Get Ready for Serum Powder Decks in Modern

At Mythic Championship II in London, Wizards of the Coast will experiment with a new mulligan rule. This so-called London mulligan rule says that when you mulligan for the Nth time, you draw seven cards, then put N cards on the bottom of your library in any order.

In addition, from April 10th to May 1st, the London mulligan will be used in all formats on Magic Online. The resulting data will help R&D make a determination whether to adopt this mulligan for Magic as a whole. Moreover, it will allow Mythic Championship competitors to practice their Modern game under the same conditions that they’ll face in London.

In a previous article, I already showed that the London mulligan rule mathematically benefits strategies that rely on specific cards. This article already indicated that Serum Powder could boost certain strategies, and today I want to expand on this.

Serum Powder

The London mulligan rule improves Serum Powder for several reasons:

  • You have a higher likelihood of drawing it after a mulligan, so you get to abuse its free mulligan ability more often.
  • You have more choice in which cards to exile. The way it works is that you first put cards on the bottom of your library and then (assuming you still have the Serum Powder in your hand) choose to exile your hand or not. For example, suppose that you mulligan for the first time into Faithless Looting, Serum Powder, and four useless cards. Then you can tuck Faithless Looting on the bottom, exile the chaff, draw six new cards, and if those are bad enough to warrant a regular mulligan, then you now get to shuffle up a 54-card deck with four Faithless Looting. This can make subsequent opening hands much better.
  • You can put Serum Powder on the bottom when you keep after a mulligan. Previously, you might mulligan into a hand with five great cards and a Serum Powder, in which case you would keep five great cards and a brick. Now, you might mulligan into a hand with six great cards and a Serum Powder, put Serum Powder on the bottom, and keep six great cards. So you get to reap more of the benefits and incur less of the costs of putting Serum Powder in your deck.

So Serum Powder decks get better, and this is amplified when they contain cards that abuse the exile zone.

Eternal ScourgePull from Eternity

If you exile Eternal Scourge, then it becomes a free card. And if you exiled a big legend, then Pull from Eternity becomes Entomb. Before showing some deck lists with these cards, let’s run some numbers.

Consider a deck with four essential key cards (say, Eldrazi Temple or Goryo’s Vengeance), four Serum Powder, three Gemstone Caverns, and four cards that you would love to exile (such as Eternal Scourge or Griselbrand). For concreteness, let’s use Eldrazi Temple and Eternal Scourge.

We mulligan according to the following rules:

  • If you have an opening hand with Eldrazi Temple, keep. If you have to put cards on the bottom, then be sure not to touch any Gemstone Caverns and Eternal Scourges—you need those in your hand.
  • If you have an opening hand without Eldrazi Temple or Serum Powder, mulligan unless that would result in a mulligan down to three cards. That is, you are willing to mulligan down to four in search of Eldrazi Temple, but no further. You’ll keep any 4-card hand without Serum Powder.
  • If you have an opening hand without Eldrazi Temple but with Serum Powder, then use Serum Powder. If you have to put cards on the bottom, then make sure to keep one Serum Powder and as many Eternal Scourges as possible in hand to exile. Put any excess Serum Powders on the bottom first, followed by any Gemstone Caverns, followed by any other cards.

Then, after you’ve kept, exile one Eternal Scourge to one Gemstone Caverns if possible. The underlying assumption that you’re always on the draw is inspired by the Goryo’s Vengeance deck that prefers being on the draw. Given these rules, one million simulations yields the following results:

Old (Vancouver) mulligan rule New (London) mulligan rule
Probability to keep at least one Eldrazi Temple 90.12% 94.85%
Expected number of exiled Eternal Scourge 0.279 0.317
Expected number of cards in hand when keeping 6.15 6.22

In a format where a couple percent can represent a huge edge, these differences are substantial. Under the new mulligan rule, you will not only find key cards more often and keep larger hands on average but also you will be able to start the game with exiled Eternal Scourges more frequently.

Let’s turn to the deck lists.

