13 Spells to Make Your Enemies See Red in Commander
A Magictation by Mikeal Basile
“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.
Here are my top thirteen red spells to make your enemies (I mean, friends) see red in Commander. I wanted to focus on red cards people do not typically play, and that tend to shine in a mono red deck. When you go beyond the basics in red, you start digging into some more surprising tools. While perusing my collection, I found these undervalued red spells that I cannot wait to use to enrage my playgroup. It is awfully fun making your friends see red while sharing soda and snacks.
Chaosphere takes a potential weakness to fliers and turns it into a strength. If you find the wording on Chaosphere confusing, then you are not alone. It essentially makes, for the purposes of blocking only, fliers into non-fliers and non-fliers into fliers. It twists our expectations just as much as the artist, Steve Luke, warps reality. The flavor text for this card is fairly solid, too, so from an aesthetic angle this card checks all the boxes. Playing this card to set up a large attack is a sweet way to get into the red zone. This is a very powerful effect for only three mana, and using Chaosphere to upend other’s expectations is truly wonderful. Chaosphere is a spicy card that allows you to stare down a flight of dragons with your army of goblins. I believe the recent printings of cards such as Inniaz, the Gale Force; Watcher of the Spheres; and Skycat Sovereign, that play groups will see an uptick in fliers. Why not use Chaosphere to bring some warped reality back to the game, needling your opponents?
Fanning the Flames
I know this is not super surprising to anyone that has played either Pauper or Magic in the 1990s, but Fanning the Flames seems to be a forgotten card lately. Plenty of people who should be playing this card are not. It is an efficient X direct damage spell, but more importantly, offers the incredible ability to buy it back. Buyback is one of the most powerful effects in Magic. It is also completely acceptable to cast Fanning the Flames early (without buying it back) to eliminate something like a Pelt Collector. It can be annoying dealing with a threat that grows faster than your direct damage. Fanning the Flames is also a fantastic top deck in the late game. It allows you to brutally burn out your opponents over the course of a couple fiery turns. Magictator tip: Do not forget to announce that you are sending the damage, “TO THE DOME!” when targeting a player.
Glacial Crevasses comes from the Ice Age expansion and utilizes your snow-covered mountains. This three mana enchantment gives red access to a Constant Mists effect. Three mana to set up and one land to activate, makes this a very efficient effect. Being able to generate repeatable Fogs while tapped out should not be underestimated. Engaging in an all-out attack on one opponent and then being able to blank all counter-attacks for the turn cycle, at the cost of a land or two, will surely infuriate your opponents. The threat of blanking an opponent’s attack, is often enough to have them skip attacking you at all. No one wants to leave themselves wide open. Combine Glacial Crevasses with land recursion like Crucible of Worlds, Dakmor Salvage, or even Planar Birth for true Turbo-Fog action. Most red decks are not able to protect themselves in this way. To truly rile your playgroup, make sure you pronounce it correctly with one eyebrow raised: “kruh-VAH-suhz.”
Smoke can be oppressive in Commander. There are plenty of tribal, go-wide, and creature-based decks that rely on using multiple creatures to flood the battlefield. At two mana, Smoke allows you to slow the game down. Creature ramp strategies get choked by Smoke. Meanwhile, any deck that relies on using a Voltron-style approach can benefit from this card; you only have one creature you are interested in untapping. Consider adding Smoke to your Godo-Bandit Warlord Commander deck. Combining this with mass tap effects like Blinding Light, or even targeted tap effects like Icy Manipulator, can be amazingly powerful. Your opponents will be smoking from their ears during every untap step.
Ravaging Blaze brings me back to direct damage again, but I am mostly interested in this card’s ability to do double-duty. Two red and X is fine enough for blowing up a creature, however, I am not interested in casting this without spell mastery. Ravaging Blaze is a card you save for the mid-to-late game. Instantly killing a creature, either during attacks or on someone’s end step, is good, but searing an opponent’s life total is what red spells do. Being able to directly burn creatures, and go “to the dome” at once is great. Do not be fooled into thinking this is another boring Blaze; Ravaging Blaze burns twice as bright, with an added benefit of watching your friends seethe with fury!
Surreal Memoir gives red some chaotic recursion. You need to be patient if you want to manipulate this for maximum value. Red mages are not known for patience, so feel free to cast this whenever your heart desires. The rebound effect is what makes this card surprisingly powerful. Being able to get two spells back for four mana is a solid deal. Using Surreal Memoir to get back some random X-damage spells in your graveyard is usually something that leads to a game ending sequence. I would suggest playing instants that have truly broken effects, like the aforementioned Ravaging Blaze, or even Comet Storm. The rebounded Surreal Memoir makes triggering Fall of the Titans a breeze. This also works well in a blue-red spells deck. By grinding out extra value, Surreal Memoir allows us to rewrite the course of our games. Your opponents think they have dealt with your best instants, but they come back to vex them again.
Uphill Battle is another powerful red enchantment for only three mana. This red Kismet is great. People that play Urabrask the Hidden are familiar with this effect. Since Uphill Battle is an enchantment, it is slightly more difficult to remove than Urabrusk. Red is known for having plenty of meaningful creatures with haste. When your opponent’s creatures come into play tapped, you gain a massive tempo advantage. Making blockers harder to come by is a great strategy for red, and something that many other single-use spells are dedicated to. Combine Smoke with Uphill Battle, and make your opponents furiously travel uphill both ways.
