Onslaught Limited Review: Goblins

This is the seventh installment of my series evaluating the cards of Onslaught for the purposes of Limited play. You can find the sixth installment here.


As far as tribes go, the goblins are one of the weaker ones in Onslaught. Sure, their numbers include Sparksmith, the best common in the set, but Sparky is great even if he’s the only tribesman in your deck. Yes, his little buddies can make him better, but they aren’t too good themselves.

Weak creatures, strong spells.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t advantages to this tribe. Goblins come with mountains by default and that means you get all those nice red spells that dominate Onslaught Block Limited. After the ‘Smith, you have Shock and Solar Blast, both of which are among the top five commons in the set and red also happens to have far more bombs than the rest of the colors. Weak creatures, strong spells. That’s the balance.

Red’s greatest strength is likely its ability to mesh with any of the other four colors. Usually, a color will have its strong and weak pairings, but with the mountain, you’ll find advocates for each of the other four basic lands as its strongest pairing. The weakness is that everyone wants red as a result. That means that sometimes, despite its strength and depth, there often isn’t enough to go around.

The Cards

Rorix Bladewing
Rorix Bladewing
Rorix is unbelievable. Triple red not withstanding, you give him -2/-1 and it’d still be a virtually automatic first pick. My love for green at present has knocked this big toothy teddy bear down to 3rd on my depth chart for cards I’d most like to open (Visara’s #1 and Silvos is now #2), but I don’t see many problems concerning having to choose between the two of them arising.

Goblin Sharpshooter
I’ve seen a lot of mispicks concerning this card coming from players who don’t understand its power, one of which cost me dearly in Chicago, but I’m not bitter, just confused with regards to why people don’t see the power here. The comparison to Sparky is a fair and close one, with both getting better, but the Shooter here gets the nod by a narrow margin.

As ridiculous as Sparksmith was before Legions, it’s clearly better now. There’s less creature kill available to take it out, more creatures to kill and far more quality, playable goblins in Legions than you’d ever have found in that third pack of Onslaught. Better than most of the bombs that follow because it wins the game eight turns sooner.

Menacing Ogre
I love the Ogre and it’s hard to put it behind Sparky, but Legions weakened it to the point where I have to. The Ogre is either a ridiculously cheap 5/5 trample haste creature or a bigger, cheaper, hastened Goretusk Firebeast. Just a brutally powerful card.

Butcher Orgg
Butcher Orgg
The Orgg gets a tiny bit better in one sense: Crown of Fury is far more playable now because of provoke creatures. That said, it’s far less likely that the big guy will survive past its first attack because of the sheer number of creatures your opponent will be playing, but really, who cares: if it hits, you’re almost definitely winning anyways.

Like the Orgg, Insurrection’s purpose is simple: win the game. Of course, with such lucrative dividends, there’s a price to pay, namely a ridiculously high casting cost. Ridiculous is not to say unwarranted though, just understand that if you’re going to play a card with a casting cost of eight, understand that it’ll take you a while to get there.

Dragon Roost
Likewise. The Roost kills all by its lonesome once it comes online, but getting there is an issue and its dominance is indeed slower than Insurrection’s. That said, the ability of put a 5/5 flyer into play every turn is not only powerful, but really, really cool. That may not make much of a difference in the win column, but you should probably take it a little higher if you’re big on the style points.

The exact opposite of the big bombs, Shock’s strength comes from its power:cost ratio rather than its end result. Simply, Shock will trade for a creature that costs three times as much or more, allowing you to cast other spells in the same turn while doing so. A tremendous tempo card, Shock will even get you a little card advantage on occasion when your opponent seeks to enchant their creatures.

Solar Blast
I’ve heard of people choosing Blast over Shock and I’m here to tell you that’s a blatantly wrong pick. While they sit next to one another here, the two aren’t that close in strength, even if the cycling ability can more regularly provide card advantage. Trust me, it’s not worth the three extra mana.

Words of War
Words of War
One trick a lot of people don’t know with regards to WoW is that as a replacement effect, if the intended target is protected in some way during upkeep, you can activate it a second time, replacing the replacement effect so that your efforts will kill another creature or at least deal two damage to your opponent where the two to the protected creature in question will do nothing. Knowing that makes this card quite a bit better.

Gratuitous Violence
A tremendously powerful card, the big problem with Violence is the hard to pay casting cost, whose improbability on turn five makes this feel like a more expensive card. Especially strong with recurring damage sources like Sparksmith or Goblin Sharpshooter.

