During my time competing with goblins in Modern, I’ve learned a lot about sideboarding and Magic in general, but to this day I still find it hard to choose sideboard cards or do the boarding in-between the games. Today I’ll try to talk about choosing cards for your sideboard with Goblins in Modern.
First, lets categorize cards into hosers and pushers. Some strategies are so oppressive that you need an answer even as a fast aggro deck; for example, I see graveyard hate to be mandatory, but it’s nothing wrong if you don’t agree with the statement and skip on it altogether. Same goes for life gain, and so on. However, the most important question is what decks or specific cards causes you most problems, and which card could improve the match-up and by how much. Sometimes, cards with versatility manage to sneak into the mainboard, like Atarka’s Command or Rakdos Charm, especially in case of A-Command that furthers the gameplan of the deck and accidentally hoses life gain.
On the other hand, there are times you still need to develop your own board while disrupting the opponents, and this is when cards like Tin Street Hooligan shine, and those are pushers: they push your angle of attack, play with the gameplan of the deck – most of the time, that means dealing damage or leaving a body on the field.
First, lets consider the general plan of the deck, but before doing so, here is an example of a regular 8-whack deck:
4 Goblin Guide
4 Legion Loyalist
4 Foundry Street Denizen
3 Mogg Fanatic
2 Frenzied Goblin
4 Goblin Bushwhacker
4 Mogg War Marshal
3 Goblin Piledriver
4 Reckless Bushwhacker
1 Goblin Chieftain
This is a decent all-around list that even features a single Goblin Chieftain and packs Frenzied Goblins and Fanatics on the flex slots. We can generalize and say that this deck is good against slower and greedier decks while it folds to life gain and bigger and just a bit slower creature decks like Zoo. If we take a closer look at the cards, we can identify that they all have a similar goal: they want creatures to attack as fast and as wide as possible, with spells keeping blockers at bay or simply going for the head. There are no card-advantage, lifegain, tutors or combat tricks at the first glance, but the deck has just enough build-in interactions, card and tempo advantages that it can leverage the right angle and push through it. What I am talking about?
Say you play against a removal heavy deck that is relatively light on creatures, like Jeskai (Esper, Mardu) Control, Scapeshift or Jund. We can imagine that Goblin Piledriver, Loyalist and Foundry Street Denizen are not at it’s best here due to lack of haste, being underpowered in the match-ups, or both. Sure, you can still get in some decent damage, but not only do they die to all the instant-speed removal (and a good opponent will have it in games 2 and 3), they also don’t play around sorcery speed removal on the turn they enter without a haste enabler (especially damaged based sweepers or wraths). However, creatures like Mogg Fanatic or Mogg War Marshal (and even less popular Dragon Fodder and Krenko’s Command) bring more to the table than just a body. Players usually don’t aim their bolts for the Fanatic, and Mogg War Marshal translates into three bodies over the course of a game and also leaves one if your board gets swept. Always pay echo for Marshal in games against controlling decks that you know will drag on.
Best case scenario against those decks is to put just enough pressure with only a few small but pesky bodies and start chipping away, forcing your opponent to waste either a spot removal or a sweeper (wrath) on something like Mogg Fanatic, Mogg War Marshal and a token. Hold Bushwhackers for when the air is clear, but don’t forget about those Cryptic Commands which can ruin even an uncounterable Bushwhacker off the Cavern of Souls.
Sometimes you just have to put the pressure on as fast as possible. Othertimes, you cannot afford to play around a card your opponent might or might not have at ready (racing against Scapeshift, Ad Naus, Reanimator). Either way, playing Goblins in Modern is not all day or night, it’s also evening, morning and afternoon. But the fact remains that Goblins are fast to adapt, and so must we. Don’t be afraid to splash Green, Black, or both.
Without further ado, let’s start with sideboard cards.
At the beginning of the article we talked about hoses and pushers, and most if not all Goblins for sideboard are pushers; they come into the play, do their thing and leave a Goblin body, ready to swing come next turn, but rarely do they win games on their own. Those effects are usually not as good as other options (spells), yet in an aggro deck that needs a critical mass of goblins they further your play while disrupting an opponent, which is quite a big tempo swing and exactly what we want.
Already mentioned Tin Street Hooligan is the best example of goblins in the sideboard. While Destructive Revelry and Smash to Smithereens do their job better and at instant speed, kickering or surging a Bushwhacker after casting Tin Street Hooligan to remove that Ensnaring Bridge and attack means Hooligan did in fact destroy an artifact and deal 3 damage. There are more targets in Modern than rarely seen Ensnaring Bridge, like Expedition Map, where denying a land tutor and putting pressure on a Tron player can mean a difference between a quick win, or a stalemate that usually ends up with Tron taking the win. From my experience, when playing with Green splash in Goblins, I would look to use a 2/2 or 3/1 split between Revelry and Hooligan, or just play 3-4 Smash to Smithereens. Tuktuk Scrapper looks good until you realize that it’s too late when this hits the ground on turn 4, if you even make that fourth land drop.
