The Return of Goblins

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Dominaria brings back three of the best Goblins ever:

These reprints are pretty exciting for people who remember the power of Goblins during the Onslaught era, especially given that Skirk Prospector and Goblin Warchief have never been legal in Modern before. Today, I’ll go over the history of Goblins in competitive Magic and I’ll offer some Dominaria-based ideas on where to take the tribe in Standard, Modern, and Legacy.

The History of Goblins

Goblins had been part of Magic since Alpha, but they had little impact on the competitive landscape until the release of Onslaught block in 2002. In the years before, you would see an occasional Goblin here and there—Paul Sligh’s mono-red deck from 1996 ran two Goblins of the Flarg to fill out its newly introduced mana curve concept, and David Price’s Pro Tour winning deck from 1998 used Mogg Raider, Mogg Conscripts, and Mogg Fanatic—but Goblins didn’t have a big impact on the tournament scene before the first real tribal block.

Standard Goblin Bidding

Wolfgang Eder, Top 8 at the 2003 World Championships

This deck, built almost exclusively out of Onslaught block cards, is a good example of what a Standard Goblin deck looked like in 2003. Skirk Prospector and Goblin Warchief made for some super explosive draws, and after a turn-2 Goblin Warchief you could actually kill on turn 3 via multiple Goblin Piledrivers.

Patriarch’s Bidding wasn’t adopted by everyone, but the black splash offered the potential for an instant win when combined with Skirk Prospector and Goblin Sharpshooter. Add Siege-Gang Commander, and the math puzzle would be complete.

At the 2003 World Championships, the Standard card pool did not contain Goblin Lackey, Goblin Recruiter, Goblin Ringleader, or Goblin Matron. But these cards were legal in Extended, a rotating format that has since been replaced with Modern. Roughly speaking, it included sets from the past six years at the time, and Goblin decks abusing these cards overperformed at the Extended portion of the 2003 World Championships.

In particular, Goblin Lackey’s ability to put Siege-Gang Commander into play for free was deemed too strong for a 1-drop, and it was promptly banned. But several months later, players showed that even without the Lackey, the Goblin tribe still had enough good tools.

Extended Food Chain Gobvantage

Grgur Petric, 18th at Pro Tour New Orleans 2003

This particular list included two combo angles: Food Chain and Goblin Charbelcher. Goblin Charbelcher turns into an instant win after you put 20 Goblins on top with Goblin Recruiter. And Food Chain was just the perfect complement to Goblin Ringleader: You could sacrifice Goblin Ringleader for 5 mana, which in turn allowed you to play what you got, and if you found another Ringleader or a Goblin Matron in your top 4, you could keep going until you found Warchief and Piledriver to attack for lethal.

Goblin Recruiter basically acted as a single-card combo, as you could stack a sequence of Goblin Ringleaders on top and then cast over a dozen Goblins on the next turn. It didn’t take long for Goblin Recruiter to be banned from Extended as well.

One year later, Legacy became a format with its own banned list. Although Goblin Recruiter was banned from the start, Goblin Lackey was allowed, and for several years Goblins was a top-tier deck in Legacy. Jonathan Sonne even won Grand Prix Philadelphia 2005 with a list that looked similar to the one above, with Goblin Lackey replacing Goblin Recruiter and with Aether Vial, Rishadan Port, and Wasteland instead of the noncreature spells. Even today, Goblin decks are still a minor part of the Legacy metagame, although Goblin Lackey got much less scary after Deathrite Shaman was printed.

But let’s return to 2006, where several Americans found a new use for Skirk Prospector.

Extended Dirty Kitty

Ben Stark, 2006 World Championship

The deck got its name from Scott Johns, who said that “it’s like watching a monkey wash a cat.”

Combining an aggro plan with a storm combo, the main innovations were Fecundity and a suite of ten rituals. These rituals fueled Empty the Warrens, whose Goblin tokens could be turned into more cards and more mana via Fecundity and Skirk Prospector. The deck would rarely run out of steam once it got going. With Fecundity and a Skirk Prospector out, Mogg War Marshal became Ancestral Recall and Black Lotus.