Pinpoint Avalanche
This is a lot higher than it used to be, because while it was once a high-cost spell that usually traded one for one with a cheaper card, it’s now a potent member of a most exclusive club: effective instant-speed creature elimination. With so many more creatures and so much less elimination, this stuff is at a premium. That means that you sometimes have to forgive the drawback of a high casting cost for the more obvious dividends.

Skirk Commando
Skirk Commando
Filling a spot on this list hotly contested by the Firecat and Machinist that follow, Skirk Commando wins out because of the lack of reasons to block red morphs in Legions as well as the value of its particular utility: creature elimination. Don’t get me wrong, if I’m keeping the cards in a draft with little on the line, I’ll take the Firecat and the cash, but I’d say the Skirk is the better card by the narrowest of margins.

Blistering Firecat
That’s not to say the Cat isn’t very good. How else is red going to kill the blocking or blocked Needleshot Gourna or Krosan Tusker without taking heavy losses? The surprise value of rarity makes the Cat a card most won’t account for when determining blocks on morphs and that’s a big part of what makes it so dangerous. If nothing else though, it’ll often trade for another card and do 3-4 points. Pretty good deal.

Goblin Machinist
Given enough time, the Machinist will either take out two opposing creatures or, better yet, your opponent, but there are drawbacks. At first, you’re essentially paying five mana for a 0/5 wall, one whose expensive activation cost is not guaranteed to provide the results you’re looking for and that unpredictability can cost you. Best in a red-green deck.

Festering Goblin
Festering Goblin
I love Fester. His low cost usually results in the trading for a more expensive card, occasionally more than one. It inhibits opposing Sparksmiths, enhancing your own in the process; it’s a first-turn play that trades with a morph; it’s the ideal victim of the Nantuko Husk and target of Cruel Revival… that’s a whole lot of power for one measly mana.

Searing Flesh
This card wins games, allowing you to send your creatures on a mad rush in the hopes of lowering your opponent to seven instead of the usual zero. That said, it’s strictly one dimensional and expensive, so don’t go thinking you would be picking it over less explosive but more consistently castable spells.

Embermage Goblin
Does this goblin get better or worse? Creature kill is at a premium, so it’s better. But you lose a pack of Onslaught where you could have found the second one to search for, so it’s worse. In the end, it fits right about where it was because of these two factors, but don’t be afraid to move it up the list if it’s second pack and you still have nothing with which to kill a Wellwisher or Shepherd of Rot.

While I didn’t lose to Threaten as much as some pre-Legions, I’ve now joined the ranks of the converted. What’s the difference? One word: provoke. Take your Vorine, attack, provoking your morph, they both die. Seems pretty good, doesn’t it? Throw in the few ways in the format to sacrifice creatures and you have a card that will seldom just read ‘do a few extra points’.

Goblin Sledder
Big drop off here. The Sledder is always main deck-worthy and a solid little guy, throwing opposing math into a frenzy and helping Sparky do his dirty deed, but realistically, you can’t expect tide-turning effects from one casting cost spells. As far as those go, the little guy is pretty good, filling your mana curve while always performing capably. That’s more than enough for Red Mana.

Airdrop Condor
The Condor has to move up for a two reasons: more playable goblins, less available kill. That said, the casting cost of five on a 2/2 creature is still far from optimal and that means that this is the beginning of the second half of this list; cards you aren’t entirely happy playing.

Commando Raid
Commando Raid
I’ve never liked this card, but I have to admit it’ll make more decks of mine than not now. Because there are so few reasons to block a morph in this environment, the Raid becomes more effective now than it was. That said, I’m pretty convinced it isn’t as good as the Sledder: you need an unblocked creature, its ensured survival and three mana to make this work.

Crown of Fury
Aside from the fact that provoke creatures make great targets, the Crown improves markedly due to the more tribal nature of this environment than two months ago. That said, you’re still looking at the possibility of card disadvantage, never a favorite of mine. Really, its playability will depend mostly on the number of Commandos, Snapping Thraggs, Butcher Orggs and provoke creatures you have in the deck. The count should start at two.

Wave of Indifference
Yes, cards that clear the path for all your creatures to win the game are of some value, but the Wave does so little in any situation where it isn’t lethal that I’d rather just try to run my opponent over than risk drawing it in my opening hand.

