How Long Will MTG’s Initiative Mechanic Be Around in Legacy?
BTB Takes the Initiative!
Card: White Plume Adventurer | Art: Joseph Weston
Unless you have been asleep at the wheel, you have undoubtedly noticed the meteoric rise of decks flush with cards sporting “…take the Initiative.”
Wizards of the Coast banned most of the cards containing this mechanic in Pauper earlier this year due in part to its ability to take over the game unchecked.
However, the mechanic has taken the Legacy format by storm (no pun intended), seemingly supplanting all other deck archetypes. I will discuss some of the various archetypes, advantages, and why these decks have become so difficult to beat.
Plus, will WotC ever do something about Initiative in Legacy?
What is Initiative?
Created for EDH, the Initiative mechanic was meant to create a sub-game within the game. Played the way that Garfield intended, the mechanic invokes a dungeon card called The Undercity that leads the favored player through a series of rooms, each providing some sort of advantage for the player who possesses the Initiative.
Sounds fun, right? When you and your group of friends are vying to take the initiative, it IS fun! You can gain extra land, put a big creature onto the field, or deal an inordinate amount of damage to an opponent. Because of the nature of EDH, it can be difficult to retain the Initiative turn after turn.
However, when introduced to the 1v1 format, this mechanic has demonstrated just how ruthless one can be when one possesses the initiative with the tools to keep it.
MTG Legacy Initiative Archetypes
Pioneered by John Ryan Hamilton (@xJCloud on Twitter), aka “The Godfather of Initiative,” this deck was popularized as a Mono-White shell with White Plume Adventurer leading the charge, supported by Ancient Tomb, Chrome Mox, Solitude, and Chalice of the Void.
You can read all about the in-depth details of the deck here, where John covers the nitty gritty details behind building and testing one of the first versions of this deck. Dubbed "White Stompy," this deck has become the primary Initiative deck roiling Legacy as of this writing.
Hamilton used this shell to initially finish second in an MTGO Sunday Challenge followed up by numerous trophies, cementing the deck’s ability to take all comers.
Not to be outdone, other players have used the various initiative cards to construct Boros, Naya, and Mono-Black decks, each steamrolling the competition in MTGO.
Paper Legacy players who have been working with White Stompy decks for months at LGS locations have been validated for their under-the-radar efforts. At my own LGS here in Seattle, someone has been rocking a White Stompy deck for several months without attracting significant fanfare.
MTG Legacy Initiative Advantage or Disadvantage
Because they don’t have to worry about mana fixing, mono-colored decks are always great when you can make it work. Obviously, there are drawbacks to targeted hate, but White Stompy has managed to narrow the gap, utilizing several pieces of removal to back up the aggressive game plan. With four copies each of Lotus Petal, Chrome Mox, Ancient Tomb, and City of Traitors, the mana base is very smooth in this deck.
To protect the plan, Solitude is an easy inclusion, taking care of problematic creatures. Chalice of the Void is included to prevent one mana value spells, a vast majority of the powerful and easy removal spells in the format. Touch the Spirit Realm is another form of removal most didn’t see coming, offering two forms of exile for artifacts or creatures. You can also use it to blink your own Initiative creatures or Solitudes.
Depending on your perspective, this deck offers a comparatively easy on-ramp to the winner’s circle. Because of all these factors, the game plan is mildly easy to execute. No need to hunt for mana, and because there are so many creatures, you may rarely need to mulligan to find what you need.
The week of January 9th, 2023, the MTGGoldfish online rankings finally demonstrated what many of us knew was coming: White Stompy had finally overtaken Izzet Delver on MTGO as the top deck of the format in terms of the number of people piloting the deck. Many of the sub-archetypes are also percolating through the format, inundating weekend challenges with various forms of taking the initiative.
As a thought experiment, I went back and tallied the number of White Stompy and Izzet Delver decks that placed in the Top 8 on MTGO Legacy Challenge or Showcase events starting from November 19, 2022 (the earliest date that White Stompy showed online) through January 8, 2023.
In terms of sheer numbers, White Stompy placed 28 decks in the Top 8 while Izzet Delver placed 26 with each archetype winning the event only twice in this timeframe. The battlefield in these events was littered with the usual suspects of Legacy from Elves, to Reanimator to Painter, with other archetypes also securing two wins each over the same timeframe.
Even a graphical representation of this dynamic shows that White Stompy hasn’t outright taken over the format. It wasn’t until January 8th when White Stompy placed 5 out of the top 8 that it started to look like there might be a problem.
Or… one might conclude that we do not have a problem.
Hitting the Breaking Point?
While the data doesn’t point to a clear-cut issue with Initiative running over the meta, its quick rise to fame is surely worthy of notice. Just reading the tea leaves, many people are already turned off by having to play against Initiative decks. The creation of a sub-game within the game has significantly altered deck building.
But is that such a bad thing? We have had to contend with Delver being the top dog for so long that main-decking Pyroblast has become a meme. Will it become a staple now to play main-deck Mindbreak Trap to possibly counter a turn-one White Plume Adventurer?
Legacy becoming a more creature or Aggro oriented format sure opens some deck-building possibilities that stray away from combo decks. Personally, I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. I don’t mind running four copies of Baleful Strix or True-Name Nemesis for a while to balance out gameplay or seeing how Maverick could become a more powerful force in the format again, given its many abilities to deal with Initiative; or maybe it adopts some Initiative creatures too, who knows.
I read an interesting quote recently that stated, if you want to win in Legacy, you must build your deck to beat Delver or Initiative. It could be that we have entered a new time in Legacy. One that may knock the dust off some old archetypes.
As I am wrapping this column, a Tweet came across my feed that made me laugh but brings home the spirit of the Legacy community right now. Paired with a Phyrexia: All Will Be One spoiler came this graphic.
Now, I don’t benefit from the ability to put a paper copy of White Stompy together so I am not actively playing this as my main squeeze. But I have proxied it up to play at the kitchen table. It is a lot of fun to pilot, but not very fun to play against.
The number of answers that it has to other archetypes is amazing. Not only that, but it can also quickly change away from being a Prison deck to a full-on aggressive deck by trading out Chalice for Swords to Plowshares.
The next several weeks could be interesting. Or not, depending on whether or not WotC takes action as they did with the Pauper bans.
As always, thanks for reading!
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