- 1 Elements of Strategy – Mastering the Mulligan
- 2 Your Turn
Elements of Strategy – Mastering the Mulligan
by Bryan “Kraska” Castro
There are few times in our lives when we get a “do-over.” When we get them, we should make the most of them. -Kraska
In Hearthstone, the Mulligan phase of the game – where we see our opening hand and choose which cards we want to keep and which cards to get replace – is a great opportunity to increase our chances of winning. In this week’s article, I will give you some general advice regarding this phase of the game, as well as illustrate some of these principles through several examples.
The first thing to understand is that your mulligan strategy will be different depending on several factors, including (but not limited to) the following:
- Your deck and your Win Conditions including the speed of your deck and specific cards you will need to carry out your Win Condition.
- Your opponent’s class and the possible archetypes available and your plans to deal with their possible openings.
- The specific cards in your opening hand and how important it is to get a better card.
- How your opponent mulligans and the information that can give you.
- Whether you have to coin or not.
Example #1: Handlock vs. Warlock
Let’s consider a few examples to help us understand these concepts:
In this example, I am playing Handlock while my opponent is an unknown Warlock class. At the time of this writing (Season 16), there are four main archetypes I could be facing: Zoo, Control Demonlock, Maylock, or another Handlock. All of the decks except Zoo are midrange or control decks. This means that against those decks, I can attempt to follow Handlock’s typical plan of playing either a [Mountain Giant] or [Twilight Drake] on Turn 4. However, because Zoo is an aggro deck I probably want to mulligan with that in mind. It is a good general rule of thumb to always assume you are facing the aggro archetypes within a class. The reason for this is that hopefully against slower decks you will have time to draw into the cards you will need at the time you need them.
Because we are planning for Zoo, I would prefer to have either my Zombie Chow, my [Antique Healbot], or a board clear such as [Hellfire]. Molten Giant isn’t so bad either, but by the time I am able to play it, it might be too late. If I had the Zombie Chow in my hand already, I would probably keep a Molten Giant, but because I don’t, I need to mulligan aggressively for it. So in this particular example, I will be mulliganing my whole hand.
Example #2: Handlock vs. Hunter
Our second example is similar to our first, in that we are facing an aggressive deck:
In this situation, we are again playing Handlock but this time against a Hunter deck. In this case, we are either facing Face Hunter, Hybrid Hunter, and Midrange Hunter. In all cases, we will be facing early aggression and should mulligan appropriately. This particular hand is very instructive.
Like Zoo, we want our [Zombie Chow], and wouldn’t mind having an AOE spell and some healing. In this particular hand, we have our AOE spell. We also have a [Twilight Drake], which is typically our turn 4 play, as well as [Ancient Watcher], who might be useful in this match-up as well. However, because we do not have Zombie Chow, we need to try to find it as it is critical in this match-up. Here are a few considerations so that you understand the complexity of the situation:
- If I had [Ironbeak Owl] AND the Ancient Watcher, I would consider keeping it, particularly if I also had the coin where I could play Ancient Watcher with the coin on Turn 1 and then silence it with the owl on Turn 2.
- If I had the coin and Zombie Chow, I would definitely keep the Twilight Drake with the plan of playing Zombie Chow on turn 1, tapping on turn 2 to get a card, and coining out the Twilight Drake on turn 3 as a 4/7, which would be a great opening considering that the Zombie Chow probably has taken care of any of the Hunter’s early drops.
- Besides Zombie Chow, there are several other preferable cards that would be good to get, including [Mortal Coil] and maybe [Darkbomb]. To contrast, Mortal Coil is less useful against Zoo in the early game, because their main one drops, [Flame Imp] and [Voidwalker], have health greater than 1.
Because of these factors in this particular match-up, throwing back this entire hand is reasonable. You can see that understanding your opponent’s possible deck types as well as your plans on dealing with their early game threats is very important.
Example #3: Mech Mage vs. Paladin
With aggro decks, typically your mulligan is very similar no matter what your opponent is playing.
In this game, I am playing Mech Mage facing a Paladin. Currently there are two main types of Paladins in the meta – Aggro Paladin or Midrange Paladin. However, in this particular situation, our own Win Condition and plans are almost the sole determinant of which cards we should keep and replace. The Mech Mage deck’s win condition is to utilize the Synergy between the Mech cards within the deck and the [Mechwarper] to accelerate our deployment and overwhelm our opponent. The Mech Mage depends very heavily on getting this strong start. Because of this factor, we can make the following assessments of our hand:
- We will replace [Fireball] because we need a Mechwarper and we don’t have one.