Goblin Taskmaster
Goblin Taskmaster
In the late, late game, the Taskmaster can trade with a much larger creature, but until then, it won’t do much aside from performing as an off-color morph. Treat it that way, though it’s value increases a tad if you have a ‘Smith and no other goblins.

Flamestick Courier
I still don’t like the Couriers and haste is a pretty crappy ability to bestow when three of your mana is already forfeit, but on its on merits, it’s almost the equivalent of a morph before adding in the pump ability on defense and once in a while, it’ll make a ‘Smith or Sharpshooter active a turn sooner than your opponent wants.

Spitfire Handler
Limited on defense, easy to kill, the Handler can usually trade for a morph if nothing else, but the constant cost of activation combined with the unusual inability to block in certain situations leaves this a card with something to be desired. Playable, but hardly optimal.

Fever Charm
A strong sideboard card against decks running islands or unusual numbers of nonblue wizards, I still don’t view the Charm as being of maindeck quality. Please guys, stop casting it turn two on your one casting cost creatures. I laugh so hard it hurts.

Goblin Piledriver
Goblin Piledriver
If your deck is heavy on the tribal side of things, the ‘Driver becomes more viable, but even then it’s only going to trade for a morph, no matter how large it gets. If you want it for your Constructed decks or trade binder, that’s fine. Just don’t pick it with the intention to win.

Reckless One
Again, tribal considerations can make Reckless One more viable, but mostly it’s only going to serve as a potential sideboard card for the red mirror. If you and your opponent have a lot of goblins, this thing can hit hard. Just to clarify, that’s a good thing.

Goblin Pyromancer
Another solid sideboard card for the mirror, the Pyromancer is seldom maindeckable, though Imagecrafter or a large number of goblins can change that. I once got taken out by a fourth turn kill in this format. Pyromancer was the culprit.

Lay Waste
Lay Waste
Excusing the lands of the mana screwed mage, there are still very few situations where you’ll want to cast Lay Waste instead of cycling it, but the fact it cycles gives it value in that you may need playables or open a Lightning Rift. If your deck is fast, the option of stunting opposing development by casting it is a viable one.

Nosy Goblin
Sad to say, the nose is the most impressive thing about this little guy. It costs too much, is far too vulnerable and is often traded for your opponent’s morph getting activated. That’s a bad deal. If you see an Exalted Angel and are playing first, it may be worth sideboarding in, but only if you have some cards that rank as questionable anyways.

Aggravated Assault
This is one of those cards that’s only really strong when you’re winning anyways: untap your Sparksmith? You have a Sparksmith! Untap your Skilled Wizard? You have a Skilled Wizard! Simple fact is the Assault’s first activation requires eight mana. It’s just too greedy a card to be effective.

Custody Battle
A solid sideboard option against ‘Smith, Timberwatch Elf and other early threats. Later on in the game, the Battle does very little unless your opponent has Invokers, which might otherwise influence the game in a big way. I’d suggest leaving it in the board unless you’re desperate.

Cabal Slaver
Cabal Slaver
Actually pretty playable in a red-black deck, it moves up the list when those colors are established. Until then though, it’s just a 2/1 for three that allows your opponent’s goblins to turn pretty lethal.

Goblin Burrows
You need a lot of legal targets in your deck to risk screwing your mana up. However, once you know you’re playing against a green deck with fatter creatures than you can otherwise handle, the Burrows can turn into a pretty solid weapon.

Goblin Sky Raider
Evasion creatures with a power of one are virtually pointless; the point of evasion is to outrace your opponent, but the race from twenty to zero takes far too long when you’re running it one very small step at a time. Pass it; maybe the next guy will make the mistake of putting it in their deck.

Skirk Fire Marshal
Skirk Fire Marshal
2/2 creatures in this format should cost three, not five. Yes, there are more playable goblins now, but not that many more and it seems a shame to kill them all just when you’ve gotten them on the table.

Skirk Prospector
It just doesn’t do anything. It can’t attack and it’s too small. Can’t block, also too small. Seldom useful to sacrifice, not enough mana. In the end, I’d rather have the 19th land; it gives me one mana every turn.

Risky Move
Isn’t that Rorix’s casting cost? I don’t think that for that kind of payment you should even have to think about losing something, especially a coin flip.

Mana Echoes
Awesome with Sliver Queen.

Brightstone Ritual
No spell is worth this kind of acceleration.

Break Open
Name me one situation you’ve been in over the last four months where you wanted to flip your opponent’s morph.

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