Going into the final week of testing for the Pro Tour, I felt pretty good about my grasp of Standard, I'm sure many others felt similarly. There weren't any obvious decks that were created by Hour of Devastation, or so it appeared on the surface. There is a new deck, and it is a combo deck with an extremely high power level. White-Blue God-Pharaoh's Gift didn't just make Top 8 of the Magic Online Pro Tour Qualifier, it won the entire event.
This deck has a lot going on, but let's start with the namesake card of the deck, God-Pharaoh's Gift itself. This is a seven-mana artifact that is a bomb rare in Limited, but it turns out it is an insane rare period. Once this card gets into play assuming there are creatures in your graveyard, it will take over the game. This deck plays creatures that are good cards on their own, but are especially nice when brought back with God-Pharaoh's Gift. The deck also has ways to fill up its graveyard, so that there are always going to be plenty of creatures to bring back.
This deck is all about getting God-Pharaoh's Gift into play as quickly as possible, and seven mana is a lot of mana to pay. The fact that the card costs seven is why many initially thought it wouldn't be worthy of Constructed play. There are multiple ways to get God-Pharaoh's Gift into play without actually hardcasting it. Refurbish puts an artifact from the graveyard straight onto the battlefield on turn four. This means if you are able to aggressively get a God-Pharaoh's Gift into the graveyard it will be a huge help. Another card that can be brought back by Refurbish is Gate to the Afterlife. This card only works when played in a deck with God-Pharaoh's Gift, and for good reason. It can tutor up God-Pharaoh's Gift as this deck can get six creatures into the graveyard with all of its milling and looting effects. The other part of the card which allows you to loot and gain life when one of your creatures dies is also very important. There are actually more copies of Gate to the Afterlife than God-Pharaoh's Gift in the deck. Having the potential to find God-Pharaoh's Gift, and then the ability to loot and gain life is a ton for a three-mana investment.
Once you get God-Pharaoh's Gift into play oftentimes the opponent will have a decent amount of pressure. You need to be able to bring back creatures that will have a high impact on the game, and can get you out of tricky situations. This deck has those creatures, and none of them cost more than five mana to cast. It turns out that even small cheap creatures look much better once they become 4/4s with haste. Being able to attack immediately after using God-Pharaoh's Gift means this deck can pressure planeswalkers pretty easily.
Not getting run over is important, as every deck needs to be aware of its mana curve. Here, cheap creatures help you protect your life total in the early turns. Thraben Inspector seems to be a theme with pretty much all White-Blue decks. We see it in the typical midrange strategies, and a combo deck like this one. Having a creature for one mana that replaces itself with a clue and can block in a format with lots of one toughness creatures is really nice. When brought back with God-Pharaoh's Gift, Thraben Inspector once again will generate a clue as the come into play effect does apply.The other one mana creatures we aren't as used to seeing. Mausoleum Wanderer did see play in Spirits decks when they were popular, and has now been revived. Not only can being able to Force Spike an early spell from the opponent be a big deal, but once Mausoleum Wanderer comes back with God-Pharaoh's Gift the sacrifice part of the card becomes much more like a hard counterspell, when the opponent needs to pay four mana.
The last of the one-drops is a card that never saw any play before now that I am aware of, but we really haven't had a self-mill deck like this one before. This is a deck that desperately wants to get its own creatures in the graveyard, and Minister of Inquiries is one way to do that. There isn't a big energy theme here, but being able to use this on the first couple turns will be a big deal in helping turn on Gate to the Afterlife, so that it can search up God-Pharaoh's Gift. Getting cards into the graveyard is the name of the game here. Some other new additions from Hour of Devastation are Strategic Planning and Champion of Wits. Both cards are a great way to make sure you have gas in hand while filling up the graveyard at the same time. Without these efficient ways to dig through your deck there wouldn't be a good way to turn on the rest of the deck. When Champion of Wits returns from the graveyard with God-Pharaoh's Gift being able to draw four cards is really nice.There is another way to get cards into the graveyard, and that comes from the manabase. Ipnu Rivulet does a ton of work here, as a way to fill up the graveyard without actually needing to cast anything. This can definitely catch the opponent off guard, but having access to this land is really nice. The new Deserts have really been making a significant impact on a number of decks in the format.
