The Magic Jerk – Goblins vs. The World

After bombing out at U.S. Nats while playing a horrible Goblin deck, I promised never again to sully my hands with Goblin Warchiefs or Piledrivers, content to play with artifact lands in the only deck that can use them well. Fast forward to a week ago and Ruel’s Goblin deck caught my eye and I was able to pilot it to a mighty *ahem* 2-2 finish at a local Neutral Ground tournament. Now, with weeks of playtesting under my belt against a gauntlet that includes five of the most relevant matchups in Extended today, I’m happy to say that I’m finally able to give you reliable information on how it performs against the field.

Let’s talk Goblins, my new favorite deck of Extended.

Now anyway Red men and … oh hey, where’s this week’s quote? I have to admit, using quotes as an impetus for creativity is all well and good, but this week I think I’m just inspired by the deck I get to write about. You see, Goblins and I have a bit of a sordid history.

Last year I narrowly made Top 8 of the Northeast Regionals and got to go to my very first U.S. Nationals. Long story short, Steve Sadin and I (a frequent testing partner of mine) followed Seth Burn steps into quite the debacle of a deck choice for Nats: Inbred Red, or Goblins with Furnace Dragon. I won’t bore with you the decklist, but suffice to say it involved Goblins, some artifacts (Skullclamp, Chrome Mox, and the lands), and Furnace Dragon. Let me sum up the deck for you. It was so awful that the now-banned artifact known as Skullclamp was unable to bring our collective Constructed records to 50%. At that time, I promised never again to sully my hands with Goblin Warchiefs or Piledrivers, content to play with artifact lands in the only deck that can use them well.

Fast forward to a week ago and you can see here that Ruel’s Goblin deck caught my eye and I was able to pilot it to a mighty 2-2 finish at a local Neutral Ground tournament. Now, with weeks of playtesting under my belt against a gauntlet that includes five of the most relevant matchups in Extended today (Affinity, Red Deck Wins, Life, Scepter-Chant and U/G Madness), I’m happy to say that I’m finally able to give you reliable information on how it performs against the field.

To begin here’s the decklist I was working with:

6 Mountain

3 Swamp

1 Sulfurous Springs

4 Rishadan Port

4 Shadowblood Ridge

4 Bloodstained Mire

4 Mogg Fanatic

3 Skirk Prospector

4 Goblin Piledriver

1 Sparksmith

1 Goblin Sharpshooter

4 Goblin Matron

4 Goblin Warchief

4 Goblin Ringleader

1 Siege-Gang Commander

4 Cabal Therapy

2 Chrome Mox

4 Burning Wish

2 Living Death


1 Chainer’s Edict

1 Perish

3 Duress

2 Cranial Extraction

1 Tendrils of Agony

1 Meltdown

3 Shattering Pulse

1 Pulverize

1 Reanimate

1 Cave-In

You’ll notice some minor changes to the main deck from last week, and a few big changes to the sideboard. Let’s discuss these before getting to the match results.

4 Mogg Fanatic is just correct in this format. It kills relevant creatures in any matchup where they cast creatures, it can go to the head in any situation, and you want to draw multiples, whereas drawing multiple Skirk Prospectors is just depressing.

I switched around the land slightly to avoid the Wasteland problem against RDW. RDW, with its Ports and Wastelands, can lock you too effectively and too early. To combat this, I changed three of the painlands into basic land (2 Mountains and 1 Swamp). This proved helpful and the mana base feels slightly more stable.

As you’ll see from the results below, there are two bad matchups for this deck, Nick West’s Scepter-Chant being one of those. I added 3 Shattering Pulse to the sideboard, as they’re good in three separate matchups. First and foremost, they’re an instant speed answer to the Scepter/Orim’s Chant lock. Second, against Affinity the ability to destroy an Arcbound Ravager is (shockingly) very relevant, and the buyback can come into play in the midgame. Finally, and most surprisingly, this card is the nut high against RDW.

I know what you’re thinking, this guy is awful; who boards artifact destruction against the fastest deck in the format? Well trust me, after playing umpteen million games against RDW it’s plain to see that there is really only one card that breaks the matchup: Cursed Scroll. A free Shock every turn is just too much for Goblins to overcome most of the time, and between Ports and Wastelands, it’s difficult to ever get off a game winning Living Death. In short, if you draw one Shattering Pulse the RDW deck will never get to keep a Scroll around, and if you can deal with the Firecats, you are the favorite to win the match after board.

