TES Matchup Battles: Gruul Initiative

Since the initiative mechanic has been released there have been many different decks trying to utilize it. Mono-white, Esper control, mono-black, and now Gruul decks have attempted to leverage the mechanic. Gruul Initiative is a red-green stompy deck playing eight copies of initiative creatures and [[Minsc & Boo, Timeless Heroes]] to present a fast clock with disruptive elements in [[Chalice of the Void]] and [[Magus of the Moon]]. In order to play these expensive cards, the rest of the deck is filled with two mana lands and mana acceleration spells like [[Simian Spirit Guide]] and [[Chrome Mox]]. Initiative decks have been extremely powerful, so we can expect them to continue seeing play and we need to be prepared for the matchup.

How does Gruul Initiative matchup against TES?

[[Simian Spirit Guide|]]
[[Chalice of the Void|]]
[[Caves of Chaos Adventurer|]]

[[Caves of Chaos Adventurer]], [[Undermountain Adventurer]] – These are the namesake cares. Gruul Initiative accelerating out these creatures puts a fast clock on the opponent all while generating card advantage and flexible effects from venturing through the dungeon. When combined with multiple Initiative creatures then the effects just compound to runaway with the game. A turn-one initiative creature backed up by one piece of disruption can often be good enough to beat a combo deck.

[[Chalice of the Void]] – One of my least favorite cards to play against. We all know how powerful [[Chalice of the Void]] is against TES and this matchup is no different. With so many zero-cost cards in our deck, it can be hard to win through. This is where we rely on our four copies of [[Abrupt Decay]].

[[Magus of the Moon]] – This is an interesting one. There are some games that the opponent has a turn-one [[Magus of the Moon]] and we have no artifact mana and the game is just over. More often than not, however, we can use our lands for red mana and have access to artifact mana for any other colors we need in order to combo. It’s significantly weaker than a [[Chalice of the Void]], but can still be disruptive.

[[Collector Ouphe]], [[Force of Vigor]] – I just mentioned how important artifact mana is, so one way to disrupt TES is by shutting them off. [[Collector Ouphe]] is better at this, but weaker to [[Abrupt Decay]]. [[Force of Vigor]] is great when we don’t need to use the artifacts immediately after playing them. This is common because as a [[Chalice of the Void]] deck we want to play our artifacts out immediately, even if it means passing the turn. Gruul Initiative can take advantage of this by destroying them when we play artifacts out early.

Deck List

the epic Storm

Main Deck

  • 4 [[Burning Wish]]
  • 4 [[Wishclaw Talisman]]
  • 4 [[Brainstorm]]
  • 4 [[Mishra’s Bauble]]
  • 3 [[Galvanic Relay]]
  • 1 [[Ad Nauseam]]
  • 1 [[Echo of Eons]]
  • 4 [[Veil of Summer]]
  • 4 [[Rite of Flame]]
  • 4 [[Dark Ritual]]
  • 4 [[Lion’s Eye Diamond]]
  • 4 [[Lotus Petal]]
  • 4 [[Mox Opal]]
  • 3 [[Chrome Mox]]
  • 2 [[Verdant Catacombs]]
  • 4 [[Bloodstained Mire]]
  • 1 [[Scalding Tarn]]
  • 1 [[Badlands]]
  • 2 [[Underground Sea]]
  • 2 [[Taiga]]


  • 3 [[Thoughtseize]]
  • 4 [[Abrupt Decay]]
  • 1 [[Galvanic Relay]]
  • 1 [[Empty the Warrens]]
  • 1 [[Slaughter Pact]]
  • 1 [[Tendrils of Agony]]
  • 1 [[Echo of Eons]]
  • 1 [[Peer into the Abyss]]
  • 1 [[Pulverize]]
  • 1 [[Aeve, Progenitor Ooze]]

Ways to Win This Matchup

[[Abrupt Decay|]]
[[Burning Wish|]]
[[Lion’s Eye Diamond|]]

Our Game Plan

Gruul Initiative is a stompy deck. They are going to be bringing a fast clock with lots of permanent disruption. This means every hand we keep needs to be all about speed. We have to have the ability to combo quickly and for post board games to have an answer for a piece of disruption. The opponent will be analyzing their hand in the same way. They aren’t going to keep a hand that is slow or non-disruptive, so we need to have the same mindset. [[Galvanic Relay]] isn’t our ideal route because it’s fairly slow and we aren’t after card advantage or grinding out the opponent. Passing the turn just gives the opponent additional draw steps to find a lock piece or increase their lock and lower our life total to make [[Ad Nauseam]] worse.




