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Mono-White Initiative is Taking MTG Legacy By Storm

It hasn’t taken long since Wizards decided to include cards with the initiative mechanic on Magic Online for the mechanic to dominate an event. This past weekend, Mono-White Initiative took both first and second in the Legacy Challenge, with the winning list being piloted by Maraxus_of_NL (Peter van der Ham). This deck is powerful, consistent and pressures opponents in a way that most Ancient Tomb decks cannot. This is one of the first big finishes for the deck but I’m certain it won’t be the last. Let’s take a look at the deck and see why it’s so effective.

 

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Legacy Mono-White Initiative by Peter van der Ham

 

The Game Plan

On its face, this is a fairly straightforward “Stompy” deck. The goal is to either get a lock piece in play or play a powerful threat ahead of schedule. Specifically, this deck takes advantage of the very powerful initiative mechanic, which threatens to take over a game by itself. Unlike other decks of this type, this deck has the ability to play long games really well since it has multiple cards, such as Stoneforge Mystic or the initiative cards that provide you with sources of card advantage and make it easier to keep up if your early game gets disrupted. This is one of the pulls to this version of “Stompy” deck over Mono-Red, since having the ability to play a longer game is a nice feature.

Card Choices

Let’s start right at the top, these are the namesake cards of the deck. I think when Wizards of the Coast were designing initiative cards, they thought it would be a bit weaker than the monarchy so they made the initiative cards more powerful overall. However, it’s fairly clear that this mechanic is at least as powerful as the monarchy, if not more so in certain contexts, which makes these threats both powerhouses. Not only does it provide an advantage right away by giving you a land, but the advantage it provides is not just tied to card advantage. Given enough time, it will allow you to create a board advantage, which is often worth more than a card. You do have to protect the initiative though, so when you play these cards, make sure you’re ready to play defense (or be prepared to crack back in at them, since it’s not a huge deal if they get one or two rooms off of the initiative).

White Plume Adventurer is the best of the two since it is cheaper and still provides a solid body. The ability is relevant since it helps you defend your life total, but it mostly reads as vigilance. Seasoned Dungeoneer is more expensive, which matters in Legacy, but gaining protection from creatures and exploring when it attacks is really meaningful.

Even more than 10 years later, Stoneforge Mystic is still one of the best threats in the format. It’s the perfect fit for this deck since it will either demand removal on the spot, which opens the door for other threats to stick, or it will easily take over the game in any fair situation. The fact that Kaldra is an option means that even in combo matchups you can apply meaningful pressure early, which is a big game for this deck.

Thalia has been making Legacy players’ lives difficult since its printing and this might be an even better shell for the card than Death and Taxes. Resolving a Thalia will put your opponent between a rock and a hard place when you follow it up with a threat, since they likely won’t be able to answer both. If they answer Thalia, the initiative might threaten to run away with the game and if they answer another threat, Thalia will still cause them significant distress.

Since this is a Chalice of the Void deck, having a removal effect that can play through that is really meaningful. On top of that, it’s not that difficult to cast in this deck since you have plenty of mana, so Solitude is an excellent inclusion for this archetype.

While Chalice of the Void isn’t quite as game-ending as it has been in the past, it’s still one of the best lock pieces the format has to offer and it pairs perfectly with Ancient Tomb so it’s certainly an easy inclusion.

Outside of the core of this deck, there is a lot of optionality in the extra cards you can play. These are mostly oddballs, but they are great cards in their own right. Spellbinder doesn’t see that much Legacy play, but it is a really potent disruptive piece if you can cast it early enough. Spirit of the Labyrinth is sometimes the best lock piece in the format, shutting down all of your opponent’s cantrips and making their lives extremely difficult. The Wandering Emperor is a bit expensive and doesn’t work perfectly with the Sol lands, but it’s a solid removal spell that leaves around a meaningful permanent that opponents will have to interact with.

Combining any of these with Ancient Tomb will allow you to play your threats significantly ahead of schedule, which will frequently demand a Force of Will or be lights out. Additionally, this deck has a number of key two-drop threats, so being able to play those on turn one in games where you don’t have a Sol land is really meaningful.

