Of Goblins And Dragons

Red is in a great place for Standard. It’s already doing well, and if some of the planeswalkers and powerhouse cards from Core Set 2019 are any indication, other colors may soon be joining in the glory!

Look, I swear it’s not about Chainy Boy…

…like, not entirely anyway. Red’s just, like, you know, a really nice
color. It’s got real short wavelengths, helps keep rainbows in life, lets
you know when to stop at intersections. It’s just a real swell color all
the way around.

That said
, Goblin Chainwhirler is a Goblin, and it just so happens that Core Set 2019 contains a lot of Goblins and a Goblin “lord,” of

Okay, so admittedly, this isn’t the most breathtaking rate for a tribal
lord. These days, there’s a surprising number of 2/2s for two that give
+1/+1, and a 2/2 for three that gives +1/+1 needs to have another really
good ability to excite us. A 3/3 for four is substantially weaker than a
2/2 for three most of the time, and with competition like Hazoret the
Fervent, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Rekindling Phoenix, and Karn, Scion of
Urza, the bar is pretty high.

Goblin Trashmaster’s other ability isn’t nothing, though, giving us an
effectively unlimited supply of answers to Heart of Kiran, Aethersphere
Harvester, Torrential Gearhulk, and God-Pharaoh’s Gift

…Which brings up a good point: Goblin Trashmaster’s ability is also good with God-Pharaoh’s Gift. After all, it is another zero-cost
sacrifice outlet that helps fill your graveyard.

What if they don’t have any artifacts?

Glad you asked! Let’s say you’ve got a Gate to the Afterlife and four
creatures in your graveyard. You can actually sacrifice two Goblins,
targeting Gate to the Afterlife both times. Then, with both Goblins now in
the graveyard, respond to their abilities by paying two and sacrificing
Gate to the Afterlife to go get God-Pharaoh’s Gift!

Skirk Prospector already had applications in a new breed of God-Pharaoh’s
Gift decks and can now be paired with Goblin Instigator for even more
explosive openings.

Goblin Instigator is mostly a small upgrade to frequent Standard
role-player Dragon Fodder. The main advantage is that one of the 1/1s being
attached to an actual card means one more creature in the graveyard for
Gate to the Afterlife and a little less vulnerability to bounce or cards
that care about the names of your tokens (such as Bile Blight type effects,
should anything like that enter Standard).

Having two small bodies for one card is great whenever you can trade them
up. Siege-Gang Commander costs a lot to operate, but it can obviously put
them to use sometimes. Goblin Trashmaster is very efficient at turning them
into artifact destruction. The Core Set 2019 card that really
jumps out at me, however, for sacrificing Goblins, is Dark-Dweller Oracle.

Dark-Dweller Oracle being a halfway respectable body (2/2 for two) helps
hide the true power of this ability. For starters, let’s consider how DDO
performs when we’re flooded. Now we can trade a token and a mana for a
card. If we’ve got enough mana to play anything in our deck, we’re rolling.
Unlike Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Vance’s Blasting Cannons, we can play
lands off Dark-Dweller Oracle, so we’re not skipping that 40% of the cards.

What if we’re short on mana? Well, ideally, we’re using what mana we have
to play something. However, if we’ve got nothing able to advance the
battlefield a meaningful amount, sacrificing a Goblin token for a 40%+ shot
at land can be a really good deal because even when we miss, we’re
effectively getting a scry 1. Remember, the top card of your deck is
definitely either the land you need or not the land you need. If it’s the
land you need, great! If it’s not, you were definitely not going to draw
the land you needed next turn, and now you have increased your odds from 0%
to 40%+. What’s more, if you miss and have more Goblins, you can try again.

Now, what if we’re in a jam? We’ve got mana, but our opponent is developing
a pretty strong battlefield? If we don’t have the tools we need, maybe we
go looking for them with DDO. If the top card isn’t going to help us
enough, we don’t have to actually cast it. We can just go deeper, playing
to our outs. If we need an Abrade, we need an Abrade, for

Finally, DDO’s ability can be played at instant speed, so there are going
to be times and places where we can use it to disrupt our opponent’s game
plan. For instance, if they try to Vraska’s Contempt one of your creatures,
sacrificing it will deny them the two life, even if you can’t play the card
you exile.

One of the biggest challenges to this entire approach, however, is Goblin
Chainwhirler’s own effectiveness and ubiquity. When everyone is able to
sweep the battlefield of one-toughness creatures effortlessly on turn
three, it makes it hard to want to invest in Skirk Prospector, Fanatical
Firebrand, Goblin Instigator, Combat Celebrant, Siege-Gang Commander, and
the like.

That’s also kind of the biggest problem with Lightning Mare.

Lightning Mare would be absurd in a lot of formats. It hits hard to start
with, hits like a truck when it wants, and is even uncounterable and has
limited evasion…

…and one-toughness.

