Back to Basics - The Top 10 Most Played Mono-Red Cards in Commander

Expose the Culprit by Ryan Valle is the featured image for the EDHREC article on the top 10 most played mono-red cards in Commander
(Expose the Culprit | Art by Ryan Valle)


I Have a Bad Feeling about This...

Hey, everyone! As we reach the tail-end of this journey through the path most traveled, I'm excited to bring you the top 10 most played mono-red cards in Commander! Having gone through most of the mono-colored cards in the format at this point, I'm very curious about which cards you all were most surprised to see miss out on this most prestigious of lists.

For example, I'm somewhat surprised that a card like Pitiless Plunderer isn't among the top 10 most played black cards. Then again, this is EDH we're talking about; it's a format replete with Magic's most broken cards, combos, and synergies. Anyway, you don't have to scroll too far down EDHREC's list of mono-black cards to get to the treasure-generating Human Pirate. In the end, people are going to play the cards they enjoy the most, but that doesn't mean that decks that don't play Plundereror more common cards like Demonic Tutor or Toxic Delugecan't crush a table.

Honorable Mentions - Mono-Red Cards outside the Top 10

In my previous lists, I used this space to talk about the mono-colored Murders at Karlov Manor cards that had made a splash in the format. Now, with Outlaws of Thunder Junction so close, I thought I'd take this opportunity to highlight some of the sweetest, most iconic red cards that didn't quite crack the top 10.

How can I write a list about red cards without mentioning Lightning Bolt? This multi-format staple still manages to see a lot of play in Commander, where value engines and giant threats usually take precedence over efficient removal. On the other hand, Bolt isn't just a cheap way to kill a Birds of Paradise or another small creature. It can also be a win condition with enough copy or recursion effects. It also features in a cool combo I found out about on Commander Spellbook. Red decks don't have to play Lightning Bolt. They just get extra style points when they do, because it's that iconic.

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Meanwhile, Gamble answers the burning inquiry in Magic players' minds: What if the color red could do things the color black could do, but much much worse? It also has one of the simplest and most descriptive names in the format. On top of everything, it's a great card that is a one-mana Demonic Tutor enough of the time to be more than worth playing.

Finally, Impact Tremors has game-winning synergy with so many powerful commanders, including token generators like Anim Pakal, Thousandth Moon, Krenko, Mob Boss, and The Locust God. It also works well with a classic, Norin the Wary, and complements Purphoros, God of the Forge and shiny new toy Warleader's Call magnificently.

10. Etali, Primal Storm

The fact that this six-mana Elder Dinosaur gets into the top 10 most played mono-red cards above spells like Bolt and Gamble really shows how much of a powerhouse finisher Etali is. Its free cast ability scales incredibly well with the number of players at the table. Fortunately for people sitting across from this card, Etali's chances of survival are inversely proportional to the same. Casting this, especially earlier in the game, will create a very tense turn cycle as your opponents scramble to find an answer, lest you gain an insurmountable advantage when it attacks.

It's no surprise that players tend to play Etali in the same deck as a lot of red ramp cards, including Otepec Huntmaster in Dinosaur-matters decks and Generator Servant. I particularly love combining Etali with cards that give you multiple attack steps like Seize the Day and Relentless Assault. After all, if Etali survives long enough to attack once, why not double dip on the top of your opponents' decks?

9. Thrill of Possibility

This is one of the most played mono-red cards in Commander because it's such a great enabler for all the strategies and synergies the color red has going on. It's an instant, so it slots right into the various spells-matters decks with payoffs like Birgi, God of Storytelling, Jeskai Ascendancy, and Thousand-Year Storm. Its ability to turn your worst card (or a card you want in the graveyard) into two fresh ones multiplies its impact in spells decks while also digging you towards the cards you need the most at a given time.

Speaking of wanting cards in the graveyard, it's also commonly played alongside reanimator-style cards like, well, Reanimate and Victimize. Finally, Thrill tends to pop up in decks also playing Frantic Search and Faithless Looting, highlighting the importance of redundance and consistency in a singleton format like Commander.

8. Abrade

Removal spells like Abrade are by no means flashy, but I can't emphasize enough how important it is to play some amount of interaction in Commander. This particular removal spell sees so much play because its modal flexibility means you're essentially playing two card slots in one. That's a ton of value for just two mana, and unlike other formats where it's going to remove a creature most of the time, EDH features a ton of must-kill artifacts.

7. Deflecting Swat

Red has had access to the ability to change the targets of a spell for a while now, right alongside copying spells. Cards like Reverberate and Fork will often be used offensively, to achieve combo-kills or at least a ton of value. Deflecting Swat is so special because of its utility as a free defensive spell. Using it primarily to protect your high-value commander while also being able to do shenanigans with other spells on the stack make this so flexible and unpredictable for your opponents.