Mogg Fanatic is a pusher to some extent despite having no enter the battlefield effect. It’s value lies in that ping, which makes it good against spot removal and tiny creature decks (affinity, infect, Pyro-Delver decks and Elves). Fanatic gives us another interaction on a Goblin body, and ever since I started packing them mainboard, I’ve never looked back. If a full playset in a starting 60 is too much, try a 3/1 or 2/2 main-to-sideboard split. Goblin Arsonist looks similar to Fanatic, but while it is good against spot-removal and blockers and also has a good Goblin Grenade synergy, the difference of a triggered or an activated ability of that 1 point of damage is what means the most, and Fanatic gets a nod before his cousin Arsonist.
Frenzied Goblin and Intimidator Initiate are next in line, and some (myself included) use one or the other in the mainboard. Excellent against creature decks, walls, Wurmcoil and Spellskite, Frenzied Goblin is the more popular of the two. Granted that he has to attack to trigger, but attacking is in our blood and our main win-con. However, Initiate offers instant speed effect (mid-combat Bolting before declare blockers, for example) that can trigger off of an opponents red spell as well (read the card thoroughly). Both are a decent addition to the deck, numbers may vary but up to two in the 75 sounds just right.
While expensive, Goblin Heelcutter and it’s Dash ability enables it to trigger Foundry Street Denizen each turn, avoid sorcery speed removal and help the team pass a single blocker. It plays nicely with Piledriver as well, and brings 3 power and removes a blocker for 3 mana, which is doable yet fragile to Bolt and other cheap instant removal.
Another Goblin that can temporary remove a blocker is Stingscourger, and if you can grant it haste or use the body for blocking or Grenade, it’s somewhat of a 2-for-1 in a world of Goblins. This card has the most tempo potential of all goblins from the sideboard, so use it wisely.
Earwig Squad is our Slaughter Games and closest to a hoser as far as Goblin creatures go. This prowling Goblin-Rogue stands 5/3 tall and should hit the floor on turn 3, looking for cards like Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, Lightning Storm, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, Living End and sideboard bullets like lifegain, sweepers or aggro hosers (Bridge, Ghostly Prison). Remember that 3 toughness means he dies to bolt, so be vary when choosing to side him in against bolt decks without clear targets for the Earwig Squad, as three mana after combat is still a lot to waste if the goblin eats a bolt and prowling (and exiling cards) doesn’t win you the game.
Goblin Rabblemaster is no hoser, but a pure pusher. In fact, it’s a beater on it’s own and can win games if unanswered. Best used from sideboard against non-interactive linear decks with few creatures. Similar could be said for Goblin Chieftain and Goblin King, another big cards that are fragile to all kinds of removal and losing it means a loss of tempo.
Boggart Mob is an interesting card that takes over the game, is quite removal-proof and good when playing against other creature decks with not much removal, or against creatureless decks. However, costing 4 mana, casting restriction of Champion a Goblin, and a need for a black splash means we rarely see it in action (I believe there was one list with it on one of the SCG events in 2015). Dodging Bolt, Decay and Inquisition while blocking Goyfs and Tasigurs is a plus, yet it leaves a lot to desire.
Krenko, Mob Boss is another card that deserves to be mentioned. It’s a bit costly at 4 cmc and susceptible to Bolt but it literally takes over the game if left untouched. Good from the board against creature heavy decks that tend to clog the line, yet it is hard to find a slot for the Mob Boss in the 15.
One of the cards that still needs testing is Mardu Scout. Due to Dash, it can trigger Foundy each turn and attack together for five, starting as fast as turn 2, and is immune to sorcery speed removal if dashed continually. However, it’s a mana sink that can lead to some awkward situations and decisions regarding mana management.
Last but not least, I’ve been looking into Ember Hauler as a way to further the number of interactions we have, lower the value of opponents removal and still threaten to beat them to death on the ground. 2 mana for a 2/2 is somewhat O.K. for a goblin, but the ability to Shock for 1 mana is not to be overlooked in small creature battles.
The Non-Goblin Pushers
For some effects, match-ups and situations there are no goblins to help us out, so resorting to spells is the only way. Land hate on goblins is too slow (Goblin Ruinblaster), and there is no graveyard hate build into a goblin. There are also no goblins that can remove or destroy an Enchantment, not even a single one. We’ll talk about grave hate when we discuss hosers, now we talk about spells that further our plan, help with disruption, but are no goblins themselves.
