Seeing Red Again

Posted in Command Tower on October 16, 2014

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

Introduction | White | Blue | Black | Red | Green
Multicolored | Colorless and Lands | Multiplayer Hall of Fame Home


If there's one color that doesn't get the respect it deserves in multiplayer, it's likely red. The color of Mountains, emotions, and badass Dragons marches to the beat of a drum that sets it far apart from the other colors.

Perhaps the best way to put the power of red in multiplayer is a twist on the old adage: if you play with fire, be prepared to get burned.

Red's set of tools, from a design and mechanics perspective, has grown over the years since the Multiplayer Hall of Fame was last brushed up. However, many of these fall into the nuts and bolts cards that appear in Limited. The most powerful cards red has seen in the past few years have, typically, been in its classic wheelhouse of effects: chaotic, explosive, and terrifying in combat.

The Grading

That's not a bad thing, either. Red's greatest strengths lay in its ability to upend a game unexpectedly. It's why Anthony Alongi rated Radiate so highly, and it's a view I shared when I pored over everything new red has seen recently.

Aside from the iconic Mana Flare, red has a dearth of plankton effects—ways to feed the other players in the game. It's also relatively light on spider and rattlesnake effects—ways to trap opponents by surprise or discourage them from attacking you, respectively. However, there isn't another color that has the variety and tools to go gorilla on the battlefield—blowing up many types of permanents, players' life totals, and even the cards and spells they try to cast.

I looked to Anthony's rankings to see how older cards were viewed, and kept that baseline in mind approaching the new.

The Cards

I wanted to highlight a few of the more interesting and powerful options, including some from long ago that can use a little love in our modern era. Of course, just because I don't mention your favorite card on the list doesn't mean it isn't awesome. Be sure to tell your friends why a card is sweet. I've had some of the best conversations around Magic looking through the lens of someone else's favorite way to play.

Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs

One of red's rare rattlesnake cards, Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs is almost as good as the "attack elsewhere" counterparts blue and white have in Propaganda and Ghostly Prison, respectively. The difference here is that Kazuul is also a way to deliver the beats to opponents.

Kazuul typically plays out similarly to Edric, Spymaster of Trest by having good attacks get aimed elsewhere. If there's an opening for a 5/4 Ogre to come crashing through, you'll want to take it, and with Kazuul working on defense despite being tapped gives red an angle of play that often isn't expected.

Of course, if someone kills Kazuul after or during combat you'll have to hope your other defenses can hold instead. It's high risk but the reward is often worth it.

Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker

Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker is a card everyone encounters at some point. With both a competitive pedigree and plenty of two-card kill combos, Kiki-Jiki is never to be underestimated: Even without its sure-kill synergies, the ability to make a copy of any of your creatures immediately opens up several avenues of attack.

On offense, doubling up Inferno Titan or some other fearsome fatty is terrifying for opponents. Even better, just bringing something out means a copy—with haste—can be made, so there's no waiting to get a shot in if there's an opening. On defense, Kiki-Jiki can make a copy of anything that hops into play from flash or was already sitting around. Trying to figure out blocks when any creature can be copied on a moment's notice isn't a puzzle I like trying to solve.

Perhaps the greatest trick of all in multiplayer is just sitting and waiting until the end step of the turn before yours: by making a copy then, you keep it until your end step, effectively ambushing the battlefield with two copies of your best creature. However you plan to use Kiki-Jiki, he's going to do some work for you.

Warstorm Surge and Purphoros, God of the Forge

Unlike Pandemonium of old, which "fed" everyone the ability to deal silly amounts of damage by dropping dudes onto the battlefield, Warstorm Surge and the higher-rated Purphoros, God of the Forge are forces that work only for their controller. While Surge is just like Pandemonium in that it scales damage up and down given the power of the creatures you're creating, Purphoros edged it out because it traded power scaling and the ability to target creatures for being as cheap as Pandemonium, hitting every opponent instead of one, and bring indestructible to boot.

Entire Commander decks have been created around Purphoros, God of the Forge and the sundry of ways red can create Goblin and Elemental tokens. Laying down damage to opponents while building a board presence is a one-two combo opponents will have to deal with, but getting rid of an indestructible enchantment is often the hurdle opponents can't clear. Just jamming Purphoros into a creature-heavy deck is a great way to get extra mileage out of creatures that are others unimpressive late in the game.

Shunt and Wild Ricochet

Shunt and Wild Ricochet are cards that really let red shine in multiplayer. There are so many spells that target permanents it's impossible to go to a multiplayer game without seeing one, and the ability to change a target is worth waiting for.

That's what both do, but Wild Ricochet goes a terrifying step further and copies it for you. Even spells where changing the target doesn't work, like Cruel Ultimatum, getting a copy that resolves first can make a huge difference. Dropping Wild Ricochet in against a kicked Rite of Replication is a dream I still have, and every multiplayer mage worth his or her salt has seen the power of Wild Ricochet at one point or another.

Avatar of Slaughter and Bearer of the Heavens

Like green, red has an abundance of expensive and utterly terrifying fatties to cast. Avatar of Slaughter and Bearer of the Heavens work very differently—one creates attacking havoc, the other takes the world with it when it dies—but feel the same. By investing that much mana into one creature you'd have to expect to see results from it.

