Standard Grand Prix events are coming up, and I’m sure a lot of you are wondering how the hell I reached 2nd place at Pro Tour Ixalan with this deck. What’s up with the sideboard? Look no further.

Be aware that I believe the deck will become worse over the next few weeks because of the following factors:

  • The creature sideboard plan is now public, meaning that you won’t catch people off-guard.
  • People started to understand how to play against Esper Gift, but were not ready for Blue-White Gift. Deathgorge Scavenger, for example, should drastically increase in popularity. It was okay against Esper Gift, but against this blue-white version it’s much better. Especially if it starts main deck, it can be straight-up game over.

With that said, it is still a powerful deck and if it isn’t respected, it’ll remain a great choice.

Esper Gift or Blue-White Gift?

I don’t think that Esper Gift is an inferior deck. It’s just different. What made me put it down was simply the fact that it was known and that blue-white had strength and weaknesses I deemed better for that particular weekend. Also, being under the radar was a big plus.

I had two opponents count the number of creatures in my graveyard, thinking I was playing Gate to the Afterlife, and then decline to attack in order to keep me from reaching six creatures in my graveyard.

Esper is better at playing a midrange deck preboard as cards like Seeker’s Squire and Walking Ballista bridge nicely to the late game, but blue-white gets Gift into play more consistently and more quickly.

White-Blue God-Pharaoh’s Gift

Matchups

Your best matchup is winning the die roll. That’s not very surprising though as it is pretty much the same for every deck in Standard.

Going into the Pro Tour, I was obviously prepared for all of the energy decks and Mono-Red. Blue-Black Control was at some point high on my list of priorities, but kept going down as more results were popping up and people lost interest. For that reason, we cut the 3rd Search for Azcanta that was in our main deck and reduced the number of counterspells in the sideboard.

Tokens, primarily Abzan, was on our radar—I even considered playing it, as it was great preboard against Temur and Mono-Red. But it was easy to beat post-sideboard and I did not like that. Having played a good amount with Esper Gift, I knew this was going to be a good matchup for U/W Gift—a little less so because I don’t have access to Kitesail Freebooter, but still reasonable since the God-Pharaoh’s Gift and Angel of Invention interaction was intact, and they struggle to beat huge flyers.

Everything else—Mardu, Approach, and Esper Gift—had been tested, since I had so much time to prepare, but I valued them less in how I was going to build my deck, since there was no way they would make enough of an appearance.

Temur Energy

Testing against this archetype was frustrating. Between the regular 3-color version, the one splashing black, and the one with black as the main color, it became a real hassle to have exact plans against each.

I had to aggregate down to the cards that mattered most, but also alternate the lists I was testing against. It was a long and tedious task, but with the help of my teammates, who also played the deck (Shaun McLaren, Dean McLaren, and Ricky Chin), we got there.

Going into the Pro Tour I felt favored facing any energy deck (including Sultai), mainly because they were unaware of my sideboard plan or even exactly what my main deck does.

Game 1 is usually Abrade or bust for the 3-color version, but the black version can power out a turn-4 The Scarab God, which I can lose to if I stumble. There is also the classic “win the die roll, Attune with Aether into Longtusk Cub into some form of interaction” that is pretty hard to beat.

Sideboarding

Be aware that my sideboard plans were always in flux, since none of the lists I played against were exactly the same, nor were my opponents approaching the matchup the same way.

On the play, Fairgrounds Warden is great, as your best targets are Servant of the Conduit and Longtusk Cub. If you’re on the draw, it means that these targets will have already done something, making the Warden significantly worse. For those reasons, I always went up to 3 of them on the play, but only 1 or 2 on the draw.

Fumigate always comes in, along with the extra land (Hostile Desert). I like to see the Fumigate as my plan C. If everything goes wrong, I’ll cast it and hope they don’t have Negate. Otherwise, I don’t want to rely on it. The extra land is appreciated since the curve goes up considerably after sideboard and you want to be able to make all your land drops to threaten to cast God-Pharaoh’s Gift and embalm Champion of Wits. Because beating down your opponents manually becomes an option with Angel of Sanctions added to the mix, a land that can attack or block is surprisingly useful as well.

Angel of Sanctions is amazing post-sideboard as it plays perfectly around two of their best cards against you, Negate and Abrade. It also deals with pesky permanents such as The Scarab God, a huge Longtusk Cub, Chandra, Deathgorge Scavenger, and Glorybringer. Sure, it dies to some of those cards and Harnessed Lightning, but the embalm makes it annoying to deal with for good. In addition to all that, it provides some extra value if you mill it or discard it. I only sideboard in 1 or 2 since you want to avoid clunkiness with too many expensive cards.

The cards that get sideboarded out include: Sacred Cat, Minister of Inquiries, Opt, Refurbish, Search for Azcanta, and Cast Out.

On the play, you can Sacred Cat as it’s unlikely you’ll need the time buffer. You also want to play a longer game, so you want your cards to get you to the late game, not just turn 4 or 5.

The same goes for Minister of Inquiries—it’s a card that’s strictly good for putting God-Pharaoh’s Gift and creatures in the graveyard for when you Refurbish. In a game where your opponent prevents you from doing that by keeping mana up for Negate and Abrade, Minister of Inquiries becomes close to useless. Drawing exactly one is fine, not more, so I’m usually shaving down to 2.

