The Complete Matchup Guide for Jeskai Gifts

Last weekend showcased the Standard dominance of Brad Nelson and brother Corey Baumeister as they both managed to finish in the Top 8 in back-to-back Standard Grand Prix, with Brad eventually dispatching his brother in the semifinals. Brad also managed to defeat Brian Braun-Duin in the finals, on the exact same 75, to become the GP Denver champion.

But today, I’m not going to talk about what did happen—I’m going to talk about what could have happened. I was in contention to Top 8 up until the final round of Swiss, where I lost a match to Sam Pardee, as I was unable to draw into Top 8 because of tiebreakers.

If I managed to fade that last loss, it’s possible I would have played all Temur Energy in the Top 8, against which I liked my chances. Basically, if you’re looking for a deck with a favorable Temur Energy matchup, look no further.

Jeskai Gifts

I started out by playing a single League with the deck, going 3-2. I got the deck list from Matt Nass, who said he and Andrew Baeckstrom had been doing well with it. I noticed a ton of mistakes I made within those games and knew that if I had played better I’d probably be 4-1 or 5-0. The deck felt great. A few minutes after finishing my first League, I get a message from Owen Turtenwald, unsure if he should book a ticket for GP Denver.

Owen: Should I go to Denver?
Me: Idk, but I may have a busted deck to share with you. I’ll ask Matt Nass if I can share if you want it.
Owen: Yes, of course.
Me: He’s cool with it (picture of deck inserted).
Owen: Okay, if I go 4-0 I’ll drop and buy a plane ticket. If not, I’m not going.

Couple of hours go by….

Me: Did you buy a plane ticket yet?
Owen: Yep.

Corey Burkhart and Eric Froehlich both wrote about the deck and how it functions. Today I’ll talk about several of the more popular matchups, how they play out, and how to sideboard.

Temur Energy

On the Draw


On the Play



The Temur Energy matchup is quite favorable. Their best defense against a God-Pharaoh’s Gift is Abrade. They usually play only a couple main deck, but it’s also not usually a problem if they do have it because they have a tough time pressuring you.

You have a lot of early creatures to block with to keep your life total high. Remember, putting creatures in your graveyard is a net positive, because you want to be able to sacrifice your Gate to the Afterlife anyway.

After sideboarding, they get the rest of their Abrades and maybe some Negates, and you’re going to bring in Dispels to defend your God-Pharaoh’s Gift and Gate to the Afterlife.

Chandra’s Defeat isn’t great, nor is Glorybringer, so I could see just leaving the Mausoleum Wanderer in as well, as it’s a creature with minor utility. If you’re going to edit the deck, I could see having an additional card to bring in for this matchup in this slot. I’ll go over some of the options later.




This is again a favorable matchup. It’s more favorable the fewer Scavenger Grounds and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghets they have. I assume this matchup will get worse depending on how many Dispossess the Zombies player adds to their sideboard.

Generally they will need to get underneath you because Cataclysmic Gearhulk makes all of their lord effects much worse. Their route to victory is a very fast start, combined with Scavenger Grounds, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, or both.

Against this deck, prioritize getting creatures like Insolent Neonate onto the battlefield before their turn 4 if possible so that you can sacrifice it before Kalitas comes into play. Kalitas will shut off your Gate to the Afterlife loot ability, so it’s important to get creatures into your graveyard before Kalitas, as all the creatures made off of God-Pharaoh’s Gift are tokens and won’t trigger him.

Scavenger Grounds can be annoying, but it’s actually pretty awkward for the opponent. They need to leave up 3 mana including the Scavenger Grounds itself, and sacrifice a land. Not only that, but you can put a ton of creatures into your graveyard at instant speed with Insolent Neonate, so if you get to 6 creatures in your graveyard while the Grounds is up you can still sacrifice your Gate to the Afterlife to find a God-Pharaoh’s Gift. If Gift is in play, it triggers without a target, so if you have a creature in your graveyard and they decide to activate the Scavenger Grounds, you can let the ability from Scavenger Grounds resolve, and with your own Gift trigger on the stack mill yourself with either Minister of Inquiries or Ipnu Rivulet. You can also just sacrifice an extraneous Insolent Neonate or Walking Ballista to upgrade it to a 4/4 as well.

