Volrath’s Goblins – A Primer, by Eli Goings

My name is Eli Goings, and I’m a Goblins addict. No matter what I do, my mind is always imagining Ringleaders flipping 4 off the top, or cycling Gempalm Incinerator into itself, or Matroning for Skirk Prospector to throw my hand on the table, or casting Siege-Gang Commander every turn via Volrath’s Stronghold….wait what?

Those of you familiar with Goblins should stop a bit at the mention of Volrath’s Stronghold, a somewhat obscure reserved list land (sadly) that hasn’t seen play outside of EDH for years and years. What is it doing in a Legacy deck? 3 mana to replace a draw step with a creature? Doesn’t sound like all that, does it? My hope by the end of this article I will be able to show that Volrath’s Stronghold and the associated package of black cards that I play with it are a powerful addition to the Goblins shell, enabling it to compete toe-to-toe with the grindiest monster in the legacy room; Grixis Control, all while also giving you some unexpected points in other matchups.

Intro to Goblins
Firstly, let me do a quick rundown on Goblins as a deck and what its strategy (or strategies) are. Goblins at first glance is a creature beatdown deck ala Death and Taxes or something similar to the Sligh versions of Goblins you see in other formats.

More experienced Legacy players know it as a value-oriented control deck. The most dedicated Goblins pilots eventually discover it to be virtually every archetype. I affectionately call it prison-combo-aggro-control deck.

It has a significant mana denial plan as a prison strategy with the full compliment of Wastelands and (usually) Rishadan Ports. It has certain lines involving Goblin Warchief, Goblin Matron, Skirk Prospector, Mogg War Marshal, Goblin Piledriver, and sometimes Siege Gang that are very storm or elves-esque where you generate an absurd of mana and kill from out of nowhere, even from full life totals.  Sometimes you just carry out a standard beatdown plan like the go-wide aggro deck it is oft confused for. Then it has my favorite plan, that involves playing Ancestral Recall and Demonic Tutor for free (off Aether Vial), likely finding an uncounterable terminate that draws a card (think of it as a more reactive Baleful Strix). You get the point. If you have a magic itch, Goblins can probably scratch it.

This is not all upside however: it makes the deck very difficult to both build and play, since you must evaluate which of these archetypes you are in a matchup on the fly, and it will change over the course of the game. Having a deck packed with tutors makes this very decision-oriented; the game will often be won or lost with your Matron choice.

It’s like “Who’s the Beatdown”, but you have multiple ways of being each role; are you the “control” with mana or with cards? Who is favored if nobody casts anything? Who is favored if both players can cast anything? All important questions for the Goblins pilot, and if think that sounds like fun and interesting magic, then Goblins might be the deck for you. Your personal evaluation of which archetype Goblins best fits in with will drastically inform your deckbuilding. Some people want to build it as hardcore control as possible, others like the explosiveness of the combo aspects, et cetera. This explains why Goblins pilots’ seem to have radically different approaches and builds. The only thing that is ever truly playset-consistent across all Goblins lists is that they include:

4 Aether Vial
4 Goblin Lackey
4 Goblin Matron
4 Goblin Ringleader

8y1Z34D.png
I have seen success with varying numbers of every other card ever played in Goblins. Some people swear by 4 Goblin Warchief, others think the card is terrible and grossly outclassed. Others will never do anything but 4 Goblin Piledriver (and claim that people without 4 PDs are secret Show and Tell agents trying to make our deck bad), while plenty of pilots play the full range of 0-3 Drivers. My own build is pretty idiosyncratic, embracing the controlling elements of the deck, while still retaining some of the combo elements of the Warchief + MWM + Skirk plan. It’s down to personal preference and playstyle and I won’t claim that my build or anyone else’s is substantially better in the aggregate without talking specifics. I do think I’ve struck a bit of gold with my idea here, and I think I have the numbers and experience to back it up.

Let’s talk lists.

