Through the Looking Glass: Boros Initiative with John Li

John Li

Special Guest

A few words from John:

(MTGO: jlitty)

I’m a fusion guitarist and music industry professional from New York City. I’m also a blue tempo aficionado, big mana addict.

John’s List – Boros Initiative

Main Deck

  • 4 [[Anointed Peacekeeper]]
  • 4 [[Archon of Emeria]]
  • 4 [[Simian Spirit Guide]]
  • 4 [[Seasoned Dungeoneer]]
  • 4 [[Caves of Chaos Adventurer]]
  • 4 [[Solitude]]
  • 4 [[Lotus Petal]]
  • 4 [[Chrome Mox]]
  • 4 [[Chalice of the Void]]
  • 4 [[Forth Eorlingas!]]
  • 2 [[Fable of the Mirror-Breaker]]
  • 4 [[Ancient Tomb]]
  • 4 [[City of Traitors]]
  • 4 [[Cavern of Souls]]
  • 1 [[Arid Mesa]]
  • 2 [[Plateau]]
  • 1 [[Karakas]]
  • 1 [[Plains]]
  • 1 [[Mountain]]


  • 3 [[Swords to Plowshares]]
  • 3 [[Faerie Macabre]]
  • 2 [[Magus of the Moon]]
  • 2 [[Containment Priest]]
  • 2 [[Brutal Cathar]]
  • 2 [[Loran of the Third Path]]
  • 1 [[Fury]]
How has the Initiative archetype evolved since the banning of [[White Plume Adventurer]], particularly against spell combo decks like The EPIC Storm?

Funnily enough, the [[White Plume Adventurer]] banning led to the Initiative decks running the full playset of [[Archon of Emeria]] instead, a card I’m sure you love to see as a TES pilot. In more recent Boros iterations of the list, some of the other three drops have been cut (pour one out for [[Elite Spellbinder]]) in order to play [[Fable of the Mirror-Breaker]] and [[Forth Eorlingas!]].

Personally, I prefer the more “stax-y” version of the deck, so I still opt for [[Anointed Peacekeeper]], which can come in handy in this matchup. Unfortunately, [[Elite Spellbinder]] is totally unplayable in an [[Orcish Bowmasters]] meta. [[Ethersworn Canonist]] has also gotten cut out of sideboards for copies of [[Magus of the Moon]], meaning the only hatebear TES really has to worry about is [[Archon of Emeria]].

You hate to hear it. Additionally, aren’t you forgetting about a certain, cup-shaped pain in my neck?

Yeah, [[Chalice of the Void]] can help, too.

Is [[Chalice of the Void]] enough in this matchup? Are you putting it on zero or one?

Always zero, always as soon as possible. I don’t think you can give the TES pilot any breathing room. You’ve got to be playing with a Delver mentality – cut off their mana, and they can’t play Magic. If you know your opponent is on TES, I’d prioritize [[Archon of Emeria]] and [[Chalice of the Void]] on zero over any other cards.

Seems reasonable. Any other cards to be looking out for from the Boros Initiative pilot?

I don’t think you care about anything else. Cards like [[Forth Eorlingas!]] and [[Fable of the Mirror-Breaker]] are just annoyances, and TES wins that drag race.

Agreed. Once I know what you’re on, I’m just trying to win ASAP. Do you have a point of view on who’s got the edge in this matchup? Are you generally happy to be sitting across from me at an FNM?

In some ways, yeah. You don’t really have much interaction for me game one, and on the play, it’s back-breaking to just lock you out with the [[Archon of Emeria]]. I really wish I could play [[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]] too, but again – [[Orcish Bowmasters]] meta. [[Chalice of the Void]] is still really good, though.

Especially pre-board, it kind of feels like the game hinges on the turn one play you kept. In the dark, do you generally prioritize opening on a creature like [[Seasoned Dungeoneer]] or [[Caves of Chaos Adventurer]], or will you ever prioritize an early lock piece over a faster clock?