Remember that they can never remove your God-Pharaoh’s Gift, so getting it into play at a loss of some tempo is generally worth it because you can make up the tempo later as you’re getting a free creature every turn.

Once an Angel of Invention is in play as a 6/6 it’s incredibly hard for them to come back—they have very few ways to interact with it favorably. Just make sure you don’t block with it and let it die to a Grasp of Darkness or an otherwise undersized Dark Salvation unless it’s absolutely necessary.

After sideboarding you bring in Chandras and Glorybringers to keep the battlefield clear and kill Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. This package also doubles as a fair game plan that can occasionally get it done when they spend turn 3 on a Dispossess. Don’t bother with Negate as it’s extremely hard to keep up mana for the entire game to play around Dispossess, so you’re better off hoping they don’t draw it or don’t have it, and if they do, try and get them with Glorybringers and Chandra.

Ramunap Red



This is what I found to be the hardest matchup for the deck, outside of maybe Ramp. Despite this feeling like the toughest matchup to me, the four of us who played the deck had a 12-8 record against it.

Their best draws consist of a bunch of Earthshaker Khenras and Ahn-Crop Crashers. You can beat these draws by simply curving out with creatures that trade off, and keeping your life total high while you try to get enough creatures in the graveyard to sacrifice a Gate to the Afterlife.

If you’re able to tread water in the early game, you can often get to an even board state on which you’re going to have to fade an Abrade or make them use it at awkward times. If they don’t have pressure, it’s going to be impossible to keep you from getting a Gift in play with so much card selection and Trophy Mages to find extra copies. Sometimes, you can tax their mana by just leaving 2 mana open with Gate in play and 6 creatures in your graveyard all the while leaving 2 mana up yourself. This can leave a window for you to crack it on their end step and then play and crack another so their 1 Abrade isn’t enough.

Once Angel of Invention gets onto the battlefield as a 6/6 lifelink, vigilance, haste creature, it’s incredibly hard for them to recover.

It can be important not to trade off Insolent Neonate in the early game, or to wait until turn 3 to sacrifice Walking Ballista, so that you can trigger your Gate to the Afterlife which will both gain back the life and put creatures into your graveyard faster.

You don’t get much better after sideboarding, as the Mausoleum Wanderers are mostly in as 1/1s to trade off with 1-toughness creatures, and Chandra’s Defeat can trade with any one card.

The red deck can get more Abrades and more Scavenger Grounds. Remember to play accordingly against Scavenger Grounds, as I mentioned in the section against Zombies.

One thing I didn’t try with the current sideboard is to bring in 1 or 2 Dispels as a way to protect my God-Pharaoh’s Gift once I get it into play. I’d likely want to cut another Cathartic Reunion to try this out, as it’s important to keep your creature count high.

U/R Control



Against control you want to come out swinging with your small creatures and pressure their life total as much as possible. Play your Gate to the Afterlife when they have Glimmer of Genius mana open or while they are tapped out, and force them to wait until later to cast Glimmer or allow your Gate to resolve. Don’t always just activate the Gate when you can as they can have either Disallow to counter the ability or Abrade to kill the Gift, so make sure you do it when it’s the least mana efficient for them, or in some cases, not at all, as you can just hold 2 mana up to sacrifice it and continue to get triggers while they slowly kill your creatures.

You can actually grind out the control decks with Champion of Wits and Trophy Mage generating value over a longer game, and can eventually run them out of answers for a Gate or Gift to win the game from there. Remember that if you’re advantaged on board, it may be best to bring back Trophy Mage to find another Gate to the Afterlife instead of Angel of Invention.

