Article Rethinking Red

Dom Harvey

In a lot of Cubes, Red is probably the least interesting colour: you can make a R/X aggro deck, you can sprinkle a few burn spells in your control deck, and - if your Cube supports it (and not many do...) - once in a while you can draft the Wildfire ramp deck. Meanwhile, every other colour has both more things and more interesting things going on; only white really has the same problems, but it still manages to exhibit greater diversity. I wanted to try revamping red by pushing a bunch of themes and staying true to the design philosophy of prioritizing interesting cards/game states over out-of-context power, without crippling the red aggro decks that help maintain that end of the spectrum in Cube. I don't expect all of these changes to hold up, but hopefully some of these ideas will be useful.

My main objectives:
- Move away from 'mindless' aggro decks by including cards that enable aggro-control or aggro-combo.
- Let red play a bigger role in control and combo decks.
- Find - and if needed/possible, double up on - cards that bridge multiple archetypes and/or colours.


My first move was to triple up on a card that I've clung to ever since Jason opened my mind to the idea of duplication: Burning-Tree Emissary. It does everything I want to do with this project: it works in multiple archetypes (Storm) and colours (fits perfectly well in G/X aggro or midrange) while being a good card in its own right, and creates interesting decisions in design, draft, and gameplay. If you draft two of these, for instance, weaker cards that can be played off RG start to become more appealing than objectively stronger cards; and in-game, there's often a tension between deploying your board as fast as possible as Emissary wants you to do and playing around sweepers/reserving spells for storm cards; and Emissary by itself is very weak, so there's a tradeoff between the fast starts it enables and its weakness later in the game. In design, you have to balance the distribution of 2-drops between those that can be cast of RG, those that can't, and the Emissaries themselves. For a card that has such a damaging effect on Standard, it's surprisingly interesting in Cube.


Storm is a controversial subtheme; even some of the people most open-minded about experimenting in Cube are reluctant to try Storm, on the grounds that it's unreliable, doesn't lead to interactive games, and requires loading up on cards that have no use outside of that one archetype (thereby also letting people go on auto-pilot in the draft). I think some of those concerns are unfounded, and that in any case they can be addressed by approaching the topic carefully. Burning-Tree Emissary, for instance, is fantastic with both Storm Entity and Grapeshot, and there's an interesting tension between it and Haze of Rage - do I play out all my guys to maximize the power spread, or do I hold some back to boost storm? The fact that these cards can be played in aggro decks stops them being narrow and makes those decks more complex. The best Storm card, however, is undoubtedly:


and it's good enough that I want multiple copies. Not only is it a good Storm finishes that nonetheless encourages interaction (a small or medium-sized Empty can be fended off by blockers, and there are enough sweepers to make it risky), but it's also a nice curve-topper in an aggro-combo R/X deck. It also has a lot of incidental synergies and crossover with other archetypes. Consider a turn 4 of unsuspend Rift Bolt, Emissary, Empty; now consider it with a Carrion Feeder/Goblin Bombardment in play (!), or a Beck preceding it, or an Anthem/Hellrider/battle cry guy/Champion of Lambholt/Kruin Striker in play, or one of these suspended:


Gargadon is another of those cards that does a ton of things well without getting boring. It's a 1-drop for the red aggro decks that isn't a dumb animal like Jackal Pup or Goblin Patrol (the dynamic a Gargadon ticking down introduces to a game is fascinating, and from both sides no less), it's a sac outlet for various shenanigans, it's the perfect finisher for the Wildfire ramp decks and in concert with sweepers in general (to say nothing of Upheaval/Balance...), it can get people out of nowhere, and the 10 CMC can be surprisingly relevant:


This is one of the more outlandish twists I want to try. It's not something inherently worth exploring, but it slots nicely into place alongside other subthemes: the miracle/library manipulation subtheme (giving targets for these cards - e.g. Thunderous Wrath - and setting them up respectively), the Sneak Attack/Through the Breach/Show and Tell/Eureka/Flash/reanimator package that wants high-CMC fatties, cycling/evoke cards, Blasphemous Act (more on that soon...) and so on. It creates some awesome games at little cost: even Blazing Shoal, the card with most blowout potential, forces decisions: seeing it once puts the fear of God into them in future games, making combat a nightmare, and the investment required to 'go for it' is substantial enough that it requires setup and good timing.


