Why Do Commander Players Hate Red?
Last week when I was dialing up a game at the local game store, I reveled one of my Mono-Red decks, led by Fumiko the Lowblood.
After I had flipped her as my Commander, my opponent turned her nose and said, "Yuck!" At first, I figured it was because she didn't want to play against Fumiko. Maybe it was something her deck would have trouble facing. Maybe it had creatures that you didn't want to attack with, but needed to keep back for defense or to tap for abilities or something. I asked about why she didn't like it.
She told me that she could easily best Fumiko, she was commiserating with me. Why would I want to run Mono-Red? That's horrible in Commander! Why would I want to give wins away to my foes, and tie my hands together when playing?
To be fair, that actually is one of the reasons I have multiple Mono-Red builds. I recognize that Red is arguably the weakest color in EDH. But Red still brings a lot to the table. Burn. Direct player kill. Tokens. Easy removal of artifacts, lands, creatures and planeswalkers. Fun creatures types like Goblins or Dragons. Pertinent dorks like Flametongue Kavu and Glorybringer to powerful game-winning forces such as Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. The only real things Red finds it hard to do is easily handle enchantments, kill a creature that cannot be targeted, draw cards, force discards, fetch out lands, and counter. It can shut down many Commander strategies. While it's answers aren't as strong as White's, nor can it steal permanently like Blue or take out enchantments like Green or discard like Black, it's still a useful color on its own. Red matters. It can do stuff.
I enjoy the challenge that comes with giving Red its day in the sun.
Now, to be fair, Red is not my favorite color. I don't have one. I objectively believe that White is the best color for any multiplayer format such as Commander. But it's not my favorite. Neither is any color combination. All of the colors work, and all are winnable.
If any color is despised, it's Blue, as it has a reputation for stopping people from having fun. Red is always fun! Cast your spell! No discards! I am about to drop my own Dragon bombs or bring back my Phoenix for another punch in the face or destroy anything you dare to drop that bugs me. It's fun!
In a format where fun matters, why is Red not played as much as it could be? Why is the color of zany chaos not as welcome?
I think I got this idea of players not really liking Red when I was examining the most popular Commanders over on EDHREC.com, and then sorting by color.
For example, here's the Red-based data.
Let's assume that any Commander with at least 1000 decks registered is popular enough to be seen, played, and make an impact on the game. For example, three Azorius leaders cross the 1000 threshold - Brago, King Eternal, Bruna, Light of Alabaster, and Grand Arbiter Augustin IV. We can say that those are likely the three most popular leaders in Azorius, and have popularity that they have demonstrated with a connectedness with the general Commander community at large.
Where are those numbers, compared to Red?
Here, let me show you, let's begin with leaders. In all cases, I am documenting the number of leaders with at least 1000 decks, sorted by color.
- White: 0
- Blue: 2
- Black: 0
- Red: 3
- Green: 2
Now, to be fair, I am leading with the case that you love Red! Mono-Red has the most dorks leading Commander decks, compared to others. Good job! But this is the only good news for Red you will be reading today.
- Azorius: 3
- Dimir: 5
- Selesnya: 4
- Orzhov: 5
- Simic: 4
- Golgari: 3
- Rakdos: 1
- Gruul: 2
- Boros: 0
- Izzet: 5
Consider that! The only two-color combo with 0, 1, or 2 uses Red. The average number of hits played in these two colors is 4. The average in colors with Red is just 2.
Now let's move on to three colors.
- Bant: 4
- Esper: 5
- Abzan: 4
- Sultai: 5
- Grixis: 5
- Naya: 4
- Jund: 2
- Jeskai: 3
- Mardu: 5
Average for non-Red: 4.5. Average for Red: 3.83. So, again, non-Red colors do have a bit of an advantage in the number of decks run here as well. The only three-color combination that has just 2 1000 decks is the one shard centered on Red and its allies.
I don't think we have enough four-color options to tease them out statistically. But please note that the one leader that doesn't include Red, (Atraxa) is the most played of them all.
It seems like there is a real bias here against played Red in Commander. Is this true? Let's find out!
I couldn't find an easy place on EDH for the number of decks registered in each color.
