It's Time to Take Goblins Seriously in Standard

Feature Article from Adam Yurchick
Adam Yurchick
9/13/2018 11:01:00 AM
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Guilds of Ravnica preview season is underway, and one of the most hyped cards so far is Legion Warboss. This Goblin Rabblemaster reimagined is in position to define red decks after rotation, which after losing most of their staple cards will be forced to find a new identity. Legion Warboss is a perfect card to rally around.

Legion Warboss should be a great fit into any variety of red deck, which currently has two distinct archetypes in the top-tier of Standard, Black-Red Midrange and the Mono-Red Flame of Keld Wizards deck, and both could try to rebuild themselves post-rotation.

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 Legion Warboss
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Black-red takes the position of general goodstuff deck that plays all the best red cards available, so its way forward will be to adapt itself to support and make the most of what looks to be the best red card in Standard, Legion Warboss. After rotation the deck will want to ditch black, which no longer offers Scrapheap Scrounger or Unlicensed Disintegration. Alternatively, the deck could make use of the set's two red shock lands, Steam Vents and Sacred Foundry, and splash into either blue or white if there was a compelling reason. The Flame of Keld deck loses Soul-Scar Mage as a key Wizard, but Wizard's Lightning is probably still good enough. It might also be a great candidate for a splash – specifically blue – to go deeper into the Wizards the color offers.

What really has me thinking is the fact that Legion Warboss is a Goblin, and it adds a very strong member to a tribe that received the foundation of a deck in Dominaria and Core Set 2019. Now yet another strong Goblin has been spoiled, Goblin Cratermaker, which has all the makings of a staple creature. With these excellent new Goblins, and Standard rotation removing a huge portion of the cardpool and completely shaking up the metagame, I think now is the time to start seriously considering the merits of Goblin tribal.

All the Goblins in Standard have been in recent sets and are untouched by rotation, while the cards they are competing against are leaving. Take one of the main Goblin payoffs, for example, Goblin Trashmaster. As a four-drop it found itself in a very heavily contested spot on the curve of red decks, where it was completely outclassed by Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Hazoret, the Fervent. Rekindling Phoenix is still strong and will be the go-to card for the good-stuff deck, but there's definitely more flexibility in the spot now. Goblin's marquee five-drop is Siege-Gang Commander, a former staple that has been conspicuously absent from the metagame since being reprinted, and Glorybringer has been a big reason behind that. Now red will look to other five-drops, and Siege-Gang Commander stands out even in non-Goblin decks but will truly excel in a Goblin deck.

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 Goblin Cratermaker
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Goblin Trashmaster's anthem effect is one of Goblin's main payoffs for going tribal, and it has great synergy with token-making cards Goblin Instigator and Siege-Gang Commander. The effect incentivizes the deck to be aggressive because it will be most powerful on a board of multiple creatures, so it promote playing one-drop creatures, and the tribe has access to some strong one-mana plays, including a great new one from Guilds of Ravnica.

Goblin Banneret gives the deck another turn-one play, and it might be better than all the rest. This 1/1 creature with mentor looks awfully funny on the surface because it would only work with zero-power creatures, but its Firebreating ability unlocks mentor for creatures of theoretically any size – I'm excited about pumping it twice to mentor Goblin Chainwhirler. This ability to pump itself is the real draw of the creature, and just as Lightning Berserker was a key staple of the red aggressive decks during its time in Standard, and I could see Goblin Banneret filling a similar role, whether in a Goblin deck or not.

The go-to one-drop Skirk Prospector can help accelerate mana, and it looks more attractive than ever because of Legion Warboss. Playing Legion Warboss on turn two and getting a token ahead of schedule Recoups the card spent on Skirk Prospector, and the tempo advantage of attacking with Legion Warboss and triggering mentor a turn early will present the opponent with a serious challenge. Skirk Prospector might also be useful for cashing in tokens from Legion Warboss after combat for mana, turning the Legion Warboss into something of a mana-generating engine.

Another strong one-drop is Fanatical Firebrand, which doubles as a removal spell. The deck could really step up the aggression with Rigging Runner, which works well in conjunction with other one-drops. Goblin Motivator could have a place in the deck in theory, but it doesn't seem great without a card like Goblin Piledriver to give haste, and the haste effect is better found in one of Goblin's other tribal payoffs, Goblin Warchief.