Avatar of Slaughter completely destroys creature-based "turtling" where players sit back with blockers at the ready. Bearer of the Heavens can force anyone planning to cast a Supreme Verdict effect rethink that plan. In both cases, the game opens up in ways that aren't possible in other colors.

And in case you needed to be reminded, both of these are fatties of enormous size that can demolish life totals quickly. When either shows up it'll get some work done.

Urabrask the Hidden

In Limited, red is often an aggressive color filled with creatures that attack better than they defend and want to be in the red zone as soon as possible. In multiplayer games, it's harder to be the aggressor, since there's always either a counterattack or more defenders arriving to jump in the way.

Urabrask helps with both issues. By giving your army haste you can set up an ambush, overwhelming someone who couldn't predict how fast your troops could come riding in. Even better, by making opponents' creatures enter the battlefield tapped, the ability to mount a counterattack—or to just get a few roadblocks in the way—is hampered. Getting ahead of the curve with Urabrask has taken many players with an unpleasant surprise.

Reiterate

Buyback is a fairly busted mechanic. Getting to do the same thing over and over generally doesn't lead to interesting games and interactions. But as with anything, there's always a diamond in the rough, and Reiterate does serious work for red in multiplayer.

Unlike Shunt and Wild Ricochet, which interdict and change targets, Reiterate is "just" an updated Fork with buyback stapled on. Doubling up on spells you cast is one thing, which certainly works out well for you in plenty of cases, but copying other players' spells repeatedly is downright powerful.

It isn't Giant Growth and other small potatoes you pick up, but once you cast Reiterate to copy someone else's Decree of Pain or Beacon of Unrest (your copy of the spell resolves first) you begin to see how useful it can be. Playing off others' powerful spells several times is one way to get everyone's attention and surge ahead without even spending a card in hand.

Grip of Chaos, Warp World, Mana Flare, and Confusion in the Ranks

There's one class of card that's almost exclusively available to red. It provides some of the biggest explosions possible in the game, and it's best summarized by Grip of Chaos and Warp World. These effects are chaotic, creating nonsensical and randomized situations, and they're where red can thrive. The best-laid plans, with powerful pieces carefully placed over several turns, go totally wild when either of those two cards hit the battlefield.

Mana Flare may not seem chaotic, but what it feeds everyone else usually changes the game just as well. Suddenly having more mana than you know what to do with results in haymakers, splashy spells, and all-out rumbles erupting. Everybody will cast as much as they can, if they're not trying to destroy the fount of everyone's sudden mana.

And, the top-rated card on the list is Confusion in the Ranks. Chaotic? Yeah. A little plankton-type feeding? Perhaps. Absolutely mindboggling to try and resolve in a multiplayer game? Oh yes. For maximum shenanigans and an over-the-top way to totally upend a game, Confusion in the Ranks can't be topped. While its effect may not be exactly the cup of tea everyone wants, there are plenty among us who love the madness that comes with numbering permanents and randomizing from there. (See random.org for details.)

Longtime Pro Tour scorekeeper and general curmudgeon Nick Fang is famous for these type of chaotic effects—so famous in fact that the R&D shorthand for these types is "the Nick Fang card." While it's creatures haven't evolved much over the years, Nick's Kaervek the Merciless deck contains many of the powerful red cards on the Hall of Fame list, and makes great use of all of them to set up situations where every spell and outcome results in something random.

It's powerful, it's weird, it's surreal, and it doesn't kill everyone on the spot: just what someone in love with multiplayer mayhem would want.

Nick Fang's Kaervek

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Kaervek the Merciless

Some notes from Nick:

  • Hasn't changed a bunch since they don't print new cards for my style super often.
  • Overall, what I like is best described as "Things that make people come up with new ways to do things by disrupting plans somehow," whether that's through things that effectively change rules, or through resets or other things that makes people come up with other ways.
  • As I mentioned, not a great deck, just fun. Relies on turtling and people thinking it's funny or benefiting from effects, so keeping you around and beating up each other. Once in a while it will sneak out a win, but that's not the point or you could build a much better package besides the signature cards.
  • The creatures haven't been touched in ages, and were originally built just by going through my box of random cards that happened to be on hand and taking what looked OK. Focusing more on cards to turtle and ones that are endgame powerhouses would probably be more effective, but I kind of just can't be bothered.
  • Not even sure black is right—was originally chosen because Kaervek was the first red legendary creature I came across. Blue might actually be better, although black has decent resets.
  • Lands, also, not optimized. Found the lands in that box that matched my colors, and then filled with basics.
  • Once in a while, you steal one with a surprising finisher. But, most of the time, you have fun and then you die. Relies a lot on "person X thinks effect Y is funny and maybe helps them, so they keep you around."

It's easy to just equate "multiplayer power" with the ability of a card to create victory in a vacuum. Red's filled with powerful spells that can do that—Sneak Attack, Bogardan Hellkite, Bringer of the Red Dawn, Heartless Hidetsugu, and many more—but it's greatest power lies in destruction. Your thoughtful plans and clever spells are meaningless when the right red effects are at work.

While it may be a candle that burns twice as bright for half a long, there isn't any other color I find as entertaining and thrilling to play with, and against, as red. I hope this look into its Multiplayer Hall of Fame rankings helps you find the next great red card to try as well.


Introduction | White | Blue | Black | Red | Green
Multicolored | Colorless and Lands | Multiplayer Hall of Fame Home

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