Deconstructing Constructed – PTQing with the Goblins

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Tuesday, March 4th – I ended up playing Goblins again for my local PTQ, to which even showing up was a bit of a hurdle since just two days before I was hacking my guts all over the room. Being sick, I had no time to go get new cards, even thought I wanted to switch decks to G/B/W Hateorade for the expected field of UG Tron, Goblins, and Red Deck Wins…

I ended up playing Goblins again for my local PTQ, to which even showing up was a bit of a hurdle since just two days before I was hacking my guts all over the room. Being sick, I had no time to go get new cards, even thought I wanted to switch decks to G/B/W Hateorade for the expected field of UG Tron, Goblins, and Red Deck Wins. So I medded up pretty well with some Robitussin and Aspirin and headed off to the San Jose Convention Center. Arriving early I managed to get the remaining cards I needed for Goblins from Phillip Yam and Steve Edelson. The set of Earwig Squad I got off Phillip ended up being my MVP of the day, so big ups to him.

You can find my Goblins list in my article from two weeks ago. My only changes were cutting a Goblin Pyromancer and Mogg Fanatic for two maindeck Earwig Squad, and the Pendelhaven for the 3rd Mutavault. The sideboard had the usual assortment of Shattering Spree, Tormod’s Crypt, Sparksmith, Dranlu’s Crusade, and Cabal Therapy. Otherwise it was basically the same old deck, the only real notable thing the entire day was my complete inability to draw any Patriarch’s Bidding and instead seeing a much higher amount of Earwig Squad and Skirk Prospector. Although there’s a grain of salt here, the only reason I played Goblins was because I knew the deck in and out after playing it in different formats for years. I wouldn’t have bothered otherwise, and in fact I tried to get Burn Deck Wins together, just in case.

It turns out that the metagame had gone from heavy Dredge and a little bit of everything else to lots of Red decks, including Zoo, RDW, Burn Deck Wins, and any other non-Goblins Red deck I’m forgetting. In addition, a healthy chunk of Counterbalance was replaced by Tron-powered Mindslavers. As for the other big hitter for the weekend, Loam decks showed up en masse to beat on all the Red aggro that had magically shown up from the depths. The big losers for the weekend in popularity seemed to be Goblins and Dredge, of which only a few of each were around after the first few rounds. Otherwise the other decks hanging at the top tables or just below was the mish-mash of Death Cloud, Next Level Blue, Ideal, TEPS and an adorable Primal Forcemage deck.

QnD Tournament report. 8 rounds, about 180 people, final record was 5-2-1 (Apologies to all if I messed any information up or forgot names… my notes were awful and, being sick did not help my focus for most of the day.)

Round 1: Noah, Ideal

We small talk a while, and I mostly whine about the loudspeaker being set up in such a way that not all the four rooms (yes, we were split into four separate rooms without a dedicated PA system) could even hear the announcements.

I lose the die roll like a champ and we get underway.

Game 1: I Earwig Squad him on turn 3 and he scoops so I don’t see his deck.

In come Cabal Therapy and the additional Squads.

Game 2: I cast turn 2 Earwig Squad, but to my surprise I only find one Form of the Dragon in the deck. I rob the remaining Form and some Solitary Confinement so he can’t as easily get Form + Confinement and just burn me alive. There’s nothing I can do about the Form in hand except hope he doesn’t have Seething Song to cast it. He does on turn 4, and I’m stuck trying to set-up a Sharpshooter kill which never emerges. Part of the problem came from needing to imprint a Goblin Matron on Chrome Mox to get Earwig Squad down in the first place. Had I waited a turn I could’ve either drawn a land or different card to imprint on the Mox and had the Matron to help set the kill, but I got overzealous on casting Squad on turn 2, fearing an Orim’s Chant. Not sure if it was prudent at the time, or if hindsight is just making me regret it.

Game 3: I get a turn 3 Earwig Squad and once again Noah has Form of the Dragon in hand. However, this time I have the kill in hand if he goes for a hardcast Form. Unfortunately he goes for the Confinement lock off Enduring Ideal. This means two things as a result.

1. He can no longer kill me with Form of the Dragon as all copies are either removed from the game or in his hand.
2. It puts us in the awkward spot of having a combined 90 turns of draw-go to deck one person with about 10 minutes left in the round.

