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By: SpikeBoyM, Alex Ullman
Jun 22 2015 12:00pm
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I do not make any secret of the fact that I like sacrificing cards for value. This strategy, now called an Aristocrats deck (after Tom Martell’s win at Pro Tour: Gatecrash with a Sam Black creation) has a long and somewhat shrouded history in Pauper. Aristocrat decks are ones based around gaining value from creatures dying while also obsoleting opposing removal spells. The deck that most fits this bill in the current metagame, and in fact one that has been a force for many years, is Goblins.

The first deck I encountered involving any form Goblin based interaction was, well, this one:

Top Deck Red
PDC Season 3, Spring 2005
4 Oxidda Golem
4 Frostling
4 Goblin Cohort
3 Goblin Sledder
4 Ronin Houndmaster
4 Sparksmith
3 Vulshok Berserker
26 cards

Other Spells
4 Pyrite Spellbomb
4 Barbed Lightning
4 Firebolt
3 Volcanic Hammer
15 cards
18 Mountain
1 Forgotten Cave
19 cards
Ronin Houndmaster

I know, it’s a bit of a cop out to use my own deck. Back in spring of 2005 this deck took the Pauper Deck Challenge player run event series by storm. While part of the deck’s success came from the adherence to a mana curve and the Sligh philosophy, a not-insignificant amount of the deck’s strength came from Sparksmith and Goblin Sledder. These two cards gave the deck a board control all-star that could be converted into damage later on in the game. This was the first innovation - the ability to convert prior investments directly into damage.

Years passed and Goblins would spring up from time to time as tribal deck, but never achieved much success. Eventually Pauper made its way to the world of sanctioned events but still, Goblins lingered in the background. There were three events, however, the propelled Goblins to the level of true contender.

1. The release of Zendikar. Zendikar gave Goblins a fantastic on tribe tool in Goblin Bushwhacker. Bushwhacker gave Goblins a way to win from behind while also providing additional lines of play. The ability to hold back threats and then unload them all at once and grant them haste was new. The extra damage played rather nice with Lightning Bolt as well.

2. The release of Tempest. Goblin Sledder is all well and good, but it was the addition of Mogg Raider, the same card with a different name, provided some much needed redundancy. Goblins was at its best when it was turning blocked creatures into extra damage and having twice as many sacrifice outlets made finding the key card that much easier.

3. The early dominance of Mono-Black Control. MBC won the first two Pauper Premier Events and made up over 15% of the third. Early in the days of sanctioned Pauper MBC cemented its place in the field with access to Tendrils of Corruption. Tendrils gave MBC access to a bad Time Walk. Back then Pauper was largely defined by midrange creature decks and the ability to undo a turn four investment while also gaining back a significant amount of life allowed Swamps to take the early lead. The duo of Goblin Sledder and Mogg Raider and their ability to negate the life gain off of Tendrils turned Goblins into the go-to deck for people who wanted to beat down.

Goblins would go on to experience one of the better stretches in Pauper. While it briefly held the title of Best Deck, it would eventually fall behind other blue options (like Delver) or various combo decks. Regardless, Goblins never quite went away. Being a popular tribe the deck gets a few options a year.

So why play Goblins? Goblins is a beatdown deck but it can be incredibly resilient. The fact the deck can operate at near peak efficiency off of two lands and three lands is basically ideal allows Goblins run as few as 17 lands and rarely more than 18. In turn the deck is packed with threats. That is doubly good news as every threat in Goblins can become more damage thanks to the Dynamic Duo of Goblin Sledder and Mogg Raider. In a format that has plenty of creatures this can make blocking a tough prospect which allows Goblins to piece together wins.

By virtue of Goblins also has access to burn spells. While this may seem obvious it needs to be said as it provides much needed reach. Goblins might be a fantastic beatdown deck but every so often it needs to deal those final few points. The fact that these cards share a color - Goblins and burn - is a blessing of Magic design and is almost definitely a reason that Goblins has stuck around for so long.

Goblins can also be persistent. In popular culture the creatures are often shown as hard to kill and coming in mobs. Well, Goblins in Magic is not much different. One of the very best cards in the deck is Mogg War Marshal which provides two bodies up front and then has the option to eat a removal spell and leave behind a token. War Marshal, combined with multiple cheap creatures, means that it is very easy to assemble an army. In a similar vein Goblins is the best home for Death Spark. While one damage for one mana flies in the face of the Philosophy of Fire it is the ability to continuously get this card back, for more damage, makes it worth a slot in many Goblin builds. Often what separates good Goblin pilots from the best is proper management of Death Spark.

