Mulligan Phase Analysis in Arena
Hello everyone. Today I want to talk about a crucial part of every Hearthstone game – the mulligan. Mulligan is a very important part of the early game. Choose your cards right and you may get a great curve, choose wrong and you may screw your whole early game. In this article I will present what points to consider when deciding which cards to mulligan and I will give some basic concepts and ideas which should help you understand mulligan phase better. As always this article is aimed at Arena play and it differs a lot from constructed play, however some concepts and ideas can be applied to constructed play.
Knowing your deck
During mulligan you must know which cards from your deck you want and which you don’t. Therefore it is crucial to know what is inside of your deck. Deck trackers help a lot in this case or just having a screenshot of your deck easily available. If none of these options seem good for you, you will want to at least memorize what you have in your deck for the early game. Without knowing your deck, making optimal mulligan choices is near impossible. Of course for the mulligan the most important part of the deck is it’s early game because that is what you will be looking for in the mulligan. There are key points such as how many minions you have for turns 1 , 2, 3 and 4. On top of that you will want to know the quality of these minions and whether they are drops or not. Just because the card costs 2 it doesn’t mean you will always want to play it on an empty board. For example if it’s turn 2 and there is nothing on the board, Blowgill Sniper isn’t a strong play and ideally you would play something else. Therefore if you see it come up in your starting hand, often it would be a good idea to mulligan it. To sum up knowing your deck is very important when heading into mulligan phase. Without knowing what early game options are available in your deck, it’s near impossible to make optimal choices.
What is mulligan?
We all know the basics of mulligan. You get 3 or 4 cards in your starting hand and you can choose to either keep them or exchange any amount of them for random cards from your deck. Once you mulligan a card you can’t get the same one again, however you can get a copy of it if you have 2 or more in the deck. These are the basics of mulligan. I want to go deeper than that and analyze it a bit more. Mulligan is a game of percentages. When looking at a card in your opening hand, you will have to compare it to the rest of your deck. Compare one by one the card you have with each other card in your deck. You will want to compare them based on which would you rather see in your opening hand. Usually you can quickly dismiss cards that cost more than 4 which doesn’t leave that many cards left. Say you have a Bloodfen Raptor in your opening hand. Then you look at your deck and compare it. Would you rather have a Frostbolt or Raptor? Pompous Thespian or Raptor? Blowgill Sniper or Raptor? and so on. After doing this you’ve counted that there are for example 7 cards in your deck that you’d rather have instead of Raptor. That means if you mulligan your Raptor you will have around 19% chance of getting a better card and 81% chance of downgrading from Raptor. As you can see mulligan is all about chance. Of course a lot more than simple numbers should go into a decision such as curve and reactive cards but we will cover that later.
As I’ve said even though mulligan is a game of chance, you shouldn’t make your decisions based on numbers alone. The main goal of mulligan is to get a curve. In Arena you will want to use your mana as efficiently as possible. This leads to curve being very important, especially in the early game. Therefore you will want to base your mulligan around curve. The goal is to play minion each turn in the early game even though it’s hardly achievable. The ideal curve for going first would be 1-2-3-4. When you have the coin, the best curve is 2-2-3-4. Obviously these are very specific and it’s very hard to achieve these, especially in slower meta like the current one. When going first, there aren’t many variations with your curve. You will just want to have a play for turns 1-2-3-4. That is very hard to achieve. More often than not your curve will look 2-3-4. If you don’t get lucky with the draws the curve may even look like 2-2-4, 1-1-3 or some other crazy variation. In case you don’t get lucky with the draws, try to at least spend as many crystals. What I mean by that it’s way better to play a 2 drop on turn 3 rather than a 1 drop. Going second you have a lot more freedom with your curve. The 3 main options you should try to aim for are 2-2-3-4, 1-3-3-4 or 1-2-4-4. These 3 are the best possible curves when you have the coin, 2-2-3-4 being the best out of them. If you see two 3 drops show up in your mulligan, chances are you should be going for 1-3-3-4 if the other two cards aren’t good. It’s hard to explain curve and how to mulligan accordingly as it mostly comes to experience and base to base situations. When you see the opening hand, you should decide which curve you think you should go for and mulligan the cards which do not fit the curve. There is no use in having three 2 drops, even if they are premium as it’s much better to play on curve and try to maximize mana usage.
