Red is one of the easier to understand colors in my Powered Synergy Cube, for the most part it is just here to deal damage. Its major appeal is that it has the most efficient creature removal with an abundance of bolts and shocks and the flexibility of playing that removal in a wide range of deck styles.
There are six major archetypes to look for in Red: Storm, discard/madness, lands, sacrifice, artifacts/welder and spells. As with anything, there is plenty of overlap between these archetypes but they each have their own key characteristics.
As always, I like to start my explanations with the most confusing or unusual archetype in the color and red storm certainly fits the bill. This archetype might be one of the most unexpected builds in my cube as I’ve watched many people come so close to what the list is supposed to do before getting confused and pivoting into control or aggro.
First things first, Bonus Round is the main card that makes the deck tic. This is the signal card to suggest that the archetype is open and draw you in. Red storm is largely based around copying your spells and bonus round is the most efficient and effective way to do that. It’s a bit like Thousand Year Storm except it only costs three mana and it can be copied and flashed back. If you have never cast this card, I highly recommend it. It is so much fun.
Increasing Vengeance and Krark, the Thumbless are your backup options for if bonus round is not opened or it is in your deck but don’t happen to find it. Also these cards are both very strong with bonus round, as the copy effects accumulate favorably. This is the main purpose of this archetype, to accumulate copy effects out of control. With an active bonus round Krark either gives you a triple copy of any spell you cast or a single copy with the spell back in your hand. With a single lightning bolt and Krark during an active bonus round you have a 50% chance of dealing 3 damage to three targets and a 50% chance of dealing 3 damage to one target without even using your lightning bolt up! On average, you would only need around two lightning bolts to finish the game off from this position.
Increasing Vengeance is a strange card that is often disregarded on first glance. It might look like an ordinary copy spell, but it has flashback and the additional line “if this spell was cast from a graveyard copy that spell twice instead”. Most people think this only works if the spell was cast for the flashback cost, but it actually works if the spell was cast from the graveyard by any means. Such as…
Underworld Breach and Past in Flames are the major pieces that hold the deck together and if you can splash for other colors, Yawgmoth’s Will works nicely as well! Remember above when I said that with Bonus Round and Krark, you would only need on average two lightning bolts to finish off the game? What if instead of two bolts, you had one bolt and a Past in Flames!
Things get even more beautiful when you consider how Bonus Round works with all the spell doublers. If you cast Bonus Round after you have Krark in play and win the flip, suddenly you get two additional copies of every spell that you cast. If you lose the coinflip from Krark on subsequent spells you will still retain the two copies but get the original spell back! If you then play Past in Flames and recast your Bonus Round you will get four additional bonus round stacks, meaning that every spell you cast will be copied six additional times. Lightning Boltwill deal 21 damage (divided to up to seven targets). Even if you lose the second coin flip on the flashback of bonus round off of Krark, your bolts will still be hitting for 15 damage.
This is obviously leaning into magical Christmas land territory here, but you often don’t need to deal lethal with a single lightning bolt. A single bonus round with a few lightning bolts into a past in flames is often far more than enough. Remember, the second bonus round you cast in a turn will be copied by the first. Just the sequence of bonus round, past in flames, bonus round will triple copy all spells cast after that. Two lightning bolts in your graveyard from earlier in the game will be more than enough to finish things off from there.
Let’s look at another sequence: You cast Increasing Vengeance on Bonus Round, hold priority on the original bonus round and cast something like a Desperate Ritual for 6 red mana. You are then able to flashback increasing vengeance targeting bonus round, which will get copied by the original copy of bonus round casting it twice. Since the vengeance was cast from the graveyard, it also double copies the spell. The end result of this sequence is six bonus round stacks, meaning you will get seven copies of any spell you cast afterwards. Again, a single lightning bolt is lethal in this spot.
There are a ton of variations on this theme and while many of them do involve bonus round, you are definitely able to do some wild things without it like Increasing Vengeance and Underworld Breach to cast triple copied bolts from your graveyard for RRR. Banefire and Conflagrate are also excellent finishers for this archetype.
