Innovations – GobleStax in Vintage

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The Vintage metagame seems rife with Gush. Free card drawing spells are undoubtedly broken, and decks such as GAT are prime to take advantage… but how about looking at the metagame from another angle. How about… Goblins? Backed with disruption? Can the fast yet ultimately fair Goblin tribe really kick up a stink in Magic’s most broken format? Patrick aims to find out…

I was walking to the gas station by RIW Hobbies recently, contemplating Legacy. See, in Legacy I have been toying with the idea of playing a Goblin deck with maindeck disruption. The thing is, I want to play so much disruption that there is little room for Goblins.

I wanted to use Leyline of the Void, Thorn of Amethyst, Thoughtseize, etc. How could I possibly fit it all and still take advantage of cards like Goblin Ringleader, Goblin Warchief, Goblin Lackey, and Goblin Piledriver, which all key on having a critical mass of Goblin cards in your deck? This is similar to Affinity, which needs a minimum quantity of artifacts to really take advantage of Thoughtcast, Frogmite, Myr Enforcer, Arcbound Ravager, and Cranial Plating.

At first I fell back into my typical response, which is to then ask myself why I am playing Goblins in the first place. The problem is, my plan to win the “fair deck” on “fair deck” fight was by taking advantage of the synergies inherent in the best tribe in Magic. Then, in a moment of inspiration, it occurred to me… there is a way to make the Goblin engine more compact.

Goblin Recruiter.

Goblin Recruiter has been banned in Legacy for so long that it didn’t even occur to me for quite some time, but there is a format where he is legal.

Now wait, you may be saying… who cares? Vintage is a far more powerful format, where even Goblin Recruiter is not broken. What Goblins could you possibly be recruiting that would make a difference in Vintage? Even Lackey, Piledriver, Warchief, and Ringleader are tame by Vintage standards.

What about Squee and Welder?

Ah, finally the day has come where these two rejoin the tribe they have for so long forsaken.

Vintage players will be quick to recognize the strength of Goblin Welder, though may be skeptical of the wisdom of paying two to put it on top of their library. As far as Squee goes, why get this guy at all?

Why, to fuel another Vintage-only card: Bazaar of Baghdad.

Follow me here… you Recruiter for three Squee, Goblin Nabob, and whatever other Goblins you may want (such as Welder). Then you tap your Bazaar and draw two Squees, and start rolling. Next turn you get back your Squees and keep going, now just discarding Squees every time, effectively Ancestralling every turn. This is a powerful enough draw engine, that when backed up by a fair amount of action, such as a Goblin shell and a Stax (Welder plus Bazaar and so on), you should be able to overcome most fair strategies.

This even gives you a plan against unfair strategies, if you can only decompress the game enough to actually have time to tap the Bazaar enough. The plan here is to use an almost Stax-like approach and overload the game with disruption, making it difficult for your opponent to do all the unfair things he would like to do, such as casting ten spells in a turn or dredging an entire library. Even Flores would love this deck.

Slow the game down enough with this disruption, then your Recruiter into Squee plus Welder in conjunction with Bazaar should give you the fuel to go long.

I present, a GobleStax prototype:

This is just a rough sketch and is probably terrible, but you see what I am trying to do here. The thing is, I don’t know how far to take the Goblin theme and how far to take the Stax theme. For instance, what if you just incorporated the Goblin Recruiter plus Squee engine into Uba Stax? For instance, what about something along the lines of:

Yeah, that one is pretty sloppy, but I am just brainstorming here. The point is that it’s a way to add a card draw engine into your deck that will provide a stronger late game. You could go the other way, with this concept. Then your deck might look more like this:

This build features much less maindeck disruption, but has a much stronger Goblin linear.

Here’s the thing: I haven’t had enough time to build on this concept yet, so I don’t have too much more for you here, yet. I mean, I don’t even know if this is a Stax deck or a Goblins deck, let alone what sort of a sideboard you should contemplate. I do have to say that the idea of sacrificing Squee to Smokestack really does it for me.

That said, I don’t know if I could get enough testing in by this weekend to assemble a contraption along these lines for Chicago (that is, if I could even go), so I think I would probably just play my latest version of Flash.

This is it:

Again, this build hasn’t actually been tested. It is just the result of some ideas swirling around in my head.

First of all, Ponder seems great. You can take the best of your top three cards, then shuffle with a fetch land. That is such a good impulse. I mean, all I ever want with this deck is more Brainstorm. Ponder goes a long way towards helping this.

Brian DeMars and I were testing Slaver versus Flash a little while ago, and he found that he could noticeably increase his win percentage with Slaver by Draining, sometimes even Force of Willing my Brainstorms, they are that key to the deck. Ponder is no Brainstorm, but it is definitely the next best thing.

