The Riesengebirge by Caspar David Friedrich (1830).
Jiang Yanggu, Wildcrafter by Anna Steinbauer.
I've never been able to keep a Goblins deck together for very long. I picked up a Krenko, Mob Boss but ran him in my Purphoros, God of the Forge deck for years. When I pulled that deck apart because I was tired of having to play archenemy, I built Zada, Hedron Grinder. Zada was explosive and fun, but before long I pulled it apart and built a Squee, Goblin Nabob deck. Purphoros was amazing, hence having to play "archenemy" all the time, and Zada was a blast, but this week's column is going to be a look at my experience building and playing one of Magic the Gathering's newest Legendary Goblins, Pashalik Mons.
This Goblin Warrior is a 2/2 with some real combo potential. Pashalik Mons will do 1 damage to any target each time he or another goblin you control dies. That means if you can find a way to set up an infinite loop that includes death (not exile) triggers, you should be able to kill the table. Because Pashalik Mons has to die to trigger his ability for himself, you can't ping something if you put him in the command zone. More on that later.
His second ability is that you can pay four mana, at least one of which has to be Red, and sacrifice a Goblin to create two 1/1 Red Goblin creature tokens. That will let him ping a target for 1 damage and it also sets you up to be able to easily convert infinite Red mana into a win. There are lots of other cards that turn infinite mana into a win just as well, from Fireball to Walking Ballista, but it is pretty nice to have a potential wincon in your command zone where you can always get your hands on it. Your opponents can counter a Comet Storm but if you have infinite mana you'll just cast Pashalik Mons again and again until he resolves.
Making Mad Mana
Playing Pashalik Mons without any combos is not going to be a very strong strategy. You can equip him with something that gives him deathtouch and use his ping ability to do board control, but in most semi-competitive metas you'll probably find yourself outclassed by what your opponents are bringing to the table.
If our plan is to try to make infinite mana, we're going to need to run a few combos that do just that.
If you cast Mana Geyser for five mana and your opponents have at least seven tapped lands, if you cast and buy back Reiterate you can allow the copy of Mana Geyser to resolve and then re-cast (and buy back) Reiterate again and again to create an infinite storm count and infinite mana.
Another way to make infinite mana is the old Rings of Brighthearth / Basalt Monolith combo. Rings can be used to copy an activated ability, so long as it isn't a mana ability. With Basalt Monolith you copy the untap ability and then tap it for mana in response to the first untap so that you net one colorless mana each time you execute a step in the combo. If someone doesn't throw a Krosan Grip into your plans, you should be able to create infinite colorless mana. All you need now is Skirk Prospector to let you sacrifice one of the four Goblins you created with Pashalik Mons to make Red mana. If you're wondering why I'm saying you'll create four Goblins, not two, it's because you should also be copying your Pashalik Mons activations.
Alternative Win Conditions
If this deck's goal is to try to combo off, it would be shortsighted to not include some alternative wincons. For Pashalik Mons, his "alternative" win condition isn't all that weird or crazy.
We're not running all of the usual Krenko, Mob Boss combo pieces. If we were, it would make more sense to just put Krenko in the command zone and have this be yet another Krenko deck. That doesn't mean he can't play a role in trying to win. If we've got a decent board of creatures and can keep Krenko around long enough to tap him a few times, we ought to be able to swing for some serious damage.
A few ways to pump our Goblins will also help with our crazy, weird alternative plan of winning by going to combat. I'm running Paragon of Fierce Defiance (not a Goblin) and Goblin Trashmaster (the trashiest of Goblins), both of which will pump our dudes by +1/+1. Door of Destinies can give us a lot more pump if we can manage to cast enough Goblin spells. Coat of Arms is the gold Standard in tribal pump and will boost all creatures on the field by the number of creatures they share a creature type with. We're almost exclusively running Goblins and Goblin token generators, so we should be able to turn a well-timed Coat of Arms into a kill or two.
Bits and Pieces
You might also want to run Basilisk Collar, but my build only runs Gorgon's Head and Quietus Spike. The former just gives deathtouch. The latter gives deathtouch and if the equipped creature deals combat damage to a player, that player loses half of his or her life, rounded up. That's the sort of thing that can turn a table against you, but in this case I think the risk is probably worth the reward.
If we want to be able to ping creatures with a deathtouch-enabled commander, it makes sense to run some cheaper sacrifice outlets than Pashalik Mons. Four mana to sacrifice a Goblin is a steep price if all we want is to ping something. Ashnod's Altar and High Market will step in and help with that. Our combo enabler, Skirk Prospector is a sacrifice outlet as well as the aforementioned Goblin Trashmaster.
My first draft of this deck was running way too many extra random things that I simply wanted to include in the list. Price of Progress is a wonderful way to punish decks that run lots and lots of nonbasic lands. Blood Moon does that pretty well too, and is also in my list. Vandalblast punishes artifact decks pretty well and made the cut too. If we're ever sitting around with a lethal boardstate and zero chance of getting through our opponents' blockers, Cosmotronic Wave will ping our opponents' creatures and will give us a clear path to swing for the fences.
