There is nothing quite like the pleasant surprise that comes from exiting our recent schedule-swapping of the past few weeks only to quite by accident get the first crack at the Gods of Theros, for these stellar deities play in a space I’ve occasionally wandered to only in my own head—what if your commander wasn’t a creature? While they have the word written on them and a power/toughness box, they don’t attack or block unless you have a proper level of devotion to them. You can’t just say "Klaatu, Barada, Nikto"; pronunciation is key as well. Meet their conditions just right and sure, these Gods are creatures, but short of that threshold we are allowed to play legendary indestructible enchantments as our commanders, which is an interesting concept indeed.
I like Mono-Black Control as a design-space archetype for Commander and for several years played a kind of janky-looking deck built around Ob Nixilis the Fallen because that design provided me very stably with the tools needed to win fairly (except when Emrakul was legal—then I was winning unfairly instead) and hit the sweet spot for black-based control. Thus, I really appreciate the things that happen when you get to play Greed as your commander, especially since Erebos also swings sometimes and always bans opposing life gain. I like what these five do to change the rules we’re used to playing around, and each of them intrigues me.
But if there is one singular challenge in the Commander format, it’s building a mono-red deck that doesn’t suck. Sure, you could build a broken mono-red deck if you try—last week’s submission was a solid look at what you can do with mono-red if you want to make life unpleasant for people, and there is always the option in each color combination to go full broken and just build a consistent combo deck if that is what you want to do. I enjoy the challenges of mono-red mostly because this is the color combination whose weaknesses are most glaring as we travel from twenty-life land and one opponent to forty-life territory against not one but three other players. One of the most distinguishing facets of the color—what it can do with direct damage—shows us all too abruptly that the philosophy of fire is also a philosophy of scale.
Purphoros, however, keeps up just fine.
This feels to me like a deck that is Goblin tribal only incidentally, so I am not going to consider us married to that aspect as I would if we were playing a Goblin commander. This deck may have Krenko in it as one of its best cards, but this is not a Krenko deck and is not trying to be one. All this deck wants to do is play your commander and put a lot of things into play, relying on the fact that Purphoros’ direct-damage effect will make this a worthwhile proposition even though we’re casting Krenko’s Command in a world where other people cast Mana Drain into Tooth and Nail. There’s a fun saying in science fiction that a sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic—but here, a sufficiently large number of Goblins, well, that’s Magic.
Plan A is to deploy creatures and hit the opponent for two damage each time. Krenko’s Command is a four-damage spell that hits each opponent and only incidentally puts two 1/1s into play, so our Plan A as devised is to note that opponents start at 40 life and we need to play twenty creatures. Epic Struggle this is not—we don’t need to keep twenty creatures around, just cause them to exist at least for an eye blink of time, long enough to trigger Purphoros.
And Epic Struggle this is not because it doesn’t actually say win the game—it just sort of implies it—and damage prevention or life gain can save individual players. Infinite life will require God-like beatdown, as our only recourse will be commander damage, and there are cards you can play to change the number from twenty by dishing additional damage outside the combat step—you already play more than a few, and we’ll find just a few more.
This is not exactly a combo deck—we’re not going to have One Big Turn where having successfully resolved Purphoros suddenly everyone dies—and we’re going to build away from that aspect as we really just want to play our game of Magic and watch damage erode opponents. That’s a strong solid plan, and we don’t need to resort to Wheel of Fortune effects to try and keep our momentum going. None of our individual cards are so special that we want to Wheel for them, and the desire for raw card draw that is apparent in that selection we can get in other ways because we don’t care about specific cards, just that we have enough of them. Giving your opponents twenty-plus new cards just so you can draw seven is not the kind of math you beat resistance through.
We don’t really have a Plan B. 21 with your commander is a desperation measure of last resort because you can’t really play a control game here and there is not a significant difference between Purphoros’ direct-damage trigger and actually beating down with the Goblin tribe. Yes, getting to attack can be worth whole cards’ worth of damage and shorten the number of triggers it takes before people die, but we have to anticipate that the amount of damage we do by straight-up attacking is not in fact very large even if we are playing cards to make that potentially happen. It may happen, but it’s not the most effective plan, so we won’t pretend suddenly that it is. You’re building to deal forty to three players without ever swinging, and that’s a functional plan we’ll strengthen.