Chaos is very much a characteristic of the color red, and casting this in response to a removal spell is a great way to sow some at the table.

6. Dockside Extortionist

This 1/2 Goblin is the perfect way for a red deck to prevent itself from falling too far behind opponents' busted starts. Treasures are some of the most valuable pieces of cardboard in EDH and having a lot of them can juice commanders like Dargo, the Shipwrecker and Korvold, Fae-Cursed King, among many others. Even when you're not using it to draw a million cards or do some other busted thing, just having access to more mana and all your colors means you will be able to cast your spells more easily throughout the course of the game.

5. Vandalblast

Vandalblast's stock will only rise as more cards that produce and work well with Clues, Food, and Treasure are printed. Being able to snipe a problem artifact like Swiftfoot Boots or Skullclamp before they accrue value is a fine use case, but it's also not difficult in a modern Commander game to set your opponents back a ton of mana and yet-unrealized card advantage. I might be spoiling future top 10 articles in the Back to Basics series, but a quick look at how often Sol Ring, Signets, and Talismans are played has convinced me that Vandalblast should be an auto-include in most red decks.

4. Faithless Looting

I could have grouped Looting and Thrill together, but I wanted to highlight how these two spells represent two sides of the same coin despite seeing play in the same decks a lot of the time. While Thrill lets you spin your wheels and find more action without sacrifice raw card advantage, Faithless Looting comes in real handy when you care less about cards in hand and more about dumping material into your graveyard for a combo or about finding specific cards to enact your game plan. Thrill is sophisticated and reserved. Looting bursts into your room with an untrimmed beard, asking "what year is it?"

Looting's raw power is why it synergizes so well with graveyard-matters commanders like Feldon of the Third Path and Magar of the Magic Strings. It also powers up more niche build-around legends like Rielle, the Everwise, Eruth, Tormented Prophet, and Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar. Magic has been around long enough that you can just as easily pack as many redundant effects in your 99 as you can pick and choose the most extreme versions of a certain effect.

3. Jeska's Will

While it combines especially well with commanders like Faldorn, Dread Wolf Herald, Laelia, the Blade Reforged, and Prosper, Tome-Bound, Jeska's Will is simply a powerful and flexible card in pretty much any red decks. When you have a bunch of Treasures in play, possibly thanks to Dockside Extortionist, you can fire off the impulse draw three mode, and when you have cards in hand to spare but are tight on mana, you can piggyback off an opponent, preferably one playing the color blue.

Casting it for full value when you control your commander is just gravy, potentially putting you permanently ahead at the table.

2. Chaos Warp

Most of what I wrote about Beast Within in my article on the most played mono-green cards is true for Chaos Warp. Sometimes you just need to deal with a permanent, and Warp gives you a way to do that in a color that normally has trouble dealing with Enchantments and large creatures. Once in a while, the drawback is going to lose you the game, but I'd call that more of a spicy bonus in Commander. Don't tell the 1v1 players I said that!


1. Blasphemous Act

The color red is the undisputed champion of direct damage in Magic, so it's fitting that the most played mono-red card in Commander is a one-mana card that kills everything in play with damage. Now, Blasphemous Act isn't always going to cost a single red mana, and I can imagine some world where it leaves a creature or two behind, but it's going to be an unconditional, extremely cheap reset button enough of the time that you'll never feel bad about drawing.

But neither its low cost or its guaranteed body count is the most awesome thing about Blasphemous Act. The real compelling reason to play it in this format is that there are several ways to turn it into a board wipe for your opponents' life totals. It's most commonly paired with Toralf, God of Fury for what will often be a two-card win condition. It can also get players down to zero in conjunction with Tree of Perdition and one of Brash Taunter, Stuffy Doll, or Boros Reckoner.

You can also get a lot of value out of it by playing it with effects that interact with dealing damage. Some examples including using Firesong and Sunspeaker to gain obscene amounts of life, donating Khârn the Betrayer, or making a gigantic Jared Carthalion, True Heir.


Don’t Underestimate the Aerodynamic Qualities of the Common Goblin

In formats with smaller card pools like Standard and Pioneer, red used to have a reputation for being narrow. It could deal damage with burn and attackers, but you often had to combine it with other colors to make up for its glaring weaknesses. In the last few years, however, red's slice of the color pie has seemingly expanded to encompass card advantage (albeit of the Reckless Impulse variety) and efficient mana generation beyond just one-shot ritual effects. Most importantly, these abilities feel red.

The color has felt a lot more well-rounded of late, and I think this is reflected pretty effectively in the most played mono-red cards in Commander. I think it's a wonderful example of how Magic can evolve while still staying true to the philosophy of the color pie. I know some might disagree, and I'd love to hear why! Until next time, when we explore the most played mono-white cards in the format.

Read more:

Back to Basics - The 10 Most Played Mono-Black Cards in Commander

Wombo Combo - Mono-Red Edition

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