Lightning Bolt - Illustration by Chuck Lukacs

Lightning Bolt | Illustration by Chuck Lukacs

Pointing red damage spells at an opponent’s face has been a viable strategy in most formats including Standard, Extended, and Legacy since Magic’s early years. Lightning Bolt has been here since the beginning, and it represents exactly what you’re trying to do: cast enough Bolts on your opponent before they kill you or gain enough life.

Every set has burn spells, but which ones are the best? Are there some classics that are still viable? Let’s find out!

What Are Burn Spells in MTG?

Rift Bolt (Modern Masters) - Illustration by Daniel Ljunggren

Rift Bolt (Modern Masters) | Illustration by Daniel Ljunggren

Burn spells are Magic’s lingo for red spells that deal damage either to creatures, planeswalkers, or players. “Burn” comes from the fact that red’s main element is fire and fire manipulation, and almost all these spells involve attacking with fire. Each set has burn in all rarities so the full list of red spells that deal damage is ginormous.

I’m considering instants and sorceries in these rankings as well as other sources of damage like enchantments, creatures’ ETB effects, and planeswalkers’ activated abilities. The best cards are efficient and can inflict massive damage in the right circumstances. The amount of play a card gets is also a good indicator for how good a card is.

Best Red Burn Spells

#26. Bonfire of the Damned

Bonfire of the Damned

A one-sided sweeper that also hits players? Sign me up.

Bonfire of the Damned unfortunately doesn’t have a home outside of Commander decks. Some commanders that care about dealing excess damage might want to play it, and it’s the kind of card that Standard formats revolve around.

#25. Blasphemous Act

Blasphemous Act

Blasphemous Act deals 13 damage to each creature, so it’s a good sweeper. The catch? Some creatures redirect the damage they suffer elsewhere. Firesong and Sunspeaker, Radiant Scrollwielder, Stuffy Doll, the list goes on. You can burn your opponent effectively with this combo.

#24. Skewer the Critics

Skewer the Critics

You’ll like to play Skewer the Critics in red burn and aggro decks, and it especially shines in Explorer and Pioneer. A 1-mana conditional Lava Spike is good, and those decks need redundancy in their burn.

#23. Skullcrack

Skullcrack

Dealing three damage is the norm of burn spells. The “players can’t get life” clause is what makes Skullcrack shine. After all, using it in response to a big “I’ll gain life spell” can be the difference between winning and losing.

This can be used in response to Lightning Helix, Sphinx’s Revelation, or a hit from a lifelink creature.

#22. Gut Shot

Gut Shot

The name of the game here is free. Gut Shot costs one mana or two life, and it’s good to deal with mana dorks like 1/1 or 0/1 elves, or 2/1 creatures like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben.

#21. Fling

Fling

Many-a combo deck revolves around lethally Flinging a creature. In previous Standard you could Fling a Body of Research, and it was also played alongside Temur Battle Rage.

Decks interested in pumping or sacrificing creatures and dealing damage can use this to its best effect.

#20. Skred

Skred

Skred is a good burn spell for snow decks. It’s almost unconditional removal in those since you easily deal upwards of five or six mana. It’s played in Skred-Red decks, Izzet () snow decks, and Temur () snow decks.

#19. Punishing Fire

Punishing Fire

Have you heard of a card called Grove of the Burnwillows? It creates a very good combination with Punishing Fire that makes opposing creature decks very weak (that’s why Fire is banned).

It’s hard to interact since it’s a combo that revolves around lands and the graveyard.

#18. Wizard’s Lightning

Wizard’s Lightning

Wizard’s Lightning is Lightning Bolt for wizard decks, or extra Bolts for burn decks. You’ll sometimes see it paired with Ghitu Lavarunner in formats like Explorer or in wizard tribal in EDH.

#17. Abrade

Abrade

Abrade is a flexible choice of Lightning Strike or Shatter. Midrange control decks run it and have incidental protection against artifacts.

#16. Chain Lightning

Chain Lightning

Sorcery-speed Lightning Bolt is still good. Chain Lightning isn’t legal in Modern since it hasn’t been reprinted. If it were it would take the Lava Spike post in a pinch.

#15. Fires of Victory

Fires of Victory

Fires of Victory is getting traction in Standard because it has the kicker to draw an extra card. It can kill nearly everything if you have a full hand. It’s never dead, so it’s an extra incentive to play in Izzet or Grixis () decks in Standard.

#14. Lightning Strike

Lightning Strike

Lightning Bolt costs one mana, and it’s too good for Standard. And Explorer, and Pioneer, etc. Make the spell cost an extra mana on Lightning Strike and it’s all right.

