Walk With Me: Drafting Goblins

Conventional wisdom says that while forcing a certain deck may work out some of the time, the numbers say that the important cards for the deck will not show up frequently enough to reliably force it. This is simply not so with Goblins in Onslaught draft because of the huge number of cards that the deck can key off of. Cards that aren’t even playable in other decks become powerhouses, simply because they belong to the Goblin tribe. So despite the protests of a couple close friends who have made a good bit of profit off of the Goblins draft strategy on Magic Online, I’m here to share it with you today.

(Editor’s Note: Nick Eisel is currently suspended from playing in sanctioned tournaments. He has not been compensated for this article. The details of his writing arrangement can be found here.)

First off, let me give my personal apology for the space between my last article and this one; I didn’t really plan for it to take this long, it just sorta happened. A number of unplanned vacations and spur-of-the-moment weekend excursions delayed the actual writing of the article, even though the draft that I covered was done a couple weeks ago. Anyway, I’m here now – and if you thought that I’ve had some unconventional draft strategies in the past, this one will certainly blow your mind.

I know there were a number of people who wanted a more in-depth look at the Goblin deck I was talking about in my Why Do We Read Strategy Articles? piece, as dictated by my e-mail Inbox. I decided the best way to provide this information would be to just join a draft on Magic Online and force Goblins, regardless of what I opened.

Obviously, this type of strategy can be extremely detrimental to the overall product of the draft: My deck. However, I’m confident enough in the strength of my theories to attempt it. Conventional wisdom says that while forcing a certain deck may work out some of the time, the numbers say that the important cards for the deck will not show up frequently enough to reliably force it. This is simply not so with Goblins in Onslaught draft because of the huge number of cards that the deck can key off of. Cards that aren’t even playable in other decks become powerhouses, simply because they belong to the Goblin tribe.

A personal realization about this draft format that I made partly because of this archetype is that it is more important to be tribal than it is to be a certain color combination in this block. I think it’s pretty safe to say that Wizards finally achieved their goal of creating the”Creature Type Block” as I can’t see any other way that a card like Goblin Assassin could be even played, let alone a potential bomb.

So despite the protests of a couple close friends who have made a good bit of profit off of the strategy on Magic Online, I’m here to share it with you today. (Though I’m not sure how profitable it will be for you since this format is almost rotated out and Wizards managed to screw up MODO royally with the 2.0 update, making it very hard to make profit off of winning drafts.)

I will attempt to outline the strategy as we go through, and afterwards give any other pertinent information that doesn’t come up in the actual draft.


Pack 1

Cruel Revival, Daru Lancer, Aurification, Haunted Cadaver, Battlefield Medic, Lay Waste, Dwarven Blastminer

Not much to work with here, and not a single goblin in the pack. Revival is a fine splash, though, or even just a hate if we can manage to go mono-red.

Pack 2

Sparksmith, Pinpoint Avalanche, Thrashing Mudspawn, Fallen Cleric, Battlefield Medic, Wretched Anurid, Dive Bomber, Wirewood Herald, Spined Basher, Aphetto Dredging

The rare was missing, which explains why ‘Smith is still here. Fine by me, as I get the best Onslaught Common and one of the best cards for the Goblin deck. Nothing really to say here; it’s an obvious pick.

Pack 3

Embermage Goblin, Barkhide Mauler, Mistform Wall, Charging Slateback, Inspirit, Convalescent Care, Crown of Suspicion, Fever Charm

Another great goblin, and especially good with Goblin Warchief. I know you’re probably saying”Okay, Nick – where’s the part where I start calling you insane?” I assure you, it’s coming, hang in there.

Pack 4

Primal Boost, Wave of Indifference, Dive Bomber, Birchlore Rangers, Disciple of Malice, Tranquil Thicket, Vitality Charm

Nothing for me here, so I take another hate draft/potential draft. Believe me, if there was even a single goblin in the pack I would take it – even a Nosy Goblin or Skirk Prospector (who is actually nuts in the archetype, enabling a huge creature early or helping to speed up Flamewave Invoker).

Oh, I almost forgot; I don’t consider Wave playable in Goblins, since most of your cards are very weak on their own and you have plenty of other ways to break through such as swarming, burn, and Flamewave. I might play it if I absolutely had to, or side it in against a deck with a lot of good ground stall… But otherwise, I don’t ever want it in my starting forty.

