Last updated on April 3, 2024

Runaway Steam-Kin - Illustration by Jason Felix

Runaway Steam-Kin | Illustration by Jason Felix

In my blue ramp piece, I asked if ramp was good. A better way to ask the question might be, “is ramp good outside of green?”

That’s a harder question to answer with blue, which has more niche ramp choices than ramp leader green. But red has some more broadly usable ramp cards, so maybe we'll get closer to the answer. I know you play at least one of the cards below!

What Is Red Ramp in MTG?

Alena, Kessig Trapper - Illustration by Zoltan Boros

Alena, Kessig Trapper | Illustration by Zoltan Boros

Ramp in MTG is the creation of additional mana. This typically involves creatures or artifacts that tap for mana (mana dorks and mana rocks, as we call them) or spells and abilities that allow players to play more than one land per turn, often by searching up another land. Green does this the best, followed by white.

Burst mana (Dark Ritual) isn’t generally considered mana ramp because it’s not reusable. A lot of the mana acceleration in black and red comes in these forms, so some of the best cards that go into red ramp decks, like Pyretic Ritual or Irencrag Feat, don’t make this list. For the same reasons I don’t consider Treasure creators. Sorry, Dockside Extortionist.

That said, red still has a lot of resources for ramp, including a good number of planeswalkers. Let’s get crackin’!

#22. Alpine Guide

Alpine Guide

Three mana for a red Nature's Lore effect seems okay given that red lacks similar effects, but then you read the fine print. It comes into play tapped and when Alpine Guide goes, it, what, brings the avalanche that destroys the mountain?

Cool flavor. Bad card.

#21. Chandra, Bold Pyromancer

Chandra, Bold Pyromancer

A 6-drop that yields two mana? The other abilities on Chandra, Bold Pyromancer aren’t much better.

#20. Chandra’s Embercat

Chandra's Embercat

Some elemental decks use this, but not paying for spells in red is a big problem. Chandra's Embercat doesn’t even see play in the noncompetitive and meme-y “Oops, All Chandras!” decks in Modern, so this terrible topdeck isn’t a premium pick.

#19. Alena, Kessig Trapper

Alena, Kessig Trapper

Once you get going in a deck like Goro-Goro, Disciple of Ryusei or something else that reliably drops creatures, this can really add the mana. But you don’t really need a 5-cost mana dork.

Alena, Kessig Trapper works best with well-known partner Halana, Kessig Ranger in the command zone, where Alena pays for Halana’s trigger, which is a cool combo, but barely counts as ramp.

#18. Lavabrink Floodgates

Lavabrink Floodgates

Lavabrink Floodgates is fun to play. You can watch the hamster wheels turn in people’s brains at your EDH table when you play this. The trouble is that you basically let your enemies decide whether it's ramp or a board wipe, and you can bet it won’t work out the way you want.

If you have counter-moving shenanigans going, three other EDH-legal cards use doom counters, which gives you more control over this and Imminent Doom, Armageddon Clock, and Eye of Doom. Maybe you can figure out how that can be good in some kind of Nesting Grounds deck. If so, ping me your decklist!

#17. Sisters of the Flame

Sisters of the Flame

A 3-mana dork is worse than a 3-mana rock, right? And the two pips on Sisters of the Flame makes this a hard card to want.

#16. Exuberant Firestoker

Exuberant Firestoker

Exuberant Firestoker seems really underwhelming for a card released this century. It’s fragile, only gives colorless mana, and has an unimpressive additional ability. Useful only in your Great Balls of Fire theme deck.

#15. Chandra, Novice Pyromancer

Chandra, Novice Pyromancer

In Chandra, Novice Pyromancer we see a planeswalker early in her career, before she could know that a 4-drop mana source isn’t much help (at least until she grows up into #3 and adds a stack of OP abilities into the mix!)

#14. Vulshok Factory

Vulshok Factory

Vulshok Factory hardly sees play, which tells you the value of a red-only 3-mana rock with abilities no one cares about. Let that raise your suspicions about the ramp value of the 3-mana rocks later on this list!

#13. Smokebraider

Smokebraider

A 2-mana dork that yields two mana in any color combination is big news for your Horde of Notions elementals tribal deck!

#12. Jaya Ballard

Jaya Ballard

There’s a pattern in some of these red ramp cards. Spend X and then get all but two of that mana back. That makes it possible to chain ramp spells for the next turn’s monster.

I think there’s a build of that that can use Jaya Ballard. But again, by the time you can cast 5-drop ramp spells, you should be done ramping.

#11. Koth, Fire of Resistance

Koth, Fire of Resistance

A little bit of ramp and a lot of damage if you’re running the requisite basics. Koth, Fire of Resistance likely comes down as removal and then gets you inefficient ramp to uptick. This feels playable only for the damage if it fits your plan, with a bit of bonus ramp.

It’s like the dressing on the side for your side salad.

