Welcome back to Bang for Your Buck! Prepare your pyres and fan your flames because today’s red cards don’t play games. In Commander, red cards are a heated topic. This color does, ironically, lack firepower when compared to the others and is often shunned as the worst in the format.

For most of its history, red has been the color associated with attacking and burning. Unfortunately, that’s all it’s been good at doing and this reveals how shallow red’s suite really is. Compounding the issue is how bad attacking and burning is as a strategy in EDH compared to other formats. To combat this, Wizards seems to be pushing red in different directions over the last few years. Moving away from this linear strategy may help this color’s lot in Commander going forward—a bright future we all Burning Wish for.

Red cards do have at least one nice benefit over other colors though, and that’s their price. Red cards have historically been cheaper than other cards. Looking at rares and mythics from previous years validates this trend. That being said, I still want to make sure you’re getting good mileage for your cash. If the card is priced over $5, I will discuss the merits of its inclusion based on price. I will be using ChannelFireball.com for pricing and EDHrec.com for play usage statistics.

Now that’s out of the way, Let’s light ’em up!

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own. Just because I dislike a card doesn’t mean it may not be great for you. Experiences will vary, and my goal here is to save you money while improving your deck’s quality.

Leave your enemies in flames! Red’s strengths include:

  • Efficient damage based removal, able to hit players, creatures, and planeswalkers
  • Artifact synergies
  • Aggressive, multiplayer life loss
  • Excellent artifact removal
  • Sweet dragons? Haste?

Red is an excellent support color in EDH. If your deck wants to utilize one of the powerful strengths red brings to the table, this color splashes right in. Red provides decks with access to the lion’s share of artifact removal. The color’s damage-based removal is fairly universal and as decks lean more competitively the ability to hit a wide range of targets is coveted. While I do quite enjoy the color, I would rank red as the worst color in Commander, barely inching out white. Sorry red, someone had to take the last place award.

Sometimes a fire is left gasping for oxygen. Red’s weaknesses include:

  • Lack of consistent card draw
  • Lack of tutors
  • Lack of enchantment removal
  • Lack of permanent-based ramp (luckily artifacts can solve this issue)
  • Lack of permission or preemptive answers to threats

Red’s weaknesses are glaring and consequently, I have not found mono-red decks to be as successful as other mono-colored decks. Mono-red decks and even red-white and red-green decks can find themselves floundering in the mid- to late-game and often at the mercy of the top of their deck. I don’t like pairing red with colors that share a weakness without access to another color to shore it up. Despite being enemies in the color pie, I’ve found the best color to pair red with is blue. Though, blue doesn’t pair poorly with any of the other colors—let’s be real here.

Red decks want to burn fast and bright. They want to put on a spectacle and bring the pain, so let’s take a look at the cards that will bring more pain to the competition than your pocketbook.

Purphoros, God of the Forge

Price: $17.99

Red deck usage: 13%

Oh my God, I love Purphoros. One of my favorite decks in Standard was the red-white devotion deck from Theros block. Purphoros was hard to kill and guaranteed a nice damage bonus just for playing your creatures. In EDH, little has changed. The fact that this God hits each opponent is the key to its success. Purphoros sees play in decks like Marath, Will of the Wild, Prossh, Skyraider of Kher, Krenko, Mob Boss, and Hazezon Tamar because of his crazy synergy with tokens. He even makes a fine commander himself and is placed in some decks as a combo piece for infinite damage. Burning people out in Commander isn’t easy, but Purphoros does a fine job of getting you there in style.

Verdict: Hefty price tag, but a great addition to many aggressive and token-based decks. Red cards generally aren’t too pricey, so making room in the budget for this God is doable.

Wheel of Fortune

Price: $79.99

Red deck usage: 9%

Red cards are generally the cheapest cards in Comm… jumping Jehoshaphat!! Wheel of Fortune is pushing close to $100 each, and that’s just for ugly Revised Edition versions. I’m sure we all remember a time where this spell was in the $15-20 price range. I know I do because that time was like… 12 months ago. While I think $15 was a bit underpriced for this Reserved List powerhouse, it is a bit disheartening to see the current price tag. Wheel of Fortune is ridiculously powerful in EDH in both casual and competitive settings. On power level alone, I recommend making room for this efficient draw-seven spell. At just 3 mana, you can easily deploy freshly drawn cards the same turn. Cards like Day’s Undoing, Time Reversal, and Reforge the Soul are somewhat fine replacements, but their power level is so far beneath Wheel of Fortune that many non-Nekusar decks shouldn’t even bother with them. If you are lucky enough to have access to blue, Windfall is fine substitute and Memory Jar is also a great spell worth considering. Do note: Memory Jar is also a Reserved List card so I’d snag a copy before it’s too late.