Finale of Promise
This card is so good and so complicated it needed its own section. It is a spell that casts copies of another spell. With an active Bonus Round, you get double copies of this spell AND double copies of the spells that it casts from your graveyard (and you can change which spells in graveyard you target with additional copies of Finale of Promise). For example, you cast Bonus Round then Finale of Promise for x=3. You will get two copies of Finale of Promise, each of which will be able to cast an instant and a sorcery card from your graveyard. The copies cast from your graveyard will each be copied from the original Bonus round. So we resolve the First Finale of Promise (which is technically the copy) and target Bonus Round and Increasing Vengeance in our graveyard. This adds two copies of bonus round and two copies of increasing vengeance to the stack. The way this spell works, if you cast a copy spell as one of the two cards you are able to target the other spell that you casted at the same time. We target bonus round with both copies of increasing vengeance. Because the Vengeance was cast from the graveyard, it double copies the bonus round, and we end up with seven active stacks of bonus round. Then the second copy of increasing vengeance resolves and we get eight copies of whatever two cards we decide to target in our graveyard. (Keep in mind you need to do the targeting backwards if you have an active bonus round, the spells you target with the initial casting of Finale of Promise will resolve AFTER the copy of finale of promise resolves.) We also could have targeted the original Finale of Promise with our increasing vengeances from the copy and gotten five copies of Finale of Promise for x=3 if we wanted to.
There are plenty more lines of play with this card than I am able to put into the article, just know that it is so much better than it looks and can target cards that aren’t red. You can Finale for x=2 and get back Time Walk and Ancestral Recall or Thoughtseize and Path to Exile.
A lot of the sequences I mentioned above can be fairly mana hungry, but the cube has quite a few ways to keep you going. With all of the spell copy effects going around, something like Seething Song can add anywhere from 10-25 red mana which is more than enough to go off of just immediately cast a lethal Banefire with.
Birgi, God of Storytelling is one of the best possible enablers you could ask for, especially in a deck featuring Krark. She makes it so that you recoup your mana for each time you recast a lightning bolt with Krark in play, so you really just want to lose flips so you can get more spell triggers. Her backside is also great, being able to help you dig for missing pieces of the combo. Helm of Awakening is a great addition too, as it can often represent a significant amount of mana—especially in decks running Krark.
With all of the copy effects running around, spells that untap lands like Frantic Searcg or Snap can act like rituals as well (Snap in particular can be great with something like Dualcaster Mage or Sea Gate Stormcaller). Manamorphose can become one of the strongest spells in your deck, providing mana, fixing and cards. If you do have land untap effects, High Tide is a fun inclusion as well.
Misc Role Players
The copy spell creatures are great in this deck as they just give you more redundancy and flexibility. Dualcaster Mage on Bonus Round is obviously the dream start, but something like Sea Gate Stormcaller into Snapcaster Mage on Increasing Vengeance can do some serious work as well (remember, increasing vengeance will still double copy the spell it targets when cast by snapcaster mage from a graveyard so this sequence will give you five copies of whatever spell you target with it. If you hit a Manamorphose suddenly you have 10 mana of any color and five cards).
There isn’t too much to say about these, other than it turns out that Bonus Round into High Tide + Time Spiral wins games.
This deck can actually play slow and controlling for the first few turns, especially in creature matchups. Your deck should be loaded with interactive burns spells so you can disrupt your opponent for a while, buying time until you eventually assemble the pieces to go off. Some versions of this deck can even lean hard into control, as you really only need Bonus Round and Finale of Promise to win, both of which are great cards on their own. (A Past in Flames definitely does help though).
On the surface, madness is a relatively straightforward mechanic: when you discard stuff you can cast it instead. The end result is virtual card advantage, since often discarding cards is associated with a cost for some benefit (i.e. Magmatic Channeler). If you can get value on both sides of this cost, the discard and the payoff you’ve got yourself a one-way ticket to value town.
While the mechanics of this deck may seem simple enough, the complicated aspect of this archetype comes from the big picture decisions required when you are constantly throwing cards into your graveyard, potentially emptying your hand on the first or second turn of the game!
