Commanding Mulligans, Part 2

I didn’t intend for this to be a two-parter, but after all the discussion surrounding last week’s article, it turns out there’s a lot more to say.

To kick things off, let’s look at some numbers. I created a poll in the MTGSalvation forums asking what mulligan people prefer to use in Commander. Here are the results:

According to this poll, fewer than one in five players prefer the format’s official mulligan rule. The response of a few forum regulars is hardly a large or unbiased sample, but the results match what I’ve seen at most tournaments and local game stores.

So, what does it mean if most people don’t like or play by the official rules? If they can just play whatever way they like, is it even a problem?

The Role of Official Rules

The purpose of the official rules is to provide an expected baseline for any unknown or mixed group. If I’m playing Commander with a group of friends, we can agree on whatever rules we want. We can ban cards, unban cards, allow planeswalkers as commanders, or raise the poison count to 15.

But when I travel over to a Grand Prix or game store a few cities over, I can assume that people will follow the official rules. If people want to deviate from the norm, they should ask permission in advance. I don’t get to run Unhinged cards or play Ink-Treader Nephilim as my commander without asking. My opponents don’t get to survive at 10 poison counters just because they think poison is cheap.

The partial Paris has failed in this regard. It is the only part of the official Commander rules that you can’t safely assume players will follow.

Here’s an even stronger statement from the MTGSalvation thread I created for the poll:

We’ve gotten to the point at which so few players are following the official rules for mulligans that these rules might as well not exist. You have to negotiate the mulligan rules before each game with strangers, and many people will become irate if you don’t want to play by their rules.

This is especially problematic because the free partial Paris has become the most popular mulligan in the format.

The Free Partial Paris

The free partial Paris received the most votes by far in my poll, and several people commented they’d never seen any other mulligan used. A few people had mistakenly assumed it was the official rule. That alone merits discussion for adopting it officially.

However, I sincerely believe that the free partial Paris is bad for the game. I understand why people like it—if you give players multiple options, they’ll want the most powerful one. It’s in our nature as gamers to seek out optimal strategies.

But variance is a huge part of Magic’s fun. This is especially true in Commander—there’s a reason we play with hundred-card singleton decks. The game isn’t improved by making sure everyone hits his or her first five land drops or by allowing a player to keep Sol Ring even if the rest of his or her hand is unplayable.

Mulligans should be a failsafe for avoiding truly bad hands, not a tool to sculpt powerful hands every single game.

The British Mulligan

A few people liked the British mulligan rule I introduced last week, but most people said it felt clunky and overcomplicated. I think the problem lay in my description, though, rather than the actual rule. I failed to properly explain both its intent and execution, so I’ll take another shot at it:

The British Mulligan
Properly shuffling a ninety-nine-card deck can be both difficult and time-consuming. The British mulligan allows players to reshuffle their decks before their first mulligans, but it saves time by resolving subsequent mulligans without shuffling. This is especially useful in friendly games with additional free mulligans.

  • In turn order, each player may take one free mulligan by shuffling his or her hand into his or her library and drawing a new hand of seven cards.
  • Each player who did so may then take additional mulligans by setting aside his or her hand face-down and drawing a new hand of one fewer card each time. After keeping a hand, that player shuffles all set-aside cards back into his or her library.

This isn’t a radical mulligan designed to encourage specific gameplay like the partial Paris. It’s just a formalized variant of the traditional Paris that reduces shuffling.

Asking You

With all that said, what do you think the format’s official mulligan should be? What would you like to expect when you walk into a new game store and ask, “Does anyone have a Commander deck?”

What mulligan should be listed in the official Commander rules?

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I look forward to hearing your thoughts by e-mail, Twitter, or in the comments section below!