So the matchups you say? Let’s get to it.

Red Deck Wins

In short – Slightly Unfavorable Game 1, Fair after sideboarding.

In Game 1 I go about 40% rather consistently. Usually Burning Wish is highly relevant, getting either artifact destruction for Cursed Scroll, or Cranial Extraction for Blistering Firecats. Surprisingly, the Goblin deck is fast enough where Wishing for Extraction on Cat is very strong, and reduces RDW’s “Oh look I topdecked the win” chances by a significant margin.

The general strategy is simple: play out enough blockers to strip their hand of burn and trade with their guys. Goblin Matron is usually amazing, as it can dig up one of the four Mogg Fanatics to trade with their Grim Lavamancers. Sparksmith and Goblin Sharpshooter are sometimes awesome, but usually just trade with a Lava Dart. Obviously Living Death is great and can almost always be set up with ease, though getting double Black is difficult if the opponent as any idea what’s going on.

My personal favorite Wish target in this matchup: Tendrils of Agony. Tendrils on four is easily attainable (Wish, Mox, one-drop, Tendrils), especially when that one-drop is a Prospector, and can cause a life swing so large that RDW won’t have the time or burn to overcome it.

Sideboard: -2 Wish, -1 Living Death. +3 Shattering Pulse

Canali Affinity

This matchup, unlike the way the Top 8 played out in Columbus, is highly favorable for Goblins.

In short – 80% throughout the match.

In Game 1 Burning Wish is a one man wrecking ball. If they get a nuts draw that can cast multiple Meddling Mages on Burning Wish you can usually get out of it by Matronning out Sharpshooter, Siege-Gang, or Sparksmith. Once a Meltdown or Pulverize resolves Affinity shouldn’t have the time to survive the Goblin onslaught.

This is one of two matchups where Living Death is highly relevant (the other being U/G madness). Turn 5 Living Death can ravage an Affinity draw, or even earlier if you Prospector it out on turn 3. Turn 3 is fast enough to counter the greatest possible Affinity draw as long as you’re on the play.

Obviously Cabal Therapy is one of your most powerful cards against them as well. If you know they are playing Affinity or are on the draw, turn 1 Therapy for Arcbound Ravager and turn 2 flashback is usually devastating enough to buy your way into the midgame.

After board, they have access to Chill, which is fairly powerful against you but only if they have the mana to cast on turn 2, and Engineered Plague. Let me dispel a commonly held myth about Engineered Plague – It’s not that hot against Goblins. If you get two, obviously Goblins immediately loses, but with one on the board it is rarely effective enough to do more than slow down the rush. I know that the Top 8 of Columbus does not reflect these findings, but I stand by my dozens of test games against Plague. Unless they get two on turns 3 and 4, it is mostly irrelevant.

Your sideboard plan consists of boarding into 3 Shattering Pulse and grinning fiercely at a Turn 1 Vial while you’re on the play. That, and you get to blow up a huge Ravager, which is just plain fun.

Sideboard: -3 Goblin Ringleader. +3 Shattering Pulse

Just as a note re: Goblin Ringleader. This is a really good card, but to be honest, one can be shaved from the main deck for anything you’d like, say Goblin Goon for instance. It’s pretty slow against the more aggressive decks of the format, and as such I like to cut down on their number in these matchups. Usually a Matron -> Ringleader is enough to bowl over aggro decks in the midgame after you’ve established control.


In short – You’d like to get paired against something else. 30% Game 1, 65% Game 2.

Not much to say about this matchup, although I can note that it’s one of the more frustrating Game 1’s I was forced to test. At literally any point in the game, they can draw one of a handful of cards (Enlightened Tutor, Scepter, Orim’s Chant, Cunning Wish for Tutor, etc) that will immediately win, and end the game. This deck has no way out of an Orim’s Chant lock if Goblin Sharpshooter or Siege-Gang Commander isn’t on the table.

A good point is that Aether Vial can circumvent this problem, but I’m of the school that losing Burning Wish for Aether Vial lowers the overall power level of the deck to unacceptable levels. The good news is that after board 3 Shattering Pulse are about as good a card as can be desired. Both their hand and life total is under enough pressure that counter magic is a nicety that can’t be brought to bear in time to protect their first Scepter. By the midgame Ports and must-counter spells in the form of almost any goblin that isn’t a Matron or Prospector will have put them under enough pressure that you should be able to pulse their subsequent Scepters away.