We don’t need to make fun of a mostly-basics mana base, but we can do better while staying on a low budget if we try just a little bit. Six Mountains get cut to make us room for a few more nonbasics:
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle – The price of a land coming into play tapped is fairly low, so the opportunity cost of this when you don’t have very many tap lands is essentially zero. Getting an extra Lightning Bolt to appear out of nowhere just occasionally is a real benefit able to be gained. Over the course of a longer game, this gets better and better, and those are exactly the sorts of games we can expect to have problems during and thus are happy to get some help in.
Spinerock Knoll – Seven damage leading to a free spell would be fancier if our spells were fancier, but as it is we’re still talking about a free card even if that card is just one of our many Dragon Fodder variants. Being up a card is a strong effect to get out of a land, so we’ll take it when it’s on offer.
Temple of the False God – Your mana costs tend to be either very cheap or rather expensive, with X spells and heavy drops like Vicious Shadows that are hard to reach without a little help to get there. Temple of the False God is understated in this deck but still valuable.
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx – The new devotion land hasn’t been put to the test, but at the very worst it just taps for colorless and at its best (i.e. under the same conditions in which your commander is actually able to attack) it provides enough of a boost to be worthwhile at hitting the higher reaches of this deck’s curve just like the Temple helps with.
Haunted Fengraf – You don’t care what creature you hit; the Philosophy of Fire-style build that comes heavily implied alongside Purphoros tells us that getting back a card is going to be worthwhile towards the end goal, so this is a fine ability to add to a land simply at the cost of not tapping for colored mana. You’re very light on the colorless lands, so adding just a few won’t hurt much.
Urza’s Factory – If it’s worth making Goats, it’s worth making Assembly-Workers as well. Putting a creature into play is like drawing a card for this deck, which makes this land more valuable in context even if the ability is super expensive by Commander standards. For eight mana (the seven it asks for plus tapping the Factory itself), you could go pretty crazy in Commander if you wanted to. Like Insurrection crazy, and that’s just in this color.
Unlike those crazy cards with massive effects, this can be played as a land and tapped for mana and mostly ignored because the effect is understated, but in those long and grindy games where every option you can cobble together will matter, being able to add a few little somethings to the board and potentially trigger Purphoros more times than the number of actual cards in your hand would suggest possible will make a difference. I’ve played this card more than once in Commander and almost always cut it because over a long time scale I just don’t use the ability that often, but even with that being true this is of value to your Commander, so it carries extra value.
We make only minor changes here—one cut and three total additions, pulling into the spell base in order to fit a few more solid effects. We remove Nuisance Engine because, well, it’s actually just not very good, and we’re replacing it with something essentially similar but with a few other relevant lines of text in it as well. We’re also replacing your Wheel effects but still want access to Wheel-like levels of card draw because that’s important to us.
Two of our three additions are thus pretty self-explanatory, while the third merely upgrades our Nuisance Engine to a less embarrassingly bad card even if your deck isn’t really optimized to use it very well either. I think it bears consideration whether you want Ashnod’s Altar or Phyrexian Altar, as over the course of a big turn in which you play a lot of cards it looks like colored mana might be even bigger of a chokepoint than access to enough colorless would be, so you can do more even despite the less efficient exchange rate because everything starts with needing red mana.
Trading Post – A second way to make Goats in case you’re ever able to take advantage of your Goat of Arms. But most importantly it’s not like you cared about whether you paid a life or not to get your Purphoros trigger, and this offers appealing exchange rates on other forms of resource conversion while we’re at it. You have enough good artifacts to appreciate the ability to trade a Goblin token to get one of them back and wouldn’t hate the option to turn Spawning Pit’s Spawn tokens or an Assembly-Worker into a fresh card drawn instead.
