The Birth of a Nation

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During the second season of CommanderCast, I bore witness to the birth of something far more monumental than anyone had ever imagined. On that fateful day, we created a nation; a nation for people who love the red-zone; for the underdogs of the kitchen table; for those who believe in winning with style, and especially those with silly hats. Welcome to the Ib Nation.

Andy might have been a little overenthusiastic here, but he's got the right idea! Ib Halfheart, Goblin Tactician is an interesting little guy who has a pretty terrible rap. Sacrificing lands to make guys? Who would want to do that? You have to sacrifice your guys if they get blocked, and four damage isn’t really that much anyway. What exactly does Ib Halfheart do that other token generals like Kemba, Kha Regent or Rhys the Redeemed don’t do better?

While those generals are typically better for making overwhelming amounts of tokens, at controlling the board, and at playing a slow attrition game, Ib is better at, well, Goblin tactics. If you’re playing Ib, you have to have an all-in mentality. There’s going to come a point where you look at the board, and you have to ask “Are you guys feeling stupid? ‘Cause I know I am!” and go for it. Sometimes you’ll just win the game by effectively flinging your entire board at everyone else on the table, and sometimes it’ll blow up in your face spectacularly. Either way it’s guaranteed to be hilarious, and it’s amazing how much more fun you have when you stop worrying about silly things like combat math and the late game.

For those familiar with the various Goblin-themed beatdown and combo decks that have cropped up in competitive formats over the years, the Ib Halfheart, Goblin Tactician deck is a combination of all of those. We’ll get to how exactly that works later; the easiest place to start is the common ground. Each and every one of these decks starts with the same thing: get lots of Goblins into play.

The Horde

This is your early game. You want to assemble as many Goblins as possible without sacrificing too many of your lands to Ib Halfheart. Eventually you’ll sacrifice all of your lands, but there’s no reason to do that preemptively. The best cards here are the ones that are the most flexible; the ones that don’t just make Goblins leading up to the “all-in” turn. Goblin Ringleader, Goblin Matron, and Goblin Recruiter are your card advantage engine. Find one of the few answers you have, or just find a way to up your damage output.

Mogg Infestation and Chancellor of the Forge double up the number of Goblins you have available on the all-in turn, and are far and away two of the most powerful cards in the deck; hold these for as long as possible; the amount of value you get out of these will make or break your Goblin Offensive. But let’s be honest: a horde of 1/1 Goblins aren’t going to get the job done. Let’s see what we can do to make them a little more respectable:


Notice here that we’re looking for two things. First, to give the Goblin horde as much power as possible for as little cost as possible, and something like Shared Animosity is absolutely stellar at this. Coat of Arms is worth considering over Eldrazi Monument, but I play against far too many token decks for that to be very effective in my metagame. Secondly, the deck wants to give Goblins haste.

What happens ideally is that you’ll come to a point where you have a respectable amount Goblins in play, and you’ll float a bunch of mana, sacrifice all your lands, play a few anthems, and maybe a Mogg Infestation, then drop a way to give your new Goblins haste and attack for some large quantity of damage. Things don’t usually go quite that smoothly but that’s the idea, and it’s reasonably effective at killing one to two players who aren’t expecting it.

However, that leaves two questions: how are you going to pay for all these anthems and Goblins? More mana means more Goblins and more power, so the more consistently you can produce large quantities of mana, the easier it will be to kill more players. The second question is: what happens when people are prepared for when you Empty the Warrens? What other ways does the deck have to force through damage? We’ll start with the easy question; this is how we’ll produce enough mana:

Ramp and Rituals

There are a few kinds of cards here. The first set is the rituals. These are things you’ll play on or just before your big turn, and are the biggest indicators of whether your turn will go well or not. If you get to use one or more of these to their full effect, you’re going to be producing obscene amounts of damage. Mana Echoes in particular is downright unfair with Ib Halfheart, Goblin Tactician at the helm. The amount of colorless mana available to you goes up exponentially as you sacrifice your lands, and that always leads into some incredibly unfair plays.

The second set of cards are much less explosive than the ritual cards, but allow you a lot more consistency. They don’t let you do absurd things when you go all-in, but they do let you play out your spells more readily when you’re trying to reach critical mass, and give you additional activations of Ib Halfheart. Consistent land drops and mana acceleration are incredibly important to the functionality of this deck. When you’re as capable at losing to random removal and chance as this deck is, you don’t want to risk losing to your manabase too.

But that’s enough of the nuts and bolts; let’s get to the exciting part of the deck. So far, this deck is just mana and Goblin tokens. That’s neither flashy or powerful, if we’re being honest about it. It’s always important for token decks to be able to convert their endless supply of creatures into other resources like mana and cards. Ib Halfheart says “forget that” and just turns them into more damage.

