Monday, January 21, 2013

Tribal Upbringings and Goblins in Modern

I've always liked the Tribal aspect of Magic.

When I was a kid, I first picked up the game during the Odyssey block. I had no concept of good deck building or card evaluation, nor any kind of competitive mindset. These days, I simply cannot comprehend playing a Magic deck that actively tries not to win as fast possible. I'm always trying to get my more casual friends to build competitive decks, and can't understand why they would keep playing their mono-red Dragons deck. The casual Magic psyche has escaped me.

But about a decade ago, my favorite tribe was Cephalids.

I didn't even know Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor existed; the only Cephalid with any kind of "tribal" aspect involved. I had never heard of Cephalid Constable, the only other strong card of that particular invertebrate persuasion (barring Aristocrat combos). I just thought they looked sort of cool, and I liked the sense of identity it provided.

I wanted to be the Cephalid guy. If you needed to know about Cephalids, I was your man. Er, 10-year-old. I read the Odyssey cycle novels (you should too), in which I found out the Squid-dudes were all kind of obnoxious dicks. That was fine though, I still think they're... you know, "neat".

It's kind of like when you sign up for your first forum account when you discover the internet is a thing.

"Well, my name is Taylor Blescherschmitt, but on the internet, I'm..."


Naming yourself (TheK3vin), picking your favorite Ninja Turtle (Raphael), the eternal quandary of choosing which Pokemon you would want in real life if they existed (Abra). It's all about boiling down who you are into something abstract and representational. It's how cell phone companies made millions selling monophonic ringtones for your Nokia bar phone. You know, so everybody could know how you describe yourself in the form of a single 15-second segment of your favorite pop song played on an Atari 2600.

Anyway, I fell in love once again during Onslaught. Naturally, being primarily a blue guy, I was all about the Wizards. I discovered control. Suddenly I got to decide what my opponents did and when. I could be a merciful God, or a sadistic, malevolent tyrant. I also got a Nameless One and learned that there was actually a point, gameplay-wise, to stick to one creature type. I suppose my sociopathic love of dominating games contributing to my friends losing interest in the game. We stopped playing Magic, and I didn't really pick up the game again until Magic 2012 when I started college.

It took a while to absorb how the various formats of competitive Magic worked, what tournaments there were, and what I wanted to do. But when I started to look for a Standard deck I could take to FNM, I (like many before me, and many after and yet to come) was told of Mono-Red.

No pricey two-colored lands, no 30-dollar Mythics, no complex interactions. It's quick and dirty, and it's always there. Of course, right now is a much better time for RDW than a year ago, but you can always take it to an FNM.

That got boring very quickly, though. I couldn't stand to play a stock list, even if it was "rogue" (i.e. terrible). My first solution? Planeswalker Tribal!

Koth of the Hammer was, and still is, my favorite Planeswalker. He hits hard right off the bat, rewards a specific type of deck, and has an Ultimate ability so strong it just makes you giggle. It started with a simple recommendation to play him as a finisher. Then I realized that Volt Charge worked very well with him and also added counters to my Stromkirk Nobles and Bersekers.

But I couldn't stop there. Pretty soon, I had a bona fide Mono-Red Superfriends deck.

I love me a deck with a theme. It was significantly worse than the already-fringe Red Deck Wins, but it was... Sweet! I played all three red Planeswalkers. That list included Tibalt. I tried as hard as I could to justify it.

"I know his +1 isn't great but I can just do it once and then next turn Tezzeret's Gambit and then -4 him and burn you!"

Not too long after that deck had reached its terribleness apex, Krenko, Mob Boss was spoiled. I bought Goblin Wardrivers, Goblin Chieftains, and everything else I needed a month before M13 even came out. I pissed off many an opponent with Goblin Grenades. In a format with no Lightning Bolt, you feel pretty good stabilizing at 10 life. Now you're in control, there's no way he can get those pathetic little 1/1 duders in there so--oh, you're dead? Yeesh. I was very sad when the entire deck rotated.

Later, I went back to my blue roots, this time in a more serious format. Fish has treated me pretty well thus far in Modern. I'm still trying to actually play in a tournament with it, as I've been having a hard time making it to a Modern FNM, but it's a solid deck with plenty of potential.

However, a certain spoiled card has caught my attention like a random text message from an ex-girlfriend.

I found the current Standard to be intolerable, and I don't think I'll be coming back post-Gatecrash, so I haven't really cared about most of the cards spoiled thus far. But this one is the real deal. Probably.

It's probably safe to say that there's no goblin deck that you can really make in Standard. Without anthem effects like Chieftain or Wardriver, even Krenko isn't any good. But you know what format does let you play those cards?


Legion Loyalist does not have the sheer power-level of Goblin Guide. That sort of goes without saying. But he's still a one-drop with haste, which is already reasonably valuable. His Battalion ability will be hard not to trigger, and will certainly help out here and there. Especially if the current build of Spirit Jund, you know... lingers.

Like tribal decks usually go, much of Goblins builds itself. Goblin Chieftain, Goblin Wardriver, Goblin Guide, Goblin Grenade, they're all basically instant four-ofs. Lightning Bolt, Goblin Bushwhacker, and Mogg War Marshal are also about there.

Bam! That's 28 cards. Easy, right?

I think Legion Loyalist is a pretty easy four-of too. Maybe Goblin Cohort is better, but a 2/2 for one with downside is just not where I want to be, honestly. Maybe I've been spoiled with Diregraf Ghouls and Rakdos Cacklers, but Cohort is slow and clunky. I'm just using him to fill excess creature slots, at this point.

The decks that I've seen from MODO use Simian Spirit Guide, which I love. It's actually pretty hard to cast six spells in the 3-5 turns you have to win, so the card disadvantage doesn't hurt you nearly as much as a turn one Goblin Wardriver followed by two Goblin Guides swinging in for 8 on turn two hurts them. Follow up with a Chieftain for a turn three kill.

I've filled the last three slots with Magma Jet, for now. Sometimes, you just need to slam a Bushwhacker or a Chieftain on your next turn to win the game, or they've established a board and they're in Goblin Grenade range. Given how quickly these games go, you want to make your topdecks count. The shock is gravy.

Here's the list:

A Deck With Goblins In It

(Kind of hard to come up with something creative for this one...)

Creatures (30):
4 Goblin Bushwhacker
4 Goblin Chieftain
2 Goblin Cohort
4 Goblin Guide
4 Goblin Wardriver
4 Legion Loyalist
4 Mogg War Marshall
4 Simian Spirit Guide

Instants (7):
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Magma Jet

Sorceries (4):
4 Goblin Grenade

Land (19):
19 Mountain

You'll notice Krenko isn't in here. For those of you expecting him, I'm sorry. As far as I can tell, he's really bad without haste. And if you have a Goblin Chieftain, what are you doing durdling with tokens and not making your opponent dead?

This deck is incredibly rudimentary, but you know what? I just fish-bowled the deck 11 times. Why 11? Because in the first ten, I won on turn four. Including on a mulligan to five. The deck is incredibly consistent.

And yet...

I like Magma Jet and Legion Loyalist as additions, but they don't make a huge impact on the deck's overall performance. We don't really see Goblins doing making it out of the occasional Daily Event very often right now. But with Modern on the rise, more and more people will be coming in and discovering the wonders of eternal formats. We can't all drop 1100 bucks on Jund. So if you're looking for something fun and explosive that basically costs negative money, you still can't go wrong with Mono-Red.

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