Following the conclusion of the Season One Invitational, I decided to take a brief respite from Magic before the back half of the marathon that is the 2019 SCG Tour. As much fun as it is to travel to and play every event, it’s nice to wake up in your own bed without a flight to catch on a Monday morning. What might be even nicer is to not feel obligated to pore over Magic Online results to get a head start on the weekend ahead.
With Modern Horizons releasing online last week and a full three weeks before the Team Modern Open in Pittsburgh, I figured it would be safe to let things develop a bit and see what players came up with before I started sinking my teeth into it. Surely a format as open and diverse as Modern would need some time to adapt to an entire set’s worth of new cards before there was any real emergence of new strategies. Not much could really happen over the course of a week while I relax and do a dozen or so drafts of Modern Horizons and attend a MagicFest, right?
As it turns out, I was horribly, terribly wrong.
Now, I’m not going to spend much time talking about the big pink Arisen Necropolis in the room, but Hogaak has changed the face of Modern as a format in just one week. In a way, as much as this apparent design mistake is an obvious misstep, it’s doing exactly what Modern Horizons promised to do – give us a set of Modern power-level cards that make Modern feel new and different from what it was before.
Talk of Eldrazi Winter levels of degeneracy can get depressing, so I like to look on the bright side in times like these. While Hogaak – more like Oh-No!-gaak, am I right? – is obviously the most-talked-about card getting sleeved up out of Modern Horizons, don’t let yourself get fooled into thinking it’s the only one. The Magic Online Modern League 5-0s are full of gems that don’t have anything to do with delve or convoke, and after looking over some of them, I’m more excited to play Modern than ever.
Specifically, the most exciting thing I’ve seen come out of the last two weeks is the revival of an old friend of mine, Goblins.
- 4 Goblin Matron
- 1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
- 1 Goblin Warchief
- 1 Goblin Piledriver
- 2 Siege-Gang Commander
- 1 Skirk Prospector
- 2 Mogg War Marshal
- 4 Boggart Harbinger
- 1 Earwig Squad
- 2 Frogtosser Banneret
- 2 Goblin Chieftain
- 4 Warren Instigator
- 2 Goblin Chainwhirler
- 1 Goblin Trashmaster
- 1 Goblin Cratermaker
- 2 Munitions Expert
- 1 Sling-Gang Lieutenant
- 1 Pashalik Mons
For what feels like an eternity, Goblins has been on the cusp of breaking out in Modern. And while I’ve seen my fair share of Goblin Bushwhackers and Mogg War Marshals, this is the first Modern deck I’ve seen truly worthy of the title Goblins.
Back in its heyday as a Legacy powerhouse, Goblins was a fast, resilient, and flexible creature deck that struck fear into the hearts of those who dared oppose it. Staring down a Turn 1 Goblin Lackey was akin to a Turn 1 Deathrite Shaman, and failing to answer it was a recipe for disaster. As it stands right now, Modern still lacks a lot of the iconic backbone there is in Legacy, but Modern Horizons returned a big piece of the puzzle to the mix.
I think we can all agree that a three-mana 1/1 is a bit lacking when it comes to Modern power level, but when that 1/1 is Demonic Tutor, it feels a little more worthwhile. The flexibility of Goblins as a tribe is very heavily tied to having access to Goblin Matron, and its entry into the format has me a little giddy.
Goblin Matron singlehandedly allows for Goblins to act as a toolbox deck. So long as there’s a Goblin that does it, you can go get it. As you can see from this deck, having a playset of Goblin Matrons means you can fill your deck with silver bullets for just the right situation without worrying about drawing them too often.
Two of the newest tools in the box, Munitions Expert and Pashalik Mons, perfectly fill the gap of Gempalm Incinerator and Goblin Sharpshooter from the glory days. Specifically, Munitions Expert fills a gap that desperately needed filling for Goblins as an archetype to succeed. Turning your Goblin Matron into a Terminate means something like a Thing in the Ice isn’t the end of the world when it otherwise would be.
While it hasn’t joined our ranks just yet, Goblin Ringleader was previewed on Monday for the upcoming Core Set 2020 and will surely be a hit in Modern alongside its old circus of pals. Without its reprint, though, I’m dubious of this deck’s 33-creature approach. Luckily, I’m not the only one who seems to think this way, as I stumbled across this list.
