Having just survived the worst earthquake in the history of the country with more earthquakes than anywhere else, I’m going to interrupt our regularly scheduled programming and take this opportunity to thank/appease/brown-nose those elemental forces of fire, rock and widespread destruction. These are the reasons why Red wins in multiplayer – the advantages that Red has over other colors, the strengths that you should utilize to get the most out of the color, and the reasons that you all need to be playing red (especially if you live on a fault line!). Gods of Rock and Lava, hear my supplications and be merciful!!
Bang, You’re Dead!
Quick trivia question: what does DFR stand for in a Magic context? Answer to follow.
The downside of Red, especially in multiplayer, is that Red embodies rashness, giving up future potential for immediate results and putting all of your eggs in one basket (cf. Devour). All of these go against the one of the fundamental keys to multiplayer success: managing and maximizing your resources. On the other hand, no color is better at exploding out of nowhere, taking your opponents down in one blistering attack and winning games that, the previous turn, you had absolutely no business winning. This explosiveness is at the core of many of Reds most powerful mechanics.
First, Red is the world leader in blowing people up, going all the way back to those halcyon days of Fireball and Disintegrate. When you’re playing an aggro deck, you sometimes reach a point where your creatures have done a lot of damage to your opponent(s) but can’t seal the deal, either because of their removal or because they’ve been able to play bigger critters than you can deal with. When that happens, you need Reach – meaning the ability to deal damage directly to your opponents, the most common example of which is Red Burn.
In a duel, cheap fixed damage spells like Lightning Bolt or Burst Lightning are the best way to go. That’s why, back in the day when Sligh decks reigned, you always had to be careful that your life didn’t drop below nine, because eight or less was Double Fireblast Range. A lot of people lost games from out of the blue because their opponent had four mountains in play and two Fireblast in hand. Bang, you’re dead.
However, in most multiplayer games the number of opponents you have is higher, you have to spend more time killing them, giving them more time to stabilize. That all decreases how far you can go with charging weenies, so you need to Reach a little further. As a result, you want to use a lot more X spells in multiplayer than you would in a duel. Many of the best are actually new, with Comet Storm, Red Sun’s Zenith and Banefire all making the undisputed top ten list, but the epitome of multiplayer X spells has to be Earthquake – and I’m not just saying that because the continuing aftershocks in Tokyo are still scaring the crap out of me.
Earthquake is one of the most perfect multiplayer cards because it scales so well with extra players and a higher reliance on critters. Doubling the number of players at the table will just double the amount of damage it does, unlike the vast majority of effects in Magic. Plus, like many so-called “symmetrical effects” that affect everyone equally, Earthquake and every other spell like it is highly asymmetrical, because you get to decide when to play it and how big to make it. Tap out when your board is empty or you absolutely have to kill that massive Green abomination; cast Earthquake for a single point when you need to get your Goblin King’s minions through a wall of Saprolings. Every Red player needs to remember the value of X spells for Reach in multiplayer.
However, Red’s ability to shock your table with a swift and unexpected death isn’t limited to casting a rain of fire[i] on your foes; the value of Red’s many hasty critters cannot be overlooked. When the quake hit, I was actually playing against a friend whose BU Control deck really had me on the ropes. In my last chance to win before he recast Grave Titan and finished me off, I topdecked a Flame Jab, which allowed me to burn out one blocker, discard a land to kill the other one and cast a hasty Magnivore, swinging for just enough to kill him. Bang, you’re dead.
The line between creatures and burn spells started to blur with Ball Lightning from The Dark. Ever since then we’ve seen more and more Red creatures gain the ability to spring from your hand to your opponents’ face, which is a huge advantage, especially in multiplayer. Firstly, the odds that a creature will be killed between the turn you cast it and the turn it recovers from summoning sickness increase with each additional player in the game. As a result, a creature with haste is much more likely to deal any damage at all than one that doesn’t. Secondly, the surprise value is huge, especially when life totals get low, alliances are rapidly made and broken, and blockers get swept away. If they don’t expect your attack then you can disrupt their carefully laid plans; if they do anticipate your hasty creatures then they will play much more cautiously, giving you longer to pull out the win. Thirdly, haste lets you blank a lot of the more powerful removal spells in the game by attacking before they can cast Sorceries.
Finally, it is important to remember Red’s borrowing effects, such as Threaten and Metallic Mastery. The only thing more surprising than attacking with your hasty critter is attacking with theirs – and don’t forget to recycle them when you’re finished, that’s just good manners. Every monored EDH deck should be running Word of Seizing at a minimum (sorry, Brandon), and if your playgroup has a thing for Blightsteel Colossus like mine does, then you should be running even more of them.
Boom Goes the Dynamite!!
A lot of people will tell you that Red can’t deal with enchantments, and struggles to deal with larger creatures, but that’s just glass half-empty thinking. Red deals with artifacts better than any other color, has awesome ways of dealing with lands, and gets a lot of options for sweeping the table of small critters. Rather than focusing on what a color can’t do, you really need to focus on what it can in order to get the most out of playing it.
