Raise Havoc! And Let The Slip The Goblins Of War!

The first Grenzo from Conspiracy was a sleeper hit that delighted Commander players everywhere who had longed for a black and red legend with some gusto! Does his sequel make the cut? Bennie Smith sure thinks so!

Verna: I suppose you think you’ve raised havoc.

Grenzo: Sister, when I’ve raised havoc you’ll know it.

I have a confession to make. Even though I’ve been kicked in the teeth by Goblin-themed Commander decks on more than one occasion – Krenko, Mob Boss, I’m looking at you – I’ve actually never built one myself and played it for any length of time. I did consider building a Krenko deck where Krenko was the only creature, just to see where that rabbit hole would lead me, but of course that wouldn’t actually be a “Goblin” deck.

Over the years Wizards has printed a lot of really, really good Goblins, to the point that Goblin tribal has been competitive in tournament formats for years. A lot of those cards can translate over into Commander if you want to build an aggressive deck that attacks and kills fast, but that style of play doesn’t generally call out to me.

Then I saw the spoiler for Grenzo, Havoc Raiser from the new Conspiracy set, thought through the play implications of his abilities… and started feeling aggressive in the most marvelous way!

It begins with Grenzo’s mana cost – just two mana, though double-red does make him a little tough to cast if you add too many mana sources that don’t produce red. Two mana makes you think you want to cast Grenzo early and often, but that’s not necessarily going to be the case. What’s cool about Grenzo’s triggered abilities is that they have “haste” of sorts—Grenzo doesn’t have to trigger on his own combat damage, so in practice you’d want to have at least one creature ready to attack already on the battlefield when you cast Grenzo. And since Grenzo’s triggered abilities scale the more attackers you can have deal combat damage to players, it gives you incentives to play more and more attackers to the battlefield.

The goad ability is kind of neat—so long as you can have more creatures deal combat damage than there are blockers, then all that player’s blockers will have to attack on their next turn. Which leaves that player open to more Grenzo triggered abilities. And they’ll have to attack other players, assuming you’re not their last opponent. What I love about this is how it encourages more and more attacks, which should mean that there will be fewer and fewer blockers to worry about.

Of course, the real gem of our Grenzo plan is that second triggered ability. By its lonesome it’s going to miss almost 40% of the time, given how many lands Commander decks typically play. Add to that spells that are too expensive for you to cast, and spells that you may not want to cast – say, mass removal – and you may be pushing a miss rate of 50% or more. So to really take advantage, you’ll want multiple triggers at the same time, with more triggers equating to more options.

While Grenzo doesn’t care what sort of creatures you’ve got dealing combat damage, it just so happens that Goblin decks can churn out lots of little Goblins, which could – fingers crossed and we build our deck right – translate into lots of little Grenzo triggers.

What’s nice about the choice between Grenzo triggers is that, if you’ve got a spell you want to cast from your hand, you can do the goad triggers, and if you don’t have anything you want to cast, then you can roll the dice with the exile triggers and see what’s lurking on the top of your opponent’s deck.

So let’s see what we can pull together!


Lots and lots of Goblin cards, mixed with some spells that make multiple Goblin tokens! I like that a fair number of Goblins make it tough to block, including Frenzied Goblin, Legion Loyalist, Intimidator Initiate, Goblin Tunneler and Goblin Heelcutter. And if your opponent has really large blockers, then they probably don’t want to block Mogg Maniac. This all plays right into our plan to deal combat damage to opponents. Goblin Lackey and Warren Instigator will put more Goblins onto the battlefield, letting us save our mana to cast spells from our opponent’s deck.

Goblin Dark-Dwellers can do a pretty cool Siege-Gang Commander impression if you cast a Hordeling Outburst from your graveyard. Goblin Guide’s triggered ability helps us with our plan by potentially clearing a land off the top of our opponent’s deck and showing us if there’s something worth exiling and casting.

No Blocks

Even though we’ve got some Goblins that can make blocking difficult, we don’t want to stop there. Luckily there are plenty of cards to help reinforce this plan, especially since we’re a red deck. Falter and Seismic Stomp are great cards for ending games in Limited, but they play great in this deck by potentially getting a whole bunch of Grenzo triggers and still leaving lots of mana available. And then of course we have Goblin War Drums, a card that’s been giving our team menace before we knew it was menace, back in Fallen Empires.

