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Breaking Through – Dictated Musings

Standard has been in a bit of a weird place since the Pro Tour. Over the past few months, there has been a very slow and methodical evolution of the metagame. We started with a midrange deck that seemingly had all of the answers coming out on top at the Pro Tour. Abzan exists to this very day and is quite strong, but in spite of its continued presence, favor was passed off elsewhere eventually as people searched for “the best deck.”

There was a ton of interest in Jeskai Ascendancy while Abzan was in the spotlight, but it was hard to find the best use for the card. Combo decks looked like the best choice as they seemed unfair compared to everything else, but they also proved to be a little unreliable.

While all of that was happening, Mardu began its rise in popularity and we see the effects of that today. The most played variation is generally just a Mardu midrange deck that looks to do much of what Abzan did, but there are also Mardu control decks and even a few aggro decks running around. Again, this didn’t really push any deck out of the format, which is the strange part. It just seemed to pop up and coexist with everything.

While people seemed content with midrange, the influx of hyper-aggressive decks shook things up. I actually played 17-land Mono-Red in Hawaii and the deck has had success in the time since. That deck, along with UW Heroic that essentially looks to combo you out in the style of Infect, has made it clear that you will occasionally be on a clock in this format, so durdles beware.

At least, that’s what you might think would happen. Somehow, amidst these faster decks getting popular, Whip of Erebos and decks built around it also picked up steam. These decks are generally extremely slow and look to eek out value from every play. Sidisi is a big incentive to be Sultai, but Abzan Whip decks also exist and neither one is really known for its speed so much as its power level.

These slow, value-based decks theoretically have a rough time taking out these hyper-aggressive strategies, but they do beat up the decks that are beating up the aggressive decks, so the cycle makes sense.

And meanwhile, the last storyline to evolve in Standard comes full circle back to Jeskai Ascendancy. As people tried more versions of the combo shell, I think most realized it wasn’t consistent enough. It’s still a deck and I expect players to continue to develop it, but Jeskai Ascendancy was now primed for another shell: tokens.

Tokens decks showed up at the Pro Tour, usually with a red/white base and then they extended into Mardu for Butcher of the Horde, or Jeskai for Mantis Riders, but the real winner was Ascendancy. Ascendancy offers all of your tokens a pseudo-anthem that adds explosiveness to your deck. What would normally be creatures are now spells thanks to Raise the Alarm and Hordeling Outburst, so Ascendancy is always triggering.

All of these decks have grown with the metagame and now they coexist. There are stronger and weaker options among them, but the fact that decks are still being created and they are not just pushing out the low man on the totem pole is quite refreshing. Standard has not hit its ceiling just yet and the expanding metagame helps to prove that.

Dictate Variants

For a few months now, I have been looking at Dictate of the Twin Gods, specifically regarding the interaction between Deflecting Palm and Dictate. Last week I posted where my current Jeskai list is and I wanted to give an update of that list as well as some other options with the card. I have been having quite a bit of success on Magic Online using Dictate, even with the Deflecting Palm bug still in place, so I think there’s potential.

Even in the world where Dictate doesn’t actually end up in the deck, the concept of a mostly permanent-free control deck that switches to the aggressor on a dime is a great approach to this format.

Jeskai Dictate

After testing the list from last week, Treasure Cruise proved to be strong. I actually wanted a couple more enablers, just to make sure that I could consistently Cruise by turn 5. Cruise minimized the need for four copies of Dictate because you rarely need two copies to get the job done and finding a single one with added card advantage in the deck is pretty easy, especially considering that it’s a 5-drop.

I was a little torn between trying a few main deck counterspells or to try out Tormenting Voice, which was a very impressive card for us while testing for the Pro Tour. Because this deck has some situational cards, like sweepers, or Dictate, Tormenting Voice allows us to trade those in all while being a great enabler for Treasure Cruise. The card advantage from Cruise alone was solid, so I settled on two copies of Voice for now, but further testing is needed.

