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ICYMI: MTG Pauper Bans 9/19/22

Wizards of the Coast’s lack of foresight struck again on September 19, 2022 with the banning of four Commander Legends: The Battle for Baldur’s Gate cards in the Pauper format.

You read that right.  Pauper.  Banned in Pauper.  A format restricted to nothing but commons

Four of the six common Baldur’s Gate cards featuring the new Initiative mechanic were hit with the ban hammer last week: Aarakocra Sneak, Stirring Bard, Underdark Explorer and Vicious Battlerager.

At CMC – sorry, mana value 4 and 5, these don’t exactly smack of threat in a lot of formats.  I have yet to see Venture in my Commander playgroup, let alone Initiative.  If you are like me and you completely passed on Baldur’s Gate, you might understandably be struggling to understand the big deal.  Initiative probably isn’t even in your MTG vocabulary.  So straight from the rules compendium, here’s What Initiative Does:

    1. Initiative
721.1. Initiative is a designation a player can have. There is no initiative in a game until an effect instructs a player to take the initiative. A player who currently has the initiative designation is said to have the initiative.
721.2. There are three inherent triggered abilities associated with having the initiative. These triggered abilities have no source and are controlled by the player who had the initiative at the time the abilities triggered. This is an exception to rule 113.8. The full text of these abilities are “At the beginning of the upkeep of the player who has the initiative, that player ventures into Undercity,” “Whenever one or more creatures a player controls deal combat damage to the player who has the initiative, the controller of those creatures takes the initiative,” and “Whenever a player takes the initiative, that player ventures into Undercity.” See rule 701.46, “Venture into the Dungeon.”
721.3. Only one player can have the initiative at a time. As a player takes the initiative, the player who currently has the initiative ceases to have it.
721.4. If the player who has the initiative leaves the game, the active player takes the initiative at the same time that player leaves the game. If the active player is leaving the game or if there is no active player, the next player in turn order takes the initiative.
721.5. If the player who currently has the initiative is instructed to take the initiative, this causes the last triggered ability in 721.2 to trigger but does not create a second initiative designation.

From: Wizards of the Coast

TL;DR: Imagine Monarch, but it gives you a number payoffs beyond just card draw.  It’s Venture, but mostly passive and restricted more or less* to the one dungeon from Baldur’s Gate: Undercity.  I say more or less because the reminder card carries this caveat for venturing into the Undercity: “If you’re in a dungeon, advance to the next room.”  If you already have another dungeon in play from another venture card, you aren’t forced to change course.

Like Monarch or, more recently Night and Day, once the mechanic enters the game it is there to stay.  Like it or not, the bonuses are from Undercity are in the mix until the game ends.  Think of it like some kind of Lovecraftian saga, where the beast just keeps coming back.  Because there is no limit on the number of times you can complete a dungeon, and the dungeon stays in place even if the card that set it going is removed.  As of the writing of this article, there is no way to remove a dungeon from the game.  And where the original Venture cards from AFR required you to put another venture card into play to advance or change dungeons, Initiative more or less automates the process.

Okay, all of that sounds cool, and it’s giving me some ideas for casual EDH decks, but how is it banworthy?

The long and the short of it is that Initiative took Venture and dungeons from a silly flavor mechanic to an autoinclude in Pauper shells where it otherwise made no sense.  Right after Baldur’s Gate was finally put on Magic Online, Initiative was everywhere in competetive decks.  And at common, Initiative is available in any color (though only red, blue and black cards were banned this time around).  At CMC4-5, these cards look expensive, but are incredibly easy to get out early game in a format that tends to use a lot of rituals.  Picture this:

    • Turn 1: land, mana dork
    • Turn 2: Ritual +mana dork for a CMC4 initiative card.  You take the initiative.

The first step of Undercity lets you search for a basic land and put it into your hand.  Go in, find whatever color you’re missing, and play it for turn.  Now you either throw out a one drop, play some hand hate, or just sit on an island and stare at your opponent with a wolfy grin.  Oh, and you have a body on the board with 3, 4 or 5 toughness AND an upside to keep your opponent from taking the initiative back.  That’s a whole lot of value, especially once you factor in the part where the Initiative is in play for the rest of the game.  You’re constantly going back into at least Undercity for more.

To this point, Initiative wasn’t on anyone’s radar that I can think about.  Not in my circles, at least.  Will it start showing up in other eternal formats now that it’s been deemed banworthy in Pauper?  Will the Pauper committee go back in and ban the rest of the commons with Initiative?  Hit me up tin the comments and let me know what you think!  Show me those Initiative and Venture decklists!
About the Author
Silver has been playing Magic: The Gathering and other trading card games off and on since 1999, and is a lifelong roleplayer. They believe in Rule 0 and The Rule of Cool, and that the gaming table should be a safe space for everyone.

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