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By: WShadow, Andrea Bagordo
Sep 27 2011 2:02am
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 Taking on Standard: Goblins

Hello everyone! 

In this article I will talk about my Standard experience, or better: my personal attempt to break into and learn the format, while having fun and, possibly, winning something. 

Since I am 19 years old and a student, I do not have a full-time job. This means I cannot invest a lot of money into the game as I'd like. Initially, my thirst of playing was satisfied by the Pauper format, which I played in the Casual Room. However, you must know that I love competition. I love to race for something and of course to win that race. So, I bought a lot of Pauper cards, trying to build some decks to win. I tried to grind 2man queues and some daily events too, but I never got to earn a significant payout and in most of the cases I did not succeed in "breaking even". In other words, I lost. And of course, who likes to lose?

I began to feel sick and tired of Pauper cards. Do not misunderstand me: Pauper is a healthy format, very funny and with a lot of cards and cool interactions. I simply wanted to look for something else, something new, because I couldn't stand anymore cards like Crypt Rats, Invigorate, Lotus Petal, Empty the Warrens, Snap, Prismatic Strands, etc. with their respective decklists. Get out of my sight! 

So I sat and began to think: why did I keep losing? Why couldn't I succeed in piloting the decklists I knew they were winning in the tourneys? Am I such a bad player? And the answer struck me like a Lightning Bolt: I needed more preparation, more training: I needed to think and to act more professionally and less casually to hone my skills. Tourneys are won by trained people, not by guys that jump right into the events with a quickly wrapped-up deck and claim to win only because "the deck I'm playing wins", without even testing it before. I was one of those guys. I am willing to change. 

I decided to take on Standard after watching some matches on MTGO: I think it's a fantastic format, and it provides cool decks and nice plays. I must admit though that I feared a lot the cards prices: the top tier decks flow with an average cost of 200-300 dollars, and I knew I couldn't afford that price. I was not discouraged though, so I elaborated my strategy to learn the format.

Gathering information 

This is the first, very important step of the "journey". Gathering information means watching games and videos, reading articles, understanding what cards are played and begin to know the decklists that lurk around and that rule the format today. Gathering information should be random, casual: you don't have to search something in particular, just keep an eye with everything that has "Standard" in its name, paper and online if possible. This step helps the general understanding of the format, and pushes your interest. After a week or so, having heard about decks like CawBlade, ValakutRamp, UB Control, RDW, Mill, GW midrange and a few others and watched some matches, I decided it was the time to walk on the next step.


Understanding an ugly beast as the Metagame (I love to refer to it as The Mimeoplasm) is very complicated and cannot be done in a few days, especially when you are new in the format. So, I simply checked on MTGO homepage what were the winning decklists of the Daily Events, looking for the winning percentage of the various ones and seeing what were the ones that recurred the most. Checking sites that offered top8 for paper events also helped a lot. More important, I have been watching for a while the replays available when joining a DE as a spectator: it is really useful to see how the various decks work without having to actually playtest them and what are their matchups against others.


I know, for this step I will be beaten by everyone here. I understand netdecking might be something bad, as it simply is copying one of the decklists found on the Internet (most of the cases a winning one) and I do not approve it. Remember that netdecking completely kills creativity and doesn't help the development of new strategies and decks. But, without a real point for starting and without real knowledge of the cards and such, netdecking was the only viable option to begin the "journey". 

Watching the dailies lists, I noticed that some red Goblin decks were winning a decent number of times. I love aggro strategies and also played Goblin in pauper. This, linked to the fact that a goblin deck costs roughly 20-30 US dollars to 40$ (depending on the sideboard, I discovered), made me decide to grab the list and build it.

Making the deck your own 

Do not rely on netdecks. Netdecks, as said before, can only be a starting point. Piloting a deck requires skills, even with a simple strategy as the goblin's one. After you reproduce the netdeck you chose, it is necessary to play it intensively and at the same time looking for cards that can enter your deck: cards you like/you consider strong, cards that help your plan, cards that suit your playstyle. A netdeck cannot stick to these rules as it is not your own. So I played, match after match, modifying the list so it could reflect my idea of Standard Goblins. 

