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Ways to Boost Red


Hello folks! I hope that your day is going well!

Happy Holidays for those that celebrate any of the year-end Holidays.

Today I want to use the down time to write something to begin to conversation about the future nature of Red. My hope is that today's article might be a springboard for conversation on ways to help Red.

Before I get started though, allow me to prove my point. Today, what mechanics are in Red?

Red Today

  • Burn
  • Artifact and Land Destruction
  • Defender Destruction
  • Haste
  • Firebreathing
  • First Strike and Double Strike
  • Menace (and trample, reach to lesser degrees)
  • Flying if Phoenix or Dragon
  • Temporary mana
  • Reverse looting - discard to draw
  • Impulsive Card Drawing
  • Death/Recur for Phoenix
  • Support for sorceries and instants, including triggers, recursion, and more.
  • Prowess
  • Sacrificing for value
  • Artifacts - typically ones that trade one in the graveyard for one in play
  • High power/low toughness creatures
  • Power boosting effects
  • Temporary Stealing
  • Forks and Redirections
  • Abilities that trigger when it swings
  • Random chaotic effects

And that's pretty much it. I may have missed one or a few abilities here and there. But you get the idea. That's where Red is today.

These days though, despite the large number of abilities, Red has an overreliance on Burn.

For example, let's compare Core Sets.

Here is every Red card from Alpha that dealt damage to something:

There were 46 Red cards in the set.

Lightning Bolt
Orcish Artillery
Power Surge

And there you have it. Three direct damage spells in Fireball, Lightning Bolt, and Disintegrate. Two enchantments that hurt everyone with Power Surge and Manabarbs, one dork that shoots for two damage and gives you three, and a random Aura that Shocks the flyer it enchants. Grand total? 8 out of 46, for a percentage of 17.4%.

Now how about Core Set 2020?

We have 54 Red cards. Which ones burn?

Get ready:

That's right, 20 cards! Or a 37% print rate of anything that deals damage, a big, giant, increase of burn options. Name me another mechanic in a single color that's as heavily printed today as Burn. Blue's countermagic? Nope. Blue's bounce? Nope. Black's discard? Green's mana making? Nothing is as heavily printed as Red's burn. It's become a crutch, but it doesn't need to be.

The problem is that Red's remaining mechanics tend to be ones you can't do in high numbers. No one wants a set to have five land destruction spells. You don't really need more than one or two artifact destruction effects in Red. Things like defender destruction are rare, Red is secondary or later in some abilities like trample or prowess. You don't see some mechanics that often, like Phoenix self-recursion. That means that burn has become a crutch. We have to do something to fill up the color.

The modern state of Red needs some more mechanics to flesh out.

Here are some that I think meet the flavor of Red.

The Removal of Counters

Vampire Hexmage

Right now, Black is the color of counter removal. It was sort of given to it by default, and it's kept it over time. But it makes little sense in Black. What is counter removal, and how could it be flavored for Red?

Great question!

First of all, what is Red? Red is the color most associated with acting. Not thinking. Not planning. It acts. Whether it acts by punching a foe in the face or loving without regard to the conventional morality of its era, Red acts. Red would rather kick itself later to wondering about the road never taken.

That's Red. Because Red doesn't plan, it gets the Impulse card drawing of reverse looting, discarding and then drawing, or getting a spell for free but only if it can cast it now.

Great, thanks Red!

Now, what does the gathering of counters represent? It represents planning. You are adding counters to things over time. Red wants you to stop planning and start doing! And how best to do that? To make you stop thinking about the world and start acting in it? By destroying all your precious plans! It can remove your counters to make you stop buying insurance. Play the game of life!

Doing speaks to Red.

Moving counter removal to Red would be very easy to do. Vampire Hexmage, for example, could be moved over wholesale as a two mana 2/1 first strike that sacrifices to remove counters from a target.

It also synergizes well with Red's other abilities. Take burn!

You could easily have a spell like this:



Remove all counters from target permanent. Brainburn deals damage equal to the number of counters removed to that permanent's controller.

Or a Pump effect:

Brain into Brawn


Remove all counters from target permanent. Target creature you control gains +X/+0 where X is the number of counters removed from that permanent.