Goblin Warchief has historically been a very important part of Goblin tribal decks in all formats, but I think much of that is because of how effective it is with Goblin Piledriver and with the card-advantage creatures Goblin Matron and Goblin Ringleader. Still, it's a useful card with the cost-reducing effect curving nicely into Siege-Gang Commander, which is extra-effective with haste pushing it into combat immediately. The cost-reducing effect also allows for some nice turns of multiple spells, especially since the deck has some strong two-drop options. Legion Warboss is another excellent card to reduce the cost of, and happens to be very effective with haste allowing it to get in and mentor a token the turn it is cast, so it's a decent proxy for Goblin Piledriver and in multiples will kill the opponent nearly as fast.

Another payoff for going tribal is Volley Veteran. This damage-dealing effect has always been a staple of Goblins in Gempalm Incinerator and while the new variation isn't as flexible, the power level is high and this Goblin-flavored Flametongue Kavu will be a staple of any competitive Goblin deck. It curves very well after Legion Warboss, which craves the removal effect clearing a blocker and allowing it to attack and Mentor. It's only as good as the creatures it has to kill, which is why I am conservatively starting only two main and two in the sideboard, but it could just be a four-of in the main deck if the metagame presents good targets.

Goblins provides a very nice home for the best goblin of all, Goblin Chainwhirler, which is going to be as effective as ever, maybe moreso if red declines in popularity and decks stop giving the card as much respect as they have had to over the past months. I see it being effective alongside Legion Warboss, which will often send 1/1 tokens into two-toughness creatures. They'll be exposed to Goblin Chainwhirler if they block, putting them to a tough decision. Goblin Chainwhirler also combines nice with Goblin Cratermaker to take down three-toughness creatures. Fanatical Firebrand adds some more value by tacking on damage to either effect, so in total the deck has some versatile options for fighting back against creatures.

Another tribal payoff is Vanquisher's Banner, and it seems like a nice card to have in the sideboard to help grind out control. I like its synergy with Squee, the Immortal, which can be cast multiple times combined with a sacrifice outlet. It's also very strong with Dark-Dweller Oracle, which I really like in general to convert tokens and extra creatures the deck creates into value. I've loaded the sideboard with these value cards as a sort of package if the deck wants to grind, as opposed to the more streamlined and aggressive main deck. I'm definitely going to be on the lookout for any new Goblins spoiled, because all it might take is a card or two to really elevate this strategy to the next level. All of these Goblin cards haven't been printed by accident, and all of this support we've been seeing could very well come to a head and produce a top-tier Standard Goblin deck.

The option to splash colors also extends to Goblins, and one idea I've read about is to splash white for Radiant Destiny as a tribal payoff. There's also the new Conclave Tribunal, which has been heavily discussed as a new Standard staple and will excel in creature-heavy decks. Don't forget Path of Mettle, which saw minor play last season but was never quite good enough, and should be reevaluated post-rotation. White sounds good on the surface, but reliably splashing these cards would require playing Boros Guildgate, which isn't really something I'm interested in doing in such an aggressive deck with numerous one-drop plays.

The Flame of Keld Goblins

What about a The Flame of Keld Goblin deck? Its ultimate works pretty well with the various creatures that deal damage, and as a synergistic deck that builds on itself it can use the extra cards from the draw. Building the deck in the mold of the current successful The Flame of Keld deck means playing a low curve and keeping the lands to a minimum. Five-drops like Siege-Gang Commander are out and even four-drops are too expensive, with these cards maybe left in the sideboard to sort of transform and go bigger like the deck did with Hazoret the Fervent.

This deck really makes great use of Legion Warboss because it's packed full of removal that can clear blockers out of the way. I could see a deck like this really being effective, and it's probably where I'd start if I was really seriously about winning a Standard tournament in the first days after rotation. Red aggro was the best strategy before rotation, so there's a good chance it remains so. While it loses many of its best cards The Flame of Keld remains, so that path is probably the best way forward.

Goblins in Modern

I can't help but think about Goblins in Modern, which could add Legion Warboss to Goblin Rabblemaster and form a powerful package of creatures to use. I did some digging into Modern Goblin decks, but there aren't many successful ones out there. I did find an interesting league decklist from just a couple weeks ago that used Collected Company, and it got me thinking about how great it would be to put a pair of Goblin Chainwhirler into play. Goblin Cratermaker might be even more useful in Modern than Standard because of its ability to destroy artifacts and colorless permanents like Aether Vial, Eldrazi and even Karn Liberated, and it gives the Goblin deck extra disruption and ways to interact with its opponents, which Humans has proved is key for tribal decks in Modern.

This deck isn't realistically going to get the job done consistently against the top-tier of Modern, but maybe there is something to the strategy.

What do you think about Legion Warboss and Goblin tribal in Standard?

-Adam




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