Crackling Doom is a hell of a card. At least, that is going to be my excuse for investing so much time into the Mardu version of my Dictate of the Twin Gods burn/control deck. About a month ago, I wrote an article with a few different versions of said deck, including a Mardu take and a Jeskai take.
Just to quickly review, the basic premise of the deck is as follows: We are a straightforward burn deck, similar to Jeskai tempo, but without permanents to interact with. No Mantis Riders, no Goblin Rabblemaster, etc. In exchange, we get a package that includes four copies of Deflecting Palm and four copies of Dictate of the Twin Gods. Dictate just naturally spikes our deck in power level as half of our cards double in value, allowing us to often just kill the opponent the turn after it resolves. However, once we introduce Deflecting Palm, we gain a sort of “combo.” Dictate of the Twin Gods doubles damage, but because Deflecting Palm checks the damage coming in and then checks the damage it sends out, this actually creates a nasty 4x modifier on any incoming damage.
So while it might seem a little scary to play an end of turn Dictate against someone with a Polukranos in play, or maybe a Crater’s Claws in their hand, but Deflecting Palm completely invalidates that. Attack me with Polukranos? Alright, take 20 back instead. And once again, because Palm is not a triggered ability, its damage applies at the same time that all other combat damage is applied, so if you happen to die from other attackers, Deflecting Palm will still reward you with a draw at the very least and not a loss.
At its core, the various lists I have worked on tend to be about 70% red with a touch of white and then a touch of whatever third color I dip into. While we could try everything, including green, black and blue give us the options. Card advantage and a few tricks are all we really need, which is not green’s forte.
Black seemed very appealing to me, even if only Crackling Doom gave us a payoff in the main deck. Sure, I was running Read the Bones as well, but that was more a concession as there were no other options among Mardu colors, which blue would certainly be able to change. But Crackling Doom does a heck of a lot. Not only is it a burn spell 100% of the time, unlike Jeskai Charm, but it simultaneously deals with our opponent’s best creature. Add to this that it gives us outs to Sylvan Caryatid or Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and the card just seems perfect.
However, that concession I had to make for Read the Bones was a big one. Normally, if my other options were Divination and Tormenting Voice, I would be pretty happy, except we happen to be living in a world with two of the best draw spells we have ever seen in Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time.
Originally, I was pretty set on Dig Through Time and my Jeskai list reflected that. The idea was that this deck could just assemble a Dictate plus burn spell or two. Dig would find a Dictate and then a Deflecting Palm or Crater’s Claws to go with it for a quick kill. However, the second blue mana in the cost was a real problem and the deck was not quite as combo-centric as I thought.
Many times you simply play out as a traditional burn deck on a slower clock. In these situations, finding Dictate specifically is not as important as simply having access to more cards. Drawing a land and two random spells is generally going to be better than cherry picking as there is so much redundancy here.
With this in mind, I wanted to revisit Jeskai with a slightly different look. Treasure Cruise was the obvious tool to try out over Dig Through Time, so that much was easy, but I also wanted to help alleviate the loss of Crackling Doom a little. Jeskai Charm can deal with any creature, for a turn, but it does not solve problems altogether. I needed ways to stave off giant monsters that didn’t require me to combo an Anger of the Gods with Dictate on turn 6, as that was just not reliable enough. I decided to borrow from my Mardu list and just add End Hostilities to the deck.
End Hostilities may not deal with aggressive decks in the same way that Wrath of God or Supreme Verdict do, but we already have Anger of the Gods in those matchups. What End Hostilities does provide is a great catchall against decks that want to clog up the board with larger threats. Burn spells have issues dealing with that kind of stuff and while we have some tools, being able to reset the board is just the cleanest solution.
On the surface, this is very much the same deck we were experimenting with before, even if black is absent this time around. Essentially, we have upgraded our tools, (or that is the hope) but have the same goals in mind. Our sideboard is much better as well.
Because the deck is more or less devoid of permanents, playing it out can be different in every single game. When you draw Siege Rhino in just about any deck, you cast it. Maybe you wait a turn or two, but you cast it. Easy enough. When you draw a Stoke the Flames, what do you do? Stoke the Flames is an “answer” much of the time, but in our list, it is very much a threat, and yet its play pattern is still significantly more shrouded than the Rhino’s.
The metagame is actually pretty wide open right now in terms of what archetypes to expect. Yes, Abzan is more popular than other decks, but you wouldn’t feel comfortable building a sideboard that didn’t address the hyper-aggressive decks, combo decks, or control decks in the format as well. When the format is coming from so many angles, it is nice to take a look at how we want to be attacking each using the same 75.
Eventually, we will whittle the information here down to a more intricate sideboard strategy guide.
The Aggro Bully
In an ideal world, our biggest strength is our ability to tear apart aggro decks.We have six sweepers in our main deck that start at just three mana and some 20 pieces of spot removal on top of that.
Generally, in any matchup where there are going to be three or four creatures across the table by turn three, you would prefer to reset things with Anger on turn three. However, if that line is not available due to you not having Anger, use your burn spells aggressively as removal here. Going 1-for-1 a bunch would normally be painful, but with Treasure Cruise and future sweepers ready to jump us back ahead in card advantage, we can usually manage.
Unlike true burn decks, we do not need the same critical mass of burn spells aimed at our opponent’s face to win. Dictate of the Twin Gods creates such a huge burst of damage from even just one or two burn spells that surviving the early game using those very win conditions is quite reasonable.
