Stealing The Initiative

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Derived from
None. Self-made deck here.
Inspiration for
Stealing The Initiative v2.0 8 5 0 1.0
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Some Sort 3019

Some Sort has a newer deck inspired by this one: Stealing The Initiative v2.0

RingsDB currently contains 680 decks. Of those 680, five contain the card "Taking Initiative". Of those five, two are duplicate decks and a third is a gimmick deck that contains every single card in the game. So really just two decks are using it.

Let's go ahead and make that three, because while Taking Initiative sucks in 99% of decks, it does the opposite of suck in this one.

The whole point of this deck is to have a massive first planning phase. To give an example from testing against Journey Along the Anduin, I entered the quest phase one time with Bill the Pony, two Rivendell Scouts, and Treebeard on the board, a Resourceful on Pippen, another Resourceful in my hand, and six points of damage already on the Hill Troll. This wasn't a one-in-a-million start; I usually get starts this good maybe one time out of five.

The engine behind the deck is Timely Aid and a ton of super-beefy allies. The engine behind that engine is a trio of 0-cost card draw cards. Daeron's Runes and Deep Knowledge need no introduction, other than to note that, because we start with a pathetically low 14 threat, we can actually play all three Deep Knowledges on the first turn and still be in secrecy range for a Timely Aid.

The third zero-cost draw card, as I've mentioned, is Taking Initiative. It is normally extremely finicky to land, but in this deck it will rarely whiff. (This is one of the rare instances where using two heroes is an asset, not a liability.) It helps that fifteen of the cards in the deck have a printed cost of two or more, but play for one resource or fewer thanks to secrecy or other discounts.

Before we've played any allies, there are only nine cards that will cause Taking Initiative to fizzle, and one of them is the Taking Initiative that you're currently playing. Knowing nothing about the rest of our opening hand we have around an 84% success rate. With a success rate that high, it's not at all uncommon to find ourselves drawing ten extra cards on the first turn.

If we already have an ally in play, the deck contains 33 3-or-more cost cards, so we're still significantly more likely to hit than not with the Taking Initiative. With two allies in play, we still hit on 27 of our cards. With three allies in play, Taking Initiative isn't going to do much, (but by the time we have three allies in play, we don't really need it anymore).

In your opening hand you really want to see a Timely Aid or, absent that, at least two pieces of card draw. Play all your card draw first to ensure that you don't get an ally out and then draw into Taking Initiative later in the planning phase. Then, once your hand is maxed out, drop any Timely Aids, Bills the Pony, Rivendell Scouts, or Resourcefuls you've managed to bank. Odds are great that you'll have three or four turns in secrecy; by the time you come out of it, you'll have enough Resourcefuls to just pay for your allies the old-fashioned way.

You might note that I use Gandalf instead of Gandalf. This is because 14 starting threat gives me plenty of time in secrecy, (and allows me to easily afford Gandalf's extra cost), Taking Initiative gives me some of direct damage, and I've already got tons of card draw. I usually prefer to have Beefy Ally Gandalf hanging out helping murderize stuff.

Against some quests, though, I'll gladly sideboard in Core Set Gandalf and some Sneak Attacks. (If I'm going this route, I'll sometimes sideboard in Ally Elrond, too, and possibly Ally Beorn to take advantage of those Sneak Attacks.) The rest of my sideboard includes various other beefy allies if I want to change the mix up a bit, some attachments if I'm going against a quest with a lot of ally hate and need to buff up my heroes a bit, and some versatile, cheap event cards. Mix them in and out to best suit the quest you're going up against next.


Apr 10, 2016 Denison 575

This deck and the one I posted ( could be considered more Timely Aid decks than Taking Initiative decks since the latter is really there in support of trying to get to the former. Timely Aid is such a seductive card to try and make work and it is difficult to make it work dependably. Card draw is a good idea and I have tried maxing out those type of cards, but found it dilutes the deck of cards needed to make A Very Good Tale work. @Beorn also has a really good Timely Aid deck.

Scenarios like Intruders in Chetwood are perfect for decks like this. Avoid direct engagement while the army builds. My favorite win was against Massing at Osgiliath where Taking Initiative took out the low threat enemy in setup.

I like your deck and appreciate the love given to these under used cards!

Apr 10, 2016 Some Sort 3019

It's true that Timely Aid is the card that "wins", but Taking Initiative is one of the glue cards that makes the deck work. As you noted, Timely Aid is devastating when it hits, but it's a very finicky card. With a poor draw you're stuck with a bunch of allies you can't afford and you don't see a Timely Aid until you're already out of secrecy.

Taking Initiative, in my opinion, "fixes" the deck by making Timely Aid extremely consistent, moving it from "awesome when it works" to just plain "awesome". (Going with 2 heroes so you can use Deep Knowledge without losing secrecy also helps a lot.) I just simulated 10 opening hands really quick, (allowing mulligans), and in those ten hands I was able to get and play Timely Aid in my first planning phase seven times, (netting two Timeline Aids in two of the seven sims). In one of the "misses", I saw seventeen cards in the first planning phase thanks to a Taking Initiative, two Daeron's Runes, and two Deep Knowledges. No Timely Aid, but all three Resourcefuls, and I was still in secrecy range after. (In fact, assuming I can quest successfully in turn one, all ten hands would have left me in secrecy for several more turns.)

