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Going for Goblins in Pauper

By the time you read this, I should have finished my first week of play in the Pauper Premier League. I agonized over my decision about what to play and eventually settled on an old friend: Goblins.

Alex Ullman’s Goblins

17 Mountain
4 Mogg Conscripts
3 Mogg Raider
3 Sparksmith
3 Goblin Sledder
4 Goblin Cohort
4 Mogg War Marshal
4 Goblin Bushwhacker
4 Foundry Street Denizen
2 Goblin Arsonist
1 Goblin Heelcutter
2 Goblin Instigator
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Goblin Grenade
1 Fireblast

Sideboard
3 Gorilla Shaman
2 Death Spark
2 Flame Slash
1 Goblin Heelcutter
3 Electrickery
3 Pyroblast
1 Sparksmith

Goblins has barely made a blip in recent years. After Goblin Bushwhacker was printed, Goblins experienced a brief stint as the best deck in the metagame. Since then it has been overshadowed by other aggressive strategies and kept down by the prevalence of Prismatic Strands and Moment’s Peace. The recent unification of digital and tabletop rarities has given the archetype a new weapon in the form of Goblin Grenade. Grenade gives the deck a level of reach it lacked in the past; the game is so much easier when your opponent starts on 15 life.

Goblins was not my first choice. It wasn’t my second choice. The deck was barely on my radar for the event. I started out by wanting to play a base-black control deck. I had been enjoying various Dimir Guildmage builds, aided by Arcum’s Astrolabe. Astrolabe gave the deck the ability to splash cards like Guildmage and Strangling Soot, but most importantly it let me run Weather the Storm. Mono-Black Control and its derivatives are at a decided disadvantage against decks packing Lightning Bolt and Galvanic Blast. Gray Merchant of Asphodel is not fast enough and barely gains enough life to matter. Weather the Storm provided a buffer that Gary never could.

After some testing, I decided to move off Gray Merchant entirely and made some changes to the main deck. In a world where I was likely to face at least one deck that would use Arcum’s Astrolabe or Prophetic Prism with Glint Hawk and Kor Skyfisher, I figured that Liliana’s Specter was a better at disrupting gameplans than Chittering Rats. This is where I left off:

Alex Ullman’s Mostly Black Snow

1 Golgari Rot Farm
1 Dimir Aqueduct
2 Barren Moor
1 Bojuka Bog
17 Snow-Covered Swamp
3 Dimir Guildmage
4 Phyrexian Rager
1 Crypt Rats
1 Okiba-Gang Shinobi
4 Liliana's Specter
1 Twisted Abomination
3 Chainer's Edict
3 Sign in Blood
1 Unearth
3 Phyrexian Defiler
1 Pulse of Murasa
1 Strangling Soot
1 Ob Nixilis's Cruelty
1 Victim of Night
1 Echoing Decay
2 Weather the Storm
4 Arcum's Astrolabe
1 Font of Return
2 Pestilence

Sideboard
1 Chainer's Edict
3 Cuombajj Witches
1 Okiba-Gang Shinobi
2 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Thorn of the Black Rose
1 Phyrexian Defiler
1 Echoing Decay
1 Complete Disregard
1 Weather the Storm
1 Sylvok Replica
1 Ashes to Ashes
1 Custodi Squire

I did not have much success in testing with this deck. It could not keep up with the removal and card flow of the various Astrolabe-based midrange decks. While the games I won were decisive victories, the close games felt like they were always slipping away. That’s not where I wanted to be. The addition of Weather the Storm and Pulse of Murasa did not do enough to keep me alive and my creatures were rather pathetic in the face of Kor Skyfisher.

If I were going to try this deck again, I think I would have to abandon the Arcum’s Astrolabe. Without a way to recur it, it is not worth a card slot. I do think that Dimir Guildmage is a powerful card and would likely use a mana base that could activate the card draw without the help of filtering.

