An Introduction to (Modern) Goblins

Tribal decks have been a popular choice for Modern spell-slingers for a long time now. Merfolk and Elves have provided viable choices for bigger and smaller tournaments for a long time.  More recently, they’ve been joined by Spirits and Humans, who in some metagames were even considered as the best decks in the format. During an FNM, a league, or perhaps randomly in course of a Challenge, one might even face the likes of Vampires, Zombies, Knights, or most recently, Elementals. And who doesn’t remember the infamous “Eldrazi Winter”? The fact is, tribal decks are a mainstay of Modern.

For years, one deck was noticeable missing from the format. While wreaking havoc in Legacy and in kitchen table games, Goblins were nowhere to be seen in Modern.  This was due to the fact that the most important cards for the tribe were not legal in the format and the existing card pool was not enough to build even a reasonable variant (although I am sure some have tried with Goblin King, Goblin Chieftain, and Krenko, Mob Boss). This started to change in April of 2018 when Skirk Prospector and Goblin Warchief were printed in Dominaria. The big breakthrough started, however, in the summer of 2019, where in Modern Horizons, both new printings and reprints brought life into the archetype: Goblin Matron, Munitions Expert, Putrid Goblin, and the combo of Pashalik Mons and Sling-Gang Lieutenant. Shortly thereafter, Core Set 2020 brought the card advantage in form of Goblin Ringleader. The foundation was set.  Grumgully, the Generous from Throne of Eldraine (October 2019) in tandem with Metallic Mimic finally made Modern Goblins viable due to having a built-in infinite combo for damage/mana – although complicated (the combination of Grumgully/Mimic, Putrid Goblin and Sling-Gang/Skirk Prospector/ Murderous Redcap) it could be effective. The deck was even able to top 8 a Modern Super Qualifier:


Traft’s Modern Goblins [Super Qualifier 04/2020]

Creatures (34)
Frogtosser Banneret
Goblin Matron
Goblin Ringleader
Grumgully, the Generous
Metallic Mimic
Mogg Fanatic
Munitions Expert
Murderous Redcap
Pashalik Mons
Putrid Goblin
Skirk Prospector
Sling-Gang Lieutenant

Artifacts (4)
Aether Vial
Lands (22)
Ancient Ziggurat
Auntie’s Hovel
Blood Crypt
Cavern of Souls
Fiery Islet
Mountain
Sunbaked Canyon
Unclaimed Territory

Sideboard (15)
Chalice of the Void
Damping Sphere
Goblin Cratermaker
Goblin Trashmaster
Ravenous Trap
Relic of Progenitus
Tarfire


There were some top 32 finishes in Challenges as well but the deck never rose above being a curiosity at this point.

A Very Conspicuous Snoop

The spoiler season for Core Set 2021 brought the Modern community one of the most hyped up cards in recent memory – Conspicuous Snoop – a Goblin with a lot of relevant text on it. Players almost immediately noticed a turn three combo with Boggart Harbinger, Kiki-Jiki Mirror Breaker and Sling-Gang Lieutenant/Mogg Fanatic which allows for draining the opponent infinite times or dealing direct damage infinitely with Fanatic. Some people even compared the combination to Splinter Twin and everyone was anxiously waiting for the premiere of the set to test out the various shells – both Rakdos and Jund (with the Grumgully combo).

The moment Core Set 2021 premiered on MTGO the new combo broke the game (literally as the combination of Snoop and Kiki was bugged and caused the client to crash). After the fix, everybody seemed to be ready for the deck.  Plaque Engineer, to no one’s surprise, was the best answer to the deck (frequently paired together with Lava Dart killing any chances for Elves succeeding in the format as collateral damage). After the Rakdos version emerged as the superior Goblins list, it peaked in the last week of June winning one challenge and finishing 10th in the second:


SebastianStueckl’s Modern Goblins [Challenge 06/2020]

Creatures (27)
Boggart Harbinger
Goblin Matron
Goblin Ringleader
Goblin Warchief
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Mogg War Marshal
Munitions Expert
Pashalik Mons
Sling-Gang Lieutenant
Conspicuous Snoop

Spells (7)
Inquisition of Kozilek
Thoughtseize
Unearth
Tarfire

Artifacts (4)
Aether Vial
Lands (22)
Auntie’s Hovel
Blackcleave Cliffs
Blood Crypt
Bloodstained Mire
Cavern of Souls
Fiery Islet
Snow-Covered Mountain
Snow-Covered Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Goblin Ringleader
Tarfire
Blood Moon
Boil
Goblin Cratermaker
Goblin Trashmaster
Plague Engineer
Relic of Progenitus


