Goblins Ain’t What They Used To Be (Except When They Are)

Easy way to find out if Goblins are good again? Ask Jim Davis, Goblin Expert! He doesn’t like everything he’s seeing yet, but there are definitely a few places where the tribe is making a comeback! Find out where and why!

So after traversing around all sorts of weird places like Mirrodin,
Innistrad, and Kaladesh, Magic is finally going back to the home world:
Dominaria. So what does that mean? That means it’s time for some nostalgia!
We get to revisit all of our old friends and events from the first decade
or so of Magic’s history!




Uh… Squee! … I guess.

It also means leaving Gremlins, Moonfolk, and Aetherborn behind for some of
Magic’s most classic creature types:




And of course, Goblins!

While there’s some new Goblins in Dominaria, what’s got everyone
talking is the return of some old friends:

We’ve seen Siege-Gang Commander somewhat recently (Magic 2010, to
be precise), as it was a popular Standard card in Jund decks as well as the
bizarre Boat Brew R/W decks, but Goblin Warchief and Skirk Prospector are
newcomers to Modern and haven’t been in Standard since their original
printings. It was quite a long time ago, but all three cards were the
cornerstone of the Standard Goblins deck in various forms, as well as being
key pieces of both Extended and Legacy Goblins as well. As such they have
quite the pedigree to live up to, but also the comfortable insulation of
that pedigree against the growth and power creep of the last decade of

Older players know these cards as tournament staples, but they don’t quite
stack up to current Magic creatures or overall design principle.

In the days of Goblin Warchief and Skirk Prospector, creatures and threats
in general were generally underpowered, both on rate and in that they were
often reliant on synergy to be good. Just looking at some of the most
powerful creatures of the time period makes that very clear. Wild Mongrel
was the best two-drop in Magic for a very long time, partly due to its
synergy with madness and Flashback cards, while Noose Constrictor looked
like a joke during its Standard run. Nantuko Shade required an insane
commitment to black mana and Cabal Coffers, while Myr Enforcer required an
entire deck full of artifacts.

Back then, just slamming a bunch of Goblin Piledrivers and Goblin Warchiefs
into a deck with weak one-drops like Goblin Sledder and Skirk Prospector
represented a reasonable threat base.

Magic is quite a bit different now.

Not only are individual cards and threats much more powerful but because
they are so powerful, decks cannot skimp on removal at all. Unless a deck
has an extremely powerful linear plan, it absolutely must have an answer to
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, Winding Constrictor, Glorybringer, or heaven help
you, The Scarab God. Threats are too powerful these days to be without a
lot of removal spells in Standard.

This means that the dream of going turn 3 Goblin Warchief, turn 4
Siege-Gang Commander is very unlikely to come to fruition.

Without significant help, Skirk Prospector and Goblin Warchief have almost
zero chance at making any impact in Standard. The last time we saw a
successful Standard tribal deck was Zombies, and that deck made it as a
great battlefield control deck with good removal spells and card advantage.
It took a critical mass of great Zombies and support spells for the deck to
finally break through, and right now the support for Goblins is actually

This is a comprehensive and complete list of all the Goblins currently
legal in Standard:

Fanatical Firebrand has impressed and maybe Donald Smith would try and sell
you on Wily Goblin, but good lord I wouldn’t even want half these cards in
my Draft deck. Not only are there barely enough playable Goblins to even
fill a Standard deck, there’s almost zero reason to actually want
Goblins in your Standard deck. Siege-Gang Commander is already a good card
by itself, Goblin Warchief giving anything but Siege-Gang Commander haste
or cost reduction is basically worthless, and Skirk Prospector is

Without cards like Goblin Ringleader and Gempalm Incinerator that actually
properly incentivize you to want to fill your deck with Goblins, there’s
just no reason to really get involved with the theme. Zombies worked
because it had Cryptbreaker and Diregraf Colossus giving you great reasons
to fill your deck with Zombies, and Dark Salvation and Liliana’s Mastery
provided a great payoff.

The exception to this is Goblin Chainwhirler, the new Goblin that is much
more in line with current design philosophy; Goblin Chainwhirler is a freaking house.

On rate alone Goblin Chainwhirler is very reasonable. A 3/3 first striker
for three mana is quite the deal already, on top of having a relevant
(cough cough) creature type. Throwing on the triggered ability is quite the
amazing deal, as it can range from “kill your Llanowar Elves on turn 3″ to
“sweep away an army of 1/1 tokens,” either of which is extremely powerful.

Make no mistake about it, Goblin Chainwhirler will be a defining card in
the coming Standard format. Siege-Gang Commander may also have a place,
although it has to compete with all the other amazing red four- and
five-drops. However, Skirk Prospector and Goblin Warchief will sadly go the
way of Goblin Piledriver – into the back pages of binders and longing for
better days.

