The Goblin Deck in Standard

Dan Paskins makes a timely return to StarCityGames.com… with Worlds just around the corner, the King of the Red Mages breaks down the Goblin Empty The Warrens deck for Standard. In fact, he’s so consumed by the flame that he touches on the Extended build too! Still undecided about what to play at your next Constructed tournament? Why not take the honorable path and beat down with the little Red men?

I first got to really like the new Red beatdown deck when, in about the fifth game of testing it, the following happened.

Glare went first, played an Elf with a shockland, and on the third turn played a Hierarch.

And on the Red Deck’s third turn, it attacked and killed the Glare player.

Let me explain…

A couple of weeks ago, I went recently to Mox Radio‘s secret base in Scunthorpe to help with the English team’s testing for Worlds. Upon arrival, Craig “Prof” Jones briefed me that there was a deck which he wanted me to have a look at:

I thought it looked sketchy, but I am prepared to serve my country even if in the line of duty I am required to cast Browbeat.

I started playing against Glare, and after splitting the first four games 2-2, I drew my hand and found the following:

Mountain, Mountain, Seething Song, Rite of Flame, Rift Bolt, Empty the Warrens, Mogg Sentry.

My opponent played a Stomping Ground and a Llanowar Elf.

I drew a Mountain, played a Mountain, and suspended Rift Bolt.

My opponent played a land and passed the turn.

I used the Rift Bolt to deal three to my opponent, drew a Goblin King, and played a Rite of Flame, a Seething Song, a Mogg Sentry, and Empty the Warrens for ten 1/1 goblins.

On my opponent’s third turn, he played a Loxodon Hierarch.

I played a Goblin King and attacked for 22 damage.

I played a few more games, to establish that the cards that I had thought served no purpose were, indeed, as bad as I thought. For version 2, I tried:

-4 Browbeat
-2 Blood Moon
-1 Pandemonium
-2 Ib Halfheart, Goblin Tactician
-1 Mountain

+1 Pendelhaven
+1 Rift Bolt
+1 Goblin King
+1 Seal of Fire
+2 Demonfire
+4 Thick-Skinned Goblin

The aim was to try it out as a Goblin beatdown deck with a “combo” of being able to play Empty the Warrens with a storm count of three or higher when possible.

That evening, a good time was had by all. The highlight for me was when Craig made a combo deck with Ignite Memories as the kill card. After a few games of the deck not working at all, he managed a game in which he went off, cast Ignite Memories with a storm count of ten, and lost because his opponent had two land in hand.

That deck got abandoned.

The Red deck continued to perform well. Against Boros and Zoo, it could trade in the early game, and then flood the board with Goblins. Any deck with one-for-one creature removal found this very difficult to cope with.

The problem was that if the deck didn’t draw Empty the Warrens, then it was a beatdown deck with weaker creatures than Boros or Zoo and with 28 mana sources. It would get horrible hands with some land, a mana acceleration spell, a Seal of Fire, and a Greater Gargadon or some such.

That said, it had unexpected strengths. Far from Wrath of God being a complete trump, against control decks it would put pressure on with its creatures, and then be able to use Empty the Warrens as an effectively uncounterable threat to recover after the Wrath of God had cleared the first wave of creatures. And between the Rift Bolts and Demonfires, it could snatch some games after the creature assault had fizzled out.

I tried to continue to take out the cards that were only good if Empty the Warrens had been cast, and to make it more consistent. Further tuning got it to this version:

This version is clearly stronger than the first, with the extra Rift Bolts and Wild Cantors helping Empty the Warrens storm for more, Demonfires giving a sink for the mana acceleration to make extra Seething Songs and Rite of Flames worthwhile in the late game, the Rakdos Guildmage and Frenzied Goblin being the strongest one-mana and two-mana drops available to mono-Red, and the Orcish Librarian being able to find Empty the Warrens or make it storm for more (no one testing the deck ever lost if they got to untap with Orcish Librarian in play). Pendelhaven is amazing, by the way, in a deck full of 1/1s. But you probably knew that. Seriously, though, it is good enough that I’ve put a land that taps for Green mana in one of my decks.

On the Sunday, I played a set of games of Zoo against U/r snow control, and lost 2-8. The U/r deck had Skred for my creatures, and 17+ counterspells that it could trade with my creatures. When I tried to move to the end game and stockpile burn spells to finish the Blue deck off, Teferi offered the Blue deck a way of winning the game while reducing its vulnerability to getting burned out.

The Goblin Deck, by contrast, had a much stronger matchup with the U/r deck. The U/r deck has a plan of trading one for one with either Skred or counterspells with beatdown decks, and then using card drawing like Think Twice to keep ahead. The Zoo deck has no way of gaining card advantage, and its high quality of creatures is irrelevant — they may be undercosted, but they still die to Mana Leak or Skred.

Against the Goblin deck, the U/r deck still needs to trade Skreds and counterspells one for one to kill off their creatures, but for exactly that reason Empty the Warrens causes horrible problems. In one game, Craig cast two counterspells on Empty the Warrens, and I still ended up with six 1/1s in play. Rather than trying to win with instant speed burn, the Goblin deck also has the ability to cast Hellbent Demonfire as a finisher.

The quality of the strategy is not better in the abstract than Zoo, Boros or Rakdos, but it is different. CoP: Red is no good against either Empty the Warrens or Hellbent Demonfire, efficient creature removal or large blockers are good against Zoo’s creatures, but just end up killing a 1/1 while its friends get through. Even against Solar Pox, Pox only won when it cast Smallpox on turn 2. Its lack of mass removal otherwise meant that it was trading removal cards for Goblin tokens.

In a world of expensive lands and pricey rares, this Goblin deck is also one of the cheapest competitive decks that I have seen in ages. We didn’t get as far as sideboard, but Blood Moon absolutely devastates some decks (and you can even Mountainwalk all over them with the Goblin King!) Alternative creature kill in the form of Skred or Shattering Spree is available. Against Pyroclasm or Wrath of God, Greater Gargadon lets you avenge your Goblins by swinging for nine. I only had one day to help with testing, so I haven’t fully explored the possibilities, but any suggestions for an anti-Dragonstorm card would be much appreciated.

I think that you’ll probably see an Extended version of this deck at Worlds this week — I know that Extended allows for some degenerate things at the moment, but the Goblin deck looks capable of some extensive silliness (I came up with this, untested, on the train up) :

So can you expect all the English players to turn up with a Goblin deck in the Standard part of World’s?

At a guess, probably not. Summoning ten 1/1 Goblins on the third turn is enormously fun, and with some favorable pairings and decent draws it could tear through the field. Even the untuned version with a whole load of Browbeats made fifth place at the Japanese Champs, so there is certainly something to the deck.

But there is no way of searching for the Empty the Warrens, even resolving Empty the Warrens doesn’t guarantee victory (given either mass removal or another combo deck being able to win more quickly), and based as it is on storm, it doesn’t mulligan very well. There is also the danger of getting stuck on just one land (since there are only twenty lands) and also of just drawing mana sources when you need a threat (given that nearly half the deck is some kind of mana or other)

It might be that the gaps in this deck can be addressed with cards that I haven’t thought of, or that Planar Chaos might bring new gifts that fill the gap. It’s a really exciting strategy, and it is almost good enough for the World Championships.

Take care

Dan Paskins