#13. Strangle

Strangle

Sometimes you need that 3/3 dead on turn 2 after a tapped land comes in, especially with Evolved Sleeper in Standard and other formats. Strangle is being played as a 1- or 2-of in those formats as a removal spell that kills lots of creatures (those that Play With Fire or Cut Down can’t get).

#12. Fiery Confluence

Fiery Confluence

Fiery Confluence is the Swiss-army knife of burn spells. You can destroy creatures, artifacts, and players with it. It’s played in Cube where you need to kill artifacts and small creatures a lot, and it’s also used in EDH. There are plenty of commanders interested in it, from Torbran, Thane of Red Fell to Tor Wauki the Younger.

#11. Tribal Flames

Tribal Flames

Nothing is a better burn spell than paying two mana to deal five damage to any target in Modern domain decks. You have to do the extra job of filling your deck with Triomes and fetch lands with Tribal Flames, though.

#10. Lava Spike

Lava Spike

Lava Spike is one of the easiest cards to play because it has only one target: your opponent. It’s technically not that good since you can’t choose creatures, but you want to kill your opponent, not their guys. Three damage to the face is still good.

#9. Fireblast

Fireblast

Fireblast is one of those free spells like Force of Will that’s better than it looks because it’s free (you’ll gladly sacrifice two Mountains instead of paying six). You’re only doing that to kill your opponent effectively, but why do you need Mountains when you’ve already won?

#8. Galvanic Blast

Galvanic Blast

Galvanic Blast can deal two or four damage based on the number of artifacts you control, and it can even be better than Lightning Bolt. Play it if your deck has lots of cheap artifacts and artifact lands.

You’ll find artifact lands in Pauper, a format dominated by affinity decks, and back in Modern thanks to Modern Horizons 2.

#7. Play with Fire

Play with Fire

Although a strictly better Shock, Play with Fire is the best variant available from Standard to Pioneer, so it sees heavy play. The scry 1 makes a difference. Gone are the days when people played Wild Slash just for the ferocious ability.

#6. Rift Bolt

Rift Bolt

Rift Bolt is Lightning Bolt with suspend 1. It’s a much-needed redundancy in the burn decks. Turn 1 suspend Rift Bolt is scary because players know exactly what’s coming. It’s a staple of burn decks.

#5. Grapeshot

Grapeshot

Grapeshot is the main win condition of Izzet storm decks. It’s technically not a burn spell, but it is what it does. It can be used in a pinch to deal damage to creatures if you need it to.

#4. Sulfuric Vortex

Sulfuric Vortex

Sulfuric Vortex is one of the most played cards in Cube since it’s a staple of mono red aggro and burn decks. It seems innocuous, but dealing two damage each turn goes a long way and helps to deal the last points of damage to your opponents before they stabilize.

#3. Eidolon of the Great Revel

Eidolon of the Great Revel

Eidolon of the Great Revel is an enchantment creature that deals damage to players based on the spells they cast. If Eidolon eats a removal spell, the opponent takes two.

This card also helps creatures like Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer and Monastery Swiftspear do their thing. And your opponents won’t be doing much storm combo’ing with Eidolon in play.

#2. Unholy Heat

Unholy Heat

Unholy Heat is a Lightning Bolt with delirium that can deal six damage and kill most creatures for one mana, even big green creatures. This is a burn spell that you’ll play in formats like Modern and Historic since it’s legal there.

#1. Lightning Bolt

Lightning Bolt

Lightning Bolt is the Gold Standard 1-mana burn spell. WotC never made a strictly better card, and “Bolt” is MTG’s lingo for three damage. Most burn spells in this list are more expensive than Lightning Bolt or conditionally better depending on your deckbuilding (like Galvanic Blast).

This is a card that’s powerful enough not to be reprinted in Standard, and it’s seen play in all formats from Modern to Vintage. The format that sees it the least is EDH since it favors sweepers and threats to spot removal.

Best Multicolored Burn Spells

#12. Ionize

Ionize

One of MTG’s most played archetypes back in the old days was Counter Burn, usually an Izzet deck with lots of counterspells and burn and some win condition (let’s say, a flash threat). Today’s more common Izzet tempo decks have powerful threats in the one to two mana range and keep the game at that.

Ionize is a spell you want in this style of deck because it maintains your advantages by countering whatever your opponent plays, and burning them for two. You’ll want a copy of this if you’re playing Niv-Mizzet style decks in Commander.

#11. Rakdos’s Return

Rakdos’s Return

Rakdos’s Return is usually seen in Cube decks that want to play an extra copy of Mind Twist. Uniting the discard effect with damage to the face is something worth accelerating into with fast artifact mana. You can also play it in Rakdos () EDH decks.

#10. Keranos, God of Storms

Keranos, God of Storms

Hard to deal with once resolved, Keranos, God of Storms will take a game against control and slow decks because it gives you card advantage or three damage to any target.

