Last updated on April 26, 2023
Lightning Bolt (Mystical Archive) | Illustration by Anato Finnstark
Red is the color of passion, emotion, and freedom. Through impulsive action, red wins games with speed and aggression, striking your opponents with Lightning Bolts or drowning them in hordes of goblins. Red spells burn, attack, and fling their way to victory.
There’s no doubt that some of the best spells in Magic are red, but which red spells are the best? Let’s take a look at what makes a red spell great, and which ones top the list!
What Are Red Cards in Magic?
Ancient Copper Dragon | Illustration by Antonio Jose Manzanedo
Red cards, for our purposes, are any card whose color is exactly red. No multicolor mana costs, and no artifacts with a red color identity. The only cards this omits are Mox Ruby as well as some interesting lands like Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, but you don’t need me to tell you those are strong cards in any red deck.
The best red cards in this list are the cards that have seen the most play in their respective formats. They’ll need to be either very versatile or very powerful. Many are banned or restricted in one format or another, or at least have a history of such. I’m also going to be biased towards iconic and format- or even game-defining cards since their impact has shaped the way red cards were printed.
#33. Big Score
Big Score is the newest member of the loot crew. Four mana makes it one of the more expensive loot effects, but two cards and two Treasure tokens are too good to pass up. Remember that you’ll usually think of that discard-a-card downside as an upside if you built your deck right.
This card is all value, and it’s costed about as aggressively as it realistically could be.
#32. Goblin Recruiter
Perhaps surprisingly, Goblin Recruiter is one of the only goblins to make the list. While goblins are undeniably iconically red creatures, it’s hard to consider the expendable little weirdos “the best.”
Goblin Recruiter is the best solely because it can tutor up every other good goblin all at once. Conspicuous Snoop gives you access to every goblin you pulled immediately, or use Goblin Ringleader to put every goblin right into your hand.
This little guy can basically stack a pile of cards on top of your library that’ll win the game on the spot.
#31. Burning Wish
Pulling cards from outside the game will always be one of the most valuable effects in black-border magic. These effectively tutor up spells that are safe from being Surgical Extraction’d or otherwise removed from the game.
Burning Wish grabs any sorcery you need, which can be a solution to a problem or an immediate combo piece to achieve victory.
The humble Fling has been the signature main phase 2 follow up to Ball Lightnings and Nivix Cyclopses (Cyclopi?) for decades now. Nothing beats throwing that huge creature directly at your opponent, or in response to their removal spell.
A generally good spell with utility in every format it can be played in, and great design for a common.
#29. Faithless Looting
Banned in Modern alongside Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis in 2019, Faithless Looting is widely regarded as one of the best cards in Magic. The value it generates as a 1-mana loot effect, drawing you two cards and letting you pitch two essential graveyard cards, and the option to flashback, is frankly insane. The engine that was Faithless Looting enabled almost every “winningest” (in Wizards’ words) deck in Modern at the time: dredge, Izzet Phoenix, Hollow One; the list goes on.
Faithless Looting is still played as one of the best draw spells in Commander and Legacy nowadays, enabling graveyard decks and keeping the engine rolling.
#28. Etali, Primal Storm
It feels like WotC reprints Etali, Primal Storm every year, and for good reason. But the lure to include it in just about every red deck is tempting.
As a 6-mana 6/6, Etali makes up for its lack of protection or evasion by giving you free spells whenever it attacks. This becomes exponentially better as the number of opponents increases, and a little Sensei's Divining Top trickery can go a long way to secure a big follow-up like Combustible Gearhulk.
#27. Mana Geyser
The pinnacle of red ritual spells, a resolved Mana Geyser typically signals the end is near for your enemies. Despite its 5-mana cost you’re looking at 15+ red mana in your pool in the mid-to-late-game with multiple opponents. Perfect for storming off or dumping into a Jaya's Immolating Inferno.
#26. Seasoned Pyromancer
Seasoned Pyromancer does it all. It’s one of the best ways to loot for cards, fill your graveyard with spells, and create a small army of creatures at the same time. Its low power and toughness means it’s easy to reanimate or tutor up with Imperial Recruiter, and you can “flashback” it later for some extra tokens once it has chumped a creature.