It’ll have its spots, of course. For instance:

It’s just not clear how much we’re going to want to be exposed to
Chainwhirlers maindeck. That said, the card has a lot of appeal as a
sideboard option for decks without small creatures. Once they don’t have
Fatal Push or Chainwhirler, Lightning Mare is one of the best two-drops you
could ask for.

What about going harder on Goblins? More Trashmasters means more ways
to invalidate Goblin Chainwhirler, right?

I don’t think I’d use the word “invalidate,” but yeah, I mean, I guess it’d
help a little. You sure are setting yourself up to have your four-drop
killed by a Lightning Strike or Abrade, though. What are you trying to do?
Like, are we talking something along these lines?

Are we really beating other red decks? It’s not just stuff like Hazoret,
which is traditionally good against red decks. After all, we’re not exactly
bad at chump blocking. I’m just not sure we’re really getting enough out of
playing all these Goblins instead of the Bomat Couriers, Scrapheap
Scroungers, Rekindling Phoenix, and Glorybringers that we could be playing.

It is not this guy’s fault, though, just to be clear. They know
what they’re doing. They made this a 4/2 to help really drive home the
message. Play Goblins and you’ll be rewarded with Flametongue Kavus. Of
course, it’s not always a given that you’ll have enough Goblins
(particularly with Chainwhirler running around), but this is at least a
respectable contributor to a dedicated or somewhat dedicated tribal deck.
Even the God-Pharaoh’s Gift deck above could probably make excellent use of
a couple Volley Veterans out of the sideboard.

While Goblins may be worth a look, it’s the Dragon tribe that I’m more
interested in out of Core Set 2019. Sarkhan, Fireblood is a really
interesting new Planeswalker that could be used in a more straightforward
red deck, but if Glorybringer is your only Dragon, you’re not going to be
getting nearly as much as the card would provide a more dedicated list.

Sarkhan’s +1 that adds two mana is extremely strong when you’ve actually
got a Dragon to make good use of it, making it sort of a Garruk Wildspeaker
for three mana, instead of four. It can actually be even better, however,
when you’re trying to cast multicolored Dragons, like Nicol Bolas, the

Sarkhan’s top +1 is kind of a nice fallback, giving you a way to keep
making progress, but it has more to do with Dragons than may be visible at
first blush.

Spit Flame is fairly efficient interaction and quite flexible. Even if you
never rebuy it, you’re not necessarily doing too badly. However, the
ability to rebuy it for one mana each time you play a Dragon means your
Dragons are now leading to card advantage.

Having a repeatable source of damage against creatures with four toughness
or less is going to be great against some decks, but Spit Flame can also
have some interesting potential against control decks when combined with
Sarkhan. Now, you can discard Spit Flame to draw a new card, using
Sarkhan’s top ability. Then, drop whatever Dragon and pick the Spit Flame
back up. This effectively turns Sarkhan’s “loot” ability into a “tome,”
drawing an extra card every turn.

Tormenting Voice is obviously not repeatable the way Sarkhan is, but it is
another way to put Spit Fire to good use. Tormenting Voice is a solid
role-player in its own right, but with Spit Fire, you can turn it into a
Divination when you want, and you even get to pay the third mana later.

Finally, Sarkhan’s ultimate doesn’t represent the deadliest threat ever,
but twenty power worth of fliers across four bodies is still a big game,
and since both abilities tick Sarkhan’s loyalty up, the +7 isn’t that far
away for a three-drop.

What might a dedicated Sarkhan deck look like?

Well, if we want to go hard while staying mono-red, we might try something
along the lines of:

What happened to not being about Goblin Chainwhirler?

Err, well, you see, Shock deals two damage, Abrade deals three damage, and
Spit Flame deals four damage. We need a source of one damage… Yeah, that’s

Sarkhan really puts Verix Bladewing in a new light. It’s not like a 4/4 for
four is a terrible deal, but Sarkhan is absolutely excellent at getting us
the mana we need to kick it and get ourselves a second Dragon.

Demanding Dragon is kind of a 5/5 flier with haste, but with the drawback
that they can sacrifice any creature they want to “chump block” the first
time. However, where it really shines is when facing an opponent with all
removal instead of creatures. While most hasty fliers would get hit by
whatever removal spell, Demanding Dragon does five on the way in. It’s
likely to be overshadowed by Glorybringer, but I’d guess it’s more likely
that we’ll just want more Demanding Dragons, rather than play Lathliss,
Dragon Queen.

Of course, I still want to try one, because she’s not without merit,
especially with Sarkhan curving into her so perfectly. She’s just about as
“win more” as they come since she basically rewards you for playing another
Dragon after you untap with a six-drop. Nevertheless, she sure breaks the
game open if she lives, and she’s not small.

Dragon’s Hoard is another accelerator for helping us play like a ramp deck,
with the added benefit of better card draw than most red decks usually get.
A turn three Dragon Hoard means Glorybringer or Demanding Dragon ahead of
schedule, and now we’re effectively up a card once we “pay” the mana of
tapping the Dragon Hoard to cash in the gold. Remember, Verix and Karox
both count, bringing two cards worth of gold.

