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Remaking Modern Rakdos Goblins

What’s the best way to build Rakdos Goblins for Modern? Ari Lax is your guide to the archetype essentials, the pitfalls, and the fine details.

Conspicuous Snoop, illustrated by Zoltan Boros

Zach Allen is tall, smart, handsome and still in first place on the frozen SCG Tour Leaderboard. And he plays Rakdos Goblins.

I’m not saying there’s a correlation or causation there, just that if you also played Rakdos Goblins there’s always a chance it might help with the first four things.

Especially after Zach fixed the archetype on his way to a near-miss fourth place in the Magic Online Modern Qualifier a week ago.


What Is Rakdos Goblins? What Should It Be?

The entire reason to play Rakdos Goblins is the Conspicuous Snoop plus Boggart Harbinger combo.

To give a quick recap for those who haven’t seen the combo in action, start by controlling a Conspicuous Snoop that can attack or tap.

Cast Boggart Harbinger and place Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker on top of your library. Now your Snoop can copy a nonlegendary creature: itself. Then that copy copies itself, and again, and now you have a ton of tapped Snoops. The last Snoop copies Harbinger, which puts a Sling-Gang Lieutenant on top, and the many Snoops throw themselves at your opponent.

The main thing you see tying all these new lists together beyond the combo is discard spells, and that’s telling for what is going on at the core of the deck.

Prior Goblins decks in Modern have been aggressive and linear in order to reach the raw power level needed to compete against the format. That requires every piece of cardboard you draw to be Goblins-related, resulting in really inflexible decks. There was that one time Rizer won a PTQ with Goblin Grenade and eight Bushwhackers, and a few Sam Black Knucklebone Witch brews, but never anything good.

Once you compact all the raw power you need into a two-card combo kill capable of ending games on Turn 3, you can build a deck with cards that aren’t Goblins. Hence all the discard spells and why the deck is good now.

Rakdos Goblins is a creature-combo deck. You can combo, or you can creature; just choose your role depending on the game and matchup. That puts it in the middle of some strong company: Battle for Zendikar-era Rally the Ancestors, Gatecrash-era Aristocrats, and the various Kitchen Finks loop combo decks in Modern like Melira Pod.

Your combo is disruptable by removal, but not at a huge loss since it’s just trading a Lighting Bolt for a two-drop that might have even already cast a card. Discard helps some with that, but you can lean into this further with the available Goblins in Modern. The thing Zach’s list does that no other list I’ve seen really takes to heart is that everything that isn’t the combo should be good against removal, making Lightning Bolt a narrow and beatable card. There are other lists with Dark Confidant, and that’s exactly what you shouldn’t be doing.

The other reason for tons of discard is the one-drop Goblins in Modern are trash unless you are on the all-in aggro train I mentioned earlier. Even the lists that are fundamentally different from Zach’s don’t play more than a tutor target. Zach has Tarfire since it’s a better kill spell to find than Mogg Fanatic.

This also is why Aether Vial is the best card in this deck. Around 90% of Aether Vial hands are keeps and at most 60% of non-Vial sevens are keeps. Your deck is going to be loaded with cards that cost two or more, some of which are filler that finds more action. If you don’t have Aether Vial on Turn 1, it is easy to get choked on action and have to take less powerful lines for efficiency.

Boggart Harbinger is among your worst cards. It’s part of your combo, but it’s the blank Splinter Twin to Conspicuous Snoop’s more functional Pestermite. Harbinger’s rate is bad, and it has a weird split where later in the game it’s a slow search and earlier the lost draw not being a land cuts off your ability to do enough things.

The big realization Zach had is that you can just Goblin Matron for the Harbinger when you want to combo, only play two copies, and just present a better deck. You do want a second copy so you can lose a combo to removal and still threaten to combo again, but any more is overkill. Note the same rule of at least two copies applies to the rest of the combo too, but the other pieces are actually good Magic cards.

With fewer Harbingers you lean harder on the backup plans, but they are up to the task.

The first backup plan is classic Goblins burying them in value. Goblin Matron up uncounterable Goblin Ringleaders via Cavern of Souls or Aether Vial, draw a bunch more Goblins, and just chip at them with 1/1s and 2/2s. They will be forced into action, and when that happens you have an opening for a big turn with Sling-Gang Lieutenant or Goblin Chieftain. Sling-Gang Lieutenant is basically Arcbound Ravager here, closing the gap between what your iffy beats need to do and what they can do.