Hot Soup is a card design that I’ve loved ever since it was previewed for Magic 2015. The art, the flavor text, the rules text – a goblinoid carrying a huge vat of hot soup through combat, with everyone getting out of the way, and if it happens to take damage, it gets crushed by the huge vat and dies. I’ve never played with it in Commander because I’d rather not have my creatures hitting the opponent die to a random Lightning Bolt, but in this deck I should have no shortage of expendable Goblins around. Skeleton Key works perfectly too, since your Goblins will often be the smallest things on the battlefield. Basilisk Collar and Skullclamp certainly make your attacker much less attractive to block. Nim Deathmantle and Sword of Feast of Famine can make a creature unblockable against the right colors.

Power Matrix gives a creature flying and trample, which will often be enough evasion to get a Grenzo trigger. And the classic Icy Manipulator can join in with some of your Goblins to neutralize blockers.

Attack Step

Since we’re all about attacking and we’re playing red, we can enjoy cards like Shared Animosity and Aggravated Assault. Aggravated Assault is a mondo combo with Sword of Feast and Famine if your opponent can’t block, and if you’re getting Grenzo triggers, you can keep exiling cards and with enough mana potentially casting them… or just chew through their library and exile the deck if the damage doesn’t kill them. It’s possible that you don’t want to deck them if you’re getting a bunch of sweet spells from their deck you can use against your other opponents. Speaking of, Blade of Selves can help you get Grenzo triggers from all your opponents—it’s good to have options!

Mana Boost

Even though our mana curve is relatively low compared to a lot of Commander decks, we still want plenty of mana so we can take advantage of our Grenzo exile triggers and cast spells from our opponents’ decks. In addition to the ubiquitous Sol Ring and the oft-used mana rocks like Commander’s Sphere, I’m dipping into Mana Vault, my newly-traded-for Mana Crypt, and even Lotus Petal.

How horrible would it be to exile Seedborn Muse from your opponent’s deck but only have four mana available? Red also has plenty of one-shot mana infusion spells like Brightstone Ritual, Battle Hymn, Seething Song, and Mana Geyser, and since you’re converting extra mana into powerful spells exiled from your opponents’ decks, those cards are worth running here. Mana Echoes can even turn your cheap Goblins into “Rituals” of sorts with enough other Goblins on the battlefield.

Pyromancer’s Goggles will double the mana spells, and since I’m running spells that make Goblins I wouldn’t mind doubling too, it seems like a good card to include. Sometimes you may even get to double red spells from your opponent’s deck!


Since we’ll be playing spells from our opponents’ decks, I thought it could be fun to copy them even if they’re not red, so I’ve included Mirrorpool and Reverberate. Since we’re a deck that wants to put lots of creatures onto the battlefield, we’re going to be susceptible to mass removal, so I’m including Cauldron of Souls and Eldrazi Monument to help with that.

Here’s a different kind of Goblin deck, submitted for your review:

I really like all the cool things going on here. If you’re playing against slow decks, you can just simply play like an aggressive Goblin deck and dish out early damage, but once the battlefield gets complicated, you can shift gears and play with more finesse. When’s the last time you’ve heard finesse and Goblins mentioned in the same paragraph?

Kudos to whoever cooked up the name Grenzo, Havoc Raiser. Like many people, when I hear the word “havoc,” I think of Shakespeare and the quote from Julius Caesar: “Cry ‘Havoc!’ And let slip the dogs of war.” The military order “Havoc!” was a signal given to the English military forces in the Middle Ages to direct the soldiery to pillage and create general chaos. The goad trigger for Grenzo certainly can provoke chaos, and the exile trigger does a fair impression of pillaging.

How would you go about building a deck around Grenzo, Havoc Raiser? Any big cards I may have overlooked?

New to Commander?

