Red is arguably the most fun color to brew with in Commander. Check out our list of 20 Essential Red cards — the tools you’ll appreciate most when brewing any red Commander deck.
Red has access to some of the flashiest effects in Commander, and also some of the ones with the highest variance. With access to mana generation, impulse draw and plenty of ways to close games, red is always a good choice.
While there are some honorary red cards like Gauntlet of Might and Ruby Medallion, we’re only interested in red cards today. Likewise, MDFCs like Valakut Awakening don’t make the cut on this list, as you should be playing MDFCs in all of your decks and they don’t tend to encroach on deckbuilding slots like actual spells.
Without further ado, let’s get cooking. Here are the top 20 essential red cards.
Shattering Spree is my weapon of choice when it comes to dismantling mana rocks, equipment and other nasties. While Vandalblast often hits more targets, and is sometimes easier to cast, I like Spree for a number of reasons.
First, if an opponent free-casts it from our deck or graveyard, it’s a lot harder for them to pump extra red mana in to replicate it. It’s also, perhaps more importantly, a lot harder to counter when you’ve replicated it, as an opponent essentially needs a Whirlwind Denial or Flusterstorm, two counters that see minimal play at casual tables.
Red Sun’s Twilight is another option, and one I like quite a bit more than By Force, considering the potential upside. If you’re storming off, you can always shatter your own rocks to keep spinning those wheels. Shoutout to Brotherhood’s End, too — if for whatever reason you’re not big on rocks or small creatures, this one can pull a lot of weight, too.
Bitter Reunion is the newest card on this list, and one that easily makes it into my creature based brews going forward. Mass haste is always a game-winning keyword that helps to turn the tables, and there are already plenty of ways to grant it. Urabrask the Hidden is a favorite of mine, and Anger is also great if you build around it (also much easier when adding black to your deck).
The difference between Bitter Reunion and other sources of haste is you get something else, too, and that something else is card advantage. Bitter Reunion, and to a lesser extent First Day of Class, are cheap to cast and can turn the tables in an instant. Reunion is best, IMO, because it can be set up for later while helping smooth your draws. It’s a stellar two drop.
Underworld Breach is pretty much unique for red at offering a way to recast any spell in your graveyard by exiling cards as an additional cost. While ostensibly a combo piece when you consider cards like the aforementioned Dockside Extortionist or Mana Geyser, it’s also a great way to buy back the odd spell or two, or rebuild a board after a board wipe.
Spell slinger decks love this card, as do decks that use the graveyard. It’s also just a solid, one shot spell. If you’re in an artifact deck, you can always just play Scrap Mastery instead.
Dire Fleet Daredevil
Dire Fleet Daredevil is one of my favorite red cards — mainly because there’s always a story to tell about it. I’ve used it to cast things as innocuous as Cultivate all the way up to exiling a Surge to Victory and exiling my Ephemerate while I had Aurelia, the Warleader in play (spoilers: that’s a combo). I’ve even used it to cast a Sign in Blood targeting the owner of the Sign in Blood, eliminating them in a sudden death moment.
What makes “Snatchcaster Mage” so good is that, at the absolute floor, you get to dip into an opponent’s yard to play a consistency draw or ramp spell — or maybe just exile something you don’t want them to have access to. But the ceiling on the card is limitless, and being able to recur or flicker it at instant speed makes for some wild lines.
Hell, you can even just cast it in your main phase to exile an opponent’s counterspell when you’re setting up for a big turn. If they try and interrupt? Well, you can counter it now!
Dualcaster Mage is another good one, but Snatchcaster’s utility far exceeds it. It’s cheaper, and it’s arguably easier to pull off without losing tempo holding mana up.
I can’t believe how good this thing has been playing for me since I first got my hands on it, and it’s honestly a wonder why it’s still relatively cheap. Cards that combine ramp and draw are timeless in Commander, and Face-Breaker does so with aplomb.
Going wide can net you multiple treasures a turn, and even more so if you add Doublestrike to the mix. When playing her alongside cards that generate lots of treasures, you can dig deep, too.
There’s not a whole lot more to say here, other than that Fable of the Mirror-Breaker fulfills a similar role in the early game but is ultimately a little more fragile. I think both are fantastic Commander cards, and ones here to stay.
Wheel of Fortune
The thought of calling a Reserved List card essential is a conflicted one, to be sure. Having game pieces be unobtainable is bad, and if you can’t afford to pick up a Wheel, don’t feel bad about proxying one.