My Most Recent Build

Maindeck (61)
3 Arid Mesa
3 Wooded Foothills
4 Mountain
3 Badlands
3 Cavern of Souls
1 Volrath’s Stronghold
3 Rishadan Port
4 Wasteland
4 Aether Vial
4 Goblin Lackey
1 Skirk Prospector
1 Mogg Fanatic
3 Goblin Piledriver
3 Goblin Cratermaker
2 Mogg War Marshal
4 Goblin Matron
3 Goblin Warchief
1 Goblin Trashmaster
1 Goblin Chainwhirler
4 Goblin Ringleader
1 Siege-Gang Commander
1 Goblin Sharpshooter
3 Gempalm Incinerator
1 Stingscourger
Sideboard (15)
3 Cabal Therapy
2 Pyrokinesis
2 Surgical Extraction
2 Relic of Progenitus
1 Tormod’s Crypt
2 Red Elemental Blast
1 Pithing Needle
1 Thorn of Amethyst
1 Earwig Squad

Some of these inclusions will look obvious, others will not. Something that I want to address immediately is the fact that I’m playing 61 cards in the maindeck. “But Eli,” you say, “why would you play more cards that decrease the chance of Aether Vial or Goblin Lackey being in your opener? Isn’t that always what you want?”


joint vial lackey.jpg
My answer is “yes, that is what I want” but in my view the tiny percentages that get dropped off having a 4-of in my opener are compensated by the serious points I get for including some of the 1-ofs I’ve managed to squeeze in, all of which serve a distinct purpose. I Goblin Matron for every one of my singleton Goblins a fair percentage of the time, and some of them like Chainwhirler or Stingscourger are life or death in the matchups you want them.

matron targets.jpg

Enough of that and onto the real question. What is up with Volrath’s Stronghold, and why is it good?

The Volrath’s Stronghold Question

Following the banning of DRS, I was trying to find ways to exploit the lack of maindeck yard hate. I already liked the black splash because of the discard spells and Earwig Squad, both major boons when combo is popular. Volrath’s Stronghold was suggested to me, and damn, what a card!

sth-143-volrath-s-stronghold

The real problem facing Goblins right now is the fact that Grixis Control is everywhere, and it is a bad matchup. (Note from the editor: It is so fucking bad for Boros Goblins like I play, it is almost a joke.) In testing, Goblins was winning only 1 out of 3 games or so against Grixis Control. Something drastic was needed to fix this, after all we can’t have Goblins lose against the premier control deck! It’s our job to win that!

The problems with the matchup stem from their annoying combination of having maindeck answers to your Vial – that also kill your important creatures. Combine this with an absurd amount of discard and hard-to-kill win cons like Liliana, the Last Hope and you have an uphill battle to slog through.

badnews.jpg                                                                   The fun police ^

Now – Goblins can technically grind through this but if you never get to cast the Ringleaders you Matron for, (because your Vial was blown up and then you ever so helpfully gave your opponent a target for their otherwise dead piece of discard) you won’t actually get to do much grinding.

Enter Stronghold.

Stronghold – although admittedly slow- gives you serious inevitability. You don’t start using it immediately most of the time, but once you can scrounge 6-7 lands together you can basically Matron/Ringleader/Gempalm every turn of the game. I found that against Grixis Control, once Stronghold became active, all I had to do was Matron for Siege-Gang Commander, then spend the rest of the game casting Siege Gang as many times as possible. Eventually a sea of 1/1s will overwhelm them, no matter what. Goblins is 100% the better anaemic-beatdown deck and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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Stronghold has also impressed in other matchups, especially those that can’t stop Vial. Against decks like UB Shadow I’ve had a great time recurring Gempalm Incinerator and Matron to just grind my opponent out. I even have had setups that turned the horrendous echo on Stingscourger into an upside, allowing me to bounce Marit Lage twice in a single game.

Of course where there is good there is bad and the downside to Stronghold is that it requires black mana, and is another colorless mana source. Goblins doesn’t have the absolute worst mana-base of the mono-color decks (Merfolk is the winner of that award) but it’s certainly not great. There are a significant number of hands you will see that contains no red mana at all. I’ve somewhat tried to mitigate this by playing 24 lands instead of the normal 23, and shaving the 4th Rishadan Port. However, in order to keep the number of black sources I have found to be necessary to cast my discard spells on time reasonably often (9 being the operative number), I’ve had to cut a Cavern of Souls from my manabase. It’s possible that the 4th Cavern is better than the 3rd Port, but I am still undecided.

Other Notable Inclusions

Mogg Fanatic
I love this little guy more than most, and he really pulls his weight. I could almost write a book chapter on his various uses that have come up for me, but ultimately I’ll just say that he’s basically a Tarfire that you can cast without true red mana (aka Cavern of Souls/Aether Vial), attacks Planeswalkers, makes opposing Mother of Runes and Delver of Secrets feel terrible, and makes Sharpshooter awesome. On the whole it is a fantastic utility creature that you want for most tempo-oriented creature matchups, while also being a surprising ace-in-the-hole against Dredge. It also costs 1 mana which is a rarity for this deck.