Boros Reckoner is exactly the type of card I'm looking for. It's an excellent card in its own right, and it's best against the type of decks that would want a Boros Reckoner, meaning that doubling/tripling up on it doesn't make red aggro decks much more powerful at the expense of other strategies. In addition, the combos with the card are all nice against control decks as well, meaning that there are multiple dimensions to the card depending on how you want to use it. Its mana cost is one of the subtle things that makes the card so interesting: it rewards people for committing to red or white (or both) while being flexible enough to see play in other decks (in particular, the fact that it's good at most stages of the game, especially if you're using it to do silly things, means that it isn't as much of a hindrance). The card is also just a ton of fun - it's inexplicably satisfying to OHKO your opponent by loading damage onto a Boros Reckoner.

(good combo cards include Devastating Dreams/Sickening Dreams/Firestorm, Kindle the Carnage, Blasphemous Act, Chandra Nalaar, Spitebellows, Rolling Earthquake)


The final red card I want in duplicate/triplicate, this is what ties all of these loose ends together. It's unremarkable in the sense that everyone knows how good it is, but it performs a much-needed function and does it as efficiently as you could ask for. Having Looting gives you the freedom to take chances with some of the niche cards listed here, as you can dig for them when they're wanted and cash them in when they aren't.


I don't need to go into how good it is with Life from the Loam, but it's easy to overlook its interactions with cards like Land Tax, Meloku, Upheaval/Sunder, Memory Jar. By itself, it's a recurring source of uncounterable, instant-speed damage that allows you to get value out of dead lands. Flame Jab is a neat card in the same vein that also helps build up a storm count.

Some cards that aren't part of larger families but which are cool on their own:
Flamekin Harbinger: sets up Changeling Berserker/Titan, Vengevine, Avenger of Zendikar, Wolfbriar Elemental, Mulldrifter/Shriekmaw/Spitebellows, Mirror Entity, Reveillark...
Changeling Berserker: fits into any tribal sub-theme you're pushing, is great with 187 creatures, lets you tuck things away to insure against sweepers
Devastating Summons: a cool top-end card that's cheap enough to be incorporated into a storm chain and to set up a Summons-sweeper turn. The fact that it scales at will makes it very skill-intensive.
Chandra, the Firebrand: gets a bad rap, but can be used to set up some truly sick plays.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There's an obvious tribal theme waiting to be explored in the form of Goblins, and less obvious ones like Elementals or Giants (which I hadn't even considered until I read Hannes' post earlier), and I'm sure you have lots of ideas I haven't touched on yet. I'll end with a list for a hypothetical red section (SB includes hybrids and cards that have potential):

