Throughout Magic’s long history, Goblins have been one of the most prevalent tribes. On each plane they exhibit slightly different levels of intellect and cunning – from the wild, angry, torch-waving tribes of Dominaria and Ravnica to the politically minded and money-motivated fences in Mercadia – but the one thing they all have in common is the colour red. They have been the premier ‘red’ creatures since Magic’s inception, and in fact, once Battle for Zendikar rotates out, if Ixalan has no goblins in it, it will be the first time ever that we have seen a Standard format with no goblins at all.
I’ll be honest. Being mostly wild, uncoordinated and not the brightest of creatures, goblins are normally not very good when fighting alone, both in the lore and in reality. Thus, with only a few exceptions, each individual goblin card doesn’t tend to be great without backup, and only works within the context of a ‘goblin-based’ or ‘burn’ strategy. However, these decks can be very powerful, and thematically, tend to come straight out of the gate and put down a very wide and threatening board presence.
In this list, I’ve compiled what I think are the ten goblin cards that have had the most impact on Magic: the Gathering. Mainly, through representation across competitive formats, showing up in the Standard of their day, being mainstays in Commander – or, simply just being good, efficiently costed cards. I must stress that many of the following cards are much, much better when included in a goblin tribal theme, as they are all buffed by each other; playing most of these cards without any other goblins will not be a winning strategy.
The Top 10 Best Goblins in Magic: the Gathering’s History
This Goblin is a great way to start off our list. It does everything that a three-mana Goblin should reasonably be able to accomplish. If you cast it precombat, although it doesn’t have haste itself, it can provide one damage on the turn it comes out (with an additional body to go alongside it) and every turn that it remains on the battlefield it becomes more and more dangerous. Not only does it multiply the number of creatures you have, which is a very goblin-like trait, but it manages to use those extra bodies to make itself more powerful in addition to providing free value. Though it’s only a 2/2 for 3 mana, the extra abilities can be a real danger if left unchecked, so this goblin can potentially provide a lot of value.
There are downsides to the card, of course. If it’s removed before combat, it doesn’t give you any ETB value, and if your opponent has a big blocker it can be difficult to get through with your goblins for a couple of turns. It also suffers from what I like to call ‘Geist Syndrome’ in that when it attacks, it has excellent value, but because it’s +1/+0, it can easily be blocked and taken out, and then you lose your constant source of goblin tokens, so you have to be careful to pick the right moment to send in.
That said, this is still one of the most efficient goblins that has been printed to date, and in the Standard of its day it was one of the late-game finishers of the Atarka Red strategy, making a wide board to improve the Atarka’s Commands, adding to the value of Dragon Fodder and itself being a target for Temur Battle Rage if you had nothing else to use it on. Turn one Monastery Swiftspear into turn two Fodder into turn three Rabblemaster into turn four Command plus TBR was a very powerful curve for the deck and it would often see blisteringly fast wins.
In general, Rabblemaster is a great card and is often seen lurking in goblin tribal Commander lists as well as the occasional Cube. It’s a brilliant way to enable the tribe when drafting or playing sealed, and can add excellent value to a fast burn strategy in Constructed as well. It’s all round just a well-balanced and thematic Goblin.
Born from the colour-hate era in Onslaught block, Goblin Piledriver quickly rose to a high level of playability. Its stats are slightly worse than you could reasonably expect for a 2-mana creature, being only a 1/2; however, having 2 toughness and 1 power is a lot better than being the other way around, and it makes it a lot more resilient. Additionally, when it attacks it will, for the most part, be at least a 3/2, as its incredibly powerful trigger gives it +2/+0 for each other attacking goblin. Although, like most goblins, this card can only really shine in a tribal-themed deck, when it’s good it’s really good.
One of the things that makes Piledriver so great is its other ability – protection from blue. In Legacy, this can be really important as it can’t be blocked by a True-Name Nemesis, which can otherwise be a huge roadblock for the Goblins deck. It can’t be bounced by a Jace, the Mind Sculptor either, or blocked by a flashed-in Snapcaster Mage. If your opponent is playing a mono-blue deck like Merfolk in any format, Piledriver is the ace up your sleeve which can just win you the game. In any other situation, it still attacks for a monumental amount of power. It suffers from the same issue as Rabblemaster in that it can sometimes fail to get through, but the necessity to block it does mean that your opponent has to throw away a creature, and will be at the mercy of the rest of your goblins.