In the dark, I assume that people have at least 2 Deathgorge Scavenger, and for that reason I shave 1 Refurbish. If you somehow know that they have 3, you can even go down to 2 copies.

Opt and Cast Out are part of the same category—they essentially cantrip, making your land count smoother. For those reasons, I never want to have fewer than 2 of either. I generally board out Opt on the draw. I remove Cast Out if I don’t think my opponent will have many problematic permanents like Scavenger and Chandra. When you’re on the play, it’s less likely that you’ll have to deal with a permanent, as you get to be the one developing your board first.

Search for Azcanta is the only card I’m still unsure about. It’s basically always amazing on turn 2, but then quite bad any time after. It’s nice to have a ramp spell with your sideboard cards so I tend to always keep at least one, but on the second I’m still undecided.

Sultai Energy

We did not expect too many people to play Sultai, but it was still on our radar as it looked bad for us post-sideboard. This is actually the matchup where I came up with the idea of playing multiple Angel of Sanctions. Negate, Duress, Deathgorge Scavenger, and Appetite for the Unnatural were too much to overcome with our main game plan. Angel was the perfect card to play around all of that and grind them out.

Preboard, with 4 Fatal Push and 4 Blossoming Defense, they are at the mercy of drawing too many copies and dying. They can also have a nice aggressive start backed by Hostage Taker and it’ll be hard. It’s essentially similar to Temur where Longtusk Cub goes a long a way on the play.

Sideboarding

Against Temur, you keep the ability to combo and don’t completely abandon plan A, but against Sultai you have to.

They have way too much to stop Gift, and on its own, Angel of Invention is not as good against them because of Walking Ballista, so I’m looking to trim copies.

Fairgrounds Warden is even better since, unlike Temur, they don’t have a plain answer like Harnessed Lightning—it has to be something slow like Hostage Taker or situational like Fatal Push.

In the Pro Tour finals against Seth Manfield, I made the following changes:

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On the play I kept the 3rd Angel of Invention and cut the last Sacred Cat.

Mono-Red

This matchup is straightforward. Rampaging Ferocidon is the single best card against you and it’s hard to beat if they draw it game 1. Abrade is good as well, but they need to slow down to keep it up and that gives you time to start casting Angel of Inventions and take over the game.

In the dark, we found that Mono-Red players trimmed on Lightning Strike instead of Shock since it kills Minister and Cat. That made our Fairgrounds Warden amazing post-board. Now that it’s known, I expect this matchup to be worse yet still winnable.

Scavenger Grounds is not as good as it is against Esper Gift because we don’t need to accumulate a big graveyard, only two specific cards. Essentially giving up on 3 mana for a turn on their side is a big cost as well.

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Fumigate comes in on the draw as well in favor of the 2nd Opt.

Shaving an Angel of Invention looks counter-intuitive as its near unbeatable game 1, but Rampaging Ferocidon is just that scary. I’d rather have cards like Skysovereign and Angel of Sanctions and kill it.

Speaking of Skysovereign, it’s a nice way to get around them keeping mana up for Abrade. Instead of Refurbishing for Gift and risk losing your whole turn, at least by returning the ship you get to kill something. Hopefully a Ferocidon.

Chart a Course is generally better than Strategic Planning as you have the ability to draw two cards when you’re grinding, but the Mono-Red matchup rarely comes down to card advantage. For that reason, I like milling myself a bit more and having access to more Sacred Cats or to threaten an early Refurbish.

Daniel Fournier went 9-1 at the Pro Tour with a Red list featuring 4 main-deck Rampaging Ferocidon. If that picks up in popularity, I would consider maindecking 1-2 Skysovereign and cutting a God-Pharaoh’s Gift. Main-deck Fairgrounds Warden is also a possibility.

Esper Gift

I knew immediately that it would be poor for blue-white here because of the disruption black provides. Kitesail Freebooter is just amazing in a matchup like this, and more importantly, Hostage Taker is the cherry on top.

Initial testing proved me right—Angel of Sanctions was nice to have but it wasn’t enough to be favored post-sideboard. Enter Fairgrounds Warden. It actually came up later in our testing since it was to solve the Mono-Red matchup, but it happens to incidentally have an impact here. The matchup was all about their Freebooter and Hostage Taker. Having our own fake copy of Hostage Taker makes a difference, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it is now an even matchup post board.

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Pre-board, it’s all about Angel of Invention. You have to hope that they don’t find as many of their own, or Hostage Takers, but post-board you can play a more disruptive game where Angel doesn’t matter as much and reanimating Fairgrounds Warden becomes more important.

Control

These matchups are all about whether they draw Search for Azcanta. At least from the Blue-Black Control side, whenever they didn’t have it, I would overwhelm them with card advantage through Champion of Wits, and without a clean board sweep, Angel of Invention is annoying to deal with.

The Approach deck Guillaume Matignon played is a significantly worse matchup—Glimmer of Genius finds his relevant cards better than Hieroglyphic Illumination does, Settle the Wreckage is an answer to Angel of Invention, and finally, Approach of the Second Sun is a better win condition against me than The Scarab God because of my Cast Outs.

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