While Shatter is a great limited spell, that kind of utility in multiplayer is really all about card advantage. Creatures offer an advantage because they blow stuff up and leave a body behind for your opponent to deal with – Oxidda Scrapmelter, Ingot Chewer and Manic Vandal are totally worth a look in any deck, and Furnace Dragon is a great play if you either don’t run or don’t mind losing artifacts yourself. As always, though, you really want to maximize the cockroaches: Viashino Heretic, Hammer Mage, the original Mox Monkey and the brand new Hoard-Smelter Dragon are all strong sources of repeatable card advantage and disruption. For instant-speed destruction, which is sometimes necessary to break up artifact-driven combos, Shattering Pulse and Into the Core are fantastic, and when you don’t really feel like discriminating, Shattering Spree, Shatterstorm and Meltdown will punish anyone who relies too heavily on artifacts.
For land destruction, those spoilsports at WotC have decided that blowing up all of your opponents’ lands is to be frowned upon, but Red still gets plenty of spot removal for those troublesome lands. Nobody ever talks about Red’s strengths here, but not every deck plays enchantments; every deck plays lands, and some of them can hold the entire table under their metaphorical thumbs unless the Red mage can deal with them. Avalanche Riders are good, especially if you’re bouncing, blinking or reanimating them, Faultgrinder is a more respectable body with a reasonable Evoke cost if necessary (and have you noticed how good Evoke is with that classic Red chaos-inducer Pandemonium?), Orcish Settlers is extremely funny and dares you to generate silly amounts of mana, and Ravenous Baboons is reason enough to start work on a monkey/ape/Librarian theme deck. There are also some reasonable cockroaches that shouldn’t draw too much fire, such as Dwarven (Blast)Miner, Detritivore (he has haste, and discourages others from casting Armageddon while he’s suspended), and Seismic Mage. There’s also Deus of Calamity, which I love in principle, but which may not make the “not drawing fire” list.
As far as destroying creatures goes, I’m a huge fan of Pyroclasm effects – Flamebreak, Breath of Darigaaz, Slagstorm, et al – but there are also decent options for destroying a creature outright: Aftershock, Cinder Cloud, Fissure and Lava Flow all do it directly, and Reign of Chaos and every fork variant can be used situationally.
Historically speaking, Red’s weenie creatures have tended toward the pathetic, with a few exceptions (most of which were goblins). As an example, think of all the awesome creatures that cost WW – the White Weenie player is spoiled for choice. BB gets you a little bit less variety, but there have always been many excellent creatures available. Now look at what RR gets you. There are seven decent cards on that list – eight if you like Pyre Charger and nine if you’re Bennie Smith – and all of them are new. It’s only recently that the Red mage has had any real quality to choose from amongst the huge quantity of subpar Red creatures.
On the other hand, Red has been setting the standards for huge flying beaters ever since the days of Shivan Dragon. With only a few exceptions (Avatar of Fury and Rakroma come to mind), the highest quality Red fatties have been dragons, and damn there are a lot of them! Even in Standard, there are six Red dragons, all of which are potentially very effective in multiplayer. Even better, they’re all respectable budget options. Red may take a while to climb the curve, but once you get to six or seven mana, you’re in good shape. It seems to me that WotC has been trying to balance out the colors by making White and especially Black fatties better in order to compete with Red for air supremacy, with Wakroma, Iona and Xathrid Demon being obvious examples. Still, it is hard to go past a good old-fashioned fire-breathing dragon when you really want to get someone down to zero life in a hurry. Not all of Red’s best fatties are Dragons, but many of them are, allowing Red to rule the skies. Plus, style matters, and nothing says style like a big-ass dragon!
There are also a lot of strong Legends you can use as the basis for a monored EDH deck, which I have found to be more effective than conventional wisdom would suggest. I would highlight:
Akroma, Angel of Fury – General damage plus firebreathing equals game over, plus the morph gives you a lot of options for bringing her out early. Surprise MVP: Braids of Fire.
Adamaro, First to Desire – He usually gets to attack a couple of times as a 7/7, especially if you play in a large group. Add draw effects, land destruction, Umbilicus and Blood Clock, and he’ll probably stay big long enough to inflict some serious pain.
Ashling, the Pilgrim – The rumors are true: it is possible to build an EDH deck with 99 mountains and Ashling, but I don’t recommend it. If you lose, there’s the temptation to whine “why did you kill me, I only have lands”, and if you win there’s the nagging suspicion that you only won because your deck was so gimmicky. That being said, 60 lands is a good basis for an effective Ashling deck; you don’t ever want to miss a land drop!
Jaya Ballard, Task Mage – Make sure you can quote all of that fantastic Jaya Ballard flavor text before piloting this general.
Kumano, Master Yamabushi – Recursion getting you down? Having Kumano means never having to kill it more than once. He’s also a deadly answer to some of the smaller generals, such as Rhys the Redeemed, Merieke Ri Berit, Kiki-Jiki[ii] and so on.
Rorix Bladewing – Hasty dragony beats? Sounds fun to me! Use Earthquakes, Pyroclasms and Slagstorms to keep the riff-raff under control while smashing face. Hint: you should be able to deal 40 to a lot of people, rather than relying solely on general damage.
A lot of people say that Red is the weakest color in multiplayer, or at least in EDH, and I can certainly understand why they say that, but if you play to the color’s strengths you can easily dominate the board. On top of that, a lot of Red’s greatest strengths – exploding out of nowhere, blowing up your opponents’ most expensive toys and attacking with huge scaly firebreathing monsters – are just a hell of a lot of fun to play! Fear the quake, but don’t be afraid to go monored and burn the house down!
[i] Rain of Fire will be out in this year’s Fall set.
[ii] KJ didn’t make the list because he just screams “COMBO!” He isn’t exactly underplayed, and he always draws fire.