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Playing Goblins at the Mythic Championship

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While everyone else was deciding how many Leyline of the Void to play in their Hogaak main deck, I was writing "4 Goblin Ringleader" on my decklist at Mythic Championship IV in Barcelona, Spain last weekend.

Goblin Ringleader

While this was my first Mythic Championship/Pro Tour in a few years, I was not memeing; With the addition of Goblin Ringleader, Goblin Matron, Sling-Gang Lieutenant, and Munitions Expert, Goblins is a legitimately good deck in Modern.

Ultimately I would end up with a very medium finish- 3-3 in draft, 5-5 in Constructed, for an overall placing of 179th place (good enough for a top 180 pay jump from min-cash!) - but the entire tournament would end up being skewed by the big bad Gak.

Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis

Three of my five losses would come at the hands of the Gak, with Ken Yukuhiro and Shahar Shenhar both really going the extra mile by playing multiple copies of Plague Engineer in their Hogaak sideboards. Despite feeling prepared for Hogaak going into the tournament, I still underestimated the deck, both in how much it would be played and how resilient it would be in post-sideboard games against Leyline of the Void. Thankfully the obscene numbers put up by Hogaak at the Mythic Championship all but guarantees that it won't be legal as soon as the ban list gets updated, which makes my 1-3 record against it in the event much more palatable.

Including Hogaak, my matchups were as such:

  • Grixis Urza - 2-0
  • uw Control - 2-0
  • Hardened Scales - 1-2
  • Hogaak - 0-2
  • Hogaak - 0-2
  • Whir Prison - 2-0
  • uw Control - 2-0
  • Hogaak - 0-2
  • Hogaak - 2-0
  • Burn - 1-2

Most of my non-Hogaak wins were fairly lopsided, and both Hardened Scales and Burn losses were extremely close. We should be expecting a major metagame shift going forward once Hogaak is banned, which should bode well for Goblins if the format continues to trend toward fair decks as the trajectory had been. Force of Negation is great, and Goblins is fantastic against Force of Negation.

But enough about my Mythic Championship! This is going to be a two part article, with today showcasing game play and going over the overall strategy of the deck and Friday's article containing the all important updated list and sideboard guide. Let's get to the deck and the games:


Formats move fast!

With classic Tron winning both the Mythic Championship as well as the SCG Tour open in Columbus last weekend, it's not surprising at all that we played against it twice in this league. My deck was built with Eldrazi Tron in mind, one of the more popular decks at the Mythic Championship, but not classic Tron. We also had some problems with Auriok Champion and Plague Engineer, two cards that will need to be addressed going forward. Thankfully once Hogaak is banned, that opens up a bunch of sideboard space where we can help solve these issues.

I don't want to focus too much on the specific results of this league or this decklist because the format is likely to change, but rather the overall strategy of Goblins as a whole. Goblins is perhaps one of the most misunderstood decks in the history of Magic, which unsurprisingly also makes it exceedingly difficult to pilot.

Here are some key things to remember for you potential Goblin players out there:

Goblins Is Not An Aggro Deck

Yes, you are playing a nearly mono-Red deck full of creatures with haste and damage dealing abilities. However, if you treat Goblins like an aggro deck you're going to end up on the wrong side of the match slip more often than not.

Goblin Piker
Goblin Chariot

Nobody is consistently winning games of Magic in Modern by casting Goblin Piledriver into Goblin Warchief and hoping the beatdowns are good enough. The individual power level of your cards isn't high enough to brute force your way through, which means your goal is to set them up to work together to become more than the sum of their parts, and then use them in the proper way that each particular matchup calls for.

Goblins Is A Board Control/Combo Deck

Develop your mana, kill things, draw cards, make favorable trades, tutor the card you need, draw more cards, eventually win. Sound familiar? In many ways, Goblins plays out like a control deck. You spend the early turns setting up your endgame while interacting, killing your opponent's important pieces and disrupting their overall game plan.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Sphinx's Revelation

Just like a deck playing Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Sphinx's Revelation, you know every resource exchange is good for you because you have the late game inevitability of an extremely powerful card draw engine. Goblin Ringleader will keep the gas flowing until very late in the game when you've finally run out of Goblin Matrons and Goblin Ringleaders to chain together. This ability to out-draw the other fair decks in the format gives you an edge in any game that goes long, which makes it your job to play towards that inevitability.

Know Your Role

Of course not every deck is going to play fair, and herein lay the challenge;

Goblins is a deck that does not have a universal game-to-game plan you can play out in each match.

A deck like Tron or Dredge has the same basic plan for each game. Get all three Tron lands in play, play really expensive stuff. Get dredge card in the graveyard, dredge as much as possible. Goblins is very different.

Commence the Endgame

Knowing how you want each game to play out and end goes a very long way toward how you need to play each turn of each game. Whereas you can take all of the time in the world against a deck like uw Control and slowly grind them into dust, if you take the same stance against a deck like Tron or Neoform Combo they will destroy you will their over the top late game. On the other side of things, if you're constantly just using Goblin Matron to find Goblin Warchief and Goblin Piledriver to go for quick kills against decks with lots of removal, you're going to find yourself with no cards in hand and no creatures in play very quickly. Knowing how to approach each individual matchup takes time, patience, and experience, and is the true challenge in playing a deck like Goblins.

In some matchups, it is correct to chump block with Goblin Piledriver on turn three.

In some matchups, you board out all but one Goblin Ringleader, typically the most powerful card in the deck.

How do you know which is right?

Have A Plan For Each Matchup

The way to figure out when either is correct is to know your role in each matchup and know what your endgame is going to look like. Once you have done this, you can properly asses the value of all your opponent's threats, what cards you need to get with Goblin Matron, and how offensively or defensively you should be playing the game. Every play must be made with a purpose that falls in line with your overall plan.

Game Plan

It's correct to chump block with a Goblin Piledriver on turn three when you recognize that the only way you're going to lose is if you get cheesed out by early damage. Taking a five damage shot from an early Tarmogoyf may allow your Jund opponent to get you into Lightning Bolt range and steal a game you've started to run away with via card advantage from Goblin Ringleader.

It's correct to board our your Goblin Ringleaders and go into a full-on aggro plan when you are faced with a deck that is much faster than your card advantage engines. A deck like Neoform or Storm isn't going to care how many cards you draw with Goblin Ringleader when they kill you all in one shot. Rather than trying to trade resources and play for the long game, your plan shifts to cards like Goblin Warchief, Goblin Piledriver, and Skirk Prospector, looking to kill as quickly as possible.

The beauty of Goblins is that it is capable of playing many different roles, so the option you want is usually there.

Sideboard Guide And Updated List

These are the nuts and bolts basics to playing Goblins properly. If you're serious about learning to play Goblins in Modern or Legacy these concepts must be learned, and they're pretty timeless as formats change and different cards come and go.

As far as the specifics? We'll you'll just have to tune in on Friday where I'll post my updated decklist as well as a sideboard guide for the top matchups in the format!