As I am writing this article I am preparing myself to play in Mythic Championship II. In case you hadn't heard yet, this will be the first paper tournament to use the so-called London mulligan (named for the location of this MC). Instead of drawing one fewer card each time you mulligan, under the new rule you draw a full seven cards, and then put one card from your hand on the bottom of your library for each time you've mulliganed. The result is you start with the same number of cards as before—seven, minus one for each mulligan you took—but you have greater control over what your post-mulligan hands look like.
Some Modern decks benefit much more than others from the London mulligan. Putting cards on the bottom of your deck after a mulligan can actually be advantageous in some cases. The rule naturally benefits combo strategies because those decks tend to mulligan a higher percentage of the time, and generally rely on fewer cards to win. The question going into the tournament is how much the new rule will actually warp the format.
The idea of playing a midrange deck like Esper Control, or even U/R Phoenix, that doesn't benefit as much from the new mulligan rule may not seem that appealing. Before the new mulligan rule the consensus was that U/R Phoenix was best deck in the format. It will be interesting to see if that deck remains on top after this tournament. There are a variety of decks in Modern of course, and it's hard to prepare for all of them. I decided to focus on the Top 10 decks in my testing. In my opinion they are:
Okay, I know there are many more good Modern decks! I am not saying anything negative about decks that didn't make the list—in fact, I was close to playing a deck at the Mythic Championships that is not on this list. This is about trying to anticipate what others will play. Will these be the exact top 10 decks in the tournament? Probably not, but I think it will be pretty close to this. Of the decks on this list, initially I was drawn toward Tron.
Tron always has needed to mulligan aggressively to find its Urza lands. Oftentimes you have an extra big spell in your hand, so putting something like an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger on the bottom of your library isn't actually a big deal. We saw lots of players playing Tron on Magic Online as soon as the London mulligan became known. However, it seems that players have made the necessary adjustments by adding additional sideboard cards like Alpine Moon that are killer versus Tron.
A couple weeks ago I thought I would play Tron, but my results were underwhelming. Another deck that hugely benefits from the London mulligan rule is Dredge. I had never played Dredge before the Mythic Championship, yet I am going to play it. Dredge has been the clear top-performing Modern deck over the last couple weeks. There were three copies of Dredge that made Top 8 of MagicFest Yokohoma, and it was also the winning archetype in the MOCS playoff. This was my starting point:
When I first picked up Dredge I was skeptical: there is a variety of graveyard hate in the format, which can be quite difficult to play through. My hope is that players won't add that much hate to their sideboards for the Mythic Championship, otherwise it could be rough for the dredgers. In five leagues online with the deck I had a combined record of 22 wins and three losses. This is the best I have ever done with a deck in testing, which is another reason I felt inclined to Dredge.
Why does the London mulligan make Dredge so much better than it was before? After all, Dredge has been around in its current configuration for a little while now. First of all, much like Tron, Dredge mulligans a lot, and can win very easily off of not that many cards. The second point is that putting cards on the bottom of your deck can actually benefit Dredge. For example, if you have a Narcomoeba or Creeping Chill in your hand, those are cards you actively want in your library. One fetchland shuffles them into your library after putting them on the bottom, and you can easily dredge into them.
Dredge is not a deck that gains an advantage by how many cards are in its hand. It cares about the number of cards in the graveyard, which means it operates on a very different axis compared to other decks. The format has reached a point that almost zero decks can afford to not sideboard in graveyard hate, unless they are willing to admit their Dredge matchup is just bad. In fact, we are seeing more maindeck hate like Nihil Spellbomb, Surgical Extraction, and Relic of Progenitus. As someone who is playing Dredge it is scary, but the deck is surprisingly resilient. Oftentimes it takes the second or third piece of graveyard hate to actually beat Dredge.
The most difficult games with the deck are after sideboard. Your opponent will have their graveyard hate, and you have to decide how much you can afford to dilute your deck. It is tricky because you don't want to take out too many dredgers or payoff cards. Oftentimes you may go through your entire library in a single game, so every single card choice is extremely important. I am excited to play the deck, though how well I do at the Mythic Championship will likely depend on how far players are willing to go to beat Dredge.
Before I got on the Dredge train, there was another deck I was seriously excited about that also benefits greatly from the London mulligan. The deck I am talking about is Cheerios. You will notice a pattern in terms of the decks that improve the most from the new rule. They are decks that can win more easily when on fewer cards. Cheerios has some major consistency issues, since it relies on having one of eight creatures in the deck to win most of its games, but when it does its thing the deck can be pretty awesome. Here is a Cheerios list for reference:
This is one of the few decks in the format that can get away with not playing graveyard hate against decks like Dredge. The reason is because it actually wins games faster than Dredge does most of the time. It is very possible to combo off on turn two with Cheerios (and it's technically possible to win on turn one). Most of your goldfish draws are turn three though, assuming your opponent doesn't disrupt you. The issue is that many decks can disrupt what you are doing before turn three.
Removal spells on your Puresteel Paladin or Sram, Senior Edificer can be backbreaking depending on the quality of the draw. You need one of the creatures in order to start netting all the card advantage from your equipment. Without one of these creatures your equipment is essentially useless, which makes this a true combo deck. Cheerios is great against other non-interactive decks, because it combos more quickly. For example, big mana decks like Tron and Amulet Titan are excellent matchups, because they have very little removal for your two-mana creatures. On the flipside, a deck like Grixis Death's Shadow that is full of interaction is a really tough matchup.
Part of the reason I strongly considered Cheerios is the deck is very fun to play, and also pretty off the radar. Going off with the deck feels great when you get some of your equipment in play alongside a Mox Opal, cast a Retract, draw a bunch of cards, and then do it all over again. Eventually you win that same turn by generating enough mana from the Mox Opals to Grapeshot the opponent out. The issue is that when you are losing it also feels pretty bad. The deck doesn't play many lands, which is another reason the London mulligan rule helps quite a bit.
There are decks like this one that can assemble very good four- and five-card hands, and Cheerios is an extreme case of a deck that is helped out by the new rule. Previously I considered the deck to be unplayable, and now I actually like it, though it's still a metagame call I wasn't willing to make for the Mythic Championship.
Even though Thoughtseize decks don't seem to directly benefit from the London mulligan, they do benefit from the opponent mulliganing a lot. A deck like Jund or Grixis Death's Shadow wants to play against a combo-based deck that will regularly mulligan to four or five cards. This boosts the likelihood that a single discard spell can completely disrupt the combo deck's plan by removing a one key card. I'm not sure how many players have also reached this conclusion, but the discard decks didn't lose as much as they appeared to at first glance.
In my opinion the archetype that may be the most disadvantaged from the new rule is control. These are decks that rely heavily on all of their resources, and a mulligan to four or five is pretty devastating. There will still be plenty of control decks in Modern, I just think they are in a bit worse of a spot than they had been before the new rule.
Moving forward I'm very interested to see if Wizards of the Coast continues to implement this mulligan rule. Personally, I really like it. It means fewer games decided by mana screw, and that's a big deal. Even when testing Limited the new rule definitely led to more interesting games than I initially expected. I would lean toward this being permanently implemented, but I really don't know which direction Wizards will go. It will likely depend on deck diversity in the Mythic Championship, and feedback from the players.
Modern is a good format to use for testing the rule, as there are definitely a wide enough variety of decks, and some benefit from the rule much more than others. I suspect we will feel the impact of the rule much less in a format like Standard, but more so in Legacy or Vintage where the combo decks are even more explosive than in Modern. It will likely require decks to make adjustements, and I'm hoping that can happen.
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