Cannon Fodder

When you can’t solve your problem by swarming it with Goblins, Flinging them at it will usually solve the problem. This is pretty straight forward: you beat down with Goblins, and if that doesn’t work, you have sacrifice outlets and cards that take advantage of sacrificing Goblins. While the idea is simple enough, the execution can be headache-inducing if you insist on doing the math. Just imagine for a second that you have Ib Halfheart, Goblin Tactician, Mana Echoes, and Furnace Celebration in play with Goblin Offensive and a sacrifice outlet in your hand. Just how many Goblins can you make? How mana will that generate? How much damage will that correspond to?

This is not a deck that readily forgives math errors, and hopefully the previous example gives you an idea of how quickly the math can get out of hand. Honestly, it’s more fun, and it’s more in the spirit of Ib Halfheart to just make a decision and hope for the best. It’s guaranteed to end in plenty of damage and hilarity anyway, so you’ll have the moral victory regardless. If you can do the math quickly and efficiently, more power to you. If you’re like me and either can’t or won't be bothered, then don’t worry about it and go for it; what’s the worst that can happen?

Now that we've established the engine of the deck, the rest of the deck is going to be filled with utility and card advantage. The key to this step is identifying how people are going to interact with you meaningfully. Ib Halfheart doesn’t really care about the various value engines that are common in Commander decks. He doesn’t care about Debtor's Knell or Crystal Shard, about Primeval Titan or Consecrated Sphinx. If it doesn’t stop you from crashing in for lethal damage, Ib Halfheart just doesn’t care. That said, you do have to have ways to deal with some problematic permanents, and here’s what I’ve been happy with:


Clearly, this suite of removal focuses on creatures, which seems reasonable to me, since creatures are what will stop your alpha strikes more often than not. Spikeshot Elder is awesome with the anthems the deck runs, and with Goblin Sledder; I know I’ve had a 30/30 Spikeshot Elder that’s domed people for a few hundred points of damage.

Second, let’s talk about the equipment. Mortarpod is one of my favorite cards from Mirrodin Besieged for Commander, particularly in token decks. It’s another sacrifice outlet, albeit expensive, and it justifies running Basilisk Collar for more than just Goblin Sharpshooter. These are two of the weaker slots in the deck, but they’ve been fine thus far, and I don’t know what I’d replace them with.

Lastly, let’s talk rules for a second. Wild Swing and Capricious Efreet are basically Vindicatein this deck because of how the rules work. If you target three permanents, two of which are Mountains, and sacrifice those two mountains to Ib Halfheart, Goblin Tactician while the spell/ability is on the stack, then the permanent to be destroyed will be chosen at random from the remaining targets. So, while they look kind of awful, those are actually two of the best removal spells available for this deck!

The last thing that any serious deck needs is some way to generate card advantage and consistency, an area where red is typically lacking. Here's how I've decided to try to overcome that weakness:

Card Advantage and Utility

Wheel of Fortune effects are about as good as red can do when it comes to card advantage, and Recoup really capitalizes on that sort of effect. Notably missing here is Knollspine Dragon, but that card isn't actually very good here. Since you tend to sacrifice all or most of your lands when you try to win, it's pretty difficult to actually cast the Dragon and get any value. Spinerock Knoll, on the other hand, is probably the best hideaway land in the format. It's worth noting that YOU don't have to deal the damage. As long as an opponent takes 7 damage, you can cast the spell.

Second, I think it's worth noting that [card]Manabarbs[/cards] and company are, in fact, card advantage in this deck, because they deal damage to every player. Each point of damage that these cards deal to your opponents means that you need fewer cards that to deal the rest of the damage.

And that's the deck! We'll add some lands and take a look at the final product:

[deckbox did="a73" size="small" width="560"]

So, I've been having a ton of fun with this deck since mid-March or so, and I know that this isn't even close to ideal. There's clearly quite a bit of room for personalization and development within the deck. Still, it's a lot of fun to play, and does some really interesting things

As usual, if you've got any constructive comments or criticism, I'm glad to hear it. I'm still pretty new to this writing thing, so I'm sure there are improvements to be made. If you've got any questions, deck ideas, or lists you want to talk about, I'm always glad to talk shop!

@cag5383 on Twitter

One thought on “The Birth of a Nation

  1. I've been playing an Ashling deck for some time now that shares a number of cards with this one. Obviously, this deck's angle of attack is somewhat different, but I've never been terribly impressed with Miss Ablaze. She's twice as much for a half-as-good Wheel, and the +1, while useful, doesn't really strike me as the sort of thing you want to do in lieu of amassing gobs of goblins.
    What I DO like is Wheel of Fate. Yeah, it has suspend and everyone can see it coming, but the way it makes many players approach the impending Wheel is nothing short of playing right into your hands. You see, they try to dump their cards for value (and often end up tapped out) before you untap (usually empty-handed), refill, and kill everyone. I think Ib would be able to take advantage of this even more than Ashling does.
    Another thought (and I'm not sure what to replace here), is that I was surprised not to see Furnace of Rath. With that on the field, your opponents need 9 toughness on each of their guys to block a goblin without losing a creature. Rage Reflection could further get things out of hand. I'm a big fan of anything that essentially DOUBLES your damage because of the amount of value you gain, and the interaction of various doublers in conjunction with one another makes things silly in a hurry.

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