Earwig Squad
The Goblin tribe’s only real combo-hate Gobbo. The #squad is mostly just here to KO ANT players, but Squad also pulls significant weight vs Miracles and Grixis Control as a way to strip either win conditions or wrath effects. The 5/3 body is also very significant in this format, since once you take their answers they usually don’t have much time to find what they have left. Not dying to Pyroclasm effects ain’t bad either.

squad.jpg
Pro tip: Goblin Warchief’s cost reduction applies to the Prowl cost too. Turn 2 SQUAD GANG GANG.

Goblin Chainwhirler
The bane of standard players since its release, the whirly girly is a beast in just about any matchup. She is one of the best midrange Goblins ever printed and is particularly gross vs D&T, Infect, and Elves (or Empty the Warrens!) It fulfills a similar slot to Sharpshooter, but the card plays out quite differently in practice since it enables you to get a lot more aggressive than Sharpshooter and you don’t have to fade your opponent having removal for a turn. RRR is a rough mana cost, but you’ll get there eventually, and Aether Vial certainly doesn’t care. Skirk helps out a lot here.

Oath of Ghouls:
While not currently in my list because I haven’t been seeing much Grixis online for the past month, definitely consider this in your paper events where Grixis Control still seems to be fairly dominant. What it does in practice is behave as a one-sided Graveyard-Howling Mine that draws the best creature in your yard every turn. The only downside of it is that you can’t bring it in for creature mirrors because it’s too risky. It’s a narrow, but extremely potent card.

Oath

The current WOTC approved errata for this Oath is as follows:
At the beginning of each player’s upkeep, that player chooses target player whose graveyard has fewer creature cards in it than their graveyard does and is their opponent. The first player may return a creature card from their graveyard to their hand.

Yeah we have no idea either.

Sideboarding

Finally, I’d like to write out my sideboarding strategy for a number of Legacy’s more common matchups according to my matchup data. I’ll leave a bit of justification if I think there’s a sideboarding choice that might strike others as strange or unintuitive. I will also say that sometimes my matchup data will say otherwise than my actual play data. This is largely a concession the small sample size on many of these matchups.

BR Reanimator: Unfavorable pre-board, Even postboard. (Current Match Record 9-8)

+3 Cabal Therapy
+2 Surgical Extraction
+2 Relic of Progenitus
+1 Tormod’s Crypt
+1 Thorn of Amethyst
+1 Earwig Squad
-3 Goblin Ringleader
-1 Mogg Fanatic
-1 Goblin Chainwhirler
-2 Gempalm Incinerator
-1 Goblin Cratermaker
-1 Volrath’s Stronghold
-1 Goblin Sharpshooter

Pretty straightforward here. Don’t cut MWMs because they are your best card with Cabal Therapy. Cut Chainwhirler because Reanimator loves to Reanimate your Whirlers when you have successfully hated them out. While Trashmaster might look like a 4 mana lord in this matchup, sometimes this happens and you feel amazing.

reanimator btfo.png       (Note from the editor: Reanimator nerds absolutely BTFO)

You can also nail petals played out early (which your Therapies and Thorn incentivise). And failing all that, remember that Lackey into Trashmaster is a 4 turn clock, even if you have nothing else. In game 1s, Stronghold has actually done some amount of work before, in that it recurred a Stingscourger that got Thoughtseized. It’s not a real gameplan, but it does at least mean you’re not just stone dead to a fatty if they managed to get Sting in the yard before you could cast him.

Miracles: Favorable, slightly less favorable postboard (Current Match Record 13-4)

+1 Pithing Needle
+2 Red Elemental Blast
+1 Thorn of Amethyst
+1 Earwig Squad
-1 Stingscourger
-1 Mogg Fanatic
-1 Goblin Trashmaster
-1 Goblin Sharpshooter
-1 Goblin Lackey

Most say this is our best matchup, and while I don’t think that’s quite correct (Mono Red Stompy is my personal nomination), it is very, very good. Nowadays, I think the only thing you will lose to are your own draws, and Back to Basics. With Cratermaker around and 3 Gempalm Incinerators, I find I rarely actually lose to Mentor unless they also have stifled me on resources somehow. Containment Priest can also cause some headaches, so be aware of that. Gideon can also be difficult to beat, so be wise to that possibility.

