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Howdy Blizzpro! [DKMR]Varranis here from team Don’t Kick My Robot to change things up a bit! This week we’ll be talking about mulligans and how to improve how you mulligan.
So what is a mulligan? The term originates from golf, where it refers to a free shot sometimes given to a golfer in informal play when the previous shot was poorly played. More generally, a mulligan refers to a “redo” or a “second chance.” The term was popularized in competitive card games by Magic: The Gathering. In Magic: The Gathering, a player may declare a mulligan after drawing his or her initial hand, shuffle his or her entire hand into their deck, and draw a new hand with one less card. A player may do this any number of times, drawing one less card each time.
Hearthstone has less strict mulligan rules, allowing you to mulligan (or “replace”) individual cards to receive a new random card from your deck. While in Magic you’re often looking to mulligan for a hand with a cohesive game plan, mulligans in Hearthstone allow you to sculpt your hand to a specific match-up.
Deciding your mulligan is the first thing you do each game, and one of the most important parts of the game. Knowing how to mulligan is crucial to performing well in Hearthstone. First we’re going to discuss general tips when performing a mulligan and then look at specific examples using popular decks.
Most decks want to mulligan for a hand with a strong early game. Having a powerful start allows you to dictate the course of the game. This ability to steer the course of a game is what is often referred to as “tempo.” Most commonly, tempo is maintained by using minions or spells to remove your opponent’s minions and keep their board clear. Making a play every turn (often referred to as staying on “curve”) is crucial to keeping your own minions on the board and removing your opponent’s. An example of a generic powerful opening would be turn 1 Argent Squire, turn 2 Loot Hoarder, turn 3 Harvest Golem. This hand will typically allow you to set the pace of the game by using your early minions to trade for your opponent’s (often on a 2-for-1 basis). This is the sort of hand most decks want to mulligan for.
When deciding on a mulligan, we always look at our initial hand and consider each turn we plan to play a card. For most decks, we will generally mulligan for at least a turn 2 and turn 3 play. If we’re playing a more aggressive deck such as Warlock Aggro or Hunter Aggro, we will mulligan more aggressively for a turn 1 play. It’s important to remember that you can use your Hero Power as a turn 2 play in a pinch. This is more or less important depending on your deck and class. For example, Warlock Aggro is off to a bad start if it has to Life Tap on turn 2. Warlock Giants, however, frequently prefers to Life Tap on turn 2. You can also frequently combine cards of lower cost to stay on curve. Two one drops on turn 2 is often as strong as or stronger than playing a single two drop on turn 2. In the same way, your turn 3 can often be utilized most effectively by casting a one drop and using your Hero Power.
Staying on curve is more important for linear aggressive decks than it is for more reactive control decks. Warlock Giants and Warrior Control are on the opposite end of the spectrum from a deck like Warlock Aggro. When playing a control deck, it’s often more important to mulligan for answers or powerful cards geared toward winning the specific match-up you’re in than it is to mulligan for a strong early curve. For example, Warlock Giants usually wants Mountain Giant in its opening hand. Mountain Giant is not “on curve” per se, but is one of the strongest turn 4 plays in the game. Warrior Control frequently wants removal such as Slam or card draw like Acolyte of Pain in its opening hand. While you may end up playing Slam on turn 2 and Acolyte on turn 3 and simulate staying on curve, the purpose those cards actually serve is to control the game and draw you cards that propel you into the late game. In fact, you may not play Slam until turn 8 depending on other removal in your hand and what your opponent plays. Yet Slam is still a card you frequently want in your opening hand since it allows you to respond to your opponent’s early plays.
While we almost always consider Harvest Golem a “three drop,” we don’t consider a spell like Lightning Bolt a one drop. Instead we consider it in terms of “will I need this.” Stated more broadly, when performing a mulligan we think of minions in terms of how they fit my curve and we consider removal on an as-needed basis. While Swipe is a fantastic removal spell, we may want to mulligan it against my Warrior Control opponent because we may not need it. This is especially true if your deck cares about staying on curve and you do not currently have a strong curve. Remember, the more cards you replace, the more likely it is you’ll get the cards you need.