There’s another problem for me. I’m ahead on cards, but only by one, 45 to 44. This means if Noah chooses not to fetch the Honden right away and instead simply fails to find anything off some Epic copies and discard the rest of his current hand while not drawing thanks to Confinement, I lose. However, his conversation from the point that he has me ‘locked’ is one toward resignation of a long drawn out game of decking, leaving me to believe he hasn’t considered this yet. If I’m wrong though, I lose.

Still, blowing through this many turns isn’t all that likely, and it gives me an opportunity to get into the draw bracket where a bunch of my best matches* are. So we end up discussing this philosophical point for a little while, then he calls a judge to make sure it’s legit to and we intentionally draw with 7 minutes left in the round.

* Let me clarify this statement right now so it isn’t misconstrued. To me, in all my tournament and test games thus far, many of which are against good solid players, the Blue decks are close to byes if the opponent isn’t totally on top of his game and has sideboard hate. You can end a game 1 against Next Level Blue in about five minutes with a good hand, if they don’t have an early Tarmogoyf backed by Shackles or counter your first few drops backed by Shackles. The problem with many Blue players is they have this impression that Shackles and Counterbalance do things in this match.

I’ll dispel this misconception. Goblins mana costs are all over the place and the four best Goblins in the match – Ringleader, Squad, Prospector, and Warchief – are all at different spots on the chain. Two of them are way out of Counterbalance range for pretty much any standard NLB deck. Shackles has a difficult time robbing Squad, and you can race Shackles with Warchief since they can’t activate immediately on turn 3. Prospector hits on turn 1, nullifies robbery effects, and can initiate an early Bidding kill. The thing is, many of the best anti-aggro cards in this match not named Tarmogoyf don’t do enough to a deck like this, which can just drop two or three Goblins a turn when it’s flowing well.

This isn’t to say Blue decks cannot win game 1, or cannot win post-board games. They can. It’s just very difficult for the Blue deck without making the most of its resources and not throwing away Tarmogoyf to an early Incinerator (and a lot of you do, even the “good” players; you don’t value Tarmogoyf enough).

UG Tron, on the other hand, simply comes down to how many Moment’s Peace they have versus how fast your hand was. Oh, and how effective Gifts Ungiven is in the face of Earwig Squad and Cabal Therapy.

Enough of the tangent… back to the report.

Games: 1-1-1
Matches: 0-0-1

Round 2: Unknown, RDW

Apologies to my opponent here, I really don’t remember too much, since it was still early and the match was over quickly.

Game 1: My opponent has a deck registration error and gets a game loss. Yay for me?

Game 2: My first three drops get burnt off and I get bashed by a Grim Lavamancer and Tarmogoyf.

Game 3: He plays an early Grim Lavamancer plus Jitte, while my opening involves multiple one- and two-drops. I kill off Lavamancer with Mogg Fanatic and start pinging for my mighty two a turn. Another Lavamancer hits the table, but his only lands are Stomping Ground and Pendlehaven, which means I don’t have to deal with any other burn spells this turn. As a result I can attack into the Lavamancer, wait for the land pump, and then respond with Incinerator. A Kird Ape hits the field, but it’s too little too late. I drop about four Goblins on the table and I burn the Ape to death. He scoops.

Games: 3-2-1
Matches: 1-0-1

Round 3: Unknown, UG Tron

Another very pleasant guy to play against… anyone who “gets” my sarcastic sense of humor is a welcome opponent.

Game 1: I beat early, get an Earwig Squad resolved, steal the good win conditions (Platinum Angel, Titan, and Triskelion), and win the game a few turns after.

In come some Cabal Therapy and the additional Earwig Squad.

Game 2: An early Tarmogoyf slows me down, but I leverage Prospector and War Marshal against Tarmogoyf to hit Earwig Squad early. Searching through the deck I see a bunch of really obnoxious Tarmogoyf and Threads of Disloyalty along with another Platinum Angel. Because of my hand, both Angels and a Goyf hit the bricks. Titan and Trike weren’t major threats at that point, and I still might have wanted to take all three remaining Tarmogoyfs*. Within a few turns Goyf, Engineered Explosives, and Trikey ended up taking their toll on the Goblin horde, leaving me with little in play.