Stronghold isn’t very good in this matchup because almost all their removal is either tucking creatures on the bottom or exiling them, but it’s not terrible. If Ringleader or Matron trade with a Snapcaster you can occasionally pull them out of the yard. Skirk Prospector can also let you decide whether or not you want a creature in your yard when a Terminus happens, so if you have Stronghold set up already, you can sac the relevant creature before Terminus resolves. The other relevant use is recurring a Gempalm if a Mentor appears suddenly. Lastly, Stronghold can negate Jace fatesealing, which is pretty nice if they don’t see it coming. Some Goblins players have considered bringing in grave hate against Miracles nowadays, as they do use graveyard-based cards like Accumulated Knowledge and Snapcaster to gain value. I don’t think it’s worth it, but I also haven’t tried it much myself (Note from the editor: No, do not do this. As linked above, who is the beatdown and what does the card Goblin Ringleader reward you for?). For the most part, I’d expect it to be worse than having another Goblin in my deck.

D&T: Slightly favorable (Current Match Record: 7-7, with no Trashmaster or Sharpshooter maindeck)

+2 Pyrokinesis
+1 Pithing Needle
+1 Earwig Squad (on play; leave a Goblin Piledriver in on the draw to have another 2 drop)
-1 Stingscourger
-3 Goblin Piledriver

Although sideboarding is fairly easy, this is a very tricky matchup to play. The games tend to feel very lopsided to one way or another. I think assuming “perfect” play from each player and average draws, Goblins is quite favored, but I find myself getting punk’d out more than you might expect. Goblins has some very Vial-reliant draws sometimes, and D&T is really good at punishing those with Mother of Runes into Revoker, which can be game-ending if not answered on time. However, any game that doesn’t involve a Mom on turn 1 or 2 is a great game for Goblins. After doing some more dedicated testing, I found that moving a Trashmaster and Goblin Sharpshooter to the maindeck makes the matchup much better. With the current match record, Trashmaster and Sharpshooter both sat in my sideboard, but after testing the matchup some more, I find that I gain huge percentages just by maindecking these two bombs. As far as Stronghold goes in this matchup, 90% of the time it just gets Wastelanded on the spot, and you’re generally fine with that because that means a red source isn’t getting messed with. It can be nice to recur Cratermakers or Trashmasters, but if you have the mana to do that, you’re probably already winning. The most realistic (and likely best) thing to use Stronghold for is a way to get back Gempalm Incinerators.

Grixis Control: Unfavorable preboard (unless you find Stronghold), Slightly Favorable postboard (Current Match Record: 9-1, though some of these wins are from when I was playing Oath of Ghouls)

+3 Cabal Therapy
+2 Pyroblast
+1 Thorn of Amethyst
+1 Earwig Squad
-1 Stingscourger
-1 Mogg Fanatic
-1 Skirk Prospector
-2 Goblin Lackey
-1 Goblin Sharpshooter
-1 Goblin Cratermaker

The Boogeyman matchup! Yikes, this deck is scary. Kolaghan’s Command, Hymn to Tourach, Liliana, the Last Hope, and Snapcaster Mage are their best cards against you.

Pre-board, the plan is to just keep throwing creatures at them so they have to spend their mana answering your creatures, keeping your hand intact. I’ve already talked about this matchup at some length, so I’ll just add that you should not feel tempted to bring in Relic of Progenitus. It’s been tested at length, and it just does not do enough for its mana cost. Cabal Therapy might raise some eyebrows, but it does 2 crucial things; insulate the hand vs Hymn (since getting a Therapy hit by Hymn is usually great for you over any other card), and allow you to proactively answer…their answers. I will unashamedly turn 1 therapy a Hymn to Tourach on the draw if they lead on a black source. The other huge deal is hitting some of the biggest problem cards before they come down; Snapcaster Mage and Liliana. Discarding a Liliana is infinitely easier than killing it on the battlefield; they play a million removal spells, but there are only 4 Brainstorms to protect the hand.