It ranks above Rabblemaster because of its mana cost, being a much more efficient 2 mana; however, both are very close in terms of cost-to-value ratio, unless Piledriver’s protection from blue is relevant, in which case its value skyrockets, and it leaves most other cards in your deck in the dust.
Another one of the older Goblin cards, Warchief was originally printed in Scourge. This card is brilliant because although you have to pay 3 mana, which is a premium for a red card, it allows you to play goblins much more cheaply, unlocking the rest of your deck and, if it lives, probably allowing you to empty your hand over the next turn or two and create an incredibly menacing board. The best part? That board has haste. Warchief’s second ability gives every goblin haste, so you can empty your hand and immediately swing in; if you have Rabblemasters, Piledrivers or other big hitters, it’s possible you can win the game on the spot.
The downside of Warchief is obvious; that unless you have another goblin to cast on the same turn, you may not get any value from it if it’s immediately removed. Also, being a 2/2 for 3, it’s got quite a small body and can’t lead from the front or get involved much in combat if you want to keep it on the board. However, its upsides if left alone are excellent, so it presents a must-kill threat immediately, and if you cast it on turn four, you may be able to get some value from it before it dies, so overall, it’s still a very strong card.
The other great thing that Warchief does for the Legacy deck is make Tribal cards cheaper. Though Tarfire can’t have its cost reduced because it has no generic mana, Warchief’s effect does apply to Warren Weirding which is in the sideboard of some lists, and it really has the power to let the goblins player dump their whole hand very quickly. In Commander, it’s an absolute staple as it just makes every single card from the point you play it both better and cheaper; there is no reason not to run this if you are playing a tribal goblin deck in EDH.
Goblin Ringleader is one of a cycle of tribal cards printed in Apocalypse; there is also one for Merfolk, Kavu, Zombies, Soldiers and Elves. The card is excellent in tribal decks because you don’t only have to pick one card, you can take any number of goblins that you find and put them in your hand; so if you just find one, it replaces itself with another card in your hand, but if you find more than that it’s giving you card advantage which is an excellent thing to have in a red deck.
More than anything else, the potential for this awesome card advantage is what makes Ringleader good. It allows the goblin decks to be more drawn-out if necessary and to keep finding extra cards, even in mono red, which usually lacks late-game power. When your opponents have to trade one-for-one with a low to the ground tribal deck it’s already difficult, but when your cards are replacing themselves or even adding more cards to your hand, it can put a big strain on their resources and allow you to keep pushing and presenting threats even on turn eight or nine, never letting them properly stabilise. On the other hand, if they have cast a wrath effect and you topdeck Ringleader, you have the chance to be back where you started almost straightaway.
Other than its enter-the-battlefield effect, Ringleader doesn’t excel stat wise, and its mana cost is high. However, the awesome potential it has to draw you extra cards (and useful ones at that, not just lands) means that it definitely merits a spot on this list. In addition, unlike most goblins, you get the effect as soon as it enters the battlefield, meaning it doesn’t have to survive until combat to get the benefit, which is also an excellent advantage.
In Commander, it’s great because it allows you to keep up with your opponents and draw into more threats. Mono-red commander decks tend to have trouble with card draw and in such a long, multiplayer format it can be difficult to stay competitive, particularly if your opponents wrath your board early. In all formats, Ringleader is one of the cards that can help to claw you back if you are behind, or keep the threats flowing if you need to press the advantage.
Goblin Lackey is a high-risk, high-reward card. If you can land it turn one on the play, and connect the next turn, Lackey is probably the best card in your deck, no matter what format you are running it in. The ability to put any goblin of any mana cost straight into play, uncounterably, is an incredible asset. You can use it to play a turn two Ringleader, Siege-Gang Commander or Rabblemaster and build up your board considerably very early on. Not only that, but it happens every turn, as long as your Lackey continues to connect, meaning if your opponent doesn’t have many creatures, or can’t successfully remove it, it can lead to a great advantage very early on in the game.
