Bolt Test and Goblins

Art by Christopher Moeller

After reading the newest Modern Nexus article about the new Thalia and Lightning Bolt, I saw more application of the great Bolt Test definition that the author refined – Bolt testing my favorite tribe in my favorite format, the Modern Goblins.

Goblin deck in Modern is, at it’s core, a fair, linear and an aggressive deck that looks to win by turn 4 on the back of hasty creatures and reach. Currently popular versions of the deck include Atarka Goblins and 8-Whack. While it packs a full playset of Lightning Bolts itself, creatures in the deck are frequent targets of opponents bolts. Despite all goblins dying to bolt (not many with 4 or more toughness that are Modern viable), it’s a big difference if it’s Goblin Piledriver or Mogg Fanatic that catches the lightning. However, we have to bear in mind that goblin deck needs a critical mass of low cost threats to win, making spot removal weaker against goblins since it’s hard to play catch-up with 1-for-1 trades when goblin player spits two threats per turn. As a friend of mine said, goblin decks tend to overload opponents spot removal with redundancy and haste, but Bolt is still the best 1-mana answer against goblins.

Let’s look at the definition of Bolt Test by Sheridan Lardner of Modern Nexus:

The Bolt Test (refined definition)

1. “Does the creature die to Lightning Bolt at parity? If not, what is the resource difference?”
2. “Does the creature have a game effect even if it immediately dies to Bolt? If so, how valuable and reliable is the effect?”
3. “Does the creature take over the game if it is not Bolted? If so, how quick, consistent, and decisive is that impact?”
4. “If yes to any of the above, the creature might be playable in Modern.”

It would be long and pushed if I would have all the Goblins take the Bolt Test, so let’s focus on those that are not self-explanatory. Let’s look at some of the more popular options that are borderline playable and not considered the core of the deck, but before doing so, here is the generally accepted core of the deck:

4x Foundry Street Denizen 4x Legion Loyalist 4x Goblin Guide 4x Goblin Bushwhacker

3x Mogg War Marshal 3x Goblin Piledriver

4x Goblin Grenade 4x Lightning Bolt

This is taken from MTGSalvation, the place to talk about goblins, and that list leaves us with 19 lands and 15 flex slots which are usually filled with the following goblins. From the core, Bushwhacker and War Marshal are bolt proof, but others are not.

Mogg Fanatic

Mogg Fanatic

1. Yes, Fanatic dies to Bolt at parity, but it’s a bad bolt target and you are happy to see them target one. However, usually that means that the opponent is dropping Dark Confidant or some other relevant 1 toughness creature.
2. The effect is there, you either ping the opponent or snipe a creature, but it is always there, and it’s reliable, yet not that valuable all-around.
3. Well, no. There are not many goblins that take away the game by itself, and fanatic is merely a 1/1 for 1 mana that can ping on command. It’s a utility card that triggers Foundry Street Denizen, is a goblin, and helps with surging the Reckless Bushwhacker while keeping off mana dorks, infect creatures, Bobs and more.
4. Yes to 1 and 2, which is good enough for Mogg Fanatic to pass the bolt test, but we knew that already, didn’t we. I like to compare Fanatic to Cursecatcher in Merfolk decks, an often overlooked support creature with relevant creature type and ability that helps with the general plan of a deck.

Frenzied Goblin

1. Frenzied Goblin dies to bolt at parity.
2. There is no effect if bolted immediately.
3. There is no way Frenzied Goblin is a beater of your choice, yet it’s ability works towards deck’s goal, which is attack and hope for no blockers.
4. While it doesn’t look good on paper, Frenzied helps push thru blockers and provides a body for Bushwhackers (and triggers surge), so while it is playable, it’s far from reliable and consistent since you have to attack and pay mana to use the ability.

Goblin Wardriver

1. Wardriver dies to Bolt and costs two mana, one more than the dreaded spell, therefore the resource difference is 1.
2. No effect whatsoever if bolted immediately.
3. This is a tricky question since goblins are a synergy based deck, but Wardriver is more than able to take the game away with his Battle Cry, especially when going wide.
4. Bolting a Wardriver is good for the bolting player, and while it’s upside is good, there are better options at two mana that are better against the bolt.

Goblin Chieftain

Goblin Chieftain

1. Dying to bolt when costing 3 mana is quite a blow, and losing Chieftain to Bolt is a tempo disaster.
2. Chieftain has haste and pumps your whole team, but only when he’s on the board, so the effect is valuable if you get to swing with him and the team. However, it’s not the most reliable effect, and losing the lord during combat can lead to awkward situation and unfavorable blocks.
3. Having a Goblin Chieftain on board for a few turns is a game-winning situation, and it’s consistent and quick, but fragile to removal.
4. While strong on it’s own and even better with the team, it’s a bit too slow and dies to everything, so usually goblin players rather go even faster, lower to the ground with Bushwhackers and/or Atarka’s Commands.

