Reprints are usually less exciting than new cards, but every now and then a reprint comes along that has seen a lot of play in the past and that hasn’t been legal for a very long time, and then it creates an uproar. A lot of the time, the excitement is short-lived—times change, and cards tend to be better now, so something that was great 10 years ago is not necessarily good or even playable the second time around. I do not believe this to be the case with Goblin Piledriver—it’s every bit as powerful now as it was when it was released 13 years ago.
Why is Goblin Piledriver good? Well, it basically hits for a ton of damage, and that’s it. In red decks, that’s a very important quality. It’s a 2-drop that will usually attack for 3 the very next turn, sometimes for 5, and that regularly attacks for 5, 7, or even 9 by turn four. On top of that, it has protection from blue, which right now isn’t that good (it can’t be blocked by Ojutai and fringe cards like Sidisi and Mantis Rider), but it could be the card’s best feature if mono-blue makes a comeback. In fact, it’s almost depressing that it seems like they almost printed enough cards to make blue devotion a good deck again while at the same time printing a card it can never hope to beat.
A 2-drop attacking for 3 on turn two is not that common for red, and attacking for 5 on turn three is almost unheard of in any color. Piledriver gives you that kind of power and all it asks of you is that you play more Goblins, preferably cheap ones. It also scales very well with haste, which is a feature of a lot of Goblins, and with cheap removal spells—which red has in spades.
Do I think it’s worth playing a bunch of bad Goblins because of Goblin Piledriver? No, not really. Fortunately for red mages out there, we live in a format where Goblins are already almost good enough—there’s even a Goblins deck out there in Standard right now.
Here are the Goblins I’d be interested in playing in Standard:
If you want some more Goblins, then you can play Jeering Instigator and Mardu Scout, but I’d prefer not to resort to that. I don’t think you have to play the other guys, because the above collection is very powerful and works exceedingly well with Piledriver. Goblin Heelcutter, in particular, is awesome because it adds 2 hasty damage and stops them from blocking it. You don’t need a lot to have a turn-4 kill involving Piledriver:
Turn 1: Foundry Street Denizen
Turn 2: Goblin Piledriver, attack for 2.
Turn 3: Goblin Rabblemaster. Attack for 1 + 3 + 5 = 9, they’re at 9.
Turn 4: Attack for roughly incalculable amounts of damage (or, rather, 1 + 1 + 2 + 9 + 6 = 19). They’re at -10.
That’s a three-card combo that deals THIRTY damage by turn 4. If they play a turn-4 blocker, they still die. You can have a turn-1 Frenzied Goblin instead, and they still die.
An even better permutation is:
That’s 22 damage through one blocker by turn 4, with again only three cards. Or you can lead with Frenzied Goblin, and now you stop not one but two blockers by turn 4—while dealing 19 damage.
I think there are two ways to build Goblins in Standard: one focused on the Goblins synergies with Obelisk of Urd, and another just a mono-red deck that happens to have Goblins. I’m also partial to Atarka’s Command, so I’ll have that in my mono-red list, but I don’t think you necessarily have to play it if you don’t like it—I just don’t like giving up this much power. This is how I’d go about building Goblins:
With this many Heelcutters and Frenzied Goblins, I think I value the fact that Wild Slash is cheap over 3 damage—you should be fine already against big blockers, and you have more mana-sinks. I also don’t think Goblin Glory Chaser is an exceptional card, but I want to maximize the number of one-mana Goblin and I don’t think you have enough spare mana to use four Frenzied Goblins (plus it could turn out to be quite good if you play him on turn 1).
This list has less powerful Goblin Piledrivers, but they should still attack for a decent amount of damage most of the time. I like Heelcutter and Rabblemaster more than Outburst, because they both have haste and let you attack for more with a turn-2 Piledriver, but in the end it depends on how the format evolves (a lot of instant-speed spot removal means you want Outburst instead). This deck seems less exciting to me than the Goblins build, however.
Modern is a different animal, because we can’t just jam Piledriver in an existing Goblin deck—there is no Goblin deck. Goblins doesn’t have disruption and it isn’t fast enough to fight the other combo decks in the format, so it’s not a player. Goblin Piledriver doesn’t give you disruption, but it does give you speed, and many hands with a Goblin Piledriver that goes unchecked should be able to kill on turn 4. Modern is also a format where protection from blue is more relevant, since it helps against Snapcaster and Exarch/Pestermite. Let’s look at the list of good Goblins:
This is, honestly, not a very exciting list. You could go full-blown “Legacy Goblins” with cards like Siege-Gang and Aether Vial, but I don’t think this is the right approach—you’re lacking the cards that made the archetype playable: Goblin Lackey, Wasteland, Goblin Warchief, and Goblin Ringleader, and I never liked the deck much to begin with. You have Instigator as a Lackey proxy, but it’s worse, and the other three cards seem essential to me, because without them you’re just a creature deck except your creatures cost more than anyone else’s and do less. Also, this type of deck doesn’t necessarily need Goblin Piledriver, and I think if it was remotely playable it would have been created already, because it’s the kind of deck that people love.
If you want to play Goblins, I think the best approach is likely an aggro deck—basically Zoo, but with Goblins instead of Nacatls. It seems to me that this deck would just be a lesser version of Burn. Burn also goldfishes roughly turn 4, yet it’s way less vulnerable to creature removal, and it’s especially less vulnerable to cards like Pyroclasm and Anger of the Gods, which are played in the format.
In the end, I think Goblin Piledriver is definitely good enough for Standard. Dedicated Goblins is likely to be the best build, but you can also play Piledriver in just a mono-red aggro deck. If you play him, you should play Heelcutter.
I don’t think Piledriver is good enough for Modern—or, rather, I don’t think Goblins as a strategy is good enough for Modern. If you choose to pursue it, then I think the best build is likely to be an aggro deck that has Goblins in it, rather than a deck fully dedicated to Goblin synergies that tries to approximate the Legacy list.