Goblins. Every day, these poor, brave creatures of Pauperland are being mistreated, and misunderstood, and misplayed. For as little as six tickets, you can help. Start goblin abuse today.
For reference, pauper is a Magic format where the only legal cards are commons, and the object of the game is to play as many 1/1s as possible, a task which goblins are ideally suited for. For whatever reasons, many other decks still get played, making the format as diverse as the Confederacy and almost as inequitable. In case you aren’t familiar with all the exciting ways to lose to goblins (and in case CF writers get paid by the decklist), here’s what we’re trying to beat (more frequently).
The Goblins, the Bad, and the Ugly
The Scroll Wheel Exercise Program
All these decks are pre-Mercadian Masques, the biggest impact of which is probably to reduce Invigorate’s price. Expect to see massive amounts of variation between similar decks.
UBR Goblinshot (Nighthavk_)
Mono-Red Warrens (deluxeicoff)
(Okay, that’s actually Jeremy Neeman’s 9-1 Modern list from PT: Philadelphia, but fix the lands, add some lotus petals and you’re pretty much there. Here’s a real one.)
UR Warrens (SKK)
Izzet Post (MysticNinjaGoemon)
White Weenie (AndreyS)
Goblins (that’s us! or in this case, Digwen)
Finally, we get to a real deck! Just look at all those majestic 1/1s, the envy of Kobolds the world over! Okay, so the rest of the field is doing stuff like dropping 4/4s for 0 and poisoning people out with Invigorate, and maybe our tribal synergy consists of taking more damage from Sparksmith and turning our creatures into 1/3 of a Giant Growth. But at least we have good burn and a few undercosted creatures! If you looked at this list and thought “man, we should sacrifice some of that insane power for more consistency,” then congrats! I think we’d be friends if I wasn’t too risk averse to form meaningful relationships. Unfortunately, figuring out the best way to do that (change the list and be my friend) is helped by a bit of background, which means we need to take another detour from the best deck ever made.
More Stuff You Can Skip If You Know About Pauper
There’s A Sweet Decklist Soon, I Promise!
A few months ago, familiar storm was the deck to beat, being incredibly resilient and rolling over any deck that couldn’t manage a regular turn 4 kill. Land-untapping mistakes from Urza’s block, combined with [card sunscape familiar]Sunscape[/card]/Nightscape Familiars and [card azorius chancery]Ravnica karoos[/card] into a Temporal Fissure meant that you’d be facing 90% of their deck without any permanents of your own anytime past that, if not sooner. Unsurprisingly, this stagnated the format. Then, all of a sudden, everything changed. Everything pauper-related. Okay, only three things pauper-related, but they definitely changed. Kinda.
First, LSV (aka lsv) released a couple of pauper videos with an UR cloudpost deck (Part 1 and Part 2). Versions of the deck had been around before, but the videos resulted in about half the meta being his deck (along with more Rolling Thunders for zero and fizzled Capsizes than you could count). It didn’t actually beat familiar storm like it was designed to, but it quickly made up half the field. Even though its numbers have dwindled and the build has changed, izzet post has been popular ever since.
A few weeks later, NPH came out online, bringing Glistener Elf and Gitaxian Probe with it. Mono-green infect officially became a deck and Empty the Warrens officially became a 56-card deck with higher storm counts and perfect information. Unlike familiar storm, though, these decks are disruptable and play about as fair as possible for rarely goldfishing past turn 3.
At the same time, Frantic Search was banned, familiar storm became bad, and small, woodland creatures spontaneously burst out in song. The format was still extremely stagnant, but now this was only from apathy. Pauper doesn’t exactly have Pro Tour-level events (though it’s the obvious next step for Worlds), so there’s not a huge incentive to break the format. You can, however, make an average profit higher than the cost of your deck every time you play a daily, and get the same qualifier points you would with a 300-ticket deck, so for the rest of us, that’s something.
Back to business.
