Current state of Modern Goblins

It has been a while since I played with my beloved Goblins but no new (re)printings and relatively hostile metagame gave me no reason to sleeve it up. Last time I went with the little greenskins was a few months ago and I was reminded how inconsistent the deck is, and that goes for both 8-Whack and Atarka Goblins.

But you never forget your first, so two days ago I bought the following deck for around 30 tix on MTGO to play some Modern leagues. It didn’t end well as I went 2-3 twice, but more on that later.

8-Whack Goblins by treach

Creatures (32)
Foundry Street Denizen
Goblin Bushwhacker
Goblin Guide
Legion Loyalist
Mogg Fanatic
Mogg War Marshal
Reckless Bushwhacker
Goblin Piledriver
Frenzied Goblin
Intimidator Initiate
Stingscourger

Instant (4)
Lightning Bolt

Sorcery (4)
Goblin Grenade
Lands (20)
20 Mountain

Sideboard (15)
Goblin Piledriver
Goblin Chieftain
Electrickery
Skullcrack
Smash to Smithereens
Shattering Spree
Molten Rain
Tormod’s Crypt

This type of a deck sprung to life after the printing of Reckless Bushwhacker and since its brother Goblin Bushwhacker is one of the best cards in Goblin decks, the new Surgewhacker slotted right into it as additional copies of the pseudo lord. Redundancy is a key for aggro decks, but with Atarka’s Command also an option, Modern Goblins branched into 8-Whack and Atarka Goblins.

Art by Kieran Yanner.

There are a few differences in the match-ups for those two decks, but the general gameplan is the same: going wide and smack face with little goblins until the opponent drops dead. While the power level of individual cards is relatively low in comparison to other decks in Modern, it’s synergy that enables this wide and fast army of critters. There are some exceptions like Goblin Guide, Goblin Grenade, Lightning Bolt and Atarka’s Command that have a higher firepower, but on average you are playing underpowered cards in a world of Tarmogoyf, Thoughtseize, Death’s Shadow, Liliana of the Veil, Kolaghan’s Command, Walking Ballista, Thought-Knot Seer, Cryptic Command, Karn Liberated, Primeval Titan, Snapcaster Mage and the likes.

However, there is nothing wrong with that. Synergistic decks are not new in Modern (and Magic as a whole) and people play them with great success. Most tribal decks sans Eldrazi are based on synergy, and so are Bogles. There is nothing powerful about Slippery Bogle until it starts to grow and becomes a fearsome beatstick with lifelink, trample, first strike and vigilance. Eldrazi are different since they don’t rely on the synergy with one another, but only as far as cheating mana goes (Eldrazi Temple). On the board, Reality Smasher is a 5/5 trample haste with quasi protection and Thought-Knot Seer is a Thoughtseize stapled onto a 4/4 body. They are good but not unfair when played on curve, but when they come down early it’s borderline unfair. Eldrazi decks suffer from inconsistency, yet once you get going, a single threat can lead to a win, and even has cards like Chalice of the Void to fight combo and aggro decks, but more on that later. If you topdeck a Goblin Guide, Elvish Mystic or Lord of Atlantis in the midgame with no board, it can’t really with the game all by itself, but you sure can when it’s Endbringer or Walking Ballista. My point is not to bash Eldrazi (although I dislike them), but that while Eldrazi archetype looks like a synergistic tribal deck, they play out more like a midrange beatdown based on big mana and large threats, and the only synergy is with Eldrazi Temple.

4-6 on MTGO Leagues

Various games during the two leagues influenced my thinking so before diving into the why’s and how’s, lets check my matches.

In my first league I started off against UW As Foretold and mulliganed both games down to 5, so there is that inconsistency I was talking about. I could have kept a 7-hander with only one land but if I didn’t draw another land soon, I would be too far behind to recover. I went on to win against Esper Death’s Shadow and Titanshift (RG Valakut) since they didn’t find meaningful answers to my fast clock. There was a situation where I could have used a Lightning Bolt on Sakura-Tribe Elder before combat to let my Foundry Street Denizen hit for four (he blocked and sacrificed it), but that wouldn’t fasten my clock at all and I would be even further behind if my opponent found a board wipe. However, bolting the Elder could have been the right play to deal 1 more point of damage. Either way, in ended well for me after I won the match 2-0. Next up was Gifts Storm and Game 1 I kept a hand without removal so he was able to storm off, and in Game 2 my Tormod’s Crypt wasn’t enought as he flooded me with goblin tokens to seal the deal. At 2-2, it was make or break, and facing GW Company Hatebears was a painful experience. Not only did he roadblock me with ease in Game 1 with Finks, Loxodon Smither and Mirran Crusader, but in Game 2 he went turn 2 Auriok Champion into turn 3 Kitchen Finks into turn 4 Kitchen Finks, and topped it off with a Collected Company hitting another Auriok Champion and a beater.

Art by Kev Walker.

My second league started with a win against Burn in a typical racing situation. I managed to beat double Lightning Helix in Game 1, lost to Kor Firewalker in Game 2, and won against a mull to 6 in Game 3. Second round I faced Vizier Company and Game 1 he mulliganed to six only to have combo in his hand. I was lacking removal and the lone Stingscourger was the only possible interaction to delay the combo for one turn, but I wasn’t able to further my boardstate and ended up delaying the inevitable. Game 2 he opened with Burrenton Forge-Tender and the rest is history. What followed was a win against Eldrazi Tron that fell victim to its own inconsistency and I didn’t see Chalice in either of the games so that was that. My opponent for round 4 was that (Esper) Obzedat’s Vengeance deck that was popularised by SaffronOlive and yea I lost to a pile of Fatal Pushes and Paths to Exile, backed by Snapcaster, a bunch of Collective Brutality and Obzedat itself. My last opponent was another Eldrazi Tron and this time around, he slammed that Chalice of the Void on one in both games, locking me out and leaving me without playing any meaningful Magic.

