The Ultimate Guide to Esper God-Pharaoh's Gift

Feature Article from Lukas Blohon
Lukas Blohon
10/24/2017 11:02:00 AM
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In Standard, there are two best decks that have been dominant for quite some time now: Temur Energy and Ramunap Red. There are plenty of decks that are not quite on the same power level, are missing something or maybe just waiting for perfect metagame for them. Various versions of Tokens, Blue-Black Control, God-Pharaoh's Gift, Approach of the Second Sun and Mardu Vehicles are all viable decks, although bit less powerful than the two big ones. Some of them are good only against one of those, some are good only against some versions, some are waiting for metagame to shift for them to shine. Today I would like to focus on Esper God-Pharaoh's Gift, deck I have been playing lately a lot and to good results.

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Why the Esper version over straight white-blue?

There is a big diference between those two – Esper focuses on creatures and Gate to the Afterlife to get God-Pharaoh's Gift, while white-blue wants to put in into the graveyard and then Reanimate it with Refurbish. Let's go over the primary aspects of both.

Advantages

- Linear plan, very good at getting God-Pharaoh's Gift into play fast

- Good manabase

- More card draw and filtering, thus more consistent

Disadvantages

- Vulnerable to graveyard hate and Counterspells

- Bad sideboard plan against hate

- Worse sideboard in general

Esper

Advantages

- More powerful cards, more angles of attack (Scarab God, Hostage Taker, Kitesail Freebooter)

- Good sideboard plan against hate with creatures, discard and multiple angles of attack

- Capable of winning games even when your opponent has God-Pharaoh's Gift covered with answers

- Easier to execute your game plan with Kitesail Freebooter and Duress to disrupt your opponent and see what they are weak to

Disadvantages

- Clunky manabase

- Easier to interact with game one, because it is dependant on creatures

- Not drawing Gate to the Afterlife, especially game one, makes your deck very clunky with random value creatures and removal spells, that might not match well against opponents deck

To sum it up, the white-blue version is very good at getting God-Pharaoh's Gift into play as soon as possible – thus being a better game one deck – but suffers in sideboarded games. The Esper version has pretty much the opposite advantages. Almost everyone will interact with you some way or another, and because of that I believe it is better to go with the Esper version, which improves drastically against pretty much every deck other than Ramunap Red and Temur Energy. Here's the list I'm playing.

The usual core of Minister of Inquiries/Champion of Wits/Gate to the Afterlife powering out God-Pharaoh's Gift that Reanimates Angel of Invention is still the same, but I have some cards that are different from stock decklists, and some cards people usually play but I don't, so let's go through that.

Kitesail Freebooter

Best two-drop in the deck. People are starting to play these but not everyone has four, which I believe is mistake. This card does it all. It's a creature for Gate to the Afterlife, disruption so you can see if your Hostage Taker will be safe and a great card after sideboarding as well. Not much else to say about it.

1 God-Pharaoh's Gift instead of 2

God-Pharaoh's Gift is a card you don't want to draw – you want to have one in your deck so you can tutor it with Gate to the Afterlife but more can be a liability. Scenarios where you need multiple God-Pharaoh's Gift in play to win the game are pretty much nonexistent or come up only against the mirror, but since this deck is not that popular I don't think it is needed. Another good reason to play two is against Cast Out, but right now only the Tokens deck plays it, and after sideboard it is not a big deal with Duress and Negate, so it would be only for game one, which again, I don't believe is worth it. Like I said, the main benefit of having only one is one less dead draw in your deck, which is very important, because this deck has issues with consistency. There are simply too many bad cards that you don't want to draw in your opening hand and without Champion of Wits to filter those, you might not get to play a game of Magic.

0 Seekers' Squire

I simply don't think this card is powerful enough to warrant a slot in the deck. It has some synergy with milling a card to the graveyard and is a two-drop creature that this deck could really use, but the power level is simply not there. Gifted Aetherborn is another card I tried, and although better than Seekers' Squire, it doesn't line up that well against most played cards and Vandalizes the mana base.

2 Search for Azcanta, 2 Chart a Course

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Unfortunately I could not find any two extra two-drop creatures that I would be happy with, so I had to settle for the next best thing. Both fill similar role in the deck, but I would rather draw one of each instead of multiples of either, so I went for the split. Game one you want to assemble Gate to the Afterlife as soon as possible, and card draw can help with that quite a bit. Raid on Chart a Course is usually not even needed, as you would rather discard Angel of Sanctions than have it in hand. Search for Azcanta synergizes well with rest of deck – it mills to help you get six creatures to graveyard, smooths your draws, works perfectly with Minister of Inquiries, who by itself can help you flip it on turn three, giving you a nice mana ramp. The only problem is that it is pretty slow, and often on the draw you are punished for not developing your board and filtering your draws, which leads me to the last two slots.

2 Fatal Push

As I said, those four “draw” spells make the deck bit slower, so I wanted something cheap to get back lost tempo. Some people play it, some people don't, but with some extra card filtering I believe it is worth it. I don't like Fatal Push that much in this deck because it is very hard for you to enable revolt, but it is necessary to solve some of the problematic creatures for this deck like Rampaging Ferocidon. It is usually great against Temur because it takes care of Longtusk Cub, but in this deck it is pretty easy to contain a Cub with chumpblocking or Hostage Taker (even resetting it is usually good enough to give you some time, unless they have the removal spell in response to the ability). But when Fatal Push works, it gives you some of the much-needed tempo back, so you have time to assemble a 6/6 flying lifeling vigilance Angel to win the game, and because of that i believe it is worth two slots in the main deck.