Early versions of the deck included Elf-Stone and Very Good Tale to help with the mustering, but both increased the whiff-rate of Taking Initiative, slowed the deck down a few turns, and in my experience, they weren't as effective as just "fixing" Timely Aid.

Apr 10, 2016 Some Sort 3019

(Also: two heroes allows me to include two-cost cards without worrying about Taking Initiative whiffs, which nets me the free-to-play Bill the Pony and Rivendell Scout cards, as well as the ridiculously-undercosted Quickbeam, so even hands that can't get to Timely Aid have plenty of first- and second-turn plays to help establish board control.)

Apr 11, 2016 teamjimby 854

That's the ultimate problem with Taking Initiative. If you are running 2 heroes and have access to leadership, Timely Aid is absolute money. But that means you need lots of allies and you are probably running A Very Good Tale. At that point, Taking Initiative only works on the first turn and even if you work really hard, it will still whiff a third of the time. I've tried hard to make Taking Initiative work, but the deck always devolves into an ally-heavy Timely Aid deck.

Anyway, that was just my rant. Thanks for posting the deck and providing in-depth analysis!

Apr 11, 2016 Some Sort 3019

Thanks for the comment, @teamjimby, and I completely agree. I bought into the game late and progressed through it pack by pack, experiencing the expanding card pool in fast forward, and I must have revisited Taking Initiative a half-dozen times before finally giving up on it. The requirements are just completely at odds with what it does- it's built for a fast deck but only works in a slow deck.

Honestly, the cards that "fix" it are Deep Knowledge and, to a lesser extent, the Rivendell Scout and Ithilien Lookout. The former gives you nine zero-cost, draw-two cards, which is really the point where they reach a critical mass and start comboing off each other like crazy. This helps with the biggest problem I've had with Timely Aid decks before: either they get it early and they roll, or they don't and they stall. With tons of card draw, they're more likely to ignite before they leave secrecy. (Two heroes giving you multiple turns in secrecy also helps a lot.)

The latter cards give you some decent allies who have a high enough cost to trigger Taking Initiative, but are cheap enough that you can actually play them from your hand in turn one, smoothing out the rare games where your Timely Aid engine still stalls out. And it sets you up for really huge opening rounds where you're getting four allies, one of them a Treebeard or a Gildor, and maybe a Resourceful to boot.

Apr 11, 2016 Darkling Door 4667

You know, I never even see Taking Initiative anymore when I'm going through my binder; I just look right past it as if it's not even there. I've been trying for a little while to find a way to make my Arwen Undómiel + Aragorn deck ( more consistent, and you've inspired me to give Taking Initiative a try!

Very nice decklist!

Apr 11, 2016 Some Sort 3019

@Authraw Thanks! I love the idea of an Arwen/Aragorn secrecy deck, though I must say, I'm not sure if Taking Initiative will work well in it. So many of the cards that are really going to be the thematic and mechanical wins in that deck, (Elven Light, Elrond's Counsel, Tale of Tinúviel) are 1- or 0-cost cards, which means they'll be Taking Initiative whiffs. (And don't forget that Taking Initiative whiffs on itself, too.)

Remember that Initiative needs a 50% hit rate just to be self-replacing, and it needs much more than that to actually be running a net profit in terms of card draw. I typically find that if less than 70-75% of the cards in the deck represent "whiffs" on Taking Initiative, the card is far more likely to make me want to flip the table than anything else.

I think Arwen/Aragorn is a really unique challenge. On the one hand, of course you'd want Leadership Aragorn for access to the best secrecy cards. On the other, Lore Aragorn gives you access to the card draw that helps you get the cards you need to get into secrecy in the first place. I'll definitely be watching to see where you go with it. :)

Apr 12, 2016 Darkling Door 4667

@Some Sort Thanks for the tips. I actually started with Lore Aragorn, but I've already built so many Lore + Spirit secrecy decks in the past that it was turning out pretty similar to something I had already built a few times before.

I gave Taking Initiative a try last night, dropping a few of the 1-cost events until I had about a 60% chance of success on any given play of it, and it seemed promising. But I realized that even when it whiffed it was helpful, because what I really need for my deck to take off properly is Elven-light, and even if it gets discarded I can access it. Even a failed Taking Initiative helps to filter towards my goal!

It also gave me the idea to try Galadriel for additional consistency (and maybe to set up a later-game use of Taking Initiative). Not sure if she fits the cost curve of my deck yet--I need to do some more testing and tweaking.

Thanks again for the inspiration!

Apr 12, 2016 Some Sort 3019

@Authraw That's a really clever trick with Elven-light.