Piledriving with Three Modern Goblins Lists

Raise your hand if Goblin Piledriver was your favorite Magic Origins reprint. What about favorite Origins card? What about favorite reprint period since Modern’s birth (sorry Scavenging Ooze)? Goblin Piledriver is that rare card which inspires current spikes, old Magic veterans, and newer players who have heard legends of tribal Goblins in action. Wizards’ inclusion of Piledriver is a clear tribute to Modern, and although it’s not clear yet if Goblins has what it takes to smash Modern tournaments, Piledriver is a great start. If anything gets Goblins started down the path to glory, it’s the mean, lean, chokeholding, pro-wrestling machine.

Goblin Piledriver Art

We’ve had three Nexus articles touching on Piledriver’s Modern impact, including my Origins review, Jordan’s Day’s Undoing-powered brew, and Trevor’s prototype Goblins list. Of course, as any red mage knows, it’s one thing to theorize about Goblins in Modern and another entirely to smash face with them. In that spirit, this article covers three recent Goblin successes in real Modern events. These lists showcase three different ways to Piledrive, Bushwhack, and Grenade your way to the top, and can serve as a great starting point for Team Goblin fans everywhere. In each section, I’ll breakdown the list, identify some key strengths and weaknesses, and suggest a few improvements to bring that list to the next level.

List #1: RG Atarka’s Goblins

When I think of Goblins, I think of a giant pile of green men backed by lord effects and burn spells. Modern Goblins has always derived some of its strength from its ability to go wide (with cards like Mogg War Marshal and Dragon Fodder) and its ability to deal a lot of damage in one fell swoop (see Goblin Grenade and Goblin Bushwhacker). Pejanovic Tomo took this approach to heart in his RG Goblins build at PPTQ Udine, finishing first at the 37-player event (even beating Twin in the Finals!). His list is below:

RG Atarka's Goblins, by Pejanovic Tomo (PPTQ Udine 2015, 1st Place)

Creatures (26)
Frenzied Goblin
Goblin Piledriver
Mogg Fanatic
Mogg War Marshal
Foundry Street Denizen
Goblin Bushwhacker
Goblin Guide
Legion Loyalist

Instants (7)
Atarka’s Command
Lightning Bolt

Sorceries (8)
Dragon Fodder
Krenko’s Command
Goblin Grenade

Lands (19)
Cavern of Souls
Stomping Ground
Copperline Gorge
Wooded Foothills
Sideboard (15)
Mogg Fanatic
Goblin Piledriver
Tin Street Hooligan
Atarka’s Command
Destructive Revelry
Rending Volley
Relic of Progenitus
Grafdigger’s Cage
Blood Moon
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You may have already read about Tomo’s finish in an article he published a week ago. If not, take a look at the article for his matchup report and larger deck takeaways. In looking over the decklist myself, and reading through his article, I see a few strengths and synergies that need to be highlighted.

  • Mogg FanaticBurn gives you interaction
    Goblins can feel a bit too fair in Modern, like a Merfolk deck without any Cursecatchers or Vapor Snags. Burn spells shore up those weaknesses, allowing you to interact with problematic creatures before they win opponents the game. Mogg Fanatic is huge here, blowing up mana dorks, making combat math unfavorable for blocking opponents, and removing targets before they become problems (Blighted Agent, Inkmoth Nexus, Pestermite, etc.). Add Lightning Bolt to the mix and you can threaten a huge variety of targets. Fanatic even combines with Bolt to give you a maindeck solution to those four-toughness Deceiver Exarchs. As we’ll see in the other lists, all of the successful Goblins included maindeck interaction. If you can overlap your burn spells to both kill targets and provide reach (see the next point), that’s deck efficiency in action.
  • Goblin GrenadeBurn gives you reach
    One of the big dangers in creature-based aggro strategies is running out of steam. No one wants to be the chump who gets his opponent to 1-3 life when the opponent stabilizes behind blockers and removal spells. Enter your burn spells, which give you some added reach your creatures might not provide. Cards like Goblin Guide, Legion Loyalist, and Foundry Street Denizen are quickly outclassed by turns 4-5 (or turns 3-4 against some decks), which often forces you to sneak in those last points of damage outside of combat. Goblin Grenade is massive here, especially when most Modern decks are effectively starting at 17 life due to shockland and fetchland damage. Bolt, Fanatic, and Command also support Grenade in the damage race, giving you a bunch of extra firepower to punch through a wall of Goyfs, Tasigurs, and removal spells.
  • Mogg War MarshalAlways go wide
    If you are already using creatures like Goblin Bushwhacker to alpha-strike, your Dragon Fodder token-makers become a lot better. Even on their own, these cards give you a lot of ways to dodge efficient one-for-one spot removal and large blockers. With the exception of RG Tron and its Pyroclasm, tier 1 Modern decks usually aren’t packing sweepers in the maindeck. They are, however, full of spot removal. This can put your shiny new Piledrivers in an awkward position, but makes those Mogg War Marshals a lot more attractive. Goblins has always distinguished itself from other aggro decks by going wide with its tokens and creatures, and that’s a strength other Goblin brewers shouldn’t ignore in their own versions.