Dragon’s Hoard is vulnerable to Abrade, but if we tap it for mana the turn
we play it, we’re not necessarily getting the worst of it. This makes cards
like Shock and Fatal Push particularly appealing. This brings up another
interesting feature: Dragon’s Hoard producing mana of any color, Sarkhan
producing mana of any color for Dragons, and Unclaimed Territory naming
Dragon means there’s actually a ton of support for any color of Dragon deck
you want.

For instance, what about something like:

Despite being able to Goblin Chainwhirler, we’ve got sixteen sources of
blue and green for Dragons, and even more black and blue. Maybe this list
is going too far in the ramp direction, but there’s a lot of appeal to a
two-cost accelerator, especially when it solves most color problems we
could possibly have.

Pillar of Origins lets us curve into Verix or Nicol Bolas on turn three,
but even if we draw it later or need to play it off-curve, it not entering
the battlefield tapped means we can play it and then tap it immediately for
mana to be more mana efficient.

Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is seriously hardcore. For starters, a legendary
4/4 flying Dragon for four isn’t embarrassing, but then getting to make
them discard a card and we’ve already got our money’s worth. However,
that’s not the end of the story with Nicol Bolas. Our 4/4 is even a
must-kill threat, or else we can pay seven to flip him into Nicol Bolas,
the Arisen, a Planeswalker worth a helluva lot more than seven (which is
why we need extra black and blue mana, since some of our fixers can’t be
used to pay the activation cost).

Dear lord.

Okay, to start with, +2 to draw two cards on a seven loyalty planeswalker?
That’s a lot of pressure on our opponent to answer him quickly. As if six
extra cards wasn’t enough, his -12 means they better win the game next

As for impacting the battlefield, -3 to deal ten damage to a creature or
planeswalker means Nicol Bolas is pretty reliable for being top of the food
chain. And as if these three abilities weren’t enough, Nicol Bolas has that
-4, letting him reanimate your choice of creature or Planeswalker from
either players’ graveyard. We don’t have to contort our deck to make this a
powerful way to ensure we have a battlefield capable of maintaining the
lead even if our opponent finds an answer to Bolas.

Of course, if we do want to contort our deck, there’s a lot of
overlap in incentives with Yawgmoth’s Vile Offering. Besides, Nicol Bolas
is an excellent legend for helping up the legend count. He’s also a
powerful creature to get back with Yawgmoth’s Vile Offering later, quickly
morphing from a four-drop into the biggest game in the format.

Sarkhan, Fireblood and Nicol Bolas really increase the amount of cheap,
attractive legendary permanents, of course, and they obviously work great
together. Sarkhan is also such a good discard outlet, we’ve got reason to
revisit a more “all-in” approach with threats like Nicol Bolas,

Turn 2: Baral, Chief of Compliance

Turn 3: Sarkhan, Fireblood, discard Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh

Turn 4: Yawgmoth’s Vile Offering getting their best permanent and returning
Nicol Bolas… sign the match slip.

Chandra is also a fine backup plan for casting the God-Pharaoh while also
being an excellent Yawgmoth’s Vile Offering enabler. She also can help us
power out Karn’s Temporal Sundering ahead of schedule, which can be an
accelerator itself.

Imagine if we have a Nicol Bolas, the Ravager and our opponent is thinking
they’ll be able to kill it before we hit seven. If we Karn’s Temporal
Sundering on six, we can take an extra turn and go straight into seven,
flipping Bolas a turn ahead of schedule. We even get to bounce something of
theirs (which can be sweet with Nicol Bolas, the Ravager himself

Karn’s Temporal Sundering does put some pressure on our manabase. If we
wanted to make things a little more consistent, we could give it up for
more early game interaction. Spit Flame might be an attractive option,
particularly if we end up making room for some Glorybringers. We might also
want to look at something like Never to give us more diverse interaction;
however, Yawgmoth’s Vile Offering is often going to do a lot of that kind
of work, for us.

Supreme Will, Essence Scatter, and Negate might also be worth considering
in small numbers (get that Baral value!), though we might just be better
served to find more proactive cheap legends, like Pia Nalaar and Gonti,
Lord of Luxury.

Depending on what direction we go with the reanimator package, a Scarab God
or two might be just what Yawgmoth ordered. It can’t reanimate the
God-Pharaoh, of course, but if we move towards more Dragons or even just
something like Razaketh, the Foulblooded or Zacama, Primal Calamity, we
could also look at Liliana, Death’s Majesty.

Another option to consider is the use of Final Parting, finding a single
copy of Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh to put into the graveyard, as well as a
Yawgmoth’s Vile Offering.

Once we go down this path, every durable legendary creature and
planeswalker that costs four or less gains a lot of value. Gonti and Pia
are deceptively good for enabling Yawgmoth’s Vile Offering, given that they
give you value even if they’re killed. Karn is quite durable, and Baral is
nice for dropping on turn six, then Offering immediately. Palladia-Mors can
be an attractive way to power legendary sorceries, but even Verix Bladewing
might work for our purposes…