Portal Second Age: Goblin Fire Review (Part 2 of 2)
It’s our opening clash with the Portal Second Age decks, and while we’ve had a good look through we’re not quite sure what to exepct. How much fun can 40-card constructions filled with sorceries and a high proportion of plain, vanilla creatures be? As it turns out… plenty.
Jimi begins on the play, and leads with a Volunteer Militia, while I follow with a Goblin Firestarter. Next turn, the Militia comes in on the attack for first blood, after which Jimi deploys an Alaborn Grenadier– more bad news. I play a Goblin Glider and pass.
Now turn 3, Jimi swings with both bodies for 3, after which she adds an Alaborn Trooper. Back to me, I score my first hit with the sorry Glider, but then have a chance open up when I summon the Goblin General. Next turn, Jimi keeps the momentum going with a fat, five-point swing with her Soldiers, then backs them up with an Armored Griffin. I hold off on the offensive using my turn instead to blast Jimi for 3 with a Goblin War Strike, then killing the Griffin with a Volcanic Hammer. That at least opens the way for the Glider to peck for 1, and Jimi’s down to 15.
Jimi swings with the team again on turn 5, cutting me down to 6 before turning the screw with an Alaborn Trooper and Temple Acolyte to go back up to 18. I play a Goblin Piker, then Hammer the Trooper for 3 before swinging in again in the air with the Glider. Back to Jimi, the pressure is relentless as her weenies swarm across the red zone like a World War I trench rush. I trade my Piker for her Grenadier and go down to 2; Jimi simply replaces it with an Alaborn Cavalier. I attack for 1, then play the Goblin version and pass.
The mercy comes for me on turn 7, when I’m left at 1 life after an attack. Jimi adds a Wild Griffin for good measure, but it’s academic. I scoop on the next draw.
On the play for the rematch, I have another workable start with a Goblin Firestarter followed by a Goblin Raider. For Jimi’s part, she’s opened with a Volunteer Militia before deploying a second-turn Alaborn Grenadier after an opening attack. I Hammer the Cavalier the first chance I get, letting me add a Raging Goblin and swing with the side for 4. At last, some offense! Jimi returns fire with the Militia, then goes back up to 19 thanks to a Temple Acolyte.
Now turn 4, I bring out the Goblin Cavaliers, while Jimi plays a Wild Griffin. Back to me, I cast the Goblin Matron, letting me tutor up the Goblin General to hand. Jimi’s not sitting idly by, however, casting a Righteous Charge and turning her army sideways for 10 to leave me at 8. If I’m going down, though, it won’t be alone- I send in the troops for 8 of my own before summoning the Goblin General. Back to Jimi, she attacks in the air with the Griffin for 2, then plays another Acolyte for 3 more life. It’s now a 14-6 game.
Now turn 7, I turn my Goblins sideways and fly in on the offensive. Jimi blocks with an Acolyte and Militia to kill off the General, while the other Acolyte steps in frnt of the onrushing Cavalier. Still, 9 damage gets past, leaving Jimi at only 5 life. I then double down with a Goblin Piker and Goblin Glider, then pass. For Jimi’s turn, she simply uses Vengeance to pick off my tapped Cavaliers, and passes back.
At this point, we fall into something of a standoff, with me looking to get numerical superiority that would let me finish off Jimi, and her looking to keep pace defensively while staying out of burn range. I play a Piker, she adds an Armored Griffin. I play another Matron, tutoring up a Firestarter, she plays an Alaborn Cavalier. With the addition of the Griffin, though, Jimi can begin to exert pressure in the air. She attacks in, and puts me at 4. I draw a Mountain, she draws a Cavalier which gets immediately deployed. All I need is a single burn spell- even a Hammer would do it after sending everything in on a suicidal rush.
Alas, it’s not to be. Down to 2 and with no way to stop the Griffin, I concede on turn 11.
Once again on the play and in danger of being swept, I begin with a Goblin Firestarter while Jimi- again- plays the Volunteer Militia. Next turn I add a Piker and pass. Jimi swings in for 1 then adds a second Militia. Another painful start.