The last card shown above requires a little explanation. If Staff of the Flame Magus hits the table early enough it could give us a pad of 10-15 life over the course of the game. That can be enough breathing room to make it into the late game, but I'll forgive you if you rolled your eyes when you scrolled down and saw it.
Strange, underpowered but vaguely useful cards can become inside jokes in a meta. You play them not because they're great or even that good but because you can jokingly refer to them as your "wincon" and get a chuckle out of friends when you play them. That's why Staff of the Flame Magus is in this list. It might be a dead card in the late game, and it might have no place in a competitive (or semi-competitive) meta but it's not as bad as it looks and I value inside jokes as much as wins when I'm playing casual Commander with friends.
Some of these last few cards didn't make it into the second draft of this deck. My message is simply that if you're in a casual enough meta you should embrace the opportunity to run silly, fun and even bad cards and you should count your blessings. It's kind of wonderful to not have to stress about winning before turn one0 in order to have a chance at enjoying the game.
Last week's column included a section where I shared how the decks I built actually performed in games. The proof is in the pudding means that a deck needs to be played in order to properly evaluate it. This past Tuesday I brought my first draft of my Pashalik Mons to our LGS to give it a whirl and see how it would do.
Partway to the store, my old Honda Element made a sound like the transmission had just done something truly horrible and I pulled into the store's parking lot figuring I'd only play a game or two and then see if I could manage to get my car home without having to call AAA to get it towed. It was not an optimistic start to the evening.
I wound up playing two games with some of my favorite tablemates and the store was full of Commander players, many of whom I'd have enjoyed sharing a game with. I had a real-world problem on my hands, so I had to make it a shorter evening than usual.
Game 1 was not good. I had one of those games where I drew into way too many lands and nowhere near enough Goblins. I was flooded and had pretty much no impact on the game.
Game 2 was worse. Instead of being flooded, I only got three mountains onto the field over the course of a fairly long game. Again, I was largely ignored and was the last to be killed because I presented no threat to anyone else at the table.
One amusing anecdote and an indicator of how bad my night was going is that three times over the course of two games I found myself sitting with a Fork in hand to the left of a player playing Green. The list I was running had Reiterate, but also ran additional copy spells.
I primarily run these spells to piggyback on opponents' ramp spells, as Red doesn't ramp that well on its own. Every single time my buddy played a ramp spell, it was a spell that would ONLY tutor for Forests. Ranger's Path. Nature's Lore. Skyshroud Claim. It was ridiculous. Some nights things just don't go your way, and this was clearly one of those nights.
My car issues didn't wind up being a bad transmission. It was my front axles and I was able to make it home safely.
I had gone into the evening without having put some key cards into my Pashalik Mons deck.
I hadn't yet added any wheel spells to the list and I hadn't moved my Mana Echoes over from my Lathliss deck. There's no guarantee that it would have made a bit of difference, but I decided not to give up on Pashalik Mons just yet. Good decks can have bad games, and OK decks can have terrible games. Variance is real, and while great decks are often consistent and dependable, it would have been shortsighted not to tweak my list and give it another try.
A Chance at Redemption
I had every intention of going to the LGS early on Saturday so that I could get in a couple of games with Pashalik Mons before our Commander League games. I wasn't optimistic that the deck would perform well, but I had tweaked it and I figured my bad luck wouldn't continue. Mana Echoes and Mana Crypt were now in the list.
Before heading to the store I went to pick up my Element from getting fixed. When driving away from the dealer my steering wheel was cocked to the side while I drove in a straight line. That wasn't a good sign and I wound up having to leave it for another few yours to have a tie rod replaced that still needed to be fixed. I wound up arriving at NexGen without enough extra time to get any pickup games in before our 2:00 pm start. If I wanted to test this deck out again, I was going to have to play Pashalik Mons for my league games.
In my first game I wound up having to send Pashalik Mons to the graveyard in order to get an opponent's Hallar, the Firefletcher off the field. If I hadn't, I'm convinced he would have won the game. I wound up playing my Skirk Prospector on turn one and losing both him and Pashalik Mons on the same turn, killing any chance that I would have to line up a combo.
The deck is ostensibly a combo deck, but it suffers from the classic problems of Mono-Red combo decks. You don't have enough tutors, protection and recursion to give it any real consistency. I wound up doing very little in the game, but I was able to play lands and actually play a few cards along the way. The Hallar player didn't win, so I guess that's something.
In my second game I wound being stuck on two lands for what felt like forever. I again got largely ignored for most of the game. My opponents beat each other up and I took a little damage here and there but mostly got ignored. At the end, I wound up facing an opponent at four life with Pashalik Mons on the field but without enough mana to do anything relevant. I had spent so much of the game drawing and discarding that it felt like a minor miracle that I was able to cast a Hordeling Outburst to put three 1/1 Goblin creature tokens on the field. I had no sacrifice outlet so my opponent was able to finish me off relatively easily.