I made room for the Ponders by cutting two Summoner’s Pacts, as it is certainly the weakest card in the deck and Ponder will help me find Hulk regardless. I also cut the Elvish Spirit Guide as a consequence of no longer having all these Pacts. Ponder will help provides that mana anyway.

Second of all, I replaced the two Duress with a Thoughtseize and a Rebuild. The Thoughtseize is fairly self-explanatory, but the Rebuild is just a metagame call. I think enough people will be in love with the idea of nine Spheres to bring a surge of Stax decks to the forefront.

Finally, swapping Mox Ruby and Mana Crypt for two land is a continuation of the plan to make my deck less vulnerable to Chalice of the Void, which is deceptively the best card against Flash. I am just so sick of losing to Chalice for zero. My current list has 30% fewer zero-mana spells, which should go a long way towards improving my chances against a turn 1 Chalice.

I cannot be sure that this trade off is worth the cost in terms of speed, but it is an interesting experiment regardless. Ponder versus Summoner’s Pact and Island versus Mox Pearl certainly slows the deck down, and its greatest attribute is its blinding speed. That said, it is possible that the increased resiliency is worth the cost. I mean, the format doesn’t seem to be dominated by Long right now, so it is probably safe to look more at turn 2, instead of always being so focused on the turn 1 kill.

But to falter a little, I can’t help but wonder if the extra turn I will be giving my opponent sometimes will result in him having a turn at all in which to play the Chalice or Sphere or whatever. Hmm… it seems like testing and tournaments will determine this.

As far as the sideboard goes, I am experimenting with a Rector transformational board. You still keep the Hulks, because if you Flash a Hulk, you can get Rector and Carrion Feeder. Sacrificing the Rector leads to a Form of the Dragon, an autowin against some Vintage decks. It is unclear if this is worth the space, seeing as it still gets hosed by Leyline of the Void, but it is interesting in that it sidesteps hate like blockers, Plow, Powder Keg, Engineered Explosives, etc.

I dunno. What I do know is that I have just been too busy with Standard, Extended, and Legacy, to focus on Vintage as much as I would like, but I always enjoy it when I can. I just hope they keep toggling the Banned and Restricted List to keep it fresh. For instance, I would like to see Fact or Fiction unrestricted.

Some people call for the restriction of cards like Gush and Flash and Merchant Scroll. I, for one, would like to see things go the other way. What if we tried unrestricting more and more…?

What about Regrowth? I know it is sick with Time Walk, but is it better than Flash or Gush? I know Personal Tutor doesn’t need to be restricted. What about Time Spiral?

It will be interesting to see what Wizards does, come next rotation. I think it is fair to say that Gush is, in fact, living up to the hype. The entire format revolves around Gush and feels fairly stale, despite so many decks. The problem is, like Affinity, even though it is widely know to be the strongest strategy, it is so incredibly resilient, it can survive whatever hate may be thrown against it. And like Affinity, if you build a deck completely to hose it (like all Oxidizes and Viridian Shaman), you end up weak versus all the other decks out there.

That is why people aren’t enjoying widespread success with decks featuring Root Maze, for instance.

Maybe nine Spheres is the answer. Personally, I doubt it. I am not a big fan of traditional Stax, and don’t see this as a particularly strong step forward. I mean, you still aren’t drawing cards, you still don’t have Force of Will or Brainstorm, and you still get ruined by Hurkyl’s Recall. How much have you really gained?

Watching the Top 8 results from the SCG Vintage Weekend in Chicago will be interesting. After the complete and utter domination by Gush-based strategies last month, will Lorwyn alter the playing field enough to balance the scales? Or perhaps the metagame will shift so heavily against Gush that other decks will actually be viable. We shall see.

I am still rooting for Flash. I do love me a turn 1 kill, and this deck gets to use all the good Blue cards (well, except Gush… so far).

Here’s a thought… What about Illusionary Mask and Phyrexian Dreadnaught in Mask? I built a prototype at GenCon that gave me very unexciting results when tested against Steven Menendian and his World Championship winning GAT deck, but maybe it can be carried further. After all, I didn’t have Meddling Mage, which I realize now was a mistake. Flash-Hulking out 4 Dreadnaughts is good, but why not get Pikula as well? Obviously you name Echoing Truth, and immediately the match-up shifts radically.

You still suffer from the splash hate geared towards Stax, but maybe there is a deck here. I just wish there was some way to make this work with Anger or something, but I am pretty sure there is no compact way to Hulk out 4 Dreadnaughts and an Anger. I mean, if you start adding a bunch of bad cards, why aren’t you just playing Slivers or Karmic Guide and Kiki-Jiki, etc?

I am out for this week. Good luck to everyone in Chicago this weekend. I gotta go get ready for Grand Prix: Daytona. Later!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”