I always play it safe in the dark. If I can dump an uncounterable initiative threat turn one with [[Cavern of Souls]], obviously I’m going for that over [[Chalice of the Void]] on one. Without [[Cavern of Souls]], though, I’ll always try to bait [[Force of Will]] with something more innocuous if I can. [[Anointed Peacekeeper]] is great here for scouting the matchup and how the game is going to play out.

Thanks for the segue. How do you feel about [[Anointed Peacekeeper]] in this matchup? In a post-[[Wishclaw Talisman]] world , is there a particular card you like to name in this, or will it generally always be a card in my hand?

[[Anointed Peacekeeper]] can definitely disrupt your development. Naming something like [[Lotus Petal]] or [[Lion’s Eye Diamond]] definitely isn’t out of the question – whatever most feels like it’s going to interrupt your Storm turn. I’d even consider naming [[Galvanic Relay]], although in general, I’d prefer to prevent you from even being in a position to profitably cast it.

So let’s say you’ve cast your [[Anointed Peacekeeper]] game one and the jig is up – I’m on The EPIC Storm. Does your gameplan change at all, or are you “priced in” to the hand you kept, barring a great topdeck?

It depends on how soon I realize you’re on TES. If I see your opener very early with [[Anointed Peacekeeper]], it becomes much easier to pivot. If you realize too late, you’re probably already dead. If given the chance, I’m definitely going to be digging for [[Archon of Emeria]] or [[Chalice of the Void]] on the right side of The Undercity if time permits. If that’s not an option, or I’m coming up empty, sometimes you just have to race.

Let’s get granular on the race, then. If you’re opening on a turn-one initiative creature, on what turn are you generally expecting to kill?

It’s tough to say because it depends on what your TES opponent is doing. It’s always more important to stop their game plan, because they can just win in a single turn. Once I know what you’re on (especially if I’ve seen your hand with [[Anointed Peacekeeper]]), I generally have a sense of when I can expect you to go off, and I’ll be using that to figure out whether I should be in full race-mode or spending resources digging for lock pieces. As a rule, I wouldn’t recommend racing TES as a plan A, but if that’s our primary goal, we can have you dead in 3-4 turns if you aren’t killing or blocking our creatures.

What is your sideboard plan against TES? what are you bringing in? What are you taking out?

Historically, I’ve brought in the copies of [[Loran of the Third Path]] and the copies of [[Magus of the Moon]] for the opposing copies of [[Solitude]]. Now that you’re running [[Gaea’s Will]], I’ll also bring in the copies of [[Faerie Macabre]], perhaps cutting some of my slower threats like [[Fable of the Mirror-Breaker]].

What do your mulligan decisions look like post-board? Turn one [[Archon of Emeria]] or bust? Or will you keep a hand that presents a turn one [[Chalice of the Void]] or initiative creature?

I think keeping a hand with [[Chalice of the Void]] is good enough as long as you remember to play out your own rocks before slamming it on zero, especially with a threat to back it up. [[Archon of Emeria]] is ideal but you can’t always draw it. I generally don’t think it’s wise to keep a hand on the back of a powered out initiative creature once you know you’re facing TES, but if you’re already down to 4-5, then you just have to hope for the best.

Got it. Is 5 the lowest you’re going to go looking for that turn one lock?

Probably, but I’d definitely mulligan to five looking for [[Archon of Emeria]], [[Anointed Peacekeeper]] or [[Chalice of the Void]]. That said, with cards like [[Abrupt Decay]] post-board, I can’t treat it like a guaranteed win – it’s just a temporary lock on a clock. I’ve done my best to build my deck a certain way to where you can bridge the gap to an initiative creature with an uncounterable hate-bear or a [[Fable of the Mirror-Breaker]] as often as possible.

