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Example list

My understanding of Historic Gates is that they win by getting 9 different Gates into play and then activating Maze's End. There is a secondary plan of direct beatdown with big creatures (Primeval Titan, sometimes Gatebreaker Ram, and Zacama/Atraxa/Ulamog as in the example decklist), but it is secondary. In particular, since these creatures are vulnerable to removal and the deck plays few threats, opponent is odds-on to be able to answer them. The Gates deck can still win with them, but the Maze's End plan is the primary route to victory.

Given that, why would these decks run Yorion as a companion? Yorion seems like it just decreases the odds of drawing the key cards in the deck (Primeval Titan and Circuitous Route especially; Gates Ablaze too against aggressive decks). I can see that Yorion works exceptionally well with Thragtusk, but that doesn't seem worth it. Blinking Primeval Titan & Elvish Rejuvenator is of course good, but also does not seem like it's worth it - untapping with Primeval Titan is almost a win with Maze's End anyway, so one cannot count on blinking it. As for Elvish Rejverator, by the time one has the mana to cast Yorion, that extra 1 land of ramp should no longer be a big deal.

Comparatively, my understanding of other Yorion decks is that they are composed of nearly interchangeable, generically good cards (e.g. 4-color Yorion) or have enough ETB abilities that the Yorion blink trigger is highly relevant (e.g. Yorion Death & Taxes).

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Most of the creatures in that deck have "Enters the battlefield" triggers that potentially progress the game plan of winning by activating Maze's End's ability. Arboreal Grazer and Kami of the Bamboo Groves can both put gates or Maze's End that are already in your hand onto the battlefield. Elvish Rejuvenator and Primeval Titan can both find gates or Mazes End in your deck and put them onto the battlefield. Atraxa can put gates, Mazes End, and other useful cards into your hand.

That deck plays several non-gate lands, so it is possible to cast Primeval Titan while controlling as few as 0 gates, and Atraxa with only two gates. So, even the turn after playing those cards, you can be fairly far away from the Maze's End win, and Yorion can push you pretty far in that direction.

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  • This does not seem correct. Thragtusk has an ETB ability, while Zacama effectively has no ETB if blinked by Yorion. Yorion costs 5 mana to cast, by which point it's improbable one still has lands to play with Grazer or Kami. If Primeval Titan is blink-able, then you have untapped with it in play, in which case attacking is virtually a win (since you probably tutored Maze's End the previous turn, and now you probably have 10 Gates). Something similar goes for Atraxa, except you are probably already winning, since you just cast Atraxa and probably drew like 4+ cards.
    – Allure
    Aug 24, 2023 at 14:13
  • You're right. It was late and I didn't read Zacama's ability carefully. But I purposely excluded Thragtusk, because its ETB ability doesn't directly progress the game plan of winning with Maze's End. Also, regarding Primeval Titan, the deck can cast it while controlling any number of gates, including 0. So, even after attacking with it, you can be pretty far from that win, and you can blink it after you attack.
    – murgatroid99
    Aug 24, 2023 at 15:17
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    @Allure you are incorrect about it being improbable to still have lands to play with Grazer or Kami. With Maze, you could fairly easily get at least one land back into your hand. With with Escape, you may use your two land drops from the exiled cards. Navigation orb can net you a second land in hand. Yorion let's you reset the loyalty of ugin or choose a new card with Pithing needle. Aug 24, 2023 at 18:55
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One (admittedly questionable) reason to run Yorion is that an 80-card deck can be advantageous when facing an opponent that mills even a few of your cards. Not so much for decking, more because milled lands are largely inaccessible to tutor effects. This is less of an issue now that there are so many unique gates, but in the past, a Maze's End win was essentially impossible against mill decks or even Rogues. Newer relevant cards would be Breach the Multiverse and Mesmeric Orb

Again, this reasoning is questionable, and it won't get you to a tier-1 decklist. But Arena matchmaking frequently pits the off-meta decks against each other. That has traditionally meant that a gates brew was often paired against mill brews. For reference, basically every youtube video posted by LVD where he plays gates features a mill matchup.

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I think I figured this one out. The key point is that Historic Gates is a ramp deck - you need 9 gates + Maze's End to win, and obviously playing a land every turn for 10 turns is too slow, so you must run ramp. This is illustrated by the 17 ramp spells in the list in the OP (Arboreal Grazer + Kami of Bamboo Groves + Elvish Rejuvenator + Navigator's Orb + Circuitous Route).

However ramp decks have a fundamental problem. If you draw a nice mix of ramp + payoff, you're in good shape, but if you draw only ramp or if you draw only payoff, you're in trouble. Yorion fixes the former problem by guaranteeing that you'll always have at least one action card. It's not the most exciting of action cards, but it's still an action card. You will always have it, and it cannot be Thoughtseized or otherwise discarded until you've already run out of things to do. This advantage is notable enough that it's specifically mentioned by Andrea Mengucci recently for another deck:

While The One Ring is a great tool for the deck's late game, you're still very susceptible to flood and the absence of a great companion makes you struggle.

The bolded text applies to Gates as well.

Running Yorion comes with the drawback of weakening your Maze's End plan, of course. Many of the Gates cards are interchangeable, especially the ramp spells - Kami is nearly the same as Arboreal Grazer for example, and you could run Explore, Growth Spiral, etc. instead of or along with any of the ramp spells. Gates Ablaze is a powerful defensive payoff, but there are other sweepers available when you ramp enough (Farewell is in the above list, which is situationally more powerful as well). Meanwhile cards like Zacama, Atraxa, Ulamog and Ugin are nearly interchangeable - the text barely matters since it's effectively "if this spell resolves / if you have the mana to cast this spell, you win". But there are some spells that are not replaceable. These are:

  • Circuitous Route. Important because it's the only ramp spell that can tutor Baldur's Gate, which is the most important land in the deck. Compensated for by running more alternative ramp spells.
  • Primeval Titan. A significant loss, since it can tutor both Maze's End and Baldur's Gate. No way around this one, sadly. It means your Maze's End win is less consistent.
  • Various sideboard bullets (e.g. the graveyard hate artifacts).

The deck builder evidently thought the tradeoff is worth it. Whether or not it really is worth it will take serious playtesting, and in all likelihood, will depend on what decks are in the meta & how they're sideboarding vs. you.

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