How Risky Is Your Deck? I Mean, Really?

My Skirk Fire Marshall deck should have worked without a charm… But even though it was a simple two-card combo that I needed to go off, I needed so much more. Are you making a mistake in not seeing the (over)complexities of your deck?

How NOT to build a multiplayer deck-Goblink.dec and what you can learn from it

I tried to build a nifty little deck for multiplayer. In theory, it should have worked; it wasn’t too threatening, the cards were easily obtained, it was theoretically just a two-card combo, and it should have been insanely good. But it all just fell apart.

Walk with me as I take you from the beginning, to the ghastly end of the deck I call… Goblink. (As always, the format is Type 1 casual.)

4 Mogg Fanatic

2 Goblin Matron

2 Goblin Ringleader

2 Goblin Chirurgeon

2 Squee, Goblin Nabob

4 Mogg Flunkies

4 Skirk Fire Marshal

4 Spirit Link

4 Lightning Bolt

4 Orim’s Chant

4 Swords to Plowshares

1 Sol Ring

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4 Plateau

2 Forgotten Cave

4 Plains

6 Mountain


2 Red Elemental Blast

2 Flaring Pain

2 Disenchant

2 Story Circle

4 Goblin Goon

3 Goblin Trenches

This time, I want to go over the strengths of the deck. The highest cc thing in here is the Skirk Fire Marshal at 3RR. Everything else is reasonably cheap. The goal is to get enough Goblins on the table to use Skirk Fire Marshal’s ability – and with it Spirit Linked, gain huge amounts of life, while clearing the board of opposing creatures. Using the advantage some of the goblins provided, I could take advantage of the board-clearing and work from there.

In theory, it should have worked. A turn 1 Mogg Fanatic is a sign of Sligh, but when it doesn’t necessarily attack, it’s not a cause for alarm. Goblin Matron gives me the goblin I need, and Squee will always return to me to have at least one goblin. Yep, you heard me: Squee is being cast as a creature! Goblin Ringleader is a nice way to dig deeper for solutions. Mogg Flunkies are just good, solid bodies.

Goblin Chirurgeons are a cheap goblin to block 1/1s early, and after the Fire Marshal comes down, a way to save some goblins for next time. For instance, The five goblins you have are Goblin Matron, Mogg Fanatic, Squee, Goblin Nabob, Goblin Chirurgeon and Skirk Fire Marshal. Tap the five goblins. Ability on the stack, sacrifice the Fanatic to do one, sacrifice Squee to save the Chirurgeon. Woo hoo!

Early blockers and attackers take form in those goblins, and in the face of slow decks, one can bring in Gobin Goons to add the beatdown pain. Goblin Trenches has a lot of fun against creature removal heavy decks. The rest of the sideboard is geared to control heavy decks, and as an answer to Circle of Protection: Red.

I played a few games with it before deciding its final fate. Two of note came very recently. The first was against a White defense deck with Windborn Muse, several Swords to Plowshares, and Vengeful Dreams, using things like Commander Eesha, Beloved Chaplain, Glory, and Mother of Runes to create an unblockable, hard-to-kill army. The game starts normally enough, with me at an advantage as I drop several small goblins. I get a few points in, and then he casts Windborn Muse. The next turn, I attack, walking right into Vengeful Dreams, pitching Glory. Now I’m in trouble. I can’t attack, I can’t block, I can’t remove his creatures. I cast Orim’s Chant a couple of times with the kicker to delay him – but whenever I managed to get a Marshal and a Spirit Link down, he had a Swords at the ready. Needless to say, I lost.

The next game I played was a multiplayer, with one playing a U/W control deck featuring Morphling and Exalted Angel, and the Muncher deck I posted recently. I was okay for the first few turns, but by the time the Marshal was out, Aether Charges just walked over me. This deck was just too slow.

So what went wrong here? Can anyone tell me?

Hint: Five goblins, no matter how weak, are considered a threat.

In this day and age of haste and Goblin Piledriver, everyone is concerned when they see too many creatures on the board. Attack or no, lots of creatures make people nervous! Second is creature quality. Goblin Chirurgeon is fun, but hardly optimal. Mogg Fanatic only does so well past the first few turns. Mogg Flunkies can be a pain when you can’t meet the attack/block conditions.

Now, we do have some great spells. Swords to Plowshares and Lightning bolt are both great spells to do damage or remove critters. Orim’s Chant lets you go off in peace, or stall a little longer to draw a few more cards. Land is also not an issue, since two colors, four painlands, and four duals are nice, but not necessary. But in the end, there are several conditions that one needs to meet before this deck can work, some more implicit than others:

  • Five Goblins…

  • …One of which has to be Skirk Fire Marshal….

  • ….Which must be Spirit Linked….

  • ….Which must be protected against burn or removal….

  • …Which must enter play uncountered….

  • And you have to be at more than ten life to survive the ability and gain the life.