This shaman is just packed with value. I don’t think you could feasibly fit anything else on a 3-mana creature.
More than a few pieces of Rakdos () scam appear on this list, and for good reason. It’s a great red deck in Modern right now, and runs some of the best red cards.
Fury is a “free” four damage in most instances with the option to be a valuable double striker should it stick around. But that’s not all it’s good for! That ETB effect is just begging to be Ephemerate’d in a Boros () deck.
#24. Braid of Fire
Braid of Fire is part of a weird run of cumulative upkeep cards from Coldsnap, the delayed third set of the Ice Age block. Its unique mechanic can add an insane amount of red mana for free; the trick is using it before it empties from your pool at the end of your upkeep.
It goes well with activated abilities like Purphoros, God of the Forge and Sneak Attack, or to throw a bunch of burn spells down at instant speed. Bonus points if you run it in your Yurlok of Scorch Thrash EDH deck.
#23. Monastery Swiftspear
Monastery Swiftspear is the turn 1 drop for nearly any red deck. With an unheard of two toughness, and prowess, and haste, for a single red mana, at common?
This Khans of Tarkir monk is one of the best early-game attackers in Magic, let alone in red.
While they’re both considered some of the classic haste-anthems in red’s arsenal, Anger makes the list while Fervor does not.
Let’s compare their value: while Fervor is cheaper and on a noncreature permanent (thus making it harder to remove), Anger provides a 2/2 body that wants to be removed. We’re looking at a 2/2 bear body (typically costed at two mana) on top of a Fervor effect, for just one more mana. And controlling a Mountain is a condition you’ll almost never fail to meet, making Anger the best haste-anthem in red.
#21. Imperial Recruiter
Red doesn’t have much in the way of tutors. It’s got no Demonic Tutor equivalent, but Imperial Recruiter sure churns out value all the same. At first glance its two-power-or-less prerequisite seems like an insurmountable downside, except when you consider how many great targets red has at that level.
Grab your Dockside Extortionist, your Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, your Seasoned Pyromancer, or any combo piece like Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. For just three mana and a 1/1 body on top of it, this gives any of black’s tutors a run for their money.
Worldfire is my favorite non-controversy (nontroversey?) Famously banned in Commander since before the Rules Committee combined the “banned as/banned in” Commander lists, this 9-mana board wipe was considered an unfun interaction in Commander games since it effectively restarts the game. I, personally, loved the rounds after a Worldfire resolves; everyone is racing to find a land to play a spell, any spell, and release the pod from the torturous purgatory of “draw, go.”
The truth is, there’s no real way to abuse Worldfire. You can’t float mana to cast some burn spell after it resolves since it’s sorcery speed and exiles your hand as well. The best bet you have are suspended spells since it won’t exile those already exiled spells, or casting your commander from the command zone with some floating mana.
The RC came around to this way of thinking in 2021 and unbanned Worldfire in the same update where Golos, Tireless Pilgrim was banned.
#19. Chaos Warp
Chaos Warp’s original claim to fame came in the early years of EDH, back when the only way to permanently remove a commander was tucking it into a library.
Back in 2011 you could choose to send your commander to the command zone only if it would be put in the graveyard or be exiled. Before long, the Rules Committee identified this as one of the more unfun interactions in Commander and changed the rule to trigger whenever your commander would change zones.
As far as generic removal, Chaos Warp is one of red’s best ways to remove permanents. It’s guaranteed to get its target out of sight and out of mind but runs the risk of replacing it with something even worse. Of course, they could always reveal an instant or sorcery and end up with nothing!
Chaos Warp’s swingy results make it one of the most red cards in Magic.
Gamble is better than Entomb and Buried Alive in the right deck. Hell, it’s probably better than the average graveyard tutor in the wrong deck.
Gamble’s “downside” can easily be built around with the inclusion of cards with madness or flashback, besides the obvious benefit to recurring creatures with Unearth or Unburial Rites.
#17. Goblin Bombardment
Goblin Bombardment is red’s best access to a free sacrifice outlet. At a mere two mana, this enchantment is harder to remove than a creature with a similar ability and doubles as a source of damage for any target.
This card goes infinite with just about everything, most notably Krenko, Mob Boss and any easy untappers like Thornbite Staff.
