What does it mean if Adam Yurchick won with a four card opening hand? More than just a good story, I hope!
I was out to dinner with newly Top 8-ified reigning #1 Apprentice Asher “ManningBot” Hecht and he told me something very interesting: According to Asher, Adam Yurchick (Top 8 at Grand Prix Philadelphia with “old school” U/W ‘Tron among other finishes) won the last round of the Grand Prix on a mulligan to four.
Cool anecdote, right?
But that’s not all.
According to Asher, “That’s how you know the MTGO ringers… They know when to mulligan.”
Okay. That can just be a bumper sticker statement. Like “everything happens for a reason,” or “there is no such thing as objectivity.” That is, it sounds cool to some people. MTGO ringers (or people who want to grow up to be MTGO ringers) might think this is a great and absolutely true statement!
Let’s assume for a moment that it is true.
What does it mean?
I play a fair amount of MTGO (as you probably know from watching my videos)… I used to play more MTGO, and tournaments as well (in fact, the summer I was very good at Magic, I wrote a lot of articles detailing the 8-man tournaments I was playing all the time, viz. Vore: Still Awesome, Beating Down With Bracht’s Ninjas, and The Next Step in Steam Vents. But since that summer I have de-volved into playing mostly Tournament Practice room just so that I don’t have to set aside three hours at a time.
The difference between how I am playing now and a legitimate MTGO ringer is that there is nothing really at stake in how I play (other than my leisure / entertainment time). So I mostly just never mulligan because I care more about exploring new deck ideas than actually winning MTGO tournaments. But when you are playing tournaments and — like I was that summer — meticulously logging your ratings deltas and tournament win / loss percentages with every deck you play, there is more at stake. Having more at stake encourages you to take mulligans more seriously because your success criteria is / becomes about winning individual games rather than exploring ideas. Tournament Magic is a far different animal from Tournament Practice room, yadda yadda yadda, and more repetitions (when winning specific games actually matter to you) influence behavior (in this case mulligan behavior) over time.
So let’s get back to Adam’s win on four.
Why does it matter again?
According to Asher, “He was unwilling to keep an unwinnable five.”
This is really interesting.
It’s basic math actually.
But while we are actually riding the emotional rollercoaster of a tournament match that might matter, we don’t necessarily pay attention to the math. I was thinking back to a hand I kept in the last round that mattered at the Star City Philadelphia $5,000 tournament. I had just gotten topdecked out of legitimately beating the eventual tournament champion in an extremely hostile matchup (he was dead to any burn spell — and I topdecked Incinerate — but not before he got me by pulling his main-deck Burrenton Forge-Tender a the turn before). What was I thinking at the time?
Oh, I’m probably going to lose anyway. Keep.
I guess I have to keep this.
Maybe this hand will improve.
Something like this.
If I sat down and had a conversation with myself, I probably could have figured out that the hand I kept — which had very little action — had even less chance of winning the game, a game I had to win if I was going to make Top 8 (and if I had gotten the match, I would have had a pretty good chance of winning the tournament instead of finishing out of the money).
I had already given up.
So what am I losing if I mulligan?
If I have already consigned myself to losing — or something tantamount to losing like throwing my hands up in the air and praying that some otherworldly forces give me rip after rip so that I can win out of pure hazard and fortune rather than, I dunno, tighter mulligan decisions — then what am I losing by shipping one card? By this reasoning, the card isn’t even good, right?
You don’t mulligan in these situations (I don’t anyway) in order to avoid feeling badly, I guess. I don’t know if there is any other idea. Just some kind of chasing some kind of dead end. You “don’t want to go deeper” even though your one land five card hand has nearly no chance of winning as it is… But what is deeper? Do you have a lower chance of winning than the zero you are stuck with if you stick with this hand?
Seems pretty silly when you say it out loud, right?
I don’t even know if the story about Adam is true (though I assume it’s true). But whether or not it is true, I am going to try to embrace it as life-changing (or at least game-changing) in my own future mulligans.
I hope you get something out of this as well.