Monomania - All Things Considered: Red

(Act on Impulse | Art by Brad Rigney )

Explosive Potential

Greetings, everyone, and welcome back to Monomania. In this article series we examine and analyze all things mono-colored in Commander, with a heightened focus on ramp and draw packages. For about a year we’ve been challenging staples and misconceptions about the color pie. Today, we plunge forward with our holistic examination of each each color on its own.

Last week, we addressed the color that I consider the most narrow and difficult when built on its own: white. Ever since then, I've been debating which color comes next, red or blue, with respect to its power level as a mono-color. While I personally prefer building, playing with, and playing against mono-red, I came to the conclusion that mono-blue is more powerful both due to its capability to cleanly draw cards, create big-mana turns, and its plethora of combos.

All that being said, red is extremely functional on its own. While it lacks the diverse interaction of mono-white and the draw potential of blue, mono-red is very good at sculpting a hand and producing big mana for swing plays. The category in which red truly outclasses other colors, and why it is supremely fun to play, is in its win conditions. Mono-red has access to extra combat steps with cards such as Aggravated Assault, or double damage with cards like Dictate of the Twin Gods, or the one-card wonder Insurrection. These are in addition to a suite of combos that can end the game in a pinch. Mono-red is a delight that forces you to both build your decks in different ways in order to find the cards that you need and to reach the mana to cast them all. So let's get into it. As always, we'll start with ramp, move to card advantage, sift through win conditions, and then put it all together in review.


Unlike white, ramp in red is hard to come by and leans more heavily on artifact support. That doesn't mean that red can't ramp, but its best way to do so is by creating temporary mana. From rituals to Treasure tokens to Soulbright Flamekin or Generator Servant, an intrinsic part of red's color identity is plentiful mana for one turn only.

While this proclivity for temporary mana may seem like a weakness, it can actually be a very effective way of facilitating big plays. Mana Geyser is well-loved in this category and for good reason. Producing ten, twelve, fifteen, or more mana with Geyser is extremely powerful and usually means that you can dump your hand all at once. Battle Hymn is a little more narrow, but this card has a high ceiling, especially for token-based commanders such as Krenko, Mob Boss or Purphoros, God of the Forge. Brighstone Ritual is a more drastic example of this idea.

All of these rituals also play into a relevant theme in mono-red: Spellslinger. Within Spellslinger, there's nothing quite like Pyromancer's Goggles. Combine these Goggles with any ritual, and a rummage effect such as Cathartic Reunion or a stray Price of Progress will always be the linchpin of powerful turns. All this being said, I don't think that just any ritual will perform well in casual Commander. Outside of Storm decks, rituals such as Desperate Ritual, Seething Song, and Rite of Flame have a cap on the amount of mana that they can produce and thus don't warrant a slot in most decks.

As a corollary to this discussion of rituals, I love Treasure in red. Yes, it is temporary, but it is also very flexible. In red decks that include an artifact sub-theme or that aim to win in one explosive turn, a ramp package built on the back of Treasure tokens can be very effective. Dockside Extortionist is the best example of red's potential to produce Treasure, especially since it can produce several times its mana cost in Treasure. I have been known to play even less-efficient Treasure-producing cards, however. In the right deck, Pirate's Pillage, Brass's Bounty, and even Trove of Temptation can earn a slot. They can fill in gaps and allow you to sandbag mana.

Because I favor Treasure in red, I have found that Treasure Map performs well in my mono-red decks. It produces Treasure tokens, yes, but it also flips into an extra land, effectively ramping one land. Not only that, but if you have any spare Treasure left over, you can turn it into cards in hand if you don't need to use it for mana.

Of special note here is Braid of Fire, an extremely powerful card for the color. It produces temporary mana, but it also scales well with the game. This card was designed to be a Faustian bargain, introduced into a world with mana burn. Today, Braid's biggest weakness is that use of all of the extra mana it produces is restricted to your upkeep. Consider this card under very particular circumstances, such as in spellslinger decks that play at instant speed, or with commanders that have activated abilities such as Ashling the Pilgrim or Purphoros, Bronze-Blooded.

Card Advantage

I am actually very happy with the card advantage options available to mono-red decks, as well. Impulsive draw effects such as Act of Impulse are skill-testing, fun, and flavorful. Even outside of impulsive draw, red has a clear and powerful card advantage identity, taking the form of rummaging and wheel effects—both of which can form the base of a card advantage engine.

These three examples of impulsive draw effects have performed the best for me. Outpost Siege is the classic example in EDH, its Khans option acting as red's version of Phyrexian Arena. Sunbird's Invocation is another enchantment that provides amazing card advantage in a unique way. Yes, this card is slow, but its ceiling is very high. Not only can it gain significant card advantage, but it can also bury your opponents in on-board value.

