The London Mulligan

Many years ago, I took a C++ class at the local college, and our professor was a brilliant programmer, but an awful teacher. So a few of us who already knew what we were doing taught the class for the professor. For a final project, we had to write a computer program to simulate Five Card Stud Poker given predetermined rules for the AI.

One classmate implemented the rules with a twist – the AI selected its best hand from both the cards in hand and those it discarded for the turn.

We ran side by side simulations and his AI won about twenty percent more often. For comparison, the house edge in Blackjack is about five percent.

That’s the power level of the London Mulligan.

Tamiyo, Collector of Tales

When you don’t know the answer, keep asking questions.

Tamiyo, Collector of Tales

How good is Tamiyo?

Someone once said we can roughly measure the power of a card by counting the number of cards that change game zones.* So Bazaar’s power is 5 (+2 draw, +3 discard). Tamiyo’s +1 ability is a power of 4. And her five loyalty, six if you +1 immediately, means she’ll probably survive an attack.

What kind of non-Dredge Vintage deck wants to draw four extra cards a turn, but doesn’t care if the cards are in your graveyard or in your hand?

* 99% sure it was one of the So Many Insane Plays podcast.

The State of Vintage

Vintage decks are the knife’s edge, so to speak. The card pool is both wide (~20K unique cards) and deep (B&R List). Even Legacy boasts access to ~15K unique cards. Deck building in eternal formats should use the best of the very best.

I don’t know how I feel about Vintage between London Mulligan and War of the Spark. The new London Mulligan rules favor aggressive mulligans and draw sevens, and Lavinia and Workshops favor more lands. These two axes are dichotomous to deck building even with a both wide and deep card pool.

Better questions, better answers

Looking at recent tournaments results for decks that either 5-0’d Leagues or finished in the Top 8 between March 16th, 2019 and April 14, 2019 for a total of 98 results, we have the following breakdown:

Dredge 19%
Xerox 19%
Storm 16%
Workshop 11%
Survival 7%
Oath 6%
BUG 5%
Grixis Thieves 4%
Esper 3%
Assorted 10%

The assorted decks are as much a classification problem as anything else. Since the volume was small, I checked, and they all lump together into various forms of creatures backed by counterspells, with notable omissions being Eldrazi (1%) and Death & Taxes (1%), both established archetypes.

Analyzing the Data

We need to be careful. For example, the data spans before and after the London Mulligan change (April 10th, 2019), and the post-change data is small. We can, however, ascertain recent trends. Deathrite Shaman is banned in Legacy, and its frequency is increasing in Vintage. Leyline of the Void is also seeing more play. With Dredge making up a fifth of the expected top finishes, and Survival taking another 7%, you have a ~1:4 chance of Leyline and/or Deathrite Shaman really shining. Sideboard slots are limited, and DRS is played main, so this level of consolidation is a real treat for us.

The current Storm variants are primarily counterspell protected and run one Hurkyl’s main. Nobody seems to be going the full nine yards in combo. Lavinia appears to be doing work, and Oath is still packing maindeck Ancient Grudges. And, Mishra’s Workshop fueled aggro decks, as long as Workshop remains unrestricted, will continue to function as the checks and balances of the format.

What does the future hold?

Unless some absurdly powerful card is spoiled in War, I’ll probably run either Karn the Creator Oops, I win! Kefnet. The latter supports Lavinia. Heck, maybe the former does, too. Both Karn and Kefnet are absurdly powerful. Resolving an Ancestral is usually enough to win a game in Vintage, and Kefnet says you can make you opponent fight over a copy instead of the real thing. I’m not sure if that’s more powerful than new Karn (I’ve tinkered with Mycosynth Lattice/Null Rod/Tabernacle, and Lattice/Rod combo is very strong), but I think they are both worth exploring.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

You’d think after playing Magic: the Gathering for twenty years, I’d know a bad card when I see one. And, let’s be clear, I do, but I like to let the evidence convince me.

