It is always fun to watch players scramble for cards they had previously dismissed as unplayable—unworthy of even being picked out of a pile of draft leavings. Going into the Magic World Championships Legions' Goblin Assassin was certainly a member of this neglected club. Afterward it was a different story…
…All right, maybe they are not sought after with the same vigor that one would use to pursue other uncommons like Smother, Wing Shards, Gempalm Incinerator or the mighty Goblin Warchief. The fact that anyone is looking for them with any degree of vigor at all is a story in and of itself and a testament to the ingenuity of Japanese deckbuilders. Jin Okamoto made it to the finals of the World Championships. A huge part of his success was a 4-1-1 record to close the tournament while playing with "Gob-Vantage," an Extended Goblin deck that relied on the tutoring power of Goblin Recruiter, Goblin Ringleader, and Goblin Matron to follow up the already explosive turn one Goblin Lackey.
It should be noted that the deck is an updated version of a deck built by Mons Johnson. Mons, former Wizards employee, is the inspiration for Mons's Goblin Raiders and a lover of all things goblin. A couple of PTQ seasons back Mons caused a minor buzz with his Goblin Recruiter/Goblin Ringleader action. The deck ended up catching the attention of a Japanese deck building squad—Fireball Pro—and when Scourge amped up the power level of all Goblin decks with the Warchief and Siege-Gang Commander they knew what they were playing at Worlds.
The deck posted a 75% win percentage in the hands of seven different players and was the buzz of the tournament. Jin played in a feature match against eventual World Champion Daniel Zink. Over the course of the match, Daniel managed to Exhume a turn-two Verdant Force—normally certain death for the Goblin player—only to find himself chump blocking with his swamp thing to barely stay alive.
One of the deck’s features that most impressed was the inclusion of Goblin Assassin in the sideboard. If in the weeks leading up to Worlds you suggested that a tournament finalist would include the Goblin Assassin in his deck—and that it would be the correct call—you would be ridiculed. There are a number of pretty bad creatures in Legions—Aven Envoy, Fugitive Wizard, and Dripping Dead to name a few. Up until Worlds, the Goblin Assassin was lumped right in there with them.
Don’t get me wrong. The Assassin is not the most important card in the deck. It is just fascinating to me that a card can go from mockingly unplayable to the sideboard of the Worlds finalist's deck in the span of one tournament. Other than Cursed Scroll, mono-red decks have almost no options against a Silver Knight. You would need three Scrolls to cope with an Akroma. Non-Goblins were barely an option in Gob-Vantage because once the deck gets rolling that is all the deck draws. The Recruiter sets it up so that you don’t draw land once you have enough mana to operate. The top of your deck gets stacked with a Ringleader and four goblins over and over again so that you draw five cards a turn.
With so many Goblins coming into play each turn the Assassin should always smoke its target, killing protection from red creatures where no Goblin could before. Sure there will be some collateral damage but what are goblins for if not cannon fodder? The Assassin turned out to be an elegant and practical solution to a hole in the deck’s strategy. I don’t know who’s idea it was but I can only imagine the sales resistance he had to overcome when he pitched the idea.
Magic is a diverse game but often we can get locked into commonly held beliefs about deck types and card valuations. When an idea comes down the pike that flies in the face of those beliefs it is often met with contempt and hostility. The people that can weather the force of that and still toss out new ideas and actually try them are the people that keep Magic ever-changing. While many of those new ideas will not pan out there will be some that do.
There is nothing in Magic that galls me more than another player deriding a card or deck archetype during playtesting. Playtesting! How are you going to find out if something works or not if you don’t test it? Remember, some of the games most powerful cards were thought to be unplayable at various points in the game’s history.
Before the first Pro Tour both Necropotence and Demonic Consultation were considered the dregs of Ice Age. When Necro decks began to tear through the competition on both floors of the tournament—the main event was downstairs and the Junior Pro Tour several floors above—it began to send ripples throughout the venue. Initially it began with snorts of disdain but when the decks would not go away it caused a paradigm shift in the game that is still felt to this day.
One internet pundit called Oath of Druids the “worst of all the Oaths” when it was released. Dream Halls, Necropotence, and most recently Temple of the False God have all been singled out by one particular gaming magazine as among the worst cards in their respective sets when their initial reviews were published. Fortunately—or unfortunately depending on which end of those decks you found yourself facing—someone looked past the reviews and tested the cards for themselves.
Over the next few weeks information about Mirrodin will start to trickle out. The newest stand-alone block for Magic is chock full of new ideas and interesting cards The set is sure to create a buzz and everyone will have something to say about how the new cards will impact the game—myself included. No matter how closely the set is scrutinized there will still be a number of powerful cards that initially slip through the cracks. It is your job to find them. They should be easy to find. Just follow the laughter.Brian may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.