I went back to the drawing board. Knowing my opponents for the first week was something I perceived as an advantage. I put Andreas Petersen on either Elves or Boros and Michael Bonde on either Boros or Orzhov Pestilence, while I had Evan as a wild card. With that in mind, I went to my friends for ideas and we came up with Green-Red Tron. Tron can go over the top of Boros and other midrange decks and also can cast Swirling Sandstorm, which can put a damper on decks like Elves (in game one, at least). After a few iterations, this is where I ended up:

Alex Ullman’s Green-Red Tron

4 Urza's Mine
4 Urza's Power Plant
4 Urza's Tower
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Cave of Temptation
3 Desert Twister
3 Forest (347)
2 Ulamog's Crusher
4 Wretched Gryff
2 Wrecking Beast
3 Fangren Marauder
1 Sylvok Replica
4 Ancient Stirrings
1 Rolling Thunder
1 Swirling Sandstorm
1 Pulse of Murasa
4 Crop Rotation
4 Chromatic Sphere
4 Chromatic Star
4 Expedition Map
4 Prophetic Prism
1 Relic of Progenitus

Sideboard
2 Tormod's Crypt
2 Moment's Peace
1 Claws of Wirewood
1 Swirling Sandstorm
2 Wildfire Emissary
2 Smoldering Crater
1 Fangren Marauder
1 Weather the Storm
1 Shattering Pulse
1 Disturbed Burial
1 Accomplished Automaton

My testing was a mixed bag. Wrecking Beast was a house and overperformed, although that may have been the surprise factor of a 6/6 hasty trampler. I lost a match because I forgot Cave of Temptation could only be activated as a sorcery. I then had matchups where nothing I did mattered and after my Elves opponent had Wrap in Vigor for Swirling Sandstorm, I decided against running the deck since I figured I had a decently good chance of facing Elves in the event.

I went back to the well. I wanted to play a deck where I could apply pressure early and close out games. I had ruled out Stompy early because I felt that the green aggro deck matched up poorly against both white midrange decks. I did not want to run Hexproof because I felt the deck would make for boring viewing.

And to be perfectly honest, I wanted to do something different. I see the Pauper Premier League as the format’s next step towards a larger audience. While there some merit in running a top-flight strategy to showcase what Pauper is about, I wanted to highlight something off-beat that gave me a chance to be in every game. I started looking at the cards that had just entered the format and I was drawn to Goblin Grenade. After all, I did say that having your opponents start on 15 life is attractive. I went into my deck folder and made some tweaks to an existing Goblin list and added three copies of Goblin Grenade. I promptly went 4-1 in a league.

I made some changes and ended up with a main deck identical to the one I submitted to play on July 11th. Another 4-1 finish. I was sold. I was going to be chucking Goblins at people.

Tips and Tricks for Goblins in Pauper

So, what is Goblins? It’s an aggressive deck that has a minor Aristocrats theme. The deck wins due to its redundant early game. While the deck does run 8 two-power one-drops, the real best turn one play is Foundry Street Denizen. Denizen can easily attack for three on turn two and set up a powerful Goblin Bushwhacker turn. Setting up Bushwhacker is key as it softens the life total for Goblin Grenade. Denizen followed by War Marshal, then not paying the echo and following that up with any creature and a Bushwhacker can put your opponent at five life (or less) on turn three. That gives them very little time to find blockers and a way to stop an impending Grenade.

Where does the Aristocrats package come in? Goblin Sledder and Mogg Raider can make blocking a nightmare. The ability to play creatures precombat and have them translate into extra damage that turn makes it hard for your opponent to set up their defenses correctly. These cards also make it easy despite a board stall if you have at least one more creature than your adversary. The duo also does a great job defending your team against Electrickery and other one-toughness sweepers. Finally, they can help you set up sideboard Death Spark. Death Spark is a recurring source of damage that can help you grind out those last few points of damage while also keeping small creatures off the board.

The final reason to run the deck is Goblin Sparksmith. Sparksmith alone is great at picking off smaller threats, and when a friend comes to the party the entire texture of the game changes. The ability to deal with almost any threat is reason enough to give ol’ Sparky a try. Considering I was not expecting a ton of decks that would directly attack my life total, I figured taking a risk on the double-edged sword was worth it this time around.

But what about for league play? I think Goblins is a great choice there as well. The deck can Just Win with the right draw and currently has game against a wide swath of the field. Additionally, it can win before the current crop of Astrolabe decks have a chance to establish their board. If you’re looking to run roughshod over unsuspecting Paupers, then I cannot recommend this deck enough.

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