After sideboarding you bring in your Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer package to both deal with Thing in the Ice, and try and win a value game.

Mausoleum Wanderer really taxes their mana, so if they don’t kill it, they are usually playing from a turn behind. Dispel and Negate help resolve your high impact spells post-board. Negate is the most expendable of these cards, and often I would board in only 1 or 2 and keep my creature count higher with another Glorybringer and Walking Ballista.

U/W Approach



This matchup is similar to U/R Control except they’re worst at interacting with you, and better at actually killing you. Approach of the Second Sun can be a difficult card to beat in game 1, but becomes a cakewalk when you bring in all of your interaction.

Your goal is to flood the battlefield and force them to react with one of their many sweepers. This will leave a window open to resolve and crack a Gate to the Afterlife to continue to put pressure on them.

Mausoleum Wanderer gives this deck even more headaches than U/R Control as their win condition is a 7-mana sorcery. Keeping that in mind, make sure not to Negate the first Approach unless the opponent is dead on board as it will still make the second Approach a game win. You can also just mill away the Approach in a pinch with Minister of Inquiries or Ipnu Rivulet.

This matchup was close until we added Mausoleum Wanderer—it definitely helped swing the matchup. If I submitted my deck again, I’d probably cut the single Glint-Nest Crane for a second main-deck Mausoleum Wanderer, as it’s serviceable against Mono-Red and an all-star against control.

B/G Constrictor



In this matchup they generally try to fight you on the ground, which is not an effective strategy for them. Cataclysmic Gearhulk can be extremely high variance as they can usually keep multiple creatures in play thanks to Walking Ballista and Verdurous Gearhulk being artifacts, so I don’t think you want too many in your deck after sideboarding. It’s usually trivial to get a God-Pharaoh’s Gift into play game 1 as they have very little disruption and most versions don’t play main deck artifact removal anymore.

It’s possible you even want to trim an Angel of Invention and keep your clunky cards to a minimum, but it’s extremely difficult to remove for B/G and usually takes over the game, so you definitely want to leave some number in your deck. It’s reasonable to leave in an extra Walking Ballista in its place. Walking Ballista is not great at killing many creatures from B/G, but it’s one of the cards that’s important for putting 6 creatures into play as fast as possible, casting it for 0 and triggering the Gate to the Afterlife.

Again, be aware of Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and try and get your Insolent Neonates in play before Kalitas can come out, and the same goes for Walking Ballista if possible.

Just like every black deck, there’s a real chance that they have Dispossess after sideboard, which makes the matchup much more difficult for every copy they add.

Mardu Vehicles



The scariest cards in this matchup are Archangel Avacyn and Heart of Kiran. They have the ability to put some pressure on with early Heart of Kiran while keeping Angels off the table with Unlicensed Disintegration, and eventually close the game out with Archangel Avacyn. Pia Nalaar can also cause some problems by sacrificing a creature blocking Angel of Invention to prevent you from gaining back life. Walking Ballista can do a good job at counteracting this, so keep that in mind.

After board I’d expect both Unlicensed Disintegration and Abrade, so Dispel is solid here. Glorybringer is a small upgrade as it can sometimes take out a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, but doesn’t really line up well against Heart of Kiran or Archangel Avacyn, so don’t overload on them.




While I didn’t play this matchup at Grand Prix Denver, I played it four times on Magic Online, and despite winning all of those matches, I think this is a bad matchup. I just happened to get fairly lucky in my small sample. The games usually play out with you both goldfishing for a couple of turns until you put your God-Pharaoh’s Gift into play, but they set up their mana to be able to cast World Breaker or Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, and both of these cards line up well against your plan. All of this, in combination with Abrade, makes this matchup very difficult. They usually even play Scavenger Grounds as well. Luckily, this matchup isn’t all that popular, and the Ramp deck beats itself a fair amount.

The goal post-board is to be able to keep them from developing their mana with Negates, and put some pressure on them while they stumble to their own inconsistencies.