* I cannot express how annoying it is to have Tarmogoyf playing defense for Tron. A Tarmogoyf with at least three card types in play means it’s difficult to kill with Incinerator (Tron has the more unique subtypes to throw into the grave in response), prevents nibbling the opponent to death with small attacks, and makes any giant swarm attacks a risky maneuver. A single Moment’s Peace, or Repeal in some cases, can make the attack not deal enough damage to justify just losing your best goblin to Tarmogoyf.

Anyway, on the crucial turn of the game I have Goblin Warchief and a Mogg War Marshal token in play, and I get hit with a Mindslaver. My hand is imprinted on some Chrome Mox I was holding onto in case I drew Bidding and wanted to cast it, in retrospect when it was clear my opponent was hitting Tron, I should have just put them into play. My opponent has no action after the Slaver, just getting Ruins recursion up that turn, which means I’ll be dealing with Triskelion again next turn. However, this gives me one turn of freedom to beat my opponent. I draw Goblin Ringleader, play it, flip Piledriver and War Marshal, play both and swing for the win. I actually had thought this game was over because I had thought he had a Moment’s Peace in the yard the whole time off his Gifts package, but it turned out it was game 1 I was thinking of. I was very fortunate he didn’t have a Repeal, Moment’s Peace, or countermagic with which to save himself. But that’s what Goblins does well: it forces Tron to use all of its resources to save itself early damage and get the Urza lands setup.

Games: 5-2-1
Matches: 2-0-1

I chat with my buddies Derek Cocker, Pat Lam, Jeremy Fuentes, and the Berkley guys in between rounds, and watch a draw between Steve and Derek (Death Cloud versus Next Level Blue). I get a depressing sensation I’ll have to play one or the other, and hope for Death Cloud.

Round 4: Derek, Next Level Blue

… And I’m not so lucky. I play against Derek at Who’s on 1st off and on in Limited games. He’s quite good, and actually finished ninth at this PTQ due to tiebreakers.

Game 1: This game was epic, which kind of saddens me that I don’t remember much about it. What happened in summary was that I fought a total of three Tarmogoyf in the first six turns, and eventually double Shackles, and still almost pulled it out. I ended up burning away the first two Tarmogoyf and basically cleaning off my board slowly to try and set-up a single turn rushdown while leveraging my dorks, half to run into one another and the other half to push damage through. Eventually it comes down to a three turn window where drawing Patriarch’s Bidding will win (despite an early Crypting), and I just can’t get there.

In come the Dranlu’s Crusade because I know he has real Goblin hate in Engineered Plague and not the joke of Tsabo’s Decree, which does nothing most of the time and doesn’t stop a Bidding kill the rest. The extra Earwig Squad and Sprees also come in.

Game 2: I win in five minutes through Engineered Plague with an early Earwig Squad and Dranlu’s Crusade.

I board out Shattering Spree for the War Marshals I boarded out earlier, on the hunch that he boarded out Shackles based on what I saw in game 2 (seeing someone’s library helps so much).

Game 3: Much like game 1, Tarmogoyf and control magic effects bog me down forever. I steal all the Plagues out of the deck and it simply becomes a game of chicken with a huge set of Goblins facing down Goyf, Sower of Temptation and a few stolen Goblins. Eventually it hits a point where Dranlu’s Crusade comes into play, and Derek has a fresh Top activation to find Cryptic Command to win the game or my side will simply alpha strike over the following turn. He does, and I scoop.

Games: 6-4-1
Matches: 2-1-1

Round 5: Sam, B/G/W/U Good Stuff

I sort of know Sam from hanging around Matt Nass at the local tournaments in San Jose. Today he was playing a very interesting aggro-control deck of his own design.

Game 1: I manage an early Earwig Squad which lets me scope out a deck full of Tarmogoyf, Psychatog, Smother, Fact or Fiction and other great spells. I end up removing the Umezawa’s Jittes I found, but there are a lot of cards that made me stop and think… awkward cards for a small creature deck. Eventually Goblin Ringleader and Matron allow me to build up enough resources to battle past Psychatog. This forces him to lay Dark Confidant at three life to have enough blockers for an all out attack. He flips Meddling Mage, dropping to one… and I Fanatic him to death

I bring in some Sprees and Sparksmith.