As I said earlier, Stronghold is amazing here, almost always Vampiric Tutor in this matchup since almost every creature in your deck is likely dead by the time you’re going to activate it. The ultimate inevitability plan vs Grixis is to Earwig Squad away the 3 K Commands (hoping they don’t have one in hand), then sit your Vial on 5, eventually find SGC. From there, you can Vial in SGC every turn for the rest of the game, and there’s nothing they can do to beat that. The same thing can technically be accomplished without Vial, but requires 8 mana and so is much more difficult to assemble. If you find yourself dying to Snap/Strix beatdown, find your Whirler and get ready to Stronghold her. It’s your only single creature that will keep a Liliana in check, and it kills every non-fish creature in their deck as an ETB, making it one of the best cards in the matchup.

ANT/TES: Unfavorable, Slightly Unfavorable postboard (Current Match Record: 6-8 ANT 2-2 TES)

+3 Cabal Therapy
+2 Surgical Extraction
+2 Relic of Progenitus
+1 Tormod’s Crypt
+1 Thorn of Amethyst
+1 Earwig Squad
+2  Red Elemental Blast
-4 Goblin Ringleader
-3 Gempalm Incinerator
-1 Goblin Sharpshooter (unless playing against TES, leave out the 2nd REB)
-1 Mogg Fanatic
-1 Stingscourger
-1 Goblin Cratermaker
-1 Volrath’s Stronghold

Storm’s always a tough matchup for the Goblins, but the black splash has a lot of tools here. ANT is a much better matchup than TES for what it’s worth, but they’re both pretty rough. Earwig Squad helps out a lot against ANT, and the discard spells plus gravehate combo is pretty potent. Keep hands with disruption so you don’t die immediately. Remember that Storm’s worst matchup is Eldrazi, so try to do your best Eldrazi impression when you can. I’ll add that it’s probably a good idea to side in Sharpshooter vs TES because they’re much more likely to use Empty the Warrens than ANT, and having 2 answers is a lot better than 1, especially in a matchup where Warchief is gonna survive and so Sharpshooter is only ever a Matron away.  As with most combo, Stronghold will not be relevant often, but I have used it to recur a Thoughtseized Squad; I tend to win those games.

Grixis Delver: Favorable (Current Match Record: 10-3)

+2 Pyrokinesis
+1 Red Elemental Blast
-1 Goblin Trashmaster
-1 Stingscourger
-1 Goblin Piledriver

This is the best of the Delver matchups, and is fairly straightforward. You bring in Kinesis and Red Blast postboard to clean up fast Delver starts and in the best scenarios, counter a True-Name Nemesis.

Young Pyromancer makes Piledriver a little unreliable, though he is still quite important for racing TNN. Squad gets Bolted without having much of an ability (the best target is often their fetchable lands if it cuts them off a color), and requires black mana.

Stingscourger gets much worse postboard as the opponent gets more Planeswalkers and cards like Bitterblossom. If the opponent has an abundance of 1 damage effects like Electrickery or Liliana, the Last Hope postboard, consider shaving Sharpshooter for another REB or leaving in the 3rd Piledriver. The best Stronghold targets are Matron, Gempalm, and Chainwhirler. However, don’t be tempted to fetch Badlands unless you already have a very stable mana situation, you want every basic you can get your hands on here. Fairly typical of non-blue fair deck vs Delver.dec, they will only win when they have the “Delver” draw (t1 Delver, Daze/Waste/Bolt you into oblivion) or when they are able to cheese you out with Stifle/Wasteland.

UB Shadow: Favorable, Slightly Favorable postboard (Current Match Record: 5-2)

+1 Red Elemental Blast
+2 Relic of Progenitus
-1 Mogg Fanatic
-1 Goblin Piledriver
-1 Goblin Sharpshooter

Red Elemental Blast for Delver and TNN is a nice option while occasionally hitting important cantrips, and the Relics perform a double roll of making Angler harder to cast while also neutering the Reanimates that UB Shadow loves to play. The inclusion of Trashmaster or Sharpshooter might seem odd to players, but remember that the Shadow deck has very few actual removal spells, but your creatures die as blockers all the time, so Sharpshooter gets lots of free untaps, and Trashmaster helps you get through one of your biggest foes, Liliana (while dodging the -1/-1 effects like Marsh Casualties). Cut Sharpshooter if you know their list is playing more than one of Deluge/Casualties; use your sideboard to beat theirs, not walk into it. Stronghold has a niche place here, and can definitely dominate a game if left unanswered, especially if you’ve resolved a Vial already. Recurring any token generator is pretty fantastic vs Shadow and Angler, and it can help you recover from a Thoughtseize/Hymn heavy draw, which is usually what they want against Goblins and their only real way to beat you.