- We will keep [Cogmaster] because besides Mechwarper, we depend greatly on getting a one drop to establish our board and protect our Mechwarper from any of our opponent’s one drops.
- We will replace [Spider Tank] because we need a Mechwarper. If we had both [Mechwarper] and a 1-drop, we would happily hold on to Spider Tank. Similarly, if we had the coin and a Mechwarper, we might keep Spider Tank because if we coin out the Mechwarper on Turn 1, we might be able to play the Spider Tank on Turn 2, which would gain incredible tempo and be hard to deal with for our opponent.
So you can see how our own plans and our own hand was more important in this particular match-up than any other factor. This is similar in other aggressive decks, like Face Hunter and Mech Shaman.
Example #4: Grim Patron Warrior vs. Warlock
With Combo decks like Oil Rogue or Grim Patron Warrior, there are other interesting nuances to think about.
Here I am playing a Grim Patron Warrior deck against a Warlock. With this warrior deck, the general plan is to keep your opponent’s aggression under control until you can gain the cards for one of the devestating combos in the deck – where [Warsong Commander] combines with either [Grim Patron] or [Frothing Berserker] along with whirlwind effects to either dominate the board or deliver massive damage to your opponent’s face. As mentioned above, typically we will want to plan for facing Zoo. However, in this particular game, I made a slight guess that my opponent might have been playing a slower deck.
Typically, I would prefer to have [Fiery War Axe] for early removal as well as some card draw, such as Acolyte of Pain or Battle Rage. However, I used my observation of my opponent’s mulligan to inform my decision. I noticed that he replaced all of the cards in his hand. This means one of two things, either he was a Zoo player with none of his one or two drops, or perhaps he played a slower deck and he was mulliganing for his Mountain Giant or Twilight Drake. By the way, although this is a well known strategy when facing Warlocks, you should observe all of your opponent’s mulligans, because if he replaces many of his cards this will give you some information as to the quality of his opening hand.
When considering my own hand, because this Warrior deck does not have anything that can deal with the Twilight Drake or Mountain Giants other than [Execute], I decided to keep that card. I also decided to keep [Slam], because it could help me trigger Execute as well as draw a card. I replaced [Armorsmith] because her value is not playing her as a two-drop, but instead in combination with other minions and whirlwind effects to maximize the armor gained from her ability.
In general, in Combo decks you should often replace the actual cards that make up the game finishing combinations. These are often useless in the early game and because many combo decks have several ways of drawing extra cards, you can often draw them later in the game when you will have the mana and opportunity to use them.
I hope this discussion of the mulligan phase in Hearthstone will help you to be more strategic in the cards you keep and replace. As with all other parts of competitive Hearthstone, it is important to know the popular decks that you are most likely to face on the ladder. Understanding your Win Conditions and which cards are important against your most common match-ups is also important. Also, remember to observe your opponent’s mulligans for any clues that may be helpful in your overall strategy. Finally, accept the limits of the mulligan. It is only one phase of the game and often your mulligan may not help your opening. However, by being more thoughtful about how you mulligan, over many games the quality of your opening hands on average will be better, increasing your win rate overall. Until next time, good luck and have fun!
Questions and Tips
- What are your most common match-ups? What is your ideal early game plan for each of these match-ups?
- Consider the Win Condition of your deck. How does this affect your mulligan strategy?
- Look up decks you are facing often on a site like tempostorm.com and make a note of the key cards you may have to deal with in your games. Consider these in your mulligan strategies.
Last Week’s Puzzle Solution
Here is the solution to last week’s puzzle!
In this week’s puzzle, the key is triggering the combo effect on Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil.
- Cast [Sap] on the [Kezan Mystic].
- Play Tinker’s Sharpsword Oil, adding +3 attack to the [Azure Drake] and +3 attack on your weapon.
- Attack face with the Azure Drake.
- Attack face with your weapon. Steps 3 and 4 can be interchanged.
- Play [Blade Flurry] (remember that Azure Drake gives +1 spell damage).
- [Eviscerate] the face for lethal! Steps 5 and 6 can be interchanged.
Hearthstone Puzzle #4
In this week’s puzzle, try to find the lethal solution!