Volcanic Wind was something I actually played with in a draft. The only clear memory of that draft was casting this as a one-sided board wipe. I brought the card home and tried it out in my multiplayer decks. It was amazingly effective. Volcanic Wind can wipe out the biggest threat, but can also be used to crush go-wide token strategies. Perplex your friends and play this in a Krenko deck to leverage your tokens into a red Plague Wind. Volcanic Wind seems like a heavy mana investment, but when you are casting this during the late-game, it is so worth it. While Blasphemous Act is solid, its symmetry means our creatures die too. Volcanic Wind is beautifully asymmetrical, and it allows you to blow others away.
Onslaught is a greatly underappreciated card. Each time you cast a creature spell, you tap down a creature. Onslaught is only a one mana investment, which effectively adds the ETB trigger of tapping target creature to every creature spell you resolve. Onslaught gives you such a solid return for such a cheap investment. Most opponents will end up spending significantly more mana to remove this tool than you spent to get it. Combine this with hasty red threats such as Vulshok Battlemaster, Zealous Conscripts, or even Zurgo Bellstriker. Dashing Zurgo in, turn after turn, to tap down blockers is really aggravating and obnoxious. Archwing Dragon and Dragon Tempest also synergize nicely with Onslaught. Onslaught into Smoke into Uphill Battle might get you kicked out of your buddy’s house, but no one should stop you from living your truth!
Price of Glory
Price of Glory is the kind of card straightforward red decks love. The price for glory is too high for people to pay, and so they will not be casting any spells, activating abilities, or otherwise engaging in tricky responses during your turn. The effect is symmetrical, so you will not be tapping any lands on your opponent’s turns either. Magictator tips: put this in a deck with only a few instants. Pairing this card with mana sinks (Ghitu War Cry or Pyrohemia) and X-spells (Kaervek’s Torch or Fanning the Flames) is key to getting good value. Unlike targeted land destruction, you should be able to survive without people teaming up on you. They still get to play spells, but they have to play on their own turns. This makes games go by fairly quickly, so take advantage and cast as many ridiculous cards as possible before exasperated friends remove Price of Glory.
Blood Frenzy is a great pump spell that people do not read thoroughly. I mean, +4/+0 until end of turn for two mana is fine. Being able to only target an attacking or blocking creature is good enough. The clause at the end is what makes this spell fantastic: “At end of turn, destroy that creature.” That drawback clause is not a drawback at all. You can target an opponent’s creature. Blood Frenzy can allow you to kill any attacking or blocking creature. In a pinch, when an opponent is attacking you, you can take four more damage to remove that threat. If two other players are preoccupied with each other making optimal blocks, step in and simultaneously kill their creatures, enraging them both. Be a brutal opportunist, and spread the Blood Frenzy among your friends!
War Cadence is better than Goblin War Drums. You may be familiar with its defensive twin, War Tax. Where War Tax is defensive, War Cadence is built for an offensive red deck. Unblockable creatures are amazing, and making all your creatures unblockable turn after turn is rage-making. Your opponents will be worried about tapping out to play their bombs, knowing those creatures could be locked out of blocking. The trick with this card is knowing when to cast it, because if you cast it too early, you are putting a target on yourself and the enchantment. Developing your army of creatures must come first. You want to cast and activate War Cadence in the same turn to have an unblockable army. People do not expect to have to pay mana to block. This card allows you to set up multiple turns where your creatures are unblockable. Combine War Cadence with cards like Neheb the Eternal to maximize your unblocked benefits. Your vanquished opponents will be crushed beneath the drums of your War Cadence.
Artifact Blast is my favorite red spell that I came across while organizing my cards during quarantine. It is an instant, and I love the idea of countering artifact spells in red. Yes, red has plenty of artifact hate and removal. The only problem with removal is that the artifact in question has already landed on the battlefield. So many powerful artifacts and artifact creatures have ETB effects that are worth their casting costs alone: Baleful Strix, Meteor Golem, Duplicant, and many more. Artifact Blast says no ETB for you, and it only costs one mana. This solves problematic cards like Sensei’s Divining Top and other artifacts that effectively dodge removal. Degenerate artifacts abound, so including Artifact Blast is never a bad idea. It does not remove the existing artifacts, as the flavor text is apt to remind us, but it stops any new artifacts from ruining your day. Red also has plenty of filter draw spells to trade away unwanted cards, like Cathartic Reunion, Tormenting Voice, and Faithless Looting. The next time some fool tries to resolve Bolas’s Citadel or The Great Henge, demolish them with an Artifact Blast from the past.
Custody Battle is a zany card. Sticking this on early threats or making people sacrifice lands to keep control over their commander is hilariously rude. Passing a creature along as the turn order goes is a uniquely peevish effect. This card did not quite make the top 13 list, but I suggest you try it out, especially if you have a sacrifice engine in your deck (Ashnod’s Altar or Witch’s Cauldron). Sacrificing your friend’s creatures for value is funny, right, especially when they get really irritated and mouthy.
Going through the red cards in my collection was interesting. I kept finding that red is most likely to blow up artifacts, to love going to the dome, to mess with blockers, to hate walls, and to love destroying lands. It was difficult trying to find cards that did atypical red things. While reflecting on my initial stacks of cards, I found myself seeing many redundancies, but this is not a weakness. Red is a color that Wizards has gotten right from the start, creating cards that consistently fit the red personality. If you think there are a few spells I missed out on in this list, then please let me know in the comments. I would love to hear about cool synergies and interesting plays you have surprised your playgroups with. Be sure to get your vote in for what color you want me to discuss next. I hope this article gives you some ideas to keep the red raging!