Thankfully, there are other, budget options I’ll mention in a moment. First, though, the thing that makes Wheel so good: it’s both cheap to cast but it’s also disruptive. Disruptive Wheels are, in my opinion, the best kind of Wheels.
For every chance they might spin an opponent into a “god hand,” there’s every chance they just give them a bunch of land and throw a finely sculpted hand into the bin. I think this disruptiveness is a key counter-play to control, and a healthy balance to decks that overwhelm opponents with card advantage.
If you’re looking for cheaper options, I really like Magus of the Wheel, and I think it achieves the disruption better than Wheel of Misfortune, which is another fine option. I’ve been pretty high on Imposing Grandeur lately, too, as I really like rewarding expensive Commanders with a better deal than cheap ones.
Unfortunately, there currently is no more affordable alternative to Aggravated Assault, the premier extra combat enchantment. What makes Aggravated Assault so damned good is the sheer number of ways to lean into it: you’ve got your Neheb, the Eternal and your Sword of Feast and Famine, for a start.
Moving into other colors offers more alternatives, too. All in all? It’s a surefire way to end games.
Red has a number of great enchantments that feature everything from double or even triple damage, all the way through to cheating creatures into play. The latter card, Sneak Attack, definitely competes for a spot on this top 20, but fell short considering it’s best used and enabled in decks that can reanimate creatures, which primarily means adding white or black.
Given red doesn’t enjoy the parts of the color pie that can answer enchantments or indestructible very well (though it certainly has ways around the latter, at a cost), Chaos Warp is an essential spell for mono-red, and even Rakdos decks.
It can sometimes backfire, of course. There’s nothing funnier than seeing the exact same permanent put into play. But it can also be used proactively, too.
In a protracted fight, I’ve often used Chaos Warp to send away an excess land in order to try and hit me some card draw or recursion. It doesn’t always work, but the times it has? I’ve won some of those games because I’ve used it to dig myself out.
Laurine, the Diversion
Goad is one of the most game-swinging mechanics that exists, and anyone who has ever played against a recurred Kardur, Doomscourge or Disrupt Decorum, or hell, Marisi, Breaker of the Coil can tell you that. Laurine gives you Goad on tap, while also being a sacrifice outlet for creatures and artifacts, which isn’t all too common in red. A first strike 3/3 body blocks like a champ, too.
Repeatable goad in the casual meta is huge. I’ve lost track of the number of lethal threats I’ve sent elsewhere with Laurine. She even gives you a free shuffle, regardless of if you have a Kamber to find or not. Pet card? Yes. Underrated? Most definitely.
Cursed Mirror is one of my favorite Magic cards. I say that about a lot of red cards, which says a lot about the color. I’ve written a whole article on Quadrant Theory in Commander where I go deep on Cursed Mirror’s objective strengths, but I’ll summarize here once more.
It’s good when you’re behind, it’s good when you’re ahead, it’s good when you’re at parity and it’s good in the developing stages of the game. No matter when you cast it, you’ll get a good effect, and at its very worst it’s just a mana rock.
Jeska’s Will is another of the new-school red cards that provide both mana and card advantage, and it tends to excel in decks with cheaper Commanders.
It’s simple math: by the time you cast your five, six or seven drop, people’s hands may be pretty low. Don’t be afraid to slam this on curve as a way to accelerate, though, as the card advantage isn’t what makes this card good — it’s just gravy.
Either way, Jeska’s Will is here to stay.
Deflecting Swat is also here to stay. Free spells are very, very powerful, and I’d argue it’s between this and Fierce Guardianship for the best in the cycle. And as a primarily Boros mage, I have to lean towards Swat.
Swat lets you change all of the targets of a spell — not just one — making it the best way to interact on the stack outside of conditional answers like Pyroblast.
What makes Swat so good is the tempo swing. Not only do you cause a blowout by countering whatever your opponent intended, you also get to set them or another player further back when you redirect the targets.
You may raise an eyebrow seeing Bolt Bend take such an exclusive spot on a list of 20 cards. I’ve already covered other stellar cards as footnotes in related entries, after all.
The thing is, while I could have just used this spot to enshrine the virtues of Crackle with Power over, say, Jaya’s Immolating Inferno, it felt like a waste of space. Burn spells are ten a penny, and if burn is your win con, any number of the options out there will do just fine.
Instead, I want to give Bolt Bend the dues it deserves. It’s a budget copy of Deflecting Swat, which is already stellar, and turning it on is trivial in most decks.