The first thing you’ll be looking for when drafting this deck is a discard outlet. Bazaar of Baghdad is often the best possible card for this, since it is repeatable and costs no mana. A good way to think about Bazaar is that it essentially turns any card in your hand into a 0 mana Faithless Looting. This may seem counterintuitive at first, but remember when you cast faithless looing you draw 2 cards, discard 2 cards and the faithless looting itself as the 3rd card. This card is a great signal to get into the archetype, as it enables some of the more broken starts. To make sure your deck can reliably find this card, things like Crop Rotation, Elvish Reclaimer or Traverse the Ulvenwald can be useful.
While Bazaar is the best overall discard outlet, LED is certainly the most explosive. When casting madness cards it is actually better than black lotus, as it provides mana and a discard outlet. Imagine the following opening hand:
You can play your mountain then cast and sacrifice LED for triple red. This will discard your hand, putting Vengevine and Anger into your graveyard. With the red mana off LED you cast Anje’s Ravager and Blazing Rootwalla (and even have the ability to pump the Walla). You have cast two creatures this turn, so Vengevine will return to play from the graveyard and your team is granted haste from Anger so you can swing for 10 damage and draw three cards on the first turn of the game! These are the opening hands we dream of in the madness deck, and they are far more likely with something like LED in your deck.
Survival of the Fittest is possibly the strongest discard outlet as it can completely fill your graveyard with the key creatures in a single turn. All you need to do is have any creature in hand, discard that creature searching for Vengevine, then discard Vengevine to find a madness creature (perhaps, Basking Rootwalla), and then cast whatever creature you find off the Rootwalla bringing back the Vengevine.
Other lines with Survival might involve searching out Anger into value creatures like Goblin Engineer, who tutors up Containment Construct and can instantly reanimate it thanks to the haste from Anger.
Anger is a really versatile card to find with may great activated abilities like Priest of Forgotten Gods, Priest of Titania and Magmatic Channeler. It is also a frightening thing to have in your graveyard with the big creatures like Hogaak or Scourge of Neth Toth.
Survival of the Fittest also plays a great long game if you have cards like Squee, Goblin Nabob or Master of Death. Since you can repeatedly discard these creatures every turn to tutor out any creature from your deck into hand.
Tortured Existence is currently not in the cube.
To complement Survival of the Fittest, Tortured Existence makes it so that you can get back any creature that may have already died throughout the game. When combined with recursive creatures like Squee, removal spells from your opponent quickly become useless as you can just pay one mana to get anything back you might want!
Tortured Existence is also particularly good at placing creatures into the graveyard that you might want there such as Scourge of Nel Toth, and Vengevine, all the while giving you the value of unlimited Raise Dead effects. It is a backbreaking card to fight through from any controlling deck on the opponent’s side. The biggest challenge for this card is getting that first creature into the graveyard so you can turn on your discard outlet. Often this will happen naturally, but I wouldn’t rely on tortured existence as your only way to get Scourge of Nel Toth into the graveyard. You’ll want some of the remaining enablers we’re about to discuss!
There are quite a few generic discard outlets in the cube and these are important as backups for when you don’t have access to your main discard outlet. Being colorless, The Underworld Cookbook is probably the best one to pick up early since it also comes with some benefits like creating artifact tokens and Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar. Putrid imp and Cryptbreaker are great incidental discard enablers for the Zombies deck, but putrid imp in particular can be useful for some major discarding if needed. Lastly, there are all the red discard spells like Wheel of Fortune, Cathartic Reunion and Thrill of Possibility. These are great cards to put into your deck to assist a discard theme, but it is difficult to maintain a discard theme without something permanent and repeatable, so I would be on the lookout for one of those even if you do find a few discard spells.
These three cards are great for getting benefit out of your discarded cards. Rielle is the strongest of these by far. With Rielle, even something like Bomat Courier suddenly turns into Wheel of Fortune. Faithless Looting becomes a draw 4 discard 2 and LED acts like Wheel of Fortune and Black Lotus combined into one card.
Containment Construct is an unassuming card that does some crazy things. Usually with this effect you might expect to only be able to cast one of your discarded cards (as is the case with Conspiracy Theorist), but the construct has no limit on what you can play! Cast Faithless Looting, discard a Mountain + Galvanic Blast and you can play both of them. Crack LED and you can still play your entire hand as if you had a Black Lotus. With Bazaar you are essentially just drawing 2 cards per turn, as long as you can play the 3 you discard. The construct is the real deal.
