The flaws in any God-Pharaoh’s Gift strategy are now readily apparent. You can stop Gift from entering the battlefield (or triggering), you can mess with the graveyard, you can keep creatures from going to the graveyard for Gate to the Afterlife, etc. This take on the deck still has many of the cards you would expect, but it actually looks much closer to a U/B midrange creature deck than any combo deck. Never activating a Gift is fine in this list, and you will still be able to win plenty of games. Gift is still your plan A, but the cards that typically shut this style of deck down may just be minor speed bumps here.
God-Pharaoh’s Gift is incredible once it gets going, but 7 mana is a lot and you still need plenty of creatures in the graveyard. Gate to the Afterlife helps make sure that all of that happens and your Gift can enter the battlefield in a cost efficient way. This list removes the fluff, however. No drawing and discarding. There’s no Refurbish to get a Gift back. You’re loaded up on creatures and nearly half the deck has power and toughness.
The only other noncreature spell in the deck outside of the artifacts is Search for Azcanta. I might be encouraged to play more than the 2 copies in this list, as it’s right at home here. Filtering your draws is huge, and Search loads up your graveyard with key cards. Putting an eternalize creature or Gift into your graveyard only to bring it back or activate a Gate to get it is nearly as good as drawing a card. You can flip the Search into Azcanta as early as turn 3, and that mana ramp is huge.
Angel of Invention is the only card in the deck that can’t be cast off Drowned Catacombs. You’re playing a U/B deck here, but Angel is still just too good. It’s the best card to return with a Gift and the swing that it provides in life totals is often enough to close out the game in one hit. Because you’re a U/B deck, you happen to have Glacial Fortress and Concealed Courtyard as “free” ways to produce white and cast the Angel, not to mention Aether Hubs.
Minister of Inquiries and Trophy Mage are your weakest cards, but they’re the enablers for plan A. Minister also happens to play well with Search for Azcanta as you can mill yourself on turn 2 and again during your upkeep turn 3 with the trigger on the stack to flip your enchantment. This is also a way to turbo-enable a Gate to the Afterlife, which happens to be your only trophy.
Seekers’ Squire is big enough to hold off many of the creatures in an aggro deck, or it will just draw you an extra land. With some more expensive cards and mana sinks late, this is all upside, and you can put key cards and creatures into your graveyard for value on turn 2.
Champion of Wits is the glue for any deck that wants to utilize the graveyard. Champion is excellent early and powerful late. It’s a cheap way to filter your draw and load up your graveyard, and it’s a card advantage game-ender if the game goes long and you flood out. Nothing but upside.
Walking Ballista gives you early interaction, another great mana sink, and a way to “go off” with Gate by adding more creatures to the graveyard (for free, if needed) while giving you a life and a loot.
Hostage Taker helps make this into a solid midrange deck. It’s already a good tempo play to remove a creature or artifact temporarily, but they’ll have to deal with the Pirate or you can cast the Hostage for yourself. This becomes turbo-powered as a 4/4 removal spell with either Gift or pseudo-eternalize.
The Scarab God is a great finisher, and it’s extra impressive here. You have lots of ways to make sure you’re hitting land drops and putting creatures in the graveyard. If they want to load up on ways to stop the Gift, such as Duress, Negate, or Abrade, The Scarab God will make the opponent look foolish. Bringing back Champions, Angels, and Hostage Takers are all absurd, and every creature here offers crazy card advantage potential.
A powerful “combo” late game is even better when that’s not your only way to win. This version of Esper Gift accomplishes all of that and looks like a great way to approach the archetype!