Angelic Curator is cheap, plays through Thorn of Amethyst, and has Protection from MUD.

It also is considerably smaller than everything MUD plays except Phyrexian Revoker.

Save your pennies. April 2019 testing confirms this card is bad.



I wish this card was better. This guy is the Dragonlord Ojutai of MUD, and has the ability to get Legendary Creatures and Planewalkers. You can get Sagas, but only The Antiquities War has seen play so far.

How do we enable Weatherlite? We’re not limited to MUD. Even though Mishra’s Workshop is the premier enabler, we can play this in any deck.

We need at least three power to crew, but most of the good creatures in Vintage either win you the game already (Mentor, Pyro, Blightsteel, Workshop Aggro, Oath & Friends) or aren’t big enough to solo crew (Lavinia, Thalia, DRS). The good creatures in Vintage are either Shops, Legendary, or effectively Legendary. Mentor is restricted, and Blightsteel is effectively restricted because Tinker is restricted. Jeskai won’t run this, so Young Pyromancer is out. Workshop doesn’t have the slots for it, and Oath shouldn’t even bother to test it. Weatherlite would consistently whiff in Xerox.

Stax might consider it, but there hasn’t been a good Stax deck in a long time. Karn the Creator might be a good fit, because they can find each other, and Karn’s +1 can enable Weatherlite to attack, and trigger on connect, through a Null Rod.

I don’t think there is enough here to test Weatherlite yet, but maybe post Spark. Maybe.

Fractured Identity

Fractured Identity

As a rule of thumb, any spell that costs you more than two mana in Vintage needs win you the game, or you need to be able to gain a powerful effect for cheap. While I don’t think Fractured Identity wins the game outright, it does have the potential to swing the game heavily in your favor, and it pairs well with both Mana Drain and Narset Transcendent.

I tested the deck in a tried and true Vintage UW Control Shell and found the testing seemed to confirm my expectations. It was good against Jeskai, Oath, great with Narset, and swingy against Shops with the wash against Sphere effects. Surprisingly, it was outstanding against Lavinia Control. I did not expect Narset’s Rebound effect to be as valuable as it was against Lavinia Control, but Karakas in response to the trigger is strong, as is Path.

Here is the deck I ended up with, and I made two glaring mistakes. Did you spot them both?

First, I originally played Vault/Key combo, and then I removed the combo, but I left Tezz in. Whoops! Second, Angelic Curator is a nod to the hot, hot tech Sea Sprite vs Sligh from the 90’s. What was good then, is not good now. Ballista and Friends can go over, around, and through all manner of critters, and Hurkyl’s Recall is just better. Also, double blocking with two Curators doesn’t kill creatures like it did against Sligh. The third mistake is arguable. Paths in the board and a Supreme Verdict main is a coin toss. You’re better vs a variety of creature decks, and the format is definitely creature heavy right now, but you’re worse off against Tinker/Blightsteel.

I like to test a few cards at once because the chances of drawing the test card on MTGO is slim, so I’m testing Fractured Identity, Narset, and Karn together. Karn was every bit his old self and won many games through sheer existence. Narset was surprisingly valuable against a variety of decks, and performed admirable as a +1 draw, gain life in the worst case. In many cases, she would net me six cards off a Rebounded Ancestral Recall, or a two permanent swing with Fractured Identity, sealing the game.

I won three matches in the league, pre-London mulligan. The losses were against Storm and Jeskai. Jeskai is a tough matchup, and Storm managed to plow through a plethora of counterspells to land a Bargain. Happens. Workshop was a toss up, but we usually split the three games.

If I ran the deck again (hint: I will), I would run 58/60 and 12/15. Remove Tezz and one Wasteland from the main to make Mana Drain easier to cast, and add another blue land and a Repeal. Replace the Curators with either three Hurkyl’s Recalls or two and a meta card of choice.

I don’t know where these cards will end up, but they’re good enough to warrant further testing.