Deconstructing Goblins In Onslaught Block
Goblins is, by far, the most defining deck in the Onslaught Block metagame. It is so to such an extent that, in order to succeed at an Onslaught Block tournament, you have to play:
- Something that can beat Goblins.
This situation has given rise to the popularity of decks such as Mono White Control, and also is what made Alex Shvartsman' s"Bad Form" deck perform so well in Grand Prix: Detroit. But even with so much Gobbo hate, one-quarter of the players in the last Grand Prix still chose the little red men. And with two goblin players actually making the Top 8, I can daresay that the Goblin Piledriver and his mates will keep kicking some serious asses throughout the season.
So what is the"correct" build for an Onslaught Block Goblin deck? (Assuming, of course, that there is one.) As a member of a Spanish Magic team, I took on the task of analyzing the Goblin decks of Grand Prix: Detroit in order to build a proxy deck that we could test with. In order to do so, I took all of the goblin decks that made the second day at Detroit and compared them card-by-card, calculating the average numbers of each card that were run (either maindeck or sideboard). The results gave me an idea of how the Goblin decks had changed since Pro Tour: Venice.
Here are some of my conclusions:
The"must-have four" of goblin decks are Goblin Warchief and Goblin Piledriver; all of the decks that made day 2 were running four maindeck copies of each of those two. Ever since the Warchief was introduced to the Magic community on the Wizards website, everybody agreed that it was broken. The Warchief accelerates the deck to such an extent that it can get a turn 4 kill - something nobody thought we'd be seeing in the"Timmiest" environment ever.
Of course, if the Warchief enables such fast kills, it is thanks to the mighty ability of the Piledriver. The guy can get pumped real fast - and once it gets haste via Warchief, it becomes really scary...
We know this already - but how has the Warchief/Piledriver interaction changed the build of the Goblin decks? Well, to start with, it has made Goblin Goon almost disappear. On day 2, goblin decks were running an average of 1.82 Goblin Goons maindeck... Not many, compared to the almost mandatory four copies that were in Pro: Venice decks. And if we look further, we'll see that the decks that made the top 8 had none. (Well, Matt Severa ran four in the sideboard.) Why? The Goon is a formidable creature, and the prospect of attacking with a 6/6 hasted creature for only three mana looks good enough... but, unfortunately, the way Goblin Goon normally behaves in the mirror goes something like this:
Turn 4: Drop Goon
Turn 4 opponent: Drop Warchief, swing with the team; your Goon can't block
The Goon's drawback has suddenly become too great in an environment in which tempo is crucial and creature removal abundant. And yes, Goon is hard to kill via Shock/Lightning Rift/Starstorm - but what good is he when he's facing a Silver Knight?
After The Warchief and the Piledriver, the most-used cards were:
- Siege-Gang Commander (3.82 average copies Maindeck)
- Goblin Sledder (3.73 Average copies Maindeck)
- Skirk Prospector (3.73 Average copies Maindeck)
The Commander is, right next to the Warchief, the other grand addition Scourge has brought to the Goblin deck. Most decks were running four, and those that weren't carried three or four copies in the sideboard. It seems that the Commander has become the"finisher" for Goblin decks, and from all reports, lots of mirror matches were decided by which player drew the Commander earlier.
That might be the reason why the number of copies of maindeck Rorix has decreased (0.70 copies); even so, the Pit Fighter still stands as a very popular sideboard choice (the third most-popular card in sideboards at 1.74 average copies). As CMU-TOGIT's Gerard Fabiano explained in his Detroit report, his sideboard strategy for the mirror was"Starstorm your team and drop Rorix." The Commander also works great against control decks, giving the Goblin player a way to sneak damage past those pesky Silver Knights and Dawn Elementals, or to have them deal some final damage before a Starstorm or Akroma's Vengeance... That is, if you have enough mana available.
