What would you say if I told you that one of the best decks in Legacy for card draw and resource denial was mono-Red and had 30 creatures? You’d probably think I was insane. Well, I am, but I’m also speaking the truth. Legacy Goblins was for the longest time the premiere aggro deck in the format, capable of explosive openings off the backs of Goblin Lackey. While True-Name Nemesis has caused a decline in Goblins’ popularity, thanks to the revitalization of the archetype on MTGO in Vintage Masters, Goblins is poised for a comeback.
Just a brief glance at that list is all it takes to see how Legacy Goblins has the best tutors, draw spells, and land denial in the format. Goblin Matron is essentially the Red Demonic Tutor in this deck, fetching out whatever Goblin you need to demolish the opponent, more often than not a Goblin Ringleader. Speaking of Ringleader, Goblins also has access to the best draw spell in the format that isn’t a 7/7 lifelinking demon. Legacy is a format dominated by cantrips as opposed to actual card draw, so when Goblin Ringleader is drawing you on average three cards, the raw drawing power sets itself leaps and bounds ahead of your everyday Ponder. “But Tyler,” you’re probably thinking, “those cards are super expensive, especially in a format as fast as Legacy! How on Earth are you casting 3 and 4 drops?” Goblins utilizes the tried and true tribal all-star Aether Vial to help drop multiple creatures in a single turn. Also, Goblin Warchief decreases the cost of each of your Goblins, giving you the ability to just dump your hand on to the table.
Another important factor to what makes Goblins so scary is the sheer aggro potential of the deck. The deck runs six lords that give your creatures haste, and with Goblin Piledriver you can push through massive amounts of damage. Even something simple like cheating Siege-Gang Commander into play off of Goblin Lackey can generate incredible damage over the course of the game. As well, thanks to M13, Goblins can also run Krenko, Mob Boss to create an army to keep your pressure going. Even if your opponent does manage to build up a defense, the deck also runs Gempalm Incinerator, Goblin Sharpshooter, and Tarfire to clear the path of blockers. Sharpshooter is especially important in creature heavy matchups because it makes it so awkward for your opponent’s creatures to block. In a format of staple X/2s like Deathrite Shaman and Stoneforge Mystic, it can easy for most of your creatures to get walled off. Thanks to Sharpshooter, your opponent has to think twice about blocking that Goblin Lackey, otherwise they risk losing their more important creatures.
What makes Goblins such a powerful archetype is that it runs an incredible package of resource denial. The deck runs 4-ofs of both Wasteland and Rishadan Port, which keep your opponent off their mana and developing their board. Once you stick a threat or two, you can then switch gears by attacking their lands so they never get an opportunity to fight back. With Aether Vial constantly dropping creatures into play, this frees up your lands to keep them locked down with Rishadan Port. Lastly, Tuktuk Scrapper, while a 1-of in the maindeck, is perfect for picking off problematic artifacts like Batterskulls and Umezawa”s Jittes.
Another thing worth noting is that virtually any Goblin card is viable in the deck. One popular variation is taking out the Sharpshooter, Krenko, and maindeck Scrapper for Skirk Prospector, Lightning Crafter, and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. What this allows you to do is create an infinite loop that kills your opponent. What you do is copy the original Lightning Crafter on the field with Kiki-Jiki, and have the token champion Kiki-Jiki. Activate the token to Bolt your opponent, then sacrifice the token to Skirk Prospector to get Kiki-Jiki back. You then tap Kiki-Jiki to get another Lightning Crafter token, and repeat the process as many times as you want. This build is particularly strong against removal-light matches or matches where the opponent is more permission-oriented. What’s even more amazing about this combo is that with Aether Vial you can do this all on your opponent’s end step!
SO HOW SHOULD I BUILD MY SIDEBOARD?
One of the great things about Goblins is that it has the power to out-muscle most fair decks in the format through its sheer body count. This means that we only need to devote the bare minimum cards toward fighting fair matchups. This generally boils down to only needing Pyrokinesis and, depending on the match, the second Tuktuk Scrapper. Pyrokinesis is sort of like Gempalm Incinerator on steroids in fair matchups, clearing away multiple blockers at the cost of exiling a Red card from your hand. Being able to clear away a Deathrite Shaman and a Stoneforge Mystic on your opponent’s end step for no mana is a huge tempo swing in your favour, and frees up your lands to further punish the opponent’s manabase.