Game 2: Sam starts with land, Mox, Umezawa’s Jitte; I start with land, Mox, Shattering Spree for two. He never really recovers from that although he hangs in the game for a while with Psychatog. Eventually I resolve a large Incinerator on Tog, forcing him to get rid of his hand, and I win two turns later.

Games: 8-4-1
Matches: 3-1-1

Round 6: Jordan, Death Cloud

Game 1: He gets land screwed and I win in a few minutes.

I bring in Sparksmith and a few Cabal Therapy.

Game 2: He mulligans to six and I Therapy Sakura-Tribe Elder and later Liliana Vess. I slowly run him out of cards and get him low on life, although the top of his deck keeps bailing him out of certain death with Garruks and Baloths. Finally he stops to lay a Deed, without enough mana to hit Piledriver, and I go off with Warchief and end the game.

Games: 10-4-1
Matches: 4-1-1

Round 7: Kamui, Red Deck Wins

Game 1: Two early Kird Ape mean I take plenty of early damage and can dish none back in return. Then I get hit by a Molten Rain on Auntie’s Hovel which screws up my original plan of trading all my dorks for his two Kird Ape and simply reloading with Ringleader action on subsequent turns. Instead I make a risky play involving Mogg Fanatic, Goblin Piledriver, Goblin Matron, and Goblin Warchief, going all-in to attempt to trade with a Kird Ape or two or force some damage through while I’m getting beaned by Kird Apes I can’t block in any safe way. At 11 life I figure the only way this is a totally awful idea is if he has land and Firecat in hand, in which case I lose on the spot. After spending a while thinking about blocks, he blocks Fanatic, takes eleven (dropping to six) and then lays the land and Cat and kills me. I’m a sad panda.

Though the result was me dying horribly, I’m not sure if it was an outright punt. The logic was that if I do nothing, I’m taking two to four for sure from the Kird Ape minions, since blocking both is out of the question and he gets to burn Warchief to death for basically free. Which means I need to rip a land or Mox to get Ringleader online, if this doesn’t happen, he has another turn of Kird Ape + Treetop Village beats; or rather in this case he plays Firecat and I’m forced to trade my team for his Cat just to survive. Instead I chose to shift gears to try and bring balance to what was to that point a completely one-sided affair.

I bring in Dranlu’s Crusade, which happens to be good against RDW even if they don’t have Plagues.

Game 2: Kamui has a slow start out of the gates and I kill him on turn 5.

Game 3: I Earwig Squad out his Engineered Plagues, but I end up eating a Molten Rain on Auntie’s Hovel which forces me to play two life to a Blood Crypt and keeps me off Ringleader. This ends up killing any chance of taking down Kird Ape + Tarmogoyf when I don’t see my fourth land, and the extra damage means I don’t get another turn to attempt to recover.

Games: 11-6-1
Matches: 4-2-1

Some words on the RDW match-up overall. The running joke is that if you resolve a Ringleader and you don’t see four lands, the Red deck takes its ball and goes home. Obviously this is an over-simplification, but it tends not to be able to just kill you from four or five as easily as its brethren Burn Deck Wins. This means you can leverage your small dorky Goblins into horrid trades and you’ll still end up ahead because you reload with more dorks, and the other guy maybe has a Treetop Village if he’s lucky for any consistent damage source. Tarmogoyf also is a much easier threat to deal with here than from the midrange builds, simply because if they don’t see Kird Ape in the opener, typically the Red player is going to lay an early Tarmogoyf to stop early damage. This makes for a prime Incinerator target, because of the small size of the Goyf in the first three turns.

On the other hand, Goblins can get completely run over on the draw some games, and it won’t even be close. All due to three toughness and a spell that by all rights shouldn’t be that good against you: Molten Rain. Turn 1 Kird Ape, turn 2 burn spell, turn 3 Molten Rain is a nightmare scenario for many Goblin openings. It leaves you with no easy out to Kird Ape, prevents your on-board development to return any damage, and keeps you off the precious three- and four-drops that let you fight the attrition war in the first place.