#10. Koth of the Hammer

Koth of the Hammer

Koth of the Hammer’s first ability technically counts as ramp, and the second works too if you aren’t after the ultimate. There’s better planeswalker ramp that doesn’t ask you to run so many basics, though.

#9. Carnelian Orb of Dragonkind

Carnelian Orb of Dragonkind

Just about every dragon commander has red, so Carnelian Orb of Dragonkind is a perfect fit for those decks. 3-mana rocks are a bit slow these days, but giving all your dragons haste is big game.

#8. Sarkhan, Fireblood

Sarkhan, Fireblood

A Smokebraider for dragons that can also rummage with an uptick towards ultimate? I think you want Sarkhan, Fireblood in your red-heavy dragon deck.

#7. Glittering Stockpile

Glittering Stockpile

A 3-mana rock that turns into a riff on Red Mana Battery? I have my doubts about Glittering Stockpile, but the risk from things like Vandalblast is lower than for other rocks since you can sac it at instant speed for any color.

#6. Orb of Dragonkind

Orb of Dragonkind

Orb of Dragonkind is a 2-mana rock for your dragon deck that filters mana and then digs for cards later. This is good! You can just drop it, sac it, and you’ve paid three to do a bad impression of Dig Through Time.

#5. Cursed Mirror

Cursed Mirror

Cursed Mirror is outstanding in the usual suspects artifacts decks like Mishra, Eminent One, and is a fun addition to my latest EDH deck obsession, Jaxis, the Troublemaker.

But for a regular red or Gruul () ramp deck, just remember the haste on the token this makes. Cursed Mirror feels more like a 2-mana rock if you drop it on turn 3 and copy a mana dork.

#4. Chandra, Dressed to Kill

Chandra, Dressed to Kill

So Chandra, Dressed to Kill is a 3-mana rock that can also impulse draw. It pings down opposing planeswalkers that ticked down thinking they were safe from creature damage along the way.

In the past I might have said this is worse than a 3-mana rock because it’s more fragile. But as artifact hate creeps up, this may be the more reliable form of ramp.

#3. Chandra, Torch of Defiance

Chandra, Torch of Defiance

The mana is fine here, but people would play #15 if it was enough. Folks play Chandra, Torch of Defiance for card draw and removal.

Add a win condition into the mix and you’ve got the best overall card on this list.

#2. Braid of Fire

Braid of Fire

Braid of Fire, the second best ever cumulative upkeep card, has gotten better over the years. The mana clears after your upkeep, so you need other cumulative upkeep cards like Mystic Remora to make use of it, or big instants you’d want to cast before combat, which is the total worst time for casting instants!

But cards have been creeping up the word count in those text boxes, and quite a lot of activated abilities would make good use of this. No one plays Braid of Fire in Kenrith, the Returned King decks, but maybe they should.

#1. Runaway Steam-Kin

Runaway Steam-Kin

Anyone who played against red decks from the start of Arena will be familiar with this beastie and the acceleration it can provide. It’s not traditional ramp, but it acts like it.

I’ve seen Runaway Steam-Kin generate nine mana in one turn, only to start it all over again the next. It can’t quite keep up in 60-card formats now that it’s out of Standard, but this works just fine in Commander, especially in storm decks.

Best Red Ramp Payoffs

Big Red!

This is periodically a thing in 60-card formats when green ramp is a bit poor, like right now in Standard. It doesn’t seem to work as well in Commander where green ramp and card draw is just so much more efficient and multicolor mana rocks can get you a more flexible deck than mono-red. That said, I’ve seen it before.

I’d say the most useful deck for a lot of red mana is Ashling the Pilgrim stuffed with expensive, powerful things like Gratuitous Violence and Dictate of the Twin Gods.

Spells!!

Storm and spellslinger don’t usually want to clog the work with ramp cards like these, but red midrange decks tend to have damage spells, planeswalkers, weird enchantments, and even dice rolling or coin flips.

These probably aren't great decks, but if you have build you want to try then you’ll need some ramp to keep up. I’m looking at you, Torbran, Thane of Red Fell player!

Dragons!!!

Dragons are expensive to cast, so there's a lot of dragon-specific mana ramp in this list. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why dragons are the most popular tribe in EDH?

Losing the game to tokens before your Miirym, Sentinel Wyrm even makes it out of the command zone feels bad man. Enter ramp!

Wrap Up

Smokebraider - Illustration by Anthony S. Waters

Smokebraider | Illustration by Anthony S. Waters

Ramp is still a tough call. How long can you go doing nothing but making it easier to do something next turn?

Every deck builder has to decide how much ramp they want to include and what colors to invest in. And although I don’t have a good answer for your deck, hopefully this list illuminated some possibilities as you brew toward your next Commander game.

What do you think? To ramp or not to ramp? Let me know in the comments or over on the Draftsim Discord.

That's all from me for now. Stay safe, stay healthy, and wash your hands!

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