This entry is part 31 of 41 in the series In General

Grandpa (Eric)

By Eric, AKA Grandpa Growth


Hello and welcome back to “In General.” During this series we’ve been touring through each of Magic’s five colors and stopping to look at the all of the pretty sights. Actually, we’ve been talking about the unique features of each color that create competitive advantages within the Commander format and the special cards that prop up certain pillars of the metagame. So far on our journey, we’ve driven through across the plains, over an island, and through the swamp. If you missed any of the earlier entries in the series you can catch up by clicking the links below.






This week we continue our tour by taking a drive through the mountains.


Notable Card: Chaos Warp


Red has relatively poor removal overall, but there are just enough good spells to scrape together a deck. You can feel pretty safe about your ability to deal with artifacts and lands, but creatures can be more challenging to get rid of.


A few words of caution: most of Red’s spot removal is damage-based and, unlike Black, almost all of it requires a target. Indestructible is pretty much a giant, neon, Vegas-style sign that reads “No Red cards allowed.” Shroud and Hexproof necessitate a board sweeper. Protection from Red is the most common kind. Heck, even regenerating can easily stonewall a Red deck’s chance of tidying up a board. You might think that the design team would evaluate these limitations and give Red cards an appropriate discount in mana cost for their significantly decreased effectiveness. You would, of course, be wrong. Why would you ever think that the colors would be balanced?



Swords to Plowshares has a reasonable drawback attached to the very affordable mana cost of one. As it scales up to higher mana costs, White loses all of its drawbacks, targeting restrictions, and sometimes even generates value with its removal spells. When you examine more expensive Red removal, you often find that the cards become less and less efficient. The perceived flexibility of burn spells – being able to go to the cranium – is minimized in a format where life is plentiful and easy to gain in large chunks. Lightning Bolt looks great if you plan for the game to last exactly five turns. If you build your Commander decks with this same strategy, you will find that your opponent still has quite a bit of life remaining after you’re out of cards. You have the option of exchanging cheap burn for x-spells, but waiting until you have 7+ plus mana to start attacking your opponent’s life total in a burn deck is just not going to cut it. Sadly, the elegant nut draws that make Red so awesome in Cube, Pauper, and Modern are not usually good enough in Commander.


The net result of this is that I rarely worry about how to build against Red removal. Red removal is so mediocre that I’m often perfectly content to trade as many times as they would like. Every other color has a higher potential for card advantage, every other color has a way to counter opposing Red removal, and every other color has a way to get threats back from the graveyard. If you are dead set on removal-proofing against Red, the great news is that you don’t have to work too hard: if you’re setup to beat White or Black removal, you will pretty much also be safe against Red with no additional effort! I tell ya, Kermit was right. It ain’t easy being green Red.


Board Sweepers

Notable Card: Blasphemous Act


One place that Red is not significantly disadvantaged is in its ability to clear the board. Killing creatures and artifacts is relatively easy and certain cards like Earthquake can have splash damage on an opposing planeswalker. Enchantments are a different story, but we already talked extensively about what that does to our decks in last week’s article.


This all sounds like things are looking good for a Red control deck. Playable removal and sweepers will enable us to survive until the late game, but that’s where the gravy train stops, unfortunately. With inferior card draw and threats to effectively put a game away, we don’t have to worry too much about losing to Red in the late-late. This is good news if you’re playing against the Red deck. Push the game into the later stages and use your counters judiciously to avoid getting blindsided by something truly destructive, such as…


Mana Denial

Notable Card: Blood Moon


Red’s most powerful characteristic is its ability to destroy lands and stifle the resource development of opposing decks. That might be a contentious claim and, I have to admit, it is mostly based on my own anecdotal evidence. However, the full body of my experience in trying to make Mono-Red Commander decks work is quite large, I can assure you. It’s no secret that I don’t think Red stacks up well in Commander, but that hasn’t stopped me from putting together some red hot steaming piles. I will put on a brave face, but it hasn’t ever turned out too well. When Purphoros, God of the Forge was printed my hopes were renewed…and then re-dashed. You see, I’ve tried everything and it just seems as though nothing will work. I can’t for the life of me make Mono-Red, the best deck in the format. Weird.


Here’s my advice: grab yourself a copy of Blood Moon, a Magus of the Moon, and a Gamble. With all three in your deck, you will have about a 22% shot at seeing one in your opening seven. Mulligan if you don’t see one and pray to Purphoros that you have the lands to cast them. You can win a pretty amazing amount of games by slamming main deck Blood Moon.


There are plenty of other ways to attack resources as well. Boil and Flashfires are somewhat frowned upon, but incredibly effective in specific situations. Wildfire, which serves as the basis for its own archetype in Cube, can work just as well in Commander. Even something like Shattering Spree can smash opposing mana development against non-Green decks.


