Matchup Mulligan: Death & Taxes

Something I’ve been working on in recent months is cracking down on myself about mulligans. In the past, I’ve been very lazy and unwilling or even afraid to go down to six or five. But the truth of the matter is aggressive mulliganing in certain matchups will result in more game wins than playing with essentially one hand tied behind your back, by keeping a bad hand. While it’s still a work in progress, this series should help clear up some questions about strategies against different decks.

This series will go over 10 opening hands, 5 pre-board and 5 post-board with the same numbers for being on the play or drawing first. The hands are not random, they’ve been sculpted by me for the purpose of these exercises.

For more information on how to beat Death & Taxes, please read Alex Poling’s TES Matchup Battles article by clicking here.


Hand 1: (on the play)

DarkRitual Gitaxian Probe Infernal Tutor Cabal Therapy Lions Eye Diamond Bloodstained Mire Rite Of Flame

Keep or Mulligan: Keep

This is an example of our ideal hand. It has the choice of doing three different options, the first being: Gitaxian Probe into Cabal Therapy. The second being Gitaxian Probe, Dark Ritual, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Infernal Tutor and then cast Empty the Warrens for ten Goblins. The last being if drawing a land, Chrome Mox, Lotus Petal or Lion’s Eye Diamond off of Gitaxian Probe – cast Ad Nauseam in the first two turns. Options one and three tend to pair with each other, but I think the second choice is the most likely. Making this hand a “snap” keep in my opinion. What I really like about the second hand is the ability to use Cabal Therapy to discard a possible Batterskull found by Stoneforge Mystic.


Hand 2: (on the draw)

BurningWish Infernal Tutor Cabal Therapy Underground Sea Ponder Scalding Tarn Swamp

Keep or Mulligan: Mulligan

Against an unknown opponent, I think this hand is an easy keep. However, against Death & Taxes I would send it back. While you have a Cabal Therapy to name Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, outside of that, this hand doesn’t really do anything. This is the sort of hand that Wasteland paired with Rishadan Port shreds apart. Even if you cast Ponder and found Lion’s Eye Diamond, the hand still requires more mana, which would mean needing to draw better than average in order to win. If this hand were on the play, I think it would be a keep, but sort of questionable.


Hand 3: (on the play)

Chrome Mox Lotus Petal Lions Eye Diamond Ponder Brainstorm Rite Of Flame

Keep or Mulligan: Keep

You’ve already sent your hand back once and you have the best card in your deck for this matchup – Lion’s Eye Diamond. While this hand is missing a “tutor effect” I would keep, depending on your scry is how you would play this hand. If a Tutor effect is on top, that’s obviously the best – a land is good and anything else is bad. I likely wouldn’t use Chrome Mox to cast a cantrip, I would probably use Lotus Petal.


Hand 4: (on the draw)

DarkRitual BurningWish Polluted Delta Volcanic Island Cabal Therapy

Keep or Mulligan: Keep

When using the theory of aggressive mulligans, sometimes you end up with hands like this. You can ship them back, but at some point you need to keep a hand where you need a thing or two to go right. I likely would fire off the Cabal Therapy on the first turn. Then hope to draw some more mana like Lion’s Eye Diamond so that you can make a few Goblins and then flashback Cabal Therapy.


Hand 5: (on the play)

Duress Cabal Therapy Cabal Therapy Swamp Polluted Delta Ponder Empty The Warrens

Keep or Mulligan: Mulligan

This hand is a trap, it has three of the best cards we want in this matchup – Cabal Therapy and Empty the Warrens. That said, it doesn’t actually do anything. This hand will likely flounder trying to find mana to cast Empty the Warrens, but even if it does, it doesn’t contain anything to generate a lot of storm. Meaning you’ll likely come to a stalemate with blockers.



Website recommendation for sideboarding

-3 Duress, -2 Ponder
+3 Echoing Truth, +2 Rending Volley


Hand 6: (on the draw)

Island Echoing Truth Infernal Tutor Chrome Mox DarkRitual DarkRitual

Keep or Mulligan: Mulligan

Another trap hand, but honestly, I could see myself biting on this one. You’re supposed to mulligan this, even if you draw a black source or card, you can’t become Hellbent and even if you could there’s no red for Empty the Warrens and you don’t have enough for Ad Nauseam. This hand is very tempting, but ultimately I think it’s a mulligan to five.


Hand 7: (on the play)

Lions Eye Diamond Lions Eye Diamond Volcanic Island Rending Volley Brainstorm BurningWish Gitaxian Probe

Keep or Mulligan: Keep

What’s interesting about this hand is that you’re going to win with Gitaxian Probe. Volcanic Island and cast Brainstorm, put Rending Volley on the bottom (to clear blockers) with Burning Wish on top. Play both copies of Lion’s Eye Diamond, Gitaxian Probe, break the two Lion’s Eye Diamonds and then cast Burning Wish. From there you have Rending Volley to clear a blocker!


Hand 8: (on the draw)

Echoing Truth Rending Volley Cabal Therapy Polluted Delta Scalding Tarn Infernal Tutor Polluted Delta

Keep or Mulligan: Mulligan

Too many answers and lands, it’s simple, this hand just doesn’t do anything. A hand like this I think you need a lot of things to go your way in order to win. You can’t become Hellbent and you lack non-land mana. You can spend your first three turns answering your opponents threats, but I think by then Wasteland and Rishadan Port will take over the game. Don’t play into the other deck’s strength.


Hand 9: (on the play)

Rite Of Flame DarkRitual Gitaxian Probe Lotus Petal Underground Sea Lotus Petal

Keep or Mulligan: Keep

You have three opportunities to break this game open, a scry and two draw steps to find some business. You have the mana to combo before the opponent’s second turn, while things could go badly, you gave yourself a real chance to win.


Hand 10: (on the draw)

BurningWish Infernal Tutor Brainstorm Chrome Mox Lions Eye Diamond Echoing Truth Cabal Therapy

Keep or Mulligan: Mulligan

While this hand has both Lion’s Eye Diamond and Infernal Tutor, I think it relies too much on Brainstorm finding both a land and Dark Ritual or a Gitaxian Probe and Lion’s Eye Diamond. Too high risk.