Decks nowadays have more access to exile-based removal, so Keranos isn’t the powerhouse it was back then. But it’s still an interesting card.

#9. Cut // Ribbons

Cut // Ribbons

Cut // Ribbons has two sides as a split card, and the Cut side is a Flame Slash variant that can be used as removal (creature burn). Ribbons is damage to all players, so it deals damage on both sides like Rakdos would want it.

#8. Expansion // Explosion

Expansion // Explosion

The Explosion half of Expansion // Explosion combined with Wilderness Reclamation was a top tier combo back in its Standard days.

#7. Electrolyze

Electrolyze

A former Modern staple in Izzet and Jeskai () decks, Electrolyze shines in formats where important creatures have one toughness like Dark Confidant, Snapcaster Mage, and Noble Hierarch. It cleans tokens produced by Lingering Souls, and it’s never dead since you’ll draw a card so you can also burn your opponent’s face.

#6. Klothys, God of Destiny

Klothys, God of Destiny

As an enchantment that deals damage to players each turn, Klothys, God of Destiny is a kind of burn spell in the vein of Sulfuric Vortex. Klothys is an indestructible enchantment, so it’s hard to get rid of.

You’ll see this card in Explorer/Pioneer decks, usually out of the sideboard. It’s also a legendary creature and a popular Gruul () commander.

#5. Prismari Command

Prismari Command

Prismari Command is a spell that sees play in Standard and Pioneer/Explorer from time to time. The flexibility is very good because it allows you to loot (draw, discard) and make Treasures. Oh, and it’s also a removal spell.

Combined with decks that want to reach at least six mana, it’s a perfect fit. And drawing and discarding cards is excellent to allow you to find the right cards (sweepers, lands, counterspells) and get rid of cards when they’re bad.

#4. Kolaghan’s Command

Kolaghan’s Command

Kolaghan’s Command is a flexible spell, as are all Commands, and one that’s a staple in formats like Modern and Pioneer. It does so much, and it’s good in almost every matchup. It’s also important to have artifact destruction available and combine it with a burn spell or discard.

#3. Fire // Ice

Fire // Ice MH2

Fire // Ice combines flexibility with a card that’s never dead, and it looks a lot like Electrolyze. Fire is a good burn spell because it sweeps small creatures. And you can cycle the spell with Ice if the creature is big enough.

This is a new addition to Pauper, but Fire // Ice has seen play in all kinds of formats from Legacy to Cube.

#2. Boros Charm

Boros Charm

The flexibility is what makes Boros Charm good. All the modes are useful. Four damage to the face is as good as burn gets, and you can also protect your creatures from wraths or give your own striking creature double strike.

#1. Lightning Helix

Lightning Helix

A staple in formats that can play it, Lightning Helix is one of the quintessential Boros () spells. It’s a Lightning Bolt that gains you some life, which is vital against aggro matchups and burn mirrors.

Best Burn Spells Payoffs

Aggressive creatures that synergize well with instants and sorceries are a prime candidate to go alongside burn spells. Cards like Monastery Swiftspear, Delver of Secrets, Dragon’s Rage Channeler are usually found in mono-red or Izzet burn decks.

Firebrand ArcherThermo-Alchemist

Other beneficiaries are cards that state that you deal more damage to your opponent whenever you cast a noncreature spell. Creatures like Firebrand Archer and Thermo-Alchemist are good examples.

Bedlam Reveler

Bedlam Reveler is interesting in mono red burn/spells decks for three reasons: it has prowess (so it benefits from burn spells), it reloads your hands to allow you to discard useless cards, and it hits reasonably hard.

Goblin GuideRagavan, Nimble Pilferer

Haste and cheap creatures like Goblin Guide and Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer add to the burn spells to increase the damage dealt to your opponents.

Skewer the CriticsReckless Impulse

The “exile the top card of your deck and you can play it this turn” mechanic from red decks is perfect for burn decks since you want to use the card ASAP, and they’re usually cheap. Skewer the Critics and Reckless Impulse are good examples.

Laelia, the Blade Reforged

Laelia, the Blade Reforged has made an impact in eternal formats and Cube because of the synergies with burn spells. It ticks lots of boxes from haste to synergy with “exile the top card” to dealing lots of damage.

Wrap Up

Skewer the Critics - Illustration by Heonhwa Choe

Skewer the Critics | Illustration by Heonhwa Choe

Burn spells are integral to red’s color pie, so they’ll continue to be a core part of the game for casual, Limited, and Constructed play. Good burn spans all of Magic’s history, from Alpha’s Lightning Bolt to Dominaria United’s Fires of Victory.

Did I miss any must-play burn spells? Which one is your favorite? Let me know in the comments below or in the Draftsim Discord.

Burn, baby, burn!

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