What I’d like to see:
Stoneforge Mystic unbanned.
Deathrite Shaman banned.
Gitaxian Probe banned.
— Jim Davis
It’s nice to get what you wish for.
(Well, aside from Modern, but that’s an issue for another article.)
Join me in saying ” good riddance.”
Wizards of the Coast finally had the guts to go after one of the most
ubiquitous cards in the format not named Brainstorm or Force of Will, and
Legacy looks fresh again. They also worked to erase another Phyrexian mana
design disaster, as a world without Phyrexian mana is a better world to
play Magic in.
So we’ve got a “new” Legacy format to reexamine, but considering “new”
things aren’t exactly at the forefront of the format we’re better served at
looking back to what Legacy looked like before Deathrite Shaman was
printed. Sam Black has already
retaken interest in his brilliant Bloodghast / Goblin Bombardment brews
, Ben Friedman is
gearing up for Griselbrand, Nimble Mongoose, and Mother of Runes
, and I’m sure Shaheen Soorani has scribbled a dozen or so Esper Stoneblade
lists in his deckbuilding notebook that are all exact copies of
whatever version of the deck he played in 2015
– put simply, people are excited to dust off their old toys!
I’m no different, but also very skeptical. After all, I did declare Goblins
over four years ago
So, can Goblins make a comeback? Today we’re going to look at four reasons
why it can, and to counterpoint, three reasons why it will remain a relic
of better days.
Why Goblins Can Be Competitive Again:
1. Goblin Lackey Has a Chance to Connect
Goblin Lackey, once the most feared turn one play in all of Legacy, had
fallen pretty hard.
That makes a lot of sense when the best one-drop in the format is
inexplicably a 1/2 instead of a 1/1. Unless you’re willing to resort to
crap like Tarfire, Goblin Lackey has zero way to get in on turn two facing
down a Deathrite Shaman, play or draw. And it’s not even like you can just
offer a trade by attacking and essentially forcing them to block like you
could against something like Llanowar Elves or Mother of Runes; Deathrite
Shaman just put up the brick wall and said no.
Furthermore, Deathrite Shaman would allow the various decks playing it to
deploy threats at a much faster rate than they could do before. With blue
decks getting on the battlefield ahead of schedule, your Goblin Lackey may
have been looking to attack on turn two and was suddenly facing down a
True-Name Nemesis or a Leovold, Emissary of Trest. Goblin Lackey looks to
thrive in the early stages of a game when both players haven’t deployed
much yet, and Deathrite Shaman both helped to skip that stage while also
playing excellent defense itself.
With Deathrite Shaman finally out of the picture, we go back to a world
where the format’s best one-drops can only hope to trade with Goblin
Lackey. This means either you get a Mogg Fanatic and go on with your life,
or you get to use Gempalm Incinerator and get your Goblin Lackey trigger;
now your opponents must have the removal spell to guarantee no connection.
Decks must once again fear turn one Goblin Lackey.
2. Wasteland Starts to Look Great
Wasteland has been a defining card since Legacy’s inception, but has been
less of a fixture in the format for the last few years. Why? Well… have
you ever wanted to Wasteland someone who has a Deathrite Shaman on the
When almost every fair deck in the format is playing four Birds of Paradise
while very often also playing Wasteland themselves, Wastelanding them
starts to look much less appealing. It’s still an important card in various
Grixis Delver decks, but people have forgotten how important it actually is
when mana isn’t so easy to come by.
One of the biggest draws to playing Goblins is that it’s the best Wasteland
/ Rishadian Port deck in the format. Being able to deploy a Goblin Lackey
or Aether Vial and present threats while simultaneously messing with your
opponent’s mana is just awesome. Unlike Death and Taxes, the Goblin deck
never runs out of threats.
3. Blue Decks Can’t Grind As Hard
A byproduct of the fair blue decks losing access to both a multicolor
manafixer as well as a mana boost and resistance to Wasteland, they can no
longer lean as hard on powerful mirror-breaking cards that grind really
These sort of grindy cards allowed the blue midrange decks to keep up with
Goblins on cards, which was something they were never able to do before.
Deathrite Shaman gave them the mana and colors to cast these spells, and
the prevalence of blue-based mirrors gave them the impetus to maindeck
these cards in the first place.
Now both those elements are gone and it looks like blue decks will have to
revert to more focused Temur or Jeskai Delver strategies or go fully big
with something like U/W Miracles. This means they will either be lower in
power level, therefore struggling to go long with Goblins, or low on
closing speed, which gives the Goblins deck time to draw a ton of cards.
4. Cabal Therapy Gets Worse
Cabal Therapy is perhaps one of the biggest losers in the Gitaxian Probe
banning, as the card goes from “easy mode” back to “one of the most
interesting and fun cards ever printed.”
Why does this matter as far as Goblins is concerned? Two reasons really.
One is that Cabal Therapy was an integral part of Storm deck’s defensive
plan. In conjunction with Gitaxian Probe, a card they already wanted to
play anyway, they would get an essentially free Thoughtseize (or possibly
more) that could either slow you down or strip away vital hate cards that
would stop them from going off. Anything that makes Storm, a traditionally
poor matchup, worse is a win for Goblins.