1 Flamekin Harbinger
1 Blasphemous Act
2 Faithless Looting
1 Spikeshot Elder
1 Goblin Guide
1 Mizzium Mortars
1 Arc Trail
1 Inner-Flame Acolyte
1 Changeling Berserker
1 Siege-Gang Commander
1 Sneak Attack
1 Through the Breach
1 Wildfire
2 Greater Gargadon
1 Burning of Xinye
1 Seismic Assault
1 Devastating Dreams
1 Devastating Summons
1 Goblin Bushwhacker
2 Empty the Warrens
1 Haze of Rage
1 Priest of Urabrask
1 Lightning Mauler
1 Mogg War Marshal
1 Plated Geopede
1 Hero of Oxid Ridge
1 Hellrider
1 Bogardan Hellkite
1 Inferno Titan
1 Sulfur Elemental
1 Past in Flames
1 Grapeshot
1 Mana Flare
1 Bonfire of the Damned
1 Reforge the Soul
1 Thunderous Wrath
1 Chain Lightning
1 Lightning Bolt
1 Firebolt
1 Searing Spear
1 Incinerate
1 Blast from the Past
1 Char
1 Firestorm
1 Arc Lightning
1 Flames of the Firebrand
1 Grim Lavamancer
1 Stormblood Berserker
1 Pillage
1 Countryside Crusher
1 Magma Jet
1 Devil's Play
1 Heretic's Punishment
1 Spitebellows
1 Chandra Nalaar
1 Wheel of Fortune
1 Koth of the Hammer
1 Chandra, the Firebrand
1 Boom // Bust
1 Flame Jab
1 Punishing Fire
1 Seething Song
1 Gamble
1 Kris Mage
1 Storm Entity
1 Torch Fiend
1 Flametongue Kavu
1 Ash Zealot
1 Hellspark Elemental
1 Hell's Thunder
1 Keldon Marauders
1 Rift Bolt
1 Sulfuric Vortex
1 Blazing Shoal
1 Viashino Slaughtermaster
1 Rolling Earthquake
1 Squee, Goblin Nabob
1 Goblin Bombardment
1 Crimson Mage
SB: 1 Nivmagus Elemental
SB: 1 Figure of Destiny
SB: 1 Rakdos Cackler
SB: 3 Burning-Tree Emissary
SB: 1 Fulminator Mage
SB: 3 Boros Reckoner
SB: 1 Manamorphose
SB: 1 Murderous Redcap
SB: 1 Moltensteel Dragon
SB: 1 Keldon Champion
SB: 1 Destructive Force
SB: 1 Stromkirk Noble
SB: 1 Form of the Dragon
SB: 1 Goblin Chieftain
SB: 1 Kindle the Carnage
SB: 1 Kiln Fiend
SB: 1 Mogg Fanatic
I really like the fact that you are giving more love to Faithless Looting, as it is one of red coolest spells. Another card that you might play that is great with storm is Guttersnipe. Also, Flame Jab might also be cool in this type of deck as a cheap source of spells and a way to get rid of extra lands. I also play the Firebrand and she has been more than fine, as she sets 2x1 fairly easily with practically any other red spell.

You can also try going for a more combo-oriented support for red with Kiki-Jiki/Splinter Twin. You don't even need Zealous Conscript, Pestermite, Deceiver Exarch or Restoration Angel for the combo, as these doublers are pretty powerful on their own.

I don't currently support storm-based strategies because I think they are too parasitic to be made playable and would be too insconsistent given my cube size, but I do have support for Wildfire decks and Sneak/Show/Eureka/Reanimator combo in my list.

Overall, I believe that red is a great cube color mostly because it is very single minded and does what it want to do with a lot of efficiency. Red also gets to be a powerful support color in any deck, especially considering earthquake/pyroclasm effects that are great in red-based control.

One theme that I would love to see more explored for red, though, is the artifact-matters theme. I currently have Goblin Welder in my list, but he is a bit of a blank considering that there are few other cards that interact proactively with your own artifacts and will only get played in a grixis reanimatorish build. Don't we have more

Eric Chan

Hyalopterous Lemure
Staff member
Post of the year, Dom. Like, geeeeeeeez. Super impressive, and well thought out!

As far as storm support goes, I really like the idea of using versatile bodies like Burning-Tree Emissary over one-shot rituals. I've always loathed the idea of including marginal cards like Desperate Ritual in my cube, but doubling up on Emissaries is more palatable. Grapeshot feels like a stretch to me, but Empty the Warrens certainly isn't embarrassing in decks that aren't fully dedicated to all-out storm. It feels like one-mana blue cantrips (Ponder, Ancestral Vision, Gitaxian Probe et al.) could play an important role in setting up "value" storm spells.