Ignite the Future is a new favorite of mine and will probably win a spot in any mono-red deck that I build in the future. Not only does it accrue card advantage when cast from your hand, but Flashback, itself, is also a form of card advantage. Impulsive draw has come a long way in recent years, and other amazing examples for our format include Dark-Dweller Oracle, Chandra, Fire Artisan, Light Up the Stage, and Tectonic Giant.

Next, I want to explore a package that revolves around rummaging effects. While cards like Cathartic Reunion, Thrill of Possibility, Tormenting Voice, Wild Guess, and Magmatic Insight sculpt your hand rather than produce card advantage, they combine with another set of effects to draw more cards than they put in the yard. Because all of these cards include discarding as an additional cost, when you Fork these spells, you don't discard more cards. In decks that already want cards like Pyromancer's Goggles, Primal Amulet, Increasing Vengeance, or Repeated Reverberation, rummage spells are extremely powerful. Bag of Holding is another of my new favorite pieces of this package, and it's best taken advantage of in this style of deck. If you're constantly rummaging, suddenly you may be able to sacrifice the Bag for a full grip again. Other effects that I like with this package are cards like Pirate's Pillage, Cavalier of Flame, Underworld Breach, and Past in Flames.

Wheels may be expensive, but they exemplify red. This color loves to dump its hand and then refill it in one go. I can't afford Wheel of Fortune, but I've been playing with Magus of the Wheel, Wheel of Fate, Dragon Mage, and Reforge the Soul for years. Not only are they powerful on their own, but they also fit perfectly in the rummage package discussed above. One important point to note about wheels, however, is that there are many examples that only draw up to your current hand size, such as Incendiary Command or Khorvath's Fury. These are not necessarily card advantage. Many of them, in fact, are card disadvantage.

Win Conditions

As stated above, mono-red has no lack of paths to victory. There's six-million ways to kill; choose one.

These are three of my favorite killing blows that red can deal. Comet Storm is a perfect finisher for spellslinger decks that produce big mana. If the table is low enough, sometimes this storm in combination with a Mana Geyser will hose all of your opponents in one go. If you want to be certain, why not include Reiterate for infinite mana? Price of Progress is the best way to punish people playing three or more colors who will often be using nearly all nonbasic lands, and it's at such a low cost that you can't go wrong. Repercussion is most at home in controlling decks that are already running cards like Chain Reaction, Arcbond, Chandra's Ignition, Star of Extinction, and Blasphemous Act.

For the more combat-oriented player, these are two gems that can often just win on their own. On an unkempt board, Disrupt Decorum will remove blockers and likely force your opponents to deal a decent amount of damage to each other, clearing the way for your own alpha strike. For double the mana, Insurrection will clear out blockers and allow you to swing with everything on the spot.

Finally, there are several combos available to mono-red. I'm not a huge fan of combos, but they are sometimes a necessary safety valve to end a stale, long game. Dualcaster Mage and either Twinflame or Heat Shimmer will create infinite tokens with haste. Heartless Hidetsugu with Fiendish Duo is more fragile but creates spectacular stories. Because of how Hidetsugu rounds down, any opponent at an even life total will immediately die, while any opponent at an odd life total will drop to one health.

In Review

I love mono-red dearly, and with all the options listed above, I don't think that it's far behind the other colors when built alone, if it is even behind at all. I've found that perhaps the greatest hurdle that mono-red faces is its limited options for interaction. Outside of Chaos Warp, red interacts with creatures mostly through damage, and it practically can't interact with enchantments at all. You can only run one Chaos Warp. Controlling the board isn't impossible, but it is a more difficult task. Protection and indestructible are serious issues for the color.

As I did last article, I want to use this opportunity to highlight three of my favorite cards in red that deserve a little bit more love. Vance's Blasting Cannons can both ramp and generate card advantage as you need it. Yes, it feels bad to exile a land that you can't play, but in my experience the card just functions how I want it to. The best part, in my opinion, is that its transform clause is a may trigger. If you need ramp and can cast three spells in a turn, flip it. If you only want more card advantage, keep the enchantment. Dire Fleet Daredevil isn't necessarily card advantage, but it does give red access to off-color effects. This card has performed very well for me so far precisely because people tend to play good instants and sorceries in their EDH decks. My best Daredevil grabs have been early ramp spells such as Farseek and Kodama's Reach.

Finally, Haze of Rage is an extremely potent win condition that can come back over and over again in the late game. Over several turns, Haze of Rage can beat the whole table to death in a token deck.

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Check out Conquer. I've played it. It's not great. But I won't stop.

So what do you all think of mono-red in EDH? Do you frequently build mono-red decks? How do you think they compare to the rest of the field? Where would red place on your personal power rankings of the colors in EDH—whether on its own or in combination with others? Let me know in the comments. Remember to EDHREC responsibly: always dig a little beyond the statistics. I’ll see you all on down the road.

Steven Vincent is an ESL teacher located in Oaxaca, México who uses Magic as a teaching tool. He hasn't introduced his students to Commander yet, but he is inching them toward the format so that he has a play group and can more frequently sate his thirst for EDH.

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