Goldrush Goblins: The Case for Skirk Prospector
Jens Herzog breaks down a Pioneer Goblins deck built around Skirk Prospector that nabbed three MTGO League trophies recently.
Twenty Years in the Making
Twenty years ago, Skirk Prospector, a 1/1 Goblin that allows you to sacrifice goblins for red mana, was printed at common in Onslaught. Later reprinted in Dominaria, Skirk Prospector is one of the oldest creatures in the Pioneer format (the 57th at time of writing). Twenty is old in goblin years, but in the brewer’s paradise that is Pioneer, the old prospector is back to strike it rich.
Elves has been a fringe Pioneer deck since the format began. Goblins, on the other hand, have not seen too much of the spotlight. While many great goblins exist in Pioneer, the decks that played them didn’t have a distinctly goblin gameplan.
Whenever a goblins deck had any success in Pioneer, they were Mono-Red and relied on Goblin Piledrivers, Goblin Rabblemasters, and Reckless Bushwhackers. In today’s fast-paced Pioneer metagame, goblins are not as efficient as traditional Mono-Red Aggro, have lower creature quality than Mono-White Humans, and can’t outgrind Angels. They couldn’t – that is – until Skirk Prospector had a better, distinctly goblin idea.
Skirk Prospector wants to sacrifice goblins for mana. To satisfy this plan, we need to fill the deck with cheap goblins. The deck also needs card advantage in order to spend that mana, and two newer goblins definitely deliver on that. Conspicuous Snoop allows goblins to be cast off the top of the library, often netting two or three extra goblins per turn alone. Rundvelt Hordemaster, conversely, is Pioneer’s most efficient goblin lord, and exiles the top of your library whenever a goblin dies, allowing you to cast goblins exiled this way. Together, they triple down on demanding a deck with as many cheap goblins as possible. What they ended up with is a lean aggro deck that can manage to combo off in goblin-tastic style.
Digging for Gold
The first thing you might notice is that this deck plays 38 goblins and four copies of Den of the Bugbear which is a lot of goblins. They are cheap: the average mana value is 1.61. In fact, from Skirk Prospector’s perspective, most of the goblins are mana-neutral. There are 20 one-drops, then Goblin Instigator is two goblins for two mana and Goblin Warchief discounts goblins by one generic mana. With Skirk Prospector, this makes the mana value per goblin closer to 1.19.
Why do we need such good mana value per goblin? Well, if you get enough card advantage, you can cast your entire deck. Separately, Conspicuous Snoop and Rundvelt Hordemaster give you some card advantage, but with Skirk Prospector, you can chain-cast goblins to dig through your entire library! Around 63% of the time, a goblin will be on top of your library for Conspicuous Snoop, but if you have Skirk Prospector and Rundvelt Hordemaster on the board, you can sacrifice a goblins to exile lands and goblins too expensive to cast to get them out of the way.
While casting all the goblins you own, Cacophony Scamps’ and Fireblade Chargers’ death triggers deal damage, you pump Foundry Street Denizens and add more goblins entering the battlefield for Hobgoblin Bandit Lord’s activated ability. You can also chain through your deck with two Rundvelt Hordemasters, but less efficiently because Conspicuous Snoop lets you cast goblins off the top of the library – effectively drawing a card – before a card is exiled from the top of your library. All of this just naturally fits inside a low-mana aggro deck, with must-answer threats and creatures that regularly two-for-one or trade up.
Skirk Prospector makes mana and generates death triggers, creating tons of value. Cacophony Scampand Fireblade Charger both act as removal and can trade up in combat. They have great synergy with Rundvelt Hordemaster, which increases their damage on death. Cacophony Scampis an all-star first-turn play against Mono-Green, or other decks that want to stick a one-power creature, because if they choose not to block, the Cacophony Scampcan sacrifice itself and kill the creature.
Foundry Street Denizen is usually the ideal first-turn play. It can deal a lot of damage and baits removal. Legion Loyalist is ideal when the board is fuller – not only as a hasty attacker – but because Legion Loyalist gives your creatures first strike, trample, and make them unblockable by tokens, which is especially deadly for cracking back against Esika’s Chariot, Parhelion II and UW Control
Play order should be switched around in favor of Fireblade Charger or Cacophony Scampif you have a Skirk Prospector and a two-drop ready, letting you spend three mana on turn two and remove a creature. Skirk Prospector is also a very good early play against decks that rely on Bonecrusher Giantor exile-based removal, because death triggers are often preferable.
Conspicuous Snoop and Rundvelt Hordemaster are invaluable, as discussed previously. One (or both) of them in a starting hand is a good indication that the hand is keepable. Double Rundvelt Hordemasters are good, but remember that a second Conspicuous Snoop is redundant, unless you expect a lot of removal.
