A Guide to Goblins

Posted in Feature on December 14, 2009

By Dan Paskins

On Earth, few creatures are as insignificant yet annoying as the lowly mosquito. But over in the Multiverse of Magic, it is not the mosquitoes that you have to watch out for, it's the Goblins. Generations of blue mages and similar pond life have scorned the puny-looking Goblins, only to find themselves on the receiving end of a beatdown.

I have fifteen years' experience summoning Goblins for fun and for profit, and there are few things as enjoyable as facing off against someone who has all the rare cards and a superiority complex, and introducing your Goblins to their face.

But although they might all look the same at first glance, it is important for any aspiring mage to understand how to choose the right kind of Goblin to meet their requirements. So I am pleased to introduce some characters from the Goblin Hall of Fame, and to explain when you might have need of the services that they have to offer.

When You Want to Announce that Something Horrible is about to Happen to Your Opponent

We're going to start by rewinding to 1996. It was the first year of the Pro Tour, when Standard used to be called Type 2, and it was the era of the first great Magic deck: the Necropotence deck. Using a whole host of cards that would later be banned as too powerful, black mages would destroy their opponents' hands with Hymn to Tourach and Hypnotic Specter, attack them with the Order of the Ebon Hand, and then suddenly draw seven or more cards in one turn with the Necropotence.

Alternatives such as white-blue control or green-white "ErhnamGeddon" simply couldn't compete.

But the Goblins of the Flarg could.

Goblins of the Flarg

Players who had jumped on the Necropotence bandwagon and were sure that they had the best deck met their match when a couple of brave inventors came up with the "Sligh" deck.

The Necro mages would soon come to know that something horrible was about to happen to them when their opponents summoned a Goblin of the Flarg, and then possibly an Ironclaw Orcs or two. TheNecro deck's creatures would be Lightning Bolted or Incinerated, and the Goblins, Orcs, and even Dwarves would continue their attacks (while the Sligh player tried to remember not to summon a Dwarf when the Goblins of the Flarg were around).

The "janky" (that's the way they used to describe decks full of seemingly bad cards back in those days) Sligh deck consistently beat decks which in theory had much more powerful cards in them.

Paul Sligh's Orcish Librarian Deck
Type 2, 1996
View a sample hand of this deck
Download a .dek file for use in Magic Online

Main Deck

61 cards

2  Dwarven Ruins
4  Mishra's Factory
13  Mountain
4  Strip Mine
23 lands

4  Brass Man
2  Brothers of Fire
2  Dragon Whelp
3  Dwarven Lieutenant
2  Dwarven Trader
2  Goblins of the Flarg
4  Ironclaw Orcs
2  Orcish Artillery
2  Orcish Cannoneers
2  Orcish Librarian
25 creatures
1  Black Vise
1  Detonate
1  Fireball
1  Immolation
4  Incinerate
4  Lightning Bolt
1  Shatter
13 other spells
3  Active Volcano
1  An-Zerrin Ruins
1  Detonate
1  Fireball
4  Manabarbs
1  Meekstone
2  Serrated Arrows
1  Shatter
1  Zuran Orb
15 sideboard cards

You can read more about the history of the Sligh deck here.

When You Want a Helpful Goblin

Fast forwarding to the present, Zendikar brought us the Goblin Guide. The Goblin Guide is a very helpful Goblin—he comes out on turn one and immediately starts attacking for 2. And you get to find out what their next card is!

Goblin Guide

The Goblin Guide also a very helpful Goblin for your opponent—he lets them have extra lands in their hand if they are lucky.

Mike Flores wrote a great article recently about the Goblin Guide on his own site, FiveWithFlores.com.

The key thing to remember about the Goblin Guide, and cards like it, is that you might think that whether or not you win is down to your own skill and that of your opponent, but there are some creatures who take it on themselves to decide for themselves who is going to win the game. If your Guide feels like it, you'll get to attack for 2 every time and see the next card your opponent draws. Other times, your opponent will be desperately needing land to cast their spells, and the Guide will give it to them. He's in charge, not you.

When You Want to Kill a Lot of Elves

Is there anything more fun than making your opponent put an Elf in their graveyard? Of course there is: making them put lots of Elves in their graveyard! And when you absolutely, positively, just have to wipe out a whole tribe of Elves, you need the Goblin Sharpshooter.

Goblin Sharpshooter

An honourable mention should go to such sadomasochists as the Goblin Artillery and the Sparksmith, each of which offer you the pleasure of killing an Elf at the expensive of some of your life, but they can only kill one Elf per turn.

Nate Heiss used to write Building on a Budget, and it's worth quoting what he said about the Sharpshooter:

Other cool interactions involve Goblin Sharpshooter and anything. Sharpshooter is cool and useful no matter what the game situation. And while Goblin Sharpshooter works well with many of the cards in the deck, note that it has an interesting interaction with bothGoblin Sledder and Goblin Turncoat. I think many games can be won simply on the merit of the Sharpshooter, assuming you use it correctly.