Cards you want in mulligan
As I’ve mentioned before, during mulligan you want to see how many cards you’d rather have instead of the one that you consider tossing. The big question is how to compare cards in these situations? Of course it mostly has to do with the quality of a card. Yet the better card overall may not be the better card in the early game. For example Giant Wasp is an amazing card, however in the early game it’s not as good as in the mid game. Even though Wasp is better than Vicious Fledgling overall, Fledgling is many times better than Wasp in the early game. One of the biggest considerations when deciding should be stats. Stats are the king in Arena and early game is no exception. You don’t want sub-par stats like 2/2 for 2 mana. Many times you will have to dig deep to find minions with great stats such as 4/3 for 3 mana. Of course there are some minions with great abilities and you will get to realize how well each card does with experience. After playing Arena for a while you will notice that you can quite easily compare cards and see which one is better in the early game.
Now we have to talk about reactive cards for a bit and whether you should keep that Frostbolt or not. In general you want to have proactive cards. This is because your opponent may not have anything to play and you will be left with a dead card in hand. If it’s a minion it should be proactive and if it’s not it needs to have good stats when the ability is wasted. For example Blowgill Sniper could be very good in certain scenarios, however if the board is clear you will only play a 2/1 for 1 mana. On the other hand Friendly Bartender ability will be wasted in the early game, however it’s fine because the stats make up for it. You should always consider how good a card is if the board is empty. It also heavily depends on deck archetype you are playing. If you are playing a card advantage oriented deck for example, keeping a Frostbolt could be a good idea because if your opponent doesn’t play anything on turn 2 he is just stalling the game which is in your favor as the control deck. If you are aggressive, you can’t afford to skip a turn which means it’s not optimal to keep a reactive card. It also depends on if you already have a drop you can play for that turn. For example if you already have a 2 drop and a 3 drop, you can feel free to keep a reactive card like Cleave. If you won’t be in a situation to use it, you won’t waste mana because you will still have that 2 drop available.
As mentioned before, you will want to form your curve in the mulligan. Yet not all drops are worth the same and some aren’t necessary at all. Firs of all 1 drops aren’t needed at all. They are optional. Most of 1 drops are so weak that they don’t impact the game at all. With few exceptions most of the 1 drops have 1 health which means they will easily die to many hero powers. Therefore if you miss your 1 drop it’s no big deal at all since they only have small impact. Even for aggressive decks you can curve out starting at turn 2, missing 1 drops completely. Turn 2 is where it gets interesting. 2 drops aren’t an absolute necessity, however they do help grab the board a lot. Usually on turn 2 the stats for minions are quite good. If you play a 3/2 minion, it will most likely be able to contest opponent’s 3 drop which will lead to further snowballing. On the other hand turn 2 minions can be easily shut down by Tar Creeper or few other cards. 2 drops can certainly help by a margin, however they aren’t a must since it’s still possible to come back after missing a 2 drop. 3 drops are a must. If you skip turns 1,2 and 3 while your opponent doesn’t, chances are you lost the game already. On turn 3 you must play at least something to try and contest the board. Of course if both you and your opponent pass on turn 3 it’s no big deal, however there are many 3 drops which can kill many 4 drops that you can play. This will lead to a big snowball and you decrease your chances of winning by a lot if you skip turn 3. On turn 4 it’s very hard to actually do nothing. If your deck is built properly, chances are you have already drawn a 4 drop or two 2 drops to play. In the worst case scenario you can play a 3 drop or a 2 drop alongside hero power. Skipping turn 4 is a deathwish and is very hard o recover from.
Risk vs reward
Mulligan is a game of chance. You risk what you have for a chance at something better. The question arises when you should take a chance. In many cases the answer is obvious. If you have a good 2 drop, there is absolutely no need to risk it in hopes of getting an even better 2 drop. Choosing this play most often will lead to disappointment and on the off chance you do get the better drop, the difference is not that significant to risk it. Then there are obvious situations like not having a 2 drop or a 3 drop at all. Of course you will mulligan your entire hand because the chance that you will get a card you want is very high. Then you get to the complex scenarios. For example in the opening you have a 3 drop and the other 2 cards cost a lot of mana. You will mulligan the 2 high cost cards for sure, however do you keep a 3 drop? If you mulligan it, you increase chances of getting a 2 drop. On the other hand if you mulligan it, you could get screwed and not get a 2 drop nor a 3 drop. Let’s say you have five 2 drops that you would like to get. If you mulligan 2 cards, the chance of getting a 2 drop is 35%. If you mulligan 3 cards, the chance of getting a 2 drop jumps to 48%. So that 3 drop that you risk is worth 13%. And the question arises – do you risk not having an early game play and opt to go for 13% increased chance? Or do you play safe? Of course it depends on many factors, however I just wanted to show the general idea of risk vs reward that is the mulligan.
Thats all for today. Mulligan is sure is a tough topic, however I wanted to cover it and the concepts for a long time. Hopefully you will take what you need from this article and apply it in your Arena games. Thank you all for reading. As always stay tuned for more Arena articles in the near future. Until next time. Have a good one.