Pack 5

Skirk Prospector, Endemic Plague, Treespring Lorian, Wirewood Elf, Crown of Suspicion, Grassland Crusader, Slipstream Eel, Blackmail

Speak of the devil! Here, I could conceivably take the Wirewood Elf or Lorian to go with my Boost – but I’m forcing Goblins, remember? I’m trying to simply list the cards, since I’ve become so accustomed to drafting the deck that I have a hard time justifying not drafting Goblins. What I’m trying to say is that you can look at the other cards in the packs for yourselves and see where you have to pick some of the Goblin cards in order to make the deck work. I’m not going to say,”Well, here I could take Wirewood Elf, Lorian, and so on…” I will only comment on the debatable picks for the Goblin deck. Since I don’t believe either of the two cards mentioned are even remotely playable in Goblins, I see no debate here and confidently pick a card that most often is passed as a 15th pick – Skirk Prospector.

Pack 6

Nantuko Husk, Spitfire Handler, Daru Encampment, Backslide, Artificial Evolution

Pretty late for a Husk, if you ask me. The debate here is the powerful Handler versus another good splash card. I have to go with the Husk here because it is simply too synergistic with Revival as well as a good sink for some of the weaker goblins in the late game… Not to mention a powerhouse with something like Warbreak Trumpeter. Handler is not to be neglected, though, especially in the most powerful Goblin build, mono-red.

Pack 7

Goblin Taskmaster, Krosan Tusker, Wirewood Herald, Screaming Seahawk, Daru Cavalier, Piety Charm

A staple common with a very flexible ability, pumping your entire crew. This guy is a welcome addition to any Goblin deck.

Pack 8

Spitfire Handler, Aphetto Dredging, Grassland Crusader, Annex, Piety Charm

Another chance for a Handler, and I’m definitely going to suck it right up. There is certainly another possible pick here in Aphetto Dredging, though, as I’ve already decided on splashing at least Revival and Husk. Dredging is a fine splash, since 95% of your creatures will be Goblins and a lot have sacrifice abilities like Sledder and Prospector; a three-for-one is certainly nothing to sneeze at. This time, though, I have to go with the pure speed and power of the Handler. Another relevant factor is that there was a copy of both cards already in the draft, though the Dredging is more likely to come around, since there will be more cards in the pack when it gets to us than when the pack with the other Spitfire Handler comes around.

On the lap around, I don’t pick up much besides the aforementioned Dredging. For the board, I grab a Fever Charm, Blastminer, and a Blackmail.

Onslaught went pretty well, with the gifted second-pick Sparksmith and a good potential splash in Revival/Husk. I also shipped a ton of good Green and White cards as I’m sure you can see, so the guy downstream is most likely based in one of those colors, which is good for me. Usually, you want to be mono-red if at all possible when drafting Goblins – but a small splash isn’t the worst thing in the world, and is sometimes necessary to push your card quality high enough that the deck will perform. Good cards to splash are removal and tricks that can keep the tempo up and let you swarm more effectively. Black and Blue are the most common splashes, providing the best in terms of the types of cards we are looking for.


Pack 1

Aphetto Exterminator, Kilnmouth Dragon, Totem Speaker, Wingbeat Warrior, Deftblade Elite, Keeneye Aven, Goblin Lookout, Skirk Outrider, Bloodstoke Howler, Crookclaw Elder

A very solid pack, and an equally close pick. Both Kilnmouth and Exterminator are potent additions to our stack of cards. It’s not really that close when you get down to it, though, as Exterminator is a great card for keeping up the tempo and Kilnmouth is a slow seven-drop. We’re more concerned with the early game and putting our opponent as far on the back foot as possible – and even though the Kilnmouth allows us to stay in the red department, we’ve already decided to splash the two black cards from Onslaught, and the Exterminator is probably as good as it gets in terms of a splash. This pack is also good because we will almost certainly get Goblin Lookout back on the wheel.

Pack 2

Skirk Marauder, Chromeshell Crab, Timberwatch Elf, Stoic Champion, Daru Stinger, Needleshot Gourna, Spectral Sliver, Vile Deacon, Goblin Turncoat, Nantuko Vigilante

Well, this is what you call the nut high. My guess is the guy on my left took Skinthinner, since you wouldn’t take Echo Tracer over Crab and he has a respectable rating. This is probably the most annoying thing that could happen, since I already have a solidified splash and I get passed my absolute favorite card to splash in any deck: Chromeshell Crab. I deliberated for a few moments before finally forcing myself to avoid temptation and click on the Marauder, since it would be completely insane to run three-color Goblins (though I have done it once before – and unsuccessfully). Marauder is a high-quality card anyway and creates the same kind of tempo as the Exterminator, along with being a member of the Goblin tribe.