What better way to explore the art of mulligans than to look at some example hands from popular decks? Let’s dive in!
Let’s consider some examples from traditional aggressive strategies first.
EXAMPLE 1 – WARLOCK ZOO
In this example we’re on the play and we’ve decided to mulligan all three cards. We are a very aggressive deck, so we’d ideally like to play a strong minion each turn starting with the first. This hand provides us no minions to play until turn 3. While we could pass our first turn, Life Tap on turn 2, and play Scarlet Crusader turn 3, that is not likely a winning strategy with this deck. Doomguard is incredibly powerful, but we can’t afford to keep a five mana minion in our hand with this deck, especially considering our lack of other minions on curve. We could keep either the Scarlet Crusader or the Shattered Sun Cleric to retain a turn 3 play, but we then reduce our chances of obtaining a turn 1 play. Finding a one drop is especially important since we’re on the play and do not have access to the coin. Let’s see how this turned out.
We got our one drop! Unfortunately, the rest of our hand is a little disappointing. Argent Commander is similar to Doomguard in that, while powerful, he costs too much mana for this early in the game. Mortal Coil is better suited against other aggressive decks where it can snipe a Young Priestess or combo with an Argent Squire to remove a Knife Juggler. Fortunately, our worst case scenario against Shaman will likely be to use the Mortal Coil to remove a totem and draw a card. While the hand we received is not especially powerful, it will likely give us a better shot at winning than our initial hand. We may not have gotten a one drop if we hadn’t replaced all three cards in our initial hand. It’s important to note that we only have our first turn to find a turn 1 play while we will have another turn or more to find a turn 2 or 3 play. Thus it’s most important to mulligan for a turn 1 play if your deck highly values playing a card on the first turn.
EXAMPLE 2 – DRUID TOKENS
It is crucial that we stay on curve against the Hunter as we will need to simultaneously pressure his life total and trade for his minions. We have an incredibly powerful opening with either a turn 1 Harvest Golem or a turn 2 Keeper of the Grove. In this example, we’ve chosen to mulligan the Keeper of the Grove. We don’t necessarily believe it’s a mistake to keep the Keeper of the Grove, but replacing him will improve our chances of staying on curve. A turn 1 Harvest Golem is already a very strong play and saving the Innervate for turn 2 will sacrifice our ability to make a play on turn 1. Saving the Innervate to play turn 2 Keeper of the Grove and turn 3 Harvest Golem is also risky as the Keeper of the Grove loses significant value if the Hunter does not play a creature for the Keeper to remove with his Battlecry. Let’s see what we got.
While we already have a turn 1 play, Argent Squire is by no means bad. We have the option of playing the Squire turn 1, but unless our draw step offers us a Druid of the Claw or Violet Teacher, playing the Harvest Golem on turn 1 will likely be our best use of the Innervate. Ideally we would have liked to see a Loot Hoarder or Nat Pagle to stay on curve and maximize our mana, but Argent Squire or Hero Power should be a fine turn 2 play against Hunter.
EXAMPLE 3 – HUNTER AGGRO
While often lumped together with Warlock Aggro in the basket of linear aggressive strategies, Hunter Aggro is more akin to a combo deck. Cards such as Unleash the Hounds and Starving Buzzard are significantly better against certain decks or with specific cards. Unleash the Hounds is one of the more powerful cards in the deck and enables and empowers many of your other cards, so we will generally always keep it unless we feel it is specifically weak in a certain match-up. Starving Buzzard on the other hand is fairly weak on its lonesome and we will frequently replace it unless we have Unleash the Hounds. In the above example, we have both Starving Buzzard and Unleash the Hounds. Their combination is so powerful that we feel we’d be amiss to mulligan either against nearly any deck. While we’d prefer to have a minion we can play on turn 1 or 2, we are content to use Steady Shot until the Warlock presents a particularly good turn for us to use our combo. Our combo should provide enough cards to fuel our next several turns. Kill Command is either an expensive removal spell or an efficient damage spell. Unleash the Hounds and Arcane Shot already provide us with needed removal, and direct damage should not be valued very highly as it provides neither tempo or card advantage. There are many cards we’d prefer in our starting hand over Kill Command.