Verdict: $80 is a ridiculous price tag for just a single card. Because Wheel of Fortune is so old, I would try and maybe find a beat up or heavily played copy on the market and it may soften the blow. The card is surely strong enough for any red deck, but at the price tag I can’t recommend it to anybody but the most avid EDH players. There won’t be a reprint of the card, so if you see yourself wanting one eventually, buy one now.

Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker

Price: $5.99

Red deck usage: 8%

Our favorite little Akki occupies an interesting space in EDH. For some casual playgroups, infinite combos involving the Kamigawa Goblin can seem oppressive and unfun. Many players that don’t prioritize cheap interaction in their Commander decks find themselves the victim of cards like Kiki-Jiki, Deadeye Navigator, and Seedborn Muse. By contrast, at the most competitive EDH tables, the Kiki-Jiki combo is somewhat weak. There are the occasional decks that employ him to combo out, but he is still flimsier and more vulnerable than winning with Paradox Engine, Ad Nauseam, or Protean Hulk.

As a result, Kiki-Jiki finds his home in the large, large blur between the most casual and competitive players. Don’t be fooled—this little Goblin is always up to no good and if the casting player claims that they have no infinite combos with him beware. They are always up to some trickery. Kiki-Jiki is kill on sight!

Verdict: Great effect for a small price. The recent reprinting in Iconic Masters puts Kiki-Jiki at a super affordable price and is a great pickup for countless Commander strategies.

Gamble

Price: $4.99

Red deck usage: 8%

Prior to its reprinting in Eternal Masters, Gamble was pushing close to $30. And for good reason—this is one of the only tutors red has access to. Gamble is a premium tutor and in a color that has access to few others, I would err on the side of inclusion. If the card you are finding has incidental graveyard synergy (Bloodghast, Unburial Rites, or an artifact piece for Daretti) that’s a big bonus. In addition to being super efficient, Gamble is also super fun. You can go fetch out a Sol Ring on turn 1 and try to get that fabled fast opener you’re always aiming for. And if your desired card gets snagged, so be it. At least it’s a fun story to tell.

Verdict: Gamble is a great card that will strengthen your EDH deck. At just $5, put it all on red.

Balefire Dragon

Price: $15.99

Red deck usage: 7%

There are many sweet Dragons in the format, but most bale in comparison to this one. I’ve included Balefire Dragon to great success in The Ur-Dragon, Kaalia of the Vast, and Maelstrom Wanderer. This card has slowly crept up in price over time, and I attest that mostly to players learning how sweet it is to hit with one. I do feel like this card warrants a reprint soon, which would tank its price big time.

Verdict: Pricey, but a lot of fun. There aren’t many Dragons I recommend, even in Commander, but this is one of them. Hopefully a reprint will come soon for this big baddie from Innistrad.

Insurrection

Price: $6.99

Red deck usage: 7%

This is a card whose name ties in well with the effect. Insurrection is a revolting good time. Priced at a whopping 8 mana, it may come as a surprise that I recommend this card, but I do. It leads to great stories and is quite the hilarious way to kill everyone at the table at once. Insurrection is far superior to cards like Mob Rule and Mass Mutiny because it is unconditional and lethal. Plus, that flavor text is awesome.

Verdict: $7 is a small price to pay for the chaos that ensues.

Magus of the Wheel

Price: $11.99

Red deck usage: 5%

You may wonder why I didn’t mention Magus of the Wheel when I was discussing Wheel of Fortune alternatives. That’s because I don’t consider this card a very good alternative for Wheel of Fortune. Who’d have thought? The downside of this effect being attached to a creature is too great outside of Nekusar, the Mindrazer decks. Some of the Magus cycle creatures work great with their effects. Magus of the Moat, Magus of the Moon, and Magus of the Coffers all do a respectable job of emulating their respective spells. But cards like Magus of the Library, Magus of the Wheel, and Magus of the Tabernacle do a worse job. These magi are too vulnerable, and their abilities too delayed to be worth the cost. Sadly, I feel like Magus of the Wheel falls into this camp.

Verdict: Huge fan of the effect, but not a fan of it being on a fragile, summoning-sick body. Add a $10+ price tag and you are better off saving up for different cards.

Aggravated Assault

Price: $15.99

Red deck usage: 4%

Aggravated Assault is a very expensive spell. It costs 8 mana before the card even does anything, and that’s only if you already have creatures on board to attack with over and over. But the effect is huge and there are few other cards that do such a great job of turning extra mana into an abusable effect. Aggravated Assault puts in work for decks like Xenagos, God of Revels, Aurelia, the Warleader, Kaalia of the Vast, and Neheb, the Eternal. I tried it out in my Narset, Enlightened Master deck but it ended up being a touch too slow. As for the financial value of the card, no easy-to-obtain reprints have allowed this Onslaught rare to climb in price as EDH grows in popularity and more generals that synergize well with it are released.

Verdict: Thinking about this card’s price and mana cost are enough to aggravate me. If you want a budget alternative, I would look at Hellkite Charger. As for more mana efficient alternatives, Howl of the Horde has been great for me.