Mind’s Eye – You want more cards because raw card-in-hand count is the biggest constraint on how much damage you can put out, and Mind’s Eye provides consistent access to more cards at the rate of three a turn. No, you don’t get them all at once, but do we really want to see this deck be the Brightstone Ritual, Wheel of Fortune, Battle Hymn, Reforge the Soul combo deck? Sure, it’s cute because the cards are worse than the real rituals and real draw 7s we’d play in a more conventional combo deck, and maybe it’s even fun to watch the first time.
But ultimately our actions have consequences, and a little bit of patience leads to a more interesting game—and lets us play better cards like Mind’s Eye instead of Reforge the Soul and Wheel of Fate to make up for the fact that the list of cards we consider playable includes both Krenko’s Command and Dragon Fodder, the kinds of cards you Commander opponents probably use as bookmarks or coasters.
Slate of Ancestry – Goblins don’t matter to this deck, but they are consistently accessible, as the tribe seems to meet the speeds at which you want to deploy and offers benefits while we’re at it just for accessing them. Slate of Ancestry may be more expensive than a regular Wheel effect, but price was never really an object. It can both repeat over multiple turns and draw deeper anyway, as it is not hard-capped at seven like Wheel of Fortune was. In a truly prodigious universe, you’ll storm into emptied warrens and draw a bazillion cards—or perhaps do it the other way around. Either way works with this deck without very much of a care at all. This doesn’t make the mistake of sharing, and if you’re at all rich, it helps you get richer quicker and rack up those direct-damage triggers by providing more and more cards to just throw at the problem.
We do most of our balancing of the deck in this section, taking out nine cards and adding only five back in. We moved two slots over to the artifacts section to get analogous effects more consistently (as seen above) and the other two going over to the creature section to give us room for a few more multiplier effects, which is all we were really trying to use those spells for anyway. Let’s look at what we’re pulling out:
Wheel of Fortune, Wheel of Fate, Reforge the Soul – I have a serious criticism of the universal draw 7 cards in this format to the point where I am always amused and sort of giggle at the fact that yes, Timetwister is legal—it just isn’t very good. You don’t really want opponents interacting with you, so giving them new grips full of cards is not a great idea. If they’re doing it, you want them to at least have to spend their draw phases doing it; you don’t want to provide them the shot in the arm they need in order to stop you.
To the degree you do want to draw cards, you want to use your artifacts to do it—I’d even consider Memory Jar a better option than Reforge the Soul because you at least are the only one gaining the full benefit of the full hand of new cards, with your opponents discarding all of that delicious stuff they could’ve played on their main phase. As it is, we’re just going to focus on drawing cards with artifacts since those at least just draw you cards instead of everyone.
Battle Hymn, Brightstone Ritual – Both of these feel like "hey look, these janky cards are SO RESPECTABLE in my deck!" While it’s true they can work as solid ritual effects in your build, it still doesn’t make them the right cards for the job. You want something that works upfront no matter what your starting board conditions look like, and barring that you’d like something so powerful that you just can’t ignore it. These meet neither of those conditions.
Gamble – You don’t really want a tutor since many of your cards really overlap in functionality so it’s not that relevant to hunt up one specific card exactly and put it in your hand. It’s certainly not important enough that you’d spend a card for the right to do it and then discard a card at random as well—sure, finding that Firecat Blitz or Mogg Infestation might kill the table right now, but the number of times you’ll need to do it right now and also have it be worth playing this to get it (keeping in mind that you’re going to be playing with only a very few cards in your hand, so that discard clause is a significant issue) is small. I’m just not sold it’s necessary or even helping.
Goblin Scouts – We can do better than this if we try. You’re already able to get four Goblins for this mana cost; we can probably get better than three Goblins for this slot if we try to.
Devastating Summons – I’m not loving this because you really don’t care what the creature’s size is (in fact, there will be board states where Summons for zero will have the biggest impact!) but you do potentially care that the price you pay to get on the board is not too high. We’re never going to want to sacrifice lands to get power into play, and you’re not so generously gaining access to resources that even sacrificing just the one land is an acceptable cost here, so I’m just going to skip it and replace the slot with a card that might do more for you.