The biggest weakness Goblins faces is faster combo decks like Sneak and Show, Dredge, and ANT. These decks are capable of going off before you can really set up, so the majority of your sideboard cards are dedicated to these matchups. Because mono-Red doesn’t really offer that many options as far as sideboard cards, most Goblin decks splash White to access much greater sideboard cards. Oblivion Ring is kind of online casino a catch-all for Show and Tell decks by exiling whatever your opponent cheats into play. Because Oblivion Ring is an enters-the-battlefield trigger, not even Emrakul is safe. While some Goblins decks ran Angel of Despair in the past for this matchups, Oblivion Ring is notable in that you can actually cast it should they cast Show and Tell when you didn’t have it in hand.
Rest in Peace is an absolute beating for any deck looking to use its graveyard, such as Dredge, Reanimator, and is even great at hindering RUG Delver. Goblins couldn’t care less about its graveyard, so it can cast Rest in Peace with absolutely no downside. However, sometimes Dredge and Reanimator can go off before you have two lands, which is where the single Grafdigger”s Cage comes in. While it doesn’t actually get rid of the opponent’s graveyard, it does slow them down long enough to build up your board and beat them to death. Another benefit of Grafdigger”s Cage is that it helps shut off Green Sun”s Zenith and Natural Order out of Elves, which is one of the easiest ways for them to go bigger than you.
If there is one thing Goblins hates it is Storm. You have next to no disruption maindeck, they rarely have a board you can interact with, and they can combo off before you can even really do anything. Postboard, the game becomes dramatically different, as we bring in a whopping 3 Thalia and 3 Mindbreak Trap. Thalia is the perfect card for slowing down Storm and dragging them into the mid to late game where they really don’t want to be. By adding one mana to all their spells, you effectively neuter any value they get from their rituals and make it difficult to build up a decent sized Storm count. However, sometimes Thalia isn’t enough to win. Sometimes they go off the turn before you can play her, or they have a hand that’s heavy on the Lion”s Eye Diamonds and can pay the extra mana. This is where Mindbreak Trap really shines. What you do is hold it until the opponent to go off, and when they fire off that lethal Tendrils of Agony, then you get to cast the Trap for free and exile all the copies of Tendrils from the stack. This should leave them devoid of resources and you with all the time in the world to kill them.
WITH THIS IN MIND, HOW ARE OUR MATCHUPS?
Generally speaking, Goblins wants to face fair matchups like Shardless BUG and RUG Delver. These decks only have so many removal spells to dish out, and you can easily exhaust their resources, then reload your hand with a Ringleader. More importantly, these decks only have a few actual threats, and if you can trade them off in combat, your threat density should be able to push through damage. The fact that so many of your creatures give your team haste means you are able to constantly swing in and keep them on the defensive.
That being said, True-Name Nemesis is a colossal pain for Goblins to deal with, especially when suited up with Umezawa”s Jitte. Nemesis walls off all of your non-Piledriver creatures, allowing the opponent to save their removal for your Piledrivers. The safest way to handle True-Name Nemesis from my experience is to ignore it and swarm around it. You can put down a much faster clock, and Nemesis only gets really scary once Jitte is a factor, in which case tutoring up your Tuktuk Scrapper is imperative.
As I mentioned earlier, your game ones against combo are ludicrously one-sided. You need a miracle and a half to steal game one, but your sideboard is so heavily geared toward combo that games two and three should hopefully be a cakewalk. You just need to keep a serviceable hand with at least one appropriate hate card and you should be alright.
FINAL VERDICT: IS GOBLINS WORTH IT RIGHT NOW?
In short, yes. Goblins, especially with the White splash, is still a viable choice in Legacy, despite what True-Name Nemesis would want you to think. Goblins has been under the radar just long enough that it’s starting to make a resurgence online, and if these trends continue, it should start reappearing at paper tournaments as well. Moreover, with enough practice against the True-Name Nemesis decks in the format, you will eventually know how to play around this beast of a Merfolk. Once that’s out of the way, testing against the rest of the format is pretty straightforward. Goblins can be a very rewarding deck to play, and there are fewer better feelings than stomping an opponent down with a swarm of tiny monsters, so do Norman Osbourne proud and sleeve up Goblins today!
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