In Defense of Dictate of Erebos

In Defense of: Dictate of Erebos

Kristen GregoryCommander

Dictate of Erebos is a card reviled by some playgroups and loved by others. Is this card as bad as it looks? Are people playing it wrong? In another installment of “In Defense Of,” Kristen digs into what people love and hate about this divisive Enchantment. 

Last time on “In Defense Of,” Jason took on Sen Triplets. This time, I’ve decided to pick a card I’ve seen a lot of people talk about: Dictate of Erebos.

Dictate feels like a relic of my time learning the format. In my formative years, it was an absolute house of a card, and it showed up across the table a lot. Commander then was a longer, grindier affair, and Voltron was actually pretty bad. Despite that, I loved playing it, and I learned to adapt my lists in ways that enabled it. 

I have fond memories of using Akiri, Line-slinger, Sword of Feast and Famine and Volcanic Offering to clear the way of Glacial Chasm and blockers to annihilate a Lord Windgrace player with Commander Damage early in the game. It’s the kind of play that still has people debating the social contract and the relative faux pas of removing a single player early on, but my opponent was graceful and admitted they likely would have locked me out of the game had I not ended them there and then. It was a weird time, and I even snuck Winter Orb into my lists for a while

Dictate was still a huge issue for me, especially when built around. But in the past three years or so, the attitude and casual metagame has shifted substantially. We play Commander in a time when pre-game discussions and Rule 0 are at the forefront; where playing cards and strategies that drag a game out have fallen out of favor; where players would rather scoop or let a win happen so they can shuffle up and play again. 

In 2023, Dictate of Erebos and similar effects are often lumped in with greater faux pas, like Mass Land Destruction and repeated bounce effects. But is it really that bad?


Dictate of Erebos is a flash enchantment with the effect that whenever one of your creatures dies, each opponent sacrifices a creature. So, much like Karmic Justice, there’s a cost for an opponent destroying your creature. It’s not just for the one removing it, but each other player, too. This can feel rough for the players on the periphery, especially the one in seat four/behind in tempo

The thing with Dictate is it’s not just used defensively. It’s also an aggressive way to keep pruning the board. Decks that run it have plenty of recursion and/or plenty of tokens. They have fodder to throw to sacrifice outlets, and often those outlets further their game plans. 

It doesn’t usually hinge only on Dictate and sacrifice outlets, though. You have redundancy in Grave Pact, and you can run any number of edict effects like Plaguecrafter in your deck. You can combine these effects with Anafenza, the Foremost, Leyline of the Void or Liesa, Forgotten Archangel to make it so opponents’ creatures never come back again. 

The main issue with Dictate of Erebos is it can be downright oppressive. Getting a sacrifice loop set up often grinds a game to a halt, as players are unable to commit to the board or otherwise initiate a game plan until they solve it. 

This is exacerbated by two things: first, people play slowly in the face of a Dictate of Erebos. Not only do they have to formulate a new game plan on the fly, but it can take the wind out of a lot of player’s sails, and their enthusiasm wanes to the point they play slower. 

Second, as the Dictate player, you often want to respond at different points on other’s turns, which can make those turns last longer than they ordinarily would. Games are better when they don’t exceed two hours, and this strategy can risk hitting that point. 


The first thing I want to say in defense of Dictate of Erebos is it’s a fair magic card. It can be destroyed or exiled by anyone playing White or Green. It can even be removed by black players, now, with cards like Feed the Swarm or Pharika’s Libation. Red decks can use old favorite Chaos Warp or Wild Magic Surge and blue decks can either counter it or bounce it using any number of effects. When you combine colors, there are other answers, too. 

The player running it also needs a board to use it, and those pieces can be interacted with. So much removal exiles creatures now that you never really have to worry about a defensive Dictate if the opponent has no sacrifice outlet. It has also never been easier to exile their graveyard, with anything from Armored Scrapgorger, to Scavenger Grounds to Unlicensed Hearse. You can easily pressure them out of resources.

We also play in a time where aggressive decks can turn the corner much quicker. I played my Neyali deck the other day and managed to knock out two players in one turn with a combination of poison from Phyrexian Mites and a Strixhaven Stadium. Haste is the key to turning the corner, and with Bitter Reunion and First Day of Class, you don’t need to pass around the table.

Control decks, too, have never been better placed to convert their board state into a win, combo or otherwise. Life totals melt in games of Commander these days, with a format built around attack and combat damage triggers to gain value. It’s why lifelink is so good (but that’s another story).


Magic cards are tools, and the way they are used dictates (hehe) how oppressive or unfun they are, or whether they’re powerful and game ending. 

Do people play Dictate of Erebos wrong? Absolutely. 

Bad deck building leads to really boring games, whether that’s because people play too much removal without enough win conditions or they don’t run enough and you get to snowball, unimpeded. There’s a balance, and sadly not everyone is experienced enough to play with ostensibly “unfun” looking cards as part of a wider strategy to secure a timely win. 

