Hi everyone! What’s up? Today I’m going to write about my pet deck in legacy; Vial Goblins. I have been playing and tuning this deck for as long as I’ve been playing legacy, and I’ve wanted to write about it since I first got into writing about magic. Perhaps even before that. But even though I was excited to write about my deck, I still hesitated. I’ve gathered a lot of experience with Goblins over the years, and it has developed my intuition. I wanted to do the deck justice, and knew I had to communicate clearly to do so. I just didn’t know where to start. How do you turn your subconscious knowledge into structured information without leaving out important parts? I don’t have the answer to that yet, but I’m more confident in my abilities as a writer now than I was before. Today’s article won’t be the complete guide to legacy Goblins, but there is more to come in the near future. I promise.
It’s Time for Introductions
Vial Goblins is a tribal deck, and as such is built around synergy rather than power. In exchange for giving up individually powerful cards like Tarmogoyf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor we get to play cards that become incredibly strong in conjunction with each other. Let’s take a look at what makes Vial Goblins a deck.
This is the core of the deck. These four cards are the reason Vial Goblins is able to compete in legacy. When the rest of your deck is built with these cards in mind they are more powerful and efficient than what most of your opponents will be up to, and that’s saying something when you consider how powerful the average legacy deck is. Uninitiated players often assume Goblins to be an aggro deck. That is quite a poor description of what the deck is looking to accomplish. Vial Goblins wins by swarming the board with creatures, but it’s in no hurry to do so. The raw card advantage that comes from Goblin Ringleader gives this deck the ability to outgrind a lot of decks in the late game. Your Treasure Cruise is banned? Mine has haste. This deck features an impressive toolbox, and Goblin Matron is what gives it its flexibility. Have you ever seen an active Birthing Pod in action in modern? That’s what playing with Goblin Matron is like. It’s pretty difficult to outmaneuver your opponent when they have access to a Swiss army knife of cards that can answer pretty much whatever you’re up to.
It’s true that you don’t have to worry about having an answer for must answer permanents like Stoneforge Mystic or Dark Confidant when up against Goblins. Goblins can’t afford to play too many non-Goblin cards. It relies on the consistency and synergy that comes from having most of your spells be goblins. What we do have is a very powerful one-drop. There was a time when people feared a turn one Goblin Lackey. An unanswered Goblin Lackey can race many combo decks’ opening hands, and will often steal the game versus the fair decks if it’s allowed to connect. It’s a bit weaker on the draw, and there was a time when I used to side it out more frequently for that reason. I was wrong to do so. I will still sometimes shave a lackey during sideboarding, but the reasoning behind boarding out all of them so often was poor. While being on the draw means that an opposing turn two Stoneforge Mystic will still be in time for the party, playing one can be a very risky play on their part. If I have a removal spell you’ll be at risk of being run over pretty fast. Wouldn’t you feel so much safer if you just cast that Abrupt Decay instead?
Our curve is a bit higher than most legacy decks’, and we often want to be playing multiple creatures in a single turn. Aether Vial lets us do precisely that while still being useful for many other purposes as well. An early Aether Vial backed up by some form of mana denial will often put you far ahead in the game. Aether Vial is also one of the main reasons that counter magic is so unimpressive versus Vial Goblins. When games go long getting the most out of your cards often becomes more important. In such games having a key card go unanswered could very well be the difference between winning and losing. It is not uncommon for me to hold a Goblin Ringleader for an extra turn until I can put it into play via Aether Vial to play around counter magic in those situations. Wasting a turn’s worth of mana isn’t nearly as bad when your opponent has neither pressure nor inevitability, especially if it leads to you drawing four more cards when you’re both in topdeck mode.
I won’t go into any details on specific card choices today, but it wouldn’t be a proper introduction without a decklist. My current list is not very traditional, featuring quite a few controversial choices, so it’s not the best fit for this article. I rocked it during the Scandinavian Open though, so you will get that list later, along with a complete tournament report. Until then, let’s focus on a list that is a tad more similar to the stock version. The following list has been my go-to version for over a year now, aside from a few tweaks here and there. I present to you…
R/B Vial Goblins
What sticks out the most in this list is the black splash and the two maindeck copies of Pyrokinesis. The black splash allows us to play Thoughtseize and Cabal Therapy in the sideboard, giving us more game versus combo decks like Sneak and Show and Ad Nauseam Tendrils. Pyrokinesis is often unexpected game one, which leads to it having a lot of blowout potential. Having access to Pyrokinesis vastly improves the matchup versus Death and Taxes and Elves!, both of them decks that see a reasonable amount of play in legacy. The singleton Warren Weirding is a nod to the printing of True-Name Nemesis, as that card is difficult to beat when it hits an empty board. It also deals with Emrakul, the Aeons Torn out of Sneak and Show or Twelvepost, as well as other game ending creatures, such as Progenitus and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite.