But Jim, What About Modern?!

With Goblins already being a popular fringe/budget archetype in Modern,
surely the introduction of Goblin Warchief and Skirk Prospector, two tried
and true Goblin cards, has to give it a shot in the arm right?

Honestly? Not really.

The “Eight Whack” decks that float around Modern are much more “All-In
Sligh” decks rather than traditional “Goblin” decks, focusing more on just
blitzing in for damage as fast as possible and finishing people off with a
Goblin Grenade or two (it’s always two).

Goblin Warchief hardly fits into a deck like this; half the creatures have
haste anyway and very few of them would actually benefit from a cost
reduction. Likewise, the only card in the deck that has any real synergy
with Skirk Prospector is Mogg War Marshal. There isn’t much need for extra
mana and sacrificing battlefield presence for it is very against the deck’s
main plan.

When Goblin Piledriver was reprinted, people got very excited about the
prospect of a “Goblins revival” in Modern. Naturally, with Goblin Warchief
and Skirk Prospector now joining the party too, the excitement is returning
again. “Is this it? Is this the thing that makes Goblins playable again?”

Sadly, the answer is a resounding no.

The two cards that made Legacy and Extended Goblins work for so many years
are Goblin Matron and Goblin Ringleader (and to a lesser extent, Gempalm
Incinerator). These are the cards that make the deck a lot like Standard
Zombies was before: a creature-based deck that could be aggressive, but was
much more focused in using synergy to generate card advantage and
battlefield control.

I’ve said it a dozen times across dozens of articles, but Goblins is not a beatdown deck! Without these sources of
card advantage and battlefield control, you end up with this:

…which is essentially Magic’s equivalent of a Starcraft 2 “zergling
rush”: shove all in on the first few turns and pray your opponent doesn’t
have an answer before you kill them, because I’ll be damned if you can win
a game that goes longer than six turns.

If Goblin Ringleader was in Dominaria (

assuming it was previewed properly

) maybe we could talk, but the idea of a traditional Goblins deck returning
to Modern isn’t happening any time soon.

With that being said, what about something a bit less conventional?

The Dirty Kitty

History is a valuable teacher, most valuable of all when concerning
impactful reprints.

While traditional Goblins does not seem plausible in Modern and neither new
card seems to be a great fit for Zergling Rush Goblins, there’s one old
Goblin archetype we have not addressed: Combo Goblins. Check out this deck
from the 2006 World Championship:

While most Goblin decks would use Skirk Prospector to fuel cards like
Goblin Ringleader and Siege-Gang Commander, there were a few Goblin-based
combo decks that would use it as a powerful mana engine.

Skirk Prospector plus Fecundity is an insane mana + card draw engine.

Any time you’re drawing cards while generating mana, you’re doing the most
broken things you can do in Magic, and when you combine that with storm
spells it’s very obvious how quickly things can get out of hand. Goblins
get exchanged into mana and cards, which turns into more Goblins, more
mana, and more cards, until an Empty the Warrens gives you an almost
limitless supply of both. At that point you can usually draw your entire
deck and present a lethal attack any way you wish.

While Fecundity has been quietly legal in Modern since its inception, we’ve
never had a card like Skirk Prospector to work with it.

Billy’s deck has a bit of a Goblin beatdown backup plan, with Goblin
Warchief and Goblin Piledriver prominently on display, but Extended in that
time period was a different world. Removal spells were far less common, and
the best ones like Lightning Bolt, Fatal Push, and Path to Exile had not
been printed yet. Goblin Warchief was much more likely to live, and the
format was slower overall.

The good mana rituals are also banned in Modern, but we can make do with
what we have.

This is a very rough first draft, but it goldfishes turn 4 pretty
consistently (turn 3 on occasion), and the power of the engine is very
prominent. It’s also immune to both graveyard hate and artifact hate,
unlike most of the format’s fast combo decks.

The big loss is Goblin Matron, as when you can’t find a Skirk Prospector it
can be difficult to go off, but even then just trying to cast Empty the
Warrens for 10-12 Goblins isn’t a bad backup plan to have. I doubt this is
what the deck will look like in its final form, but cards like Infernal
Plunge and Manamorphose do add an interesting angle to the deck that was
not there before.

There’s something here and it’s something powerful.

Hello, Old Friend

It’s a little sad to see my old friends being paraded around in fancy new
card faces and booster packs, only to end up in the unplayable section of
binders, but perhaps there’s hope yet. Regardless, you can bet I’ll be
experimenting with Fecundity Goblins in Modern as soon as I can get my
hands on the cards on Magic Online, as however unenthusiastic I am about
Goblins in Standard, I am equally excited about this new combo in Modern.