‘Walk Your Pets: Re-Introducing TURBOGOYF

Attempting to home new cards in new decks is an exciting section of spoiler season, sure. But my favorite part of the process occurs when spells are spoiled that might slot into my current and past experiments. Certain Modern Horizons reveals have done just that, and revitalized TURBOGOYF, a deck I’ve been building on-and-off for four years. Today, we’ll take a stroll down memory lane and see exactly how the Horizons cards improve the strategy.

Inside Out

Almost exactly a year ago, I unveiled the concept of reversibility: “Reversibility refers to an aggro-control deck’s ability to assume the role of its archetypical opposite when necessary.” There’s a lot to unpack there without the context of the linked article, but in essence, reversibility is a measure of the capacity tempo or midrange decks have to switch fluently between aggressive or disruptive roles.

GR Moon’s most important cards, Tarmogoyf and Lightning Bolt, exemplify this principle by excelling both on offense and defense. But recent printings, especially combined with other tools, have widened the pool of reversible playables. Leading the charge are a couple planeswalkers, cards known for their ability to interact with the board while asking opponents questions, and a pushed red creature destined to redefine the archetype.

TURBOGOYF '19, by Jordan Boisvert

Creatures (17)
Tarmogoyf
Arbor Elf
Seasoned Pyromancer
Goblin Rabblemaster
Hazoret the Fervent

Planeswalkers (7)
Wrenn and Six
Domri, Anarch of Bolas

Enchantments (8)
Blood Moon
Utopia Sprawl

Instants (6)
Lightning Bolt
Tarfire

Sorceries (4)
Faithless Looting

Lands (18)
Wooded Foothills
Misty Rainforest
Verdant Catacombs
Stomping Ground
Mountain
Forest
Sideboard (15)
Damping Sphere
Dire Fleet Daredevil
Dismember
Feed the Clan
Anger of the Gods
Ancient Grudge
Force of Vigor
Collector Ouphe
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Longtime followers of GR Moon will notice plenty of new technology here. First, the quick hits: Feed the Clan in the sideboard helps a struggling Burn matchup; Arbor Elf makes a better-late-than-never appearance as the actual best dork I could be running alongside Utopia Sprawl. The more recent printings require further explanation, as they’ve deeply altered the deck’s strategic makeup.

Domri, Anarch of Bolas

Earlier this month, I published “War Domri in Temur Delver and GR Moon.” That article heralded Domri as the first truly playable planeswalker for the deck, and outlined his numerous benefits. Here they are in a nutshell.

  • Static ability: Domri significantly improves token-producers, notably Goblin Rabblemaster, who has been with the archetype since its humble beginnings. Seasoned Pyromancer now joins Domri as a blue-chip token producer, giving this aspect of the walker additional relevance.
  • +1: Producing mana helps enable our Looting plan by minimizing the effect of pitching excess mana sources (another draw to Arbor Elf over something like Noble Hierarch). Uncounterable threats also makes haymakers like Hazoret, Rabblemaster, and Tarmogoyf all the more frightening, especially as the Modern pendulum swings back towards UW Control.
  • -2: 2/1 tokens actually take out quite few creatures, but Tarmogoyf is the real MVP when it comes to beefing. We’re already in the business of growing huge ones; Domri makes us a Hulking-Goyf-Pounds-Your-Dude theme deck.

Seasoned Pyromancer

Enter the card that caused me to drop everything I was doing (um, playing Yu-Gi-Oh!) and double-down on tuning GR Moon: Seasoned Pyromancer. Like I said in the Domri article, “I don’t think [GR Moon] will upend Modern, or even close—[it has] fundamental issues that Domri doesn’t fix.” But Pyromancer does fix those issues, and convincingly.

Issue #1: Velocity

A deck named after growing Tarmogoyf must be adept at moving cards between zones. Faithless Looting has always impressed in this role, but as with Tarmogoyf, we could only play up to four copies. Replacements I’ve employed have ranged from Cathartic Reunion to Sarkhan, Fireblood. In each case, these enablers were done in by their clunkiness; they’d fix our hand, but overcharge for a card that didn’t also impact the board.

Pyromancer sifts through the hand just as fast as Looting, guaranteeing upon resolution that we’ll access two new cards that turn—even when we’re under two cards, something its effect has over the sorcery. But like Modern staple Snapcaster Mage, that card selection (or advantage) comes while affecting the board; any nonland card looted away becomes a 1/1 Elemental.

Compare with Looting: for just 1R more, Pyromancer generates up to four power on the board, spread across three bodies. That’s an everyman’s Goyf’s worth of pressure! And if it’s not making guys, Pyromancer is straight-up drawing us cards. Unlike Looting, a dead draw in a top-deck war, Pyromancer is good even when it’s “bad.”

