Myth & Magic: Goblins and Kobolds and Orcs, Oh My!
Next up in the Myth & Magic series, we're going to deal with all those little (and not so little) red Bois, some of whom have made an indelible mark on the game and will likely see a resurgence once the upcoming Ravnica set rotates in. We're talking Goblins and Kobolds and Orcs, oh my!
Red decks are somewhat paradoxical. They are both linear and single-minded, as well as inherently complex and technical at the same time. Sometimes they can play out a "1 drop, 2 drop, 3 drop, you're dead" scenario. Sometimes you're forced to navigate a 20-turn game, parcelling out removal spells as if they're hen's teeth, knowing that a single misplay will present your opponent a window of opportunity to strike a telling blow. One truth perseveres of course, and that's always: Bolt the Birds.
Careless Orc Costs Lives
Moving in reverse from the title's order, we start with Orcs. Orcs are easy. Just pick up The Lord of the Rings. Those are Orcs. Tolkien's template has become the benchmark for how we perceive Orcs, although the author himself took inspiration from a 19th century work called The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald. How they were envisaged in Tolkien's world would influence nearly every single author and games creator in turn.
The etymology of the word orc is somewhat muddled, meaning either hel-deofol (hell devil) or a person of somewhat crabby nature. Beowulf references orcneas, which translates as "evil spirits". Orcus was also another name for Pluto, the Greek god of the Underworld. In short, the odds are somewhat stacked against our green- (or sometimes black) skinned friends. And while occasionally, Orcs are portrayed as the good guys (see the Core Set 2019 story where you've an outcast Mardu Orc hanging out with Yasova Dragonclaw), their fate is more or less sealed.
Sligh is a name that most red mages are familiar with, even if they (and by "they" I mean the younger mages) don't exactly know where it came from. Paul Sligh was a prominent deckbuilder back in the early years of the game, and it was his Mono-Blue deck which inspired Jay Schneider to create an unstoppable red menace.
|2Dwarven Ruins||4Brass Man||4Incinerate|
|4Mishra's Factory||2Brothers of Fire||4Lightning Bolt|
|4Strip Mine||3Dwarven Lieutenant||1Detonate|
|2Goblins of the Flarg||1Immolation|
|4Ironclaw Orcs||1Black Vise|
|3Active Volcano||1An-Zerrin Ruins||1Detonate|
|2Serrated Arrows||1Shatter||1Zuran Orb|
This was the deck that is to be known as Paul Sligh Red, the archetype later becoming just Sligh. It was highly successful on the PTQ circuit, despite being forced to have five Homelands cards in the deck, as per the rules for deck construction back then. In this case, Dwarven Trader doesn't play very well with Goblins of the Flarg. Sligh and later iterations then introduced the concept of "mana curve" with the idea of being able to optimally tap out each turn as key. Sligh doesn't object to taking damage, so long as it's dealing more to everyone else.
If The Wizard of Oz came to mind while reading the title, it only seems fair to oblige you with some musical numbers. Here's American group A Band of Orcs with what they call Brutal Orc Metal…
To Koboldy Go Where No Red Boi Has Gone Before
Kobolds aren't quite as ubiquitous as they once were i.e., we haven't really seen a whole pile of them since the days of Legends. Victims in large part of Wizard's decision to streamline the creature type list, it didn't help that they were effectively creatures that didn't resonate massively outside of Europe, nor do they resemble the few Magic cards that feature them. They exist on one plane and one plane only – Dominaria, a plane we just recently left.
Germanic in origin, a common theme is their love of mines and caves. The element cobalt is named after them, referencing the blame that ancient miners would attribute to troublesome sprites, and the like, whenever some vein of ore was polluted with other poisonous materials. Some tales have Kobolds depicted as small child-sized beings who would help around the house with various chores – think Dobby and Kreacher from Harry Potter and you're pretty much on the right path. Other aspects of Kobold mythos liken the creatures to other mythical beasts, such as boggarts, pixies, ouphes, brownies, and so forth.
The German writer Goethe was happy to use them in his work Faust, with the little red creature in question representing the Greek element of earth. This echoes the notion that they were cave and mine dwellers.
Salamander shall kindle,
Writhe nymph of the wave,
In air sylph shall dwindle,
And Kobold shall slave.
Who doth ignore
The primal Four,
Nor knows aright
Their use and might,
O'er spirits will he
Ne'er master be.
Truth be told, they're such a mishmash that it's probably best to have them only occasionally appear in Commander sets. That being said, Kher Keep has always been popular with Magic players.
