We all knew that the Gift deck wasn’t going away. Many of the key components survived the rotation, so the only question was what tools we could add from Ixalan to maximize the deck’s potential. Of the possible shells, Esper is the current front-runner.
The deck still revolves around God-Pharaoh’s Gift and Gate to the Afterlife. With only 2 Gifts and 4 Gates, you know that the deck is going to be very heavy on creatures and move away from the Refurbish plan. This configuration offers a quick way to get a Gift into play to take over the game.
The big carryover for creatures come at the beginning, middle, and end of the curve. Minister of Inquiries gets everything going. You need energy to make that happen, so Aether Hub becomes even better in your 3-color deck, but you need six creatures in the graveyard to make Gate work. Minister will make sure your graveyard is stocked with the requisite number, and hopefully your best creatures to Gift into play.
Champion of Wits is the real heavy lifter. A creature that allows you to put more into your graveyard while digging deeper is fantastic. It’s a mana sink in the late game, a way to continue to get card advantage off eternalize or Gift, and it makes sure your draws are smooth while maintaining a high creature count.
Angel of Invention is the finisher. Targeting this with Gate gives you a 6/6 flying, vigilance, lifelink that really can’t be raced. You can hardcast Angel in this version with plenty of white mana sources, and you have the option to go wide by making Servos.
Walking Ballista wasn’t in the original Gift decks, but it has earned its place as an early creature to hold the fort that combos well with Gate to the Afterlife. Being able to kill your own Ballista, or play it for 0 to get an extra life and a loot, adds a ton of consistency.
Ixalan brought another weapon that can take over the game and is awesome to bring back with Gift. Vona, Butcher of Magan is a large lifelinking creature with a powerful ability. Destroying a problematic nonland permanent can be game winning, especially in matchups like the mirror where they might have their own Gift. Getting back the life you’re paying to destroy permanents thanks to lifelink makes Vona a threat they’ll have to deal with when it’s cast and again when it has haste off a Gift.
For the early game, Seekers’ Squire may not have turned many heads, but explore is a strong mechanic. Getting an extra land is useful, as you have plenty of uses for it between discarding or just getting enough mana to cast your late game spells. When you hit a spell, you get the option to keep useful cards on top or put a creature into the graveyard to help make Gate and Gift work.
Many have said Hostage Taker is the best card in Ixalan, and this particular deck isn’t making any arguments against it. Removing a creature is already strong as you’re getting an effective Shriekmaw for 4 mana. Being able to cast that creature is another nice bonus, and then getting to do it all again with the Gift puts things over the top. Keep in mind that this also works against artifacts like Vehicles and opposing Gates!
Gift decks haven’t touched black mana in the past, but going Esper opens you up to Fatal Push as a premium removal spell. You also get Chart a Course from Ixalan for card advantage or to put something in the graveyard where you want it.
We saw last Standard season just how powerful Gift decks were and how many ways there were to build them. By the end of the season, U/R Gift was the top dog, and one of the best decks in the format, but with some awesome Esper cards and the reprint of Drowned Catacomb and Glacial Fortress, this is the new hot way to build the Gift deck!