Alpha Brawl – I find it hard to believe this is top of the roster at that mana cost, even above Insurrection, and there are plenty of people who will just shrug this off and not really care. This requires your opponent to be playing a serious creature presence onto the table before it’s really good against them, so as much as I love the card in concept I’m going to cut it in actuality. Which is sad, but getting to eight mana is not something you’re just going to casually do; you have to work to get there with this deck, so we need to make it worth your while.
Adding back into the deck, we have five slots to fill back in:
Mana Geyser – Sure, you can maybe do something cool and generate a bunch of mana with Brightstone Ritual. Maybe. The coolest of the cool plays, however, is still only likely to generate you five or six mana—which this card can do in its sleep and without requiring the stars to align right before it happens either. When you tell me you want to play a ritual effect in this format, this should be the first one being considered, and the absurd reaches you can hit on turn 5 are way, way crazier than the craziest Goblin-fueled turns you could hope to achieve with your humbler hipster Rituals.
Mana Echoes – So you want to talk to me about making a lot of mana off your Goblins? This makes a lot of mana off of your Goblins. You have a solid tribal base and are talking about using cards like Empty the Warrens and Goblin Offensive to "go off," and this lets you chain a few Goblins into something truly, truly Offensive. If you really want the colored mana instead, this is still better than Ashnod’s Altar, so the consideration we should be making is this plus Phyrexian Altar, not Ashnod’s Altar plus Battle Hymn. With just a little bit of Goblin help, Kozilek is actually castable to draw four cards off of rather than merely theoretically (and present largely as deck defense against milling or to provide technical access to recursion).
Confusion in the Ranks – You are very adept at generating worthless creatures in great quantity to the point where Confusion in the Ranks may effectively read "gain control of each creature your opponents control." It’s not really a fully fleshed-out Plan B, but it’s a nice added dimension alongside everything else you were planning on doing anyway and chances are solid that your opponents’ board will be better than the Dragon Fodder tokens you’re planning on getting when your spell resolves. This gives you a different axis to work on and thus a different axis your opponent needs to defend themselves from, as you could just be beating them to death with their own creatures and turning every awesome thing they do into just another cruddy Goblin token.
Molten Birth – Sure, "flip a coin" is not exactly "buyback," but we’re trading a card with the additional cost of "sacrifice a land" for a card with the additional benefit of "half the time you get this back." I’ve had opponents die to just Molten Birth by itself in M14 Draft on Magic Online because the fifth time I cast a single copy of it they felt they finally had to burn a Cancel to stop the shenanigans and the eight token creatures beat their board pretty handily. Getting your tokens (sorry, no Tribal synergy, but they were Elementals either way) and then maybe getting some more of them is the kind of small but meaningful improvement that can push your turn from good to great and your opponent from alive to dead. We don’t need our cards to be great in this deck, but we do need them to at least be the best versions of themselves.
Tooth and Claw – Yes, that’s "Claw" with a C, not "Nail" with an N. Most people still probably read it as Tooth and Nail, yawned off a good-stuff inclusion, and never stopped to think "Tooth and Nail isn’t legal in a mono-red deck." Tooth and Claw is here to help you juggle, as ultimately all you’re really trying to accomplish is assembling enough comes-into-play triggers to kill your opponents. Spawning Pit is one of your best cards because as long as you don’t care what the identity of your creatures is, it lets you get a bonus trigger at a surprisingly acceptable rate, and Tooth and Claw does the same—this time with a mana cost of zero, not even one colorless, so the turns where this little bit of juggling has a serious impact, we’re going to get a lot of work out of this card.
We have three cuts to make and five total additions, as we’re being pretty frugal with our changes here. The Goblin tribal aspect seems like it works for the design of the deck, and I don’t see a reason to go against it— in fact, I have a tribal addition that is so giggle-worthy it hurts until your opponent realizes wait, no, this is actually something they have to take seriously. I know both me and Cedric love us a Goblin, but I doubt even he has registered this one in his 75 ever in any format. Not me, though; I’ve played this particularly hilarious stinker at a Grand Prix and brought it into play in order to win a key match on day 2. After all, I am willing to play literally anything if it leads to winning the game, which is how I lead to last-minute Facebook requests for Thornscape Apprentices in time for the Invitational and decisions to play Sadistic Hypnotist with a straight face in Legacy.
