God-Pharaoh's Gift is the "combo" that won't go away. It made the finals of the Pro Tour, and has been around in some capacity since its printing. These are the versions running around right now, and each has its own pros and cons.
In the wake of Pascal Maynard's second-place finish at Pro Tour Ixalan, we saw more gifts than ever materialize under the Christmas tree that was last weekend's Grand Prix triple-header. At this stage I don't even know if white-blue is the "traditional" or "orthodox" configuration, due to the fact that these Gift lists are always being chopped and screwed like a Girl Talk single.
In any case, Jedrek Szymd may be short on vowels in his surname but he's not short on Magic chops – he crushed the Swiss in Warsaw and hit the Top 8 very comfortably, playing a list that wasn't too different from Maynard's. A main deck Fairgrounds Warden along with a Fumigate – the classic combo – were the only notable changes he made.
PROS: White-blue maxes out on explosiveness and consistency, largely foregoing interaction like a nerd at a frat party. Chart a Course and Strategic Planning aid Champion of Wits in churning through your deck, setting up that turn-four Refurbish to slam in with a 6/6 Angel to get you way ahead. Additionally, Sacred Cat is a nice little road bump, using up its nine lives to protect your life total and buy you more time. This deck is streamlined and focused, and enacts a single gameplan very effectively.
CONS: This list does not interact efficiently or effectively, with clunky cards like Cast Out the only real answer to opposing threats. Szymd went some way to offset that with his tweaks, but all the same – any opposing disruptive elements are going to topple this house of cards faster than carelessly using a hairdryer. When it works, it works – but this deck lacks a second dimension and has trouble shifting gears.
If you're wanting to have a Gift arrive with Priority Express Shipping, this deck is for you – no other version boasts the same level of sheer speed and explosiveness!
Acclaimed streamer Sascha Lüscher (otherwise known as "eheh_dude") came in a tragic ninth on breakers at GP Warsaw, falling just short after a strong run towards the Top 8. In coming up against the field over the weekend, his deck was tuned better than an orchestral oboe – so many elements of this list indicate preparedness and a masterful knowledge of the metagame.
Rather than Refurbish, Lüscher was on the Gate to the Afterlife plan. Playing black opened up excellent interactive options like Kitesail Freebooter and the walking case of Stockholm Syndrome, Hostage Taker. The real reward for playing black, however, is one of the most overlooked heavy lifters in Standard, Gifted Aetherborn. This card is exceptional against both Energy and Ramunap Red – it shines against over half the expected field!
PROS: As I mentioned, this deck doesn't give up on interaction, and the best thing about its disruptive cards is that they're creatures, and therefore synergise with Gift itself. Kitesail Freebooter coming back with God-Pharaoh's Gift gives you a 4/4 flyer that can still strip the hand, and Walking Ballista both interacts and fuels the Gate to the Afterlife by being castable for zero. The biggest strength of this deck, however, is its sheer flexibility – if the Gift plan isn't panning out, it can pivot to grinding 'em out with The Scarab God.
CONS: Blue-Black Gift suffers when behind without cards like Angel of Invention to stabilize quickly. A reanimated Angel is almost always enough to help white-blue players recover, whereas the blue-black configuration has to work much harder to get back into the game. Additionally, giving up on enablers like Strategic Planning sacrifices consistency, although this is offset by the looting of Gate to the Afterlife.
If you're looking to exploit the power level of God-Pharaoh's Gift without scrimping on interaction and disruption, then Blue-Black GPG is the deck for you!
An exciting new direction on the endgame of God-Pharaoh's Gift was unveiled this weekend, notably by Paul O'Neill's Top 16 finish in Atlanta, although this strategy appeared in the hands of Toshiya Kanegawa in Shanghai. Rather than going big with Angel of Invention or grinding it out with The Scarab God, this Combo Gifts deck instead uses Marionette Master!
O'Neill's list struck a balance between value creatures like Glint-Nest Crane and Seekers' Squire and noncreature enablers such as Chart a Course and Search for Azcanta, but the big combo finish relies on a reanimated Marionette Master with a Metalwork Colossus in the graveyard. You fabricate three Servos and sacrifice four artifacts to the Colossus to get 'em for 16 – usually enough after picking away early with cranes and Ballistae.
PROS: The combo finish of this deck is obviously its biggest draw, as with a reanimated Marionette Master and two additional artifacts lying around you get them for 20 on the spot. This means that fighting through a crowded battlefield is never necessary, as you can just be the fun police and end the game without ever declaring an attack. We don't often see combo finishes like this in Standard, and once the ball gets rolling it's hard to disrupt it!
CONS: Some notable absences in this particular list make me think there is room for improvement. I think Kitesail Freebooter is a better pick than Glint-Nest Crane, which will brick more than BBD spinning a Marvel. Additionally, Seekers' Squire doesn't do as much work as Gifted Aetherborn - and zero copies of The Scarab God!? What's going on there? I think there's more tuning to do to ensure this deck can do more work to come back from behind after a clunky draw.
If you're looking to combo off in Standard and have a taste for optimizing a deck that needs a bit of refinement, then Blue-Black Combo Gifts is the deck for you!
- Riley Knight