There have also been another two good finishes in July with another Challenge top 8 as well as a fourth place in the Modern Championship:


A22en’s Modern Goblins [Champs 07/2020]

Creatures (26)
Boggart Harbinger
Conspicuous Snoop
Goblin Chieftain
Goblin Cratermaker
Goblin Matron
Goblin Ringleader
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Mogg War Marshal
Munitions Expert
Sling-Gang Lieutenant

Spells (7)
Inquisition of Kozilek
Thoughtseize
Tarfire

Artifacts (4)
Aether Vial
Lands (23)
Auntie’s Hovel
Blackcleave Cliffs
Blood Crypt
Bloodstained Mire
Cavern of Souls
Fiery Islet
Mountain
Polluted Delta
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Goblin Ringleader
Boil
Damping Sphere
Fatal Push
Goblin Trashmaster
Relic of Progenitus
Unearth
Warren Weirding


Besides the quoted results above, Modern Goblins did not show up in any top 8’s as the hype about it slowly died down and more and more pilots abandoned it, realizing that this deck is no Splinter Twin Combo. To be honest, they are 100% correct. But I’d argue that this is because they’ve approached the deck wrong and did not find success due to either wrong deck building or inefficient piloting. The first drafts of the deck were focused to pairing the Snoop/Harbinger combo either with the Grumgully combo, discard, and removal spells (Thoughtseize, Lightning Bolt), or other supporting creatures like Giver of Runes, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or even Restoration Angel to fit yet another combo.

How to Goblin Properly

In my opinion, for the deck to succeed it is necessary to maximize Snoop’s ability to play Goblins off the top of the deck.  This means no non-Goblin spells besides Aether Vial (which is crucial) should be included in the main deck.  This philosophy allowed me to take down a Super Qualifier with the following list:


Damian Fikus’s Modern Goblins [Super Qualifier 12/2020]

Creatures (32)
Boggart Harbinger
Conspicuous Snoop
Goblin Chieftain
Goblin Matron
Goblin Ringleader
Goblin Warchief
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Krenko, Mob Boss
Mogg War Marshal
Munitions Expert
Pashalik Mons
Skirk Prospector
Sling-Gang Lieutenant

Spells (3)
Agadeem’s Awakening
Tarfire

Artifacts (4)
Aether Vial
Lands (21)
Auntie’s Hovel
Blackcleave Cliffs
Blood Crypt
Bloodstained Mire
Cavern of Souls
Fiery Islet
Mountain
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Munitions Expert
Blood Moon
Boil
Chalice of the Void
Goblin Cratermaker
Pithing Needle
Relic of Progenitus


Due to running twenty-three lands because of a relatively high mana curve, a pilot might often be forced to keep a land-heavy hand with the hope that Snoop will provide value “from the top”.  It also makes the late game better as any “hits” might decide the outcome of the game, and additionally, Snoop can use activated abilities of Skirk Prospector, Kiki-Jiki, Sling-Gang, Pashalik, Krenko, or Goblin Cratermaker when they are on top of the deck to great effect.

After establishing that Snoop is the most important card of the deck, I’d argue that the number two spot belongs to Aether Vial. Thanks to this artifact, the deck can run smoothly and develop the board efficiently.  This is especially important in the later turns of the games when the Vial is on three, four, or even five as it allows the pilot to play multiple creatures in one turn. Of importance is also the fact that the artifact allows a pilot to deploy the combo at instant speed in order to dodge sweepers, counters, and even gives a chance to go off in response to a removal spell if the opponent is not careful.

One of the biggest challenges the deck presents is mulliganing as the hand variants can be vastly different. Looking at the value Aether Vial presents, in my opinion, “sketchy” or land-heavy hands with Vial are more keepable in comparison to a deck like Merfolk which has a lot of ways to refill the hand efficiently.

The glue that holds the deck together is Skirk Prospector. The inconspicuous (no pun intended) Goblin plays multiple roles in the deck. It allows for a safe two-land keep with the combo, pairs great with Pashalik Mons, and can help combo off with an active Snoop and a random Kiki-Jiki on top (aided by Mons, Matron, or Ringleader). It also speeds the whole deck up and makes it possible to combo off out of nowhere via Warchief or Chieftain. Having Prospector in the deck also allows you to kill a two-toughness creature on turn two with Munition Expert.  Its role can be even greater in games two and three when playing a Blood Moon on turn two can win on the spot. Similarly, it speeds up a Boil.

Another important aspect of the deck is the tutor package.  Goblin Matron and Boggart Harbinger allow you to run one-ofs in form of Warchief, Chieftain or Krenko and make sure that the answer for a current problem is always easily accessible. Of course, they can also grab the missing combo piece. Boggart Harbinger, at first glance, might seem like an underwhelming card, however it can be useful on its own, especially when paired with Vial. One of the most common plays in the deck is to Vial it in at upkeep to ensure the needed draw. It comes in handy, particularly when a Goblin Ringleader is needed.