It’s important to consider what deck you believe your opponent is playing when deciding a mulligan. we find Warlock Aggro to be more common than Warlock Giants, so we have made my mulligan accordingly. Arcane Shot is specifically weak against Warlock Giants as it will generally serve as no more than a Steady Shot that costs a card. Arcane Shot is very powerful against Warlock Aggro as it is a simple, one card answer to troublesome minions such as Knife Juggler. While having both Buzzard and Unleash the Hounds makes me reluctant to mulligan either, it’s worth noting that neither is particularly powerful against Warlock Giants. Hunter’s best strategy against Warlock Giants is generally to play a more generic, linear aggro game with Leper Gnomes and Wolfriders to whittle down the Warlock player’s health. Near the end of the game you want to be in a position where you can Steady Shot and Kill Command for lethal even if your opponent manages to produce a Taunted Molten Giant. If you think your opponent is playing Warlock Giants, it’s worth considering replacing this entire hand.
Animal Companion or Leper Gnome would have been preferable to Arcane Golem, but Arcane Golem does provide us a strong minion to play on turn 3 or 4. We would hesitate to Coin it out on turn 2 unless you feel it’s absolutely necessary. Arcane Golem is generally easy to remove and providing your opponent an extra mana early is exponentially detrimental. We would likely play this hand very reactively. Since we have the Starving Buzzard/Unleash the Hounds combo, we would be hesitant to use Arcane Shot on anything short of a Knife Juggler since it weakens our combo. As we mentioned previously, we’re perfectly content to use Steady Shot until we have a good turn to use our combo. we would save the Coin either to use the combo on turn 3 (if it makes sense) or to power a future turn.
Now let’s look at some midrange and control strategies.
EXAMPLE 4 – SHAMAN MIDRANGE
As a Shaman Midrange player, we’re generally looking to build incremental advantage with cheap removal spells and efficient minions to set up a clear turn to deal lethal with Rockbiter Weapon and some form of Windfury (Doomhammer and Al’Akir being popular examples). The hand above is very solid. We can play Argent Squire on turn 1 and Coin into Unbound Elemental on turn 2. Lightning Bolt should allow us to remove a mid-sized minion and buff our Unbound Elemental. While Lightning Bolt is strong, we don’t particularly need a second one. We believe we gain more by replacing it and diversifying the cards in our starting hand.
Note that there are a few scenarios where we would not want to play our Argent Squire on turn 1. The most common of these is if the Rogue player plays their own Argent Squire on turn 1. If we then play our Argent Squire on our turn 1, the Rogue can use their Hero Power and Squire to remove ours at little cost. Since we’re not a linear, aggressive deck, it is not terribly detrimental being unable to make a turn 1 play. Playing our Squire against the Rogue’s Squire is essentially throwing away a card, and our mana is better left unspent. Our Argent Squire will inevitably get more value later in the game (some value is better than none).
This hand is marginally stronger than our initial hand. While we won’t be able to play Defender of Argus till later in the game, it is a powerful option to have access to. Diversifying the threats and answers in our hand means we’ll be able to successfully navigate more varied game states. While the Lightning Bolt may seem generically stronger than the Defender, Defender of Argus is starkly different from Lightning. We can now successfully navigate a game state that requires Taunt or Lightning Bolt. Our hand also has a reasonable curve of Argent Squire, Unbound Elemental, and Defender of Argus. Our Hero Power will ensure the Defender has some minion to buff.
EXAMPLE 5 – WARRIOR CONTROL
As Warrior Control against Mage, we’re primarily concerned with having reasonable removal options for Mana Wyrm and Water Elemental. Fiery War Axe is one of the cleanest ways to deal with a Mana Wyrm, and we can even Coin it out on turn 1 with this hand. Slam is generically useful removal that also draws us a card. It can combo with Fiery War Axe to remove a Chillwind Yeti or knock a Water Elemental down to a more manageable size. We could mulligan Sen’jin Shieldmasta, but it is sized and costed well to disrupt what we suspect is an aggressive Mage’s game plan. Wild Pyromancer is a reasonable keep or replace. We chose to replace it as we don’t value a 3/2 or Pyromancer’s effect highly in this match-up, we already have plenty of turn 2 plays, and it is easily removed by the Mage’s Hero Power if its trigger is used. Slam and Fiery War Axe are the only two cards we would definitely keep. We are content to use our Hero Power to the extent we don’t have to use our removal. The removal should buy us time to cast a powerful Shieldmasta. Let’s see what happened.