While kicked Ruinblaster costs four mana, Molten Rain can do the same thing for three (Ruinblaster has haste, so theoretically he hits for 2 the turn he comes in) and if you need land hate in case you are facing decks with Tron lands, Valakut or Manlands, you should consider playing Molten Rain or Blood Moon (which is a hoser and not a pusher). Still, if your concerns are manlands, feel free to try and go with Ruinblaster, but 4 mana against 3 in an aggro deck with 20 lands tops could be a stretch.
As mentioned, we have no enchantment interaction, but splashing green helps with that as you can exchange your Smash to Smithereens for Destructive Revelry. Don’t leave home with one or the other, or at least pack a few Hooligans or other kind of an artifact hate if you choose to skip on the enchantment hate.
Life gain is a pain for any Goblin warchief commanding it’s greenskin army, so that (and other awesome modes) is why Atarka’s Command is such a powerhouse in this deck. Needless to say, A-Command is much more than Skullcrack and while it lacks the prevent damage clause, it can pump the team for lethal out of nowhere while dealing three past Spellskite and Leyline of Sanctity. However, Atarka’s Command is not only an utility card, it’s a versatile win-con and an added reach, so we’ll talk about it later. Among other anti life gain tech, I prefer Rain of Gore. It’s only two mana and not only does it hose regular (non-lifelink) life gain but also attacks the opponent on the same axis than the deck itself – total life points. There are other options at 3 mana, which is quite a bit but if you are not splashing green for A-Command and hate to see lifelink active, there are other decent options just as well (Everlasting Torment, Leyline of Punishment, Tainted Remedy).
Creatures Goblins hate to see are those that provide value and blockers for our opponent, especially the Green-White based creatures like Kitchen Finks and Voice of Resurgence. Enter Pillar of Flame. Some may argue that Magma Spray should be the card to play, but Pillar is the one that furthers our gameplan despite it’s sorcery speed, as it can hit face (and you don’t want to cast Magma Spray on the end of the turn to remove a Voice and give away a free token, unless you are sure you can Battalion with Loyalist). It’s true that you cannot break the Abzan Company combo with Pillar of Flame once it’s active, but you have bolts and Fanatics for that, and I use Pillar strictly for sniping Finks, Voices and Infect creatures, where the tempo gain is huge. However, both cards don’t hit much else, so if there are not many Finks running around, consider skipping the improved Shock altogether.
In the following case, consider Dismember, or if you dislike to pay life and don’t run black you can go for either Roast or Flame Slash. There are times where you just want to get rid of a blocker, but those kill spells don’t grow your board so it’s not a good idea to overload on those. However, narrow cards like Reality Hemorrhage and Pyrite Spellbomb that look like a bad Shock are useful when expecting Kor Firewalkers, another of Goblins Tivadar’s Crusade, while also hitting face for 2 if needed. All in all, do run some kind of removal, but if you don’t mind paying life because most of the time we are the aggressor, Dismember covers it all, even more than Terminate, another decent option.
Although removal spells ranging from Pillar of Flame to Roast and Dismember are not directly pushers of your general strategy, they serve for two purposes: kill blockers or help you survive a turn (against beatdown or creature-based combo). Some of them can even target an opponent and deal damage, which is a bonus when you need to reach over blockers. You can go and try to out-tempo opponents with removal, but if their deck is full of creatures, you are better off attacking from a different angle then trying to 1-for-1 them, like going under, going wide, or playing the unblockable route.
Speaking of which, do you remember Frenzied Goblin, Heelcutter and Initiate? What do you say about Magmatic Chasm? When board stalls happen this card is a saving grace, but it takes two mana, has an one-time effect and requires lethal on board while adding no damage. If you face a lot of creature decks that tend to clog the lines, this kind of an effect might be what you are looking for.
One of the things Goblins need to hose is graveyard, and while it’s often wrong to side in the hate just for Snapcasters, Scooze or Tarmogoyfs, those cards are essential in games against Grishoalbrand and Storm as a safety backup if our aggro plan fails or when we draw a slower hand. Among the most popular and straightforward goblin graveyard hate cards are Relic of Progenitus and Tormod’s Crypt, and Rest in Peace if splashing white. One of the possibilities is also Grafdigger’s Cage if there are a lot of Collected Company and Chord of Calling decks running around. Either way, try to pack a few of those in the 75, and you can count Rakdos Charm as partial grave hate as well.
