Imoen, Mystic Trickster
15, Sep, 23

What Is The Initiative in MTG?

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First introduced in Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate The Initiative is a surprisingly potent multiplayer-focused MTG mechanic. Drawing inspiration from Wizards of the Coast’s tabletop RPG, Dungeons & Dragons, this mechanic is a bit of a flavor fail. That somewhat frustrating detail, however, doesn’t get in the way of the mechanic’s awesome strength.

Having only appeared in Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate, thus far, The Initiative is hardly a ubiquitous mechanic. Thanks to its power, however, it’s well worth knowing the ins and outs of this player-designating mechanic. So, without any further ado, here’s everything you need to know about The Initiative to bring you up to speed!

What Is The Initiative in MTG?


Similarly to Monarch, The Initiative is a player designation mechanic in MTG. Typically presented by a token (seen above) this designation can be taken by dealing combat damage to players. Alternatively, cards such as Aarakocra Sneak feature abilities that grant a player The Initiative.

When a player takes The Initiative, and at the beginning of their upkeep, that player will “Venture into the Undercity.”

What Is The Undercity in MTG?


The Undercity is a new Dungeon that can only be accessed by taking and holding The Initiative. Made out of five layers of rooms, the Undercity is a very powerful and versatile Dungeon that is helpful in a wide range of situations. With the ability to tutor a land, put two +1/+1 tokens on a creature, goad a creature, and draw a card, the Undercity has an application for almost every occasion. 

The final room in the Undercity dungeon is, as usual, the most powerful. “Throne of the Dead Three” has a player reveal the top ten cards of their library before choosing a creature from among them. This creature is put directly onto the battlefield with three +1/+1 counters on it. The creature also gains hexproof until that player’s next turn.

What Are the rules for The Initiative in MTG?

The Initiative does not exist at the start of any Commander game. Instead, a player must first play a card that reads “take the initiative.” Like Monarch in Conspiracy: Take the Crown, The Initiative is a status another player can take through combat damage. The Initiative can also be taken by any player who plays a card that reads “take the initiative.” Only one player may have The Initiative at any time.

If a player gains The Initiative but has already entered into a Dungeon other than the Undercity, when The Initiative triggers, that player will move deeper into their current Dungeon instead. 

Alongside taking The Initiative through combat damage, a player may gain The Initiative by having the player with The Initiative leave the game. When this happens, the player whose turn it is takes The Initiative. If that player also leaves the game simultaneously, The Initiative is taken by the next player in the turn order.

To help keep track of which players have The Initiative, Wizards of the Coast has included a unique marker in some booster packs of Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate. This marker can be used to indicate which player has The Initiative.

How to Use The Initiative in MTG

With various effects to be gained from venturing into the Undercity, The Initiative is a status you’ll want to keep hold of. This means you’ll want a robust defensive board that can outlast your opponents until you can reach the “Throne of the Dead Three” room. 

Alongside the powerful effects of the Undercity Dungeon, Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate also features several cards that benefit from you holding The Initiative. While not the most powerful cards in the set, Feywild Caretaker, Passageway Seer, and Rasaad yn Bashir will all give you more value from holding The Initiative. 

Due to the benefits that it provides, typically, MTG players will want to gain The Initiative as early as possible. To do this, White Plume Adventurer was widely considered the best choice for this. So much so, in fact, the card had a brief stint in Legacy before WotC banned it!

Thankfully, while Legacy did fall out of favor with The Initiative, it’s still playable in Commander games. Currently, there are 26 cards that feature this novel mechanic, with none being printed since Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate,

When Will The Initiative Return to MTG?

Avenging Hunter | Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate
Avenging Hunter | Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate

Unfortunately for fans of The Initiative mechanic, it currently seems very unlikely it will return to MTG anytime soon. This is thanks to it being intrinsically linked to the Dungeons & Dragons brand. Since there’s no Dungeons & Dragons-themed MTG set releasing until at least 2027, it seems The Initiative won’t return for a long while.

In theory, it is possible that The Initiative could return in a set that isn’t D&D related. After all, the mechanic is interesting, and the more options players have for it, the more compelling it gets. Whether or not this will happen, however, remains a mystery, as we can’t predict the future.

The closest we have to knowing about The Initiative’s return is the Storm Scale. Devised by Mark Rosewater, this scale ranks mechanics and their chances of returning in a future premier set. Typically, this scale ignores supplemental mechanics such as The Initiative, however, Mark Rosewater has provided some insight.

In 2020 Rosewater revealed that “edge” mechanics (where players fight over a recourse) are typically a 5. Unfortunately, however, Commander-focused mechanics like Monarch, and by extension The Initiative, are a 7. This means the mechanics is “unlikely to return, but possible if the right environment comes along.”

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