Here is my good friend Stewart Shinkins' deck from 2007's Pro Tour Yokohama (Time Spiral Block Constructed) where he finished 49th.
|5Island||4Blood Knight||4Dead // Gone|
|1Kher Keep||3Greater Gargadon||4Fiery Temper|
|14Mountain||3Jaya Ballard, Task Mage||4Psionic Blast|
|4Terramorphic Expanse||4Keldon Marauders||2Word of Seizing|
|1Brute Force||2Dragon Whelp||1Fatal Frenzy|
|1Greater Gargadon||1Mystical Teachings||2Serrated Arrows|
|1Word of Seizing|
It's not exactly a Kobold-themed deck, but it's very much a flavored win as Kher Keep churns out 0/1 sacrificial bodies to either feed to a suspended Greater Gargadon or to act as blockers while the rest of the deck ekes out incremental advantage with Jaya, and using split second spells to stymie White Weenie and U/W decks, both of which were popular in the format at the time.
Here, Serbian band Kobold presents their 2017 album Death Parade, which is appropriate when talking about Kobolds… because they're not going to survive.
…and Finally, Goblins
Goblins. 1/1 annoyances. At least for the most part. First appearing in English around the 14th century, their etymology, like so many others, lies in the name of a demon found in 12th century French writings. Much in the same manner as Dragons, Goblins exist within mythologies from around the globe – the convention is that the dokkaebi from South Korea are known as Korean Goblins, the Toyol in Malaysia has been likened to a Goblin, and so on. They might not exactly look like the concept that's become so popular in recent centuries, especially since Tolkien's 1937 The Hobbit, but that's par for the course when dealing with ancient stories and descriptions.
Perhaps of all creature types within the game of Magic, Goblins are some of the most accurately depicted; perhaps an easy task given the absolute wealth of material to draw from. The Goblin Pony, a French tale, is not the least bit suitable as a bedtime story but it does give an idea on the sort of malicious mischievousness present in the Goblin mind-set. Indeed, Murderous Redcap, as efficient as he is, becomes a bit more sinister when you learn that his red cap has been dyed that colour by using human blood.
Eventide provided us with three Hobgoblins, Hearthfire Goblin, Hobgoblin Dragoon, and Rise of the Hobgoblins, the latter an enchantment. According to Celtic folklore, specifically Scottish and English, and thereafter through the Presbyterian Church with pilgrims who left for the New World, Hobgoblins were more trickster in nature. The "hob" from the name is used to refer to elves elsewhere, and is ostensibly derived from the name Robin Goodfellow, also known as Puck, appearing in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. For the socially aware, Karl Marx referenced Robin in 1856 saying, "In the signs that bewilder the middle class, the aristocracy and the poor profits of regression, we recognize our brave friend Robin Goodfellow, the old mole that can work the earth so fast, that worthy pioneer – the Revolution."
Tolkien also had Hobgoblins in his world, not at all related to Goblins or Orcs, called the Drúedain; it is only in the third book of The Lord of the Rings that they appear. Given the extensive nature of J.R.R. Tolkien's universe, the more one delves into etymologies and relationships, the more one becomes lost in a swirl of research and notes… very much in keeping with the impish nature of early Goblins.
Grand Prix London, 2003 (Onslaught Block Constructed) saw Goblins continue their rise to the top as a heatwave gripped the city:
Diego Ostrovich romped to victory with this 34-creature build, somewhat different from the Bad Form decks that were all the rage during the introduction of the third and final set in Onslaught Block, Scourge. The deck was capable of winning from anywhere – on the ground, in the air, from behind a wall…
There are eight 1CMC spells to ensure an early board presence, each with an ability designed to either power out more Goblins or to force damage. Goblin Warchief allows you to drop larger monsters earlier (with the bonus of them now having haste). Clickslither and Rorix Bladewing are designed to be hard-hitting if required. If you end up in a board stall, you can sacrifice some 1/1s to Siege-Gang Commander to deal incremental amounts of damage with each creature sacrificed, allowing you to untap the Goblin Sharpshooter for additional points. Goblin Piledriver has always been problematic for control decks because it can't be bounced and is effectively unblockable if the deck develops its board quickly enough. Rorix is the maindeck answer to some of the bigger threats in the format, such as Exalted Angel, and even Eternal Dragon. This was a hot deck for what was a very hot weekend.
Our concluding musical number is very relevant to both topic and the time of writing. Italian prog-rock outfit Goblin is best-known for supplying the soundtrack to 1977's Suspiria, the Dario Argento masterpiece that was just recently screened at the Venice Film Festival, albeit to poorer reviews than was expected. Do, please, enjoy.
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