Yes, I’m Really 24-6 With This
Now we’re really getting somewhere! A 1/1 that gets even more 1/1s? It’s like a Squadron Hawk for only 3! Much better than a 3/3 for 2. We don’t need all those legacy playables either. See, the dirty little secret of this list is that it’s a control deck in disguise. Those 4th turn kills are just the disguise working really well. (What else is a mountain but a fully-grown island? It’s all very zen.) The only deck that’s happy going into the late game with you is cloudpost. Yes, you are the second best control deck in the format. Mono-blue and mono-black have tried to fix this by putting “control” right in their names but unlike your disguise, this doesn’t work. Most of the time, your lategame overpowers theirs. And when you don’t, it’s probably because you’re also the beatdown and you killed them too fast. Even without the extra burn n’ beef, this build runs over any deck that falters or misses land drops in the early turns. Still, those easy wins are like taking candy from a stranger: exciting at first, but ultimately disappointing. We don’t need that sort of luck. In case you’ve forgotten, we have 1/1s.
Familiar storm dropping out of the scene makes our lategame plan possible and the extra burn and early game explosiveness has lost its luster as the format has changed. We no longer care about doing an extra 3-10 damage between Bolts and Fireblasts after a Temporal Fissure. Even when we want to be fully aggressive, any creature can represent a quick 2 to the dome with a Bushwhacker or an unactivated Cohort while still forcing an answer from your opponent.
Chain Lightning is versatile and powerful enough to warrant a couple slots, mostly since good blockers are very bad for you, but it’s hands-down the worst card in the deck. Compared to Lightning Bolt, you lose the ability to block and bolt a 4 toughness creature, respond to Spellstutter triggers, respond to discard effects, respond to eot blue spells, respond to pump effects, respond to Tendrils, respond to Echoing Decay, respond to Staggershock, stop Ninja of the Deep Hours, respond to Prismatic Strands, respond to Benevolent Bodyguard, play it during your opponent’s upkeep, play it eot, and you’ll occasionally feel really awkward when your opponent has Mountains. On the other hand, you can kill your own Lifestaff-carrying Arsonist and feel rather clever! Mise!
As for the [card mogg flunkies]Flunkies[/card], infect gets crushed by any build of goblins too easily for us to notice but its presence in the metagame makes the non-combo decks pack more cheap answers at the cost of late-game gas or consistency. Even MUC does what it can with additional bounce. Flunkies, a risky turn 2 play in the best of times, get stranded more often now or just eats removal that would otherwise go to a more expendable creature. “Dies to removal” is perfectly valid when they either have it or are dead to your horde anyway. What’s more, izzet post has a lot of trouble playing multiple pieces of removal a turn due to specific mana issues. They’re happy to see us playing one spell a turn too. It’s time these guys got passed.
The extra Mountain is a very big deal, despite a big selling point of the previous version being its threat density. It’s big enough that the Matrons were added mostly to support the 18th land, rather than the other way around. First, the sideboard options are almost all very mana intensive where we’d want another land in our 75 anyway. Many of the costs are also deceptive. Remember that we often need to be playing creatures to activate our cohorts. Even with our 1-drops, keeping mana open for a Seismic Shudder or Martyr activation requires 3 lands; same for Bushwhacker with Pyroblast protection or a Flaring Pain, and that’s assuming we’ve already binned it for 2 more mana. Death Spark effectively takes 2 mana/turn for full value, Lifestaff takes 1-2/turn. Gorilla Shaman kills an extra land for each of yours before getting killed (or if he doesn’t die, you’re not complaining about mana flood anyway). Second, the deck really is as good as I say it is. Even if it makes our average draws worse (it doesn’t), it makes our draws more average.
The maindeck Martyrs are there for the same reason. We were never capable of racing a warrens deck in the first place, and while ubr goblinshot’s new Probes, combined with Sign in Bloods occasionally makes our damage output more relevant by forcing them to go off earlier, the added consistency makes the old Plan A of chanting “fizzle” even worse. Perhaps most importantly, the information from Probe lets them see whether we have burn and/or bushwhacker, telling them how long they can wait to go off. Besides, every control deck wants a wrath.