Both Sling Gang and Pashalik are not just final combo pieces, but also serve as damage-based finishers. In combination with each other, each Goblin sacrifice is worth two damage. Pairing this with a Mogg War Marshall or Krenko will, of course, bring wonderful results.

The other cards in the deck are role players which support the main idea of the deck. Mogg War Marshall is a really good blocker, mana source with Prospector, or as previously mentioned, a fantastic source of damage fodder.  Goblin Warchief and Goblin Chieftain allow the deck to threaten the combo at all times due to the haste that they provide.  Respectively, they can help with advancing the board or attacking for a lot of damage. I have currently settled for one of each but might change the numbers if required by the metagame. Tarfire and Munition Expert are removal spells for creatures and planeswalkers. Goblin Ringleader is a source of card advantage and Krenko will close out a game if left unanswered.

The manabase is pretty straightforward. As a standard, I would consider four Auntie’s Hovel (which are essentially free “duals” in the deck), four Bloodstained Mires (which additionally allow for another look for a goblin with Snoop revealing the top card) and two Blood Crypts. There is a possibility to manipulate the numbers of basic lands (but no more than one Swamp).  I would also recommend including Blackcleave Cliffs, Cavern of Souls (in heavy controlling metagame, four would be the correct number), and some number of Horizon Lands. A new addition to the deck is Agedeem’s Awakening, which is a great late game top deck.  However, due to it being only a black land, the deck cannot accommodate too many copies seeing as many of the goblin spells require specifically red mana.

How to Play

I must admit that this deck can be complicated to play. The combo is really fragile – almost any removal spell can interrupt it. It can be also stopped by commonly played cards like Shriekhorn, Field of Ruin, or Pithing Needle. A player will often have to choose which game plan to follow.  “Should I focus on the combo or try to win the old fashioned way?”

One advantage the deck will have and the only true similarly with Splinter Twin is that the opponent will have to respect the combo. You need to take advantage of that as much as possible. With Snoop in play and a vial on three, we might force the opposing player to keep their Bolt or Path in hand, meanwhile dealing damage with other creatures in play while not even having Harbinger at the ready.

The Goblin player needs to constantly evaluate the board state and predict what the opponent might have and what he can do. If there is a Snoop already on the battlefield and the cast Goblin Matron resolved, it is not always right to go for Harbinger if we can only play it next turn. What if the opponent has a removal spell? What if he has a sweeper? If the life total is low enough, it can be correct to go for a Sling Gang. If our hand is empty, we might choose a Goblin Ringleader. Remember that there are multiple choices and paths to victory. Of course, in match-ups such as G Tron or Amulet Titan, we might be forced to combo off as soon as possible, but this is understandable.

The biggest appeal of the deck in the current metagame is that it has a really good match-up against 4c Omnath and other Uro variants (with the exception of Sultai which might be about 50/50) and Titan decks. Additionally, it has an advantage against the RB Shadow decks, however, it almost always loses to Temur Battle Rage. Prowess matchups can be tough but are manageable –especially post-board. Another favorable match-up is definitely Heliod Company as their life gain is not a problem for our infinite damage combo. On the other hand, the worst match-up for Goblins, which is nearly unwinnable is Mill. That said, Goblins might have a problem if the deck is popular.

A good way to evaluate how well-positioned Goblins would be would be to look at the appearance rate of two spells: Plaque Engineer and Lava Dart. If the two spells are prevalent in the metagame, it will likely be very hard to achieve good results consistently.

Tips and Tricks

  1. Mogg War Marshall plus Skirk Prospector can act as a Pyretic Ritual if needed.
  2. Copies from Kiki will be sacrificed at the beginning of next end step – if possible we should use this to our advantage – either producing a blocker or an attacker.
  3. A random Kiki on top of the deck with Snoop in play can be used to our advantage or just might win us the game. Remember that you can make infinite copies at your upkeep and there are often a few ways to win the game from there – especially with Prospector. Even with just Pashalik Mons, the game is over as the copies will need to be sacrificed in end step and will trigger the Pashalik.
  4. Aether Vialing in Boggart Harbinger in the upkeep to tutor is an important play.
  5. Don’t be afraid to take vial up to four and five to cast Ringleader or Kiki.
  6. Prospector is great in combination with Agadeems Awakening as it will come right back for the same amount of mana that it will provide to sacrifice.
  7. You can cast the card on top if you sacrifice Snoop to make mana with Prospector due to the way that casting spells works (you first declare the casting and then pay the mana cost).
  8. Try to preserve your Fetch lands if possible as they can give you another shoot on a goblin with Snoop on the battlefield.
  9. Auriok Champion and similar cards do not stop the combo as you can respond to the each Auriok trigger with a new copy of Snoop.

