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Tempered Steel vs. Goblins - The Tempered Steel Perspective


Richard Bland
Richard Bland

About Richard Bland

Richard is an English pro player. He started playing Magic on a foreign exchange trip to Germany in the dark days of Darksteel, and was running sick homebrew Shared Fate decks at FNM while everyone else was playing affinity mirrors. While he has learned better since then, he still retains a soft spot for combo decks of all hues.

  • Level 5 Pro Player
  • 57 Lifetime Pro Points
  • 3rd GP Barcelona 2011
  • 3rd GP Madrid 2010
  • 2nd Great Britain Nationals 2010
  • 43rd PT Berlin 2008
  • 8th Team Worlds 2010

Tempered Steel vs. Goblins - The Tempered Steel Perspective

Hello everyone,

In this week’s edition of Battle School I will be running ‘that block deck everyone hates’ Tempered Steel against the red menace of Goblins, piloted by fellow Englishman Jonatahan Randle. Tempered Steel can be the best deck and the worst at times, and has some absurdly powerful draws, but also some absurdly bad ones. How will it fare against another fast aggressive deck that relies on synergy to win?

The list I used is what now is considered the standard version of Tempered Steel, the mono-white version that Ryuuichiro Ishida won Japanese Nationals with.

Tempered Steel by Ryuuichiro Ishida

Converted Mana Cost
Artifact Creature23
Basic Land11

This deck forms part of my feature article:

Tempered Steel vs. Goblins - The Tempered Steel Perspective

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Here we see a very aggressive approach to the deck maxing out on 0-cost artifacts, including a full set of the legendary Mox Opal. This deck is all about having an explosive opening hand, with a lot of cards that promote synergy but are very weak on their own merits, such as Ornithopter. The deck only runs a total of eighteen lands, and seven of those are virtual spells, giving the deck many live draws in the late gate, at the cost of making a lot of opening hands unkeepable.

The deck lives or dies on its opening hand. The deck both needs to mulligan aggressively to get a fast draw, but also has to have a critical mass of artifacts to win the game, making it right to keep the risky hands with potential more often rather than mulligan. The core of the deck is fairly standard, the eight really good cards in Tempered Steel and Steel Overseer (hands with one or both of these in are often keeps) and a lot of filler artifacts, along with 4 Dispatch, which is the best removal spell in Standard, but only this deck gets to play it. For a mono-colored deck, there are a surprising number of good sideboard cards, with Spellskite and Kor Firewalker being the most important of these, making a large impact in the matchups they come in against.

Pre-board Games

The two decks are similar in some ways, but very different in others. Your creatures are both better than theirs (when you have Tempered Steel or an active Steel Overseer) and much worse, especially when it comes to blocking. This means you must take the offensive, while also keeping your life total high enough to not die to Goblin Grenades and Bushwhacker turns. Creatures like Glint Hawk are actually much better for you blocking than they are attacking, as having one back can hold off Goblin Chieftains, Spikeshot Elders and Wardrivers, while keeping you safer from Bushwhacker. Aside from Glint Hawks and Porcelain Legionnaires, you should try to avoid trading your creatures for theirs early on, as you will be unlikely to get a one for one without double blocking, which leaves you open to Searing Blazes, and because you are relying on Tempered Steel and Overseer to win, and trading before they can be played is clearly not in your best interest.

Vault Skirge is one of your best creatures against Goblins, even with the two life initial cost (that sometimes isn’t a cost thanks to Mox Opal), and it will quickly gain that life back and more. Hands with multiple Vault Skirges and Tempered Steel are almost impossible for Goblins to race, and with Steel in play it does a great impression of a miniature Baneslayer Angel. Do not trade these off if you can help it, and lead with them whenever possible.

Steel Overseer is actually not as good here as it is in many other matchups; A 1/1 for two that has to survive a turn to actually do anything is very easy for a deck with as many removal spells as Goblins to deal with, whether it be a Lightning Bolt, Searing Blaze, Spikeshot Elder activation, or a desperate Goblin Grenade. You need to untap with Steel Overseer as quickly as possible to get full use from it, and the matchup is a fast one, so you really cannot afford to hold onto an Overseer if you have the mana for it. The exception for this is if you have a Tempered Steel coming down next turn anyway and you have other creatures you could play out instead, then you might want to slow-roll the Overseer, but otherwise, play it out, and hope they don’t have the bolt. Even if they do, they will at least have to disrupt their own curve to do so, so playing it into open mana when you have no great targets on board is less useful.

Dispatch is, in theory, a good card, allowing you to deal with Spikeshot Elder and in some versions, Grim Lavamancer (though the version Jon was playing did not run it), but the Metalcraft requirement can be a surprisingly steep one, especially in mediocre hands, and tends not to be useful until turn three or four onwards most of the time, at which point the opponent likely will have gained some value from their guy. Apart from the one-mana creatures not many of Goblins’ creatures are actually worth killing and of course it isn’t like a burn spell and at times it can be frustrating to have several of these in hand and wanting another creature.