We have a list for reference, and we’ve talked about some of the cards that make Vial Goblins what it is. It’s time to take a look at how a game with this deck plays out. Goblins can play several different roles well, so I prefer not to categorize it as aggro/control etc. Those labels can be very useful in helping us understand how to best approach an archetype, but by relying too much on them we risk limiting our understanding. In preboard games versus combo decks our plan is to race them. Goblin Lackey, Goblin Piledriver and the haste lords makes the deck well suited to play the role of the aggressor against decks with little to no interaction. I have raced Sneak and Show on the draw after having mulliganed to four. It is not uncommon to swing for lethal by turn three. For this reason our matchup versus the slower combo decks is not as bad as one might first think it to be. Game one is still generally pretty tough, but it’s definitely winnable.
When Treasure Cruise was legal and Viking Funeral (UR Delver) was everywhere I upped the count of Mogg War Marshals for the full playset. Our late game is superior to the aggressive decks’, which means that if we manage to stabilize we’ll likely end up victorious. Our priority should be dealing with their threats as soon as possible to preserve our life total. You should also be mindful of how many burn spells their deck plays, as you may have to close out the game quickly to prevent them from finishing you off on an axis where you can’t fight them.
Tempo decks like Canadian Threshold (RUG Delver) are similar to the aggressive decks in that we should have inevitability in the late game. While they are typically not as heavy on burn spells they have very efficient answers to our early plays. If we’re not careful we risk losing the game to a timely Wasteland or Stifle. Developing our mana is key to beating those decks as it allows us to reach our endgame. When dealing with their early pressure it is important to know how and when to play around their soft counter magic. Daze can be devastating, but it can also be terribly unimpressive. As a rule of thumb we can’t afford to waste our mana, but making a key spell resolve can often be worth taking an extra three damage from an Insectile Aberration. Aether Vial is often our best card in this matchup, as it both secures our mana and nullifies their counter magic. Once we reach the late game we should be able to outgrind them with matrons and ringleaders, chumping Tarmogoyf all day. Just be wary of a Stifle on your Goblin Ringleader as that could lead to things going poorly for you very quickly.
Our game plan versus midrange and aggro control decks like Esper Deathblade and Esper Stoneblade varies from game to game, and we often switch roles back and forth even in the game. An early Goblin Lackey can be a great way to take home the game, but should our aggression be halted we must remember that we’re quite capable of beating them in the long game as well. The main difference here from the aggro matchups is that the games are much more centered on a few key exchanges. Going with a tactical approach, focusing on answering their most important cards (True-Name Nemesis, Umezawa’s Jitte etc.) is often a stronger option than relying on a strategy based approach. You need to be able switch gears and think on your feet to outmaneuver your opponents. Much like chess it is a battle of wits where victory is achieved by being a step ahead. Knowing how to manage your removal spells correctly and how to bait opposing answers is an invaluable skill to have. The matchup can be extremely skill intensive and often plays out on a deeper level. Experience pilots will play their opponents as much as their cards, intuiting massive amounts of information from how they’ve played.
Miracles is the number one control deck in the format. This is the one matchup where they will always be the one trying to find the answers, as we have few outs to an end of turn Entreat the Angels. Our job is to pressure their life total in order to close out the game before they have time to cast their game winning spell while forcing them to use their answers as inefficiently as possible. It is important to remember that their inevitability comes in the form of a single powerful spell rather than them naturally outgrinding us. They have few ways to match our card advantage and their Swords to Plowshares and Terminus are tools for them to buy time, not stabilize. Aside from a particularly well timed Terminus followed by a Jace, the Mind Sculptor they will need to find an Entreat the Angels in order to win. Games often hinge on your ability to find the right balance between putting enough pressure on them to ensure that they won’t find an Entreat the Angels in time and playing around Terminus.
That is all for today’s article. It is my ambition that you will have gained some insights from it. If you’re already familiar with the deck I plan on doing more in-depth analyses in the future. Until then, be sure to make your voice heard in the comment section if you want me to cover any particular topic!
My name is Sandro Rajalin and you can find me on Facebook and Twitter, or email me at RajalinSandroMTG@gmail.com
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