It was a pretty nifty engine, even if it didn’t really catch on. One year later at the Extended Pro Tour in Valencia, there were seven Goblin players in Day 2 (which uniquely took place on Sunday because the first day of play was canceled due to a flooding) but everyone ran Goblin Ringleader and Mogg Fanatic over the still-legal Fecundity and Empty the Warrens. And several Extended rotations later, the pool of available Goblins had changed considerably.

Extended Goblins

Bram Snepvangers, Pro Tour Amsterdam 2010

In 2010, Goblins from Onslaught block and before had rotated out, while newcomers like Goblin Guide, Warren Instigator, and Goblin Chieftain had been introduced. Although the departure of Onslaught block had slashed the metagame share of the Goblin tribe, several Dutch players still tried their luck with the above deck in their capital city, the site of the very last Extended Pro Tour.

Their deck had such unusual inclusions as Boartusk Liege to pump Warren Instigator and Earwig Squad to exile the namesake cards of Ad Nauseam or Living End, two popular combo decks at the time. As their deck tech aptly stated: “you can take the Goblins out of Extended… but there are always just more Goblins.” Which brings us to the present day, where Modern has replaced Extended.

Modern 8-Whack

starfall, 5-0 at an online Modern League on March 27, 2018

Named after Goblin Bushwhacker and Reckless Bushwhacker, this is what Goblins in Modern looked like before the release of Dominaria. The deck is super aggressive, trying to get as much early damage in as possible with cheap, hasty creatures. The Bushwhackers bring a bit of a combo feel, and the deck can also finish the game with Goblin Grenade or Lightning Bolt. Although some versions include Goblin Piledriver, Mogg War Marshal, and/or Goblin Chieftain, the only tribal payoff in the above list is Goblin Grenade.

And that brings us to the end of this historical overview. As you have seen, the most successful Goblin decks in Magic’s history weren’t all-in aggro decks—instead, most had late-game staying power and a potential combo finish. Now, let’s take a look at what Dominaria might have in store for Goblins in the three major Constructed formats.

Goblins in Post-Dominaria Modern

A natural first idea would be to slot the Dominaria Goblins into 8-Whack, the Goblin Grenade deck I just showed. But upon further inspection, they’re not a great fit. Goblin Warchief doesn’t reduce the cost of anything relevant, and Siege-Gang Commander is too expensive. Skirk Prospector might be better than Mogg Fanatic, but even that is doubtful because you’re not ramping into anything or exploiting the sacrifice in any way.

To really maximize Skirk Prospector, I think you either want to build around Fecundity or around a new infinite-damage combo.

Since the +1/+1 counter from Metallic Mimic cancels out against the -1/-1 counter from persist, these three cards yield infinite damage. With Mogg War Marshal as an “accelerant,” you can even get it out by turn 3.

Both the Fecundity approach and this Metallic Mimic angle are intriguing, but I decided to start brewing with the three-card combo because the floor on Metallic Mimic and Murderous Redcap is much lower than the floor on Empty the Warrens and Desperate Ritual. Without card selection in Goblin Matron, you can’t expect to go off reliably with either deck (even if you add Boggart Harbinger or Postmortem Lunge) and then I’d rather emphasize a strong aggro plan with an incidental combo. I’ll leave the Infernal Plunges and Battle Hymns for another day, although I do admit that a Temur Goblin Fecundity Storm deck with the on-tribe Goblin Electromancer excites me as a brewer.

Going back to the Mimic-Redcap combo, what would the advantage of such a deck be over Abzan Company? After all, Abzan Company could already run this combo with Viscera Seer instead of Skirk Prospector and has access Chord of Calling and Collected Company to increase consistency. In my view, if the Goblin deck is to be good, then it’ll largely be on the back of a more consistent mana base and a stronger aggro plan that clocks opponents more easily. And there is another angle, inspired by the Goblin Bidding decks from 2003.