RUG Delver: Slightly Favorable (Current Match Record: 7-3)

+2 Red Elemental Blast
+2 Relic of Progenitus
-1 Mogg Fanatic
-1 Goblin Piledriver
-1 Goblin Sharpshooter
-1 Goblin Trashmaster

Some people bring in Pyrokinesis in this matchup, but I think most of the time I’d prefer to just have more creatures to throw in the way of Goyf, and Kinesis feels pretty terrible vs a board of Goyf and TNN. Cratermaker has done a lot to reduce to chances of getting Delver’d out. Block, block, block, and block some more. Stronghold has come up a few times for me here, since RUG wastelands extremely aggressively, making a top decked Stronghold have a decent shot of sticking around. If Nimble Mongeese are ruining your day, Chainwhirler will hold them off as long as you’d like. Watch out for Rough//Tumble, it hurts a lot.

UR Delver: Slightly Favorable (Current Match Record: 4-2)

+2 Pyrokinesis
+2 Red Elemental Blast
-1 Goblin Trashmaster
-1 Goblin Sharpshooter
-1 Mogg Fanatic (unless you see Young Pyromancer)
-1 Stingscourger (unless you see Nivmagus Elemental)

This matchup is like Burn, but way better since they are more creature focused. The more recent tech of Nivmagus is pretty good for us, since the pro-blue on Piledriver is now exceptionally relevant, turning the Elemental into a very sad “no attacks, no blocks” creature. The matchup sideboarding does vary based on the “type” of UR Delver they are, so I wouldn’t call it a definite sideboard layout for this one. I haven’t gotten to use Stronghold here yet, but I would imagine Gempalm is your best option most of the time if you have the time to use it.

Omni-Sneak: Unfavorable, Slightly Unfavorable Postboard (Current Match Record: 3-6)

+3 Cabal Therapy
+2 Surgical Extraction
+2 Red Elemental Blast
+1 Pithing Needle
+1 Earwig Squad
+1 Thorn of Amethyst
-3 Goblin Ringleader
-3 Gempalm Incinerator
-1 Mogg Fanatic
-1 Goblin Sharpshooter
-1 Mogg War Marshal
-1 Volrath’s Stronghold

Pretty rough game 1, though Cratermaker did give us a lot of points here. Postboard you have plenty of tools to have a decent shot. Therapy pulls a lot of weight, and will do a lot of work of stripping either combo pieces, or their protection for it. Pyroclasm / Kozilek’s Return are both terrifying, and are the reason you leave in Goblin Chainwhirler and also bring in the Trashmaster. The first strike on Whirler can also make getting the final few points past a Griselbrand possible at times. I hate to cut War Marshal here because of Therapy, but I can’t find another cut besides the 4th Ringleader, which I prefer to keep because dropping it to find more Cratermakers can be very relevant. Stronghold is pretty dead here, but similary to the Reanimator matchup, don’t underestimate a Vampiric Tutor for a Stingscourger, or Cratermaker.

Eldrazi Stompy: Favorable (Current Match Record: 11-2)

+1 Pithing Needle
+1 Earwig Squad
-1 Mogg Fanatic
-1 Goblin Lackey (on draw, -1 Goblin Piledriver on the play)

Very light boarding here for a great matchup. Needle covers a lot of bases; Ballista, Jitte, Eye of Ugin, Ratchet Bomb, and Endbringer are all names that will come up. Trashmaster lives up to his name here as he mercilessly dumpsters most of their deck, especially if they’re reliant on mana rocks. Stronghold on Cratermaker rocks their world unless they can find something like Ulamog. Vindicate every turn is pretty strong, though do be aware that sometimes it won’t be enough. One of the tougher parts of using Stronghold is realizing when you can use it, but shouldn’t because you need something better.

“Medium” Depths: Horrendous (Current Match Record: 3-6)

+3 Cabal Therapy
+2 Surgical Extraction
+1 Earwig Squad
+1 Pithing Needle
-4 Goblin Ringleader
-1 Goblin Piledriver
-1 Goblin Sharpshooter
-1 Volrath’s Stronghold