The big payoff cards to bring back with God-Pharaoh's Gift are the five-drops. Cataclysmic Gearhulk is a way to sweep the board against go wide strategies like Zombies for example. Beyond that Cataclysmic Gearhulk is an artifact so it can also be brought back to play with Refurbish. The other five drop is the hallmark threat to bring back, Angel of Invention.
Angel of Intervention has been patiently waiting for its day to make an impact on Standard, and here it certainly has. When bringing back Angel of Invention with God-Pharaoh's Gift you have the option of whether to make servos or put two counters on it, either way you get a huge flying vigilance creature with haste. This is generally good enough to make quick work of the opponent. Even the biggest threats in the deck can also be cast naturally when plan A of having a God-Pharaoh's Gift online isn't available.
After sideboard the deck has more interaction for what the opponent is up to. Declaration in Stone is a nice all-purpose removal spell, while Dispel allows you to have a good way to force spells through against control. Void Winnower is an interesting inclusion as a card that can potentially be brought back with God-Pharaoh's Gift, and has the ability to completely shut down a deck with lots of cards that have an even converted mana cost!
Crook of Condemnation can be very annoying to play against with God-Pharaoh's Gift, as you need cards in the graveyard to trigger Gate to the Afterlife, and creatures to bring back with God-Pharaoh's Gift. One part of Crook of Condemnation worth being aware of is the trigger of God-Pharaoh's Gift doesn't target a creature, so you cannot exile a specific creature to completely stop the opponent exiling a creature, assuming they have one in the graveyard when triggering God-Pharaoh's Gift. This can cause you to sacrifice Crook of Condemnation to exile the opponent's graveyard completely, though then there is the worry the opponent can reload their graveyard.
Outside graveyard disruption, we are talking about a combo deck, so hand disruption and countermagic are also going to be effective. Any card that is able keep God-Pharaoh's Gift off the battlefield is going to be good. Even a card as simple as Abrade, that can destroy an artifact is an effective tool against this deck. Instant speed artifact destruction means you can destroy the God-Pharaoh's Gift before the opponent can take full advantage of it. Now that people know about this deck it loses some of its surprise factor, and people will have more hate cards for it.
Now that we know how powerful God-Pharaoh's Gift is are there other directions the strategy can be taken? Can this deck be another color combination besides White-Blue? I have started to experiment with other shells involving God-Pharaoh's Gift, and can confirm that there are other ways to build this sort of deck. Many players have moved towards adding black, for cards like Noxious Gearhulk, as yet another great creature with God-Pharaoh's Gift.
Right now, the White-Blue version is the most popular, though that doesn't mean the other versions aren't worth exploring. I expect the Pro Tour will show just how good God-Pharaoh's Gift is, though at the same time people may be afraid to play it. The reason I'm scared to play a deck like this is that there are hate cards that are tough to get around, and the deck will be on most players radars at this point.
For players looking to pick up the deck right now I like the White-Blue version rather than trying to get too greedy. I have played against versions that have had other creatures like Spell Queller and Selfless Spirit that are found more in White-Blue Midrange strategies. I like the idea of having some sort of secondary gameplan, just in case the opponent does find a way to keep you off God-Pharaoh's Gift entering play early.
Many decks have good sideboard options for the matchup, but in general the decks that are the best against White-Blue God Pharaoh's Gift have a good matchup game one. The decks that can reliably beat White-Blue God Pharaoh's Gift have a fast clock, like Mardu Vehicles and Mono Red Aggro. Versus these decks you need to get God Pharaoh's Gift into play by turn five most games. That is definitely possible though.
The best matchups tend to be midrange decks without much interaction for your combo. Zombies and Black-Green Midrange are mostly left helpless, especially with their vulnerability to Cataclysmic Gearhulk, as well as of course the God-Pharaoh's Gift. The most interesting matchups tend to be other White-Blue decks that have counterspells, and you are forced to try and grind out games.
Thanks for reading,