As a note, almost always get Sparksmith at some point if it becomes a top deck battle, as there’s nothing worse than losing to Exalted Angel. Luckily Living Death is a really good answer to a blank board being dominated by the pretty lady.

Sideboard: -3 Ringleader, -1 Mogg Fanatic, -2 Burning Wish, -1 Living Death. +3 Shattering Pulse, +3 Duress, +1 Cranial Extraction.

Just as a note. Ringleaders again, cut-able. I like cutting a Living Death in slow matchups so that it can be wished for. With the Pulses going in, the four Wish seems like overkill, and the one Mogg Fanatic is just a random shave. This matchup is less about speed and more about out-controlling them. Though they have a nice combo, their pure control elements are lacking unless they get a draw heavy on countermagic, in which case your Therapies and Duresses should have a field day with them.


In short – You just thought you didn’t want to get paired against Scepter-Chant… 30% throughout the match.

I won’t mince words with you – this matchup is awful. You’re an aggro deck trying to win with damage and you’re facing a deck that can gain an arbitrarily large amount of life. The sideboard isn’t much help either – you don’t have room for Sulfuric Vortexes or False Cure (curse you Instants!).

About the only help I can give you is the Extraction plan. If they’re missing Serra Avatar from their sideboard or main deck, you can deck them out. How? Glad you asked. First you have to get a quick Extraction off for Test of Endurance. This is actually pretty easy because you can fake like you’re trying to kill them with Goblins and they should waste time setting up their combo.

Once you Extract them for their Tests, let them go off (if they haven’t already) and then at your leisure Extract their Living Wishes. Sadly, if they have a Serra Avatar main or have already wished for it, this plan doesn’t work without a third Cranial Extraction in your board, as you need to Extract first the Wishes and then the Avatar (since they can just Wish it back from the RFG zone). If you expect Life, I’d cut either Pulverize or Meltdown from the board to make room for the third Extraction.

Sideboard: -3 Ringleader, +3 Duress.

You know, looking through my notes here I see that most of the time I just end up taking out some number of Ringleaders. Flores has recommended 3 Gempalm Incinerators and 1 Ringleader… perhaps he’s on to something. Then again, I really like Goblin Goon too. I’ve tested the Incinerators and outside of the mirror they have often felt too small to get the job done, so perhaps Flametongue Kavu would be good here? Something to think about I suppose.

U/G Madness

In short – Interesting match – seesaws, but ultimately about 55% in Goblins’ favor.

I really like this matchup. Though a timely Wonder can spell your doom, most of the time it plays out like two prize fighters clobbering each other – massive men and huge splashy Goblins or Wishes like titanic blows that rain down in a flurry of blood and life loss. Living Death is your most powerful weapon in this matchup, but Sparksmith and Goblin Sharpshooter (as well as their cousin Mogg Fanatic) get honorable mention. An early Sparksmith will usually seal the deal Game 1 unless they get the nuts and overwhelm you.

Cabal Therapy on Wild Mongrel is often devastating, and if you’re lucky enough to win the coin flip, you can strip their hand of turn 2 plays with a Prospector + Therapy, usually resulting in a win. Intuition is the next target as Intuition for Roar of the Wurm is dangerous if your Wish is lacking or countered. Perish, obviously, is extremely powerful here out of the board because even if they have their madness engines, you want to get rid of their 4/4s and 6/6s anyway.

As said above, this is the other match that a turn 3-6 Living Death can be a game winner, solving the problem of Mongrel->Flying Wurm->Bigger Flying Wurm. Sadly this plays right into their hands of Circular Logic or Daze, but a Prospector can help ease the mana requirements so it’s reliable enough..

Sideboard: For once, you’re a real wish deck. No sideboarding, you come prepared Game 1.

To wrap up, I think this deck is one of the most powerful in the format, and if played correctly can beat almost any deck that it faces. Though Life is a bitch, just hope Scepter-Chant decks knock those pansies out of the tournament early. That, and pack a trio of those $20 rares you’ve been keeping in your trade binder.

Till next time.

The Magic Jerk

[email protected]

P.S. Oh yeah, I promised to tell you how I went 7-2 with this deck in Constructed. I got to play at a GP: Trial where I went 5-0 against 2 Affinity decks, the 70-card mirror, a Control deck, and the Rock.