Please Stop Doing That
Death Spark is by far the hardest card in pauper to play correctly. There’s no straight-forward answer to when you should buy it back or how best to cover it with a creature. Fortunately, determining out when it’s okay to bury your Death Spark under a non-creature is easy: never. Seriously. Stop doing this. Unless it’s right to. Which it isn’t. Death Spark is your Ancestral Recall and your Jace, the Mind Sculptor, only better because those cards might bury Death Spark. Death Spark is the true heart of the deck and the only reason we don’t play a full set is because it’s too good in the match-ups it’s good in for us to need more. The only thing better than a 1/1 in play is a 1/1 on top of a Death Spark, a mental image which makes me wish rule 34 would keep up the pace. The exceptions to this rule (the one about burying your Death Spark) are when you’d either win or lose the game immediately, or when you’re holding another Death Spark. Aside from that, I’ve only ever once buried my Death Spark intentionally (implied shame) and it was questionable when I did. In match-ups like izzet post, where drawing Death Spark doesn’t automatically win you the game, those extra pings still matter. You do most of your damage one by one. Forget what I said about Ancestral Recall. When you’re reduced to swinging with a lone Goblin Sledder, it’s only a Time Walk. If you have Bolts and a Death Spark in hand, sometimes you’ll have to bolt 1-toughness creatures so that you don’t end up in an awkward situation later. I’m sure people will come up with other justifications for burying a Death Spark in the comments. As long as they don’t do it in games, I’m fine with that.
Here’s a situation from a game I watched recently.
MUC vs Goblins (game 2)
MUC: Island, Delver of Secrets, pass.
Gobs: Mountain, Death Spark the Delver, pass.
MUC: Island, pass.
Gobs: Mountain, Goblin Cohort.
MUC: [card spellstutter sprite]Spellstutter[/card] the Cohort.
Gobs: Pyroblast the Sprite.
This is why people are only winning 60% of their matches with goblins. That’s even worse than Tempered Steel at Worlds!
Even if your opponent shows you a Ninja of the Deep Hours with Force Spike protection, this play is still horribly, horribly wrong. One reason it’s wrong is that we can’t counter a pro-red faerie next turn: by far the strongest thing they can do against you. But even if that Pyroblast was a Lightning Bolt (bolt the faerie with the trigger on the stack) it’s still bad. Death Spark’s just that good. With an active spark, every creature you play for the rest of the game gets you an extra point of damage, countered or no, and you happen to be running an absurd number of creatures. How lucky! It also shuts down most of their creature base (Spellstutter, Cloud of Faeries, unflipped Delver, Pestermite), meaning that the game will go even longer and you’ll have even more time to spark them. Ever death sparked someone for 10? You will. Game 1 vs muc, the biggest problem with a starting hand of Death Spark, five lands, and any spell is knocking yourself out with an errant fist-pump.
Aside from letting your dorks fight above their weight class this is a list of common creatures that die to spark straight-up:
Chances are you didn’t look at the entire list because it’s long.
Bushwhacker costs 2, even though he can be countered by a Spellstutter for 1. I think it’s a glitch. Remember that you can use him for a hasted Sparksmith. This comes in handy more often than you’d think, since holding Bushwhacker is frequently correct anyway, either to wait for more goblins or to play around countermagic.
Paying the echo on Mogg War Marshal is generally correct. Your goal in life is to have as many goblins as possible. Anytime your opponent can’t stop you from building up your creature count, you’re in good shape. I know, I know, it feels like Christmas morning, running downstairs to open up your war marshal to find a whole new 1/1 inside, but sometimes you have to be patient. Rest assured, he’ll die soon enough.
Sledders are far better in practice than on paper. If you have 19 goblins and your opponent has 19 blockers, you can swing for zero. If you have 20 goblins and your opponent has 19 blockers, you can swing for 20. This is one of the many benefits of Sledders (and another argument against flunkies, who give the same +1/+1 as anyone else). Choosing whether to pump the Cohort being blocked by a Skyfisher or to go for it and sac him on an unblocked goblin is one of the harder parts of the deck and is mostly a matter of experience. Learn when you’ll be able to “burn” someone out with goblins. If they’re playing a deck with 1-point sweepers (Holy Light, Seismic Shudder, and to a lesser extent, Crypt Rats), you need to value your sledders highly and avoid combat with them.
Having Matron fetch another Matron is frequently good even with 3 lands and other spells you want to cast. The extra value is nice and your draws will give you more information about how you’d like to end the chain and/or more lands. If you’re constantly chumping an Atog with them, it might look like you’re accomplishing little, but you’re really trying to draw a Sparksmith or a War Marshal so that you can fetch the other and stabilize.