If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:

Commander write-ups I’ve done
(and links to decklists):

Zurgo Bellstriker (Bellstriking Like a Boss)

Dragonlord Ojutai (Troll Shroud)

Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund (Dragons, Megamorphs, and Dragons)

Dromoka, the Eternal (One Flying Bolster Basket)

Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest (Tempests and Teapots)

Tasigur, the Golden Fang (Hatching Evil Sultai Plots)

Scion of the Ur-Dragon (Dragon Triggers for Everyone)

• Nahiri, The Lithomancer (Lithomancing for Fun and Profit)

Titania, Protector of Argoth (Titania’s Land and Elemental Exchange)

Reaper King (All About VILLAINOUS WEALTH)

Feldon of the Third Path (She Will Come Back to Me)

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant (Calling Up Ghouls with Sidisi)

Zurgo Helmsmasher (Two Times the Smashing)

Anafenza, the Foremost (Anafenza and Your Restless Dead)

Narset, Enlightened Master (The New Voltron Overlord)

Surrak Dragonclaw (The Art of Punching Bears)

Avacyn, Guardian Angel; Ob Nixilis, Unshackled; Sliver Hivelord (Commander Catchup, Part 3)

Keranos, God of Storms; Marchesa, the Black Rose; Muzzio, Visionary Architect (Commander Catchup, Part 2)

Athreos, God of Passage; Kruphix, God of Horizons; Iroas, God of Victory (Commander Catchup, Journey into Nyx Edition)

Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient (Ghost in the Machines)

Jalira, Master Polymorphist (JaliraPOW!)

Mishra, Artificer Prodigy (Possibility Storm Shenanigans)

Yisan, the Wanderer Bard (All-in Yisan)

Selvala, Explorer Returned (Everyone Draws Lots!)

Grenzo, Dungeon Warden (Cleaning Out the Cellar)

Karona, False God (God Pack)

Child of Alara (Land Ho!)

Doran, the Siege Tower (All My Faves in One Deck!)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (my Magic Online deck)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (Shadowborn Apostles & Demons)

King Macar, the Gold-Cursed (GREED!)

Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind ( Chuck’s somewhat vicious deck)

Roon of the Hidden Realm (Mean Roon)

Skeleton Ship (Fun with -1/-1 counters)

Vorel of the Hull Clade (Never Trust the Simic)

Anax and Cymede (Heroic Co-Commanders)

Aurelia, the Warleader ( plus Hellkite Tyrant shenanigans)

Borborygmos Enraged (69 land deck)

Bruna, Light of Alabaster (Aura-centric Voltron)

Damia, Sage of Stone ( Ice Cauldron shenanigans)

Derevi, Empyrial Tactician (Tribal Birds)

Emmara Tandris (No Damage Tokens)

Gahiji, Honored One (Enchantment Ga-hijinks)

Geist of Saint Traft (Voltron-ish)

Ghave, Guru of Spores ( Melira Combo)

Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)

Glissa, the Traitor ( undying artifacts!)

Grimgrin, Corpse-Born (Necrotic Ooze Combo)

Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord (drain you big time)

Jeleva, Nephalia’s Scourge ( Suspension of Disbelief)

Johan (Cat Breath of the Infinite)

Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo’ Myrs)

Karona, False God (Vows of the False God)

Konda, Lord of Eiganjo ( The Indestructibles)

Lord of Tresserhorn (ZOMBIES!)

Marath, Will of the Wild ( Wild About +1/+1 Counters)

Melira, Sylvok Outcast ( combo killa)

Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker ( Outside My Comfort Zone with Milling

Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis (evil and Spike-ish)

Nicol Bolas (Kicking it Old School)

Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius ( new player-friendly)

Nylea, God of the Hunt ( Devoted to Green)

Oloro, Ageless Ascetic (Life Gain)

Oona, Queen of the Fae (by reader request)

Phage the Untouchable ( actually casting Phage from Command Zone!)

Phelddagrif (Mean Hippo)

Polukranos, World Eater (Monstrous!)

Progenitus (

Fist of Suns and Bringers


Reaper King (Taking Advantage of the new Legend Rules)

Riku of Two Reflections (

steal all permanents with
Deadeye Navigator + Zealous Conscripts


Roon of the Hidden Realm ( Strolling Through Value Town)

Ruhan of the Fomori (lots of equipment and infinite attack steps)

Savra, Queen of the Golgari ( Demons)

Shattergang Brothers (Breaking Boards)

Sigarda, Host of Herons ( Equipment-centric Voltron)

Skullbriar, the Walking Grave ( how big can it get?)

Sliver Overlord (Featuring the new M14 Slivers!)

Thelon of Havenwood ( Campfire Spores)

Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice ( new player-friendly)

Uril, the Miststalker (my “more competitive” deck)

Varolz, the Scar-Striped (scavenging goodness)

Vorosh, the Hunter ( proliferaTION)

Xenagos, God of Revels (Huge Beatings)

Yeva, Nature’s Herald (living at instant speed)