Last updated on September 14, 2022

White Plume Adventurer - Illustration by Joseph Weston

White Plume Adventurer | Illustration by Joseph Weston

A variety of new mechanics were released for players to test and play with in Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate. Some impact color identity of otherwise mono-colored commanders, some are returning mechanics like myriad, but one that stands out to me in particular is the initiative mechanic.

Initiative, to put it simply, is a merger of monarch and venturing into the dungeon. It’s a mechanic that turns on once a card enables it and can be taken by dealing combat damage to the player with initiative, much like monarch. But instead of drawing cards, players can venture deeper into a new dungeon known as the Undercity on their upkeep each turn when they have initiative.

While venturing into the dungeon was drastically worse than drawing a card in Forgotten Realms, this new dungeon might have some more to offer that has players intrigued. That’s why today I’ll be covering all your questions regarding the new mechanic including how it works, the details of its interaction with the game, and what cards use it best.

It’s time to go dungeon diving!

How Does Initiative Work?

Undercity dungeon

Initiative is a new designation mechanic similar to monarch that allows players to venture into the Undercity dungeon each turn while they have initiative. A lot of cards in the Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate set enable initiative or have benefits while its controller has initiative.

But initiative isn’t an emblem and can be taken by players whose creatures deal combat damage to the player that currently has initiative, or by playing a card that takes initiative.

The History of Initiative in MTG

Initiative is a new mechanic introduced in Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate in June 2022. It works like a mixture of venture and monarch, which means it’s a familiar mechanic that won’t feel new or overly complicated like other new mechanics often do.

How Do You First Get Initiative?

Dungeoneer's Pack

No player starts with initiative, but it can be gained by being the first player to resolve a spell that grants it, like Dungeoneer’s Pack.

Do You Get to Venture Again if You Already Have Initiative?

The Undercity is a dungeon that can’t be ventured through except by having initiative. Unless you’re already in an AFR dungeon when you take initiative, the regular venture mechanic doesn’t progress through the Undercity, only the dungeons introduced in Forgotten Realms.

What if You’re in a Dungeon other than the Undercity?

If you’re already in another dungeon from AFR, venturing into the Undercity will just progress you through the dungeon you’re already in since you can’t be in two places at once.

Can Initiative Go Away?

Like the day/night cycle from Midnight Hunt, initiative lasts throughout the game once started. If a player with initiative leaves the game, the player whose turn is immediately next gains the initiative. Otherwise it stays until the game is complete.

How Does Initiative Work in 1v1 Magic?

Initiative works the same way in 1v1 Magic as it does in multiplayer games. Only one player can have initiative at a time, and it’s taken through combat damage or spells that take the initiative. Just like monarch, initiative isn’t subject to any unique rules in 1v1 compared to multiplayer formats.

Can Two Players Have Initiative Simultaneously?

Only one player can have initiative at a time. If another player takes the initiative, it transfers from the original player to the new one.

What if the Player with Initiative Dies in Multiplayer?

Imoen, Mystic Trickster - Illustration by Alix Branwyn

Imoen, Mystic Trickster | Illustration by Alix Branwyn

If a player with initiative leaves the game or dies, it’s transferred to the players whose turn is next or whose turn is currently being taken. The initiative doesn’t leave the game until it’s resolved once it starts.

Initiative vs. Monarch

Initiative and monarch are very similar abilities. Both apply continuous advantages to the players who has them, both apply to one and only one player, and both have very narrow interaction with other cards, only ones that explicitly mention them.

While initiative is a great step forward from the dungeons introduced in Forgotten Realms, having monarch is still a stronger position. Drawing a card is hard to beat in a card game, and while scrying two and tutoring out lands are great, I’d still rather just have a card most of the time.

Venture into the Undercity vs Venture into the Dungeon

Venture into the dungeon and venture into the Undercity are very similar mechanics that basically work in the same way, just with a different destination. But you can only exist in one dungeon at a time since you can’t be in two places at once.

If you find yourself in an AFR dungeon when you gain initiative, you’ll just progress through that dungeon until it’s complete. In the opposite case, if you’re already in the Undercity, then venturing into the dungeon will progress you to the next room as normal.

Is Initiative Good?

I think that initiative is a great mechanic overall, but it’s completely dependent on how strong the dungeon is. Monarch draws you a card and is an exceptional mechanic when used correctly. Venturing into the dungeon wasn’t nearly as impactful as it was expected to be and doesn’t promote much interaction between players.

Initiative works to correct those issues by allowing players to take it through combat damage, as well as providing a much stronger dungeon to venture into. While the Undercity is still far off from drawing you an extra card every turn, you still get to do that once and get some other nice spoils along the way.

Gallery and List of Initiative Cards

Best Initiative Cards

White Plume Adventurer

White Plume Adventurer

White Plume Adventurer seems like a great way to take the initiative early. It also provides a solid blocker for maintaining it and has a bonus if you’ve already completed a dungeon, which solidifies your board without sacrificing aggressive potential.

Undermountain Adventurer

Undermountain Adventurer

Undermountain Adventurer is also interesting to me. Obviously you want to complete a dungeon to effectively use this card, but it can be a decent way to start up the initiative cycle while staying in the mono-green game of ramping out. A 3/4 with vigilance for four that also taps for isn’t anything to just forget about.