- 4 Goblin Matron
- 1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
- 4 Goblin Warchief
- 3 Mad Auntie
- 1 Wort, Boggart Auntie
- 2 Goblin Chieftain
- 2 Krenko, Mob Boss
- 2 Legion Warboss
- 2 Munitions Expert
- 2 Sling-Gang Lieutenant
- 2 Pashalik Mons
Tirifolix92 has had this exact decklist posted twice in the last week, eschewing the pile-o’-Goblins for some spot removal in the form of Lightning Bolt and Fatal Push. As such, their decklist is much less focused on playing some filler Goblins and more focused on just the good stuff.
Krenko, Mob Boss might be one of the most powerful Goblins ever made, and with so many ways to give it haste or protect it, it really shines in this shell. Sling-Gang Lieutenant does a lot of heavy lifting in converting Goblin tokens into damage, and as we know from decks like Bridgevine, sacrificing creatures for free is extremely powerful.
Both of these lists are a little rough around the edges, but such is to be expected for a toolbox deck coming back from the dead in a brand-new world. Over time I imagine the deck will start to take shape, but it won’t be easy. Playing a deck like Goblins at a high level frequently requires a deep understanding of not only the deck but the format as a whole when it comes to constructing it. There are a lot of Goblins legal in Modern worth considering, and lots of deep combinations that take time to figure out. I’ll probably spend some time working on it myself because I love the archetype so much, but it’ll probably be months until I consider playing it at an event because of how daunting a task it is to refine it.
Speaking of toolbox decks in need of refinement, the other new kid on the block I see showing some promise is Urza, Lord High Artificer.
Kanister is known for his amazing work tuning decks like Ironworks and Whir Prison, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was his latest hit. Urza, Lord High Artificer was one of the most anticipated cards during Modern Horizons preview season, and so far it looks like it’s delivering on the expectations.
Urza is the exact card that Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek didn’t know they needed in the absence of Krark-Clan Ironworks. Much like Sai, Master Thopterist was the card that the Ironworks didn’t know it needed, Urza is the full package. When the deck is working as intended, it’s the piece it needs to combo off and end the game immediately. When the deck faces hate, Urza gives it another angle of attack. And anywhere in-between? It’s just a good card to have.
Goblin Engineer is a card that, unlike Urza, felt a little glossed-over during previews but certainly delivers in this deck. Whether it’s finding Sword of the Meek to enable Thopter Foundry, getting Ensnaring Bridge to slow the game down, or looping Ichor Wellspring and Arcum’s Astrolabe to dig for whatever it needs, Goblin Welder’s younger sibling has found itself a good home.
What might be a reoccurring theme over the next few months is that it’s still not certain what the best way to build this deck is. In the Modern Challenge, Kanister played this Jeskai build with Teferi, Time Raveler, but the next day endorsed this list on Twitter.
Key to make this deck good is to not run 4x of cards that are heinous in multiples https://t.co/9hlYJcsZIi
— Piotr ‘kanister’ Głogowski (@kanister_mtg) June 16, 2019
Rather than being in white for Path to Exile and Teferi, Time Raveler, it seems he might prefer Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas and Dead of Winter moving forward. The most surprising thing to me about that isn’t actually that the change is happening so soon, but rather how little of that shell he chose to change. For a deck as intricate as this to already be considering just a handful of sideboard slots this soon in a format is rather impressive, as usually it takes hundreds of matches to get things so solid.
Of course, much like Hogaak in Bridgevine, Urza is the kind of card that doesn’t take much searching to find it a good home, so it has a natural advantage in finding its place in the format. Adapting the late Whir Prison decks to accommodate a card that seems like it was designed for the sole purpose of being slotted in might not be as tough a task as fitting in other new cards we’re seeing from Modern Horizons. Who knows? Maybe something more dangerous than Hogaak or Urza lurks deep in the format and we just haven’t found it yet.
Ultimately, as much as I personally believe that Hogaak is a problem and a mistake, I don’t think it necessarily means that Modern is ruined. It’ll be interesting to see how the format adapts to try to push it out, and what new archetypes continue to pop up and explore the cards we’ve just been given in Modern Horizons. There were so many more than just these two archetypes that I could talk about in the handful of 5-0s that have been posted, and if you don’t believe me, go see for yourself.
Modern Horizons in Constructed so far is great. Don’t let Hogaak spoil it for you.