So after traversing around all sorts of weird places like Mirrodin, Innistrad, and Kaladesh, Magic is finally going back to the home world: Dominaria. So what does that mean? That means it's time for some nostalgia! We get to revisit all of our old friends and events from the first decade or so of Magic's history!
Uh... Squee! ... I guess.
It also means leaving Gremlins, Moonfolk, and Aetherborn behind for some of Magic's most classic creature types:
And of course, Goblins!
While there's some new Goblins in Dominaria, what's got everyone talking is the return of some old friends:
We've seen Siege-Gang Commander somewhat recently (Magic 2010, to be precise), as it was a popular Standard card in Jund decks as well as the bizarre Boat Brew R/W decks, but Goblin Warchief and Skirk Prospector are newcomers to Modern and haven't been in Standard since their original printings. It was quite a long time ago, but all three cards were the cornerstone of the Standard Goblins deck in various forms, as well as being key pieces of both Extended and Legacy Goblins as well. As such they have quite the pedigree to live up to, but also the comfortable insulation of that pedigree against the growth and power creep of the last decade of Magic.
Older players know these cards as tournament staples, but they don't quite stack up to current Magic creatures or overall design principle.
In the days of Goblin Warchief and Skirk Prospector, creatures and threats in general were generally underpowered, both on rate and in that they were often reliant on synergy to be good. Just looking at some of the most powerful creatures of the time period makes that very clear. Wild Mongrel was the best two-drop in Magic for a very long time, partly due to its synergy with madness and flashback cards, while Noose Constrictor looked like a joke during its Standard run. Nantuko Shade required an insane commitment to black mana and Cabal Coffers, while Myr Enforcer required an entire deck full of artifacts.
Magic is quite a bit different now.
Not only are individual cards and threats much more powerful but because they are so powerful, decks cannot skimp on removal at all. Unless a deck has an extremely powerful linear plan, it absolutely must have an answer to Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, Winding Constrictor, Glorybringer, or heaven help you, The Scarab God. Threats are too powerful these days to be without a lot of removal spells in Standard.
Without significant help, Skirk Prospector and Goblin Warchief have almost zero chance at making any impact in Standard. The last time we saw a successful Standard tribal deck was Zombies, and that deck made it as a great battlefield control deck with good removal spells and card advantage. It took a critical mass of great Zombies and support spells for the deck to finally break through, and right now the support for Goblins is actually comical.
This is a comprehensive and complete list of all the Goblins currently legal in Standard:
Fanatical Firebrand has impressed and maybe Donald Smith would try and sell you on Wily Goblin, but good lord I wouldn't even want half these cards in my Draft deck. Not only are there barely enough playable Goblins to even fill a Standard deck, there's almost zero reason to actually want Goblins in your Standard deck. Siege-Gang Commander is already a good card by itself, Goblin Warchief giving anything but Siege-Gang Commander haste or cost reduction is basically worthless, and Skirk Prospector is embarrassing.
Without cards like Goblin Ringleader and Gempalm Incinerator that actually properly incentivize you to want to fill your deck with Goblins, there's just no reason to really get involved with the theme. Zombies worked because it had Cryptbreaker and Diregraf Colossus giving you great reasons to fill your deck with Zombies, and Dark Salvation and Liliana's Mastery provided a great payoff.
On rate alone Goblin Chainwhirler is very reasonable. A 3/3 first striker for three mana is quite the deal already, on top of having a relevant (cough cough) creature type. Throwing on the triggered ability is quite the amazing deal, as it can range from "kill your Llanowar Elves on turn 3" to "sweep away an army of 1/1 tokens," either of which is extremely powerful.
Make no mistake about it, Goblin Chainwhirler will be a defining card in the coming Standard format. Siege-Gang Commander may also have a place, although it has to compete with all the other amazing red four- and five-drops. However, Skirk Prospector and Goblin Warchief will sadly go the way of Goblin Piledriver - into the back pages of binders and longing for better days.
But Jim, What About Modern?!
With Goblins already being a popular fringe/budget archetype in Modern, surely the introduction of Goblin Warchief and Skirk Prospector, two tried and true Goblin cards, has to give it a shot in the arm right?
Honestly? Not really.
The "Eight Whack" decks that float around Modern are much more "All-In Sligh" decks rather than traditional "Goblin" decks, focusing more on just blitzing in for damage as fast as possible and finishing people off with a Goblin Grenade or two (it's always two).