The second backup plan is overloading your opponent with removal like Munitions Expert. The Goblins that find more Goblins are again key here, with Goblin Matron for Munitions Expert being your Snapcaster Mage on Lightning Bolt. I kinda hate Mogg War Marshal in this deck since it doesn’t do anything great by itself, but it does serve the role of building up Munitions Expert to large enough numbers to kill Thought-Knot Seer or Tarmogoyf.

In addition to being a combo piece, Kiki-Jiki is an end-game for both backup plans. Whether it’s copying Munitions Expert to build your own Visara the Dreadful or Goblin Ringleader to bury someone in cards, Kiki-Jiki immediately shifts things in your favor and rapidly ends the game if activated again.

That’s the big picture. Every game, you either set up a timely combo with some disruption or you play to a mix of card advantage and repeated removal. Eventually they lose to medium beats and Sling-Gang Lieutenant or you accidentally combo them out. You end up taking a lot of game actions in the non-combo games, but as long as you have a goal in mind of just pushing the right kind of incremental advantage, it’s easy to take the right ones.

Tips and Tricks

Unless you have a reason to leave it on two, you should be marching Aether Vial up to three or four counters where you will get the most mana out of it. My general heuristic is leaving it at three if I don’t have a four-drop to drop, but having three lands, a Goblin Matron, and wanting to find and Vial in a Goblin Ringleader or Sling-Gang Lieutenant is common. You do set Vial to five sometimes, but only if you already have the Kiki-Jiki that you want to drop down.

This deck activates Aether Vial on its upkeep a lot. There’s the classic where you respond to the trigger to tick up that turn and the next, intending to skip the middle value, but there are also multiple reasons to upkeep Vial after adding the counter. You can tick up to three, Vial in Boggart Harbinger, and draw what you find for the turn. You can do the same with Goblin Matron or Goblin Ringleader to skim away a card you see on top with Conspicuous Snoop. You can tick up to five, drop Kiki-Jiki, and set up either of the prior scenarios. You can tick up to four with a Mogg War Marshal echo on the stack and drop Sling-Gang Lieutenant to sacrifice it.

Bloodstained Mire is a resource with Conspicuous Snoop, giving you a reshuffle for a new Goblin peek.

Just a reminder that tribal is a card type and that you can find your tribal removal with Goblin Matron, Goblin Ringleader, or Boggart Harbinger when the situation doesn’t call for Munitions Expert.

Sling-Gang Lieutenant can get killed in response to the Goblin generation trigger. Don’t miss this part of the math.

Against decks with sweepers, it is in your interest to get your opponent to three life if you are set up to deploy a later Sling-Gang Lieutenant and use it and the tokens for a final drain. This can change the math on what you keep if an earlier Sling-Gang is targeted by removal in case they find a way to stabilize against mass attackers or sweep your nonsense.

You can luck your way into a Kiki-Jiki with Conspicuous Snoop even if Boggart Harbinger isn’t on the battlefield. This is still a combo with another turn cycle, since at the end of your opponent’s turn you can make a ton of Snoops that survive until your end step to untap and attack. This can also come up if your Boggart Harbinger dies to Plague Engineer and you kill them with the base 2/2 tokens.

Since the Conspicuous Snoop combo leans on a card being on top of your library, it can be disrupted with mill, like Shriekhorn or Thought Scour, or a forced shuffle, like Field of Ruin, but not Ghost Quarter or Path to Exile.

But that’s only if you activate first. The full combo kills at instant speed, so you can pass the turn and force your opponent into weird mana usage. On their end step you can then combo to force the action, and often just untap and set up a recombo.

Boomer Deckbuilding

I alluded to this a bit, but the big issue with Rakdos Goblins right now is that it is built like a deck from 2005, and I don’t know how to fix that.

Your mana curve looks like a ugly brick and you need all those specific cards.

You are playing 23 lands with your non-curvy mana curve, and playing more costs you one-drops or Goblin Ringleader percentages.

Goblin Ringleader just misses somewhere between 5-10% of the time, and another 20-30% it hits exactly one card.

Goblins is not a buttery-smooth machine the way some Modern decks are. You are accepting losses to variance by playing it. Not as much as Dredge self-imploding, but enough that’s it’s mentionable.

I Gatherer-Searched Goblins So You Don’t Have To

I’m not that interested in Frogtosser Banneret due to the Lightning Bolt issue. If I wanted to go down the road of a killable enabler, I would go big with Warren Instigator since you are loaded up with Goblin Matron and Goblin Ringleader to maximize the double strike trigger split. Honestly, I can see sideboarding that card to exploit specific decks, though it does seem like almost everything has a blocker or removal for it.