Right after the commander, we have the two most solid one-mana goblins available: Goblin Sledder and Skirk Prospector. Not only are they solid first-turn creatures, their abilities make them much more interesting than other ones such as Goblin Grappler or Goblin Taskmaster (although Adrian Sullivan chose to run four of the latter over the Prospectors, and made second day). What I find interesting is that Skirk Prospector's ability, which was very interesting in Pro Tour: Venice's decks, full of Menacing Ogres and Rorixes, has lost effectiveness with the overall change of the Goblin strategy after Scourge. The only late-game drop of most decks is Siege-Gang Commander, and sacrificing Goblins to cast it sooner doesn't sound all that good, since Siege-Gang Commander is good with more Goblins.
Still, the deck badly needs eight one-mana creatures, and none of the abilities of the other one-mana goblins seems attractive enough to replace the Prospector.
The next card in line is Sparksmith (3.52 average copies maindeck), another card whose use has fallen since Pro Tour: Venice .The most probable reason is that losing life is not very pleasant for some goblin players, and that the Smith has a very big target painted on his head, making it a must for opposing Shocks and Gempalm Incinerators in the mirror. And outside the mirror, he only shines against zombies, because the Smith is quite irrelevant in the Slide/MWC matchup.
One card that has got some relevance as a possible replacement for the 'Smith is Goblin Sharpshooter (0.65 average copies maindeck, 0.45 copies sideboarded, run in 26.09% of day 2 decks). Morgan Douglass Top 8'd running three copies of Sharpshooter and two of Sparksmith, a fact that shows that both goblin"gunners" can coexist in a successful deck. The Sharpshooter is specially effective in the mirror, being able to put damage through every time another creature is killed, and, if there's a Warchief in play, to eliminate quite a lot of X/1 goblins all by himself (including enemy Sparksmiths).
The next"most-used" card in the goblin deck isn't a goblin; I'm speaking about Shock (3.30 average copies), the burn spell of choice in goblin decks. Some day 2 decks were running maindeck Threaten instead of it, but with both Top 8 goblin decks packing it, it seems that no other card can compete with the efficiency of the cheap, instant removal that doubles for helping deal those last points of damage. The question is, will Shock keep on being the only burn spell used in goblin decks, with the popularization of Form of the Dragon as a way to deal with goblins? Shvartsman's deck wasn't the only one to pack the Form; several"Veggies" decks in the Grand Prix (none of which made Day 2) also ran copies of it.
Carbonize seems a good idea to fight Form of the Dragon. If you combine it with Shock, you get a four-mana solution to a very mean enchantment. There were already a few decks in Detroit running copies of the three-mana Incinerate, and maybe the number will grow after seeing Shvartsman's success. And maybe the proliferation of Carbonize as creature removal for Goblin decks could reduce the number of copies of the next most-used card: Gempalm Incinerator (3.17 Average copies run), the creature that doubles as removal and card drawing. But I don't think that Carbonize could replace the Gempalm as a maindeck choice; the cycler is just amazing, a Goblin powerhouse of card advantage. It gives you a two-mana cantrip removal, and is just so good that even non-goblin decks use it. If Form of the Dragon materializes as the Goblin hate card of choice, then maybe Carbonize (or even Searing Flesh, another card marginally used as a sideboard card in Detroit) will become a staple in Goblin sideboards.
The next card in line is the first to fall under the three average copies per deck, which means that quite a lot of players decided to introduce few or no copies of it. I'm talking about Clickslither (2.04 average copies maindeck, 0.65 sideboard). The insect is the"other" goblin finisher, right after Siege-Gang Commander - and still more popular than Rorix, thanks to its lower casting cost and a trample ability that renders Silver Knights and Dawn Elementals useless.
After Clickslither, Goblin Goon, and Rorix, the rest of the cards used varied too much depending on the player running the deck, and are not worthy of one-by-one analysis. Some of them are:
One player was running a R/B goblin deck with Bloodstained Mire, Smother, and Cover of Darkness in the sideboard. We could say that he was lucky - but with some players testing a Block Goblin Bidding version, we might see more of this coming...
Another point of significance when analyzing a deck is to take a look at the land base; the goblin decks of Detroit seemed (for the most part) to head for two land configurations. Most decks were running twenty-four lands (86.96% of them), and most of them opted for using twenty-one mountains and three Goblin Burrows (30.43%), or twenty mountains and four Burrows (34.78%). Looking at these numbers, we could say that the appropriate number of Goblin Burrows to use is four - but, if we take a look at all the decks, 47,83% of them had four, while 52.17% used only three. As both goblin Top 8ers chose the twenty-one mountains/three Burrows option, we could say that this is the right number of lands to put in the deck.
