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In the early days, Magic had crazy, subpar mulligan rules: you could shuffle up and draw a new 7 if your hand had no lands or all lands, otherwise you were out of luck. A long time ago the Paris Mulligan rule was introduced and it seems to have stuck. If you don't like your hand, throw it back and draw 6. If you don't like that one, try again drawing 5, and so on.

This seems like a pretty good rule and I didn't question it, but recently I've been playing "Duels of the Planeswalkers" on XBox (incidentally, if anyone else has that and wants to challenge me, let me know!). The mulligan rule there is a little different. You can throw your hand back and draw a new 7 once for free. After that Paris rules are in force: every subsequent time you mulligan your hand size goes down by one.

It seems to me that this "lenient mulligan" rule is really good for the game. Magic is a game with a large element of randomness from the shuffle. Quite often players will draw a 7-card hand that's basically unplayable and have to throw it back, unless they're crazy gamblers with nothing left to lose. If your opponent keeps and you mulligan to 6, you're at a significant disadvantage already. If you have to mulligan to 5 or fewer, you'd better hope somebody up there likes you.

Does anyone know (or have an informed idea) why Magic retains a mulligan rule that allows unbalanced games to happen as often as they do? It just feels like the XBox mulligan would allow players to play their decks "as they were meant to work" more often, and have to battle against long odds much less often. What is the defence for the continued predominance in the Magic world of the Paris mulligan rule?

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The reason why Duels of the Planeswalkers allows a free mulligan is because only one game is played in each match, whereas typically Magic is played as best two out of three games. Multiplayer games (i.e. Two-Headed Giant, EDH/Commander) are also typically played in one-game matches, and also use 'lenient' Paris mulligans. –  adamjford Aug 18 '11 at 18:17
    
@adamjford - you should make that comment an answer! –  Pat Ludwig Oct 20 '12 at 14:47

8 Answers 8

up vote 16 down vote accepted

A few points:

  1. "Good for the game" is drastically different if you are playing competitively or casually. Competitive Magic should encourage good deck building and make it as fair as possible to each player. Paris mulligan vs. lenient paris mulligan isn't going to drastically change the fairness between the two players at the table and adds more complexity to an otherwise already complex game.

  2. Learning when to mulligan is actually a very useful skill in Magic. Making it easier to stomach doesn't necessarily make it a better mechanic. Designing (and testing) decks with 7, 6, 5 card hands is very important. Likewise when playing against particular decks. Some decks struggle against a 1 card advantage. Some decks shrug it off and keep pounding.

  3. Real life Magic mulligan problems can often be solved by shuffling properly. People can get lazy in their shuffles and tournament nerves can make it worse. Take the time to adequately shuffle your deck each time you draw a hand. This is especially true after a mulligan: Simply cut-shuffling a few times will result in you drawing the exact same cards you just threw back.

  4. When playing casually, I recommend players just draw back up to 7 after a mulligan. I would rather play against a deck's best chance than roll over someone with a 5 card start. Casual games should be fun more than fair; if the lenient paris mulligan is more fun for your play group then that is how you should play.

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One advantage the xbox version has over RL is that it can shuffle the deck instantly, whereas in RL it take a bit of time to shuffle.

Other card games take alternate routes to make it work with less mulligans needed.

Universal Fighting System: To mulligan you remove your hand from the game and draw a new one. Only one Mull is allowed.

Magi-Nation: Depending on your starting Magi you search through your deck and pick out 2-3 cards and then draw the rest of your hand afterwards.

Commander (MTG Variant): Partial Mulligans. You set aside any number of cards and draw that many from your deck. You may do this again drawing one less card than you set aside, until you are happy with your hand or run out of cards. Then you shuffle all of your set aside cards into your deck. Note that Commander (or EDH) has a 100 card deck size, and no duplication rule so this might not work as well for regular magic.

Now, I'm not suggesting that time saving is the only reason for less lenient Mulligan rules, but I would posit that it is a factor.

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The best solution would be to increase starting hand size. The % of games that are decided by initial bad draws/mulligans is very high, especially when considering how much meticulous thought and planning deck building requires. This is why having an 'auto-lose' from bad luck is frustrating to people, because most of the effort is acquiring cards and building the deck, and then they get to the 'actual game' and someone's fate in a match or tournament can (and will, given enough games) be completely sealed by luck of the draw. Even the pros do not have that high of a win%(although still higher than everyone else by at least several %), what they do have is the patience and temperament to keep chugging along despite the bad beats that no one can avoid no matter how clever or skilled they at this card game.

There is only a very small number of competitive decks in standard at any given time, this is because deck options are extremely limited due to the incredibly high level of consistency needed. This also makes competitive magic very expensive, as the need for consistency leads to only several % of the most powerful, efficient cards worth playing, and it also makes mana bases extremely expensive as every 'free' card that gives you more consistency will lead to more wins.

In summation, Mulligan-ing well isn't just about hand analysis or deck building skill. Avoiding the pitfalls of bad starting hands is more about having the small clump of cards that will actually give consistent, powerful results given that a deck size is pretty large and any one non-basic land can only make up 6.7% of the cards in the deck(note how powerful tutors of almost all kinds are, just because they let you bypass randomness for that single instance).

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In any card game, a person who draws a bad hand will always be at a disadvantage against someone who draws good cards. That's just the nature of the game. An exception might be someone who draws a "mixed" hand (a technically inferior hand with good chances of improving). Such a hand might be four to a flush or straight versus one or two pair in draw poker.

If you get a "redraw," you actually have an advantage, maybe not against the good-drawing player, but against a "random" player. Magic tries to compensate for this fact with the Paris Mulligan rule; the second draw costs you a card, the third, two cards, etc. Then it's up to you to determine whether your starting hand is so bad that it's worth paying the penalty for a redraw.

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In a well-designed deck, the possibility of a truly unplayable hand is small. The possibility becomes vanishingly small after a single mulligan.

Thus, there really should never be a need to mulligan more than once (unless you're fishing for your golden starting hand).

Being down a single card is NOT a "significant disadvantage" - it's relatively minor. The current mulligan rules are established in such a way to discourage fishing for gold while not preventing a relatively fair start for each player.

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The old "you can mulligan if you don't have lands in hand" rule was killed fairly early on, because players would build decks with no lands (Moxes and other artifacts for mana instead), and then legally mulligan over and over until they drew their perfect hand.

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I'm old and tired, and I haven't played Magic much in the last 15 years. With that as a caveat, my recollection is that the harsh penalty for declaring a mulligan was to prevent excessive "gaming" of declaring a mulligan. Part of the point of M:tG was to create a deck that was playable despite the fact that the order of the cards would be random. Being able to mulligan out of a "bad" hand lets players create a less balanced deck that needs a specific start hand to succeed.

In other words, playing decks "as they were meant to work" should take into account the fact that sometimes things won't come out the way you expect.

Related link of possible interest: http://www.wizards.com/magic/magazine/Article.aspx?x=mtgcom/daily/af3

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Informed idea: The problem with a more "open" mulligan rule is striking a balance between "fair randomization" and "how a deck is supposed to work." It's fairly easy to construct a deck in which the correct 6-8 cards being in your starting hand gives you a near-guaranteed win in 1-3 turns. Preventing this is the reason decks have a minimum size, and individual cards have a quantity limit. But if players could freely reshuffle and re-draw, they would. Over and over, until they got that perfect hand which won the game. The concept of "how a deck is supposed to work" would morph into perfect, 7-card combos. To prevent this, and create more options in deck design, mulligans are very, very costly.

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