Of the legendary Matron targets, I’m much more excited about Pashilik Mons as a potential way to turn Sling-Gang Lieutenant from a closer to a full combo kill, and as another layer of removal in creature mirrors. The scenario I would want Krenko, Mob Boss is some weird giant battlefield stall, and in that spot the Kiki-Jikis I’m already playing or just the combo kill should be better at breaking the game open.

In terms of sideboard options, Earwig Squad currently isn’t the right kind of card against Modern combo but could be in the future. On the other hand, even if Plague Engineer isn’t a Goblin, it’s still a castable creature in your Aether Vial deck, and I hate playing against it enough that having it against other tribal decks might be a good idea.

Sideboarding


VS Cryptic Command Decks

I’m renaming this category because there has been a noticeable uptick in Azorius Control, while the Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath decks are more hybrid-combo decks like Temur Scapeshift or Temur Reclamation.

The good news is that the Azorius decks are great matchups for Goblins. I have lost games to an uncontested Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, but you have a lot of ways to pressure those and prevent that. Discard, tons of raw bodies, haste threats, and Munitions Expert being able to target planeswalkers go a long way in securing Game 1s. The combo aspect of the Uro decks makes them a more competitive matchup, but you are still in reasonable position against a bunch of Force of Negation and Remand.

This is a classic bury them with Goblin Ringleader matchup, with the need to be more aggressive against the combo lists. I like not holding discard too long since the info helps plot out the game against their answers, but I do like holding Cavern of Souls until a later land drop to not expose it to Field of Ruin.

Out:

In:

Against the Uro lists all your Munitions Experts should become Relic of Progenitus, and against Stoneforge Mystic you can leave in a Goblin Cratermaker over Relic to hedge against Sword of Fire and Ice and Batterskull. The Restoration AngelSpell Queller list that LSV played in the Modern Challenge last week is one you want all the Munitions Experts against.

VS Thoughtseize Midrange (Jund or Death’s Shadow)

You are aiming for a mix of your two backup plans here. They are leaning on their creatures to try to mitigate your swarm of garbage, but you have a sufficient number of answers to handle most of that.

Out:

In:

If you end up trimming Fatal Push, this is where you will feel the difference the most. This is especially true if they have Plague Engineer, which is the big reason Goblin Chieftain is important after sideboarding.

VS Humans and Other Aether Vial Decks

Similar to last week, Humans is a much bigger issue than the other decks in the category. Whatever nonsense engine these other decks are going for, your combo is better. You plans of choice are removal or combo, not so much raw card advantage.

Out:

In:

Also similar to last week, I’m presenting a plan against Humans where your Thoughtseizes are most punished. Against the various less aggressive creature decks I still want a couple of Thoughtseizes and trim on Mogg War Marshal if blocking isn’t that important.

Auriok Champion is merely obnoxious from Humans. The real disaster cards are Izzet Staticaster or Plague Engineer that actually clear your battlefield. Champion does stop the immediate combo kill with lifegain per copy, but the “end of turn copies, untap and attack” line is still lethal. Even if they get multiple Champions, you can combo to gain large amounts of life and then use Kiki-Jiki to amass Sling-Gang Lieutenant tokens that eventually overwhelm their blockers. Warren Weirding is unnecessary and too hard to line up.

VS Aggressive Red (Mono-Red Prowess, Izzet Prowess, Burn)

Your big issue will be getting traction to survive and let your card advantage kick in. Lava Dart is obnoxiously good at keeping things clear. This is where Mogg War Marshal shines as free chump blocks, and you must start with a card advantage plan to get enough things to stick for Munitions Expert to start tearing their stuff down. The combo is just too unreliable and the bonus pieces too slow.

Out:

In:

Zach posted his latest list with a brief discussion in his podcast last week, simply replacing the sideboard Damping Sphere and Unearth with Chalice of the Void. The card is largely for the Izzet Prowess matchup where the flying prowess threats are a huge issue unless you lock them out. Stormwing Entity not dying to Fatal Push is no fun.

Note that this sideboard plan deviates against true Burn, where Goblin Chieftain and the full combo are key for racing, all the Thoughtseizes are bad, and Warren Weirding is much less critical unless they sideboard in Kor Firewalker.

Vs Big Mana (Mono-Green Tron, Eldrazi Tron, Amulet Titan)

You are just a combo deck with discard in this matchup, except you can blend towards the removal plan against Eldrazi Tron. Goblin Cratermaker’s “destroy a colorless permanent” comes up a lot; don’t forget it can kill any Karn.

Out:

In:

This is the plan against Mono-Green Tron. Against Eldrazi Tron I would bring in only Warren Weirding for the Tarfires, and against Amulet Titan I would trim Mogg War Marshals instead of some of the removal that is useful against Sakura-Tribe Scout or even Dryad of the Ilysian Grove.