Modern Goblin Rally

Frank Karsten

Rally the Ancestors is hard to abuse, but I think that Skirk Prospector makes it possible. The 1/1 puts creatures into your graveyard so that you can reuse their enters-the-battlefield abilities with Rally the Ancestors, and it ramps you up to the 7 mana required to recur Siege-Gang Commander. Also, thanks to Goblin Warchief and Goblin Chieftain, most of the time all rallied creatures have haste, which means that you can swing in for a surprise attack. Rally the Ancestors also gives you protection from removal or sweepers. Your opponents can use as many Lightning Bolts as they want on your combo pieces, but eventually Skirk Prospector, Metallic Mimic, and Murderous Redcap are going to return together.

The sideboard has some transformational capabilities for when you expect your opponent to bring in graveyard hate and you want to cut Rally the Ancestors. Turn two Blood Moon via Skirk Prospector, for example, could be devastating after you board out the white spells. Although this is merely an untested brew at this point, I’m interested in trying it out.

Goblins in Post-Dominaria Legacy

Remember Food Chain from the old Goblin Recruiter decks? Well, Dominaria provides a new infinite mana combo.

Now, I haven’t played a Legacy tournament in 10 years, so take the following list with a grain of salt, but here is how a deck based around what this combo might look like.

Legacy Food Chain Goblins

Frank Karsten

It’s surely not optimal, but my main aim with this list is to point out some of the possibilities after generating infinite Food Chain mana. For example, you can sacrifice Squee to Goblin Sledder an infinite number of times, converting your infinite Food Chain mana into infinite pumps. With Goblin Sharpshooter, it’s infinite damage even through a blocker. Alternatively, you can use Skirk Prospector to convert your Food Chain mana into regular mana and sacrifice the same Squee to Siege-Gang Commander an infinite number of times. He’s really immortal.

Goblins in Post-Dominaria Standard

It’s nice that we can now use Skirk Prospector to cast a turn-2 Goblin Warchief in Standard, but then what? Apart from Siege-Gang Commander, there are hardly any other playable Goblins Goblin Warchief can reduce the cost of. Goblin Trailblazer is mediocre at best. Hopefully Core Set 2019 brings more Goblins, but for now it’s probably best to focus on another 3-mana Goblin.

Goblin Chainwhirler deals with Llanowar Elves and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, and it’ll likely reduce the overall desirability of 1-toughness creatures in Standard. I’m confident it’s a good addition to Mono-Red Aggro, as long as your mana base contains the 22 red sources required to cast it with 90% consistency on turn 3.

But Goblin Chainwhirler also fits in another type of deck, together with Skirk Prospector.

Standard Mono-Red Gift

Tacofarmer, 5-0 at an Online Standard League on April 23, 2018

Skirk Prospector is the perfect enabler for Gate to the Afterlife. By putting creatures into the graveyard while providing mana to play more creatures, a turn-4 God-Pharaoh’s Gift becomes a realistic prospect. Skirk Prospector essentially replaces Minister of Inquiries from the U/R version, and by going mono-color you can support Goblin Chainwhirler as well. Siege-Gang Commander nicely synergizes with Skirk Prospector, and he might even give an encore as a black Zombie.

One major loss compared to the U/R version is Champion of Wits. Tacofarmer ran Rowdy Crew as a red alternative, but I would be more interested in trying out a few copies of The Flame of Keld. Discarding your hand could be an advantage with Gate to the Afterlife and Hazoret the Fervent, and the third chapter is amazing with Goblin Chainwhirler or Siege-Gang Commander.

In conclusion, the Goblins from Dominaria hold the potential to rekindle the tribe in pretty much every Constructed format. As we’ve seen throughout history, Skirk Prospector is particularly busted, and I’m thrilled that it is back.


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