Current List

The list did not see major changes since the Super Qualifier and I am currently settled on the following 75:


Damian Fikus’ Modern Goblins [01/2021]

Creatures (32)
Boggart Harbinger
Conspicuous Snoop
Goblin Chieftain
Goblin Matron
Goblin Ringleader
Goblin Warchief
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Krenko, Mob Boss
Mogg War Marshal
Munitions Expert
Pashalik Mons
Skirk Prospector
Sling-Gang Lieutenant

Spells (2)
Agadeem’s Awakening
Tarfire

Artifacts (4)
Aether Vial
Lands (22)
Auntie’s Hovel
Blackcleave Cliffs
Blood Crypt
Bloodstained Mire
Cavern of Souls
Fiery Islet
Mountain
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Munitions Expert
Blood Moon
Boil
Chalice of the Void
Goblin Cratermaker
Pithing Needle
Relic of Progenitus


Sideboarding

4c Omnath / Uro variants

Against Uro-decks, the single most important card in the match-up is Relic of Progenitus as it stops Uro, Mystical Sanctuary, and Wrenn and Sixx. The other game plan is to attack their mana with Boil or an early Blood Moon (I bring only one as they run too many basics and play around it too often for it to be really effective – however it stops Sanctuary as well).

In:

  • 3x Relic of Progenitus
  • 1x Blood Moon
  • 2x Boil

Out:

  • 2x Mogg War Marshall
  • 1x Munition Expert
  • 1x Goblin Matron
  • 1x Skirk Prospector
  • 1x Goblin Chieftan

Hammertime

Hammertime can be a difficult match-up but Chalice of the Void on 0 or 1 can help slow them down or blank their removal allowing Goblins to combo off. Goblin Cratermaker is an clean answer for all their artifacts as well as the Inkmoth Nexus.

In:

  • 1x Munition Expert
  • 2x Chalice
  • 2x Goblin Cratermaker

Out:

  • 2x Skirk Prospector
  • 1x Krenko
  • 1x Goblin Chieftain
  • 1x Goblin Ringleader

Rakdos Shadow

Against Rakdos Shadow, the best sideboard option seems to be Chalice of the Void as it stops removal, discard, and most of their creatures (Lurrus and Scourge of the Skycleave are the only exceptions). I also like bringing in Blood Moon as cutting the deck off of black mana can cripple it.

In:

  • 1x Munitions Expert
  • 3x Chalice of the void
  • 2x Blood Moon

Out:

  • 1x Tarfire
  • 1x Skirk Prospector
  • 2x Boggart Harbinger
  • 1x Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
  • 1x Goblin Matron

Prowess

Versus Prowess, it will be really hard to combo off, therefore I would recommend to shave it down. Chalice of the Void is, by far, the best tech available against the deck. I would keep Tarfire in even though it’s a one-drop because Goblins need as much removal as possible and a game with Chalice is not guaranteed.

In:

  • 1x Munition Expert
  • 3x Chalice of the Void

Out:

  • 2x Boggart Harbinger
  • 1x Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
  • 1x Goblin Matron

Heliod Company

Since this is a very favorable match-up for Goblins, I would recommend only bringing in one additional removal and Pithing Needle which can shut off both Spike Feeder and Ballista.

In:

  • 1x Munitions Expert
  • 2x Pithing Needle

Out:

  • 2x Skirk Prospector
  • 1x Goblin Chieftain

Amulet Titan

The main plan in the Amulet Titan is to attack their mana either by Blood Moon (best option) or if they have Dryad of the Ilysian Grove by Boiling them (this tactic seems to be a little bit controversial and disputed but I personally found it to be effective).

In:

  • 2x Blood Moon
  • 2x Boil
  • 1x Munition Expert

Out:

  • 1x Tarfire
  • 2x Mogg War Marshall
  • 1x Krenko, Mobb Boss
  • 1x Goblin Chieftain

Ad Nauseam

In the Ad Nauseam match-up, the plan is fairly simple – keep the deck off mana as much as possible by attacking their manabase and/or artifacts and then combo off before they do.

In:

  • 3x Chalice of the Void
  • 2x Blood Moon
  • 2x Goblin Cratermaker

Out:

  • 1x Tarfire
  • 3x Munitions Expert
  • 2x Mogg War Marshall
  • 1x Krenko, Mobb Boss
  • 1x Goblin Ringleader

Discussion