Or an ETB dork:

Barbarian Brawler

Creature - Human Barbarian Warrior

When Barbarian Brawler enters the battlefield, remove all counters from target permanent.


I left the mana costs off as those are flexible. You get the idea!

I think Red's addition of counter removal is the most obvious addition. It also can play well with combo-lovers and synergy finders who may want to remove counters from their things to fuel other effects.


The Support of Legendaries

Time of Need
Thalia's Lancers

These days, the support of legendary cards is mostly in White, although the occasional Green card like

Ancient Animus will raise itself.

But why in White?

Sure, most of the legendary support cards care about creatures. And that's White. White also very much a "Go team" color, and this supporting mechanics may feel that way too.

But why legendaries?

White already supports these types:

  • Artifacts
  • Enchantments
  • Planeswalkers
  • Creatures

That's all of but one of the five permanent types! What value does additional legendary help even give White that it's not already getting?

But legendary stuff? That feels Red to me.


Great question!

First, what is Red?

Red is the survivor. Red is the adventurer. Red seeks experience. It wants to explore. If Red wants to learn about a place, Red doesn't read a travel book sitting at home. It goes there! Red wants to live!

Red is all about F.I.R.E. I am using that combination because it's also just about fire, pyromantically.

F - Freedom

I - Individually

R - Rights

E - Equality

Red revels in its freedoms. It asserts its rights and will loathe not being treated equally by others. It doesn't see the value from traditions. It's not going to be trapped by anyone or anything. Red is not the color that is going to judge you (unless you get in its way).

How does that translate mechanically?

White is the color of Soldiers. Groups of fighters that work together in squads. It cares about the group more than the individual.

Red is the color of Warriors. A singular fighter trained, fighting and living life on its own.

Do you see how the identity of Red is seen in the Warrior vs Solider? Why is the color of the group dynamic and Soldiers the color that supports unique individuals and things?

Red is about living, and dying, loving and fighting all on its own. It may live in communities and cherish them, but it always has a singular identity.

A legendary card represents a one-of. It's not a group of people working together, or one of any identical members of its species. It's a unique artifact, being, land, or more.

Can you see how this special, unique, one-of-a-kind thing would have additional value to Red more so than any other color? Blue sees it logically as valuable. Black sees it as a weapon for its arsenal of gathering power. Green may cherish it for its natural beauty. But Red? It connects with it.

Red groks it.

Grok - To understand (something) intuitively or by empathy. (Oxford English Dictionary).

Red has this intuitive connection. Just as it values independence and individually in itself, it does so in others. Red just groks legendary cards.

Benalish Honor Guard

Getting that support moved over would make a lot of sense. Like the counter removal above, I gave you some cards that could be lifted wholesale over - searching for a legendary creature like Time of Need or getting a 4/4 first strike dork that can also fetch a legendary card into your hand on arrival at the battlefield. Similarly, cards like Benalish Honor Guard are great as Red dorks that would pump only the front.

Give Red a Stone-Based Evergreen Mechanic

Imagine that you are creating a board game from scratch. You have four principle actors, one from each of the four traditional Western European elements. No plants.

What does earth look like?

It's hard to move. Hard to attack. It should have higher defensive abilities. When someone swings at a rock, it's hard to damage it. It's slow and ponderous. Of the four elements, earth is the only one that doesn't selfishly move into open spaces. Air, water, and fire will move greedily into new spaces. Rock? Nope!

Rock is the one that has to plan when it does things. While the others can move quickly and react, earth cannot. But when it moves? Nothing gets in its way. None of the other three elements can stop it. All they can do is blow, burn, or dampen the rock in a feeble gesture of impotence.

Rock is very different than the others, so you'd want game mechanics to match.

The problem with Red is that it's the color of Fire and Rock. Fire fits the Red persona to an R. It's moves quickly, burns, is willing to sometimes hurt its master, doesn't play the long game, and more. Red and Fire are perfectly suited.

How is the color of haste the color of rock?

You can't move rock and earth to another color that might better suit it (Green).

And you shouldn't have Rock and Earth be the missing element where you have to do a "Where's Waldo" test to even find. Cards in the other three elements are common. Rock?

