Modern PPTQ: 2nd Place with Goblins
When I decided to play goblins at a modern PPTQ it was not because I thought the deck was great or particularly well positioned. I wanted to play something a little offbeat but that packed enough punch to win games, and it wouldn’t hurt if it used Goblin Piledriver. I have played a fair amount of goblins in modern, but mostly monored or Rakdos “all in” versions with simian spirit guides. These glass cannon versions of goblins are capable of turn 3 kills, but have many bad matchups and can be crippled by something as marginal as Lightning Bolt, Snapcaster, Lightning Bolt.
In looking for somewhere to start with Piledriver I found decks split largely into two camps - Aether Vial decks and token decks. I found a token style goblin deck splashing green for Atarka’s Command that won a 37 player PPTQ in Italy and decided to start working from that. What I liked about the list was that it moved away from the glass cannon approach and looked a lot more resilient than goblin decks usually do. Just cutting Goblin Chieftain and replacing it with Atarka’s Command is a big step. While Chieftain is amazing when it sticks, most of the time the opponent can stop a 3 mana 2/2 and we end up losing tempo to stuff like Lightning Bolt or Remand. Atarka’s Command is like a 2 mana 1-shot Chieftain that is much harder to disrupt, and between giving reach, maintaining explosiveness, and reducing the curve that’s a change I really like.
My changes to the Italian deck were basically bringing Shared Animosity to the maindeck and putting Forked Bolt in the sideboard. With three goblins on the board animosity is good, and more than three it's a huge beating. But mostly I liked having something I could hope to draw if I was stuck not attacking for several turns and looking at a high life total to chew through. The Forked Bolts were largely a nod to elf-company decks that I expected to see. This was the 75 I registered for the PPTQ:
The deck plays out like a hybrid of burn and black/white tokens. You go wide with a lot of removal-resistant threats (do you really care if they terminate your legion loyalist?) and then grow them with anthem effects. You do this with a lot of haste creatures, and then back them up with the format’s most efficient reach in goblin grenade and lightning bolt. If you compare this to orzhov tokens we’re giving up evasion and disruption for speed and reach - if you compare this to a tier 1 burn deck it’s really hard to see where the advantage lies… grenade efficiency? Getting to play goblins? Attacking for 15?
In addition to kind of just being a bad burn (or even bad zoo) deck, goblins doesn’t even do what you normally want a rogue deck to do - catch people unprepared. Even if your opponent isn’t sure how to play against your deck, odds are they’re prepared for elves, burn, tokens, or zoo and most of the hate cards for those decks are going to hit you as well (e.g. pyroclasm, kor firewalker). Goblins just doesn’t give you much edge from the surprise factor.
So I went in with low expectations, but here’s what actually happened:
Round 1: 2-1 win vs UWR control
Game 1: I play turn 1 Goblin Guide, and turn 2 I add a Mogg Fanatic and Legion Loyalist - the guide trigger reveals Path to Exile, and opponent declines to fetch at EoT suggesting he is light on answers and needs that path. Turn 3 I kick a bushwhacker and swing for 9, he draws a Steam Vents off the guide and paths it, taking 6. I’ve dealt 11 and he’s taken a couple fetch/shock damage, so a few more goblin pokes and then a grenade seals the deal.
Game 2: My only game loss of the day, it comes from a 0 lander into a 5 lander into a 0 lander into a 4-card-1-land keep. He would have to have a horrid draw for me to make it a game, and his draw is more than adequate to send us to game 3.
Game 3: I play a turn 1 Mogg Fanatic, turn 2 Mogg War Marshal - at end of my turn 1 he fetches a Sacred Foundry and bolts the token (how good does that feel?). He lays an island and casts Serum Visions. I decide to pay for my War Marshal echo and then grenade it since he has no blue at the moment. More goblin pokes get him to 9 and one again when his blue mana goes down I grenade to bring him down to 4. Unfortunately a Lightning Helix into Snapcaster-helix brings him back up to 10 and reduces my board considerably. We’re both running out of cards at this point, but he uses a colonnade to block a goblin, and Atarka's Command plus unblocked goblin drops him to 2 life. He bolts my last goblin, casts a Geist and passes with no cards in hand - I topdeck Molten Rain for the game and match.