While it can’t deal with a Casualties of War or Hex… who’s even playing those cards anymore? The card it’s most cold to is, I guess, Sublime Epiphany. Outside of that? It does exactly what you need, which is to swing tempo wildly in your favor.
Did I mention you can use this to stop other people comboing? I’ve changed a Kiki-Jiki’s target away from Felidar Guardian. I’ve changed it so Thornbite Staff equips not to Marrow-Gnawer but to something else, buying us a turn to stop a combo in each scenario. I’ve made a Rionya target not Dockside Extortionist.
All of my friends reading this will vividly recall each of these occasions, and it has burned Bolt Bend into their minds. It should be on your mind, too.
Daretti, Scrap Savant
Some Commander cards have aged really well. Daretti is one of them, and it’s mainly because his -2 essentially reads as “Sacrifice a treasure: recur target artifact from your graveyard.” This alone makes him worthy of a place on this list, over the likes of Goblin Welder, Scrap Mastery and Ardent Elementalist — because he also lets you see more cards.
If all he does is come down and give you a free Faithless Looting-adjacent effect over and over, he’s actually quite hard to remove from the board provided you have a decent blocker. Incidentally, his -2 can get you that blocker.
Some colors are better than the others at having an explosive turn. Red and green are the best, and for red, the reasons include cards we’ve already mentioned: Dockside Extortionist and Jeska’s Will, but also Mana Geyser.
Mana Geyser is the most accessible of the big-mana rituals in red, and it gets the job done. On average, you’re looking at around twelve to fifteen mana from this in the midgame, netting you around ten mana for your troubles. If the game goes long enough, and people ramp hard enough, it could be much more than that.
There are other options in Rousing Refrain and Neheb, the Eternal, but they’re less flexible and harder to sequence.
Terror of the Peaks
Terror of the Peaks is the kind of card that gives decks reach. I don’t mean literally, as in the keyword — but reach in terms of being able to push through and close a game. Combat damage alone sometimes doesn’t suffice, especially when there’s some life gain involved, or a control deck with plenty of removal.
Terror is Warstorm Surge on a body, and can turn mass deployment or reanimation into mass damage. Purphoros, God of the Forge is another damage dealer in this vein, but is far more specific to token based strategies, with Terror able to slot into many more archetypes and provide meaningful removal to boot.
Rionya, Fire Dancer
You can slot Rionya into any number of decks and have a good time, and that’s why she’s on the list. Sure, she works best at the helm of spell slinger builds, or decks that want to copy key creatures like Dockside Extortionist or Combat Celebrant, but those are not the only builds she’s suited to.
You can slot her in the 99 of most decks that run creatures and she’s well worth the mana investment. She’s also a fairly futureproof card. Any good EtB or attack-trigger printed in the future can potentially do some crazy stuff with a Rionya involved.
Etali, Primal Storm
You know what’s essential to Commander? Fun. And Etali, Primal Storm is very, very fun. Getting to cast multiple free spells a turn can be game-winning, and Etali brings the heat where that’s concerned.
Generator Servant is her best friend when she’s in the Command Zone, but she slots in just about any red deck as a source of card advantage and shenanigans.
Rounding things out, we have Blasphemous Act, a card I see at least 1.5x per game. It’s the most played wrath alongside Toxic Deluge and Cyclonic Rift, and for good reason — it generally costs a negligible amount of mana and can mostly wipe the board of creatures every time. It’s as close to an auto-include wrath I can think of, and it definitely deserves a place in your deck.
There are a few other wraths that are worth a look in red, with Chandra’s Ignition being very one sided if you can build around it. Delayed Blast Fireball is a newcomer and is one-sided, plus it works especially well with all of red’s impulse draw. It’s better to be lucky than good, and hedging that you can cast it from exile is the kind of bet I am interested in.
And we’re already done. Twenty essential red cards for your Commander decks, and all of them ones I play with alarming frequency.
Damage doublers and burn spells didn’t make the cut, mainly because you have so many options to choose from. They’re also deck dependent. Crackle with Power, Fall of the Titans and Fiery Emancipation are the ones I like a lot, if you were looking for recommendations.
Let me know your essential red cards on Twitter.
Kristen is Card Kingdom’s Head Writer, and member of the Commander Advisory Group. Formerly a competitive Pokémon TCG grinder, she has been playing Magic since Shadows Over Innistrad, which in her opinion, was a great set to start with. When she’s not taking names with Equipment and Aggro strategies in Commander, she loves to play any form of Limited.