We've already seen the most important choices in the Goblin deck - but what about sideboarding? Those fifteen cards can be crucial to the success of a player in a tournament, considering that two-thirds of your games could be sideboarded. Everybody thought that Stabilizer would be a staple in Goblin sideboards in the post-Scourge Onslaught Block metagame, but another card has risen as the number one in Goblin sideboards: Sulfuric Vortex (the single most-run sideboard card at 3.30 average copies). Eighteen out of twenty-three decks in the second day of Grand Prix: Detroit ran four copies of it (78,26%), and the rest were running either less copies or maindeck ones. The Vortex is superior to the artifact in the Slide Match; it doesn't simply annoy the Slide player, it puts him in a race against time to find an Akroma's Vengeance, and renders Exalted Angel's ability and Renewed Faith useless.
(And note that Renewed Faith disappeared from Slide decks in Grand Prix: Detroit. Out of all the Day 2 Slide players, only Mark Herberholz ran two copies maindeck. He made the Top 8, though.)
After Sulfuric Vortex, the next most-popular sideboard card was Threaten (1.87 average copies). I have to say that quite a number of decks that didn't pack three Threatens in the sideboard were running it maindeck. That means that the card saw a lot of use during the tournament, as Threaten is quite useful in almost all of the matchups, given that Onslaught Block is such a creature-based one.
And speaking about creatures - and good ones - the third card in the sideboard ranking is Rorix Bladewing (1.74 average copies). I've already spoken of how good is the Dragon in the mirror, but why not run it maindeck? The answer: Wing Shards. This nasty little card has proved to be one of the best white removal cards ever (maybe right after Swords to Plowshares), even given how situational it is, and dropping a 6/5 hasted flyer just to be forced to sacrifice it is not pleasant at all. Even so, Rorix is still a great creature, and it deserves some slots of the sideboard.
After Rorix finally comes Stabilizer. It was said that this card would wreck Slide - but the thing is, Slide decks tend to cycle less, because they've also gotten very good cards in Scourge (heck, Bob Maher won the tournament with a deck that's essentially a"Slideless Slide"). In fact, most of the Slide decks ran only two or three Astral Slides in them. Maybe that's the reason why Stabilizer has fallen down the list of sideboard choices; it could also be because it wrecks Goblin's own Gempalm Incinerators along the way. The fact is, the card is just not that good.
Down the sideboard list, we find that the next card in line is Starstorm. A very nice card in the mirror, it can be lethal when followed by a couple of hasted creatures or a Siege-Gang Commander. And it also cycles - so what more can we ask from a card?
And seems that Starstorm finishes the list of valuable sideboard cards. Apart from the ones I mentioned, some choices used by players in the last Grand Prix were:
Skirk Fire Marshall. A constant sideboard card in Pro Tour: Venice, the use of it has fallen due to the better quality of cards in Scourge, which pushed some previously maindeck cards to the sideboard.
Goblin Pyromancer. This seems to be a very nice trick in the mirror; it might be worth giving a try if your field is really full of goblins. Against the rest of decks, it sucks.
So, what are the conclusions of this analysis? As I told you, I was trying to do a list for an Onslaught Block Goblin deck we could play against in order to practice for the upcoming PTQs. What is this list, after checking all the decks and its contents?
Grand Prix: Detroit Goblin"Dream Team" Deck.
3 Goblin Burrows
4 Goblin Piledriver
4 Goblin Warchief
4 Siege-Gang Commander
4 Goblin Sledder
4 Skirk Prospector
4 Gempalm Incinerator
2 Goblin Sharpshooter
This seems a pretty solid build, aiming to kill your opponent in the fastest way possible, and with sideboard cards aimed to help in the most"hard" matchups (MWC/Slide, mirror).
Hope this info helps both my team and StarCityGames' readers to improve their goblin decks, or to have an idea of what they'll be facing in the upcoming PTQs.
Best wishes for your next tournaments,
Team Red Dragon MTG