Goblin Ringleader Has Revolutionized Modern Goblins

Last week, to prepare for text coverage at next weekend’s Mythic Championship IV in Barcelona, I made a spreadsheet overview of all Modern decklists from major events since the ban of Bridge from Below.

I used a point system to rank decks based on popularity and performance, and most of the archetypes that appeared in the Top 10 were well-known Modern staples: Humans, Izzet Phoenix, Eldrazi Tron, W/U Control, Jund, Burn, etcetera.

But there was also a surprising newcomer: Goblins. Multiple players put up 5-0 league finishes on Magic Online in the last two weeks, indicating that the reprint of Goblin Ringleader in Core Set 2020 was the final piece of the puzzle that the Goblin tribe needed to become a legitimate competitive Modern strategy.

Goblin Ringleader

I already wrote about the history of Goblins when Dominaria brought back Skirk Prospector and Goblin Warchief. While these reprints were not quite enough to push Goblins into Modern competitive territory, the recent reprinting of Goblin Matron and Goblin Ringleader has brought back the core that has made the Goblin tribe so successful in past formats.

There is no consensus on the best build. To add to the discussion, let me share the latest list that I have built and played.

Modern Goblins

2 Blood Crypt
4 Auntie's Hovel
4 Cavern of Souls
4 Mountain (343)
1 Swamp (339)
4 Bloodstained Mire
1 Blackcleave Cliffs
1 Field of Ruin
1 Sunbaked Canyon
4 Skirk Prospector
1 Knucklebone Witch
4 Munitions Expert
4 Mogg War Marshal
1 Warren Instigator
2 Goblin Piledriver
4 Goblin Matron
4 Goblin Warchief
4 Goblin Ringleader
2 Sling-Gang Lieutenant
1 Pashalik Mons
1 Krenko, Mob Boss
1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
4 AEther Vial
1 Tarfire

3 Leyline of the Void
2 Thoughtseize
2 Blood Moon
1 Goblin Chainwhirler
1 Goblin Cratermaker
1 Warren Weirding
1 Goblin Trashmaster
1 Earwig Squad
1 Stingscourger
1 Goblin Ruinblaster
1 Zo-Zu, the Punisher

How consistent is Goblin Ringleader?

Suppose you remove one Goblin Ringleader from the deck and put its ability on the stack. Given that my list has 33 other Goblins (including Tarfire!) we get the following probability distribution:

  • 0 Goblins: 3.3%
  • 1 Goblin: 18.9%
  • 2 Goblins: 37.7%
  • 3 Goblins: 31.2%
  • 4 Goblins: 9.0%

The expected number of Goblins you will hit with Goblin Ringleader is 2.24. That’s good value for a creature that Warren Instigator or Aether Vial could put onto the battlefield for “free.”

And nearly half of the time, you’ll hit another Goblin Ringleader or a Goblin Matron, which allows you to keep the chain going.

Why 4 Skirk Prospector?

Skirk Prospector

Many of the lists I’ve seen have almost no one-drop creatures, and instead run an abundance of one-ofs for Goblin Matron.

While I like one-ofs—heck, I’ve played a Singleton deck at a Pro Tour before—you shouldn’t overdo it, especially when Goblin Matron will fetch Goblin Ringleader most of the time anyway. I mean, how often are you going to tutor for cards like Goblin Cratermaker, Earwig Squad, or Goblin Trashmaster in Game 1? I prefer to put those silver bullets in my sideboard to make room for a smoother mana curve in my main deck.

I believe that you should run at least 10 one-mana cards in a deck like this and that Skirk Prospector is the best one-drop apart from Aether Vial. Turning Goblin tokens or spare Matrons into mana helps cast the spoils from Goblin Ringleader, and using Skirk Prospector as a one-shot accelerant for a turn-2 Goblin Warchief can substantially speed up your damage clock as well. Likewise, a turn-2 Blood Moon after sideboarding can steal a game.

To round out the number of one-drops that I wanted, I have a singleton Tarfire and a singleton Knucklebone Witch. I would have included Goblin Guide if this had been a pure aggro deck, but Goblins is more of a synergy-driven midrange deck that can grind out opponents until it assembles a winning board state. Knucklebone Witch fits that strategy better than Goblin Guide.

How to beat Ensnaring Bridge?

Ensnaring Bridge

Many Modern decks have access to Ensnaring Bridge, either via Whir of Invention or for Karn, the Great Creator. So any creature deck needs a plan to beat it.

Fortunately, Goblins can easily win without attacking, often by setting up a “combo kill” with Sling-Gang Lieutenant and Pashalik Mons. Figuring out the exact sequence, especially when you need Skirk Prospector or Goblin Matron to set it up, can be quite the puzzle. But if you enjoyed the types of math-driven board states that Hardened Scales could produce, then Goblins could offer a new challenge.

How to beat Plague Engineer?

Plague Engineer

Plague Engineer is a powerful new sideboard option against tribal decks. Given that Goblins is based around 1/1 tokens, Plague Engineer is a particularly strong against us. But it’s not unbeatable.

One answer is to get two 2-toughness creatures onto the battlefield so that you can ping Plague Engineer with Munitions Expert. Another way to get rid of it is by tutoring for Tarfire or Goblin Cratermaker with Goblin Matron. Goblin Chieftain, which I had in an earlier version before it got cut for mana curve reasons, is also a good option.

How to sideboard?

It’s usually fairly obvious what to board in, but deciding what to board out can be more difficult. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Against decks without relevant targets (such as most control or combo decks) you can board out Munitions Expert and Tarfire.
  • Against grindy decks with good removal and blockers, you can board out some amount of Warren Instigator and Goblin Piledriver.
  • In non-grindy matchups where speed is of the essence, you can board out a few Mogg War Marshal.
  • If you are unsure, you can typically cut some of the one-ofs in the main deck, especially when you’re bringing in other tutor targets.
  • When I bring in multiple noncreature spells on the play, I often board out an Aether Vial.
  • On the draw, you can often cut a land. Field of Ruin can go if you’re not playing against a deck like Tron.

Is Goblins going to do well at Mythic Championship IV?

After playing the deck in leagues, I consider Goblins to be a fun new addition to competitive Modern. You could legitimately take it to a Modern Grand Prix and realistically make Day 2. And I am excited about the resurgence of such a nostalgic tribe.

But this that doesn’t mean that I view it as a top-tier competitive deck that you can expect to win a large tournament with. I don’t expect the tribe to make a deep run in Mythic Championship IV, as my honest impression is that Goblins is still lacking some power, speed, and interaction to compete at the very top tier.

Maybe we’ll have to wait for the reprint of Goblin Lackey. (Okay, that’s never happening.) Maybe more tuning is required to find an optimal build. Maybe someone at the Mythic Championship will prove me wrong. But until then, let’s all rejoice in the fact that Goblin Ringleader is legal once again.

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