Each game of Gwent begins with a mulligan phase, which allows both players to replace any given card in their hand with a card from their deck up to three times. This happens again at the start of rounds 2 and 3, but this time only one card is replaced. There are also cards in the Scoia'tael faction that allow you to mulligan cards during a round, but they're a relatively minor component of the Gwent game, so this article will not focus on those (but the concepts outlined here apply to them too).
Understanding the exact mechanics behind how cards are shuffled back in and drawn from the deck is integral to making correct decisions and taking calculated risks in any given game of Gwent.
The Mulligan Algorithm
- Choose a card in your hand
- This card is blacklisted, meaning a card with the same name cannot be drawn for the remainder of this particular mulligan phase
- The chosen card is placed in a random position in your deck. As far as we know, any position, including the top or bottom of your deck, is equally likely. The order of the other cards remains the same.
- Draw the top non-blacklisted card of your deck*
- Repeat the process until all of your available mulligans are completed or you decide to end the mulligan.
* Suppose there is a Foglet on top of your deck, and you mulligan another Foglet that gets randomly placed second. Then you would draw the third card from the top.
This process has not been directly confirmed by anyone from CD Projekt Red, but it is generally accepted, and some community members have conducted tests to confirm it. Notably, there is no shuffling anywhere in the mulligan process, and actually very few shuffling effects in Gwent, so the order of your deck remains mostly the same as cards are placed into it or taken out.
The primary purpose of the mulligan is to get rid of cards that you don't want to have in your hand. In the initial mulligan, these could be:
- Cards that you want to summon or otherwise obtain from your deck. Examples: Foglet, Queensguard (with King Bran), Impera Brigade (with Emissary)
- Cards that are significantly more valuable in later rounds. Examples: Spotter, Priestess of Freya, Peter Saar Gwynleve (against enemy Spotters)
- Your weakest bronzes, to look for silvers and golds (especially in decks with little thinning)
Contrastingly, the mulligans at the start of rounds 2 and 3 should mostly focus on improving your average card quality, and are thus relatively straightforward.
In Depth: Blacklisting
The blacklisting mechanic ensures that after you mulligan a specific card, you will not draw any cards with the same name during this mulligan phase. Quite importantly, in your initial mulligan (and when using Francesca's ability), the blacklist is shared between all 3 of the mulligans, making sequencing very important - you want to blacklist undesirable cards as early as possible.
- Foglet, blacklisting 2 cards: itself, and the Foglet that's still in your deck
- a Crone, blacklisting only itself.
- The Crones do not have the same names, and thus do not blacklist other Crones. In the scenario where you draw your third Crone in one of the first two mulligans, mulliganing a Crone second gives you the option of whether you want a useless Crone or a dead Foglet in hand
- Foglet, blacklisting only itself (the other Foglets are already blacklisted)
This example is fairly straightforward, as Crones and Foglets are both so undesirable that we would rarely need to consider other mulligan pathways in the scenario outlined. However, sometimes mulligan decisions can depend on the availability of combos, or ways to mitigate the drawbacks of undesirable cards. So…
Suppose you are playing a discard Skellige deck, the undesirable cards are:
- Clan Dimun Pirate: Ideally want to have exactly 1 in your hand to use in combination with War Longships and to grow your Captains
- Clan Dimun Pirate Captain: You generally want to save these for the final round, but playing 1-2 earlier is not always a bad idea
- Clan an Craite Raider: Aiming to have 2-3 of these in your deck to use with King Bran. Generally don't want to have any in your starting hand without an Ermion or Svanrige to discard them
So, having too many of any of the above in hand, while not desirable, is by no means catastrophic.
Suppose your opening hand is:
This hand is somewhat flooded with undesirable cards and lacks the flexibility, removal and power provided by your other silvers and golds. However, it contains an Ermion, which will help you draw into them after you thin effectively. Here, my mulligan order would be:
- Clan Dimun Pirate Captain
- Clan Dimun Pirate
- Clan an Craite Raider (or Clan Dimun Pirate if a third one was drawn earlier)
Mulliganing the Captain first provides a lot of blacklisting value, and only gives you a 2/13 chance of drawing another Pirate or Raider, which is an ok risk to take with this hand, as having one or two Raiders at the end of the ordeal is not actually terrible because of Ermion's presence.
