The London Mulligan and Legacy
- Robert Swiecki
The new mulligan rule might have more impact on the landscape of Legacy than we saw in the MTGO test. Is this the beginning of a new era? Join CabalTherapy as he explores the potential long-term consequences of a new mulligan rule in a format as wide as Legacy.
This Just In!
Generally, I'm not the biggest fan of sensational headlines but the newest change to Magic: The Gathering hasn't really made headlines the way I'd expect it too, at least recently. At first, it was big news. In the Magic Online test, the Legacy meta didn't change all that much, which was a small surprise, but certainly not completely unexpected. This new mulligan rule makes decks much more consistent and it makes every deck better. At first glance, it seems that combo decks gain a bit more because they prioritize assembling a certain combination of cards very quickly, but in reality, most Legacy combo decks have always been extremely consistent, so adding a bit of consistency is no big deal. Sneak & Show, Storm, UB Reanimator, BR Reanimator, and Turbo Depths run either blue cantrips or a plethora of business spells that make up for the lack of Brainstorm and Ponder. It is one of the core elements of Storm to keep as many playable hands as possible. This means that a certain ratio of lands, cantrips, business spells, and discard needs to be in hand in order to keep it.
Historically speaking, decks that require such a ratio are rarely if ever at the mercy of top decks. While it helps them fix this ratio, it adds even more consistency to decks like Miracles, Delver variants, Blade, and of course the various three and four color control decks: especially post-board. The biggest profiteers might be Chalice decks because they only need one card to start pulling ahead. However, this is just the surface. I could see major implications right down to the way you build decks in Legacy with the London mulligan.
Deck-Building Flip-Turned Upside Down
What the London mulligan does, in effect, is allow players to see more cards before they decide whether they'll keep their hand. As such, this could change the math on deckbuilding altogether, as you know you'll see more cards per game. Here I must credit fellow Berlin Legacy player and Legacy GP Strasbourg 2013 Top 8 competitor Alexey Romanchuk for proposing that decks – and in particular Storm – might want to make significant adjustments to its main to take advantage of the new Mulligan. As stated regarding chalice, the fact that you can see more cards, but still start with limited resources makes cards that work well with fewer cards much better. One of these, for Storm, is Empty the Warrens, a card that can win games with minimal investment. All you need is a Lotus Petal, a land, and a Dark Ritual or an Infernal Tutor paired with Lion's Eye Diamond. Trimming down on one or two Preordain might be the way to go to make room for this. Unfortunately, in classic ANT lists, Burning Wish is still too hard to support properly and running into mana problems is certainly not what Storm wants.
Furthermore, I could see decks cutting a land for another spell. Land drops are crucial but the London mulligan manages mana flood and screw nicely. Legacy, for the most, part has been a turn two format. More often than not, on turn two, the game is either decided or at least has swung in one direction: Delver of Secrets / Insectile Aberration flipping with counterspell backup; Miracles, Loam, Death and Taxes, and Depths playing their CMC 2 spells; or even Storm that spends turn one to cantrip and ideally turn two with a discard spell and follows up with the combo. Turn two is the fundamental turn in Legacy. The London mulligan shifts this notion slightly towards the beginning of a match. Having objectively better hands on average puts players ahead on turn zero more often and you shouldn't be surprised if deckbuilding shifts around having faster higher value starts.
Other questions worth consideration is whether going up to 61 cards might be a possibility for some decks or if cards that normally are sideboard material could find room in the main because the new Mulligan rule allows you to ship hands with limited answers away. Serum Powder might not be worthwhile, but it's also something to keep in mind, as it works much better in the London Mulligan than it has before.
All these potential abuses in mind, for the moment, the London Mulligan seems quite fair. Perhaps it will continue being fair, but with any added consistency comes the risk of degeneracy, especially in a format with a fundamental turn two.
Card Selection in the New Era
It's also important to keep in mind what new cards become better with the new rule. Naturally, leylines and all the other turn zero cards like Surgical Extraction, Force of Negation, and Mindbreak Trap are great options to defend against turn one wins. Sneak & Show can easily look for a leyline and, at the same time, dig for their combo and control decks simply get more shots at having fast answers to combo and tempo. Unfortunately, there are only two playable chancellors - Chancellor of the Annex and Chancellor of the Tangle – but that's probably a good thing. Too many turn zero effects might push Legacy in a strange Vintage-like direction, and no one wants that – especially those of you who remember the era where Flash and Protean Hulk dominated early game moves and let's not even talk about Gemstone Caverns.
While I doubt decks will return to those days, I would not be at all surprised to see decks slowly adapt to this new form of Magic, with this new rule having more of an impact on the nature of Legacy than we might initially expect. The transition to the Vancouver one, the scry mulligan, allowed for spicy plays with the top card of the library. Playing two Lion's Eye Diamond, then casting a cantrip and cracking both diamonds in response – which really makes them Black Lotus – and revealing some business spell from top of the library was not an uncommon line of play.
Now, other lines are going to be found and abused and I am sure that at least some of the format is in need of reassessment in the light of the London mulligan but then again I am also quite positive that the format will adapt and evolve just like it has been doing for 15 years.
Let me know your thoughts on the mulligan and it's effect on Legacy below!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.