Revisiting Goblins

Posted in Latest Developments on December 18, 2009

By Tom LaPille

Tom LaPille makes things. Some of the things he makes are card sets, like Dark Ascension and Born of the Gods. Sometimes he makes stories, too. Sometimes he makes unexpected things, like 16th-century Japanese clothing. He's probably making something right now.

Of the Magic developers, I am the one who was most recently a competitive player in the real world. I began working for Wizards a few weeks before Eventide was released, and the first set I worked on was Conflux. Although relatively speaking I am new to Magic development, I've learned a lot in the year and a half since I started, and my perspective on cards has changed since I've gotten inside the building.

To do research for Goblin Week, I loaded up Gatherer and do a search for every card with subtype Goblin. Lots of Goblins were made before I got to Magic Ramp;D, and I hadn't looked at many of them since I got there. I had reactions that I found interesting to Goblin after Goblin that I encountered, so rather than try to write one article about a larger theme, I'm just going to share some of those reactions.

When I first read this card, I thought to myself, "I am going to do my very best to never play this card, but one day, I will draft a Goblin deck, be short on Goblins, begrudgingly play this to have enough Goblins, and feel very silly when it dies and forces me to discard a card." I was correct. I fight with myself over cards in this space. I think it's good when a card is useful in a niche limited deck, but not good in other limited decks, because that allows that card to float to the people who need it. However, Exiled Boggart is so bad-looking that I feel bad to play with it even when it is correct. These days, I try to make sure that niche cards in sets I work on make me feel good, not bad, when I find the strange deck that makes playing them correct.

Goblins often do random stuff, and in game terms Fire Juggler is about as random as it gets. Not many creatures in Lorwyn / Morningtide Limited have 5 toughness, which is how much a creature needs to survive losing a clash against a Fire Juggler. Fire Juggler manages to dump its fire on blocking creatures less than half the time, but when it does happen it will almost always leave the creature incinerated.

As part of the application process that led to me getting a development internship here, I was asked to write an analysis of which cards in Morningtide I would change. Fire Juggler was one of them. My gut reaction was that 4 damage to a blocker for winning the clash was just too much. There wasn't a lot in Lorwyn / Morningtide Limited that would survive that kind of damage, so the clash trigger amounted to "If you win the clash, destroy the thing blocking this for no cost." My claim was that the set was more fun with a little bit less randomness in this spot, and I said that I would have reduced the effect from 4 damage to 3. Later, I was told that my thoughts on this particular card were one of the highlights of the document I produced, which, as you know, eventually led to me getting a job. If you want to work on Magic someday, these are the sort of things you might practice thinking about.

Portal sets are full of funny lines of text like the one on this card. They often look clunky and out of place, but were required to make Magic work in a world without instants, responding, and the stack. However, this is among the cards on which that text looks the strangest. Goblins are always pretty crazy—and not only is this a Goblin, it's a Goblin named after his propensity to start fires—and yet somehow he will only start a fire during my first main phase. This gives me the mental image of a group of unionized goblins who work in firestarting, but whose union laws keep them from working during second main phases. Perhaps I should think less about these things.

From a design and creative standpoint, Goblin Mime is a triumph. This is exactly what one expects a mime in a joke set to do, and the card is quite funny. However, I consider it a development failure for two reasons. One important reason that Magic is fun is that it is a social experience that is shared with friends, and it's hard to share with friends while you are not allowed to speak. The bigger reason, however, is that in Unhinged, while Goblin Mime's ability is a drawback, it can teach a player something dangerous. The gotcha mechanic that is featured in Unhinged punishes you if you say the wrong word, so one very powerful strategy that a player can use while playing with Unhinged is to never speak. I didn't think of that strategy until I played with a Goblin Mime, but as soon as I did, I deemed words too dangerous to use while playing with Unhinged. Independent of whether gotcha should or should not exist, it's unfortunate that Goblin Mime teaches a player that playing in silence is correct.

Goblin Piledriver is almost a perfect card. Goblins are small and numerous, encouraging players to build decks packed full of Goblins. Goblin Piledriver rewards that by giving you a bonus for each attacking Goblin, a resource that most Goblin decks have plenty of. I can't get over, however, the fact that it has protection from blue. During Onslaught development, adding protection from blue was an attempt to make a card that was strong against Psychatog, a card that spawned powerful tournament-winning decks. It didn't quite work out for two reasons. First, most Psychatog decks contained black removal spells that easily killed Goblin Piledriver. Second, Psychatog decks powered down when many of the card drawing spells in Invasion block rotated out of Standard. What was done with noble intentions now caused a nearly-perfect Goblin card to have one inexplicable line of text. Now that it's been over eight years since Psychatog was printed, my guess is that less than ten percent of the people who read this column have played against a Psychatog deck in Standard. With the perspective of many years in between, "protection from blue" on this card looks mighty strange.