Round 2: 2-0 win vs Merfolk
Game 1: He has turn 1 Aether Vial, turn 2 Lord of Atlantis vialing in a Cursecatcher to block my 3/1 foundry street denizen. Turn 3 he casts a second vial and passes turn, I swing with some goblins and a bolt in hand hoping he’ll vial something in and block, and that bolting the lord after blocks will provide some value. He does not vial anything in, and then Spell Pierces my bolt and Vapor Snags a token. Turn 4 he draws and passes turn with vials on 3 and 1. I Bushwhacker and while he Vapor Snags another token he still takes 6. By the time he draws a 3rd creature the game is effectively over as 5 lands, 2 vials, 2 creatures, and some vapor snags do not prevent the onslaught of goblins from reaching their objective.
Round 3: 2-0 win vs merfolk.
Game 1: I get essentially the god draw. Turn 1 Goblin Guide (18 life), turn 2 Legion Loyalist and Legion Loyalist (14 life), turn 3 Foundry Street Denizen + Goblin Bushwhacker kicked swing for 13 trample first strike. He had a pretty decent opener of Aether Vial into Silvergill Adept, but is going to be at 2 life and facing down 5 goblins when he untaps so scoops them up. Practically a turn 3 kill!
Game 2: He has turn 1 Vial, I have turn 1 Loyalist. He has turn 2 Spreading Seas, I have turn 2 Fanatic. He has turn 3 Spreading Seas, I fortunately peel a land off the top to keep access to red but have a hand loaded with bushwhackers and commands and with two of my three lands producing only blue mana can only cast 1 spell per turn. Fortunately for me, he draws 11 lands total over the course of the game and I get him low enough that he’s forced to keep trading lords for lowly punk goblins before his merfolk have any chance to snowball. A Tidebinder Mage locks down my loyalist and gets followed by a Reejery to maybe turn the corner, but a Piledriver provides a block and then swings for 1 dropping him to 5, where a grenade on the tidebinder-locked loyalist deals exactly lethal. If I have 2 red sources I probably win this handily, but if he just has 1 of those 11 lands showing up as any creature in his deck the game probably goes to him. Awkward all around.
Round 4: 2-0 win vs Scapeshift
Game 1: I open with a Loyalist into fanatic+bolt to the dome into Piledriver. He opens with a turn 2 Explore. He passes turn 3 with UR mana up. I’m expecting a bolt on the Piledriver or at least a remand on my Bushwhacker, but the Bushwhacker resolves and we move to combat where he casts Izzet Charm to kill my loyalist (pro blue does something!) - that’s still 10 damage connecting from Piledriver+Bushwhacker+Fanatic which leaves him at 2 life and still several lands short of scapeshifting.
Game 2 he Mulligans to 5 and opens with island Serum Visions, turn 2 tapped Valakut, turn 3 Steam Vents. Between the tapped lands and no green sources my reasonable hand of goblins and Atarka’s Command ensures he doesn’t get to draw out of it. 4-0!
Round 5 - intentional draw vs GR tron
Round 6 - intentional draw vs Lantern Control
That left me at 4-0-2 which was good for 4th place in the top 8.
Top 8 Quarterfinals: 2-0 win vs lantern control
Game 1: I am on the play and see a starting hand of 3 Goblin Guides, Copperline Gorge, Lightning Bolt, Atarka’s Command, Goblin Piledriver. If I hit the second land drop off the top this is a turn 3 kill, and if I don’t see it for a couple turns this is still great pressure with 6 points of burn to go past an Ensnaring Bridge. I miss the second land drop on turns 2 and 3, and he basically locks me out of it by turn 4 with the lantern. Still, I’ve put him at 1 life by the time he has the Bridge and 0 cards in hand - there’s a glimmer of hope but I basically need to find a pile of grenades, lands, and fanatics to get past his mill. Or I need him to punt - which he actually does by leaving a Mogg Fanatic for me to draw. As he talked through his play I had to poker face - even with the fanatic face up on top of the deck he had assumed it wouldn’t be able to deal damage due to summoning sickness and that he would just kill it with his Pyrite Spellbomb. I would chalk that up to a long day of milling people out and going to time, but hey I’ll take it.
