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Breaking Through – Deflected

I have preached before, as have so many others, that pet decks and pet cards will get you into trouble. You create a bias in favor of something without the data or numbers to support that bias. Obviously if I am someone who never wins but always win when I play Goblins, Goblins should naturally be my choice were I to play a match for my life, but it is not a pet deck.

A pet deck or card has very little reason to be so outside of some emotional connection. You like the deck or card a little more and it sort of pulls you in.

On the other side of the coin is a behavior that might look very similar from the outside, but is actually rooted quite differently. This is the world of the techy card or techy idea that holds a lot of water, but perhaps has not caught on yet. One of my favorite examples of this is Michael Jacob and Twisted Image. For years MJ has talked about how strong of a card he finds Twisted Image. It kills Spellskites and Steppe Lynx without costing you anything aside from a blue mana.

The card clearly has some nice uses to it. However, take a step back and imagine the following scenario. It is 10 p.m. the night before your Modern tournament and you are in the tank trying to improve a few matchups with only one main deck slot and one sideboard slot open. This is the point in the night where most individuals would add some generic spell that they know will do something, such as Duress or Doom Blade. But this is exactly where MJ would have a slight edge. MJ would probably have a card like Twisted Image in his mental bank and if the situation called for it, it is a card he could easily turn to.

I would not call Twisted Image MJ’s pet card, but he does respect the card and its uses more than most people. He sees power in a place where many don’t, so to see that card appearing in multiple decks spanning multiple years is not that odd. To MJ, it would be just like playing Lightning Bolt in many different decks. No one would question it.

I kind of had this type of relationship with Acidic Slime. I have played that card in dozens of professional-level tournaments spanning a good four or five years. But the card was good! I think eventually Acidic Slime started to get the mainstream love that I was showing it for so long, but I just loved the versatility and the card advantage. Because of that, the card made the cut in a lot of my decks where another player might not even have considered it.

Pro Tour Tech

Every Pro Tour, I try to find one or more of these techy cards that I think just works really well in the metagame and I take a lot of stabs at it. For the last Pro Tour Honolulu, I remember Monomania being the card that I thought was criminally underplayed. It could single-handedly win a control mirror. Ultimately, none of our decks ended up using the card, but I tried it in almost everything I pitched.

For this most recent Pro Tour, the card that had me captivated was Dictate of the Twin Gods. Originally, I noted the card due to Purphoros being in the format. Devotion decks feel like they should still be a thing, with an entire block supporting them, but with the two biggest hitters in black and blue losing key pieces, the era of devotion passed us. Green seemed like the only contender still as it had enough permanents to be reasonable but red didn’t look too bad to me.

Eidolon of the Great Revel provided a nice 2-drop and Hammer of Purphoros is a solid card. Sarkhan seemed like enough incentive to try the deck out and when it came time to find another enabler that costs 5, I wanted to see what else was available aside from the typical Stormbreath Dragon. Dictate seemed interesting to me.

The card works well with Purphoros and Fanatic of Mogis. If the deck wanted to be more controlling, there was even the appeal of Anger of the Gods hitting for 6 which takes the card closer to Wrath of God than Firespout.

Ultimately, I could never quite get this deck to beat the majority of our expected field, so we moved on. That said, Dictate of the Twin Gods was planted in my head and I would just randomly think of cool uses for the card out of the blue. I collected these ideas but they never really turned into much.

The night before the Pro Tour I was helping three teammates with their Jeskai Burn deck. The mirror match just kept coming down to sideboarded cards over and over again. In fact, the best card in the mirror appeared to be Deflecting Palm. I watched it just halt an opposing side from attacking and “counter” wars over a lethal Jeskai Charm always ended in favor of the Palm player. In fact, we liked the card so much and expected so much of the mirror that we actually moved two copies of Deflecting Palm to the main deck and never looked back.

Some Extra Time…

While my Pro Tour did not go all that well, it did give me a little time to think about what I wanted to be doing in LA the next weekend. While Mono-Red Aggro was decent, I had a lot of new information to try to attack the metagame with. Sure enough, it was not long before Dictate of the Twin Gods resurfaced in my brain. Except this time, I happened to be holding a copy of Deflecting Palm in my hand.

I read it carefully.