Deflecting Palm can be used for a few damage here and there, but in general, I would try to hold the card to maximize damage. Most of these hyper aggressive decks have the ability to generate a lot of damage out of nowhere, whether that be UW Heroic or Mono Red. If you have a Palm at the ready for this turn, you essentially invalidate their entire incentive to be playing that list. Beyond that, Dictate will help ensure that Palm does double-duty later on.
Our board just puts us further into the control position. We can cut a few Dictates so as to not flood along with some of the clunkier burn, like Jeskai Charm, for more in the way of sweepers. Resolute Archangel is often a big trump that wins the game when it comes down, so having a few of those increases your clock in many ways.
I will also mention combo here as really only Jeskai Ascendancy counts and it is pretty aggressive. Your are strong here and you can close out a game pretty quickly when they allow you to. Your sideboard isn’t very big, but you can definitely win game one with just one well-timed Anger.
The Control Grind
While I would argue that dedicated control is probably the least popular of the broad archetypes right now, you will still run into those Esper Players trying to planeswalker you out of a game and whatnot. For these matchups, it’s important to identify the tools you have to work with.
In game 1, what happens when your opponent resolves Elspeth or Ashiok? Your means of dealing with those cards are pretty slim. You can either aim about two burn spells at it right away and hope it falls, or you are left facing down a ton of card advantage.
In game one situations, you want to race. You can utilize whatever cards you have to keep certain issues under control, but ultimately, your Magma Jets and Lightning Strikes are almost strictly threats here and won’t be answering much. Luckily, you have a trump in Dictate of the Twin Gods. An opposing control deck is likely to not have any way to abuse that card and if you can stick one on their end step, you will usually have no problem winning the game.
Generally, they will only have Utter End of maybe Sultai Charm as ways to interact with you in this spot. If you catch them tapped out, both are irrelevant anyway, but you can also leverage your land drops to minimize damage. Use Magma Jet and scry lands to ensure that you make as many land drops as you can. Once you reach nine or so mana, you can deploy Dictate and then even in the face of instant-speed removal, you can sneak a spell or two underneath that for extra damage. This will essentially turn your Dictate into 4 or 5 damage when it otherwise would have been dead.
During sideboarded games, you gain access to countermagic and things change quite a bit. Now you get to replace all of those useless sweepers with cards that answer planeswalkers and opposing counterspells. Mindswipe even allows you to make this swap without really losing anything from your closing speed, which is big. The fourth Negate might be correct for these matchups and I will be sure to test that.
The Midrange Tug Of War
The midrange matchups are easily where you have the most play because you do not have the obvious trump cards like you do against control or aggro. Here you are constantly having to evaluate whether your card is worth trading for their card or whether you can ignore it. There are a few cards that you should deal with if at all possible though.
Courser of Kruphix – If you leave this unchecked for too long, it can hurt you through both card advantage as well as life gain, seeing as how those are the two fronts we are attacking. We will generally bring in End Hostilities and possibly Deicide against decks with Courser, so our outs go up post-board, but 4 toughness can be a problem and I want to find out exactly just how big of a problem before I change too much in response.
Arbor Colossus – While Colossus is not that scary for its abilities, the most important thing is that it is a 6/6 that gets bigger than that. Anger of the Gods doubled up is one of our ways to handle big board stalls and Colossus quickly outsizes the 6 damage. Keep a Palm or two around to punish big things like this.
Whip of Erebos – If you can control the population size of the board, then Whip is not all too scary, as you can force them to commit to rebuying something out of the ‘yard and then show them what Deflecting Palm is all about. But if your opponent resolves a Whip into a board of four creatures, the life swing is going to be tough to recover from. With Whip picking up in popularity, it might be important for us to have an out to this in the main deck, even if that out is just countermagic.
Most other midrange staples won’t be too big of a problem, including things you normally fear. Siege Rhino is mostly just another guy with a bunch of toughness, but is generally slow enough that you can fight through two just fine. Cards like Goblin Rabblemaster or Mantis Riders are an actual joke as they just do not have enough toughness to stand up. And while Savage Knuckleblade can be an issue, it is usually a big tempo loss for the opponent as they need to spend six or seven mana at times to keep it alive which is all you need while working up to a Dictate kill.
Because you have no permanents, your opponent is almost locked in on having some dead cards in their deck. Hero’s Downfall? Bile Blight? Banishing Light? Chained to the Rocks? End Hostilities? These are actually just 100% dead against you. Even a bad matchup can turn around pretty quickly if the opponent draws three or more of these dead cards early on and just runs out of things that actually matter.
Even though we have a few weaknesses that might be plugged up by a Banishing Light or Elspeth in our main deck, adding any of those cards just turns on even more cards for your opponent that otherwise would have sat in their hand collecting dust.
As we continue to narrow down our focus and try out different cards, we should keep this last point in mind—once we begin to give up the unique edges that a deck like this awards us, we really begin to lose incentives to even play it in the first place. I think that if we can ensure that Courser is not a big problem in game one, we have a pretty strong choice for the current metagame.
With impressive aggro matchups and very manageable control matchups, we should adjust our focus to the various green decks. Another End Hostilities in the main deck might go a long way toward helping and is the next change slated for testing. There will be more videos coming soon! (Have been under the weather recently, apologies!). As always thanks for reading!