Battle-Cry Goblin is very good for breaking through board stalls. They grant haste, create tokens, and pump your team to make opposing blocks difficult. However, the deck is very mana-hungry, so having more than a couple would make them less valuable. While they do generate more goblins, like Den of the Bugbear they also need to attack and can be removed easily.
Goblin Instigator is a little harder to understand. There isn’t much that’s special about it. Usually, that would make it prime material to cut (or sideboard out, which is often the case). However, Goblin Instigator is one of the most efficient cards in the deck: one card for two goblins. That sounds underwhelming, but you get two goblins for two mana, plus two enter-the-battlefield triggers, two death triggers, two instances of +1/+1 per lord, and two mana when sacrificed with Skirk Prospector. In fact, playing a Goblin Instigator late in the game (usually with a discount from Goblin Warchief for a net +1 mana) can easily give you the last bit of value to snatch the win.
Finally, at the top of the curve, we have three Goblin Warchiefs, which grant haste and make our goblins even cheaper and queue up a lethal attack out of nowhere. The two Hobgoblin Bandit Lords live up to their name, giving all your goblins +1/+1, and act as removal or even a win condition with their activated ability. They are expensive at three mana, but two of them are enough that you find one when you can’t win through combat.
It might seem like 22 is too many lands, but you cast so many goblins that you really need to hit every land drop to overwhelm your opponent. Conspicuous Snoop often increases your chances of drawing lands by casting goblins off the top of your library. In combination with Skirk Prospector and Rundvelt Hordemaster, you can set up your draws so that you end the turn with a land on top. Remember: you need to draw lands to play lands, and this deck wants a lot of mana.
The four Den of the Bugbears are incredibly strong, and when they are supported by goblin lords they are even stronger. Getting four mana to activate them is difficult, even if you can “borrow” them from a goblin with Skirk Prospector. Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx can regularly generate four to six mana on turn four if unopposed, so we play two of them. Likewise, a single Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance is useful as an uncounterable surprise against control or if you get flooded.
At this point, you might be wondering: all these goblins are red, so why is there green in the manabase? Well, two-color mana bases are very easy to build in Pioneer, especially for aggressive decks that don’t mind playing their shocklands untapped. Green is here to support red’s weaknesses in the sideboard.
The red staples – Abrade and Rending Volley – deal with artifacts or creatures at instant speed and are both needed to deal with Greasefang. Gruul Charm is amazing against Angels and Spirits. Unlicensed Hearse can hamper anything relying on the graveyard, like Neoform, Greasefang, and Rakdos decks. Goblin Piledriver, likewise, is the best card to bring in against blue threats including Atraxa, Grand Unifier
Finally – because red has no defense against enchantments – two copies of Cindervines, which does double duty against control and combo, and three Masked Vandals. Masked Vandals are great goblins and are especially good against Fable of the Mirror-Breaker or artifact and enchantment-based removal. The three Secluded Courtyards are a cheap include that let you cast the Masked Vandals with little to no downside. Incidentally, between Skirk Prospector and Cacophony Scampyou can always find a creature in your graveyard.
Green is a great color at dealing with enchantments, but white can be an equally good second color depending on the metagame. It has great enchantment removal and cards to stop combo like Deafening Silence and Hallowed Moonlight. If aggressive decks become a problem, you can cut the shocklands and second color in favor of Castle Emberethand Ramunap Ruins.
Striking it Rich
Recklessly digging through your library is very on-theme for goblins. You win with straightforward aggro or by getting enough goblins on board and playing your entire deck. Either option is tons of fun. All of the cards are efficient, with many interesting lines of play, which makes piloting this goblins deck easy to pick up and rewarding to master.
There is, however, a strong random element when playing goblins off the top of your library. Often after attacking, it is advantageous to blind-exile cards with Rundvelt Hordemaster. It seems counterintuitive to sacrifice creatures to add mana when you don’t know if you will have anything to cast, but the chance of hitting something is high and you are essentially drawing cards. Sacrificing a tapped creature to cast a new one, or to exile something to cast next turn helps keep up your momentum. Remember, you need to draw lands to play them, so while keeping a land on top of your library with Conspicuous Snoop seems strange, it will reward you—especially when that land is Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx.
With this depth of play, these goblins are incredibly fun. Apart from the Den of the Bugbear the core of the deck is still incredibly affordable and promises to have many alternate builds with plenty of room to brew. After a bit over two months grinding positive on MTGO, I am convinced that this deck can be competitive. It’s certainly not tier-one, but did get three league 5-0s! Above all, it is a goblins deck that it feels like and plays like goblins are supposed to: quick, reckless, dangerous, and fun!