When identifying strengths for an up-and-coming archetype like Goblins, it’s important to look for those unique to the deck. Or, more precisely, a combination of strengths that is unique to the deck. Other lists can burn you to death (Hi, Burn), others can go wide (BW Tokens), and others have bursty two-drops (Affinity). RG Goblins finds its strength in combining those three approaches, something no other deck can do in quite the same way. That said, this unique combination doesn’t necessarily make Goblins the best choice in a metagame. Burn is probably going to be more consistent if for no other reason than its lower creature count: it’s easier to count to 20 with spells than with creatures. Similarly, Affinity is going to be burstier because it’s hard to beat Cranial Plating and Arcbound Ravager in a damage race. This lets RG Goblins excel in metagames where opponents are heavily prepared for Burn (packing cards like maindecked Dispel) and Affinity (lots of Stony Silences and Ancient Grudges in boards).

In improving this first list, I am struck by a quote from Tomo’s article:

“As far as Goblin Piledriver goes, it’s a real beater that… puts additional pressure when he hits the field. However, I usually went for any other two-drop… when I had a choice, since losing Piledriver to Bolt/Decay/Terminate is a tempo loss, so I used him as a finisher.”

Pre-Piledriver Goblins was basically unplayable in Modern at the competitive level, and I worry that any strategy not leveraging Piledriver is too similar to those older, worse versions. Increasing the Piledriver count to three helps emphasize this unique strength. I’m also upping the Marshal count because the card is just too strong with all those Bushwhackers and Commands. Although I like Frenzied Goblin in some matchups, there are enough top-tier decks where the effect isn’t as relevant: cutting one of them helps make room for the more important cards.

-1 Frenzied Goblin
-1 Legion Loyalist

+1 Goblin Piledriver
+1 Mogg War Marshal

List #2: RB Blood Goblins

Back in the Patriarch’s Bidding days, RB Goblins was the name of the game. We might not have Bidding in Modern, but we have a number of other interesting RB cards that play nicely with red’s iconic tribe. This includes the grindy lord Mad Auntie, the anti-combo bullet of Earwig Squad, and general RB staples such as Kolaghan’s Command. Duma Cristinel recently took 7th at a 30-player PPTQ in San Giovanni in Perscieto with his own RB take on Goblins. Here’s the list:

RB Blood Goblins, by Duma Cristinel (PPTQ San Giovanni in Perscieto 2015, 7th Place)

Creatures (29)
Mad Auntie
Goblin Rabblemaster
Goblin Piledriver
Mogg War Marshal
Goblin King
Goblin Bushwhacker
Earwig Squad
Goblin Guide
Purphoros, God of the Forge
Krenko, Mob Boss
Goblin Chieftain

Enchantments (3)
Blood Moon

Instants (4)
Lightning Bolt

Sorceries (4)
Goblin Grenade

Lands (20)
Blood Crypt
Cavern of Souls
Bloodstained Mire
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Sideboard (15)
Tormod’s Crypt
Hero’s Downfall
Anger of the Gods
Kolaghan’s Command
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Although Cristinel’s list has some overlap with Tomo’s RG build, the decks have a lot of differences in their gameplan. Cristinel goes for a grindier Goblins build with early aggro options, combining the aggression of Guide, Bushwhacker and Grenade with the mid and lategame finishing power of Goblin Rabblemaster, Purphoros, God of the Forge, and Krenko, Mob Boss. Following that approach, here are some key deck strengths in RB Goblins.