Issue #2: Clock

Outside of namesake nut-draws chaining Faithless Looting into turbo-charged Tarmogoyfs, TURBOGOYF has always had a problem establishing an adequate clock. I’ve looked to closers such as Goblin Rabblemaster, Huntmaster of the Fells, Siege Rhino, Goblin Dark-Dwellers, Stormbreath Dragon, Traverse the Ulvenwald (as extra Goyfs), Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Nahiri, the Harbinger, Bloodbraid Elf, and Hazoret the Fervent. Evidently, few of these have stuck.

But Pyromancer forges a respectable clock all while enabling the rest of the deck and drawing us into more gas. Throw Domri into the mix and a fully-“escalated” Pyromancer provides a whopping seven power for three mana.

Issue #3: Late-Game Oomph

The last of GR Moon’s issues is its lasting power: if opponents deal with our few threats, they can sometimes out-draw Blood Moon or otherwise mount a comeback; sometimes they outright don’t care about the enchantment, and it’s no so tough anymore to go over a Goyf. Pyromancer remedies this hiccup, too. It’s the single best top-deck in our 75, functioning as Divination on a body. Indeed, Pyromancer represents a metric ton of card advantage on a red creature, rivaling Cruise-on-a-Goyf Bedlam Reveler. Dead ‘Mancers even exile themselves from the graveyard for more tokens à la Lingering Souls.

Taking stock of all the cards, that’s:

  • One card from the body
  • Two cards from the enters-the-battlefield draw
  • Two tokens from the flashback

Talk about value… and, for the first time, on a tempo-positive spell!

Wrenn and Six

Wrenn and Six snuck its way into TURBOGOYF during the testing process, as Pyromancer had been spoiled four days prior. It ended up massively improving the deck on an axis I’d never even tried to remedy, both because GR Moon’s other issues were more pressing and because I’d long given up on Modern ever receiving another Goyf-level two-drop suitable for GR Moon.

Curing the Curve

TURBOGOYF’s sleeper issue is one of curving, and one I’m growing confident Wrenn and Six will assuage. The deck’s curving conundrum is a classic one for dork-dependent decks: effectively building with mana dorks tends to backfire if opponents immediately deal with the dork, or should a dork evade our opener. Both scenarios leave us with precious little to do on turn two. We’ve long thirsted for a relevant two-drop to compliment our set of Goyfs.

The dork dilemma hit home early in my testing; my first list featured 2 Noble Hierarch, a fourth Rabblemaster, and a fourth Domri over the above Wrenns. In lieu of a better option at two mana, I trimmed one of each three-drop for a pair of Spellskites. My reasoning was that Looting and Pyromancer could cycle the Skite when it wasn’t relevant. While the 0/4 trounced certain decks, like Bolt-reliant interactive strategies and Infect, it clogged my hand against many others.

I hadn’t long pined for a replacement when Wrenn and Six was spoiled, and I immediately swapped the Skites for the new walker. After a week of exhaustive testing, I cut the Hierarchs for two more Wrenns. I simply found myself wanting it all the time.

With the new curve, we have enough significant follow-up plays that we don’t really care if opponents disrupt us with powerful one-shot effects. Kill the dork? Chase with Goyf or Wrenn. Remove Goyf? Punish with Rabblemaster or Pyromancer. Strip our best card? We’ve got enough cantrip effects to loot into more business. But opponents do need to interact with our plays—let that dork breathe and get hit with Blood Moon a turn early, or meet a turn-three Hazoret post-disruption. Having impactful plays so often is relatively new to GR Moon, and helps it feel, power-level wise, closer to a tiered Modern deck.

All These Cards

Like Tarmogoyf, Wrenn proved an excellent follow-up to enemy disruption on turn one: returning a land locked in our turn-three play, all while leaving behind a surprisingly menacing planeswalker. And like Skite, Wrenn dominates decks heavy on x/1s, which happen to be quite popular. Slamming Wrenn ends up feeling a lot like slamming Liliana of the Veil after opponents let down their shields. Both interact with the board and enable a successful long-game. The difference is that Wrenn snowballs value and eventually wins us the game, while Liliana simply strips opponents of resources. And Wrenn is 33% cheaper.

When it comes to value, Wrenn functions like Modern planeswalkers are supposed to. His +1 indeed “draws a card” in a deck with 12 fetchlands and 4 Faithless Looting, an impressive feat for a two-mana commitment—it even outdoes Search for Azcanta, which merely scries. And should opponents invest enough resources to actually deal with the walker, we’ve got three more copies where he came from. I’ve grinded UW players out with Wrenn alone, baiting them into awkward bounce-draw modes with Cryptic lest the advantage overwhelm them, which it ends up doing anyway.

The Ultimate Price

It turns out coming down a turn earlier than we’re accustomed to for planeswalkers does a world of good for the card type’s final ability. Superficially, it’s one more turn of ticking up; practically, though, the walker sticks before many decks have a way to pressure it, making it that much easier for us to defend through disruption or distract from it by presenting other threats. I’ve activated Wrenn’s -7 ability multiple times as a result, and it’s always game-winning.