-3 [[Galvanic Relay]], -4 [[Veil of Summer]] +3 [[Thoughtseize]] +4 [[Abrupt Decay]]

The sideboarding in this matchup is fairly straightforward. [[Veil of Summer]] doesn’t do much in this matchup besides getting through a [[Chalice of the Void]] on zero, but that isn’t enough to leave [[Veil of Summer]] in the deck. [[Galvanic Relay]] isn’t what we want to be doing. We don’t want our game plan to involve passing the turn. We need a more direct and faster way to combo and we want more interaction in [[Thoughtseize]] and [[Abrupt Decay]]. [[Thoughtseize]] isn’t as good because the opponent has lots of fast mana and can deploy their spells before we can get a turn if they’re on the play, but if we are the play, it’s great. In either case it’s still better than [[Veil of Summer]] or [[Galvanic Relay]]. [[Abrupt Decay]] is great in this matchup on either the play or the draw as it answers all of the opponent’s major disruptive elements.


Game Play

To begin the first game, I was on the draw and my opponent just played an [[Ancient Tomb]] for their first turn. On my first turn I played a [[Mox Opal]], [[Lotus Petal]], [[Underground Sea]], [[Mishra’s Bauble]], and then a [[Wishclaw Talisman]] before activating the [[Mishra’s Bauble]] to reveal a [[Caves of Chaos Adventurer]] on top of the opponent’s deck.

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On my opponent’s turn, I drew a [[Lion’s Eye Diamond]] off the [[Mishra’s Bauble]] and the opponent played the [[Caves of Chaos Adventurer]] they had drawn off their [[Ancient Tomb]], [[Taiga]], and [[Simian Spirit Guide]]. Since I drew the [[Lion’s Eye Diamond]], I could tutor and cast the [[Ad Nauseam]]. I did all of this once I played my [[Chrome Mox]] and had the trigger on the stack. This is a neat trick since I didn’t have a card to exile with the [[Chrome Mox]], and I could let the [[Ad Nauseam]] resolve before exiling a card. This would net an extra mana.

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From here it was fairly straightforward to win the game.

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I sideboarded like I recommended, and we were off to game two. I kept a hand on the draw that I probably should have mulliganed, but it had plenty of mana and an [[Abrupt Decay]], so I just needed an action spell. My opponent started the game off with a [[Taiga]] and [[Chalice of the Void]] for zero. This severely hurt my hand, but I had the [[Abrupt Decay]].

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A few turns passed of me just drawing more mana and another [[Mishra’s Bauble]] followed, and my opponent played a second turn [[Collector Ouphe]]. I didn’t know whether or [[Abrupt Decay]] the [[Collector Ouphe]] or the [[Chalice of the Void]], so I didn’t cast it yet.

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The opponent played a third-turn [[Simian Spirit Guide]] and a fifth-turn [[Undermountain Adventurer]]. On my fifth turn, I drew a [[Brainstorm]] and cast it. I drew a second copy of [[Abrupt Decay]], so I could destroy the [[Collector Ouphe]] and the [[Chalice of the Void]], but I still had no action spells and would also be dead on board.

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I conceded the game and we were onto game three.


I kept my seven-card hand with lots of mana, a [[Wishclaw Talisman]], and a [[Brainstorm]]. I used my first turn to just play an [[Underground Sea]] and a [[Mishra’s Bauble]]. My opponent just played a land for their first turn. On my second turn, I cast the [[Brainstorm]] and found the mana I needed to combo on my third turn, but I missed on drawing my second land, and I didn’t have an answer to any lock pieces if my opponent were to play one.

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My opponent spent their second turn playing a [[Caves of Chaos Adventurer]]. That’s a quick clock, but not one that prevents me from comboing. On my next turn, I drew a [[Mox Opal]] and began playing out my artifacts and [[Dark Ritual]] into [[Wishclaw Talisman]]. I then cast the first [[Rite of Flame]] and the opponent responded with [[Force of Vigor]].

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I sacrificed my [[Lotus Petal]] and activated the [[Wishclaw Talisman]] in response. The [[Force of Vigor]] made the Storm count exactly 10, so I was able to search for [[Burning Wish]] into Tendrils of Agony]].

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Initiative decks have been popular for many months now, and even with the banning of [[White Plume Adventurer]], the initiative mechanic has proved to be excellent in Legacy. We are seeing that with the many decks trying to capitalize on it. If you want to be successful in Legacy, it is important to have a game plan against this type of strategy with any deck you choose to play. Overall, I think this matchup is pretty favorable. Their clock is much slower than our combo and their disruptive elements are usually not good enough to completely stop our combo and with The EPIC Storm version 14.1 maxing out with four copies of [[Abrupt Decay]] we see that pay off in this matchup. I hope you enjoyed this article, can take some of the lessons learned, and apply them to your own playtesting.