Tarmogoyf: The Downfall
Modern is chock full of iconic spells, but Tarmogoyf has been a mainstay in the format for as long as it has been around. If anything, Tarmogoyf symbolizes the "old" Modern – the era of Birthing Pod, Splinter Twin, and Deathrite Shaman. As those decks have faded off into the sunset of the ban list, Tarmogoyf has been left as a member of the old guard, watching the metagame around it revolve and slowly leave it behind. Today, I want to take a look at what made Tarmogoyf so powerful, how it lost its power, and where it might be headed.
Throughout the history of Modern, Tarmogoyf has been an all-star card because it provides a fast, efficient, and consistent clock. Clocking in with a converted mana cost of two, Tarmogoyf could hit the battlefield very early and start applying pressure to decks that didn't want to commit to the board. Talk to any player playing an unfair deck in Modern and ask him or her what the best strategy is against the deck – the most likely answer is, "Present a clock and race me before I get to do my thing." The Lhurgoyf from Future Sight looks meager on paper, but most Modern decks run fetchlands and a bevy of cheap spells that end up in the graveyard. Combined with the prevalence of artifacts and planeswalkers, it's hardly uncommon to see a Tarmogoyf getting as big as 5/6 or 6/7 by the time it attacks.
Until the arrival of the Delve creatures in the Khans of Tarkir block and the undercosted Eldrazi of Battle for Zendikar block, Tarmogoyf stood alone in its ability to provide a four-power clock with such ease and convenience. Paying one green mana was a cost that many decks happily paid to be able to cast this beater, and at one point in Modern's history, playing any green deck meant playing a playset of Tarmogoyfs.
No King Rules Forever
Tarmogoyf has been hit hard by the changing metagame of Modern brought on by the power creep we've seen in both creatures and non-creature spells. While Tarmogoyf was an irreplaceable threat back in 2012, Modern players now have a multitude of options and answers to the two-drop that can either outclass the card or cleanly deal with the creature. On the creature side of things, Tarmogoyf now competes in the red zone with the likes of Death's Shadow, Gurmag Angler, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, and Hollow One. Go-wide decks that didn't exist in their current iterations, such as Five-Color Humans and Bant Spirits, can present creatures that snowball out of control and become bigger than Tarmogoyf. Paying two-mana for a 3/4 or 4/5 creature is no longer the deal it once was.
Non-creature spells have come a long way in dethroning Tarmogoyf as well. Back in Modern's early days, the cleanest removal to a Tarmogoyf was a Path to Exile or a well-timed Spell Snare. Players casting a Lightning Bolt on a 2/3 'Goyf with no instants in the graveyard regretted their mistakes very quickly. Even the introduction of Abrupt Decay in 2012's Return to Ravnica still meant that a player was trading evenly in mana for the honor of removing a Tarmogoyf. The printing of Fatal Push was momentous for Modern in that, for the first time in the format, players had a removal spell that would put them up on mana when removing Tarmogoyf with zero downside. Even looking outside of the realm of removal spells, cards such as Rest in Peace turn Tarmogoyf into a useless chump blocker. Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria can also answer Tarmogoyf with the added benefit of leaving behind game-ending planeswalkers on the battlefield. Modern is stacked to the brim with powerful cards, and Tarmogoyf finds itself in a crowded space.
The Future of Tarmogoyf
Tarmogoyf is still a powerful card, but it's no longer the format-defining card it once was. Players often talk about pillars of a format – cards that function as the base and core building block of the format's best decks – and while Tarmogoyf may have been a pillar at the start of Modern, it's become just another role player in a deep card pool. Players can now play green decks without Tarmogoyf, a thought that would have been blasphemous to consider outside of Pod decks in 2013.
Looking at the price graph of Tarmogoyf mirrors this sentiment as well. At the height of its popularity around 2015, the Future Sight version of the card was close to $200. That same version can be had for around 55 euros on Cardmarket. With the direction Modern is heading in, it's very difficult to imagine Tarmogoyf regaining the reign it once had over the format. In fact, when looking at the design and development of the cards that have come out of Standard in recent years, a Tarmogoyf making its way into Standard wouldn't raise eyebrows the way it might have years ago.
Looking at the trajectory of Tarmogoyf leads one wondering about the trajectory of Modern itself. Every year a new archetype emerges from the format that renders a plethora of strategies obsolete and outdated. As powerful strategies continue to pop up and outmuscle each other in a never-ending arms race, one has to wonder if this continued escalation of power will leave cards like Tarmogoyf to recede and become expensive relics of the past.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.