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The Initiative: One Year On

It’s rare in eternal formats, and especially Canadian Highlander, for decks to be built around a single
mechanic. Some have tried making Dredge decks work and arguably blue decks these days are
primarily built around Delve but no mechanic has had more impact on the format in its history than
the Initiative.

This ‘made for Commander’ mechanic shook up all the eternal formats including Canlander by being
an absurd value engine for creature based decks that was impossible to interact with unless you also
happened to be committing creatures to the board. The biggest offender amongst these creatures,
White Plume Adventurer, often led to play patterns where this easy to cast 3 drop had already dealt
10 damage on turn 4 with the help of cards like mana crypt, ancient tomb or even a humble
Llanowar Elves and then conveniently untaps one of your creatures to protect the initiative until
eventually, you’re able to cheat another creature into play when you finish the dungeon. The value
that this card and other cards like it produce can be absolutely backbreaking.
It’s also worth noting that when these cards are misplayed they can be absolutely backbreaking to
the caster! If you have committed a card and mana to your initiative creature only for your opponent
to swoop in with a Vendillion Clique and take the initiative you are in for a very bad time if you don’t
have the resources to retake it.

So how did the metagame react? Some leant into it at full speed making increasingly fast midrange
lists, first with decks like Naya midrange and Death & Taxes picking them up to use with their existing
fast mana and a few months down the line we started to see the ‘All In Initiative’ decks emerge like
Esper, Mardu, Naya and Spearmint Initiative that used sol mana and even rituals to turbo out the
four mana Initiative creatures and then use blink effects to abuse them even further.
Some control and reactive midrange decks began to use them too but the biggest impact on blue based decks was that they had to play to the board far more. The boomer control of old where
playing less than ten creatures would suffice was simply not an option. Cards like Baleful Strix, Ice-
Fang Coatl and True-Name Nemesis got a huge bump in their playability simply because they were
excellent at taking the initiative.

Hard combo was largely unaffected apart from the faster clocks that midrange decks could present
(Although I think Trinket Mage has attacked more times in the last year than it has in the previous 20
years combined) but the big boon was to creature combo decks. Seekerwalk had its fair gameplan
juiced up, Time Walk, Ephemerate and Neoform are pretty gross with the initiative, and I don’t think
I have to tell you how good these creatures are with Birthing Pod and Kiki-Jiki.

So after a year of playing with these cards where does that leave us? Whilst some
people have advocated for addressing the Initiative using the points list, the general consensus (and
my own view) is that the Initiative is powerful and broken but no more than any of the other threats
that we have to contend with in 2023. Just as we’ve learned to play around cards Like Oko and Teferi,
Time Raveler, we can and have learned to play around the Initiative. Now that we’re approaching the
next large supplemental set we’ll have to see if being ‘tempted by the ring’ has a similar impact…