Rasaad yn Bashir

Rasaad yn Bashir

There’s also Rasaad yn Bashir, which actually has a bonus of doubling your creature’s toughness’ when it attacks (assuming you currently have initiative). This is a sweet inclusion in any toughness deck, of which there are actually a lot of. And they all play white.

Decklist: Venture with Initiative in Commander

Aarakocra Sneak - Illustration by Andrea Radeck

Aarakocra Sneak | Illustration by Andrea Radeck

Commander (1)

Sefris of the Hidden Ways

Planeswalker (1)

Dakkon, Shadow Slayer

Creature (35)

Baleful Strix
Merfolk Looter
Phantasmal Image
Priest of Fell Rites
Triumphant Adventurer
Yuan-Ti Malison
Doomed Necromancer
Hama Pashar, Ruin Seeker
Master of Death
Morbid Opportunist
Nadaar, Selfless Paladin
Obsessive Stitcher
Plaguecrafter
Safana, Calimport Cutthroat
White Plume Adventurer
Archaeomancer
Barrowin of Clan Undurr
Midnight Pathlighter
Oriq Loremage
Passageway Seer
Ravenloft Adventurer
Doom Whisperer
Karmic Guide
Mulldrifter
Reveillark
Rilsa Rael, Kingpin
Syr Konrad, the Grim
Burning-Rune Demon
Harvester of Souls
Radiant Solar
Sun Titan
Serra’s Emissary
Sheoldred, Whispering One
Toxrill, the Corrosive
Ashen Rider

Instant (8)

Swords to Plowshares
Despark
Faithful Mending
Heliod’s Intervention
Bar the Gate
Forbidden Alchemy
Frantic Search
Utter End

Sorcery (9)

Reanimate
Persist
Buried Alive
Victimize
Graceful Restoration
Time Wipe
Tragic Arrogance
Unburial Rites
Ever After

Enchantment (6)

Tortured Existence
Animate Dead
Phyrexian Arena
Precipitous Drop
Thorough Investigation
Undercellar Sweep

Artifact (7)

Sol Ring
Arcane Signet
Lightning Greaves
Strionic Resonator
Talisman of Dominance
Talisman of Hierarchy
Talisman of Progress

Land (33)

Arcane Sanctum
Brightclimb Pathway
Clearwater Pathway
Command Tower
Darkwater Catacombs
Deserted Beach
Dromar’s Cavern
Esper Panorama
Exotic Orchard
Glacial Floodplain
Godless Shrine
Hengegate Pathway
Ice Tunnel
Island x3
Nimbus Maze
Plains x3
Prairie Stream
Shattered Sanctum
Shipwreck Marsh
Snowfield Sinkhole
Sunken Hollow
Swamp x3
Temple of Deceit
Temple of Enlightenment
Temple of Silence
Thriving Heath
Thriving Isle

There obviously aren’t enough initiative cards to fill a deck completely, which is why I think a generic venture deck with initiative included makes more sense. The two mechanics interact well with one another, especially if you manage to take the initiative before venturing.

I’ve chosen Sefris of the Hidden Ways as the commander for today’s list. It has built-in venture synergy and offers a sweet reanimator subtheme. It’s also in Esper () colors, which includes basically every decent venture card plus a lot of the best initiative ones.

As for the reanimator sub-theme, your commander essentially reanimates something whenever you complete a dungeon, which will be early and often. There are some pretty sweet creatures to bring back to life in here too, like Ashen Rider, Doom Whisperer, and Toxrill, the Corrosive. Plus there are even some other reanimator engines in the list.

Now to the good stuff: the initiative cards. Safana, Calimport Cutthroat and White Plume Adventurer are your early initiative cards. They’re decent creatures on rate and are a great way to start off with initiative whenever possible. Ravenloft Adventurer and Passageway Seer help round out your curve with Rilsa Rael, Kingpin topping it off.

Overall I’m a little disappointed there aren’t more great initiative cards to play, and I hope we get some more in future D&D sets.

Wrap Up

Explore the Underdark - Illustration by Piotr Dura

Explore the Underdark | Illustration by Piotr Dura

That wraps up all info you need to know about the new initiative mechanic coming in Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate! I think initiative is a great addition to venture and shows the mechanic is going in the right direction in terms of power level and player interaction.

I hope we get some more initiative cards in future sets. I felt like there just weren’t that many in CLB, and it felt slightly underdone in terms of variety. But what did you think? Are you a fan of the mechanic and want to see more of it, or are you more excited about myriad or other new mechanics? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments or over in the official Draftsim Discord.

Until next time, stay safe and stay healthy!

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4 Comments

  • Avatar
    Julian June 6, 2022 4:02 am

    Hey this article appears to be incorrect. It says venturing with AFR cards won’t progress you further into the Undercity but that is wrong according to the Gavin Verhey explanation of initiative on youtube. AFR cards with venture will take you further through the Undercity if you are already in it. They just can’t be used to enter it.

    • Avatar
      Dan Troha June 6, 2022 2:19 pm

      Thanks, fixed.

  • Avatar
    Ian Ault June 11, 2022 10:19 am

    This is exciting. I love the venture mechanic and have a venture focused deck with Kenrith as commander, and alot of bounce effects. The initiative cards being released are gonna make the deck even more fun to play! Thanks for the informative article!

    • Avatar
      Dan Troha June 11, 2022 12:03 pm

      Glad you enjoyed!

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