Sparksmith can be incredible, but he hurts to use. Especially in the WW match-up, you’ll often sandbag goblins so that you don’t leave yourself dead to a couple of [card guardian of the guildpact]GotG[/card] swings while taking down a squadron of hawks. Remember that you can respond to the trigger from a dying Marshal to save a point.
Almost any hand with a mountain is keepable on the draw. On the play, 1-landers are much more questionable, but a couple of 2/2s can easily swing that.
Recently, MUC has become much more aggressive, with creature-heavy lists featuring Delver of Secrets, turning an already good match-up into a joke. Death Spark completely wrecks them game 1 and only mostly wrecks them after that. Chances are, their only answer to a resolved Smith game 1 is bounce plus counterspell. Don’t attack with your Smith unless there’s no way he’ll die to a flashed-in faerie. Spellstutter is worth playing around (which Smith helps you do). All you have to do game 1 is keep them from getting insane value from Spellstutter and/or ninjas. Do that without getting mana-screwed and you’re on to game 2.
Post-board, things are a bit different, as they now have pro-red faeries. Pyroblasting one of them is sweet, but even if they resolve, playing a bunch of dudes then attacking with those dudes still works and Flaring Pain is hard to counter. I detest bad, limited answers like Flaring Pain, but MUC is so reliant on pro-red faeries that we’re fine having dead cards when they don’t draw any. Lifestaff just gives you more shots with sparksmith and makes racing you with pro-red faeries difficult, it’s just not good enough to hurt our creature count by bringing more than 2.
Again, we run over them. Let’s skip right to the board plan, as it explains a lot about this match.
Yup, all the staves come in. Occasionally, you’ll get to discard them to a Wrench Mind, trade up for a 2/2, or make your last 1/1 a bit of a threat but that’s not why they’re there. Essentially the only way most builds can actually kill you is by Corrupting/Crypt Ratting you to death. With the lifegain from staves, you quickly move out of reach and can literally deck them if you want. Once you’ve drawn a Death Spark, which they give you plenty of time to do, you topdeck far better than them. It’s not like their discard abilities are terribly useful in topdeck mode, so you’re not in trouble without a spark either. Play around Crypt Rats a bit, but without an unearth, they aren’t even amazing against you since they’re usually getting popped for 1 on turn 4 as mbc desperately tries to lose in the lategame. A Sledder and a War Marshal means they’re lucky to even 1-for-1 you like that. Tendrils is horrible against you post-board, even if they clear your sledders. Pre-board, it at least gives them more time to draw Corrupts and helps them survive their own Crypt Rats, but expensive 1-for-1s are not the way to beat goblins. I’ve started to think that current MBC builds are even better for you than infect, which says something. (Specifically, it says that you should be playing goblins.)
The warrens decks all play similarly, but not identically. They’re also far and away your worst match-up. The UBR version creates huge storm counts, so don’t expect to deal with their 1/1s head to head. Grapeshot is still a much weaker win condition than warrens, needing two copies and a strong storm count to kill you in all but the most extreme circumstances. Even with it around, you still want to see a Martyr, but holding her is much better than trying to keep mana open as a single Grapeshot will easily kill her through sledders.
Matroning for a bushwhacker is sweet, but it ties up your mana too much and they’re planning on killing you by turn 3 anyway. Ideally, Pyroblasts get used on Ideas Unbound, but if a Ponder or Preordain is convenient, counter it. They often bring in Duress, anticipating Seismic Shudder, so take your opportunities where you get them. If you’ve shown them a Martyr game 1 or game 2 (and they’re paying any attention), this is less likely.
Unlike UBR, UR warrens can’t win through a martyr. A typical list has zero maindeck answers to her and will have to go off with warrens twice in order to win. Obviously, you should be mulliganing very aggressively. Go to 4 if you haven’t seen her. They will almost never fizzle, as they can just sit around sculpting their hand and don’t have to commit like UBR, so winning without a Martyr just doesn’t happen. They are capable of rebuilding for a second warrens if you clear the first one, especially if they run Gush, so don’t neglect your clock completely. Their storm counts are high, but not as high as UBR, meaning that you can survive an attack every once in a while, and occasionally even stabilize, just don’t count on it.