So, here is my deck after the initial testing and modding.

The deck packs a standard bunch of ol' little goblins: their aim is to smash things up quickly and with style as I like the most  Goblin Guide and Goblin Chieftain provide hastily damage (the first is fantastic even for its ability: it's true that we could make our opponents draw lands, but we can also see what card they will draw the next turn in case that's not a land); the second pumps our other goblins while hastening them too. Goblin Wardriver encourages our attackers and paired up with Goblin Bushwhacker can do very nasty things. The attackers are very well supported by Ember Hauler and Spikeshot Elder, which can provide the damage we need to wound other creatures making a pain for the opponent to choose blockers, or even removing them. Also, the shaman is perfect against Illusion creatures. Last (and least too) comes Chandra's Phoenix. It acts for me as a filler and does pretty well her job; having flying and haste is good enough to push some damage. Two of them is enough: don't forget she's not a goblin!

The spell sector is pretty straightforward too: Lightning Bolt and Burst Lightning are our removals, while Goblin Grenade provides our finisher move. It is real fun to throw a goblin or two over our opponent heads, killing them when they least expect. Shrine of Burning Rage is also very important: it is a threat that grows bigger and bigger every turn, and wins games. I saw lists that don't run them, and I sincerely cannot see why. Lands choiche is pretty obvious: we don't need fetchlands but we need power, so the 4 Teetering Peaks are justified. They are especially lethal when targeting Spikeshot Elder, as they make them a Lightning Bolt.

The sideboard is the most difficult part of the deck to build, in my opinion. Act of Aggression is my favorite card of the list: it steals creatures instant-speed (so we can use them to attack or make them a removal against other opponent's creatures via blocking); Arc Trail damages two creatures at the same time, and they're essential against Squadron Hawk, some early Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Elves, and of course Illusions. Manic Vandal serves to kill dangerous artifacts such as the various swords and oppo's Shrine of Burning Rage, being at the same time a 2/2 creature. Combust removes big white and blue creatures. In the end, Ruthless Invasion makes our goblins nearly unblockable for the final swing.


Now that we have our decklist, it is time to train ourselves with it. Playing constantly against every kind of deck we might face. Playing, playing, playing Ad Nauseam until we are tired, so we can rest and play again. It is the only way to really understand the deck, which means:

- know the right time and situation to mulligan;

- know the plan and strategy of your deck, and all kind of plays and tricks it can produce;

- learn what card to play and when to play it in different circumstances;

- observe what decks we easily beat, what decks easily beat us and what countermeasures we could take to help us;

- learn to use effectively our sideboard against the various kind of archetypes. 

Training make us understand what cards we fear the most too. After nearly one month spent playing, I can say what cards make my goblins run away, terrified: 

Vulshok Refugee 

This dude is terrible for us. With a 3/2 body and protection from red, it is the perfect blocker against goblins. Luckily we have Shrine of Burning Rage that deals well with him. 

Grave Titan 

Why is it so fearsome? Simple, it builds up an army of 2/2 zombies that literally cancels our attack plans. Ruthless Invasion is THE answer, together with Act of Aggression

Obstinate Baloth 

Lifegain hurts us, and when paired with a 4/4 body it becomes a real pain in the... head. Goblin Grenade and Act of Aggression help here, but the 4 points gained by the opponent are irremediably lost. 

Acidic Slime 

This ugly thing destroys our lands. I mean, our goblins' lairs! That's not fun. Fortunately enough, its low body is something easy to deal with. 

Lightning BoltBurst LightningStaggershockGo for the ThroatDismember 

Red and black removals (the most played) are terrible against us, as our plan is entirely based on attacking with our creatures. The only answer against these cards is play faster than the opponent; on the contrary, you can choose a safer path and play real slow, waiting for the opponent to tap out before casting your own creatures, but I am against this, especially versus Red. 

