MTG: Why Goblin Recruiter was banned and should remain so
Goblin Recruiter is not as well-known as other broken cards of Magic: The Gathering. It’s an old card, banned for longer than it has ever been legal. It seems quaint compared to the rest of the Legacy banlist. So why is it banned?
WHAT IT DOES
When Goblin Recruiter comes into play, it searches for as many goblins as you wish and puts them on top of your library. In other words, it lets you stack your whole deck. That’s a very powerful effect, as it allows the creation of a wide arrange of combos as well as ensuring you never stop drawing creatures to beat your opponent with.
Consider the following: Vampiric Tutor looks for one card and puts it on top of your library. That card is, rightly, banned in Legacy and used to be banned in Extended too. Goblin Recruiter is similar, except it can find twenty or more cards. Sure, you are limited to goblins but being able to search for dozens of cards is still fundamentally broken. And unlike dwarves or soldiers, there are some very strong goblin cards.
The best way to abuse Recruiter is to pair it with Goblin Ringleader. You can play Recruiter, stack your deck and then make sure every Ringleader draws you three goblins plus another Ringleader to do it again. This not only gives you access to massive amounts of cards, but also any specific creature you might have a need of.
Even better, thanks to Food Chain, you can create piles that win on the spot. You can play your goblins, drawing cards, and then sacrifice them for more mana than they cost. Eventually, you end up with a massive pile of creatures which can either attack or win the game through other methods.
But even on purely aggro terms, Recruiter is powerful. Few decks can fend off that many goblins, especially when Goblin Warchief makes them cheaper and grants them haste. Having access to Siege-Gang Commander, Gempalm Incinerator, Goblin Cratermaker and all other utility creatures is a huge advantage. You can poke a hole through their defenses, kill their creatures, blow their lands or just throw goblins to their head until they bite the dust.
HOW GOOD IT WAS
Combo Goblins is a very resilient archetype. Four copies of Goblin Matrons find the cards you need while Goblin Prospector doubles for Food Chain if it’s missing. It can win through spot removal, sweepers, counterspells and against fast aggro. It packs Wasteland and Rishadan Port and does not need an attack phase to blast the opponent. It’s a very efficient package.
Remember, killing Goblin Recruiter does nothing. His effect triggers on entering the battlefield. And thanks to Cavern of Souls, not even counterspells can prevent Recruiter from hitting the field nowadays. Few combo decks are afforded these luxuries.
Through Recruiter, Food Chain Goblins decks regularly won in turn two. That’s an extremely fast pace and the card would eventually be banned from Extended back in 2003. The earlier ban of Goblin Lackey had proved ineffective in slowing the deck down, which went on barely scathed.
To keep things in perspective, Food Chain Goblins was one of the best decks in a format that included Tinker, Oath of Druids and Hermit Druid. Even when Mirrodin was released and Tinker got even more broken than it already was, Goblins were still competing. In fact, they got even better thanks to the acceleration provided by Chrome Mox.
THE POWER OF AGGRO-COMBO
Still, the scariest thing about Goblin Recruiter is how it combines aggro and combo into one package. Traditionally, decks that can be a threat on the battlefield and also win on the spot have been very strong. Aluren, Elves! and Combo Goblins were some of the best decks in their metagames and the combination of combo features with creature-based aggression was a reason why.
Aggro-combo is hard to disrupt. If you prevent Storm from going off, the deck folds to itself. But if you stop the Recruiter, you still face a bunch of angry goblins coming for your face. The combo pieces can win the game on their own.
Being able to switch gears between different theaters of play, taking the aggro or combo is a very large advantage. Traditionally, combo has been weak against control and good against aggro. Aggro-combo combines it all: It has a strong aggro game against disruption and a fast, unstoppable combo against other creature-decks.
We cannot forget that Goblins used to be one of the strongest archetypes of Legacy. Packing mana disruption, strong attacks and control elements made them very hard to deal with. Power creep caused their power to fade, but they are not far away from being a great deck and might come back in the future.
CLUNKY AND DANGEROUS
Beyond sheer power level, Goblin Recruiter just isn’t very interesting in play. It takes an inordinate amount of time to set up, especially as you slot in ways for the combo to defend itself. It takes fun games of Magic and ends them with a surprise win.
There’s also the risk that someday, somewhere, Goblins will become a strong archetype again. Wizards will keep printing new goblins and, with recruiter, they could all be folded into the same shell. For all we know, Goblins could become the next Death and Taxes thanks to a new disruptive piece.
Unbanning Goblin Recruiter is a risk Wizards of the Coast has no reason to take. There are few, if any, upsides to it, and it has the potential to make the game worse. Releasing a potential turn-two win into a format is not the most appealing idea. It wouldn’t even help Goblins, as they would be prevented from ever becoming a fair deck again.
Of course, fairness left the format long ago. The Legacy of today has turn-two Ermakuls and broken cards like Land Tax are no longer powerful enough to see play. Hypothetical goblin cards being released in the future is not justification for a ban now, either. An argument could be made that Recruiter is not that much worse than other decks in the format.
Still, I believe the power of the card and the consistency of the deck it slots in prevents it from being unbanned. It’s a broken card, whose full power is not apparent at first glance. I believe it was rightly banned in old Extended and should remain so in Legacy.