Conspiracy Theorist is like a weaker version of containment construct, but also functions as a discard outlet so he is able to fuel himself. I misread this card about 5 times when I first saw it: it triggers from any discard effect not just its own. You might not be able to go as big as with Containment construct, but often just being able to play a land or removal spell that you discarded is plenty of value to make the card worthwhile.
We briefly talked about these cards above, but its worth mentioning again how useful these cards can be. Effectively these cards allow you one “free” discard per turn, which is a huge deal. Faithless looting discarding Squee is now card neutral, if you have a Conspiracy Theorist in play, suddenly it’s card advantage. These effects all accumulate nicely, as having Squee and Master of Death allow you to turn Bazaar of Baghdad into an insane card advantage engine, and any of these enablers can slot in for other missing pieces.
Winning The Game
Alright, so we’ve drafted a deck that can discard cards and get value from those discarded cards…. now what? Do we just deck ourselves in value?
Well no, haha. There are quite a few things decks like this can do. The first is be a hyper aggressive aggro deck. Remember that hand we showed earlier that swung for 10 damage on the first turn of the game? That is one option to go for. Leaning into more aggressive options like Vengevine, Dragon's Rage Channeler, Anje's Ravager and burn spells to finish things off.
Alongside the aggro plan are the big monsters of the cube. Hogaak hits really hard and can come down with haste in the first couple turns of the game. He works best with either mana dorks or zombies as enablers (since you need green or black creatures in order to cast him). Filling the graveyard enough to delve him out can also be a challenge. Stitcher's Supplier and Satyr Wayfinder are both excellent at powering out Hogaak since they fill the graveyard and work for convoke. Often a single hit from Hogaak can put your opponent in range of burn or a large attack fueled by something like Anger.
Scourge is in a similar spot as Hogaak, although obviously only works for decks leaning heavily into black. There are very few cards in the cube that can deal with a 6/6 flying creature, especially if you can protect it with an instant speed sacrifice outlet. This one works really well in a sacrifice/discard hybrid deck as the graveyard based sacrifice outlet can also be surprisingly useful.
This minotaur pirate means business. Dealing 1 damage for each card discarded is no joke! Imagine casting Wheel of Fortune and hitting your opponent for 7. The Buck is a great way to give a discard deck reach, as you can often find yourself with tons of cards in hand once you get your value engines online. Get your opponent down to 10, cast something like a Life From the Loam and throw your hand away to a Conflagrate or even just escape your Ox of Agonas to deal a ton of damage to your opponent.
The keys to drafting the aggressive version of this deck are to prioritize Vengevine, Anger and Hogaak for your synergy pieces, and take burn spells very highly so you can get in the final points of damage.
Another way to build this deck is lean into the inevitability game plan. Survival of the Fittest + Tortured Existence and a few recursive discard threats is a very tough engine to crack. Plus, you have access to your entire deck, so you are able to slot in something like a Blood Artist alongside a persist combo to make sure you can end the game when you’re ready to. No matter how many times your opponent kills your creatures, you can just keep bringing them back. Having a sacrifice outlet is key here to prevent any important stuff from getting exiled.
The overlap with this deck and the lands archetype is also quite strong, as Loam really likes to be discarded (although not to TorEx and Survival). You can add a Molten Vortex alongside your loam for repeated removal and burn.
You knew it was coming 🙂 This archetype also partners really well into storm. The discard spells in particular, such as Thrill of Possibility and Cathartic Reunion definitely like to be copied. Since the discard as an additional cost to cast the spell, you only need to discard cards once but you get to draw cards twice if you copy them. This turns Magmatic Insight into ancestral recall with an active bonus round, and makes Cathartic Reunion draw 6 cards! Rielle is a great engine for this deck, especially alongside LED.
Gamble is such a fun magic card. Sometimes it works as a fair tutor, sometimes it doesn’t. The key is to tutor up cards you either don’t mind discarding or actively want in your graveyard. Stuff like Life From the Loam, Past in Flames or Hogaak are quite safe to get with gamble, regardless of when you cast it.
Gamble gets really fun when you have something like Containment Construct in play. Suddenly it doesn’t matter what you discard, since you can play it anyway. 1 mana demonic tutor? Yes please! Also if you Gamble on an empty hand it acts like a better entomb.