Now turn 3, I draw and play a Matron to find me the General. Jimi attacks with both Militias, then adds an Wild Griffin to the air. Next turn, I counterattack with the Piker for 2, then play summon my General. Jimi attacks with her troops for another 4, and I’m already down to 13. She then adds an Armored Griffin and passes.
However, it’s not that easy this time. After Blazing her lone defender, the Armored Griffin, I hammer in with the team for 9, cutting Jimi in half. Back to her, she plays an Alaborn Cavalier, then attacks for 2 with the remaining Griffin to keep things moving in her favour. It’s a mistake. I first summon a Raging Goblin, then use a Volcanic Hammer to detonate Jimi’s Cavalier. With a dent in her defenses, I waste little time in sending in the squad. Jimi chumps the Piker and General with her Militias, but still end up taking 6. Now at 3 life and facing overwhelming odds, she draws her next card…then starts packing up the deck.
Thoughts & Analysis
Anyone who’s ever dismissed the RDW-style archetype as “easy” to play might be asking for some salt for their words with this matchup, cleverly arranged by Jimi. As always, in testing a deck I give the opponent the luxury of choice (so long as they’re not selecting a deck that’s already been used in opposition), and with the lot to choose from mono-White weenie was a very canny selection. One-mana 1/2 creatures are a nasty speedbump for Goblin Fire, shutting down Raging Goblins and Goblin Pikers in the earliest stages of the game. Since it is crucial for the deck’s success to come off of the starting blocks at full speed, this forces Goblin Fire into the unpalatable position of having to consider wasting burn to clear out these early obstcles rather than save it for worse ones (like the 2/3 Griffin).
To make matters worse, Jimi had access to lifegain with her Temple Acolytes, a strategy ordinarily somewhat weak but potentially devastating to Red. Under the much-vaunted ‘Philosophy of Fire,’ a Red mage should expect to turn each of their seven opening cards into 3 damage each, giving them the win. It doesn’t take much extra life to throw a spanner in the works, considering that the Red mage’s smaller, quicker creatures get outclassed by larger, more efficient bodies fairly quickly.
All this meant that Goblin Fire had to be at the top of its game to give it the best chance against a deck already well-positioned to thwart it. Or as Jimi wryly observed at the end of the match, “if you don’t have burn, then you don’t have the game.” Too right! Still, this gave us a great opportunity to evaluate the deck under adverse conditions.
On thew whole, Goblin Fire is well put-together and fun to play, though let me interject a caveat here. Whenver we make a statement like that, there is an unspoken for a Portal Second Age deck that accompanies it. There aren’t a lot of folks who will bypass Theme Decks, Intro Packs, Duel Decks and whatever else to play the vanilla-laden Portal all night, but as a part of Magic’s history and heritage it is compelling for its own reasons. Indeed, there is no shortage of Intro Pack decks that would look longingly at Goblin Fire’s burn suite, given the relatively shrinking nature of burn’s centrality in base-Red precons. It’s still there, but modern precon decks often make you have to work to get it with a number of different singleton or two-of permutations at widely disparate mana costs. It doesn’t get much more straightforward than a handful of Volcanic Hammers and Blazes, rounded out by some Goblin War Strikes. Indeed, with such dependability you might even forgive the deck for only having sorceries at its disposal.
The Goblin suite was workmanlike, with few of them winning many beauty contests but all of them coming together to do the job. The pair of Goblin Matrons were superb inclusions in particular, since they were in essence handmaidens of the Goblin General (and would then get pumped by him to 2/2’s on the next attack). It’s the General that really ties the deck together, and enabled me to outrace Jimi with massive inswings of damage.
There may not be a lot of card-based complexity here, but it is certainly a study in fundamentals between its basic creature package, aggressive mana curve, and abundant burn.
Hits: Very aggressive mana curve lets you unload a lot of threats early in the game; superb burn suite offers exceptional backup to the ground game as well as giving you end-of-game reach
Misses: Like decks of its type, has a narrow window of success which begins to close as soon as the first card is played
OVERALL SCORE: 4.00/5.00