All of that only talks about two cards in the pack; the rest of the cards are also ridiculous. Timberwatch, Stinger, Spectral Sliver, and the rest of the pack ensure the goods will be distributed to the far ends of the table.

Pack 3

Skirk Drill Sergeant, Withered Wretch, Mistform Seaswift, Willbender, Glowering Rogon, Shaleskin Plower, Skirk Outrider

Nothing impressive here, though there are some nutty Blue picks. Makes me mad that I couldn’t just be mono-red after Onslaught and take the Crab for my splash. I’m happy with the Sergeant, though, as two-drops are always great in the archetype.

Pack 4

Ridgetop Raptor, Sootfeather Flock, Mistform Seaswift, Branchsnap Lorian, Goblin Grappler, Stonewood Invoker, Deftblade Elite

Bleah. I doubt I will even play the Raptor, but it’s the best thing I can take short of a hate draft. The Grappler is the only other option and it will most likely table like it always does… So I’ll just go with the gamble on that. The ridiculous blue cards continue to flow, and I’m starting to get real sore about that Crab.

Pack 5

Flamewave Invoker, Blade Sliver, Keeneye Aven, Gempalm Avenger, Starlight Invoker, Earthblighter

I love this guy in the Goblin deck. He’s the best common finisher in the tribe, and simply crushes the Blue/White decks that have become so popular nowadays. Need to break a stall? Flamewave’s on call.

Pack 6

Unstable Hulk, Goblin Grappler, Covert Operative, Patron of the Wild, Embalmed Brawler, Hundroog! (He’s done it for me, folks – T.F.)

This guy is very underrated. Especially in the Goblin deck, he will win games that were about to swing out of your grasp, since he is a rare and almost no one is going to play around his ability before they know you have him. A solid pick.

Pack 7

Flamewave Invoker, Daru Mender, Needleshot Gourna, Gempalm Polluter, Wirewood Hivemaster, Macetail Hystrodon

Another Flamewave in the stack, and my deck is looking pretty solid. It’s a funny thing with this archetype; sometimes you build your deck and you have five to ten cards that are completely unplayable in any other scenario, and then you don’t drop a single game on your way to winning the draft. Believe me, I’ve had some nutty Goblin decks in draft, such as one featuring Rorix, Goblin Pyromancer, Clickslither, and Siege-Gang Commander, so I’m more than capable of gauging the strength of a given deck of this archetype. This deck is looking middle-of-the-road, but still solid… Which is more than enough to propel us to a win.

Pack 8

Warbreak Trumpeter, Patron of the Wild, Vile Deacon, Daru Sanctifier, Hundroog!

How lucky! This guy is one of the staples of the archetype, combining with Goblin Assassin to Wrath of God your opponent’s side. Unfortunately there were no Assassins in these eight packs to go with him. He’s still a great addition, though, and is very good with our Husk (and the Lookout we will get back on the second time around).

As expected, the Lookout came back, along with a Grappler and Earthblighter, whom I’ve never tried, but may try sometime during this draft.

Legions is the core set for the Goblin archetype, providing many of the staple commons and uncommons in Goblin Lookout, Goblin Assassin, Warbreak Trumpeter, Gempalm Incinerator, Skirk Marauder, and Flamewave Invoker. The great thing about drafting this deck (and I know this sounds really stupid) is that most of the cards are so terrible on their own that you will get them back on the second time around. That gives you two high-quality picks for your deck out of a number of packs, which is really hard for everyone else to keep up with.

I’d also like to note that I’m not a big fan of Crested Craghorn in this archetype and I will take almost any Goblin over it. I can’t pinpoint exactly why I don’t like it, but I’ve tried it a few times and it’s just too clunky for Goblins. The only way I could see taking it would be a lack of removal or ways to punch through a big guy.


Pack 1

Siege-Gang Commander, Silver Knight, Torrent of Fire, Lingering Death, Aven Liberator, Carrion Feeder, Goblin Warstrike

I knew this was going to happen. I went into this draft trying to prove to all my readers that drafting Goblins is a very powerful option in Onslaught block using very run-of-the-mill (and in most cases, terrible) cards. Of course I would have to open a bomb rare so everyone can say,”No wonder he wins; he opens the best cards for the deck! I can’t do that, so therefore the deck won’t work for me.”