This card is a great failsafe for decks that missed out on some of the recursive discard advantage engines to make sure you don’t run out of gas. Pairs quite nicely with gamble as well.
These cards are fantastic on their own, but they also work exceptionally well in a discard deck too! We mentioned above how well they work with Anger, and Goblin Engineer for Containment Construct is a great way to pack redundancy into your deck.
Most of my lands discussion can be found in the article explaining green archetypes in my cube. But there are just a couple aspects worth mentioning for their overlap with red.
Molten Vortex is an archetype staple of the red based lands deck, and has a lot of overlap with the discard/madness deck as well. Turning all of your lands into shocks is strong in a cube where around 75% of creatures have 2 or less toughness. Once you have taken control of the game through your endless supply of removal, start pointing that damage towards the opponent’s face to close out the game. Life From the Loam and Slogurk, the Overslime work really well alongside this card.
Valakut is an incredible magic card: it gives you removal and a win condition, all just for putting some lands into play! The most obvious use of this card is to pair it with Dryad of the Ilysian Grove to turn all of your lands into mountains. This makes fetchlands hit your opponent for 6 (3 damage from the fetch itself and 3 from the land it finds) and relaxes the mountain requirement.
With how good the fixing is in the cube, however, it is entirely possible to construct a deck that is capable of winning through Valakut without the aide of dryad. Take dual lands such as Taiga and Stomping Ground very highly. Then, you’ll need to assemble some way to loop mountains. Zuran Orb and Fastbond work nicely for this, as you can repeatedly sacrifice and replay one mountain, each time hitting your opponent for 3.
Or you can get even more creative and take advantage of the classic Scapshift trick. If you have Valakut enter play with a bunch of mountains, you can have those mountains deal damage on entry AND meet the requirement for Valakut to become active. For example, if Valakut + 6 mountains enter the battlefield simultaneously, those 6 mountains will all see 5 other mountains and deal 18 damage to your opponent in total. If you sacrifice all of your lands to something like Squandered Resources or Greater Gargadon and bring them back with Faith's Reward, you can essentially build your own Scapeshift! This trick also works with Field of the Dead as well.
While black is the flagship color for sacrifice, red plays an excellent supporting role. The multicolored Rakdos cards are the best place to go looking for this archetype, and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Since this archetype is largely self explanatory in its functions, I won’t go as in depth as I do for the more unique archetypes and will just highlight some key interactions.
Mayhem Devil is probably the single best reason to get into red sacrifice. It triggers off anything and can shoot down anything. Sacrificing Strip Mine to destroy and land and kill Birds of Paradise is not an experience you will forget (from either side of the board). Mayhem Devil controls the board with relentless damage and can turn into a machine gun when it is time to go for the win. If that wasn’t enough, he also triggers when your opponent sacrifices things!
The Gargadon is the most versatile and reliable sacrifice outlet out there. Suspend keeps it safe from removal or countermagic, the ability can be activated at instant speed, it can throw away anything besides enchantments and planeswalkers AND if all that wasn’t enough you get a 9/7 haste for free!
A trick to keep in mind for the Gargadon is that the time counters are only removed after the sacrifice ability resolves but the sacrifice is part of the cost. So if you have an opponent at 10 life, a Mayhem Devil in play and only one time counter on your Gargadon, you can stack up a lot of sacrifice activations in a row to allow you to sacrifice more permanents than remaining time counters and deal lethal to your opponent. All of this has to be done at instant speed though, or else the stack will clear and Gargadon will be cast from exile.
Be prepared to take this card early as it likely won’t be coming around late in any drafts. Goblin Bombardment is the best sacrifice outlet you can ask for, it’s removal and ping for no cost at instant speed. It gives a win condition to persist combo loops, can blank damage triggers from opposing creatures holding Umezawa's Jitte and turbo kill an opponent with Anax, Hardened in the Forge.
Juri is a weird one. If you squint really hard, it’s like a cheaper Mayhem Devil. It grows with sacrifices instead of dealing damage immediately, creating an enormous threat for your opponent to answer. When they do answer it (or you sacrifice it), it unleashes all that pent up energy and hits something for massive damage.