But, what if the Ermion was swapped out for a Coral? In this scenario, my mulligan order would be:
Here, I would want to maximise the tools I have in order to win the first round (the Pirates and King Bran, in combination with War Longships) and hopefully draw some better cards later. This is aided by the presence of Coral, who is likely to seal a victory if my opponent decides to take the round long. But, if an Ermion or Svanrige is drawn along the way I might want to amend my plan.
These are just two examples of the mulligan procedure, but they illustrate the importance of ordering your mulligans correctly in order to craft a good hand. We pause our discussion of mulligan mechanics here and move onto some of their implications.
Food for Thought
- Bear in mind that different players will have different mulligan preferences, and what I've explained above isn't necessarily the only good way to do it.
- Think about the sequencing of your mulligans before starting them. What are the main problems with your hand, and how can they be most effectively solved?
- If you have a good starting hand, you are not obliged to go through with all 3 mulligans. It can often be unwise to perform a third mulligan if your deck still contains undesirable cards that have not been blacklisted, unless it is a risk you're willing to take
- It is not necessary for you to have all of your good cards in your opening hand, as it can occasionally lead to over-killing your opponent in round 1 and running out of steam later in the game. This is especially true if you can thin effectively enough to have a reasonable shot at grabbing your good cards later
- Mulligan decisions can be heavily dependent on the matchup. For instance, some cards (like Mardroeme) may become undesirable, or you may choose to blacklist more aggressively to look for tech cards
- The mulligan is as much an art as it is a science, especially given the limited time given to analyse any given hand. The more you play a specific deck, the more you'll understand about its goals and mulligan strategy
When Disaster Strikes
Some hands are so suboptimal that they can't be saved, even with all the mulligan magic one can muster. However, there are several ways to mitigate the impact of undesirable cards.
There are several ways to minimise the impact of mulligan mayhem during a match. Most notably, the mulligans at the start of rounds 2 and 3 give you another opportunity to remove undesirable cards. To prepare for this, it is even more important to get as many other undesirable cards out of your deck, so that you don’t end up drawing them. Another option is to bleed your opponent out in round 2 (after winning in round 1), by playing these suboptimal cards for little value. (Bleeding refers to a situation where you’re in a position to decide round length, and can play your worst cards out and save the best ones for a later round. This is only a good idea if the cards you play are worse than your opponent’s, and they have no way to capitalise on this bleeding to gain card advantage.)
Furthermore, if you believe that it will often have suboptimal hands, it can be useful to include some safety valves in your deck. A perfect example of this would be running a Giant Toad in a Monster deck to eat an extra Crone or Nekker if it happens to find its way into your hand in a situation where you can’t mulligan it away (such as in round 3). Discard and Mulligan mechanics also allow you to get rid of undesirable cards. These are available to all factions in the forms of Sarah and Johnny (though both have their own drawbacks).
Don't Mulligan This Article
So, whilst the concept of a mulligan is rather straightforward, Gwent's limitless deckbuilding potential leads to all manner of quirky mulligan puzzles. I hope the examples provided have illustrated the technicalities behind blacklisting, and will help you think about how to mulligan in your own decks. After all, every victory is built on a foundation of a good hand, or knowing how to mitigate the drawbacks of a bad one. So I suggest you keep this article in your starting hand, and it will not disappoint.
The concept of thinning is heavily intertwined with the mulligan. Check out our previous Gwent Concepts article about it: Gwent Concepts: Thinning.
Next time, on Gwent Concepts:
We continue with a discussion of sequencing theory, talking about how the mulligan affects the order of your deck. Turns out that blacklisted cards tend to be closer to the top of your deck than you would expect. See you soon in "Gwent Concepts: Blacklist Bias"!