mindset of continual improvement and practice that we can aspire to be a better player. 

Mulligans in Commander:

In Commander, mulligans are often not thought about as critically as in competitive play.  While Commander is a much more casual format, I’d argue that starting with a good opening hand is important for our ability to participate and have fun.  It is for this reason that I think we should worry less about needing to shuffle our cards and how we plan to approach the game. In Commander there are often 3 different stages to the game: Board Development, Stabilizing and Ending the Game.  The Board Development phase of the game is exactly how it sounds, it is about making all your land-drops, ramping and drawing more cards.  With how much faster the game is today versus a few years ago, missing land drops or only adding 1 mana worth of land/ramp is often too slow. We can expect to spend at least 3-5 turns developing our board so the opening hand you start with has to do a lot of heavy lifting. There is often an argument that Simic decks are some of the strongest decks in casual and competitive Commander and that’s for good reason.  Simic decks have some of the best ability to develop the board through value engines and card-draw cards to re-fuel their hands. So, when it comes to mulligans in Commander we want to consider not only the match-up but will our hand help us develop our board and draw us into the middle game.  

Ideal Opening Hand:

  • 3 Lands 
  • 1-2 Ramp cards
  • 1 Card-draw card
  • 1 Piece of Interaction 

So remember, in Commander we want to keep hands that help us not miss land drops, get ahead of the curve and draw us into the middle of the game.  While we might dismiss mulligans initially, they are a powerful tool to help you have much more enjoyable games.  

Graeme is a Canada-based Commander fanatic, and these days can be found jamming some MTG Arena, GTFO, Star Wars Squadrons or supporting his local game store. 

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