Trust me when I say that this is exactly what I didn’t want to happen. Now I could just as easily omit it for the sake of proving my point, but then it wouldn’t be a true draft coverage; it would be something I made up off of the top of my head. I’m not going to do that to my readers – so unfortunately, you’re just going to have to believe me when I say that you do not need stupid rares to win with this archetype. Yes, it is nice to crack them and they help out a tremendous amount, but you can just as easily win with a deck full of terrible Goblin cards. You’re just going to have to have faith in me on this.

Pack 2

Twisted Abomination, Decree of Savagery, Pemmin’s Aura, Aven Liberator, Rock Jockey, Alpha Status, Karona’s Zealot

Another great addition to my black splash, this guy is great for finding a Swamp to cast Cruel Revival and then digging him back. That’s what I call synergy. Also another nutty pack, so most of the decks at the table are likely to be pretty strong.

Pack 3

Chartooth Cougar, Stabilizer, Clutch of Undeath, Frozen Solid, Fierce Empath, Enrage

I had to take a minute to load up the trade message boards to make sure Stabilizer wasn’t worth enough to take over the Cougar. It wasn’t, so I added the landcycler to my deck.

Pack 4

Frontline Strategist, Kurgadon, Zealous Inquisitor, Krosan Drover

A weak pack to deal with, so I hate the card that is extremely annoying to play against with Goblins, as they can often foul up your Lookouts and make your alpha strike look pathetic.

Pack 5

Goblin Brigand, Dragon Scales, Shoreline Ranger, Carrion Feeder, Lethal Vapors, Accelerated Mutation, Wirewood Symbiote

I’d love to take the Carrion Feeder here, as he is wonderful with my Gang and Warbreak Trumpeter… But Goblin Brigand is the two-drop you love to hate. Most of the time he is fine and trades for a morph, but there are those occasions when he just runs into his own demise. The good thing about having him in a Goblin construction is that there are plenty of ways to sacrifice him when he’s no longer useful.

Pack 6

Reap the Graves, Bladewing’s Thrall, Coast Watcher, Astral Steel, Misguided Rage

Reap is a fine splash card in Goblins, as long as you already have splash cards in the color. Don’t go and splash for it all by itself, but it’s a welcome addition to a medium-sized splash. I already have Aphetto Dredging so I’m not sure if it’ll make the cut, but I do have SiegeGang and a few landcyclers so it just might.

Misguided Rage is also a great sideboard card for this deck, and I almost always board it in when I’m going first. Stone Rain after a one-drop and a two-drop is usually game over as long as you can keep the pressure up, and it’s worth the risk of it being dead in the late game.

Pack 7

Dragon Shadow, Unburden, Wirewood Guardian

Not much here; the only card I’d even consider siding in is the Shadow to help break through, and I have a couple of six-drops to bring it back. It’s very doubtful that it’d ever make the maindeck, though.

Pack 8

Reap the Graves, Vengeful Dead, Raven Guild Initiate, Vengeful Dead, Woodcloaker, Titanic Bulvox

Another Reap, which is definitely sitting on the bench. I thought about hate drafting here, but taking a Reap for my board is just as good as hating the Raven Guild Initiate – so I just do that.

To finish off the draft, I pick up a Goblin Warstrike, Rock Jockey, and an Enrage as relevant picks.

A funny story about Warstrike, which I’ve told to most anyone who will listen: I drafted probably the worst deck I’ve ever seen; it had three both copies of Goblin Psychopath and Goblin Warstrike in it. I always joked about living the dream of”Striking Someone Out” from twenty. Well, I got damn close.

It was on MODO late one night when I could barely stay awake long enough for the finals to begin. In game 3, I had only gotten my Cleric opponent down to eighteen life before he stabilized with various one-power ground blockers. My opening hand of the game was three Warstrikes, Grappler, Flamewave, two Mountains. Off the top I drew Warbreak and then continued to draw land. At the end of his seventh turn, I unmorphed Warbreak for three and then topdecked a goblin and Struck him out from eighteen.

Anyway, enough reminiscing from me – I have plenty of funny stories like that and could go on all day if I wanted to.

I think I covered most of the important points in terms of drafting the deck:

  • Go mono-red if possible

  • Legions is where the cream of the crop is drawn

  • Get lots of early drops and focus on the early game, where you can position yourself so that you can just swarm them out with Lookout or something of that variety or finish them with Flamewave

Any other important questions should be asked in the forums, where I will make my best attempts to address them.