Goblin Warchief hardly fits into a deck like this; half the creatures have haste anyway and very few of them would actually benefit from a cost reduction. Likewise, the only card in the deck that has any real synergy with Skirk Prospector is Mogg War Marshal. There isn't much need for extra mana and sacrificing battlefield presence for it is very against the deck's main plan.
When Goblin Piledriver was reprinted, people got very excited about the prospect of a "Goblins revival" in Modern. Naturally, with Goblin Warchief and Skirk Prospector now joining the party too, the excitement is returning again. "Is this it? Is this the thing that makes Goblins playable again?"
Sadly, the answer is a resounding no.
The two cards that made Legacy and Extended Goblins work for so many years are Goblin Matron and Goblin Ringleader (and to a lesser extent, Gempalm Incinerator). These are the cards that make the deck a lot like Standard Zombies was before: a creature-based deck that could be aggressive, but was much more focused in using synergy to generate card advantage and battlefield control.
I've said it a dozen times across dozens of articles, but Goblins is not a beatdown deck! Without these sources of card advantage and battlefield control, you end up with this:
- 4 Foundry Street Denizen
- 4 Goblin Bushwhacker
- 2 Goblin Chieftain
- 4 Goblin Guide
- 1 Goblin Heelcutter
- 2 Goblin Piledriver
- 4 Legion Loyalist
- 4 Mogg Fanatic
- 4 Mogg War Marshal
- 4 Reckless Bushwhacker
...which is essentially Magic's equivalent of a Starcraft 2 "zergling rush": shove all in on the first few turns and pray your opponent doesn't have an answer before you kill them, because I'll be damned if you can win a game that goes longer than six turns.
With that being said, what about something a bit less conventional?
The Dirty Kitty
History is a valuable teacher, most valuable of all when concerning impactful reprints.
While traditional Goblins does not seem plausible in Modern and neither new card seems to be a great fit for Zergling Rush Goblins, there's one old Goblin archetype we have not addressed: Combo Goblins. Check out this deck from the 2006 World Championship:
- 4 Goblin Matron
- 4 Goblin Piledriver
- 1 Goblin Sharpshooter
- 1 Goblin Sledder
- 4 Goblin Warchief
- 4 Mogg War Marshal
- 4 Skirk Prospector
While most Goblin decks would use Skirk Prospector to fuel cards like Goblin Ringleader and Siege-Gang Commander, there were a few Goblin-based combo decks that would use it as a powerful mana engine.
Any time you're drawing cards while generating mana, you're doing the most broken things you can do in Magic, and when you combine that with storm spells it's very obvious how quickly things can get out of hand. Goblins get exchanged into mana and cards, which turns into more Goblins, more mana, and more cards, until an Empty the Warrens gives you an almost limitless supply of both. At that point you can usually draw your entire deck and present a lethal attack any way you wish.
Billy's deck has a bit of a Goblin beatdown backup plan, with Goblin Warchief and Goblin Piledriver prominently on display, but Extended in that time period was a different world. Removal spells were far less common, and the best ones like Lightning Bolt, Fatal Push, and Path to Exile had not been printed yet. Goblin Warchief was much more likely to live, and the format was slower overall.
The good mana rituals are also banned in Modern, but we can make do with what we have.
This is a very rough first draft, but it goldfishes turn 4 pretty consistently (turn 3 on occasion), and the power of the engine is very prominent. It's also immune to both graveyard hate and artifact hate, unlike most of the format's fast combo decks.
The big loss is Goblin Matron, as when you can't find a Skirk Prospector it can be difficult to go off, but even then just trying to cast Empty the Warrens for 10-12 Goblins isn't a bad backup plan to have. I doubt this is what the deck will look like in its final form, but cards like Infernal Plunge and Manamorphose do add an interesting angle to the deck that was not there before.
There's something here and it's something powerful.
Hello, Old Friend
It's a little sad to see my old friends being paraded around in fancy new card faces and booster packs, only to end up in the unplayable section of binders, but perhaps there's hope yet. Regardless, you can bet I'll be experimenting with Fecundity Goblins in Modern as soon as I can get my hands on the cards on Magic Online, as however unenthusiastic I am about Goblins in Standard, I am equally excited about this new combo in Modern.