A few notes for Juri: It triggers off any permanent, not just creatures. Fetchlands, treasure tokens, clues; they all fuel its desire for desecration. Juri acts as a great finisher, especially alongside something like Greater Gargadon, where using that trick we discussed earlier you can sacrifice your entire board to the Gargadon with Juri last to deal as much damage as you have permanents in play to your opponent’s face.
Remember how our key payoffs worked for any permanent type? Well artifacts like to be sacrificed too! Arcbound ravager is often underrated as a pure sacrifice outlet, able to dump a large amount of artifacts into the graveyard in an instant. With Disciple of the Vault or Mayhem Devil in play, things can get ugly for your opponent really fast. Makeshift Munitions, while slower than Goblin Bombardment really benefits from its flexibility in hybrid artifact + creature sacrifice decks. Keep in mind that Disciple of the Vault works when artifacts die on the opposing side of the board too!
The welders are great sacrifice enablers if you are leaning into artifacts. They are happy to endlessly loop things like Experimental Synthesizer, Ichor Wellspring and Myr Retriever to generate a ton of value and sacrifice triggers! I’ve even heard reports of people going so far as to pair this goblin duo with Intruder Alarm for a one of a kind combo finish.
While not a red card, Voldaren Bloodcaster is an excellent role player in the artifact/sacrifice hybrid decks that tend to hover around red. Allowing each creature that dies to make a blood token which can also be sacrificed for additional value is surprisingly useful. These blood tokens are also reasonable discard outlets, tying back to the red madness deck we talked about above! Perhaps there is some way to combine all of these synergies into one deck?
This Trio of KCI, Scrap Trawler and recursive artifact creatures is the backbone of many degenerate combo decks. It often doesn’t need sacrifice as a supporting element, but it’s worth mentioning just how many sacrifice triggers this combo can produce.
For whatever reason through all my testing of this cube, Chandra has never quite got the respect she deserves. She offers the ability to reuse removal, discard spells, card draw, tutors and all that. But she also just gives you two free creatures that sacrifice themselves every single turn! You can turn these into cards with Skullclamp, damage with Mayhem Devil or even just attacking for 2 and growing your Juri by 2 every turn is pretty strong. Oh and did I mention she can flash back Lightning Bolt?
Most of what I wanted to say about red artifacts was mentioned just above or in my article discussing the white cube archetypes. I’m just adding this section the reiterate that red is a great supporting color for artifacts.
One key interaction to bring up is how well Rabbit Battery works with the Goblin Welders, granting haste and providing fodder to sacrifice once that haste is no longer needed. Atog is also a great enabler for the artifacts deck, providing a solid sacrifice outlet and a huge body.
This is a small but easily overlooked archetype. I know Krark got a lot of discussion in the storm section, but he also deserves a discussion here. Alongside his friends
There are so many cheap interactive spells in this cube to really make these creatures shine. Krark might seem like a liability, but when the spells you are casting all cost 1 mana the risk is severely mitigated and the payoff is substantial. With Krark in play Lightning Bolt will average to RR: Deal 3 damage to two targets. Thoughtseize becomes a better Hymn to Tourach and Prismatic Ending just decimates your opponent’s board. Throw in a Young Pyromancer so you get Elemetal tokens even if Krark bounces the spells to your hand and Dreadhorde Arcanist to flash everything back and you’re in for a great time.
To draft this deck, you’ll really want to focus on the 1 mana spells. Often in Grixis colors, a suite of cheap removal, discard and countermagic make a solid backbone for your deck. Without these, cards like Thing in the Ice will not work but the spells are just fine without the payoffs. So take the spells first and try to wheel payoffs later until you have at least 8 solid 1-2 mana spells. While it is definitely possible to draft an entirely “spells” based deck, this core of cheap spells doesn’t have to be the entire identity of your build and can slot into a variety of archetypes: Storm, discard, ninjas, lands, Lurrus etc.
Red is one of the most solid and straightforward colors in this cube. The shocks are much stronger than they might appear, as many of the creatures are small enough to make 2 damage a reliable removal spell. Take them highly and play them often. The supporting synergies for red require trading off a lot of resources, so the biggest concern for red decks is running out of gas. Be looking for ways to help the cards to continue flowing so you don’t get out-valued trying to control your opponent with 1-for-1 removal.