24 lands

Most people run 23 lands, but the deck is mana hungry, you have lot of cards that scale well with enough lands, need lot of untapped lands, and like I said there are not that many cards I would like to have main deck anyways so adding land was a pretty easy decision.

General Gameplay

There are two different types of games. When you draw Gate to the Afterlife, it is usually pretty easy. The most played answer for it or God-Pharaoh's Gift is Abrade, so you either want to bait it out with your creatures like Hostage Taker, or strip it from their hand with Kitesail Freebooter. If they keep mana up when you threaten to cast and activate Gate to the Afterlife, you can punish them by doing something else, be it more card drawing to find Kitesail Freebooter, The Scarab God to dominate the board or even something like Angel of Invention (if you are lucky enough to have two white mana). If they can't interact with it right away, it is generally pretty easy to set up reanimating Angel of Invention and winning with it. Even if they kill it, a stream of 4/4 creatures with revelant abilities is hard to Overcome for any deck. If they kill God-Pharaoh's Gift, 6/6 flying lifelink vigilance Angel that boosts your team is pretty much unbeatable for most of decks, so they have no good options if that happens.

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If you don't draw Gate to the Afterlife early, you work like a underpowered midrange deck. The good thing is that The Scarab God is absurdly powerful card, so playing some creatures that interact into it is good enough to win some games.

After sideboard, everything changes. Your opponent will usually have more interaction for God-Pharaoh's Gift, so an easier way to win games will usually be to answer their threats and win with The Scarab God, card advantage from Champion of Wits or a protected Hostage Taker. There are so many good threats in the deck that after sideboard, once you have good answers for what your opponent is doing, you are in great shape. If you are playing against something where you sideboard Negate and Duress, things are looking good because those are great cheap answers and it is most likely a good matchup. When it comes to creatures, black has pretty hard time answering expensive creatures that Fatal Push can't kill, because Vraska's Contempt is usually not trading up. Those matchups tend to be bit harder but winnable, especially if your opponent oversideboards for your God-Pharaoh's Gift plan.

Temur Energy

On the Play

+3 Vraska's Contempt
+3 Duress
-4 Walking Ballista
-1 Fatal Push
-1 Chart a Course

On the Draw

+3 Vraska's Contempt
+3 Duress
+1 Fatal Push
-4 Walking Ballista
-2 Search for Azcanta
-1 Chart a Course

Their best threat by far is Glorybringer, because it is hard to answer, hard to block, kills you fast, kills your creatures and Kitesail Freebooter and Duress don't do anything against it. Longtusk Cub is not that big of a deal, and because of that I don't like Fatal Push that much because it can be dead card very easily. Their next best threat is The Scarab God if they play it, but it doesn't do anything right away and Vraska's Contempt is good answer for it. Duress is great at seeing what their threats are and for protecting Hostage Taker, which is probably the easiest route to victory. Walking Ballista doesn't kill anything, and they are usually prepared to deal with Gate to the Afterlife, so no need to keep those in.

Ramunap Red

On the Play

+2 Fatal Push
+2 Vraska's Contempt
+1 Duress
-2 Search for Azcanta
-2 Chart a Course
-1 Hostage Taker

On the Draw

Same as on the play, but also plus a Duress and minus a The Scarab God

Kitesail Freebooter is great because it slows them down significantly when they kill it and sometimes they don't have multiple removal spells so it even sticks and blocks their one-drops. When that happens Hostage Taker is all-star, but they have plenty of burn spells, so it's not that common. My advice would be to be very aggressive with trying to set up God-Pharaoh's Gift – most of the time even ignoring the fact that they could have Abrade – because that and a good draw is very hard to beat. Their best card is not Hazoret – because that one is pretty easy to chump block for few turns and you can gain life to not get burned out by his ability – but Rampaging Ferocidon. It doesn't die to a normal Fatal Push, is hard to block and punishes us for playing blockers and prevents life gain. True nightmare to deal with. After sideboard, they don't improve by much and you get some extra removal and Duress to help with getting God-Pharaoh's Gift online. You don't want to overdo something, which is why only a few copies of those cards are sideboarded in, because drawing multiples when they are not good is death sentence.

Abzan Tokens

+4 Negate
+3 Duress
+1 Search for Azcanta
+2 Cataclysmic Gearhulk


-2 Fatal Push
-4 Walking Ballista
-3 Hostage Taker
-1 Angel of Invention

Game one is rough, because your only interaction is Kitesail Freebooter, and that won't be in play forever. You need to get God-Pharaoh's Gift into play as soon as possible and hope it is good enough. Post-board, on other hand, this matchup shifts dramatically. With Negate, Duress, Cataclysmic Gearhulk and robust card advantage engines in Search for Azcanta and Champion of Wits, it is very easy to answer all of their relevant cards and win with card advantage. The only card that is annoying to play against is Angel of Sanctions, so if they have plenty of those I suggest sideboarding a couple Vraska's Contempt for Angel of Invention and Gate to the Afterlife.

Lastly, let me round up this article by some tips:

- Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin is not as good in this deck as in others, especially pre-board, so when you don't need the land, consider keeping it unflipped, which helps you to put more creatures in your graveyard for Gate to the Afterlife.

- Try to not sideboard that much if you need God-Pharaoh's Gift active soon in the matchup. Usually in creature matchups you need it, and in non-creature matchups you can win just with disruption and value cards.

- Don't forget that Angel of Invention boosts Champion of Wits, so you get to draw extra card!

- The deck is very mana hungry, so if you are not sure, play Fetid Pool.

- Often you want to discard a card to Chart a Course, so make sure to play it precombat.

That is all for today, I hope you will enjoy playing with this deck as much as I did, and if you have any questions let me know!

- Lukas Blohon




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