With all these tales of bad games and no mana, you might wonder if I was running 24 lands and no mana rocks, but I was running 35 lands, and enough mana rocks. The deck's average CMC was around 3.1. I found myself doubting my deck-building - not for the first time - but I double-checked and I was running what I think is enough lands. If my list was a little light on lands and ramp, I don't think it was so light that anything but variance would explain how bad these first games played out.
This list below has a few changes from the lists I was playing, but they are very minor ones. I hadn't included Skullclamp and I also added in Slate of Ancestry and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, but I don't think those tweaks fundamentally change the deck.
Pashalik Mons | Commander | Stephen Johnson
- Commander (1)
- 1 Pashalik Mons
- Creatures (23)
- 1 Beetleback Chief
- 1 Chancellor of the Forge
- 1 Flamewave Invoker
- 1 Goblin Battle Jester
- 1 Goblin Chainwhirler
- 1 Goblin Cratermaker
- 1 Goblin Instigator
- 1 Goblin Marshal
- 1 Goblin Matron
- 1 Goblin Ringleader
- 1 Goblin Trashmaster
- 1 Goblin Warchief
- 1 Guttersnipe
- 1 Krenko, Mob Boss
- 1 Legion Warboss
- 1 Mogg War Marshal
- 1 Moggcatcher
- 1 Paragon of Fierce Defiance
- 1 Rummaging Goblin
- 1 Skirk Prospector
- 1 Squee, Goblin Nabob
- 1 Squee, the Immortal
- 1 Stingscourger
- Sorceries (12)
- 1 Cosmotronic Wave
- 1 Dragon Fodder
- 1 Empty the Warrens
- 1 Goblin Offensive
- 1 Goblin Rally
- 1 Goblin War Party
- 1 Hordeling Outburst
- 1 Hour of Devastation
- 1 Krenko's Command
- 1 Mana Geyser
- 1 Mob Justice
- 1 Vandalblast
- Artifacts (20)
- 1 Ashnod's Altar
- 1 Basalt Monolith
- 1 Blade of Selves
- 1 Coat of Arms
- 1 Door of Destinies
- 1 Extraplanar Lens
- 1 Fire Diamond
- 1 Foriysian Totem
- 1 Gorgon's Head
- 1 Hazoret's Monument
- 1 Herald's Horn
- 1 Illusionist's Bracers
- 1 Mana Crypt
- 1 Pyromancer's Goggles
- 1 Quietus Spike
- 1 Rings of Brighthearth
- 1 Ruby Medallion
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Slate of Ancestry
- 1 Sol Ring
I looked up Pashalik Mons on EDHREC.com as something of a sanity check and was heartened to see that the average list had 36 lands in it. I know I am in the habit of running a little light on lands, but I didn't think my list was significantly lower than average. It was nice to see that I was right.
So What Gives?
If my list isn't significantly out of whack when compared with your average Pashalik Mons deck, how do I explain my having three out of four terrible games right out of the gate?
Four games is probably not a big enough sample size to really evaluate a casual deck.
In one game I was flooded, in two games I was mana-screwed and in the fourth game I wound up having to save the table in a way that deep-sixed any chance I had of ever comboing off.
I do think that playing a combo deck isn't as effective if you don't go all in on the combo plan. When you don't fully commit to trying to dig out and protect all of your combo pieces, you wind up having lots of games where you see parts of the plan but it just doesn't come together. I find that really frustrating, though if you are willing to basically play a casual Goblin deck with a few "Oops I win" scenarios that you might luck into, you might enjoy this kind of deck.
If I was going to keep playing and working on this deck I would add in Gamble, Ring of Three Wishes, and Tamiyo's Journal as backup ways to tutor up combo pieces and I would add in wheel effects to better dig for the cards I need to win. A halfhearted approach to combo in a suboptimal color isn't likely to result in good games and I think this deck is evidence of that.
I have had the opposite experience with decks that I don't think are actually that much better than this list. My Hallar, the Firefletcher deck won its first three or four games but isn't the kind of deck that I think of as being that competitive. It can be explosive and it damages all of your opponents equally when it goes off, but I never expected it to win many games at all, much less three of its first four.
I don't think my plan was a bad one for this commander, but I'm also looking forward to being done with Pashalik Mons. As I wrap up this column I've already unsleeved the deck, returned my Lathliss cards to her list and am entertaining thoughts of working on an Izzet spellslingers deck to get my Thousand-Year Storm and Epic Experiment out of my binder and into play again.
If I'm going to play a combo deck I think I want something more consistent. The multiple, highly effective paths to victory that my Flash Hulk / Hermit Druid / Food Chain Muldrotha list brings to the game may have me spoiled for any other combo deck I'll ever play. Pashalik Mons could be fun in casual games but you're unlikely to overwhelm your opponents or find yourself hogging all the wins in your meta.
If you are a regular reader, I'd love to hear your thoughts on variance and on this list in particular. Do you think I went way too low on lands and mana sources? Have you also had days or weeks of just terrible variance? Let me know in the comments!
That's all I've got for today. Barring any surprises I should have a column about a Mono-Blue snow themed list for next week. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next Monday!