MTGS Mini #8: The Most Powerful Color in Magic

MTGS Mini is the format that will be going up on Friday night/early Saturday from now on. MTGS Mini is a far more easygoing format. So sit back and relax while we relax... our standards. If this isn't your thing, take a break and we'll see you on Sunday night with Cranial Insertion!
Author's note: This article was started in mid-September so some of the statements it says are "current" are slightly outdated.

Many people cite Blue as the most powerful colour. Every single coloured piece of the Power Nine was Blue. Blue also has several spells to deal with any kind of spell or permanent, from bouncing it to downright countering it. Heck, Blue gets tricky enough to even do things like end the turn. However, in my mind, the most powerful colour in the game isn't Blue. "Well" you must be thinking "If it's not Blue it must be Black. Black has powerhouses like Yawgmoth's Will, Dark Ritual, and Necropotence." But no, the colour isn't Black. It's most likely one of the last colours you'd think of. As you struggle to try and figure out if I'd classify artifacts as a colour or if it's a trick question and I'm going to answer lands. No, its neither of those. Whats the answer?


Yes, its true. I believe Red to be the most powerful colour in Magic. Read on if you want to find out why.

"The Red Deck" has been a viable archtype in each and every format ever since the begining of Magic. As a matter of fact, in the very first sanctioned tournament ever, a R/B aggressive deck won. In (as far as I know) every single Type Two format, Red has always been in a deck thats Tier 1-Tier 1.5.

Why is Red always a viable deck? First of all, it's fast. If you don't know how to handle a Red deck, a game can go by so fast that you'll wonder how it could be over already. Red can also play the short or long game. Early game it has quick, efficient creatures like Slith Firewalker. Late game it has burn spells like Shrapnel Blast and big creatures with great abilities like Arc-Slogger to do the last few points of damage it couldn't in the early game. Not to mention it's destroying your lands along the way so you can't muster up a good defense. I've found that the majority of players playing Red decks lose because they kept a bad hand that wasn't fast enough. When you're playing Red, the art of the mulligan is key. You need to mulligan aggressively so you can get that quick start. If you give decks time to stabilize, you will most likely lose, which is why you need to keep the pressure up.

Over the years, Red's strategies have varied. From more creature dependent decks, to more burn dependant decks, to when Red has to team up with another color to get the job done, Red is still a force to be reckoned with. In Vintage right now, Goblins, both Food Chain and normal versions, are viable, as well as R/U fish. In Legacy two out of three tier one decks, Goblins and U/R Landstill, contain Red. In Extended, Goblins will continue to be playable even with Aether Vial gone, and I'm sure that everything from R/W Astral Slide to R/W/G Balancing Tings to non-goblin Sligh will be viable and possibly in the top tiers. In Standard, R/W is looking to be the best aggro deck in the format, with other decks that use red like R/G Wildfire not far behind.

Red decks with burn or control strategies have existed since the dawn of Magic, but the common Red deck you've all grown to love and hate was invented 9 years ago. This was way back in Magic's early years, with the tournament system still having its own kinks to be worked out and not everything about Magic so defined as it is now. The day: April 21st, 1996. The location: a PTQ in Atlanta. Paul Sligh and Jay Schneider had invented a creature-based Red deck that ran on what later would be called a "Mana Curve". While the decklist was quite crude compared to the Red decks of today, it was a rogue archtype that no one had really seen before, and Paul Sligh ran it all the way to second place at the PTQ. The tournament organizer posted the decklist online, and even though Magic discussion online was in its infancy, it circulated around the internet and became a staple archtype.

Heres the decklist Paul Sligh used:

Original SlighMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Strip Mine
4 Mishra's Factory
2 Dwarven Ruins
13 Mountain

2 Dragon Whelp
2 Brothers of Fire
2 Orcish Artillery
2 Orcish Cannoneers
4 Ironclaw Orcs
3 Dwarven Lieutenant
2 Orcish Librarian
4 Brass Man
2 Dwarven Trader
2 Goblins of the Flarg

Other Cards:
1 Black Vise
1 Shatter
1 Detonate
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Incinerate
1 Fireball
1 Immolation

Keep in mind that at the time of this deck you had to play with at least 5 cards from each expansion, known by the players as being "Homeland-icapped." Yes, it's true, even back in the old days of Magic, Homelands was shunned.

The deck is rough compared to today's standards, but back then it was a marvel.

Two years later, in Tempest, Red became a dominating color using the power of cards like Jackal Pup, Cursed Scroll, Wasteland, and Mogg Fanatic while backing it up with some other powerful burn and red creatures from other sets. The result was Deadguy Red.