#16. Balefire Dragon
Balefire Dragon shows up in most dragon tribal decks, but it’s also a strong one-sided board wipe. It has to stick around for a turn, absent an Anger in your graveyard, but it pays for itself twice over once it hits an opponent.
#15. Utvara Hellkite
More than a few of the best red cards are their iconic dragon creatures, and for good reason. Dragons like Utvara Hellkite were designed to make a splash when they were cast, and this one definitely delivers.
It’s easy to see how this card gets out of control in any dragon tribal deck. Play it late after your board is filled with dragons and a haste anthem of some kind, or play it early and use a Warstorm Surge to burn your opponents with your dragons’ fire.
In what should come as a surprise to no one, Vandalblast is just about the best way to remove any artifact in red. The versatility to overload it into an artifact board wipe or just zap a single troublesome Isochron Scepter makes it a staple in Commander.
#13. Purphoros, God of the Forge
The original incarnation of Theros’s mono-red god, Purphoros, God of the Forge is both a 6/5 indestructible creature and an Impact Tremors for just four mana. On top of that, it also has an anthem-wide Firebreathing ability, making it a great follow up to playing all those creatures.
#12. Sneak Attack
Sneak Attack dates back to Urza’s Saga and was the first effect of its style we’d seen. It suddenly makes huge creatures with ETB or attack triggers viable. These targets can be anything from Molten Primordial to Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.
The best part: the creature is only sacrificed, not exiled, so you have access to that creature with any recursion effect later.
#11. Red Elemental Blast + Pyroblast
Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast are basically the same card in today’s Magic landscape. They’re both strong color-hosers for blue spells and permanents, destroying or countering anything blue for just one red.
While very conditional, let’s not ignore the fact that some of the best spells in the game (never mind just the formats these two are legal in) make appearances in the main and sideboards of red decks from Pauper to Commander to Legacy and Vintage.
#10. Jeska’s Will
As far as cards designed specifically for Commander go, Jeska's Will is up there. Whether you cast it with or without your commander on the field, it pays for itself.
Its first effect is exactly equal to an Act on Impulse, but the second is more comparable to a Mana Geyser in the right context. Entwining both abilities for free is guaranteed to pull you way ahead.
#9. Deflecting Swat
Deflecting Swat is one of the single best red cards in Commander, which says a lot considering the cycle of free spells it hails from. Retargeting a removal spell from your commander to your opponent’s is hilarious fun when they’re not expecting it.
Deflecting Swat basically allows you to tap out for your commander without equipping its Swiftfoot Boots.
#8. Blood Moon
The ultimate red color-hoser, Blood Moon is a staple in every format it’s legal in. Turning off an opponent’s nonbasic lands is devastatingly powerful if this enchantment resolves and can stick to the field.
This goes in just about every deck that can spare a slot, from mono-red Commander to Modern, Legacy, and Vintage. Its low casting cost is just the cherry on top for one of the best stax effects in the game.
#7. Fable of the Mirror-Breaker / Reflection of Kiki-Jiki
Fable of the Mirror-Breaker is one of the best sagas in MTG, probably only out-valued by Urza's Saga. The first two chapters of this saga are good enough at three mana, creating a creature with the possibility of ramping you and letting you pitch two cards for some draw.
Where it really takes off is after the third chapter, when it transforms into Reflection of Kiki-Jiki, becoming a slower Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Unfortunately it won’t activate its copying ability the turn it transforms, but an extra source of this effect and a little bit of advantage beforehand makes it just as valuable overall.
#6. Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker is an essential piece in dozens of infinitely-executable combos. Use any of the typical untap effects available like Thornbite Staff and any sacrifice outlet, or just copy Zealous Conscripts over and over for an infinite number of token copies, ETB triggers, and untaps for Kiki-Jiki.
The Mirror Breaker has fallen off in Modern and other competitive formats, but it’s still a favorite in Commander decks.
#5. Ancient Copper Dragon
Ancient Copper Dragon is one of the most Timmy cards we’ve seen in the past few years. A big creature with evasion and a swingy ability means this dragon packs a punch for just six mana.
A while ago I wrote about how an average d20 roll with Ancient Copper Dragon in a Zirilan of the Claw deck can result in a one-turn kill, and that’s just my weird junk combo. There are incredibly oppressive ways to Sneak Attack this into play and ramp into a dozen Treasure tokens to keep the party going into the second main phase.