One of my cuts is going to seem obvious in the context of the others—if I don’t think Wheel effects are worth playing, I am not going to be inclined to love a Sensation Gorger since I am not going to be a fan of its Kinship trigger ever happening. The other two cuts are simply based on what I think we get for that resource—I don’t see Mogg Raider or its future twin Goblin Sledder to be worthwhile inclusions, as we can get a lot more out of sacrificing a Goblin than just giving some other Goblin a +1/+1 bonus. We’re going to try to recycle our creatures with Tooth and Claw, not stuff them into another Goblin as a combat trick and hope it works out. (It never works out.)
Adding back in, we have room for five cards and must use it wisely:
Goblin Assassin – Okay, "wisely" might have been an unwise choice of words. But as we’ve noted with Confusion in the Ranks, your ability to generate a continuous flow of spare Goblins is prodigious, and also flipping coins for death is actually fun. Every time you play a Goblin, you get your two-damage trigger and probably don’t really care if that particular Goblin lives or dies. Its utility has already come wrapped up in its green feet hitting the ground in the first place, so you don’t really care if those feet are actually attached to a live Goblin or not.
50% of the time you’ll have to sacrifice a Goblin, and 100% of the time you just won’t care. 50% of the time, however, your opponent will sacrifice a thing that is not a Goblin, i.e. a thing that has significance, import, and a meaningful life span now cut short. I’ve put this into play after Show and Tell to kill an Emrakul, and let me tell you—that was satisfying. Commander is the home of huge creatures where the most monstrous of monsters go to play, right? Should’ve watched out for that Goblin Assassin, boss.
Emrakul’s Hatcher – We’ve spent that five mana and gotten four creatures coming into play, same as I’d said we would be able to—and while we don’t have any tribal synergies, frankly neither did Goblin Scouts, so let’s be serious here. We still have the three power even if we sacrifice the Spawn tokens, and we have the option of not just getting +1 Purphoros trigger but also getting three mana back out of the deal without relying on even a single other card to do it. Our exchange rate or benefits may go up with other cards because three Spawn tokens plus Mana Echoes is actually a fairly sizable chunk of bonus mana, but just by itself it’s bodies plus mana we can lay away for later or break into right now if we want to keep churning. Way better than Goblin Scouts, but that was an awfully low bar to cross in the first place.
Rapacious One – Another way of generating Spawn tokens, this can actually put a huge chunk of creatures into play with one trigger, and while it’s weird for us to actually care about a creature living and successfully attacking someone, the upsides if that happens are absolutely huge. We can’t all be Krenko, but this is actually pretty awesome if it connects in the context of your deck, so I am rooting for its inclusion. You can’t just chump block it since it does have trample, and the mix of damage triggers, bodies for reuse, and mana if you want it is just a whole lot of resources when exchanging resources is what your deck is built to do.
Young Pyromancer – A new printing and not as obvious an inclusion as people might think from reading here. It doesn’t trigger for artifacts or enchantments, so you have just over ten things that give you an Elemental token, and it’s not going to give you thing after thing after thing. We’re still getting a good rate and good access to a beneficial multiplier for things we’re already doing, which makes it just good enough alongside Krenko’s Command to think it’s worthwhile.
And last but not least:
Furystoke Giant – This is something I absolutely love getting to do if anyone lets me to the point where I have to give this serious consideration in my Pod deck as a possible target for suppressing an opposing board. (I’ve never done it, but I’ve thought about it a lot and find I’m always just on the other side of pulling the trigger—but it’s close!). You have approximately the most fortuitous conditions possible. You’re able to put a large quantity of creatures into play to work with it no matter how dubious their quality. You have the ability to sacrifice it effectively on command, taking advantage of Persist and the second shot at the trigger. And you have multiple cards giving these token creatures of very dubious quality the most important quality of all, haste, so that the tap-to-shoot ability is available without delay to your sketchy brood fresh off their Goblin Offensive.