Round 8: Levi, UG Tron

Game 1: I get some Gobs down, swing for some early damage, and resolve Earwig Squad, taking all the non-Titan, non-Slaver win conditions from the deck since he already had assembled Tron in his hand. I have the game in hand with an entire army on the table and Ringleaders in hand just in case, since I know from the Squad information he has Titan in hand. I call it, he casts it, and I knock him down a little bit and get my army ready for as many alpha strikes as it takes through Moment’s Peace. Unfortunately I brain-fart this late in the day and don’t play Skirk Prospector, even though something in the back of my mind is going, “you only saw one Slaver in the deck, the other is in his hand if he runs it.” I get Slavered and lose the unlosable game to my own Prospector. If I had played correctly, Slaver would’ve done nothing of relevance.

I bring in Spree, Squad, and a few Therapy (good, not great).

Game 2: I get off to a quick start and win by turn 6.

Game 3: I lay turn 1 Prospector and turn 2 Therapy on Gifts (which hits), and flash it back to nail two Condescend. At this point he has two land and a Simic Signet in play with an Urza land and Repeal in hand. I soon amass an army and he’s only able to Slaver me for a 10 mana Time Walk effect. I bash for infinity with Warchief, two other dorks and Piledriver. He also realizes Piledriver has pro-Blue which means he has one turn to live no matter what he does during my combat step. He takes 14, draws nothing which will save him and scoops it up.

Games: 13-7-1
Matches: 5-2-1
Games where I got Mindslavered: 2-1 (Should have been 3-0)

Mindslaver may be the flat-out worst card in the entire Tron deck right now. Yes it allows for hard lock and is GG against combo when it resolves. It’s too damn bad the card sucks in every aggro match (they’ve either dumped the hand on the table or for Goblins have a bunch of men + lands in lieu of spells). If Earwig Squad was popping up more, I’d expect them to start switching at least one over to another Trike or Platinum Angel just to help with aggro and not be dead anywhere else. I know two Slaver has been the norm for a while, but man, you shouldn’t be able to lose when you resolve a 10 mana effect.

In addition, I’d have to say there’s a significant divide in difficult from the Tron builds boarding in 4 Goyf + whatever from the ones that board in just normal anti-aggro cards. Post-board I actually have to respect the Goyf defense from the Tron deck, and really think about keeping hands with smaller creatures and not a lot of Ringleader or Matron action going on. It also forces me to keep Incinerator in, which I could usually go down to a one-of (Just to deal with Trike and Plats).

The Top 8 for San Jose ended up as:

3 Aggro Loam (One with Flow)
3 Burn Deck Wins (One might have been Red Deck Wins, but until I see the lists, I’m not 100%)
1 UG Tron
1 Next Level Blue

In other news, this was my buddy Pat Lam’s TEPS list, a bit unique in choices of 0 Lotus Bloom and 4 Ponder (which is so good, by the way. Seriously, cut that Peer garbage and try Ponder some time).

Like I said, it definitely has some different choices and dodges the traditional issue of trying to dodge artifact removal on your Bloom in games two and three. I’d also like to mention the potential use of Xantid Swarm in future boards, with other TEPS builds running Tinder Farm (and even this one running more Spheres than usual) this is a potential addition that sneaks past traditional counterwalls, one that control decks have 0 answers to in game 2. Even if they reboard, what do they have to deal with Swarm anyway? Keeping Threads in to deal with one card? That they’d need to tap out to steal? Sounds like an awesome plan, tapping out against a combo deck.

This article is nearing ten pages in Word, so I’m just going to cut it off here and say good luck to all with PTQs remaining. I’ll see you all next week.

One last note… The Previous Level Blue deck is a pile in the current metagame and I would not recommend it at all, especially since even if you happen to be good enough to play the deck at a high level, the deck takes forever to win. The best part about that testing was the fact that it took an average of about 25 minutes a game against an aggro deck with all of the shuffling effects being handled by the program and not real shuffling. Good luck making the Top and not having at least two unintentional draws along the way.

Josh Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

PS: Shout-out to Mark, Robert, Lucas, Orie, Rafael and everyone else at the PTQ.