Here is the updated version of that Jeskai Dictate list:

But seeing as how basically no one else is looking at Dictate of the Twin Gods right now, I don’t want to fixate on a single deck list. While I think that Jeskai is probably the strongest, especially after the work that Treasure Cruise has been putting in, I still want to be open to exploring other avenues.

Four-Color Dictate

I originally thought that the Mardu version of the list was going to be strongest due to the power of Crackling Doom. Card advantage proved to be a more important component to the deck and Read the Bones was just not cutting it, but that doesn’t mean that Crackling Doom got any worse. Jeskai Charm was a downgrade from Doom in most matchups. The mana costs in this deck are not that extreme though, so why not try both?

Without Dig Through Time clunking up our mana, we would really only need access to a single blue mana to turn on Treasure Cruise and a single black mana to turn on Crackling Doom. This challenge seemed easy enough to overcome.

I didn’t want to muddy up things too much, so I decided to just run both of those cards and then I swapped the two Tormenting Voice for a pair of Jeskai Charm as I enjoy having the higher density of burn spells and the additional answers to big creatures.

If the mana on this works, it might just be the best version of the deck as it is very much a greatest-hits collection of the standout cards from my testing thus far.

You’ll notice that this particular mana base takes fetchlands to an extreme. We have four copies of both Mire and Strand, with only three total copies of lands that they can each grab. This means that if you draw all of one, the fourth copy is bound to be dead, outside of helping to fill the graveyard.

However, this does create additional untapped sources of both black and blue without actually committing to more Islands or Swamps. Because our deck only really needs a single source of each, the first fetchland of the color can grab our single basic while remaining fetches can grab Mountains or Plains respectively. This is not perfect and an extra Mountain and Plains would be nice, but I think the other lands are more important to the deck and I do not want to be playing 27 lands.

You could easily reduce each fetch count by one and add a Temple of Ephiphany and Temple of Malice to balance things out, but then we are up to 13 lands coming into play tapped, which feels like a bit much. Adding a second Swamp and Island is pretty useless as well. Still, there is some wiggle room here, so we will have to continue to monitor the list to find out exactly what works best.

Devoted Dictate

Originally, Dictate of the Twin Gods caught my attention as a devotion enabler. It contained two red mana symbols, which was fine, and could be cast as an instant, allowing you to set up devotion out of nowhere which occasionally leads to some blowouts. Then Sarkhan was spoiled, decreasing the desire for 5-drop devotion enablers a little. I still think Dictate can be good in a devotion shell though.

It has great synergy with Purphoros, obviously, but also with many other red devotion staples. Fanatic of Mogis can deal no less than 6 damage with a Dictate down and Eidolon of the Great Revel secretly ends up packing quite the punch. And there are some quality red cards being shown off elsewhere that just make sense in devotion, such as Ashcloud Phoenix and Goblin Rabblemaster. Have you read Purphoros while it sits next to a Rabblemaster? It’s glorious!

I will be the first to admit that Dictate might be too cute here and another copy of Sarkhan and Purphoros might just be better, but I like the look of red devotion like this. Generator Servant is one of the most powerful cards not seeing play right now and I think it is the second 2-drop that a devotion deck needs to be competitive. It does not ramp you like Burning-Tree Emissary did, but it does ramp you still and haste can be a backbreaker from this deck.

In terms of those 5-drops, feel free to mess with the numbers. Initially, I wanted 3 Dragon and 3 Sarkhan, but after realizing how much mana this deck could make, the need for mana sinks seemed pretty great.

The sideboard is limited, but Phyrexian Revoker is an all-star here, stopping everything from Whip of Erebos to Sylvan Caryatid out of Jeskai Ascendancy combo, both of which could be problems for us.

While this list does not interact particularly well, it does just kill you out of nowhere much of the time and it produces threats so quickly that the opponent is usually on their back foot. The hyper-aggressive decks that we talked about earlier likely have an edge, but your sideboard helps out there quite a bit.

If nothing else, this is a list I want to explore further as I think the curve looks pretty solid and Nykthos remains one of the most powerful cards in Standard. Denver is fast approaching, so who knows? Until next time, thanks for reading!

Conley Woods

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