Boom Goes the Goblin

December 31, 2014

This entry is part 7 of 10 in the series Strategy

By Bryan F.

I wanted to discuss a topic very near and dear to my heart: how to build a tribal theme deck that interacts with your commander.

The more popular tribes are Goblins, Elves, Humans, Zombies, and lets not forget Slivers.  I’ve built several tribal decks (Goblins, Zombies, and Demons to name a few) and I enjoy the synergy they have together. It gives you a solid core to start with.  You select a single legendary version of whatever tribe you want to build, and begin.  This article will hopefully help you obtain several pieces you should be looking to incorporate into your tribal decks, including commander synergy with your horde, staples (usually artifacts), and finishers.


Goblins, Elves, and Zombies oh my!!

Goblins, Elves, and Zombies oh my!!


Selecting your Commander is typically the first step.  I’m going to use Grenzo, Dungeon Warden as my commander for my Goblin deck.  I picked him because I don’t have to rely on mono-red, such as Ib HalfHeart, Goblin Tactician or the most popular option: Krenko, Mob Boss.

If you are looking for another offbeat option for a tribal commander you might try Rakdos, Lord of Riots for a Demons deck.  While Rakdos is similar to Grenzo, he doesn’t necessarily provide your tribe an immediate benefit, as Demons usually cost a lot of mana.  After Rakdos crushes face, however, you are able to put several different demons into play for only a couple mana.  Demons by themselves don’t grant other Demons +1/+1, they are greedy like that, and the fact they are death machines on their own makes +1/+1 usually irrelevant, but for those little goblins or 2/2 Zombies you are going to want to “pump them up” (like Hans and Franz would say).

You usually want to pump all your creatures up, or grant them additional abilities they can share, and this is where the staples come in.  I like to try and be clever, so I’m going to say besides standard lords, “Artifact Lords” can help with this.  The Lords of the decks are the cards that give your specific creatures an ability.

If you are building a slivers deck, you could simply select any sliver and its a lord, but that’s too easy.  For our example Goblin deck, I have Goblin Chieftain, Goblin King, and Mad Auntie.  These all give +1/+1 to the Goblins as well as an additional bonus such as Haste and Mountainwalk.  The “Artifact Lords” are cards like Adaptive Automaton, Door of Destinies, and Coat of Arms, although I’m not a huge fan of giving my opponents bonuses from Coat of Arms, you could run Obelisk of Urd (an honorable mention goes to Konda’s Banner).

Sometimes when the mere size of your creatures isn’t enough to win, you really need something to finish off the game.  If this were Mortal Kombat you might hear “Finish him!”


Finish Him!


Finishers, are an important piece to think about when finalizing your deck.  Perhaps it’s a  combo piece, a large creature, or has some evasion to push that last little bit of damage through.  Zombie decks usually have a Gravecrawler, which coupled with Rooftop Storm and a sac outlet (say Ashnod’s Altar) nets you infinite mana baby!!!  Dump that mana into Exsanguinate for the win.

This leads to the large creature option. I put a cute little creature in my deck that takes advantage of hopefully having many Goblin tokens: Voracious Dragon. This allows me to eat some of the tokens to send a giant beatstick at someone’s face.

If those options haven’t tickled your fancy, how about sneaking past the front lines with some evasion.  I was playing a game in my playgroup once and I couldn’t get my goblin’s through the horde of tokens my opponent had, so some research led me to Cover of Darkness, which also goes great when you are going tribal as it demands you name a creature type.


Synergy with your commander is an important part of any deck.  For example, I like to get Grenzo’s engine going with some other Scry synergies in my deck, like Crystal Ball to stack the bottom of my library.  These tools allow me to manipulate the deck as best as I can with Red/Black, and make sure there is always something on the bottom for Grenzo’s ability, so I don’t whiff. Reito Lantern, and Tel-Jilad Stylus also help keep the creatures on the bottom.  Mindmoil and Teferi’s Puzzle Box can help mid-game, but are not the best options in the late game.

To no one’s surprise, I’m sure, I’ve added Mana Echoes in the deck as well.  It allows Grenzo’s ability to shine and fills your battlefield up with blood thirsty Goblins.  The more goblins you pull with Grenzo’s ability, the more mana you get to keep doing it.

