After maternal predetermination gives way to zygotic regulation, a ground state is established within the mammalian embryo. This tabula rasa for embryogenesis is present only transiently in the preimplantation epiblast. Here, we consider how unrestricted cells are first generated and then prepared for lineage commitment. We propose that two phases of pluripotency can be defined: naive and primed. This distinction extends to pluripotent stem cells derived from embryos or by molecular reprogramming ex vivo.