  • Goblin RabblemasterGoblin grinding
    Sometimes you want your Goblins to win on turn three or four, riding a wave of Bushwhacked tokens to victory. Other times, your opponent blows up all your answers early and stonewalls you with a Tarmogoyf and Lingering Souls. That’s bad news if you were relying on a finite supply of 1/1s to finish the game, but much better news if you have endless tokens courtesy of Rabblemaster and Krenko (not to mention regeneration from Auntie). These cards are particularly nasty when paired with Purphoros’s enter-the-battlefield trigger, pinging your opponent for two every turn or even blasting them for six or more. Add your lords to that and even the smallest threats become capable of finishing games and punching through removal, especially with Goblin King mountainwalking your Goblins through Jund’s, Twin’s, and Grixis’ defenses.
  • Earwig SquadNon-traditional interaction
    As longtime site readers know, I’m a huge fan of Blood Moon in Modern. It randomly obliterates a bunch of tier 1 and tier 2 decks, even screwing with decks that are supposed to be Moon-proof when they aren’t expecting it (Grixis and Jund). Maindecking Moon gives Goblins an edge that other tribes like Merfolk and Elves can’t match. It’s a more proactive form of interaction than removal like Bolt and Fanatic, but it’s still the kind of interaction which will save you against decks like Amulet Bloom. Speaking of which, Earwig Squad is some nasty Goblin tech that is increasingly relevant in metagames full of Collected Company/Chord of Calling decks. Twin decks can get locked out of their primary win condition through timely Earwig prowls; even RG Tron hates this. Similar to Moon, the Goblin Rogue team isn’t conventional interaction like Terminate, Decay, and Thoughtseize, but it’s a form of interaction which gives Goblins some added flexibility in diverse metagames.

One thing I like about RB Goblins is how deliberately it tries to distinguish itself from other aggro decks. It’s grindier than almost all the other aggro options in Modern (except some Zoo variants), but still packing the burst you would expect of a Burn or Affinity strategy. And unlike Zoo, you still retain the going-wide option you see in many other Goblins versions.

A key area for improvement could be Kolaghan’s Command. This card is easily one of the best in the format and I have no idea why this list doesn’t include them in the maindeck. Goblins generates a lot of casualties, which means you are almost always using the recursion mode on Command to maximize the card’s value. Command also gives you a ton of interaction options you wouldn’t otherwise have in a Goblins deck, plus some damage for added reach. I’d trim down some of the other higher-curve cards to include it. Also, the sideboard has a lot of bizarre inclusions which I’d also want to clean up.

-1 Blood Moon
-1 Purphoros, God of the Forge
-1 Earwig Squad
SB: -3 Kolaghan’s Command
SB: -3 Combust
SB: -2 Dreadbore
SB: -2 Hero’s Downfall
SB: -1 Tormod’s Crypt

+3 Kolaghan’s Command
SB: +3 Thoughtseize
SB: +2 Rending Volley
SB: +1 Dismember
SB: +3 Terminate
SB: +2 Nihil Spellbomb

List #3: RW Ranger of Goblins

Magic Origins hit MTGO this weekend, which means you can expect Dailies packed with players trying out their Goblins, Merfolk, and Day’s Undoing lists. Sunday saw a very interesting take on Goblins, with t00yot splashing white in their deck to fix some of Modern Goblin’s historical problems. This includes Path to Exile for hard removal and the exciting Ranger of Eos as a substitute for the Modern-absent Goblin Ringleader. Here’s t00yot’s 3-1 list from yesterday’s daily:

RW Ranger of Goblins, by t00yot (Daily 7/26/2015, 3-1)

Creatures (34)
Goblin Bushwhacker
Foundry Street Denizen
Goblin Chieftain
Goblin Guide
Goblin Piledriver
Goblin Rabblemaster
Grim Lavamancer
Mogg Fanatic
Mogg War Marshal
Ranger of Eos

Artifacts (4)
Aether Vial

Instants (2)
Path to Exile

Lands (20)
Arid Mesa
Cavern of Souls
Sacred Foundry
Windswept Heath
Sideboard (15)
Path to Exile
Blood Moon
Burrenton Forge-Tender
Forked Bolt
Magus of the Moon
Rending Volley
Rest in Peace
Shattering Spree
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One of Legacy Goblins’ claims to fame is its effective use of Aether Vial, so any Modern deck which is able to effectively leverage that card is going to draw our attention. This is a very aggressive Goblins list with some midgame synergies that distinguish it from the more conventional RG approach we saw earlier.

  • Ranger of EosRefueling with Ranger and Vial
    It’s unfortunate Goblins didn’t get Ringleader in Origins (stupid Elves and their Sylvan Messenger), but until we get the Goblin staple we are going to have to make do elsewhere. Ranger of Eos is very strong here because many of Goblins’ one-drops are actually some of its best creatures. Just grabbing double Bushwhacker sets your opponent up for a huge beating next turn. Or grab a Fanatic, Guide, or Denizen for easy Vialing in off your classic artifact. In these ways, Ranger gives Goblins both some finishing power when you need to close out a game, recovery power if you got hit by Anger of the Gods, or refueling power if you are stalemated against a wall of Anglers and Tasigurs. Vial serves a similar function, but with the added bonuses of virtual mana acceleration and letting you hold up mana to threaten a Path. I’m a little nervous about Ranger’s four mana pricetag in a format where four mana buys you Splinter Twin, but I think it’s okay here if your one-drops can finish the game next turn.
  • Golbin PiledriverAll-in aggression
    The other two lists we saw today ditched some of the more classical aggressive elements, like a playset of Goblin Chieftain, for more range with tokens or more grindiness with Krenko and Auntie. They also weren’t running full Piledriver playsets. Not t00yot though, who pulls no punches with running the full playset of Goblins’ most aggressive staples. I like this approach in a slower metagame where you only need a few Goblins to connect to end the game, or when opponents don’t have enough removal spells to answer everything one-for-one. It’s also strong in races against decks like Burn and Affinity: you don’t want to screw around with turn three Earwig Squad when your opponent already has you at 8 life. This approach seems very fitting for MTGO, a venue which has historically rewarded linear decks in low-round events. If your opponent missed a beat on their removal, you can bet the turn three Chieftain is ending the game on the spot.

One concern I have with this deck is the lack of interaction. Some aggro and combo decks don’t need to care too much about interaction because they can win races if not respected. This includes Infect, Affinity, Grishoalbrand, Amulet Bloom, and a variety of other linear Modern strategies. Modern Goblins, however, doesn’t really fit in this category. The earliest your strongest draw can win is on turn three, and that assumes zero interaction of any kind from your opponent. Compare this with the other decks listed above, all of which have a several avenues to turn three wins. This makes Goblins a turn four aggro deck like Zoo or Merfolk, and although Goblins has some strengths these other decks don’t have, it still needs to play by their rules. Both Zoo and Merfolk distinguish themselves from faster aggro decks by running lots of interaction points, and Goblins should probably be doing the same even with Piledriver now in the mix. Path is a great start here, as are those awesome Lavamancers, but I’d up that count instead of just hoping for the best.

-2 Ranger of Eos
SB: -1 Path to Exile

+2 Path to Exile
SB: +1 Ranger of Eos

The Future of Modern Goblins

There’s a lot of space for Modern Goblins to improve, and a lot of tech worth trying. Collected Company is an obvious go-to in this department, as are old fallbacks like Lead the Stampede. With Battle For Zendikar coming up and a possible Goblins theme in store (c’mon reprinted Goblin Guides), there’s still hope to see cards such as Matron and Ringleader come our way. We might even get something totally new! The future is bright for Goblins, and I’m excited to see where the little guys go from here.