You also want to do rock right. You don't want to do this:

Rockbolt r


Rockbolt deals 3 damage to any target

Nope! What you need to do is to embrace an aspect of rock that can be used mechanically to represent Red's rockishness, and you can have cards that are named things like Rock Armor and such that play into its strength.

Here are a few thoughts.

  1. Indestructible - Give Red an indestructible instant/sorcery effect much like Green and White do. Increase its creature count with indestructible abilities or activations, and flavor them Red.
  2. Vigilance - Right now vigilance is primarily White and occasionally Green. Could it be occasionally Red as well? Attacking and being able to block feels very rock-ish to me.
  3. Hexproof - Rock is the hardest of the elements to do something to. You could move over hexproof, currently 1st in Blue and 2nd in Green, to 3rd in Red.
  4. Defender Support - Right now, every color has creature with defender and will occasionally have in-theme cards that care about Defenders. White tends to get the best support with effects like allowing your Walls to attack. But what says "I'm all about Walls" more than rock?

Those move something over.

Here's another outside the box thought -

  1. Make Landfall Evergreen - Landfall has always been loved; it rewards people for doing things they already want to do. Put it in Green primary, and Red secondary, so you have maybe one or two cards per set, on average, in Red with landfall. A connection to land feels very earth loving to me and many effects in the Rock/Earth genre are seen as looking at land count - specifically Mountains. The one issue with moving up landfall is that every landfall card needs text to tell you what that landfall ability does, which may not be as clean as you might otherwise want.
  2. Look at Others - There are many other keyworded mechanics that were simpler than landfall, are elevatable, and could represent Red's earth that could be evergreened as well.

Plated Geopede

Consider Plated Geopede as a great example. With all of that landfall text, there's less space to do things. Another recently elevated ability, prowess, doesn't need any rules text. Now you could create a new iteration of landfall that only gives +x/+x, which is stated like this:

New Landfall: 1

That might work more cleanly. It removes the other landfall abilities. Keywords temporarily like first strike, or making something get +2/+5 or whatever. But the space saved would be great.

Lands Matter, Limited Land Fetching

Spitting Earth
Granite Grip

Right now, Red's land matter theme appears occasionally but not massively. We haven't seen many of these Mountain's matter ability like here. Cards like Spitting Earth and Granite Grip show how you could give these effects the flavor of rock as well.

Another possibility that might make sense is to make Red the second color of land-matters effects after Green.

For example, you could give Red abilities like this:

Seismic Expansion


Sacrifice a non-Mountain. Search your library for two basic Mountains and put them onto the battlefield.

That is two cards (land and spell) for two cards. You never want to give card advantage; that would need to be limited to Green's role. Unlike Green, you also should never be able to get another color, or easily cast it. This sample card requires you to only fetch basic Mountains, not even dual lands. It feels like it may have enough brakes to keep it from being too powerful. You could make it cost four mana easily enough and maybe something harder to splash, like 2rr or 1rrr so it's not an easy Green ramp spell like Explosive Vegetation that's 3g and can grab any basic. Sacrificing for effects is very Red. If you feared someone sacrificing a land they just brought down and want to brake it more, you could require the sacrificed land to be untapped.

If you wanted to give Red the ability to do this, and feel different, and also remove the searching of one's deck, you could do this instead:

Seismic Expansion


Sacrifice a non-Mountain. Create two Mountain tokens.

Creating two Mountains tokens will play differently. They'll be vulnerable to bounce, flicker, and couldn't be recurred after being destroyed. The effect doesn't thin your deck, and it could be the unique way of Red-land matters theme, and then increase your "Mountains Matter" effect.

Alpine Guide

No one blinked an eye at Alpine Guide from Modern Horizons. I hope that this sort of effect is pushed more as you can really have these begin to appear in sets instead of Yet Another Burn Card.

And there you go! Today we looked at some ways to helping to give Red some ways to flesh out Red by giving it some additional abilities that it can use. It needs more non-burn abilities! There's nothing wrong with burn, but we need things elsewhere. Hopefully these are the start of some new ideas for you.

What did you think? Anything I didn't think of? Any issues with these moves I am not seeing? Just let me know!

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