Artifacts are another thing that can be controlled by the goblin player, and sometimes you need a good exchange to stay in the game or crawl back against affinity or Lantern Control. At four mana, Shatterstorm is a bit of a stretch, but Shattering Spree can easily be a three-for-one or 1-for-1 if short on mana. Stony Silence is also an option, yet it does nothing against Ensnaring Bridge and requires playing Boros. Another interesting option is Ancient Grudge, a staple of two-for-ones against artifacts that requires green splash and excels against Lantern Control but it’s a bit mana intensive. It’s up to every player to choose his artifact hate and most go with pushers instead of hosers (Smash and Revelry).
We already mentioned Molten Rain and instead of a pusher we can opt for hosers in the land department. Blood Moon is the juiciest of them all, with Boil far behind for being too narrow. Blood Moon not only attacks our opponents mana base, it also makes Goblin King a decent addition from the side, yet it does nothing to attack opponents life total or advance your board, it basically ends the game because your opponent cannot play any spells or the battle continues and you spent 3 mana and a card doing nothing. Molten Rain always leaves a mark when played. However, if there are not many big-land decks, feel free skipping the hate.
Discard has a special place and not many goblin pilots choose to pack it. Usually it takes form in Duress or Thoughtseize, but another interesting card is Blightning. Either way, you want to hit combo pieces or opponents sideboard cards, and both 1 mana spells are decent at doing so. Blightning does further your plan with dealing damage, but it’s sorcery and costs 3 mana, making it slow yet viable against control decks.
The Charms and Commands
Ahh, my favorite sideboard cards, the versatile Jack of all trades. Never great, yet never bad. More options packed into one card is never a bad thing, but we have to be careful about our picks and shouldn’t overboard with these cards. Atarka’s Command is by far the most impactful, versatile and game-ending among the charms and commands, acting as a lord, a Skullcrack, or variation of both. Although most players that splash green include the command in the mainboard, it’s great from the side as well if you find it hard to slot it into 60. While costing three mana, Kolaghan’s Command does have some applications even in goblins, but the card may be a bit too controlish for our taste. Shocking and returning a Goblin is decent, but two-for-one against affinity is even better – something that we can achieve with Tin Street Hooligan and Shattering Spree for less mana, even if not at instant speed.
Among charms, Boros Charm is the most aggressive one with relevant modes that pull the weight in many scenarios. However, Rakdos Charm has it’s, well, charms. Packing all from Artifact destruction to graveyard hate and more than relevant damage mode that have won me a game or two against creature heavy decks, Rakdos Charm is specially good against Affinity, so it might be the option you are looking for if you need a versatile card and are splashing black. Gruul Charm looks the least interesting, but if we look at it again, it offers us an unblockable mode when facing ground creatures and an out against battlefield clogged with flying Spirit tokens if we lack a Loyalist, and if we find ourselves in a meta filled with tokens and creature decks this could be the tech we need to punch through. In rare cases, it can help against Vedalken Shackles, Sower of Temptation or even Bribery, but if an opponent is casting the latter on us, we are probably winning either way.
Wear // Tear is not really a Charm or Command per se, but this card can cover the enchantment hate for a cost of 1 mana if splashing white over green. However, it is not a pusher so play this instead of Smash to Smithereens only if you face enchantments regularly and need to save sideboard slots, as Shatter isn’t the most effective artifact hate.
Goblins are an aggro deck that looks to finish the duel in the early game, before the opponent stabilizes and hits back bigger and harder than us. Most of the time, because we play a time-based match (we want to win early), we prefer tempo over card advantage (Goblin Grenade for example). However, that is not always the case, and for those that face a lot of control and/or grindy match-ups, a card like Domri Rade is a great addition. Outpost Siege has some potential as well, as it offers two decent modes, but at 4 mana it’s overcosted for a goblin deck.
Goblins have a different kind of card advantage: Mogg War Marshal is three bodies on a single card, Bushwhackers grant haste and +1 attack for mere 2 mana, Goblin Guide is a 1 mana 2/2 haster, and Mogg Fanatic kills a Bob (Dark Confidant) after triggering a Foundry Street Denizen. Last but not least, spending 1 mana and sacrificing a goblin for 5 damage is an enormous reach that opponents cannot ignore.
Bear in mind that when choosing sideboard, it all comes down to your local or expected metagame. Against control heavy meta, Duress and Molten Rain or Blood Moon are decent options, while if your meta is filled with Affinity, Elves, Delver decks and Infect, Forked Bolt is excellent. Lots of BW Tokens or GW clog-decks? Go with Gruul Charm and keep an eye out for Finks with Pillar of Flame. It’s up to each and every player to think about what he is most likely to face and prepare for it.
This is it for today, stay in touch as I’ll publish more Modern Magic content, including more about my favorite tribes in Magic: Goblins, Merfolk and Faeries!