Shield Block is a generically strong card and is specifically useful to blunt the Mage’s Fireballs. We expect to either pass our first turn or Coin into Fiery War Axe if the Mage plays Mana Wyrm. If we don’t need to use the Coin or removal, we would likely Coin Sen’jin Shieldmasta on turn 3 and use Armor Up on turn 2. If given the option to use my extra mana to Armor Up or Shield Block, we will generally opt to use the Hero Power. Every time you use the Hero Power you’re gaining “free” armor. Shield Block will always give you five armor no matter when you play it.
EXAMPLE 6 – WARLOCK GIANTS
Warlock Giants generally wants to open with Mountain Giant or Twilight Drake on turn 4 after using Life Tap on turns 2 and 3. That being said, this hand is just about perfect, especially against a slower deck like Priest. It’s worth noting that Twilight Drake may be a stronger turn 4 play than Mountain Giant against Priest since the Drake can’t die to Shadow Word: Death. The Giant will likely die to the Shadow Word when you play him later, but playing the Drake first allows you to acquire board dominance early with less risk. Mortal Coil is very low impact against Priest, so we’ve chosen to replace it. Hellfire is strong against some of Priest’s stronger openings involving Northshire Cleric and Injured Blademaster. We would mulligan Hellfire against Warrior Control, Hunter Aggro, and possibly Druid Midrange. Otherwise we usually keep Hellfire as it is a very powerful card and often an easy answer to complicated board states. Let’s see what we get instead of Mortal Coil.
This hand just gets better. Sunfury Protector (or Defender of Argus) is the ideal follow-up to a huge turn 4 minion. The Sunfury Protector will allow our Twilight Drake to get aggressive while forcing the Priest to come up with an answer to the purple dragon.
EXAMPLE 7 – DRUID MIDRANGE
While Ancient Watcher can be a powerful early play against an aggressive Warlock deck, we definitely don’t want two. We also need the Sunfury Protector to Taunt the Ancient Watcher. Because of this, there’s a strong argument to mulligan this entire hand. Ragnaros is too expensive at eight mana, especially for a hand with no real plays currently. We chose to keep one Ancient Watcher since we can play it early and it’s very strong against Warlock Aggro if we draw a Sunfury Protector or Keeper of the Grove. Let’s see what happens.
This hand is somewhat awkward, but we do have the minimum tools required to combat Warlock Aggro. Wrath will allow us to remove a strong turn 2 play. If necessary, we can use our Hero Power to hold out for stronger draws. The Ancient Watcher will be very poor unless we draw into a Sunfury Protector soon. We will likely be passing our first turn, using Wrath or our Hero Power on turn 2, and using our Hero Power or playing Ancient Watcher on turn 3.
Hopefully we’ve given you some things to think about next time you’ve got to mulligan. Had to make an especially difficult mulligan decision recently? Let us know about it in the comments and we’ll give you our thoughts on the situation! We hope you enjoyed this article, and I look forward to writing many more for Blizzpro!
Decks to Watch Out For
Warlock Aggro is still out in force, so I’ve included another popular variation of the deck in this week’s Decks to Watch Out For. Hunter Aggro has gradually risen in popularity once more, likely in response to the Warlock menace. Hunter’s Mark allows you to easily deal with large Taunts, even when you’re pressed on mana. Worgen Infiltrator gives you an additional one drop to improve your chances for an aggressive start. Shaman Control has long been a tournament (and sometimes ladder) stand-out. The list below is the most popular one I’ve seen. Double Defender of Argus and Argent Squire allow the Shaman to fight against the aggro decks that once gave it headaches. Finally, we have a very anti-aggro focused Control Warrior deck. Variants such as this have been cropping up recently to counter the abundance of Warlock and Hunter Aggro.