But, when I look at the most played staples of each color, I see at the bottom how many decks that staple is out of:
- Black: 165,750
- White: 149,960
- Green: 153,422
- Red: 147,932
- Blue: 165, 741
Assuming these are correct, you can see that both White and Red aren't really played as much as Blue or Black. Red is played in about 18,000 fewer builds than Black or Blue. But White is at 16,000 and it's a much stronger color than Red. Green is also on the smaller side of life - sitting in the middle - 6k more than Red, but 12k fewer than Blue or Black. Blue and Black both bring some unique effects into a deck, so I can understand them. Sacrifice effects like Diabolic Edict, counters, bounce, discard, stealing, etc. I get it. White and Red are often overlapped. Black gets burn effects and destroy effects that are often better than Red's burn. White's removal can be duplicated by Red, Green, and Black to kill artifacts and enchantments to critters and planeswalkers. Blue can counter anything that gets through it. Sure.
But Green? Green has more friendly special mechanics like getting lands, and that's very important at a Commander table. I'm surprised that it's not as high up there as Blue or Black. I would have expected Green to be much higher. What two-color combo combination isn't improved by adding Green? Something that already has Green? I mean, I get why Orzhov or Golgari may not care about adding Red. It can already do all the things Red does. I get it. But Green? That surprises me a little as it has unique things that make everything else better.
Why is Red underappreciated? And is there a way to use that underappreciation to your advantage?
In multicolored, if you are the lowest threat, then you often can fly under the radar and go far. Are there ways to push yourself as this fun Red guy?
I think so.
Here are four tips and tricks I lean on in my various Mono-Red builds to do exactly that. Would these work for you?
1. Group Hug - Mono-Red has a surprising number of cards that everyone will enjoy. From Humble Defector to Mana Flare, you can run cards that are fun. Folks love Humble Defector and will often pass it around for many, many cards. You can also run colorless cards here too, like Temple Bell or Howling Mine that play into a similar space.
2. Run a Weaker Commander - Because some of the Mono-Red dorks have a bit of a reputation of being obnoxious, running them as your leader is always going to hurt and prevent you from using Red's reputation from working in your favor. Don't run out Purphoros, God of the Forge, or Norin the Wary, Leader of Pandemonium Combo Kills. Why not try out something like Kazuul or Starke instead? The first is very good at suggesting that folks attack elsewhere without forcing them, so they don't feel bad in swinging at you or elsewhere either. Sure, Starke can tap and kill any artifact or dork you desire, but then that person gets Starke, so you are unlikely to overuse and abuse it.
3. Stay Clear of Cards that People Hate -There are a number of Mono-Red cards out there that are so chaotic and unpredictable that many people, including myself, hate them. I will target someone with a Grip of Chaos or Confusion in the Ranks to the exclusion of anyone else at the table, no matter what else they are playing. There are other cards like Warp World that I loathe similarly as well. I am not the only one. Sure, some tables and metagames will be fine with cards like these and welcome them. Similarly, cards like Blood Moon can feel very oppressive for many to face. But if your goal is to stay off people's radar with your Mono-Red build, this goes in the wrong direction.
4. Be Comfortable Taking the Lead to Dial Someone Back - Red is often pretty good at stopping a deck from going off and taking out an entire table. Take a good example at the onerous Oloro deck:
Oloro is one of the most commonly played leaders out there and leads a life-gain deck that really is hard to stop, as he'll still work in the Command Zone. It also tends to twin life-gain with hurting others, often to combo kill the table. Two of those cards are Sanguine Bond and Exquisite Blood. However, you can stop his combo from killing the table with Red. Well, as the Red player at the table, you can take the lead by tossing down Tibalt, Rakish Instigator or Leyline of Punishment, and pointing out that hey, you may not be the best color at the table, but at least Red shuts down life gain. And now, the Oloro deck is just another normal deck. I can remember dropping a Leyline and having the Oloro deck launch two counters my way, and my fellow players had my back and ensured that it resolved. Don't be afraid to run cards like these that will make sure that no one gets too out of hand. If you need to take the lead to ensure that everyone has fun, don't worry. You are Red. That's your job - everyone has fun!
There are other Red cards that play into this space, like Blood Sun which lets you cast and keep mana, and only shuts down non-mana abilities on lands, or Caverns of Despair, which can help folks stay alive when a number of dorks arrive to the battlefield at once. I do think that some cards in this vein, like Stranglehold, go too far and will result in auto-targeting though, so be careful. Lean into fun, and cards that will only matter if someone was being abusive. No one wants to have their Terramorphic Expanse shut down because of a Stranglehold, nor is that player likely to be abusing tutoring. If you want to shut down the taking of extra turns, which I do think is in bounds as way to stop someone from walking down the infinite path of extra turns, then might I suggest Ugin's Nexus instead?
And there we are! What did you think? Is Red under-respected or appreciated at your Commander table? Any ways you use to take advantage of that? Let me know what you thought of my Red-centric thoughts, and thanks for reading!