Same deal as UBR. Post-board, they will have Hydroblasts and usually some sort of pinger, like Lava Dart or Spark Spray, meaning that you want both a Martyr and a Sledder or Martyr and a Pyroblast. You can’t rely solely on Martyr this time around and should hold her if you can’t protect her.
Kiln Fiend is a nuisance but shouldn’t be much of a concern if they don’t have a full grip or a hand stacked with Manamorphose and Lava Darts. Their storm counts tend to be low enough that stabilizing after a warrens isn’t out of the question, particularly if they’ve had to use their pingers while hoping to draw it. They’re very good at killing Martyr but not so good at finding a Warrens, so I’ll happily keep a good 6 without Martyr here
This match goes long a surprising amount of the time, making Matron much better. Sometimes they martyr you, you martyr them, they ping your guys, you bolt their Kiln Fiend and you both sit around for a while. They might run Sledders of their own, so sandbag some red cards to fuel Martyr in the lategame.
Uh, if they attack with a [card rancor]Rancored[/card] [card ichorclaw myr]Ichorclaw[/card], don’t double-block with a Sparksmith and a Sledder? I mean, you’ll still win the match, but it’s just insulting. (Yes, this recently happened, and in the quarterfinals of a PE no less.) Anything with “spark” in the name is a soft-lock, your removal is cheap, and you have tons of blockers to force evasion. Every once in a while, you use up enough juice in the early game that you run out later on, but surviving until turn 3 means you’re pretty much set. Never attack with your Sparksmith so that you’ll have an extra activation for a well-protected creature. It’s also worth keeping your goblin count low (3 is a good number) if you have him out, just to preserve your life total. Mainphase your removal or cast it at the end of their turn to avoid getting smashed by a pumped creature for free.
If it weren’t for Matron, you’d be cutting all your bushwhackers. Doing so is fine regardless, but every once in a while, you attack. If they have Viridian Longbows in the board, you can cut a Conscript for a Shaman, but it’s not a big deal. Most people bring in Fog and/or Sandstorm against you, which is particularly hilarious when your first attack comes on turn 10. Just try not to run into them and look foolish. They’ll also try to Hornet Sting your Sparksmith, but you have 8 answers to that and it dilutes their deck enough that I’m not even sure if they’re right to bring in the stings.
This one’s pretty straight-forward. Their deck is very powerful and you’re cold to a nut-draw (as you would be with a more aggressive build) but their mana’s god-awful. Practically the only decision you have is figuring out if they have Condescend or not. Play around it when you can as it’s probably the second best card against you, after Firebolt, since it stops a dude and fixes their draws. Thankfully, it’s always pretty obvious if they have it. An opening like Island, Glimmerpost, pass is a dead giveaway that they’re holding countermagic or have a hand that’s bad enough that you’ll run them over even if you sandbag. If it’s a Prohibit or Mana Leak, they’ll have to counter your first 1-drop for that turn and you can play another or else they’re wasting more mana than you are while under pressure. If they don’t counter the first Matron, they probably won’t be countering the second, so just keep chaining them. Bushwhacker’s the other point of interest, but they usually have to tap out for card-draw once they’ve run out of burn, so you can just hold him until they do.
You don’t want any non-goblins around if they have Staggershock. If you’re sure they don’t, go ahead and cut your Death sparks for Gorilla Shamans. Also keep in mind that they take ages to win and you can bring in Lifestaves if they’re low on time and you want to be irritating…which I do. Having their decklist helps a lot, since the things you most want to Pyroblast will be either Sea Gate Oracle, Steamcore Weird, or hard-cast Mulldrifters, which tend to be mutually exclusive so you don’t need to keep mana open for all of their curve. Also be aware that if they pass with 4 mana up, they’re telegraphing a Teachings. Countering that will set them way back as well, but you want to be sure they’re fetching burn and not something blue.
Somehow, white weenie manages to be clunky while still being mono-color. Being mid-range, their creatures are typically better than yours but they get many awkward draws where they miss a fourth land or can’t develop their board enough to sit on Prismatic Strands. If they do get set up, Strands is brutal and can stop all your typical Bushwhacker/Sledder shenanigans.