Wurmcoil Engine 

This is, in most of the cases, gg for the opponent. Lifegain and deathtouch, combined with a hydra-like duplication that puts 2 3/3 creatures on the battlefield is enough to completely choke us. The only solution I see is to steal it with Act of Aggression, attack with him, then kill him with a big Shrine of Burning Rage or with two burn spells to obtain the two 3/3 wurms for us. But this need six or five untapped lands, the right spells or the right number of rage counters on the Shrine, and it is very unlikely to happen during a game. 

Mental Misstep 

Oh, boy. I hate when this blue piece of... Nevermind. Lethal against most of our cards, hard-counters Goblin Guide, Lightning Bolt, Spikeshot Elder... Sigh. I hate counters. And we don't have real answer to this. We could only try to lure our opponent to use it if we are suspecting they hide the card in their hands, but it's risky. 


I think there's more to be discovered, but I haven't yet.

VERY IMPORTANT: there is one general rule that applies over every steps presented, which is have fun while doing them. If you're not having fun, you will not enjoy the game and everything will become a heavy burden to carry, until you will feel very frustrated at the point you'll risk to throw your PC outside the window! Seriously, having fun is the most important thing in this game. Do not ever forget that. 

Unfortunately, this deck is going to disappear when Innistrad hits the virtual boards: in fact, there aren't any goblins in the entire set (it is needless to say I am feeling very sad for this). So, if you want to stay in the awesomeness (!) that Red offers, it's better to switch to a MonoRed decklist. There have recently been a lot of these decks in DE and other events, and they win pretty consistently. If you loved and you continue to love goblins, honor them and play MonoRed. But please, don't fall into choosing blue. Seriously, have you ever seen a goblin that loves water, mages, and all that flying and counter stuff? We smash and destroy. Nothing else matters ;) 

Thanks for reading, and hope you enjoyed; feel free to comment, I am open to any constructive criticism about the opinions I wrote in this article and to the format and the style of the article itself. See you next time! 



Red Sun's Zenith by howlett23 at Tue, 09/27/2011 - 11:54
howlett23's picture

In the board is about the best red option for Wurmcoil, while still giving you enough flexibility to be useful in other match ups. Try swapping out the Arc Trails for them and give it a run.

great first article. by protocol_7 at Tue, 09/27/2011 - 12:08
protocol_7's picture

great first article.

You clearly put an amazing by PiDave at Tue, 09/27/2011 - 12:19
PiDave's picture

You clearly put an amazing amount of effort into this! Good job!

Thanks for the feedback! Red by WShadow at Tue, 09/27/2011 - 13:19
WShadow's picture

Thanks for the feedback! Red Sun's Zenith seems pretty cool, and I found another card I didn't know: Into the Core. These two cards can easily deal with Wurmcoil.

into the core is pretty by ShardFenix at Tue, 09/27/2011 - 14:14
ShardFenix's picture

into the core is pretty amazing. Ive noticed most the standard decks in my local meta than run Wurmcoil also run everflowing chalice so not only do you take a wincon but also some of their excel

Interesting article, however by ArchGenius at Tue, 09/27/2011 - 14:47
ArchGenius's picture

Interesting article, however red burn is going to change quite a bit with the new standard, so the timing of this article isn't all that convenient.

How can you mention all of the cards red decks fear without mentioning Kor Firewalker or Timely Reinforcements. The reason I stopped playing mono red burn decks in the 2-man standard queues is that I would reasonably often run up against a W/u weenie deck with 4x Firewalkers and 4x Timely Reinforcements and just lose, badly.

Also, Wurmcoil Engine is not an auto-loss. If you have Ember Hauler or Spikeshot Elder on the board, with mana available, you can usually chump block the wurm, kill or sacrifice your guy and prevent the life gain. This gives you more time to burn them out. If they don't attack, it gives you more time to draw enough burn to win or grow your Shrine of Burning Rage enough for the win.

Shrine of Burning Rage is good against an unprepared opponent, but most decks now have answers to it and it is best used as a red herring. I like to play with 2-3 because then my opponents can't side out answers but I'm also not stuck with a bunch of shrines buried under Oblivion Rings and Manic Vandals. Oh yeah, it's probably not going to be that great once Innistrad rotates in and Ancient Grudge comes back.