However, Lackey can be somewhat…Lacklustre. If you are on the draw, it’s much worse, and even on the play if your opponent can land a turn-one Deathrite Shaman it is suddenly useless, because it can’t attack into it. Hence, the high-risk and high-reward scenario. Sometimes this card just doesn’t do anything, but other times it can be amazing. Nevertheless, the versatility that this card grants you, and the fact that it must be answered either with a blocker or a removal spell, can mean that you can gain incremental advantages from it even if it’s not living up to its full potential. Forcing someone to block with their Mother of Runes on turn one feels pretty nice.
In Commander, this card isn’t as good, because it’s rare that you’ll have it on turn one, and if you do, it’s very likely to die. However, if you can find a way to get it to connect, it’s obviously brilliant because you can put in any of your high-cost fatties and get your deck going quickly. Of course, it also paints a bright red target on your face.
This is one of the most well-known goblins of all time, as for once you can get its full value without running any other goblins. Its original printing in Zendikar heralded a shift to a more powerful low drop creature for the burn decks, which had graduated from Arabian Nights’ Kird Ape up to Shards of Alara’s Wild Nacatl, and now, finally, had a 2/2 for 1 mana which crucially, had haste. Although Guide’s downside is that it can draw your opponent lands, until the printing of Monastery Swiftspear and the unbanning of Nacatl in Modern, this was widely considered unarguably the best turn one play in a burn deck – some would say it still is.
At the very worst, on the play it is a Shock. On the draw, it could eat a removal spell and draw your opponent a land. However, at its best, it gives you excellent information about what your opponent is drawing over a number of turns, usually gets in for over 6 damage and proves itself to be excellent value. Haste is such a huge thing for this creature, as it means that you can immediately threaten the damage, not giving your opponent a chance to play a blocker for it. It also means that if you topdeck it late in the game, you have an opportunity to drop it and get in immediately, and your opponent always has to play around it accordingly if they don’t have removal, and be wary not to attack with everything, which can buy you a significant amount of turns.
Guide is just a fantastic card. It does everything you need a one-drop to do and more, and the downside is usually very small. Certainly, if this creature weren’t around, burn decks would struggle a lot more to get damage in fast. Yes, it’s low to the ground and after a few turns it’s much less effective if they play a blocker, but the key thing to remember is how much mana you have invested in it – just one. Even if you just get a Shock out of it, it’s not the worst – and any more than that and it’s better than a Lightning Bolt. There are not many cards in Burn that can claim that!
Goblin Matron, first printed years and years ago in Urza’s Saga, is probably one of the best cards a goblin player will ever see. Again, its true worth only shines when it’s in a goblin tribal list – but boy, in that list, does it shine. Like Ringleader, her effect is on ETB, so she will immediately replace herself if she resolves, giving you virtual card advantage over your opponent, but not only that – she’s a tutor. You can pick exactly what you need for the job – whether it’s just chaining Matrons to get more bodies on the board, a Warchief to empty your hand faster, a Tin Street Hooligan to kill that pesky Chalice of the Void…or even a Tarfire to kill the opponent’s blocker? You can fetch it all.
Obviously, in Commander this card is bonkers. Any tutors in a 100-card singleton format are going to be excellent, and the fact that this card adds to your goblin count as well is just more value into the bargain. In Legacy, Matron has been a mainstay 4-of since the deck’s inception, allowing you to tutor for many of the answers that the deck has to troublesome artifacts, creatures or even just grabbing a Ringleader to fish for extra cards.
This card just has everything you need on it. Immediate value, tutoring, and a goblin creature type in her typeline – meaning her (pretty significant) mana cost is reduced by Warchief, and she counts to buff your Piledriver or Rabblemaster when you attack in, because let’s face it, once she’s resolved she’s done her job, so you don’t have to worry about losing her if you need to make an all-out attack. She’s excellent.
The main downside of this card is the mana cost, which at 3 is stacked up next to Ringleader – however, their effects are very comparable, as although you get less cards from Matron, you get the luxury of choice. This card is definitely deserving of a spot on this list.
Anyone familiar with Commander will have heard the name ‘Krenko’. He is a very famous goblin. There is always one person at the table who will bring out this deck and proceed to make everyone else’s lives a misery with it. Being one of the only really good Legendary Goblins, Krenko is usually the commander of choice for people running this deck; and though it’s basically the default option, it’s a really, really good one.