Heres what David Price's 1998 Pro Tour Los Angeles winning deck looked like:

Deadguy RedMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
16 Mountain
4 Wasteland

4 Canyon Wildcat
4 Fireslinger
4 Jackal Pup
4 Mogg Conscripts
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Mogg Raider
2 Rathi Dragon

Other cards:
4 Cursed Scroll
4 Giant Strength
4 Kindle
2 Scalding Tongs

As you can see, the basis of Red decks was being formed. There were still a few random bits to it like the one copy of Torture Chamber and Apocalypse in the sideboard, but it shaped the decks to come.

Despite Red's overwhelming power, Wizards kept putting out solid Red cards and Red continued to be a tier one deck. Can you imagine todays Magic formats if creature-based decks like Sligh didn't exist? You would just have control against control every round. Although there's a good chance someone might have figured out a deck like Sligh if Paul Sligh never played that deck, without him it might have just been control decks. As a matter of fact, some of Magics greatest attributes come from the Control against Aggro elements of the game, and without those who knows if Magic would even exist today.

I started playing Magic slightly before Planeshift came out and at that time the big deck that I kept hearing about was called Fires of Yavimaya. Fires of Yavimaya indeed was a deck that used red. It used Green's mana acceleration to play Fires of Yavimaya and then play big creatures you could attack with right away, including Shivan Wurm and the famous Flametongue Kavu. It also had burn that could prove deadly with all of the mana like Urza's Rage and Ghitu Fire. There Red was used for its big, efficient creatures and its late game huge burn spells.

Fires of Yavimaya decklists varied quite a bit, but here's the one that Trevor Blackwell won U.S. Nationals 2001 with:

FiresMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
1 City of Brass
1 Darigaaz's Caldera
10 Forest
2 Mountain
4 Karplusan Forest
4 Rishadan Port
2 Sulfurous Springs

4 Birds of Paradise
4 Blastoderm
3 Flametongue Kavu
4 Llanowar Elf
2 Shivan Wurm
3 Thornscape Battlemage
2 Thunderscape Battlemage
3 Yavimaya Barbarian

Other Spells:
4 Fires of Yavimaya
2 Ghitu Fire
4 Saproling Burst
1 Urza's Rage

Two years later Onslaught came out and introduced a lot of Goblins. Even though they didn't use Patriarch's Bidding yet (That tech wouldn't come until later) Goblins was a playable, popular archtype. It wasn't broken.... yet. Then Scourge came out and brought with it Goblin Warchief and Siege-Gang Commander. Goblins suddenly turned from pretty good to insane. With the ability to power out a Warchief turn two and up to three more Goblins turn 3, the deck soared to the top, especially once the Patriarch’s Bidding tech came out. Goblin Bidding became one of the most consistent, powerful, and feared Red decks ever. Goblins also went on to dominate Extended and Legacy, staying very viable in Vintage and Legacy to this day.

Once Goblins rotated out of Standard last year, another Red deck became viable. Even with Affinity legal, speedy Red with Chrome Mox, Arc-Slogger, Seething Song, Slith Firewalker, Shrapnel Blast, and other goodies you're used to seeing today was a solid deck. It wasn't as fast as Affinity, but it was able to put up some fair numbers against Affinity due to its artifact destruction while being strong against the other decks in the format. Once Affinity got banned, it became one of the best decks in the format.

Ever notice how most newer players build a Red burn deck? Because even as a new player to the game they already see the power of Red. Red cards deal damage quickly. The rest of the colors try and use conbinations or large creatures to get things done, but not so much with Red. Red just plays burn to the opponent's dome and kills them before they can play the fat creature that they try and ramp out. And even if they do get the fat creature they so desire to beat down with into play you can probably just burn it out before it causes any problems, and even if its too large to burn out maybe a small partnership with Red's good friend, Black, could get rid of your creature troubles.

There is an article called the Philosophy of Fire (It's a great article, and you can find it here if you're interested in reading it.) In a nutshell, what it says is that one card should equal two damage, and thus you should be able to kill your opponent with 10 cards. Grab any random deck you have near you, draw 7 cards, and play solitaire. Once you've drawn 10 cards you don't draw any more cards. Out of all 5 colors, a Red deck will often be the first deck to kill in this format of sorts.

As we enter a new age of formats with Ravnica entering soon, the decks that we all know will change for better or worse. Red still has some of the best cards in every format from the lowly Shock to the mighty Form of the Dragon, Red cards are everywhere and I predict that it will continue to be this way.

I hope you enjoyed this article and thanks for reading.

-Gavin Verhey

Writer: Lesurgo


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