Squadron Hawk‘s their biggest game-changer pre-board as he lets them out-creature you and reduces their risk of flood. Death Spark’s a reasonable answer, but slow, and even Sparksmith has trouble killing them all without killing yourself. Razor Golem is also a major issue as he’s beefy and an excellent racer. Blocking him is rough when they might have Strands, but the damage from letting him through hurts potential smithing. [card guardian of the guildpact]GotG[/card] is also a problem, but he’s expensive and can’t play both sides of the court like golem can. Watch out for [card kor skyfisher]Skyfishers[/card] picking up creatures with etb effects. You want to clock them out often enough that 8 life from a Lone Missionary will ruin your day.
Despite this, you’re usually favored game 1, at least on the play. They don’t have many answers to smith, you’re much faster than them, and they really need to hit a bare minimum of 3 lands without flooding (or flood and draw a Hawk).
Lifestaff vs. raider is debatable. They attack your life total enough that I like having a staff around, but too many is just asking for trouble, at least on the play. Chances are they’re bringing in strands even if they maindeck some, so it’s a reasonable assumption that they’ll have it. The big concern is Crimson Acolyte—by far the worst card in pauper for goblins outside of (maybe) Empty the Warrens. He comes down fast, can protect everyone, gives their team great alpha strike potential, and Flaring Pain doesn’t trump him the way it trumps Strands. Good players will avoid blocking with him when they can, but we’re playing pauper, so you can expect him to jump in front of a goblin without a second thought.
Sometimes you’ll see Standard Bearers and/or Benevolent Unicorns, both of which are almost certainly worse than whatever they’re taking out. Just don’t try to use sledders with the bearers around (or be sneaky and make them give it pro-red) and maybe save a bolt for the unicorn.
Their guys are way bigger than yours, but your deck’s way more consistent. Game 1, you win by either getting in good damage early on, by setting up a Sparksmith, or by their deck imploding. You’ll need to handle the smith carefully as they have great burn between [card disciple of the vault]Disciple[/card], Fling, Galvanic Blast (meaning they’re capable of lowering your goblin count below lethal in response to the activation) and Smithing 4/4s or chipping away at an Atog eats a lot of health. This means you’ll have to chump much earlier than you would otherwise and manage your goblin count carefully. With an active Smith, the 4 life from a chump-block is effectively as good as a trade. Help their mana-issues out by killing Frogmites (effectively a mana source for Myr Enforcer) and anything that’s operating a Springleaf Drum.
The Krark-Clan Shaman/Goblin Sledder interaction is interesting. Let’s say you have 6 1/1s. If you pump your whole team up to 2/2, they’ll just put another trigger on the stack, forcing you to sac at least one guy you’ve already pumped. If you just pump 1 or 2 guys, they can let it resolve, wasting your potential pumps. Estimate how far they’ll be willing to go with him, use the opportunity to kill their 4/4s with bolts or sparks, and bring out your pen and paper.
Shaman and Sparksmith win you a huge fraction of your games here. Lifestaff buys you time for them, gives you more activations of Sparksmith, is amazing in combat, and can keep them from stealing games with fling. I keep one Death Spark for Disciples and combat, but it’s poor in the early game and affinity’s explosiveness is the biggest concern. I dislike Bushwhacker because of that and his inability to make your creatures trade up against anything but a Frogmite, but he’ll steal many games from their awkward starts and hasting a Sparksmith is excellent. Ideally, you get to play around Hydroblast with Shaman and can hold him until he’ll do massive damage even if he doesn’t stick around. Red’s their most important color, followed by blue, then green.
For the sake of brevity (and personal gain, but mostly brevity), I’m not going to go into the mirror in detail here. It really deserves its own article, but the bullet points are that it’s extremely skill-intensive, Death Spark’s insane, you need to play fast to avoid timing out, and you want to be on the draw . On a related note, winning >80% of the time is very doable here, particularly with my build.
Post-board, this match-up is about Death Spark and Lifestaff. Shaman is the only real surprise you bring in, but he pops Lifestaff and occasionally will even bury their Death Spark with it. All the cuts might be surprising too, and I think there might actually be a mind-game involving how many bushwhackers you keep, but in short, it’s complicated and this is only my typical board plan against typical builds.
Dear gob, that was long. Put your questions, adulation, and poorly written insults in the comments.
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