    Interlude: Zendikar Translator's Notes

The Magic editing team creates a guide to Magic-specific words in each set, and hands that guide off to the people who translate cards from English to other languages. The following is an excerpt from the Zendikar translator's guide.

Pronunciation: EYE-EE
Definition: The sound that a goblin makes when it's traveling very fast. See flavor text of Goblin Spelunkers (Urza's Saga) and Goblin Ski Patrol (Ice Age).

Now, back to your regularly scheduled Goblins.

I've seen plenty of Goblin decks that play a single copy of this card to fetch with Goblin Matron, which lets them find it at exactly the right moment to make a winning attack. I was amused, then, to see Goblin Pyromancer as an honorable mention on notable goblin lover and administrator of goblin raid parties Mons Johnson's list of top ten cards goblins don't want to see. Players have used Goblin Pyromancer in non-Goblin decks as a weapon against Goblin decks, but I really don't mind. Goblins seem like exactly the sort of creatures that would accidentally turn on themselves, and I've always found it amusing when they do.

Goblin Welder is one of my favorite Goblin cards in Magic. I'm not much of a Johnny, but reading this card gets my mind racing with possibilities of recurring Mindslavers and Sundering Titans. It's quite powerful, as a recurring reanimation effect for one mana is likely to be, but as a 1/1 creature it's not too hard to stop if you see it coming. Finally, requiring Goblin Welder to break an artifact on the battlefield to get one back from the graveyard makes it feel very Gobliny to me. We don't tend to do reanimation effects at this cost, but this is one of the most appealing Goblins to me.

I often find creature types on old Magic cards amusing. For example, did you know that Nameless Race now has no creature types? One category of card that amuses me is creatures that have their names repeated on the creature type line. Goblin Wizard is now one such card. Other Goblins that are part of this club are Goblin Assassin, Goblin Berserker, Goblin Mime, and Goblin Mutant.

I have always wanted to know more about the terrible atrocities the lands of the Flarg saw at the hands of rampaging dwarves. Alas, this card has no flavor text, so we may never know.

Unfortunately for this guy, it no longer counts as a green card and a red card. Fortunately, it now is both a green card and a red card. Congratulations, Scarwood Goblins!

Creatively speaking, goblins are quite a versatile tribe. If you can think of a job, there's probably some goblin out there that's doing it. Goblins have held down jobs in fields as diverse as spelunking, assassination, gardening, and archaeology. Within the Goblin military alone, there are drill sergeants, guides, lookouts, pikers, and even an elite infantry.

In game-play terms, Goblin decks have been just as versatile. I remember early Goblin decks as being small creature rush decks. Later, cards like Goblin Ringleader, Goblin Sharpshooter, and Gempalm Incinerator gave Goblin decks the card advantage tools they needed to play like control decks and win long games against other creature strategies. Skirk Prospector gave Goblin decks a mana engine, which is what they needed to play effectively as a combination deck. I think it's pretty cool when a deck can play so many different ways, and I'm glad Skirk Prospector exists to facilitate that.

This card brought to you by the letter T, the number 2, and the phrase "Goblin permanent card."

This guy doesn't have much interactions with Goblins. However, I enjoy little creatures like Gaddock Teeg, Meddling Mage, True Believer, and Zo-Zu the Punisher that creature decks can use to mess with control or combination decks. Zo-Zu wasn't enough to help Kamigawa Block Constructed red decks fight back against Gifts Ungiven control decks, but he did very good work in Standard against the green decks of the time.

This will be the last time you hear from me this year. This has been a fantastic twelve months for me as a developer, and I thank you for reading. The first week of January, you'll have a guest column in this space that covers a topic that many of you have emailed me to ask about. I'll be back the second week of January to start bringing you another year of Latest Developments!

    Previous Poll
What do you think of Standard with Zendikar?
It's awesome!139620.3%
It's good.199829.0%
It's okay.133719.4%
It's bad.4576.6%
It's terrible!3344.9%
I haven't played Standard with Zendikar.136019.8%

Last week we decided not to show the poll results to keep the letter format of the article clean. As you can see, we had nothing to hide.

Some of you inferred from my tone in last week's article that I was disappointed with the state of Standard, and that's somewhat true. None of us are happy when one deck dominates top tournament results as much as Jund did at the State Championships. However, recent tournaments like the StarCityGames Standard Open in St. Louis have shown that decks of all colors and strategies are playable in Standard. While we would prefer the format to look a little different than it does, we consider the state of the format to be far from a disaster, and it appears that most of you agree!

    This Week's Polls

Do you use card sleeves when you play Constructed Magic?NeverSometimesAlways

Do you use card sleeves when you play Limited Magic?NeverSometimesAlways

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