What originally started as a two-card combo (Marshal and Spirit Link) is now six cards, in addition to Orim’s Chant (which, by the way, would be nicely assisted by Abeyance). Now, that’s a lot of conditions to meet. All this time, several opponents might also assault you. How do you keep yourself alive? The short answer is that most of the time…

You just can’t.

That’s where Goblink fails. On paper it sounds good, if not a little gimmicky – but in play, it just falls short. A combo deck is like a puzzle, and that puzzle can be as simple as”find these X cards.” Goblink fails because, not only do you have to find X cards, you also need to fulfill certain conditions.

The danger in building decks like this for multiplayer is that the number of factors you have to consider and be prepared for increase frighteningly quickly. Now, to some extent, these factors can be planned for. Sideboards, utility cards, good amounts of cards… These all reduce the risks involved in playing a game like Magic, where anything can happen, especially in multiplayer.

Goblink fails an important test in the multiplayer arena: Does it act properly, politically-speaking, until it’s ready to go? Some of the creatures it plays are seen as very aggressive, even if they aren’t used that way. The spells it has are considered offensive. How would you like taking three, having one of your creatures removed, or just plain shut down for a turn? It can do other players favors, but your spells are spread thin just keeping yourself alive.

Also, consider this: Certain cards just shut you down completely. Eradicate for Skirk Fire Marshal. Engineered Plague set to Goblins. Lots of creature removal. The other decks I’ve posted also have their vulnerabilities, but nothing compared to this. Without the Fire Marshal gimmick, this is a bad Sligh deck. There’s no way to regain life except by using you Swords on your goblins… And even then, unless it’s a Flunky or Goon, it’s not going to make much of a difference. This deck had a lifespan of a month before I finally gave up on it.

So from this experience, what can we learn?

  • Keep it as simple as possible. Multiplayer is chaotic enough, so make your deck as straightforward as simple. Is your deck going to be one of questions (e.g., can you deal with this?) or answers (e.g. Yep, I sure can, using spell X)?

  • Keep up the political front. Using Jackal Pups in a non-aggro deck will give off the wrong signals and send people gunning for you. Now, this doesn’t mean that all cards only have one purpose. After all, something like Blinding Angel is just as useful to keep you alive as it is whittling away at an opponent’s life total. But by and large, try your best to keep things appropriate. (This deck could have been worse; I could have added Fireblasts.)

  • Use the right support spells. I have some Goblin tutoring and drawing in here, but that’s hardly enough. Oblation in the sideboard would have been really good and kept the janky Chirurgeons away, but still hardly optimal. I could have made better card choices, but the deck overall would have had a very hard time finding the right support spells.

  • Have a backup plan, and have them in the right order. In this case, my first plan, Skirk Fire Marshal tricks, was not supported by my secondary plan, which was goblin beatdown. The reverse may have worked, but in the end, I didn’t want a goblin beatdown deck and never played it as such. In the end, it may have worked. But I wanted a gimmicky combo deck. And I got what I wanted.

The great thing about Magic is that even in failures, one can have fun. The one time I got this deck to work, I ended at about 170 life. With no other creatures in play aside from the five goblins, assuming you don’t use any funny Chiurgeon tricks (which reduces the overall amount of life you gain), and only one opponent, you gain a net of fifty life with one activation. To use crappy rares in an effective way is a goal in and of itself. (There is a fine line, however, between using a crappy rare and using a card with so narrow an application, like Tahngarth’s Rage, that it’s practically useless under any circumstances.)

My intention with this article was not to discourage anyone from trying to build that oddball deck that you always wanted to, but to warn you to not be too disappointed if it doesn’t work.

I wanted to close by saying that I’m going to continue digging through my cards, trying to make a better deck. Not to brag, but that’s what keeps my interest in Magic… the myriad possibilities out there, the interaction with people and cards… and most of all, the comedy that can result. An early version of Goblink ran Goblin Sharpshooters, and it was a hilarious setup, against an opponent with a Zuran Orb and precious few lands, me shooting him with the Sharpshooter and untapping by sacrificing things to the Goblin Chirurgeon, and him sacrificing lands to stay alive. The game ended rather violently when he just sacrificed everything to the orb and burning me with a Lightning Bolt, leaving me well below the life amount necessary to survive the now-activated Fire Marshal.

Magic is a game of puzzles. Some of us just choose the more difficult pieces to try and put together. To those who seek out the pieces, I salute you! Keep it going!!! Johnnies* of the Magic Playing World, unite!

John Alcantara Liu

“So let me get this straight: You’re casting Squee, Goblin Nabob as a creature.”


“That’s it; you’re officially crazy.”

* – Johnny, according to Wizards, is the guy who takes all the weird cards, and is mainly concerned with winning with style and class. There’s also Timmy, who likes big, fat, flashy creatures, and Spike, the vile netdecker and tourney mainstay, who doesn’t care how he wins, as long as he wins.