From this we can see that Goblins is a deck that can either go wide with multiple small creatures or go tall with Goblin Sledder enhancements. The deck can play a short game with Lightning Bolt or try to grind out damage with Death Spark. Goblins has experienced success because it is an incredibly flexible deck that can use its core cards for multiple purposes.

The core of Goblins is rather tight but these cards work together in concert to achieve multiple ends.

Mogg Raider and Goblin Sledder are the primary cogs in Goblins’ damage engine. They enable the deck to turn expiring resources into more damage. When Goblins wants to go wide this makes blocks rather difficult.  Conversely there are times when the deck wants to build one large threat and that is also enabled by this duo. Having one of these cards is great and having two provides redundancy. As such I would hesitate to go below seven in any Goblins deck.

Mogg War Marshal may be the best two drop in red. It immediately provides two power across two bodies and can either provide a removal resistant body or transform from an actual creature to a token. On an aggressive line the Marshal can immediately translate to at least one more point of damage thanks to a member of the Dynamic Duo. Knowing when to pay the Echo cost and when to let it die and leave behind a friend is one of the more challenging decisions with the deck. Obviously when your hand is empty or playing another creature is not better than having the War Marshal it is a no brainer. On a similar note if there is a ton of gas in your hand letting it die is probably correct. It is everything in between that matters. There is no hard and fast rule. My best advice is to identify if you opponent does not want you to keep the Mogg War Marshal. When they are casting removal having an extra body is more important to soak up that next Diabolic Edict. Always run four copies of War Marshal.

The anthem and haste enabler of Goblin Bushwhacker makes it so that even the most meager army can crash in for a ton of damage. In a pinch it can double as a one drop. There is not much else to be said about a card that basically tells you everything you need to know about it right in its text box. While running four is often correct, sometimes three is the right call.

Foundry Street Denizen, Mogg Conscripts, and Goblin Cohort all serve a similar role. These are one drops that hit for more than one damage. Conscripts and Cohort have their drawback largely mitigated thanks to the density of creatures. Denizen can hit for three damage regularly thanks to a well-timed War Marshal or simply playing out multiple creatures in a turn. Having a Foundry Street Denizen on the board also represents a time when one may want to sacrifice a newly minted Mogg War Marshal to a Goblin Sledder to turn the Gatecrash creature into a five power monster. The need to have these cards on turn one means that going under four for any of them is not ideal.

Sparksmith helps Goblins keep the path clear. The two drop can repeatedly remove creatures from the board, albeit at a hefty price in life. This deck does care about connecting with creatures and as such is willing to trade some life total for the ability to remove a blocker. Sparksmith is at its best in creature light metagames but is most needed in those where blockers are plentiful. I often find myself running three with a fourth in the sideboard but I could see going with a two and one split.

Lightning Bolt is one of the best Magic cards ever printed. It clears a path for attackers while also closing out games. Run four.

The rest of the deck is mutable depending on the expected field. Need to grind out games? Goblin Matron and Death Spark may make sense. Need to go more aggressive? Try out Fireblast. Really need to go wide? Then (Krenko’s Command), Dragon Fodder, and Goblin Lookout may be for you. Given the current metagame I am opting for a more aggressive build of Goblins that also has some long game elements.

Mardu Scout and Goblin Heelcutter provide an additional way to push through damage off the top while also playing nicely with Foundry Street Denizen. Heelcutter has been absolutely fantastic and a third copy in the main may be correct. As a curve topper it can completely shut down a blocker. Right now there are not a ton of decks that can leave behind multiple creatures to block which means that attacking with a Heelcutter is more like casting a free Falter every turn. The fact that it can be Dashed into play gives the card some serious ambush value that can steal games.

I’ve opted for a rather aggressive build as indicated by Fireblast. The two copies of Goblin War Strike in the sideboard take the place of cards that try to stall an opposing game plan. Brought in for actual races, War Strike represents a ton of damage that can often win games on the same axis as Goblins normally wants to utilize making it a better choice than Raze against decks like Tron or Esper Combo.

Death Spark may seem out of place but it represents so much damage I cannot get away. It kills Delver of Secrets and comes back for more. And let’s be realistic - I can’t get away from graveyard interactions.

Goblins is a flexible aggressive deck that comes out swinging. Backed up with burn it can present a fast clock that can end games and interact with and opponent’s creatures and spells. The deck is well positioned at the moment and some attention to new options, like Goblin Heelcutter, could push the deck’s metagame volume even higher.

Additional Resources:
A previous article on Goblins by yours truly
A primer from Casting Commons
A podcast from myself and Mike Vadman
Keep slingin’ commons-

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