We don’t need a wide selection of instants or sorceries to make the most of the ultimate; just Lightning Bolt. Retraced Faithless Looting is also great for finding surgical answers to the likes of Leyline of Sanctity (see sideboard) so we can “go off” regardless. Combined with the snowballing advantage of repeated Gut Shots and land retrieval, the immediacy and impact of Wrenn’s emblem puts lots of pressure on opponents to remove the walker, just as Tarmogoyf‘s sheer bulk does for the creature. Ergo, Wrenn is the two-drop we’ve always wanted.

Around the Block Again

My Moon decks have always suffered from some amount of tension: they’re full of ramp, but boast a low curve, punishing us when we can’t find Faithless Looting; they aim to pump out a three-drop, and therefore flounder when that plan is interrupted and Tarmogoyf proves absent; etc. No more does the deck revolve purely around those two cards. It’s become better-rounded in large part thanks to the strategic cohesion enjoyed by its new moving parts. As is necessary in Modern, all that synergy doesn’t really come at the cost of being soft to hate. Most of our deck ignores Rest in Peace; Wrenn can single-handedly out-grind sweeper decks; Tarmo and Hazoret crash through whatever beefy body opponents stick; Pyro and Rabble go wide around their blockers.

TURBOGOYF’s sudden spryness is unlike anything I’ve felt with the deck in years, and I can’t wait to sleeve it up. Sometimes, a unique card or two are all the new tricks a languishing list needs. Has Modern Horizons injected life into any of your pet decks? If you’re not sure, there’s one surefire way to find out: take ’em for a ‘walk!

14 thoughts on “‘Walk Your Pets: Re-Introducing TURBOGOYF

  1. What do you think about Hexdrinker? Not specifically with regards to this deck, but more in general. I’m having a lot of issues trying to figure out how good that card is, as it really is unlike almost any creature I’ve ever seen.

    1. There is a very close relative, in modern too to boot : Figure of Destiny. Hexdrinker cost less mana overall for somewhat better abilities, but they work rather similarly.

      I don’t predict him a big future in aggro decks, because there is almost alway something better to do with the mana, but who know ? And perhaps it will have an oddball use. Maybe a tron player will try it in sideboard or something to that extent.

    2. Hex is cool and I actually tried it in this deck in place of one Spellskite for a time. But Wrenn was so much better that I moved to two copies pretty fast. Here, Hex was always just a 2/1; we have so much other stuff to do with our mana that I never even grew it, making it a bad fit.

      But I know of some RUG Delver players who enjoy the card as a 3-of in the Mandrills-Scour-Shoal builds. They argue that having a turn-one play is very important, even if it’s just a two-power creature, and that Hex is a powerful topdeck. I’ve experimented with two-power threats in RUG before and have always been unimpressed (which led me to brew Counter-Cat some 4 years ago: http://modernnexus.com/delver-teeth-introducing-counter-cat/ ). I’ll certainly retract my skepticism if I see it place somewhere, though!

      tl;dr: not a great rate, and doesn’t seem to have a home, but may surprise us.

  2. Yea, Wrenn seems amazing. I also feel that if you’re running 3-4 Wrenns you can shave on some number of lands because the +1 lets you keep using the same fetch, but I don’t know how you would go about estimating the exact number you could cut…where’s Frank Karsten when you need him haha

    1. This deck keeps one-landers all the time. Fetch, Sprawl, Wrenn, replay the fetch, Bolt your guy, etc. But I’d say that in a deck with Looting, you don’t want to go too low on lands necessarily. You can always discard extras down the road.

  3. Also I proxied up some Seasoned Pyromancers in a regular ponza style deck (don’t judge me, I finally get to sleeve up pillage in modern haha), just straight swapping in for the playset of trackers, and it is just sooooo much better in almost every way. I feel like any decks that currently have trackers should just switch over assuming they can hit the double red.

    1. Double red is a tall order for a lot of decks, and I think these cards play slightly different roles. Even in Ponza I can see Tireless being better for certain matchups. But I agree that SP is probably great in that deck.

      1. Is there any way a version of this deck could want Unearth at all? It cycles when it’s dead, and recurring any of the threat creatures besides Hazoret for only 1 Mana seems pretty dope. Plus a black splash would also let you run cards like collective brutality over feed the clan for the burn matchup.

  4. Love this and building it to give it a go. What role do you see the daredevils playing in the board? Was pondering burn and deaths shadow as places, but wasn’t 100% sure

  5. This deck is a blast to play. It’s the first time in a while I’ve been piloting a Gruul creature deck in Modern and have it feel legitimately powerful. I’m about 25 matches in with the exact same 60 and a slightly tweaked sideboard, and I can’t really think of much I would want to change. The only thing I’m wondering is if the deck could use a BBE in place of the second Hazoret, as it might be possible that the 1st copy of BBE is better than the second copy of Hazoret.

    But yea, long story short, deck is sweet, and if you want to have fun dropping t2 blood moons on people in Modern, this is probably one of the best ways to do it

  6. In my games (15ish thus far) I’ve wondered if it needs a full four Faithless Looting. Not sure what I’d put in place of fourth. But theyve been awkward a few times

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