Reckless Bushwhacker

1. Dies to bolt and costs either two or three mana.
2. When Surged, Reckless Bushwhacker grants +1 / +0 and haste when he enters the battlefield. However, when hardcasted, it’s a 2/1 haster for 3mana while leaving a lot to desire.
3. Bushwhacker is a finisher that leaves a body, not a stand-alone creature, but yes, he can win games on the spot.
4. As long as you surge Reckless Bushwhacker, you are getting your value immediately and the goblin becomes bolt proof, but the casting restriction is not to be overlooked and many players opt for some kind of a split with Atarka’s Command.

goblin-piledriver

Goblin Piledriver

1. Fan favorite Piledriver dies to bolt with a tempo loss of 1 mana.
2. No effect whatsoever if bolted immediately.
3. Piledriver wins games, especially when paired with haste creatures or haste enables, or something like Legion Loyalist. Yet again, it’s a team player and not the best beater on it’s own, but when paired with friends, Piledriver has to be answered or it’s game.
4. Despite the tempo disadvantage when bolted, Piledriver brings a lot to the table and is a removal magnet, helping other goblins to get thru. Do play at least few in the 75.

Spike Jester

1. Dies to everything, including bolt on a tempo loss of one mana.
2. Spike Jester is a 3 power haster that costs two mana, so he brings that to the table the turn he enters, but is soft against blockers. However, if bolted immediately, he does nothing. Again, the effect is valuable but not the most reliable one.
3. However, it’s a threat that can win the game on it’s own, faster than many a goblin.
4. Playable, splashable, but not a core of the deck.

Warren Instigator

1. Lackey on steroids dies to bolt while costing two mana.
2. No effect whatsoever if bolted immediately.
3. In a dream scenario, “Winstigator” can deploy (cheat) up to two goblins on turn 3, but that’s hard to achieve with all the removal and creatures running around. It can take over the game quickly, but it’s not as consistent since it relies on goblins in your hand.
4. It’s a no-go for aggro goblins and you would be better served if you pack Piledrivers, Spike Jesters and Mogg War Marshals, as there are no goblins you would like to cheat into play on turn 3.

Goblin Rabblemaster

Goblin Rabblemaster

1. One of the newest aggro goblins does die to bolt and at 3 mana casting cost, it’s a bad trade for the goblin.
2. No effect whatsoever if bolted immediately (not even a token if you’re up against a half-decent player).
3. Rabblemaster wins games on it’s own; quickly and consistently. It does 15 points of damage in three turns after coming in the play, starting with 1, 6 and 8 per turn.
4. As it stands, Rabblemaster might be one of the best Goblin beaters in the game, but is extremely fragile to removal and blockers while costing 3 mana, which is a lot in a mana-intensive Modern.

Ember Hauler

1. Hauler trades with bolt unfavorably, but has an upside similar to Mogg Fanatic of being a bad target if there is any mana left.
2. Depends if there is open mana or not: it can vary from do nothing to shocking, but either way it’s a 2/2 for 2 with an upside.
3. Ember Hauler is a mediocre beater and usually doesn’t win the game on it’s own. It used to be played in modern goblins back in the days before the (re)printing of Spike Jester, Foundry Street Denizen, Legion Loyalist and Goblin Piledriver.
4. Too many variables to be reliable and demands you to hold up mana while not bringing much else to the table.

The point is that goblins die to removal all the time, but there is a difference if that removal is Maelstrom Pulse targeting a single Mogg War Marshal, or Lightning Bolt killing a Piledriver or Chieftain, or even something like Pyroclasm sweeping your side of the battlefield. Sweepers you can play around, but targeted removal will always be a problem if you are short on goblins in hand, so the best way to beat spot removal is to go wide with “worthless” creatures with only a few juicy but cheap targets like Foundry Street Denizen, Goblin Guide, Legion Loyalist, Goblin Piledriver, Spike Jester or, to some extent, Goblin Chieftain. Cards like Mogg Fanatic, Mogg War Marshal, tokens and Bushwhacker brothers are all bolt proof in a way that you don’t mind if they die to it. The sum is greater than it’s parts, and that’s exactly what goblin deck is about: small, hasty and fragile creatures that smash face all the time, with Bolt and Goblin Grenade backup. Frankly, modern Goblin deck is made of Lightning Bolt, Goblin Guide and Goblin Grenade enablers, that’s how good grenade is.

Until next time, stay hasty!

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