Massive Damage

Notable Cards: Goblin Charbelcher, Heartless Hidetsugu, Gisela, Blade of Goldnight



I’ve built a handful of different Red decks and they all have one thing in common: I can’t figure out a way to win without dealing some damage. Preferably as much as possible, to as many people as possible. I’ve just given up on trying to assemble a competitive late game. I’m not going to be able to contort my Red decks into something that can compete with the Timmy, Power Gamer/Rube Goldberg machine nonsense that happens around my kitchen table. My favorite way to play in the late game is to not. Heartless Hidetsugu to the rescue! Scorching life totals, shortening games, and making my multiplayer experiences ever-so-slightly more tolerable.


Now, simultaneously trying to kill every player in the game is not going to score you political points, but remember, we played Blood Moon on turn three. We don’t have any friends left. Despite your political goodwill dropping faster than that of Donald Trump, you can still actually win! Hook up a Basilisk Collar or an Exquisite Blood (swamps sold separately) and you have yourself a stew going. Gaining 40+ life is likely to put you in an advantageous position. Doing so while also taking a corresponding chunk out of your opponent(s) life totals is worth a moral victory at least.


A key point to remember when trying to battle against a massive damage deck is that the artifacts are what elevate this strategy into the primetime. H2 is cool and all, but without some way to break the symmetry, he’s a manageable problem. Come to the table prepared with multiple Disenchant effects and key in on the most important targets. Charbelcher, Lightning Greaves, assorted Gauntlets and Bracers, Rings of Brighthearth, etc.



Notable Card: Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle


Goblin Charbelcher also fits into this category, as does Gauntlet of Might, and arguably Scrying Sheets as well, because I don’t really see it pop up anywhere else. Red has a handful of cards sweet cards that are unique. If you want to play these powerful cards you have to commit to playing a bunch mountains. This obviously creates a trade-off. I don’t want to have an overwhelming amount of mountains in play, I also don’t want to restrict myself only to playing one color, much less this color. I do, however, want access to some of these great cards because they are fun and wholly worth playing.


These cards don’t have enough of an effect on the metagame to warrant designing around them or even making minor changes to our card choices, but it’s worth doing a little research to raise awareness of these cards and understand when and where they could show up against you. These cards can be a powerful force to draw players into this color and will keep Red decks prevalent in the format despite the relative lack of power in its other cards.



Notable Card: Norin the Wary


You have probably seen this deck at some point. It tends to have an extremely polarizing effect on people. If you love it and think it is great and you want to play it more often, I can almost guarantee that there is someone in your local playgroup who absolutely hates it and wishes that the entire idea of chaos decks had never come into existence. I have encountered some playgroups in different locations that sometimes have formalized rules restricting the type, number, and usage of certain chaos cards. I can’t blame them. Done correctly, this type of thing can really get out of hand.


Contentious statement warning: I think that Norin is the best Mono-Red deck in the format. If you take “best” to mean “wins the highest percentage of games as compared to other decks with that same color identity.” There is an entire segment of the Commander player base who are simply unwilling to participate in games that feature a chaos deck. There is another group of players who will load up a game, but – if things start to get annoying  – will quickly scoop rather than play through the nonsense. I fall into that last group. The net effect of this is that it creates a nonzero number of free “wins.” If you take into account the games that you “win” by intimidating other players with the sheer possibility of how annoying your deck can be, the number is even higher.


You may think that is rude, ‘cheap’, or unfair. You are absolutely 100% correct in that assessment. This type of deck kills me. Emotionally, I mean. It feels like I’m figuratively going to die whenever someone resolves a Confusion in the Ranks. Don’t take this as an endorsement of chaos decks, but also don’t think of this as an admonition against playing them just because you might offend someone’s delicate sensibilities.


Norin is capable of winning some games that no other Red deck could. It can do things that are so incredibly broken, no non-Blue deck should really have a right to do them. It’s telling that I consider this the most effective Red deck in the format. If I take victory as my destination and coach players to travel on the path of least resistance, then this is the route that I’m implicitly recommending. I can’t explain how or why having a half dozen enchantments in play and trading permanents with your opponent(s) could ever be considered the path of least resistance to ANYTHING, but there you go. The query is now open.


Also, I have a Norin deck built on MTGO, so I’m a gigantic hypocrite. That fact is now also up for discussion.


Now that that is done, I’m going to go take a shower because I feel all dirty. Next week we conclude the series by talking about Green.




“In General” is the place where I share my ideas on unconventional topics that are often only tangentially related to Magic. This column is a mixed bag where I collect and present ideas that don’t have a home anywhere else. If you want a column about strategy, psychology, design, economics, philosophy, internet culture, and referential humor, you have come to the right place.

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