There were some games that I was flooded with lands but also some nut draws, including a turn 3 win with double Goblin Grenade. For my next go, I would lower the land count and probably look to splash green for Atarka’s Command.

Goblins in the current metagame

So lets go back to the deck and why is it hard to pilot Modern Goblins in the current metagame. I’m not saying I’m a great player, but the Modern landscape has changed drastically in the last few months. We can beat Death’s Shadow, Eldrazi Tron, Affinity, Burn and other popular and tiered decks, but it’s getting harder and harder. Here is why.

Fatal Push is good against us

You would think that a 1-for-1 removal is not great against Goblins, yet it is needed in order to survive until players can cast sweepers or roadblocking creatures. It’s not that the printing of Fatal Push created new decks that are hard for us to beat, but any 1 mana removal is good against us. While Lightning Bolt might be better as it can hit players, Path is usually worse since it gives a basic land (the only decent target is Mogg War Marshal). Nowdays, many Modern decks play the new black removal and it hurts. Why? Before the printing of Fatal Push, BGx decks had to fetch for a shockland to use Lightning Bolt or Path to Exile on Foundry Street Denizen, our best turn 1 play, unless they didn’t care if they are stuck with a basic plains or mountain. Note that they have steep requirements for colored mana and an early non-black/green basic slows down the BGx archetype. It’s not much but a swing of two life points is not nothing for aggro decks like Goblins.

Fatal Push is easy to include in almost any deck running black, including Eldrazi & Taxes that just doubled on the number of spot removals and have an easier time to delay our start and take over the midgame.

Art by Eric Deschamps.
Collective Brutality is a beating

Reanimator and Dredge were beatable before the printing of Collective Brutality, but now it’s harder to fight through since the card disrupts us while furthering their gameplan. Even fair decks that discard Lingering Souls to kill Legion Loyalist and take Goblin Grenade make the trade effectively a 2-for-1 and pull ahead with the exchange. Lifegain is just an icing on the cake. Grixis decks can utilize Snapcaster or Delve fatties to reduce the negative effect of discarding additional cards to tip the trade in their favor.

Collective Brutality became a staple of sideboards and decks that play copies in the main got decent boost in percentage against us. Various midrange Esper decks that are popping online are a good example of an uphill battle.

Chalice can end the game

The problem is twofold as we usually want to win Game 1 and fight thru sideboard in one of the next games. We can anticipate Chalice of the Void from the board and can prepare for that since we always pack some artifact hate in the side, but Eldrazi Tron plays Chalice in the main. With so many cards in our deck at 1 mana, Chalice is ofter game over if unprepared. Cavern of Souls is a possible counter measurement but since our deck is tight on lands and colored sources for non-creature spells, it can end up slowing us down as well. In the current metagame I could go as far as advising to play one Tin Street Hooligan in the mainboard to combat Chalice, especially if Eldrazi Tron and Affinity are prevalent in your metagame. With the popularity of Eldrazi Tron we sadly have to take that in consideration and cards like Tin Street Hooligan are never dead since it can be played as a vanilla 2/1. It can also slow down the opponent by hitting Expedition Map or get rid of a fearsome Walking Ballista. However, the problem is that it is below average even for our power level against decks without artifacts. Shattering Spree is something I would have in my sideboard until further changes in Modern metagame shares.

Eldrazi Tron is not that bad of a match-up until Chalice on 1 locks you out and they rely on bulky creatures without tokens that can block for days. In addition to that, a large Walking Ballista spells doom as well.

Art by Mark Zug.
The pain of new cards

Both Fatal Push and Collective Brutality are newer cards and while Chalice of the Void is not, the printing of strong Eldrazi creatures and Walking Ballista created a deck that maindecks them. Our newest addition is Reckless Bushwhacker, which is not bad at all, but there are no goblins in Shadows over Innistrad, Kaladesh and Amonkhet blocks, and there are possibly none in Ixalan as well. Merfolk players also feel our pain as they got no new toys since Harbinger of the Tides, yet their deck was stronger to begin with. Same could be said about Elves that got a whole lot of additions with Magic Origins but nothing meaningful lately. Humans are picking up steam and they seem like another mediocre match-up as we usually dislike to battle bigger creature decks that include white, but they have a painful manabase so there is that at least. Vizier decks are something I dislike to face as they are full of value creatures and also have sticky threats like Kitchen Finks or Voice of Resurgence.

Nothing much to do here, we have to wait for Dominaria and hope for the best.

Key cards going forward

With more and more creature decks around and Lingering Souls being a popular option for and against Death’s Shadow archetype, Legion Loyalist becomes even more important. Mogg Fanatic can still provide useful interaction and acts as a removal or reach and Mogg War Marshal gives us width to combat Death’s Shadow. Atarka’s Command against Reckless Bushwhacker is an on-going debate but I prefer splashing green which opens access to sweet cards like Destructive Revelry, Tin Street Hooligan and the aforementioned Atarka’s Command acting as an additional reach, anthem and anti-lifegain.

Art by Eric Deschamps.
The Conclusion

As always, the conclusion remains inconclusive. Goblins are a fringe deck with not many a players, so innovations and notable results are rare as it gets. No new cards to play with is another reason that the deck stagnates. Bushwhacker Zoo is the better Bushwhacker deck, Burn is more consistent, and Merfolk and Elves are a better tribal synergy decks. But if you don’t mind playing a 30 tixs mono red deck that can win games, go for it!

All images courtesy of WotC.

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