Before I start on the main subject of today’s article, I just want to say how thrilled I am at the response to my previous article. It’s often hard, as a writer, to tell if what you say is having an effect. However, after my article this week, I heard that at the WMCQ trials in England this weekend the judges were constantly being called upon by players to check that they were doing splits correctly. I feel like I made a difference. I did get some minor complaints from a judge that got tired of explaining but, at the end of the day, I think it’s a win. After all, judges are there to help you!
On to today’s topic: mulligans in Modern Junk.
This is another piece in my continuing series on mulligan choices using Modern decks as examples. The choice of whether to mulligan any given hand is a topic that players love to debate. What one player will keep, another won’t even hesitate to throw back. Even at the highest level, players will display a whole range of opinions about mulligan choices. What I present here is my opinion on hands. However, decks all have goals and plans. Some need to find particular sets of cards while others are just looking for an early game. Understanding what a deck is trying to do will inform mulligan choices. Of course, if you are LSV, you just keep and get lucky.
For today’s deck I chose the Junk list that won GP Boston 2014 by Robin Dolar. Junk (and Jund and other BG variants with the same core) looks to disrupt the early game with hand disruption spells and cheap removal, play aggressively-costed creatures and either crush their opponent early with a Tarmogoyf or out-value them with Dark Confidant and Liliana of the Veil.
Traditionally, Jund/Junk is not strong against anything but has game against everything. It was always viewed as the safe deck. After the banning of Bloodbraid and Deathrite it has lost some of its insane power, but it still seems to be a very robust deck.
So how do its hands look? Depressingly good. I put together a copy of Junk and went through generating hands as usual and, er, hands were either blindingly obvious mulligans—only two Tectonic Edges as lands or only one land, for instance—or were perfectly fine keeps. Still, I dug out some that I think are more debatable and I’ll share with you what I would do.
First, though, as ever, let’s have a look at a good Junk hand:
This hand exemplifies Junk. You get the turn-one Thoughtseize into either Tarmogoyf or Dark Confidant—depending on the matchup and what you saw in your opponent’s hand. Follow this up with Liliana and you are looking pretty good (unless you are playing against Affinity, in which case I recommend drawing Lingering Souls).
The other important factor about this hand is the lands. Junk needs access to a single white, double black, and a single green early (Garruk is the only double-green spell in many lists) but, with Treetop Villages in the deck, you’ll want double green at some point. With a Swamp and two fetches you can get all the mana you need. Personally I would lead with Swamp and Thoughtseize. I want to know what I’m facing before I fetch untapped shock lands. That would only guarantee an early game 1 loss against any opposing Zoo or Burn deck, who will be all too happy for me to do a quarter of their job for them.
In summary: a classic hand.
Lands and spells, I got it all!
A good proportion of Junks mulligans are due to its mana base. This build in particular is running 3 Tectonic Edges and 2 filter lands which, along with 4 manlands that have to come into play tapped, can certainly generate some awkward hands that may have to be shipped.
This hand is a good example of this, but it isn’t just a black and white decision. At first glance this hand looks pretty good. That Marsh Flats can fetch Swamp or an Overgrown Tomb, so you can cast everything in your hand except the Liliana. You’ll want to draw some more lands at some point which is a reasonable thing to expect. So it’s looking good.
Have you spotted the potential issue? The issue is the Stirring Wildwood and the sequencing dilemma it presents. Do you play Marsh Flats on turn 1 to tutor up a black source and cast Thoughtseize? If you do and don’t draw an untapped land, then your turn 2 is to play Stirring Wildwood and pass. You do have Dismember, but Junk thrives on getting the turn 2 creature down to apply pressure.
Essentially this hand could end up Time Walking you (not in the good way) if you take this line. If instead you play the Wildwood on one with the intent of playing Tarmogoyf on two, then you aren’t going to cast Thoughtseize until turn 3. This is reasonable, but not as powerful as the turn-1 play. Also, it’s so much better to play Thoughtseize before ‘Goyf to avoid the embarrassing eventuality that your 1/2 ‘Goyf suffer a Lightning Bolt death. It’s an interesting dilemma. All in all, I want to put this back. That sequencing is way too awkward and demonstrates the value of spending a few moments to look at your hand and considering your first few plays—doing so shows you problems like this that aren’t apparent from just considering whether your hand has lands and spells.
Yet more mana problems
This hand has the sweet Thoughtseize into ‘Goyf play but can’t actually cast the other two cards in hand—unless you want to Thoughtseize yourself to pitch Lingering Souls (don’t do this, it’s terrible!). To cast either of your other spells you have to draw specific colors of mana. Sure, any fetch fixes both instantly, but you can also draw a lot of spells you can’t cast. I would mulligan this because it’s almost a 5-card hand anyway, so there are bound to be better odds at 6.
Late game? More like lost game!
Unlike our previous hand this hand has great mana so no problems there. It’s missing a hand disruption spell but it has a two-drop creature into Liliana or Souls with a removal spell… surely there is nothing to talk about here? Well, actually I don’t like this hand, and I don’t like it because that 2-drop is Scavenging Ooze. Of your two-drop creatures, Ooze is the least powerful on turn 2 as, normally, there is nothing for the hungry slime to devour. This makes him a bear. Scavenging Ooze is great on turn 4 or later when it can hoover up a few dead things and become a scary threat while also growing out of Bolt range. As such, this hand is just too expensive and too late-game focused in a format that demands early action. I would put this back.
Oh look, awkward mana, what a surprise!
I would keep this one. I am going to fetch an Overgrown Tomb with that Verdant Catacombs, which will result in the classic self-Lava Axe on 1. However, this then allows me to follow up either with Ooze or a second Thoughtseize based on what I see and what I draw. I then either cast Liliana if I find that additional black mana or I get to cast the Thoughtseize/Ooze I didn’t cast previously, and I have Dismember to deal with problems such as opposing Tarmogoyfs. This hand has enough castable cards and a definite plan for the early turns. Yes, it needs to draw some more colored mana sources, but I like its initial setup so on balance I would keep it.
I’m going to have to stop with example hands here. They really did get quite repetitive, mostly just eminently keepable hands. All mulligans seem to either be blindingly obvious (one-landers or just too much land) or awkwardness in the mana leading to delayed plays as I discussed earlier. However, it should be clear from this exercise that Junk is a very consistent deck with many good hands. As such, when it finds a hand which is a touch slow or awkward, it can afford to go to six as it will be odds-on to be stronger and lead to a much more certain victory.
I would be tempted to reduce the number of Tectonic Edges in this list to 2 as I think it will significantly reduce the number of awkward hands, but if you are expecting a meta with lands you have to shoot down then it’s an understandable desire. Anyway, that’s all for this week, feel free to add me on Twitter @onionpixie and I’ll see you next week.