Luckily there are strategies to help mitigate the chances of drawing a poor opener, and there are ways to recover. While many strategies are going to be specific to a certain warlord, there are some universal tips that can help you.
Universal Tip #1: Don't bother trying to 'hold the line'
Deck Design - When you're designing your deck, really give some thought about how you'd like it to work. Is this an assassin deck? A control/choke deck? A planet-gobbling deck? What cards are essential to victory? This overall assessment is going to dictate what you want to look for in an opening hand that is specific to your warlord.
A prime example is Kith. If you see Khymera Den in your opening hand, the other 6 cards better be dogshit if you decide to mulligan. Other examples include Cloud City in an Aunshi deck, Kustom Field Generator in a Nazdreg deck, and Promise of Glory + Daemons in a Chaos deck.
Planet Lineup - Before you even look at your hand, look at the planet lineup. Is there a quick victory condition? Do all of the first 5 planets have a green icon? Can you play the long game, or will you need to fight from the start? More than anything else, the planet lineup is going to dictate your opening moves, and will have a huge impact on whether you should mulligan or not.
If you're going to have to fight it out from the start, and your opening hand doesn't have any good combat units or tricks, then you should probably mulligan.
Cost Curve of Your Deck - Big units in this game are, generally, a poor investment. Each faction has its exceptions, but by and large big units are not worth the cost. This is doubly true in the first turn, where limited resources make paying for a big unit even more of a bad move.
Great units, just not on turn 1
With so many uncontested planets on the first turn you need to be able to spread your command presence, and single big units prevent you from doing that. Cards like Slaanesh's Temptation and Deception are making expensive units even more vulnerable.
Maybe you don't have big units in your deck, and you have a good cost-curve overall. It's still likely that you will, on occasion, draw an opening hand with lots of 3-cost units. Having a couple of these guys ready to go in the early game is fine, but if you're only able to deploy 2 units on turn one, it's likely not going to end well for you. This is one reason why Ragnar Blackmane is so good. His signature squad not only costs a mere 2 resources, but can then commit to the fight at a later point.
Ratio of Events/Attachments/Supports to Units - You'll notice that so far I've been emphasizing the cost of units, as opposed to events, supports, and attachments. This is because the only way to win the overall command battle is to have units with more hammers than the other guy. Seems obvious, but it's one of the primary reasons why Urien and Shadowsun aren't cracking the top tier of warlords. Urien relies on having a ton of events, and his signature squad doesn't have any command icons. This leads to situations where he gets completely out-classed on command right from the start.
Likewise, Shadowsun's ability seems fine, but requires a deck that has a multitude of attachments. At this stage in the game, decks really need to have between 28-32 units to be effective in the command struggle. This is a big reason why, to the chagrin of some players, Void Pirates and Rogue Traders won't be leaving decks anytime soon. You need to have cheap, turn-1 unit drops ready to go.
Deck Size - I'm just including this no-brainer tip because I still see people struggling with this. Let me say this loud and clear: get that deck down to 50 cards! At the last tournament I attended there was an Ork player with a 65 cards in his deck. His excuse: "there are just so many good Ork and AM cards!" Yes, there are, but you're not going to see them consistently enough in a deck that big.
Putting it into Practice -
Let's look at a quick example. Say we have two players facing off: brave, strong, and handsome Parker is playing Baharroth -
- while dastardly, cranky, and odoriferous Steve is rolling his snazzy Aunshi deck
Let's assume that there is a win condition on the planets fairly early in the game, and that Steve has the first move. Let's look at his hand (generated randomly on ConquestDB):
Wow, you could literally not ask for anything better. There's the Orbital/Cloud City, a recon drone to help with command, and a Viorla Marksman + Gun Drone for that ranged AoE, with enough resources left over to play either Borkan Recruits or Ethereal Envoy.
Now let's take a look at Parker's hand:
Another solid opener. ETC is a good first play to dig for an attachment or another Wraithguard, and he can easily be promoted to become a solid command unit. Banner of the Ashen Sky is a key Baharroth piece, and BLT Guardians are always good to see. After that we have two good events. Probably not as good a hand as immoral Steve, but Parker wouldn't know that. Both of these hands are keepers.
tl;dr - keep the cost down so you can play a bunch of units and win command on turn 1, and don't mulligan if you have key cards
Thanks for reading. Take the time to practice your opening hands using the tools on ConquestDB and CardGameDB. By doing this you'll get a good feel about what your deck might be lacking, and how you can start a game strong.
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