You see, Deflecting Palm has this weird clause where it sees the damage coming in and then creates its own damage to deal back. Because of the way Dictate doubles damage, Deflecting Palm actually sees double damage coming in, makes a note of it, and then deals that much damage back, except Dictate sees this retaliation damage as a new source of damage itself, so it doubles that as well. This leads to a situation where you prevent any damage coming in and then deal 4x that damage back to your opponent when Dictate is out.

Imagine that scenario. Your opponent has not played a nonland permanent all game and then they cast an end of turn Dictate. What do you do? Do you jump on the opportunity and throw a Jeskai Charm at them for 8? What if that same Charm gets turned around on your for 16 though? Do you attack with your Polukranos? Or do you sit back and wait to amass enough power to actually force the draw? Because while you do that, I have a bunch of Lightning Strikes and Stoke the Flames with your name on them!

(Deflecting Palm is not a trigger and therefore happens at the same time as normal damage. This means that if an opponent deals lethal to you through the Palm but you also deal lethal to them with Palm, the game is a draw.)

Deflecting Palm is so powerful with Dictate that unless your opponent has literally no other choice, the simple fact that you COULD have it is enough on its own. And this will be the case once people come to expect Palm. Before that happens, you will simply be catching people off guard all the time and winning free games.

At the Pro Tour, my teammate Adam Mancuso was in a game 1 against Green Devotion and Adam was stuck on 3 lands the entire game. He sat there and watched as all of the biggest monsters were assembled before him. He threw a Lightning Strike to the face here and there, but that was it. With firm control of the game, the mono-green player used a million Nykthos activations, made his Arbor Colossus monstrous, then pumped it a bunch with Nylea and attacked for like 17. Adam calmly tapped two mana and revealed a maindeck Deflecting Palm that singlehandedly stole this game for him that he otherwise had no right to win. The card is strong and Dictate just enhances it.

Other cards are able to demand this type of fear as well when you are in this situation. Perhaps next on the list of don’t-make-a-move cards is Mindswipe. While it commits you to a Jeskai build, it creates for a versatile counterspell or game-ending closer.

Really the core of the deck is heavy-red with a touch of white for the Palms of course, but you can go any direction with it. Below you will find both Jeskai and Mardu versions of the deck that I think both have merit. I think I prefer Mardu for its easier access to kill big guys, but both lists have some nice things going for them.

Jeskai Dictate

Worth nothing here is that I am not entirely sold on Dig Through Time over Treasure Cruise. Originally the idea was that you were basically a combo deck looking to assemble Dictate plus burn spells. Instant speed is also quite nice in this deck as you want to represent Dictate as often as you can, especially when you do not have it. Dig does cost double-blue though, which can cause problems and it is bad at raw card advantage. Treasure Cruise just draws you more burn spells, which get the job done with or without Dictate, so I will need to continue to test that. My focus has primarily been on the version with black:

Mardu Dictate

Whereas Jeskai will usually need to turn the corner at some point and begin racing with burn and tempo, the Mardu version is much more controlling and able to lock an opponent out of the game thanks to End Hostilities and Crackling Doom taking out priority targets (while getting in a little damage too). Your Anger of the Gods can be shot out for six as a true Wrath, but those other removal spells let you have a little more freedom in just picking off the early plan with an Anger and then dealing with the bigger things later. Jeskai has to race the big things or set up combos to deal with them. It is possible that a few End Hostilities in Jeskai would be the way to go to combat this.

I think the sideboard options for both decks are pretty deep, which allow for a lot of customization. Erebos is also secretly the only way to prevent life gain right now, which is something this deck can sometimes struggle with.

*NOTE* Magic Online currently does not handle the interaction between Palm and Dictate correctly. It spits out double damage only and never allows the player to make a decision that changes this. I have reported the bug and it is being worked on (I assume), but if you do play these lists online in the meantime, do not make plays expecting 4x damage, as it just does not work yet.

Wrap Up

I actually just got access to a computer as my old one was not cooperating with recent videos, so expect some gameplay with these lists very soon. I will be playing with the bug in place, but at least the general idea and flow of the deck will be on display which should help. Expect sideboard guides in the near future as well.

Right now I’m still working on the lists, but I have enjoyed the numbers they are putting up and I think they attack the metagame from a pretty interesting angle. Kind of like a big brother to Jeskai Burn if you will. Let me know what you think and as always, thanks for reading!

Conley Woods

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