Amongst many tribal cards in Rivals of Ixalan, it was Fanatical Firebrand that caught the eye of the Goblinkind, including myself. Something to toy with, I thought, after all, this has to be the most Modern playable Goblin since Reckless Bushwhacker came along. Although it was awhile since I took little greenskins for a spin, I choose to dig deep on this one to try to determine its role and value in Modern Goblins.
It doesn’t take long upon seeing Firebrand that its reminiscent of Mogg Fanatic and Raging Goblin meshing (or not, its a monkey). Like Raging Goblin, Firebrand has haste and can start the clock on turn 1 when you lack Goblin Guide or Foundry Street Denizen to open with. In addition to that, it can ping and even kill creatures like Dark Confidant and Thalia, just like Fanatic. However, there is a glaring difference that separates the three Goblins.
While Raging Goblin represents an ultimate aggressive creature, Mogg Fanatic brings a different, more controling role to the table. Firebrand looks like something in-between: solid early on and offers some reach in mid to lategame, but in limited capacities. Tapping in order to activate its ability is definitely a handycap and the question is if haste makes up for the downside.
Like always, it’s all about the context. What do you need for your deck to function as fast and as consistently as possible? Sure, first thing is deck selection, but it comes down to the metagame as well.
All in all, if you are currently playing with Raging Goblins, you should most likely switch them for Firebrands. However, changing Fanatics for Firebrands is not something you should do without thorough study as it comes down to other factors. Last but not least, if you play with both Raging Goblin and Mogg Fanatic, then it comes down to what finishers you use. As mentioned, Firebrand is usually a strictly better Raging Goblin, but in some decks you want haste over reach and need to max out on hasters.
Haste, haste and haste! Without it, we probably wouldn’t even consider Fanatical Firebrand (we have Goblin Fireslinger if needed). It’s not like Goblin decks lack removal – Fanatic and Lightning Bolt are both excellent, and even Goblin Grenade can remove a fatty. With that being said, having an option of dealing additional damage is never bad and is always better than not having it (Raging Goblin).
One of the scenarios where Firebrand is better than Fanatic is during early turns against slower creature decks where haste means a difference between attacking and chumping. Turn 2 Fanatic might be late to attack, but if you follow a turn one Foundry Street Denizen with Fanatical Firebrand and another hasty 1-drop like Guide or Loyalist, you are hitting upstairs for a hefty amount.
Firebrand is also better with Atarka’s Command than with Reckless Bushwhacker where haste loses some of its value. Both Goblin Piledriver and Legion Loyalist get bigger and easier to trigger with Firebrand in the deck, so there is that as well. Another scenario in favor of Firebrand when comparing it to Mogg Fanatic is topdecking with Goblin Grenade in your hand. Cast Firebrand, attack for one and fling it with Grenade for a total of 6 damage (same as Raging Goblin). Mogg Fanatic can only sacrifice for 1 or 5 damage in combination with Grenade. It’s not much of a difference, but it could matter.
Regarding chump blocks, both Fanatic and Firebrand look the same: they can chump and sacrifice to avoid lifelink or other combat damage triggers.
The reason we don’t play Goblin Arsonist is that we cannot ping on demand. Same could be true with Firebrand as it has to be untapped to use its ability, and untapped creatures didn’t attack, which is our main route to victory. Against sweepers and sorcery speed removal, Fanatic is more or less equivalent to Firebrand. Imagine that you cast a Fanatic or Firebrand and your opponent plays a sweeper in the following turn: Mogg Fanatic will sacrifice itself to deal one damage while Firebrand attacked and already dealt one, but is unable to use its ability. If opponent gives you two turns, then Firebrand deals two damage by attacking while Mogg Fanatic attacks only once, but pings in response to the spell. On the other hand, Firebrand can fall to instant speed removal after it attacks and dies doing nothing, while you can always use Mogg Fanatic. But that’s not all: Fanatic can kill any x/1 creature on opponents end of turn, which is not true for Firebrand if its tapped, albeit it’s a corner case.
It’s not hard to conclude that it comes down to haste versus more versatile reach. If you can consistently give Mogg Fanatic haste, then the old school fan favorite offers more for the same price.
If Fanatical Firebrand didn’t have to tap to deal damage, it would have been a strictly better Mogg Fanatic AND Raging Goblin, but as things stand, it can either fully replace Raging Goblins or act as additional copies of Mogg Fanatic. I cannot see many reasons to run more than 4 Fanatics and with Raging Goblin seeing little to no play, the newest addition of the Goblin family could end up being left on the shelf. However, Firebrand could have an impact I failed to notice and the new standard could very well become a 3-3 (4-2) split of Fanatics and Firebrands.
The biggest problem is that while haste and pinging are excellent abilities for Modern Goblins, Fanatical Firebrand has the combination that invalidates the usefulness of both. You have to decide to either attack and risk losing it without any effect, or hold back just to imitate a Mogg Fanatic.
With all that said and done, I feel like Fanatical Firebrand is an upgraded Raging Goblin with conditional ability and thus should be played like Raging Goblin – tapping and attacking. If they block or use removal on it, hurray for us. If not, we can ping sometime in the midgame when we cannot attack favorably. I will leave each and every one of you to make your own conclusions, but I will definitely give Fanatical Firebrand a go and see how it performs. It might not be exactly what Goblins were looking for, but it does offer more options and plays in the similar vein as the plan of the deck.