This is our worst matchup in the format for my money. They have a fast combo kill we can’t interact with very well, a grind plan with Hymns, Bobs, and Loams, and just enough disruption via Abrupt Decay that we can’t rely on Vial as much as we’d like. The sideboarding here is a little dubious, I’m particularly loathe to cut  Piledriver, but I can’t find what else to cut; while Squad is very potent, it does force you to tap 3 mana, which often means you’re not holding up wasteland, so watch out with that one. I’d rather Lackey out a Squad more than cast it for the effect most of the time. Piledriver seems strange to cut in a combo matchup, but the fact that it is bricked by a Vampire Hexmage makes Piledriver extremely awkward. Remember that this deck can get even more grindy postboard with Tireless Trackers and Lilianas, so watch out for losing the fair fight. Stronghold is not great here either, but it does help with late game consistency when things grind out a bit. Sometimes this matchup ends up with both players topdecking, at which point Stronghold is exactly what you want. Do note that if you never pay the echo on Stingscourger, you can get him back the turn after you play him, which let me beat double Marit Lage in a single game, which is probably a record for Goblins.

Lands: Even (Current Match Record: 3-3)

+1 Pithing Needle
+1 Earwig Squad
+2 Relic of Progenitus
+2 Surgical Extraction
+1 Tormod’s Crypt
-3 Goblin Ringleader
-2 Gempalm Incinerator
-1 Mogg Fanatic
-1 Goblin Chainwhirler

Pretty intuitive sideboarding here I think. Get aggressive, and shut off Loam whenever possible. Their scariest draws are when they play like the other Depths decks, so try to hold up Wasteland if you can afford to. Matron for Prospector is the best play against Tabernacle, so remember to keep that in your back pocket. Again, watch out for Tireless Tracker, so leave a Gempalm handy. Trashmaster breaks this matchup wide open by turning off Punishing Fire (mostly), immediately tagging Mox Diamonds, and letting a relatively small number of creatures kill them in 1-3 turns. Sharpshooter seems strange to leave in, but it will get a lot of free untaps if something Tabernacle is online. It also gives you an extra source of instant speed damage, making it possible to beat some of the Glacial Chasm locks. Stronghold here is mostly just to bait wastelands, I haven’t once got to activate it. The most likely use is just to fix a vial curve, or retrieve a Prospector to save me from a Tabernacle. This is a very experience-based matchup, and usually the player who understands the matchup best and makes the fewest small errors will win.

Final Thoughts

Goblins is a deck that rewards you for trying new things. Even if your experiment is ultimately not brought into the mainstream, it still teaches you about the deck. I had a 6-7 month long stint with Smuggler’s Copter in 2016, and though I am no longer playing it, I am glad I have the information and play experience it gave me. It is entirely possible that Volrath’s Stronghold is like Copter, in that it won’t break into the mainstream of Goblins, or be considered by the majority of pilots because of its relatively high deckbuilding cost.

However, at the current moment in the Legacy meta, I could not be happier my inclusion of this land. As Legacy has evolved into becoming more proactive and disruptive, Goblins has suffered, particularly at the hands of decks that pack a ton of hand disruption while also holding down the board with either big creatures or lots of removal. Goblins’ card advantage is tied up in a few expensive spells that you need to resolve multiples of, and so can get the wind taken out of its sails by a single critical Thoughtseize or Hymn. It also suffers from a terminal case of “not playing Brainstorm” syndrome, the harsh cost of playing a non-blue deck in Legacy.

Goblins’ topdecks can be truly atrocious at times, as is the case with any synergy-driven deck. Stronghold mitigates both of these factors by giving you a way to cast your card advantage after it has been taken away from you, while also giving you some amount of control over your draw step, something I think all Goblins pilots wish for. I’m hardly the most experienced Goblins pilot around, but I could not be more excited to have found a tool for the archetype that is paying dividends. Due to my publicizing of this version on Reddit and my stream, I’ve had multiple people from all over the world message me saying “Hey, I tried out your list at event X and did very well! Here are some thoughts.” And nothing I’ve experienced in Magic is anything like that. The Goblins (and Legacy) community really gets people to work collaboratively, which I think is just incredible. If this Primer entices you to try out my list or something like it, please send me a message on Twitch (goblinlackey1) or Reddit (1GoblinLackey) and I would be overjoyed to talk tech with you.

Finally, I’d like to thank Steven Stamopoulos for asking me to write this for The Salt Mine, Jon Lenz for formatting and editing it, and Marcelo Scatena for his input in the draft stage. Thank you all for reading my first-ever primer, and I hope I catch you on my stream sometime at twitch.tv/goblinlackey1 or on my youtube channel below.

Eli Goings.

One thought on “Volrath’s Goblins – A Primer, by Eli Goings”

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