All you want to do is find more ways to multiply the efforts you are already applying and Furystoke Giant is a significant force multiplier for your team. Each tap is two damage, just like each comes-into-play trigger was, and after you’ve worn the first two players down with Purphoros triggers, then Furystoke lets you double that effort and take out the last holdout with a mighty display of unprecedented aim on the part of these murderous Goblins.
Putting it all together, we get the following:
- 1 Goblin Matron
- 1 Goblin King
- 1 Goblin Lackey
- 1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
- 1 Goblin Warchief
- 1 Goblin Sharpshooter
- 1 Gempalm Incinerator
- 1 Siege-Gang Commander
- 1 Goblin Ringleader
- 1 Warbreak Trumpeter
- 1 Goblin Assassin
- 1 Skirk Prospector
- 1 Goblin Marshal
- 1 Stalking Vengeance
- 1 Ib Halfheart, Goblin Tactician
- 1 Mogg War Marshal
- 1 Furystoke Giant
- 1 Hissing Iguanar
- 1 Goblin Chieftain
- 1 Warren Instigator
- 1 Emrakul's Hatcher
- 1 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
- 1 Rapacious One
- 1 Spikeshot Elder
- 1 Chancellor of the Forge
- 1 Charmbreaker Devils
- 1 Rage Thrower
- 1 Beetleback Chief
- 1 Krenko, Mob Boss
- 1 Young Pyromancer
- 1 Goblin Warrens
- 1 Goblin Offensive
- 1 Coat of Arms
- 1 Journeyer's Kite
- 1 Goblin Bombardment
- 1 Mogg Infestation
- 1 Ashnod's Altar
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Mana Geyser
- 1 Spawning Pit
- 1 Mind's Eye
- 1 Confusion in the Ranks
- 1 Slate of Ancestry
- 1 Mana Echoes
- 1 Tooth and Claw
- 1 Mogg Alarm
- 1 Firecat Blitz
- 1 Empty the Warrens
- 1 Sarpadian Empires, Vol. VII
- 1 Boggart Shenanigans
- 1 Shared Animosity
- 1 Dragon Fodder
- 1 Goblin Assault
- 1 Vicious Shadows
- 1 Armillary Sphere
- 1 Mimic Vat
- 1 Chaos Warp
- 1 Warstorm Surge
- 1 Blasphemous Act
- 1 Krenko's Command
- 1 Trading Post
- 1 Goblin Rally
- 1 Molten Birth
- 1 Hammer of Purphoros
As always, for your participation in Dear Azami this week, you will be receiving a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com. We’re actually only around the $30 mark—the submission didn’t say "budget," but we hit a low one anyway, with a solid third of it tied up in one soon-to-be-printed legendary land that I think will be interesting and much sought after by Commander players everywhere and thus a worthwhile addition to pick up (be it at the Prerelease or via preorders here at StarCityGames.com) as it will find a good home in one deck or another for pretty much forever.
The serious additions that improve your deck are cheap, and most of the benefit of the coupon comes in answering questions like "who would actually have a Tooth and Claw to trade?" or "how do I get a Goblin Assassin?" No, I don’t expect you to have a junk Tempest rare of no import that you’ve almost certainly never seen or know anyone who’s ever seen one in play; that happens a lot in my particular corner of the Internet, and I hope it is put to good use in your deck because that’s about all the love it’s ever going to have gotten ever.
Laying it out by price, they are all pretty cheap, broken down as follows:
|Temple of the False God||$0.49|
|Tooth and Claw||$0.49|
|Slate of Ancestry||$0.75|
|Confusion in the Ranks||$0.99|
|Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle||$1.25|
|Nykthos, Shrine to Nix||$9.99|
When next I return, we will have the full set of Theros in our hands, I expect—or near enough to that I will be considering another Theros commander, be it a submission or a new deck of whatever’s caught my fancy. We are seeing a lot of legendary creatures we could play with, and there are a lot of new toys I’m looking forward to playing with.
Want to submit a deck for consideration to Dear Azami? We’re always accepting deck submissions to consider for use in a future article, like Oliver’s Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer deck or Sean’s The Mimeoplasm deck. Only one deck submission will be chosen per article, but being selected for the next edition of Dear Azami includes not just deck advice but also a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com!
Email us a deck submission using this link here!
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