Colorless Eldrazi

4 Eldrazi Temple
3 Gemstone Caverns
4 Ghost Quarter
4 Mutavault
2 Scavenger Grounds
2 Blinkmoth Nexus
2 Wastes (183) (Full Art)
2 Zhalfirin Void
4 Eldrazi Mimic
4 Eternal Scourge
3 Matter Reshaper
4 Thought-Knot Seer
4 Reality Smasher
2 Endless One
4 Serum Powder
4 Simian Spirit Guide
4 Chalice of the Void
4 Dismember

4 Leyline of the Void
3 Ratchet Bomb
3 Spatial Contortion
2 Damping Sphere
1 Endbringer
1 Warping Wail
1 Grafdigger's Cage

This deck plays the best Eldrazi creatures in a mana base filled with utility lands. And thanks to Simian Spirit Guide, Serum Powder, and Gemstone Caverns, it can play turn-1 Chalice of the Void quite often. A Chalice for X=1 can lock out all opposing Faithless Lootings, Lightning Bolts, or Ancient Stirrings, and it doesn’t hurt yourself at all.

Since Chalice of the Void is particularly effective against Izzet Phoenix, Colorless Eldrazi has already risen in popularity in recent months, but the London mulligan rule should make the deck even better.

Tips and tricks:

Narset Combo

1 Swamp
4 Gemstone Mine
4 City of Brass
3 Mana Confluence
3 Gemstone Caverns
4 Narset, Enlightened Master
4 Griselbrand
1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
4 Simian Spirit Guide
4 Serum Powder
4 Faithless Looting
3 Pull from Eternity
3 Spoils of the Vault
4 Goryo's Vengeance
4 Enter the Infinite
4 Fury of the Horde
2 Noxious Revival
1 Manamorphose
1 Lightning Axe
1 Omniscience
1 Conflux

3 Through the Breach
3 Nature's Claim
2 Devoted Druid
2 Lightning Axe
2 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
1 Boseiju, Who Shelters All
1 Sultai Charm
1 Nahiri, the Harbinger

The main plan of this deck, inspired by nj4u1’s list, is to put Narset or Giselbrand into the graveyard on turn 1, followed by Goryo’s Vengeance on turn 2.

If you have a hasty Griselbrand, you get to attack, draw a bunch of cards, cast Fury of the Horde, attack again, put Fury of the Horde on top with Noxious Revival, draw 7 again, and play the second Fury of the Horde to win the game.

With a hasty Narset, you can also keep chaining attacks with Fury of the Horde, but the dream is to hit Enter the Infinite. You draw your entire deck, put Omniscience back on top, cast Fury of the Horde, attack again, hit Omniscience, cast Emrakul, and win from there.

This is a prime example of a deck that gets better under the London mulligan rule. You can find Goryo’s Vengeance more consistently, and moreover you can put nonsense like Enter the Infinite on the bottom after a mulligan.

Tips and tricks:

  • If you cast Enter the Infinite when Omniscience was exiled to Serum Powder, then put any other card back on top. Subsequently, exile two Simian Spirit Guides, cast Manamorphose to get WG, draw the last card of your library, play Pull from Eternity on Omniscience, play Noxious Revival to put it on top, and then attack again to lock it up.
  • If Narset died in combat but found Enter the Infinite, you put back any other card back on top. You then exile three Simian Spirit Guides, cast Manamorphose to get RBB, cast Lightning Axe discarding Emrakul, and return it with Goryo’s Vengeance in response to the shuffle trigger. Two Fury of the Horde should do the rest.
  • If you win the die roll, choose to draw first, at least in game 1. This turns on Gemstone Caverns, and it gives you the opportunity to discard to hand size if you keep 7. This actually comes up a fair amount: Turn 1, discard Griselbrand, turn 2, land, Simian Spirit Guide, Goryo’s Vengenace, win. After board, you may want to go on the play, especially if you anticipate a Rest in Peace that you could beat on the play but rarely on the draw.
  • If you have exiled a legend and keep a hand with Gemstone Caverns, Pull from Eternity, another land, and Goryo’s Vengeance, then that represents a turn-1 kill. No big deal.
  • If you hit Conflux with Narset, then it basically yields two free attacks: You search for Narset (white), Narset (blue), any black card, Fury of the Horde (red), and Noxious Revival (green).
  • If you can choose between reanimating Griselbrand or Narset, then choose Griselbrand if you have 8 or more life. It’s the more reliable plan A, whereas Narset is the backup plan. If you get a Griselbrand at 15+ life with a 50-card deck, you get three activations, which means that you’re over 95% to hold at least one Fury of the Horde at the end of all that. The number is even higher if you can dig deeper with a Faithless Looting or two (freely castable by Simian Spirit Guide). In contrast, with Narset, you’re only slightly over 50% to hit a huge payoff (Fury of the Horde, Enter the Infinite, Omniscience, or Conflux) in your top 4. If you miss, you may still have a combination of cards that allows you to keep going (for example, Pull from Eternity, Griselbrand, and Goryo’s Vengeance) but it’s not as reliable as the Griselbrand kill.
  • If you discard Enter the Infinite and Narset to a turn-1 Faithless Looting and hold both Goryo’s Vengeance and Noxious Revival in hand, then you can guarantee a kill by putting Enter the Infinite on top before the Narset trigger.
  • Mulligan aggressively. I can’t repeat it enough. Seriously, if you don’t see a likely turn-3 win, just mulligan.
  • Spoils of the Vault is risky, but the deck needs some way to tutor for Goryo’s Vengeance. The probability to survive (i.e., to pay 18 life or less) is 86% with a 50-card library.
  • Sometimes you keep a hand with only Spoils of the Vault, Goryo’s Vengeance, and lands. Then it is usually best to Spoils naming Pull from Eternity, hoping to exile a legend along the way. The probability of success (i.e., of taking no more than 18 damage and exiling a legend) is only 47%, but the number could grow if previous Serum Powders have not exiled any Pulls or legends.

I played 20 games with the main deck last weekend, and I got the following results against non-interactive decks:

  • 3/20 turn-1 kills
  • 9/20 turn-2 kills
  • 4/20 turn-3 kills
  • 4/20 losses (turn-4 or later kills, die to Spoils of the Vault, or Narset fizzle)

Winning on or before turn 3 in 80% of the games is ridiculous against decks with little-to-no relevant interaction, such as Izzet Phoenix or Dredge. They are practically a goldfish, and you are much faster than they are. Decks with Thoughtseize, Relic of Progenitus, or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben pose more of a problem, but it’s still possible to beat them a decent amount.

The problem comes after sideboard, when you will face Leyline of the Void, Rest in Peace, and other hate cards. While you could bring in four Nature’s Claim and call it a day, it’s tough to mulligan into both Nature’s Claim and a functional hand. It’s already difficult enough to find Goryo’s Vengeance, a way to put a legend in your graveyard, and enough lands in game 1. If you have to find enchantment removal as well, then it becomes overly difficult. It’s just too many pieces. And to make matters worse, when they keep a hand without Leyline, your arduous Nature’s Claim is useless!

That’s why my sideboard also contains Through the Breach as an alternative plan that doesn’t use the graveyard. Additionally, I have Sultai Charm and Nahiri, the Harbinger as answers to Leyline and Thalia that help set up your combo if they don’t have the hate card. As casting some of these cards with a 15-land deck is problematic, I added several copies of Devoted Druid. And since I tend to cut several Enter the Infinite, Conflux, and Omniscience to make room for all this, I replace most Narsets with Emrakuls to combo with Through the Breach. Other cards that could be shaved while sideboarding are some number of Pull from Eternity, Spoils of the Vault, and/or Serum Powder.

This sideboard is currently a bit of a mess, but the potential is there. Narset Combo is the type of mulligan-exploiting deck that could dominate the Mythic Championship if anyone can figure out a good build with a proper sideboard plan that sidesteps the hate.

In any case, if you want to exploit the London mulligan rule from April 10th to May 1st on Magic Online, then give Colorless Eldrazi or Narset Combo a try!

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