That doesn’t mean Dictate is unreasonable, though. Far from it! 

Voltron decks are often the ones that suffer worst from a Dictate of Erebos. They usually only have one or two creatures at a time and are exceedingly vulnerable because they put all their eggs in one basket. Dictate can definitely make an omelet out of these decks, but it’s far from their only weakness. A well placed Soul Shatter, for example, can do just as much damage.

Should your deck have a bad matchup? Ultimately yes, and it should inform your deck building. My Voltron decks these days are Syr Gwyn Equipment and Sigarda Enchantress. Sigarda kinda speaks for herself — she stops edict effects entirely while she’s in play, and it’s why I favor her over say, Sythis, in the CZ. 

Syr Gwyn? Sure, it struggles more than Sigarda, but it’s not impossible. Mardu gives you access to the best removal for the Dictate in the first place, and speedy acceleration into just removing the player who runs the edict effects. 

I’ve also stacked the deck with enough extra Knights and supporting creatures that I can have as many as three or four creatures in play at any given time, and recur them without too much effort. Kazuul’s Fury is in my mana base; a fling effect or a Hexplate Wallbreaker can help you end more than one player in a turn, helping you close the game before consecutive edicts can lock you out.

And if it does lock you out? Well, you should be playing enough removal and haste that you can bide your time to try and one shot them, or just concede. 

Aggro decks also used to suffer under mass edicts, but they are actually much quicker now. Burakos Party decks, Rakdos Treasures, Neyali, Jetmir, Torbran… all of these decks can go underneath a Dictate of Erebos and end a player with focused damage before they can get set up. 

Turning the corner is super important for decks that win with combat damage, but it’s also important for the deck running Dictate in the first place. You need to do more than just kill an opponent with One Thousand Cuts. You need Exsanguinate, Gray Merchant, or combos like Sanguine Bond/Exquisite Blood. Once you have a lock, you need to convince your opponents that they should concede or that the game will be over shortly. 


I deconstructed my Massacre Girl deck recently, and it was because across playgroups, people just didn’t like the visible wrath in the CZ. It led to awkward pregame where people would often debate swapping decks for better matchups. She inspired more fear than an Esper combo deck with 10 wraths in the ninety-nine, which says a lot about the format and the people who play it. 

After chatting with some friends on my discord, we came to the conclusion that many players just don’t want to have a game where they have to think or come up with a game plan. A lot of the player base play EDH for the social board-game-with-a-narrative aspect and don’t come equipped with skills from 1v1 Magic. And what’s more, they don’t want to learn them.

On the surface, that’s fine… Except it mingles with pre-game expectations in a way that starts to stagnate the format. If you outlaw everything unfun, everything that says “no,” and anything that might mean you don’t just lose but that sometimes you lose hard, you end up with a format where the only decks are Midrange piles, and that means landfall becomes dominant. 

In trying to overly curate what is most “fun,” the meta can over-correct. If we look at the most popular black Commanders on EDHRec, the vast majority of them involve either edicts, discard, control or combo. Black is about resource denial, and about locking a game out as quickly as it can in conjunction with those effects. 

The outliers on the list (Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor, Imotekh and Mari, the Killing Quill) are interesting. Gix doesn’t feel decisively black, like R&D trying to introduce something more “fun” for mono black to play with. The Necrons precon lets black do what red does with artifacts.

Mari, the Killing Quill is still “unfun” in that she statically removes yards. But she also suffers another problem: how do you win the game? Well, you rely on tried and tested win conditions. Black is in need of new wincons, sure, but it also needs to embrace what makes the color distinct in the first place.

There are dozens of Commanders in many colors and combinations that benefit from running effects that are considered unfun. What happens when we neuter those decks? Well, they struggle to close a game. 

A great case in point is Liesa, Forgotten Archangel. The “correct” way to build the deck is to use cards like Dictate of Erebos, play plenty of creatures that require opponents to sacrifice creatures and then grind the game out until you can establish aerial dominance with some angels and an Akroma’s Will, or whatever. 

The issue with avoiding the Dictate play pattern is you switch from three or four-for-ones to one-for-ones — relying solely on Skyclave Apparitions and Ravenous Chupacabras. This huge loss in tempo, in colors that don’t have green ramp or red treasure/haste, means removing Liesa once or twice prices the deck out of the Commander, and one of the main sources of value: the Command Zone. Without it, Liesa becomes just another Orzhov reanimator deck without synergy in the Command Zone. 


We need to think more about the fact that tools have a place and time, and that taking them away for social reasons can part some decks, some archetypes and even entire colors from their greatest strengths. It’s not fun to lose, but statistically, we all should be losing games of Commander — and we should lose them with grace. 

Players should ultimately play more removal, too, and Dictate of Erebos is both removal, and also something that can be removed easily enough. Like all effects, it’s perfectly fine in moderation when paired with a win condition. 

Let me know how wrong I am on Twitter. You know you want to. Show me on the doll where Dictate hurt you.