What other successes have you seen with Goblins in Modern? Any lists you are testing or think show promise? I’ll be testing some Goblins list in the coming weeks (Day’s Undoing + Goblins is too cool to ignore), and I’ll report back with some findings of my own. Until then, keep up the Piledriving and don’t let those other aggro players forget who puts the “G”s in “aggro”!

7 thoughts on “Piledriving with Three Modern Goblins Lists

  1. Some nice lessons to be taken from all of these decks. I found your points regarding Mogg Fanatic to be particularly insightful – I may have been underestimating the card this entire time, and some interaction would definitely be a boon in this sort of deck when facing faster linear decks.

    That said, I’m surprised that only one of these decks opted for Legion Loyalist – that card gives a well-fed PIledriver the ability to push damage through pretty much anything (and survive to do it again, if the opponent doesn’t have first strike). I’m also still surprised that no one has opted for Shared Animosity – Pejanovic Tomo’s list in particular looks like it could make excellent use of it.

  2. The major problem with Shared Animosity is that it’s a win-more card. In order for it to help you need a mass of goblins on the board you can attack with. There aren’t many game states where that isn’t already a winning position.

    1. I strongly disagree with this statement. A bunch of 1/1 Goblins with no evasion aren’t scaring anybody on their own, and cards like Legion Loyalist and Goblin Guide have always faced the problem of finding themselves outclassed by the opponent’s creatures after a couple of turns. Shared Animosity fixes all of those issues, and is incredible when combined with Loyalist’s first strike and trample. If anything, I feel that the “win more” card in the Goblin repertoire is Goblin Rabblemaster, which is great at pressing the advantage, but awful when you need to sit tight for a turn and build up your board state. The folks at MTGSalvation’s Goblins primer (found here: http://www.mtgsalvation.com/forums/the-game/modern/developing-competitive-modern/220256-goblins) agree with me on that front.

  3. This is the list that I’ve started with.

    4 Dragon Fodder
    4 Krenko’s Command
    1 Mogg War Marshal
    4 Foundry Street Denizen
    4 Goblin Chieftain
    4 Goblin Bushwhacker
    4 Legion Loyalist
    2 Shared Animosity
    3 Goblin Piledriver
    1 Krenko, Mob Boss
    2 Mogg Fanatic
    4 Lightning Bolt
    4 Goblin Grenade

    1 Teetering Peaks
    18 Mountain

    This is my only Modern deck and only cost me about $110 which is exciting after reading your recent finance article. It’s a great way to get started in Modern. I really think Goblin Grenade is the real reason to play Goblin tribal in Modern. Sacing one token and paying a single red for 5 damage is still an awesome deal. Plus playing the original Fallen Empires art is a bonus. Between Grenade and Bolt, you have a good amount of reach at the end of the game. Also the possibility of having double Grenade to deal 10 in one turn is super scary for any opponent (maybe except for Soul Sisters).
    I have found that Shared Animosity can be a win more card but much more often it’s a devastating top deck when you have a board of outclassed tokens. Two Shared Animosity feels like the right number along side four Goblin Chieftain and four Bushwhacker. Anthems are what this deck needs to push through defending creatures. Legion Loyalist also makes Shared Animosity extra scary. Giving both first strike and trample lets your tokens live through combat and hit the opponent.
    I still have plenty of testing to do. So far Piledriver has not been a standout but a welcome addition to the deck and format.
    Thanks for releasing great Modern content!

    1. The problem with Warren Instigator, besides its somewhat excessive price, is that it has an enormous target on its chest. If it had haste, that would be one thing, but a 1/1 is easily dealt with, particularly on T3, and anybody with anything at all to deal with it would do so, rather than letting two bonus goblins hit the field, especially if they know you’re running things like Krenko, Siege-Gang, or Mogg War Marshal.

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