Second, Cabal Therapy was actually an excellent tool for fair decks to use
against Goblins. Counterspells are naturally ineffective against Aether
Vial and Cavern of Souls, but when Grixis Delver decks would sideboard in
Cabal Therapy, things would get very difficult. Both Goblin Matron and
Goblin Ringleader inform your opponent of what to name, and having multiple
copies of cards stripped by a single Cabal Therapy was both common and
It’s not as impactful as the exit of Deathrite Shaman, but Gitaxian Probe
leaving the format is definitely a minor win for Goblins. Aside from making
Cabal Therapy worse, it also weakens almost every chuckler all-in deck like
Charbelcher and Oops All Spells, which always preyed on Goblins.
Why Goblins Will Continue to Fail:
1. Combo Combo Combo
There’s no doubt that Grixis Delver was doing serious work in keeping the
format’s combo decks at bay. When the format’s best deck contains a very
fast clock, maindeck graveyard hate, Force of Will / Spell Pierce / Daze,
Wasteland, and devastating sideboard cards like Cabal Therapy and
Flusterstorm, playing combo can be rough proposition. Grixis Delver’s
ability to also play a great fair game with cards like Young Pyromancer and
True-Name Nemesis are the big reason the deck was so omnipresent, and
likewise the biggest reason that these bannings make sense.
It’s just unreasonable to have a deck be good at everything.
Now when you build your disruptive Delver of Secrets deck, you’re going to
need to make an active choice if you’d like your deck to be better against
combo or better in fair matchups; you don’t get to have both for free.
Finding this balance is both difficult and interesting from a deckbuilding
standpoint, and makes life much easier for combo decks in general. Blue
decks more focused on Stoneforge Mystic or Lingering Souls are going to be
much worse against combo, while all in Temur-style Delver decks with Stifle
and light threats are going to be much worse against fair decks.
We will once again see the format enter a cyclical state, where how
well-positioned combo is will wax and wane week to week. As it stands,
combo looks like it is going to be good and that is bad news for Goblins
2. They Haven’t Printed a Good Goblin in a Decade
This is perhaps the biggest problem I have with Goblins, and was the main
focus of my
Funeral for a Friend article
years ago when I declared Goblins dead.
Yes, I know people love their Krenko, Mob Bosses- It’s okay to be wrong. I
could write an article about why each of these cards doesn’t belong in your
Goblin deck unless you have a very specific reasoning (i.e. wanting Goblin
Chieftain against -1/-1 effects), but I’ll leave that for another time. The
long and short of it is that each of these cards’ niche jobs are just done
better by another, more versatile card already in the deck that has a
similar ceiling but a much higher floor.
The sad fact is that as new sets release, every other deck gets better and
Goblins largely stays the same. Matchups that used to be very lopsided are
now less so, to the point where you can lose to the fair decks you used to
almost always beat much more than you’d like to. I always said back in the
day that “when played excellently, Goblins only loses to combo and
Engineered Plague” and I meant it, but as decks improve over time this
maxim no longer holds true. Losing to fair decks makes those bad combo
matchups feel all the worse.
I do want to take a brief second to talk about a new Goblin card that
actually has a place in the deck: Goblin Trashmaster. It’s probably only a
sideboard card for Stoneforge Mystic and artifact-based matchups, but
Goblin Trashmaster is a hell of a tutor target. This is one that should see
a slot in the sideboard.
3. The Card Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
Okay, perhaps this should read “the cards Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite,
Reanimate, and Entomb,” but you get the idea.
B/R Reanimator was already a very scary deck, and that was in a format
where the best deck played a ton of disruption as well as a Birds of
Paradise that was a maindeck hate card and demanded you either answer it or
win before it lost summoning sickness. With Deathrite Shaman gone, perhaps
the biggest winner in the format is various reanimator decks.
These decks unequivocally destroy Goblins. Like, it’s a joke. To
call the matchup 90/10 would probably be generous, as the Goblin deck
simply lacks any meaningful interaction besides maybe a maindeck copy of
Stingscorger. Bringing back something like Griselbrand is bad enough, but
once Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite hits the table the game effectively ends.
The disruption Goblins does have, Wasteland and Rishadan Port, is
almost worthless because all of their spells cost one or two mana, and the
only hope is some sideboard cards and a prayer. Even then, something like
Containment Priest or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is likely too slow to
matter, while cards like Faerie Macabre are super narrow and get tagged by
Thoughtseize or Unmask anyway.
At least in the short term Reanimator is a natural winner from the
bannings, and that bodes awfully for Goblins.
So Which Is It?
Legacy is a whole new world, and to be completely honest I’m not exactly
sure where Goblins fits into that world yet.
The exit of Deathrite Shaman from the format is likely to make Goblins once
again favored in most fair matchups, but there’s still four years worth of
new cards that Goblins never had to battle against added to the mix.
Furthermore, there are many very scary possible combo matchups looming as
If I had to start somewhere, it would be here:
- 4 Goblin Matron
- 4 Goblin Lackey
- 4 Goblin Warchief
- 1 Goblin Sharpshooter
- 4 Goblin Piledriver
- 4 Gempalm Incinerator
- 1 Siege-Gang Commander
- 4 Goblin Ringleader
- 1 Skirk Prospector
- 1 Tin Street Hooligan
- 3 Mogg War Marshal
- 1 Stingscourger
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but maybe if they ban
enough cards the old dog’s old tricks will be good enough once again.
This old dog hopes so!