You'll probably have heard blue mages gloating that card advantage is the key to winning games, and that their colour is the best at drawing extra cards. It's worth reminding them that a Goblin who can kill a number of Elves or other creatures can generate card advantage just as quick as any blue card-drawing spell.

When you Want a Fast Goblin

Magic 2010 brought us the Goblin Chieftain, which is like the Usain Bolt version of Goblin King, sharing its haste with all your other Goblins as well as pumping them up.

Goblin Chieftain
Goblin Warchief

But the Chieftain in turn can't compare for pure speed to the Goblin Warchief, which not only gives your Goblins haste, but also allows you to cast them for 1 Mana less. Although Goblins tend to be inexpensive to summon in the first place, this was particularly effective when combined with one or more Goblin Piledrivers, who would jump out of your hand for one mana and then hit your opponent for 1 damage, +2 for each other Goblin that you had lying around. The Piledriver even had protection from blue, to make those Island-lovers really suffer.

When You Want a Big Goblin

In a world where a critter with 2 power and 2 toughness goes by the name of "Hulking Goblin," it is rare that your big creature needs will be met by summoning Goblins rather than, say, Dragons.

Hulking Goblin
Goblin Goon

That said, the Goblin Goon is actually bigger and meaner than most Treefolk, Elementals or even Giants.

Some will object that the Goon can't attack or block if the opponent has a creature with power 3 or greater. But you are a red mage with fire magic at your disposal, so see this instead as an opportunity. You would want to burn all their creatures, even if you didn't have a four-mana 6/6 ready to take advantage.

In a similar vein, my actual favourite Goblin of all is the Goblin Cadets. When you first look at them, the fact that they defect to the opponent if they block or are blocked looks like bad news. But the great thing about playing a red deck is that any text about "blocks or is blocked by" might as well read "blah blah blah"—who cares about this "drawback" if they don't have any creatures to block with?

Goblin Cadets
Mad Auntie

An alternative way of acquiring big Goblins is to start off with some traditional-sized Goblins, and then pump them up. Between Goblin ChieftainGoblin KingMad AuntieGoblin Burrows, and more, there are plenty of ways to turn a few harmless 1/1 Goblins into huge and frightening monsters.

When You Want a Lot of Goblins

People sometimes think that playing with Goblins is very one-dimensional and lacking in skill. But if all you've seen are decks with 20 Mountains, 20 Goblins, and 20 burn spells or similar, check out the following, from an old article on StarCityGames.com:

Nat Moes's Burning Belcher
Vintage, 2007
View a sample hand of this deck
Download a .dek file for use in Magic Online

Main Deck

60 cards

1  Taiga
1 land

4  Elvish Spirit Guide
3  Goblin Welder
4  Simian Spirit Guide
4  Tinder Wall
15 creatures
1  Black Lotus
1  Channel
4  Chromatic Star
1  Chrome Mox
4  Empty the Warrens
4  Goblin Charbelcher
4  Land Grant
1  Lion's Eye Diamond
2  Living Wish
1  Lotus Petal
1  Mana Crypt
1  Mana Vault
1  Memory Jar
1  Mox Emerald
1  Mox Jet
1  Mox Pearl
1  Mox Ruby
1  Mox Sapphire
4  Pyroblast
4  Rite of Flame
3  Seething Song
1  Sol Ring
1  Wheel of Fortune
44 other spells

That's a Vintage deck from a couple of years ago, which regularly summoned 10 or more Goblins on the first turn. If you want to summon a lot of Goblins, there really is no substitute for Emptying the Warrens.

When You Want a Banned Goblin

To date, there have been two Goblins who the Powers that Be decided were too powerful and which players in one or more Constructed formats were not allowed to play with. Do know which they were, and which one is still banned?

The first was the Goblin Lackey. When it was banned, Wizards of the Coast explained that"The Extended Constructed format has gotten too fast. One of the biggest culprits is the Goblin deck andGoblin Lackey is the most egregious offender. The introduction of the Onslaught block (and especially the Scourge set) has given Goblin decks some extremely high quality Goblins and the Lackey's ability to put them into play for free is simply too good for a first turn play."

Goblin Lackey

The first-turn Goblin Lackey led to all kinds of pain for opponents, such as second-turn Siege-Gang CommanderGoblin Warchief, or Goblin Piledriver, on top of actually casting any Goblins for two mana.

We will wait to see whether the Warren Instigator, which trades an extra Red Mana to cast for the ability to double strike, will end up having anything like a similar effect.

Warren Instigator

But it turned out that an even more unfair Goblin was the Goblin Recruiter.