Reiterate

Price: $8.99

Red deck usage: 4%

Copying things is fun! Copying things is fun! Copying th… anyway, Reiterate has the job of copying spells over and over again. In a multiplayer game of EDH, you can guarantee that there will be something awesome to take for yourself. Reiterate is a great mana sink that doesn’t make you overpay on the front side to have access to the buyback option. Money-wise, if you want a cheaper alternative to this spell, I suggest Wild Ricochet.

Verdict: Copying things is fun!

Mizzix’s Mastery

Price: $8.99

Red deck usage: 4%

Instant and sorcery overload, this Past in Flames on steroids is worth a spot in many casual Storm decks. Mizzix’s Mastery is a strange but powerful spell that just barely misses it for the most competitive storm decks, but that doesn’t mean it can’t find a home. It serves as a great replacement for Yawgmoth’s Will as a storm deck finisher and can win off far fewer spells than Past in Flames. Decks without access to black will appreciate this card’s ability to blow a game wide open and the fact that you can do crazy things with extra turn effects makes for a nice evening of mischief.

Verdict: The price is more than Past in Flames, but the effect also improved. An excellent addition to storm decks in Commander and a reprint is unlikely. No need to master this spell outside of dedicated storm combo or extra turns decks.

Blood Moon

Price: $19.99

Red deck usage: 4%

This card gives me the shivers. For being a fiery red card, whenever this card is played I can’t help but think, “Oo, that’s cold.” Blood Moon is ridiculously powerful and a great way to punish players with thousand-dollar mana bases. There is no shame in playing cards like this and I advocate them even in casual EDH settings. Cards like Armageddon and Decree of Annihilation are a bit more heinous when everyone just wants to have a good time. Additionally, if you want to play a Prison deck in a more competitive Commander setting, Blood Moon and the newly reprinted Magus of the Moon will serve you well.

Verdict: Though pricey, Blood Moon has dozens of uses in various formats in Magic. It will be easy to unload (or burn it) if you ever grow tired of it. A solid pickup.

Tempt with Vengeance

Price: $6.99

Red deck usage: 4%

Tempt with Vengeance is a sweet card when combined with Purphoros, but that’s about it. The Tempting Offer cycle of cards is just a bit too low impact for the mana cost. Tempt with Vengeance is the one most likely to find a home, but they are on the outside looking in for me.

Verdict: If you know your playgroup will be easily tempted to give you extra creatures, perhaps it’s worth shelling out the bucks for one. Tempting…

Scourge of the Throne

Price: $27.99

Red deck usage: 4%

Holy mackerel! Almost $30 for a Dragon? I thought Balefire Dragon was expensive, but Scourge of the Throne is quite a wallet walloper. There are some crazy turns you can play with this card and Kaalia and Aurelia decks certainly appreciate the flashiness of this spell.

Verdict: At $30, I cannot recommend this card. You can purchase some sweet artifact mana for your decks instead.

Chandra, Torch of Defiance

Price: $39.99

Red deck usage: 4%

There’s no doubt about it—Chandra’s lit. All of her effects are impactful and frequently used. Unfortunately, she suffers from the age old problem of being a planeswalker in a multiplayer format. You can’t just play a planeswalker and have the game instantly revolve around it like 1v1 formats. Players will always attack her and this may result in not getting full value for your spell. In 1v1 Commander formats, Chandra, Torch of Defiance is a must-play in red decks in the same vein as Jace, the Mind Sculptor for blue decks. Despite this, Chandra’s biggest issue is her price tag. At $40 there is no way I can recommend her despite her glowing in-game reviews. When she rotates out of Standard, I am sure you can snag copies for $15 and under and that would be a fine time to pick her up.

Verdict: A great card to own in your collection, but the current price is sky-high because of Standard. Wait until after rotation to unleash Chandra’s fury.

Stranglehold

Price: $8.99

Red deck usage: 4%

Cough, cough—I can’t breathe. Noooooooo. R.I.P. Rachel. Why? Because I love decks like Narset that abuse extra turn effects and search through my library with tutors. Rather than ban certain extra turn effects or tutors from your playgroup, play powerful hosers like Stranglehold. The price isn’t too high and the times you will quash some broken shenanigans easily makes up for it. If your opponents choke on this card, it’s their own doing.

Verdict: Great card to beat greedy fetchland mana bases and extra turns at under $10. An underplayed gem.

And there you have it—red cards in all their glory analyzed and compiled for your consideration. There were slightly fewer cards than previous lists, not because red cards don’t see much play but simply because there weren’t too many cards priced above $5. But after all, that’s a good thing, right? So what are some of your favorite red cards? Are there any cards that you’d like me to burn at the stake for you? Let me know in the comments! Thanks so much for reading, and until next time, 🎶gotta let it burn, burn, burn. 🎶

—————— Prices subject to change, some assembly required —————–