On the other hand, If you take a Zombie commander like Grimgrin, Corpse-Born, you’ll want some tokens to sac to get him online, or simply some untap abilities.  Fatestitcher and Thousand-Year Elixir can help to untap him, but isn’t it just fun to sac stuff?

I recommend some zombie token creators like Necromancer’s Stockpile or Waste Not for some early zombies.  Tokens + Grimgrin’s sac ability + Grave Pact and Dictate of Erebos means your opponents don’t get to keep their creatures.  In this respect you can shift your zombie deck into more of a control deck.

Goblins, Zombies, Demons oh my!!!  The options for tribal decks are only limited by your imagination, because don’t forget Conspiracy is a card!

If you like this article, I can follow up with other Tribal deck ideas, or ruin my tribal theme by putting Sygg, River Cutthroat at the lead of my UB Zombie deck.  Trust me it works great, and, for the record, he should totally be a Merfolk Zombie.


I should be a Zombie!


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2 Responses to “Boom Goes the Goblin”

  1. Jeremy Parsons said

    There’s also a line between playing to your Commander and playing him Tribal. I have an active Reaper King deck. But the number of strong enough Scarecrows is limited. Leading to a lot of ways to find and reuse the handful I do use. Or masquerading all of my creatures as scarecrows.
    I had problems concepting a Sliver deck previously before the M14 slivers helped up the redundancy counts to much more playable levels.

  2. Dan Theteacher said

    Nice write up, man. I think you nailed much of theory crafting for tribal decks right on the head. I think one of the problems with tribal decks is the inherent lack of synergy between individual creature A and individual creature M. This is why some tribes like Elves, Goblins, and Zombies which have a greater degree of that synergy are naturally stronger than others like Angels, Dragons, or Demons. Slivers are an example of this synergy taken to the extreme, which is why they’re so good (although it doesn’t hurt that a sliver deck more or less pilots itself and requires very little in the way of creativity).

    Which leads to the double edged sword that is a “tribal” deck. Although the synergy of a tribal deck can be remarkably powerful, there’s a trade off; that synergy comes from many bodies or really powerful bodies—which, in either case, is more vulnerable to board wipes, and takes more time to assemble the power/combo/control pieces. (Elves might be an exception to this rule) So there’s an aspect one needs to consider when building a tribal deck: just how many critters does the deck need? And how does the deck support itself? These questions are that second edge.

    With something like Grenzo, the more is certainly the merrier, because all you really need is colorless mana and crucible of worlds to get your lands back. Sure, there’s more nuance than that, but by in large, creatures are the source of gas. But with something like Gisela and angels much more consideration must be given to utility. A Boros deck, particularly one with a high mana curve, for example, is going to need to fix and accelerate mana to pay those higher CMCs. Artifacts will be necessary to supplement card draw, and deck thinning is going to be very important. So naturally,there’s less room for to just pack in Angels–its just a space issue. Which is okay, because 1 for 1 an angel packs a much stronger wollop than an elf or goblin. After all, Angel/Demon/Leviathan/Dragon decks just aren’t going to flood the field with creatures in a single turn (yes I’m aware that cards like Entreat the Angels can do this–but that’s 1 in 99) the way that Grenzo or Krenko or Elfball might do.

    Of course, there’s all sorts of exceptions to these broad generalities. Zombies, for example, can come as big as a 10/10. But we’re just talking about general tribal theory crafting, it’s up to the individual deck builder to determine what he/she wants to do with their deck.

    Let’s talk about the Rakdos caveat. Rakdos is a boss in terms of tribal, particularly since you have access to black–which has the best recursion, the second best draw and removal, remarkably powerful demons, and has some of the most overwhelmingly powerful cards in the format. Pair it with red, which provides all the cheap chip burn you could ever want. I’ve seen Rakdos decks that drop eldrazi on turn 4. Rakdos, to me–correct me if I’m wrong–seems to be about 3 things and 3 things only: Creatures to beat face, Mana rocks for acceleration, and card draw for more creatures to beat face with. So with him, he’s one of the few commanders (Horde of Notions and Animar aside) capable of throwing out massive creatures 4 or 5 at a time.

    All that being said, I really found what you wrote informative. You have a casual voice that is easy and entertaining to read, and your knowledge of the card pool is much deeper than you give yourself credit for; I think you should write some more.

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