Game 2: He casts Duress turn 1 stripping my grenade. I turn 1 Mogg Fanatic. He turn 2 Spellskites. I turn 2 Tin-Street Hooligan blowing up the Spellskite. He plays some milling artifacts turn 3 and lets me keep a Wooded Foothills on top. From his Duress he knows I have Piledriver, bushwhacker, a land and one unknown card which is actually destructive revelry. My turn 3 I opt to just swing and pass turn keeping destructive revelry up - partly playing around Pyroclasm, and partly in order to blow up a Bridge and still have my Piledriver+Bushwhacker combo. He drops some more artifacts including a bow of nylea and passes turn tapped out against a board of tin street hooligan and mogg fanatic. I revelry the bow putting him at 13 (probably a misplay). I untap, play my 4th land, and Piledriver into kicked bushwhacker with the fanatic and hooligan is good for 15 damage and the match.
Top 8 Semifinals: 2-0 win vs RG tron
Game 1: he’s on the play and has a slow start of Urza’s Mine into Chromatic Sphere, turn 2 Ghost Quarter into Expedition Map. Meanwhile I have a pretty nice opener of Foundry Street Denizen into Goblin Guide + Frenzied Goblin (5 Dmg). My turn 3 is a mogg fanatic and atarka’s command (10dmg). He gets tron online turn 4 and o-stones, but I simply untap and cast a denizen into a grenade for lethal.
Game 2: This is easily my favourite game of the day. I’m sweating his Pyroclasms as I open with Legion Loyalist into 2 Mogg Fanatics. He doesn’t Pyroclasm, but he does drop a natural T3 tron and plays a Wurmcoil Engine. I untap turn 3, revelry the Wurmcoil and swing through the tokens thanks to Legion Loyalist. He untaps, casts a second Wurmcoil Engine and attacks with the lifelink token (he should have sent the deathtouch as well due to loyalist, but didn’t). I bolt the lifelink token. My turn 4 I untap and Revelry the new Wurmcoil Engine and once again swing through the tokens bringing him down to 8 life. Turn 5 he untaps and casts Karn Liberated exiling the Loyalist (that value). He swings with the lifelink going up to 11 and holds back the two deathtouch tokens against a board of 2x Mogg Fanatic. I had been sandbagging a loyalist for an o-stone or Pyroclasm, but it ends up being the master stroke here when he goes for the karn. I drop a new Loyalist, swing through his 2 Wurmcoil tokens and cast Atarka’s Command. The command deals 3, the goblins deal 6, and the two Mogg Fanatics then sacrifice for the last 2 damage. Eleven on the dot and that’s the match!
Top 8 Finals: Concede to Scapeshift
As I was not really interested in going to a bigger regional event, and had already stayed at the PPTQ much longer than I expected, I graciously conceded to the winner of the other semi-final, which turned out to be the scapeshift player that I defeated in round 4. While the story would be much better if it was “Goblins wins PPTQ” there was certainly no guarantee that’d be the outcome, and it would have been a less satisfying prize distribution for both of us anyways. So it ends with Goblins in second out of 54 players - which is still a pretty memorable performance for the deck!
Goblins going forward:
Despite the great result and the few explosive turns, goblins remains pretty poorly positioned in modern. It has negligible advantages over most burn decks, while being vulnerable to a wider array of hate cards. It is, however, pretty fun to play.
Next time I think I’d go down to 1 or 0 Shared Animosity - although I may be biased as I never played against a deck that generated a board stall that animosity would have cracked. For similar reasons I’d cut the Frenzied Goblin - the deck simply doesn’t have the mana to spare for his trigger in the early turns which is when it’s most important to get around big blockers. Goblin Piledriver is reasonable but I would not want more than 2 in this deck - drawing multiples is just too slow, and he is really the only card in the deck the opponent can profitably kill with a removal spell. I could see swapping a revelry for a second Tin-Street Hooligan in the sideboard, although 3 revelries may be the only way this deck realistically beats bogles.
In general the green splash may also be sub-optimal. White seems like the colour to shore up the deck’s weaknesses - Boros Charm can save goblins from the dreaded board wipe while also providing reach, and Path to Exile solves early Tarmogoyfs and Tasigurs. White also gives clutch sideboard cards like stony silence and rest in peace. The only real downside to white is not having the fast-lands, and thus taking a bit more pain from the Manabase. I’d need to play more games with the Boros version to really assess whether the Gruul version has significant advantages.
But hey, if you just want to get your Goblin Grenade on this is a good place to start!