I've always wanted red to play a larger role in control decks, rather than being the obligatory sidekick that clasms all your small guys, and then mops up the rest with bolts. I'm hoping red can be front and center for a control deck, rather than being splashed in several drafters' blue-based control decks as the dull, unthinking henchman. I feel that something like big red, or perhaps R/W control, should be a viable archetype, as opposed to a joke. Right now, though, there are precious few reasons to make red the focal point of a control deck, save for the freakish Inferno Titan. I've scoured Gatherer dozens of times now, convinced that I've missed something, but it seems like there are very few anchors for such an archetype. Is this something that any of you are trying to emphasize, as well? Or should we be happy that red is as strong an aggro colour as it is, and leave control to the big boys?


i recently added Blasphemous Act to try to help out Red controlish decks (usally wildfire based).i like that one a lot and am always on the lookout for more "big red" stuff. i also support storm and sneak attack, so i like to think that red can be versatile without becoming inconsistent at beating for 2.

Jason Waddell

Staff member
I love the Crater Hellion suggestion. Squee, Goblin Nabob is great too for expanding red's ouvre.

Tuktuk the Explorer is an all-star that works in the right context (Greater Gargadon, etc.). I will personally say that I LOVE Goblin Bombardment in red. Pyreheart Wolf deserves mentioning in that context.

I love Flamekin Harbringer too, as you mentioned. It's slated for inclusion in my next cube.

Chris Taylor

Awesome post man, I totally forgot about BTE.

I'd been thinking about madness, which could be a player in red with such a density of faithless looting effects:

We might need a few more efficient looting effects in red (I'm not so hot on mad prophet or rummaging goblin at the moment) for this to become a thing, but it might do a decent job tying it to blue (Compulsive Research, Frantic Search) Black (Gravecrawler, Big Game Hunter, Ichor Slick) and green (Arrogant Wurm, Basking Rootwalla, Vengevine, Survival of the Fittest)

Jason Waddell

Staff member
Thought exercise: at what density of madness cards does Tibalt become playable?

Also, these have been pretty great in dedicated madness decks:

Dom Harvey

Don't know how I forgot about Guttersnipe. Love Welder as well, though it's only really feasible in powered lists.

I see Grapeshot as a more interesting Arc Lightning/Flames of the Firebrand with a much higher ceiling.

Kris Mage is another good Madness enabler. Have you cast Blast of Genius discarding Fiery Temper before? Neither have I, but I want to!

There's Form of the Dragon as a wacky control finisher?

Red might be the most boring colour in conventional Cubes, but white seems to be the colour with by far the least design space. Does anyone have ideas for some interesting white cards/themes?

Jason Waddell

Staff member
It's not much, but white Double Strikers are pretty fun as a subtheme. It is a good question though, I don't think white's deeign space is very thoroughly explored. People seem to be pretty content with their beaters and control effects. I'm looking forward to seeing what you guys come up with!
Two out of the last 3 times I cubed I was really trying to force Kiki. It only actually ended in that direction once but I really think that value Kiki decks are a great way to give red a little breadth.

Copying war marshal is so cute. Imperial recruiter is nuts and anything that can take a land with it will make your opponent cry.
Woah really? Is there like a whiteboardered alternative? That's incredibly depressing. Finding starter gems sounds like record hunting.


dom -- i'm looking forward to it, it's been frustrating including red cards that don't even go well in multiple aggro decks.

ah, violent eruption, i'd love to run you but fuck you to death for costing triple-red.

Eric Chan

Hyalopterous Lemure
Staff member
I'll touch this up tomorrow (today? idk anymore. Time is a foreign concept at this point) and try and make it suitable for the front page.

Sweet! Just let us know when you get around to it - this forum software isn't great at showing when posts are touched up.

Chris Taylor

Funny you mention it, I have actually recently cut jackel pup and swapped him out for another tattermunge maniac instead of rakdos cackler :p
(Black already has A LOT of 1 drops, and while my cube didn't quite know what to do with black, the side benefit from cackler being black was marginal. Now I'm actually worried about it being too easy :p)


hey dom! excellent article, great fun to read and see your thought process.

my only concern is, having written one of these myself, how it worked was much worse than how it should have worked (find the mill you thread if you care to, one of my not-finer -- coarser? -- moments). looking back on it, this was mainly a result of
-theme required too much space
-theme didn't synergize well with other themes

so to the opposite end, i think it would be super-cool to have an article showing how these cards end up being used, which other archetypes they blend in with, what the red decks end up looking like etc.