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Gifts from Orazca

Gifts from Orazca

With the spoilers for Rivals of Ixalan all wrapped up, numerous discussions have opened up about what this set means for Standard. Will UG Merfolk be viable? Are there enough dinosaurs to make that a deck? Will they finally do something about energy? While all of these will be answered in due time, there’s been one pressing question on my mind for the better part of a week. Does this set just make God-Pharaoh’s Gift insane now?

UW God-Pharaoh’s Gift was one of the top contenders at the Pro Tour, but hasn’t made headlines nearly as much in the months following it. After playing more than my fair share of Gift decks in Standard, I found that the deck had nearly unparalleled card selection, but the threats were lackluster. Aside from bringing back multiple Angel of Invention, your next best creatures to eternalize were Sacred Cat and Champion of Wits. With the format as fast as it is now, this isn’t nearly good enough.

Rivals of Ixalan gives the deck two new and powerful threats in Zetalpa, Primal Dawn and Azor, the Lawbringer. When each of these were spoiled I immediately thought of the impact they had coming down on turn four off of Refurbish into a God-Pharaoh’s Gift, and my mind started racing. With the cornucopia of keywords on Zetalpa and the surprisingly oppressive enter the battlefield ability of Azor, cheating these into play can quickly put an end to most opponents.

Zetalpa, Primal Dawn wins the “Akroma, Angel of Wrath Award” for most keyword abilities in recent memory, with flying, double strike, vigilance, trample, and indestructible. When this was first announced, people primarily latched onto two key downsides: no haste, and it costs eight mana. Thankfully, God-Pharaoh’s Gift alleviates both of these issues by putting it into play for free and giving it haste. This means we can potentially attack in for eight damage in the air on the first Gift trigger. Furthermore, the combination of vigilance and indestructible make Zetalpa a defensive powerhouse, utterly devouring Standard mainstays like Bristling Hydra and Glorybringer in combat. While it does lose four toughness in the eternalization process, the indestructibility completely negates the drawback. I think what I love most is that a turn four Zetalpa gives Gift decks the potential for the turn five kill it never even dreamed of. You simply attack with Zetalpa for eight on turn four, then bring back another evasive creature like Angel of Invention or Angel of Sanctions and attack for the remaining twelve.

Azor, the Lawbringer plays a very different role than Zetalpa, but in the right matchups it’s just as powerful. The ability to shut the opponent off from casting instants and sorceries during their next turn can keep slower control opponents from casting or digging into their answers, such as Fumigate or Confiscation Coup. This gives you some necessary tempo against these decks and make it easier to close out the game. Admittedly, I would probably keep a copy or two of Azor in the sideboard for the first few weeks of the new rotation, should the format slow down I can definitely see him sneaking into the maindeck. Azor is also notable in that, unlike Zetalpa, we can actually cast him should the game go long.

As some of you may have noticed, I haven’t mentioned Azor’s other ability. Whenever Azor attacks we get to Sphinx’s Revelation. While Sphinx’s Revelation has been a mainstay of Return to Ravnica Standard and even most Modern UW Control decks, I honestly don’t think it’s that necessary to use in this deck. We already have massive amounts of card filtering in Strategic Planning, Chart a Course, Search for Azcanta, and Champion of Wits, and since we really want to be looting rather than going for raw card draw, I feel like that mana would be better put to use casting more card filtering spells. I can, however, see scenarios where we start flooding out against an aggro deck and we just need to jam a bunch of mana to gain life, but due to Sacred Cat and Angel of Invention already having lifelink, I don’t see this being as relevant. If anything, it says a lot about the power of a deck that you can staple an iconic spell like Sphinx’s Revelation onto a creature and it wouldn’t even be needed.

Rivals of Ixalan brings a lot to the table for tribal decks, but it does a lot to support some underrepresented archetypes as well. God-Pharaoh’s Gift has been looking for better threats to keep up with the current Standard, and I feel that Zetalpa and Azor are exactly what the deck is looking for to stay on par with the speed of the format. If you’re one of the God-Pharaoh’s faithful, you should definitely keep an eye out for these two legendary creatures.