The backbone of all decks like this, these cards enable this deck to exist. Being able to cast most of your game-ending threats a turn ahead of schedule is huge. There is a cost to including these, since the extra mana isn’t free, but the juice is worth the squeeze, so to speak.

This is a solid amount of white sources. Outside of the five Plains, the other lands do provide some value. Emeria’s Call works with both Solitude and Chrome Mox and in some games can be cast. Eiganjo is a removal option that can be tricky for players to interact with or play around, which is a lot of value to get out of a land. Finally, Karakas is always a great option for these decks since Legacy will always have great legends running around. 

Sideboard

This is primarily an anti-Doomsday card that has value in other matchups, such as against Elves and Storm. It’s a powerful effect and definitely important in the matchups you bring it in for.

While this deck could play Rest in Peace pretty easily, having a faster option to counteract decks like Reanimator is really meaningful. I think another strong option would be Unlicensed Hearse, but again, it’s a lot slower than Macabre, so it depends on what you expect.

It’s a bit awkward to have this in your Chalice deck, but overall it’s still the best removal spell in the format so it’s largely worth it.

These are some varied anti-combo options: Thorn is another Thalia effect, which is nice to have, Deafening Silence is good at stopping Storm and slowing down other fast combo decks long enough to develop and Trap is really important against the various turn zero combo decks that exist.

This is kind of a split anti-creature/anti-control card that’s alright at both options, which I think makes it a great sideboard inclusion for matchups where you want a second copy.

A new inclusion from BRO, Loran is simply an excellent anti-artifact/enchantment card, so it’s an easy inclusion here.

Tips and Tricks

  • Thalia makes Eiganjo’s channel ability cost 1 less, so make sure you keep that in mind.
  • The Wandering Emperor grants your creature first strike if you put a counter on it, so you might want to do that to ambush an attacking creature, rather than exile it.

Sideboard and Matchup Guide

Izzet Delver

Izzet Delver

Out: 2 Elite Spellbinder, 2 Seasoned Dungeoneer, 1 Lotus Petal

In: 4 Swords to Plowshares, 1 The Wandering Emperor

I know it’s weird to suggest bringing out Lotus Petal in the match against the Daze deck, but they have a ton of interactive cards so you don’t want to throw away too many resources. While Seasoned Dungeoneer does dodge Lightning Bolt, it doesn’t help stabilize the board and they can just take the initiative from you right away, so I think it’s okay to trim some copies.

Overall, you’re just going to play threat after threat until you run them dry and one of your haymaker threats is going to stick. Having Swords to Plowshares makes the matchup much more manageable post-board, since Murktide is still the biggest problem.

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Four-Color Control

Four-Color Control

Out: 1 Umezawa’s Jitte, 2 Lotus Petal

In: 2 Aven Mindcensor, 1 The Wandering Emperor

I like boarding lightly here since your main deck is well equipped for the matchup. The initiative is pretty game-ending here so resolving one of those creatures will start to take over the matchup so prioritize those threats and you should be looking good.

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Elves

Elves

Out: 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, 1 Lion’s Sash, 2 Elite Spellbinder

In: 2 Aven Mindcensor, 4 Swords to Plowshares, 1 The Wandering Emperor

While Chalice of the Void isn’t as good as it used to be because of Allosaurus Shepherd, overall I think it still puts a decent amount of pressure on them to have Shepherd right away. This matchup can be tricky since they can go way over the top of you before you can set anything up and the initiative is so-so in the matchup. Still, you have some really good tools, namely Umezawa’s Jitte, and a lot of powerful threats, so try to get ahead early and slow them down where you can.

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Doomsday

Doomsday

Out: 1 Stoneforge Mystic, 1 Umezawa’s Jitte, 1 Lion’s Sash, 1 The Wandering Emperor

In: 2 Aven Mindcensor, 1 Thorn of Amethyst, 1 Deafening Silence

While you don’t have Force of Will to prevent their most impressive starts, you have a great combination of pressure and lock pieces, which is crucial in the matchup. I don’t think that makes this a favorable matchup necessarily, but it does mean that many of your average hands will be functional in games where they can’t kill you on turn one or two. If you can resolve an Aven Mindcensor, the game will all but end, so definitely value hands with that card highly. 

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