Contested War Zone was not particularly amazing in this matchup; though having it instead of random Plains in the mid to late game was great. Sometimes you will have to play it out then lose it next turn - again, your creatures are for the most part awful blockers, but you will almost always be able to take it back again due to your creatures being evasive. Having it out also forces your opponent to play more aggressively and not leave blockers back for your guys, which can be exactly what you want. Just try not to play it early on if you can’t afford to lose control of it immediately, and you’ll be happy for the 1-2 extra damage it can get you on key turns

Your fast draws will overpower them – when you play out Vault Skirge, Memnite, Mox Opal, Glint Hawk, Signal Pest on turn one, their turn one Goblin Guide looks just inadequate in comparison. Any time you can get a Tempered Steel down early too you are very likely to win as long as you just play out creatures. The games tend to feel much more like limited than constructed, as much of the interaction comes from attacking, blocking and damage race calculations. You will lose the occasional game to your deck imploding on itself, with multiple Mox draw, land gluts or too many 0-cost guys and not enough action costing you. The only games where losing didn’t feel like it was directly a result of bad draws or mulliganing involved Spikeshot Elder, Searing Blaze and Teetering Peaks pairing together to wipe my board in a Steel-less draw. The pre-board games we played ended around 70-30 in Tempered Steel’s favor.


-4 Dispatch -2 Signal Pest -3 Porcelain Legionnaire

+4 Kor Firewalker +2 Mental Misstep +3 Spellskite

Sideboarding with Tempered Steel is a balancing act, as it is with most synergy-based decks. You cannot afford to take out too many cards that form the engine of the deck, in this case the artifacts; else your deck will not perform, even with the sideboard cards that are individually better against your opponents than your random guys are.

Dispatch, as I’ve said before, is fine against Goblins, but the lack of being an artifact coupled with the large number of mediocre targets for the card mean that they can be straight replaced by Firewalkers without reducing the artifact count of the deck.

Porcelain Legionnaire isn’t a bad card either; it’s a great blocker and a difficult to trade-with attacker. The problem is its cost – two to three mana can be a lot in a deck that runs as mana light as this deck, and we are boarding in more two casting cost cards, so others must be cut to keep the mana curve healthy. The other problem it has is its low toughness, making it a very tempting Spikeshot Elder/Arc Trail target and thus a less reliable blocker than you would hope it to be.

A few copies of Signal Pest also get cut due to their uselessness at blocking and costing more mana than the other cards that perform similarly to it.

Spellskite is great here, Searing Blaze and Lightning Bolt both are made much less useful when this is in play, and in conjunction with Tempered Steel can be very hard to remove. It can also give you a much better shot at untapping with a Steel Overseer, unless they have Arc Trail, but you can’t win them all.

The best cards Goblins has against you are the cheap ones that give them time to play out their more expensive and ponderous threats and get attacking, Spikeshot Elder and Lightning Bolt are chief among these. Mental Misstep allows you to gain a huge amount of tempo in the early turns and protects from Bolts/Grenades/Bushwhackers in the later stages, and again helps you defend your Steel Overseers from removal.

Post-board Games

Post-board games go fairly similarly to the pre-board games, but with both sides having fewer mediocre cards. You can expect to see Arc Trail and Manic Vandal, which do well to gain card advantage and at cheap enough cost to be able to handle your fast opening hands. Kor Firewalker is predictably amazing against Red, and will usually have the job of sitting back and making attacking miserable for them while you build a flying army to take the opponent down. They might have Dismember to remove it, so be sure not to leave yourself dead to that if you can help it by leaving an extra guy back if it doesn’t reduce your clock.

Spellskite should be played out as soon as possible, though not before Firewalkers, and will do a job of protecting your more important permanents while stopping them from curving out with their removal spells properly. I would not use Spellskite to block, especially in the early game (unless you are very close to dying if you choose not to) as you will leave yourself open to Bolts and Searing Blazes again. Note that Arc Trail cannot be redirected as long as Spellskite is declared as one of the targets.

The post board games went similarly, 70-30 to Tempered Steel. Arc Trail and Kor Firewalker respectively were the main sources of game wins for each side in terms of sideboard cards, with Kor Firewalker being much more impactful.

Tempered Steel is a hard deck to love, and one I don’t much enjoy playing – learning to accept you will get those 3 Mox Opal hands is difficult. If I were to change the deck for the current environment I would put a playset of Spellskite in the maindeck, likely over the Porcelain Legionnaires. The card is extremely useful against Red and Splinter Twin for obvious reasons and can be very effective in the CawBlade matchup, saving Tempered Steels from Oblivion Rings and Into the Roils, while making sure the opponent will never gain life from their Timely Reinforcements (you can pay life for Spellskite’s ability targeting the spell as many times as you like despite the spell having no targets). As CawBlade grows more and more popular, people will start to metagame for the control mirror, making decks like Tempered Steel better positioned, so keep that in mind before you cut those Gideons and Day of Judgments.

Bonus Videos

Here is a recording of a few of the matches played between myself and Jon Randle on Magic Online – this was my first time using the recording software and my laptop microphone is not great, so the sound quality is a little poor in places. If you want to see more of this in future, let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading,


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