Krenko, like Goblin Matron and Goblin Ringleader, is costed at a full four mana, and difficult to splash for as he requires two red. When you read the effect of the card, though, you will understand why. He’s only a 3/3 – his body isn’t as good as you would hope for that mana cost, just like Rabblemaster – but his effect is insanely powerful. In just one turn, he can double the size of your board, and if your opponent can’t answer him quickly, he will exponentially increase the amount of creatures you have and finish the game in a matter of a turn or two.
The current Legacy goblins list uses Krenko as a win condition, mainly because when he is combined with cards like Goblin Lackey which enables him to be put into play on turn two, or Warchief which gives him haste so he can immediately create more goblins, the card becomes infinitely more powerful. Even if you play him on an empty board, Krenko is still good, though not incredible – but every turn he is alive, he becomes more and more of a threat, which means your opponent is suddenly under pressure to find answers fast. In Commander, if you can play Rabblemaster and then bring Krenko down, things get out of control fast.
Basically, this card has the ability to create infinite value by constantly doubling your board; when put in the right deck, it can come down and create mayhem straight away; and if left alone for more than a turn, your opponent will need a wrath to recover. Make no mistake, this card is the powerful game-ender that the goblin decks really wanted.
This one is a little out of the blue, mainly because people tend to forget that Kiki-Jiki is actually a goblin. However, he is undeniably a fantastic card, and so I believe that despite him not fitting with the traditional ‘goblin’ stereotype, he is very much worth an inclusion, as this list is about all Goblin cards, not just the ones that fit into the tribal archetype.
Printed in Champions of Kamigawa, Kiki-Jiki is very famous for his ability which creates a copy of a non-Legendary creature. The fact that he has haste means that it can happen immediately, and has made him a mainstay in combo decks. Obviously, if you put him into play with a Restoration Angel, Deceiver Exarch, Felidar Guardian…the list goes on. He acts as an infinite-creature generator and will win you the game immediately, unless your opponent can break up the combo with a kill spell.
The card does have downsides. When Splinter Twin was legal in Modern, the deck sometimes used to run Kiki-Jiki as a backup plan, however the fact that he costs 3 red symbols makes him very difficult to cast in that kind of deck. Additionally, he is only a 2/2 and therefore is subject to cards like Bolt, Electrolyze and Kolaghan’s Command as well as simple Terminate effects, which made him less desirable than Splinter Twin which is harder to remove.
Since Twin was banned, Kiki-Jiki now sees more play in the Chord of Calling lists, which use Chord as a way to get round his absurd mana cost. Much like the old Birthing Pod days, they go from Chord into Eternal Witness – get back Chord – into Restoration Angel – flicker Witness, get back Chord – into Kiki-Jiki and a win. Of course, it’s much more convoluted than using the Phyrexian artifact, but it gets the job done, and Kiki is a major part of it.
Some of the Legacy goblins lists include Kiki-Jiki as a one-of in order to make extra copies of Ringleader, Matron or Warchief, to create even more value from their board state. However, due to his very high mana cost, he’s usually not more than one copy. Despite this, he’s still an excellent and versatile card, and I have no doubt that there will be many more broken combos that include him in the future.
Where do I even start with this card?
It’s nuts. It lets you literally stack your entire deck. You pay two mana, and you get a 1/1 – not that exciting – and then you pick up your deck, take all the goblins you like and put them on top in whatever order you want, eliminating any element of randomness for the rest of the game. What?!
Naturally, this card is banned in Legacy, because with this kind of ability not only could you stack Ringleaders perfectly to get as many cards as you please with them, but it opens the doors for insta-win combos with cards like Goblin Charbelcher. For some bizarre reason, it’s legal in Commander, though – so just a hint to those playing against Krenko decks, if you see this card, counter it, and then inform the person who played it that he hates fun and should think about his actions.
Of course, it has downsides. It’s only a 1/1. If you play it too early, you don’t have enough lands to cast whatever you’ve put on top, as you can’t stack lands. That’s about it, I think. Everything else about this card is utterly absurd. The only other effect like it in the game is Dwarven Recruiter which I think we can safely say is nowhere near as good. After that, Wizards realised what they’d done and we haven’t seen a return to this mechanic since Classic Sixth Edition. Thankfully.
So there you have it! A roundup of the ten best Goblins printed in Magic to date. Do you agree or disagree with the list? Think that Goblin Bushwhacker or Goblin Sharpshooter should have been included? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks for reading,