The Mirror



This matchup is pretty complicated. You both have no way of interacting with each other in game 1, so it’s generally a race to get a Gate to the Afterlife online as fast as possible and put the first God-Pharaoh’s Gift into play, hopefully bringing back Angel of Invention. But if the opponent can’t match the player with a Gift, the game will end pretty quickly.

The second stage is to get 2 Angel of Invention in play from the Gift so that they become 7/7s and attack through the opponent’s Angel. If this doesn’t happen and Angels just trade off, then the dreaded third stage requires a lot of deck counting. Players will get into the mid-to-low 20s of cards remaining, and God-Pharaoh’s Gift will start bringing back Minister of Inquiries to mill out the opponent. Be sure to use the Minister on your own turn when you bring them back, as they lose haste in the opponent’s turn. It’s important to be cautious about opposing Cataclysmic Gearhulks as well. Don’t throw out extra copies of Gate to the Afterlife after you have both Gifts in play—sandbag one so you can go right back to having two in play immediately after being forced to sacrifice one.

After sideboarding, it gets a little different. You often don’t have the luxury of countering the first Gate to the Afterlife, but that’s okay if you’re able to resolve your own. The goal is to put your second one into play and Negate additional Gates of theirs so you’re churning out 2 creatures a turn to their 1.

That’s all the matchups I had plans for going into the event. Remember when sideboarding to try and keep your creature count as high as possible because it’s still important to get 6 into your graveyard no matter what the matchup.

Cards that Didn’t Make the Cut

Thought-Knot Seer

You’re relatively short on colorless sources with only 8 in your deck, but having access to 1 or 2 of these post-board could help your Ramp matchup tremendously, as it would be the first card you’d bring back with Gift to clear their hand of big threats or answers. This card would also be serviceable against control decks, so if I were to play this deck again I’d likely cut the fourth Negate and try a copy of Thought-Knot Seer.

Fairgrounds Warden

You only have 8 mana sources for this creature, but it can help against Ramp as well as being an answer for Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. I would definitely consider trying this card in the main deck as a 1-of in place of the second Cataclysmic Gearhulk.

Endless One

This is just an additional, really bad copy of Walking Ballista. It’s only real purpose is to cast for 0 to trigger Gate to the Afterlife and put creatures into the graveyard quickly. I wouldn’t bother with this card as it’s just too narrow.

Angel of Sanctions

This is similar to Fairgrounds Warden, and while slightly less castable, you can embalm it easily at only 1 white mana. I think there’s a good chance I’d try replacing a Cataclysmic Gearhulk in the main deck with this because it has utility in the mirror as well, exiling God-Pharaoh’s Gift and making it easier to have an onboard advantage in the games you both get to basically do everything. The mirror wasn’t too much of a concern at GP Denver, but moving forward it may well be.

Victory’s Herald

You may be asking yourself if this card is legal in Standard, and the answer is yes. This card is part of a Welcome Deck. Owen Turtenwald asked me about it, and it sounded pretty cool as the fifth Angel of Invention, but it is much worse as it’s a liability against Grasp of Darkness, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and Collective Defiance. If you’re in the market for another lifelink fatty, this may be a sweet 1-of you can try.

Kefnet’s Last Word

This card is to improve both the Ramp matchup and the mirror. Kefnet’s Last Word can steal an Ulamog, Ceaseless Hunger and potentially steal a game from a Ramp opponent. Kefnet’s Last Word can also steal a God-Pharaoh’s Gift in the mirror, making this a real threat in both matchups. Overall I think the card may be a bit too narrow, but I think having a copy is reasonable if you’re worried about these two matchups.

Jeskai Gifts will be in a great place if Temur Energy holds a large share of the Standard metagame. The biggest problem with Jeskai Gifts moving forward is that it can be hated out when people are gunning for it, and I think they should. I’d recommend giving it a try, and see how the metagame breaks down before choosing it for a major tournament. But if the conditions are right, I may be sleeving this one back up for GP D.C. in a couple of weeks.

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