Goblin Recruiter

Tom Guevin's Food Chain Goblins
Extended, 2003
View a sample hand of this deck
Download a .dek file for use in Magic Online

Main Deck

60 cards

3  Ancient Tomb
2  City of Brass
1  Forest
4  Karplusan Forest
9  Mountain
4  Wooded Foothills
23 lands

4  Goblin Matron
4  Goblin Piledriver
4  Goblin Recruiter
4  Goblin Ringleader
1  Goblin Sharpshooter
4  Goblin Warchief
4  Mogg Fanatic
1  Siege-Gang Commander
1  Skirk Prospector
27 creatures
4  Chrome Mox
4  Food Chain
2  Seal of Fire
10 other spells
2  Grindstone
1  Mogg Salvage
4  Naturalize
2  Pillage
2  Seal of Fire
1  Shatterstorm
1  Tranquility
2  Wasteland
15 sideboard cards

This deck could kill on turn two:

Turn One: MountainMox DiamondGoblin Recruiter. Set up your deck to have Goblin Ringleader on top and then three more at four-card intervals, with a mix of Goblins in between. 
Turn Two: MountainFood Chain. Remove Recruiter from the game for Red ManaRed ManaRed Mana. Cast any Goblin from your opening hand. Exile that Goblin. You now have four mana in your pool, so cast Goblin Ringleaderand collect four new Goblins. Remove the Ringleader for five mana. You can now go in any number of directions, but almost all of them lead to you having a Goblin Warchief and some number of Goblin Piledrivers, as well as whatever other suite of Goblins you desire.

Six years on, the Goblin Recruiter is still deemed too powerful for Legacy, and is the only currently banned Goblin.

When You Want a Goblin That Can Do Anything

There are other, more powerful Goblins, as we have seen. But if you want the Goblin who has got it all, you need the Mogg Fanatic, a.k.a. Mogg Fantastic.

Mogg Fanatic

The Fanatic symbolises the Goblin tribe. A simple 1/1 for Red Mana with a seemingly straightforward ability, and yet with hidden depths and subtleties, all caused when it decides to blow itself up.

Since it was first unveiled in Tempest, the Fanatic has more Top 8 Pro Tour finishes than a Level 6 pro, has killed more creatures than a Wrath of God, and has dealt the finishing blow to more players than aLightning Bolt.

You want to know how good Mogg Fanatic is? It's so good they changed how combat damage worked because Mark Rosewater was fed up with Mogg Fanatic blocking and killing one of his creatures, and then sacrificing itself to kill another one. Oh, sure, that may not be the "official" reason ... but then, the absence of Mogg Fanatic from the Japanese National Championships one year actually altered the space-time continuum itself, as you can read on StarCityGames.com here.

So whether you are looking for a big or a fast Goblin, whether your priority is the noble task of slaughtering Elves or informing your opponent that something horrible is about to happen, then provided you can put up with the smell, you'll be able to find what you need.

I hope you've found this round-up of Goblins old and new useful, and that you are able to find the Goblin that's right for you, whatever your requirements.

Until next time, may your Goblin Guides never reveal land.

Bonus Section: Best Goblin Flavour Texts

Here are my favourite Goblin-related flavour texts. See if you can match the quote to the Goblin it is from. I shall be frankly awed if any reader can match every quote to the relevant card without looking them up:

Tired of waiting for a dragon to eat them, some hardy goblins struck out to become meals for the unknown. 

The path of a goblin shaman is a journey through a thousand ways of hurting people. 

Fire, aim, ready! 

The bigger they are, the harder they avoid work. 

They put the "special" in special weapons and tactics. 

Pathetic—like I wouldn't know a goblin painted up to look like a dwarf." 
—Pashad ibn Asim, Suq'Ata trader 

He takes out his fear of heights on anything above his head. 

"Let's play 'sled.' Here's how it works: you're the sled." 

Hey, wake up! 
—Mogg secret password 

"I see a great victory and rivers of blood. And . . . hmm, looks like a spleen." 
—Grishnak, goblin soothsayer 

For some reason, goblin fighting school isn't as crowded on day two. 

"Goblins won't betray their own kind for any price. They'll do it for a very specific price." 
–Phage the Untouchable 

He's smart for a goblin. He can do two things: hit and run.

Finding themselves in a new and unexplored world, they immediately set it on fire. 

Pretending to be inside an invisible box was easy enough for Brug. It was finding the invisible door that caused him problems. 

"Throw rocks at 'em! Throw spears at 'em! Throw Furt at 'em!" 

Perhaps he shuns technology. Perhaps he appreciates nature. Perhaps he doesn't know the difference. 

The more victims he kills, the more likely he is to get the right one. 

They'll attack whatever's in front of them—as long as you tell them where that is. 

"Hup, two, three, four, 
Dunno how to count no more." 
—Mogg march 

"A single dedicated mind can bring about the greatest destruction. That, or goblins—goblins work too." 

Boggarts get so excited when they find something new to smash that they really don't notice who gets underfoot. 

Wizards fought over the stone to exploit its power. Goblins fight over it because it's shiny. 

"In its natural habitat, the goblin is stupid, yet devious. Now it's stupid, devious, and powerful." 

Click here to reveal the answers.

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