A side note on the forums: I didn’t really want to get involved in the past because I would probably only get angry and say things I didn’t mean when people were badmouthing me, but a few friends have convinced me that I should take part in the discussions – and so I will do my best from now on.

The Deck

1 Goblin Taskmaster

1 Skirk Prospector

2 Flamewave Invoker

1 Warbreak Trumpeter

1 Sparksmith

1 Goblin Grappler

1 Skirk Drill Sergeant

1 Goblin Brigand

1 Embermage Goblin

1 Siege Gang Commander

1 Goblin Lookout

1 Skirk Marauder

1 Chartooth Cougar

1 Unstable Hulk

1 Rock Jockey

1 Spitfire Handler

1 Reap the Graves

1 Twisted Abomination

1 Nantuko Husk

1 Cruel Revival

1 Aphetto Exterminator

1 Aphetto Dredging

12 Mountain

5 Swamp

Relevant Sideboard:

Sootfeather Flock, Fever Charm, Reap the Graves, Goblin Warstrike, Misguided Rage, Dragon Shadow, Earthblighter

The last card I cut was the Flock, but it was otherwise a pretty easy build. I must say that I don’t feel like I really blew anyone’s mind with this draft, probably because of the stupid Siege-Gang. Be assured, though, when I take Goblin Assassin over Crested Craghorn, I’m not playing around. I did do some coverage for this one, so we’ll get on to that.

Round 1 Soooooo vs. yuuji (1779 Rating)

Game 1: I get a good early start with Prospector, Taskmaster, and Flamewave Invoker against his Blue/Red deck. He plays a morphed Echo Tracer that trades with my Taskmaster, since I had nothing better to do on the fourth turn anyway. He then plays Aphetto Runecaster, which I promptly Revival and then flip up Warbreak Trumpeter and Exterminate his Keeneye Aven for the win. I see two Tracers this game, so his deck definitely isn’t lacking in card quality – and he probably got a Seaswift or two to go with them, since there were so many in the draft.

Game 2: I start with the Prospector again, followed this time by Drill Sergeant and Husk. This is all moot, though, when he arms his Mistform Wall with Lavamancer’s Skill and I’m feelin’ the hurt. My deck has other ideas, however, and offers up a Siege-Gang Commander, which I accelerate into play via the Prospector and use the tokens to make mana and kill his Wall. It does cost me my entire side except for my Husk, though, as he only has one mana up and I respond to the Wall’s creature type change ability on my end step by killing it off with the Gang. The game eventually goes ballistic as I Dredge back three guys and he gets a few fliers out to beat me down.

The crucial turn comes when he taps low and I swing in with everyone, morphing up Unstable Hulk to grasp victory from the jaws of defeat – as his fliers would have killed me on the following turn.

Round 2 Soooooo vs. cpt_caveman (1764 Rating)

Game 1: I start with Drill Sergeant and Marauder while he plays out Aurification. Prospector helps to crush any hopes he had of shutting me down, as I’m kind of low on mana and I use the guys with gold counters on them to power out fresh threats against his Black/White deck. Eventually I get him to nine, and two Flamewaves finish it with only six lands in play on my side.

Game 2: I side in Earthblighter, as his deck looked kind of slow and maybe I could stop him before he got the ball rolling. Also, it’s pretty funny to beat someone with a card that’s so terrible – and since I was up a game, I figured what the hell.

He starts out pretty quick with Stoic Champion and a Morph, while keeping up four mana for what is obviously an Aven Liberator. I can’t really do anything about it though, as I pass the turn with my face-down Exterminator and Grappler. The exchange isn’t good, but at least I get to time walk him on mana. He always seems to have the cycler when I try to stop Stoic Champion, and I can’t really keep up despite having a Dredging and tons of fine cards. The final dropkick comes when I topdeck Siege-Gang and he matches with a topdecked Clutch of Undeath.

Game 3: I start with a mulligan into an okay hand, but nothing spectacular. He starts with the stupid draw of Deftblade Elite + Dragon Scales and takes out my Brigand. He continues to play guys and I’m stuck on three lands for at least 3 turns. I have the Revival but by the time I can cast it it’s far too late and he has Liberator anyway.

An annoying way to lose what I felt was a pretty solid draft. However, I didn’t play ever play Sparksmith or have any draws that I felt were way above normal; sometimes you just get screwed.

Next time, I’ll have the new article format and hopefully that will go as well as planned and won’t be too long from now. Until then.

Nick Eisel

[email protected]

ThatsGameBoys and Soooooo on MODO