#4. Wheel of Fortune
Any card so iconic we named a whole archetype of spells after it deserves to make the list.
Wheel of Fortune is an Alpha sorcery that replaces everyone’s hands with seven new cards, immediately foiling any plans your opponents had and hopefully garnering you the advantage through any variety of effects. Alternatively you could end up putting exactly what you need right into your graveyard.
This card’s restricted Vintage status, compared to Wheel of Fate, is only because of the variety of combos discarding and drawing without shuffling enables.
#3. Dockside Extortionist
Dockside Extortionist is arguably another of those Magic card designs folks deem “a mistake.” Its generous ETB effect creates a Treasure for each artifact and enchantment your opponents control, and its low casting cost means that it’s easy to bounce and recast over and over. Soon it’ll combo off with infinite Treasure tokens like it’s nothing. This card is a menace at pods across the multiverse, almost synonymous with an instant win.
The controversial Dockside Extortionist seems to dominate the discussion around powerful cards that need a ban in Commander. As of April 2022, this goblin pirate has remained “firmly in [the] sights” of the Commander Advisory group. Still, I don’t think we’ll see a ban anytime soon considering it was just recently reprinted in Double Masters 2022.
WotC clearly intends to make the Extortionist a chase rare in sets to come, and if there’s one thing I know about WotC, it’s that they love to sell cards.
#2. Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer
Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer is an all-star in every format it’s legal in, so much so that it was banned in Legacy. Do you know what you have to do to get banned in Legacy? You have to be Necropotence. You have to be a Time Walk or Dig Through Time.
Ragavan joins the ranks of Mana Crypt and Demonic Tutor in terms of its relative health for that format. It’s an easily abusable little monkey that generates a ton of advantage by virtue of being early damage and a great way to steal spells from your opponents.
A playset of Ragavans is a staple in the Modern Rakdos scam deck.
#1. Lightning Bolt
Of the original five “boon” spells from Alpha, Lightning Bolt is the most iconic. Each of these spells represented what each color could get for just one mana on an instant.
While Ancestral Recall proved to be too much, Lightning Bolt has become a metric for measuring the relative strength of any other Magic cards; Does it survive Bolt? That’s two Bolts, at least. Shock and Searing Spear just downgraded Bolt.
We’ve all heard Lightning Bolt’s name invoked in reference to any number of Magic interactions. How much guaranteed damage (or more general “advantage”) can you get for one red mana? We wouldn’t ask ourselves these questions if Lightning Bolt wasn’t one of the defining cards of the entire game of Magic.
Red Card Payoffs and Synergies
You’re not just playing mono-red, you’re playing a deck where red matters. You’re looking to maximize the effectiveness of your red spells. You’re looking for the Goblin Battle Jesters and Staff of the Flame Magus’ of the world.
Try a Ruby Medallion to keep your red spells cheap, and use Koth, Fire of Resistance to dig up Mountains and keep the spells coming.
While you’re at it, use Koth of the Hammer and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle so each of those Mountains can become direct damage.
Finally, as long as you’re dumping all that red damage on the board, try using some damage multipliers like Furnace of Rath and Torbran, Thane of Red Fell.
What Is Red Good At in MTG?
Red is the color of fireballs, lightning strikes, and hordes of battle-mad creatures rushing across the battlefield. As such, it has the most access to Fireballs, Lightning Bolts, and the best first strike and hastey creatures, like Fervent Champion.
Red’s allied colors are black and green, and it shares an affinity for menace with the former and trample with the latter, while it shares access to first and double strike with white. Blue and red both care about instants and sorceries and usually play nice in a spellslinger deck.
Faithless Looting | Illustration by Karl Kopinski
There are over 3,800 mono-red cards in Magic. Cutting that down to the top 33 was a task, not to mention ranking them against each other. I often feel like the top 10 cards can be switched around depending on what your game often looks like.
Did I miss any glaringly obvious choices? Are red planeswalkers really not worth the top 30? And how would you expand this list to 50 cards? Let me know in the comments below and be sure to join the discussion over on Draftsim’s Discord.
Thanks for reading, and stay hot!
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