That makes a ton of sense – I’ve got plenty of experience dealing with bears. Are [[Magus of the Moon]] and [[Loran of the Third Path]] effective enough bears by themselves, or are they just better than your dead maindeck cards?

[[Magus of the Moon]] can be decent as a lock piece, but it’s there to play a supporting role. [[Archon of Emeria]], [[Anointed Peacekeeper]] and [[Loran of the Third Path]] are doing the heaviest lifting at this mana value. Sometimes, TES just needs to play its artifacts out (either because they’re afraid of a taxing effect because they want to generate Storm for a [[Galvanic Relay]], or even just to have mana for an early spell). That’s the ideal time to jam [[Loran of the Third Path]]. I’ve definitely sniped a [[Lion’s Eye Diamond]] or two, but historically in most cases I’ve hit [[Chrome Mox]] or [[Wishclaw Talisman]]. I’ve never used the symmetrical draw ability. In general, you’re not really adding silver bullets to your deck, as much as fortifying your stax game plan with a few additional support cards.

Speaking of silver bullets – why no copies of [[Pyroblast]] or [[Meltdown]]? Both seem like potential inclusions in a deck like Boros Initiative. Should a TES pilot ever worry about these cards?

I’ve seen [[Pyroblast]]s in other lists, but I don’t play them personally. Sometimes TES will cast [[Echo of Eons]] and end up refueling an initiative hand with more lock pieces if they can’t win that same turn, but it’s not something to bank on if you’re the initiative player, and I wouldn’t be bringing them in just to hit cantrips. Meanwhile [[Meltdown]] kills your own artifacts, so I generally avoid it. I have seen [[Null Rod]] floating around in some challenge-winning lists. I haven’t run it myself, but I get the appeal.

I’m curious about how you feel overall about your TES matchup vs. other combo decks, then – Oops! All Spells, Reanimator, [[Doomsday]], and the like.

Reanimator decks are the scariest. That’s my least favorite matchup. They can [[Grief]] you (in more ways than one) and reanimate your initiative creature. Postboard, you do have graveyard interaction and it can get weird if they bring in stuff like [[Dauthi Voidwalker]]. Oops! is kinda’ just heads up 7-card stud, but it’s still winnable. Cephalid Breakfast was definitely the deck that got popular again to answer the initiative deck, though. Ultimately, it’s tough for us to lose to decks playing completely fair magic – combo decks tend to be where Boros Initiative loses the most points.

John, I’ve got a confession to make.

Oh yeah?

I have a recurring nightmare about getting blown out by a [[Solitude]] targeting one of your own creatures in response to a [[Tendrils of Agony]] for exactsies.

It sounds like you need better stuff to be afraid of.

Working on it. Would you ever keep in [[Solitude]] post-board to play towards this blowout?

I have to aggressively mulligan and play out my cards to successfully lock you out early. I think you’re safe, dude.

That means a lot to me, king. Any last thoughts on your matchup with The EPIC Storm? Any plugs or shoutouts?

Banning [[White Plume Adventurer]] was a mistake. It’s frustrating when players complain that their wacky brew they’re playing for content or “for the memes” can’t win because it can’t hold its own against cards like [[Expressive Iteration]] or [[White Plume Adventurer]]. I play a lot of control and tempo, and personally I think the initiative – and [[White Plume Adventurer]] specifically – were the best thing to happen to Legacy in recent memory. Both disrupted the format in a novel way, and good pilots championed excellent, underexplored strategies in decks like [[Death’s Shadow]] and Cephalid Breakfast as a response. I think the initiative mechanic sent the format into an existential crisis. If you ask me, that’s a good thing. I don’t want some delusional status quo for the sake of status quo.

Thank you for coming to my TES talk.

I want to give a big shout out to John Li for joining us here at Through the Looking Glass. As someone who has single-handedly punted a match to John by playing around a nonexistent [[Pyroblast]] – learn from my mistakes.

Bang bang Tendrils gang. See you next month.