Within the first few weeks of Dominaria Standard, we've already seen a healthy mix of strategies all contesting the top spots in the format. While things will doubtless settle in the coming weeks, right now it's fascinating to see how different archetypes develop, homogenizing or diverging as players around the world seek out the most effective and efficient lists.
We've seen aggressive decks like White-Black Aggro, juiced up by History of Benalia and Karn, Scion of Urza; we've seen hard control lists fuelled by Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and post-board Lyra Dawnbringers. Midrange decks of all stripes are clawing for the middle ground between strategies like this – the three common pillars of the Standard format are well and truly intact.
We haven't seen much in the way of combo in Standard for quite some time. Due to the smaller card pool, it's difficult to pull together a true combo deck in Standard; there is, however, a deck that can Lay Claim to such a label. God-Pharaoh's Gift decks caught the attention of the world thanks to Pascal Maynard's second place finish at Pro Tour Ixalan (won by TCGPlayer's own Seth Manfield!) with White-Blue GPG.
Now, however, Dominaria has brought with it some shiny new presents that are helping Christmas come early. Let's have a look at the ways in which God-Pharaoh's Gift decks are getting it done in the current Standard format.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it – White-Blue GPG is still putting together good finishes in competitive Standard. It's not particularly exciting to look over decklists that haven't seen a meaningful upgrade in almost a year, but it's nonetheless important to establish a starting point.
This list attempts to get a God-Pharaoh's Gift in the graveyard before turn four alongside various creatures, ideally Angel of Invention, then cast Refurbish to cheat the GPG into play and smash in with a huge 6/6 vigilant lifelinking flyer. We've seen the explosive power of this deck time and time again, but what's truly baffling is the fact that this deck seems to be "finished."
If you look over the list closely, you'll notice that it isn't too far from being legal in the previous Standard format, pre-rotation – and contains stone-cold zero cards from Dominaria! Considering the impact the newest set has had on Standard so far, it's amazing to see this deck hasn't been updated with the newest cards.
In other words, this deck is old news. Second place at a Pro Tour is no joke and I'm always hesitant to turn my back on a deck with four Glacial Fortresses, but it's time to turn to the future of the archetype.
Red was added to various God-Pharaoh's Gift decks as they were undergoing development – initially we saw Jeskai lists, which were soon supplanted by straight blue-red. And for good reason, too – the extra power offered by white was outweighed by the consistency of just playing two colors. And as it turns out, adding red means two colors are more than sufficient.
Doing away with Refurbish altogether, this deck instead exploits the two-card combo of Gate to the Afterlife and God-Pharaoh's Gift. This is done by including plenty of creatures that can put themselves in the yard, such as Fanatical Firebrand and Walking Ballista. This helps to guarantee the six creatures required to crack the Gate and provides plenty of death triggers to loot for fun and profit.
Combat Celebrant was the latest pre-Dominaria addition to the archetype. If you've ever played with or against a Celebrant in conjunction with a GPG, you'll know how ridiculous it can get. Seeing as the GPG still triggers at the beginning of the extra combat steps, it can even bring back multiple Celebrants – which can then untap previously those which were previously exerted! While this doesn't quite go infinite (the card has a built-in dead man's switch), it can unload truly insane amounts of damage in one go.
Post-Dominaria, the newest update is Skirk Prospector. This card does everything a Gate to the Afterlife deck wants – it comes down early, puts itself in the bin to trigger Gate and even makes a bit of mana en route. Doesn't matter how puny these various 1/1s are on the face of it – they all hit hard as lazotep-coated 4/4s!
Skirk Prospector has had a much wider influence on the archetype, however – it's fair to say that it has helped to spawn an entirely new take on GPG decks. "Goblin Gift," as many are calling it, does away with Champion of Wits and the rest of the blue cards to play a clean Mountain-only mana base and the best red cards in Standard.
There's no doubt that cutting blue comes at a cost, but it allows the addition of entirely new cards – some of which even fill the role of those which were cut! Rowdy Crew is a tidy little threat and fills the graveyard just like Champion of Wits. According to Frank Karsten, with zero or one card in hand then you've got around a 40% chance to get the two counters – in the words of the famous philosopher Philip J. Fry, I like those odds.
The mono-red mana base effortlessly support Goblin Chainwhirler, which Jim Davis described as a "mistake" – there's no doubting the power level of this card. The headline act, however, is of course Siege-Gang Commander. Not only is its enters-the-battlefield ability immensely powerful, it's also another card that can bin itself!
On top of all this, there's still all the Combat Celebrant nonsense, and on top of that, you still have the excellent Plan B of just slamming Hazoret the Fervent and riding her to victory. Another important thing to note is the almost transformational sideboard – in games two and three, this deck that just play a classic Big Red game thanks to the marquee rares and mythics that have helped define the Standard landscape since they were printed.
I would be very unsurprised to find that this mono-red approach to building GPG decks becomes the industry standard moving forward. It's fast, flexible, consistent and is one of the decks I'll be watching closely in the lead up to the Pro Tour.
To wrap things up, we're going to cast the net further afield and see what other spicy brews are putting God-Pharaoh's Gift to work. If you thought what was really missing from GPG was green cards and a bunch of weird one-ofs, well, MTGO player Grantfly has you covered with this 5-0 masterpiece.
Also looking to abuse Gate to the Afterlife, this Green-Blue version plays some pretty high-caliber cards in addition to the combo-esque finish of Gate into GPG. While there isn't the plethora of self-sacrificing one-drops, Llanowar Elves is a powerhouse upgrade (on one axis, at least) over Skirk Prospector, and both Jadelight Ranger and Merfolk Branchwalker are incredible value plays that are all the better once returned with a GPG.
What about Verdurous Gearhulk? 8/8 hasty trampler? Yes please – old Verdy-G is another great reason to play green. The suite of one-ofs is weird, but each card has its purpose – I'm surprised by the singleton Trophy Mage, as the card is excellent as a stand-in extra copy of Gate to the Afterlife. Academy Journeymage is a real puzzler, but just imagine it in the face of opposing GPG tokens!
Given that GPG decks are light on interaction at the best of times (the mono-red one featured above is just 23 lands, 31 creatures, and six artifacts), playing green doesn't really mean you give up on much. Green decks are generally light on disruption, but this kind of strategy doesn't really seek to play much in the first place. Easy game!
With a Pro Tour on the horizon, and with Standard in a relatively undefined position, it's well worth keeping a close eye on all the archetypes and strategies that are poised to take over the format. God-Pharaoh's Gift has proven its power throughout its time in Standard and given the evolution and innovation currently surrounding this card, it won't be surprising to see more of it soon.
- Riley Knight