Sunday 10 March 2013

Revised Reviews: Red Spells

Lightning BoltLightening Bolt 4.5
Power 4.3 
Support 4.8

If playing red it is very rare to omit this classic spell. Burn spells are hard to balance and vary which means some end up strictly better than others and Lightening Bolt remains the original and best of the burn. Instant is great, one mana is fantastic and three damage is the icing on the cake. The card itself may be a little dull but red decks don't tend to be about individual cards so much and are themselves great fun to play. It is always rewarding in cube to beat people with the Jace and their Force of Will with your Mogg Fanatic and Lightning Bolt. The rest of the burn will be more interesting to review as they have occasions and decks where they are strongest, Bolt however is mostly just the first go to burn spell for all red decks. The cube is all about versatility of spell which burn embodies perfectly by operating as cheap removal early then direct damage as a finisher. Most of reds best cards are burn which does make it a slightly narrower colour in some respects. There are cards that do more than Bolt in various ways but they all have drawbacks or prerequisites while Bolt is just pure simple all round goodness. I used to compare things to Bolt but it was always depressing as they are all worse so I started using Shock instead as the lowest power playable cube burn spell rather than Bolt as the best. The glass is half full.

Faithless Looting
Faithless Looting 4.0
Power 3.7
Support 4.4

Although Looting has not been in the cube all that long it has seen so much play I feel I am able to give it a reasonably good appraisal. Brainstorm is the more abusable and powerful card, although not by much, if the card parity was equal the Looting would be vastly more useful and powerful. As it is however blue it somewhat spoiled for choice in that department where as most other colours are lacking making Looting a far more valuable asset. Early card quality spells are outstanding in magic and lead to better games. I was initially less excited about the card as the obvious comparison is Careful Study which is not a card you can play in any old deck. Study needs you to want to put cards in the bin for some reason to be worth the card disadvantage and better than cards like Ponder in those slots. The flashback aside, in red where you have nothing like Ponder to fall back on the looting starts to look more appealing. Looting really opens up red and makes it much less narrow as a colour. You are able to play more powerful but more narrow cards as you can discard them when not useful. Many good effects, lots of which are red such as Squee or Chandra's Phoenix have great synergy with the Looting. Goblin Welder loves to be paired with things that fill up graveyards and red has more flashback cards in the cube than any other colour. The niche graveyard decks that use looting are reasonably clear and obvious but don't make up a huge part of the metagame. It was the effectiveness of Looting in agro decks that really surprised me. In red deck wins the idea of losing cards and mana to not achieve any damage seems ridiculous however it turns out that this is rather a black and white view of how games play out. Late it turns useless lands into damage spells for very little cost and early it can dig you out of a jam at minimal cost due to pitching cards with value in the yard. If it were just careful Study it would probably still get a 2.5ish rating and see a good amount of play. With the flashback adding value and flexibility to the card it is presently seeing play in the majority of decks containing red and is a mainstay in a couple of strong archetypes including Big Red and Red Deck Wins. This is a format changer in the cube although I missed it at first and is quite possibly the best spell (not dork just to clarify that) to see print since Cryptic Command and certainly one of the top five spells to be in the Modern format.

Firebolt 2.8
Power 2.6
Support 3.0

Sorcery speed shock is limp but sufficiently playable to make any added extras look quite appealing. This was in the A cube for a very long time but was being edged out by newer more exciting burn like Arc Trail and Burst Lightening. One of the best things about the Firebolt is you are never afraid to use it as you can be with either of the afore mentioned more powerful spells. When you have a target you Firebolt it, you might want to hold the others for a later date when you can get more value out of them. With Firebolt if you get to that later date you will still be able to get your value and casting it early without regret is a good way of getting to later in the game. The main reason I brought this back was the high degree of synergy it has gained in the cube from the new top quality red discard effects. Much like you are not unhappy to blow a Viridian Shaman out of the way with this you are also reasonably content to throw it in the bin off a Faithless Looting etc. Most of my reasons as to why this is a worthy cube card seem to be along the lines of it is bad so your happy when you get to do anything useful with it but this is not why I am trying to get across. The best comparison would be a Barbarian Ring which to all intents and purposes is just a bad mountain as Firebolt is a bad Lightening Bolt. The pay off is the essentially free 2 damage you get access to later. Burn is quite samey so taking a minor hit on the initial power of a card can be worth it for the flexibility and 2 for 1 potential it gives. Red is more popular and more powerful than it was in cube when I first started playing it in Mirrodin block and there is more options for burn. Rather than keep it narrow and only able to support one heavy burn player I have started to return those that have been replaced. With miracle now out I suspect Magma Jet will be next in line to return if the current quantity of burn can't support two players doing what they want with it.

Chain LightningChain Lightening 3.8
Power 3.7
Support 3.9

Basically as good as bolt in red deck wins but much weaker in control decks where the instant effect becomes much more significant. Being sorcery removes most of the trickery and added situational value from burn. Instants make for significantly better disruption and makes all of the 0.8 difference up between Bolt and Chain Lightning. Still, this is the only other sensible card that offers three damage to any target at one mana. While I have seen the extra ability used once or twice in cube it was neither relevant nor clever and tricky as you might hope and can pretty much be regarded as completely irrelevant to the card. It might be good with Swans of Bryn Argoll if that worked, oh well. Regardless of it being strictly worse than Lightning Bolt I am confident this little spell will remain in the cube indefinitely. 

Burst LightningBurst Lightening 3.6
Power 3.3
Support 4.3

I would give shock a 2.5 rating as the card lacks any real power which kind of implies this gets a full extra rating point for the kicker which is not all that often used. This actually replaced Firebolt when it was printed and has impressed greatly since its addition. The only advantages Firebolt has over this is that the damage may be split between two targets and over different turns. Burst however costs one less to do 4 damage than bolt and does so at instant speed. This is most relevant in counter-burn decks where Burst is at its best but is still good in any deck wanting burn. There are not that many cheap instant burn spells, nor are their that many easily playable burn spells that can deal 4 damage. In red deck wins I will tend to play Firebolt and Chain Lightning over this as they pack more punch however in any control, disruption or tricksy deck I will always go for this for its greater flexibility and disruptive potential through being instant. When you have instant burn in hand you feel safer, when that burn only costs one you can cast bigger spells and still feel safe.

Seal of FireSeal of Fire 3.0
Power 2.5
Support 3.7

This burn spell is frequently underrated by players. It offers as much power as Shock and appears to be a sorcery speed spell to which I have just given much time discrediting in cube burn. The main home for this is red deck wins but it finds other good uses in decks all over as burn is so versatile. Seal of Fire is basically a half instant spell, you lose the trick element by having it on the board but you retain the ability to deal damage at instant speed which is the more important of the two effects. Just having it in play prevents a player equipping their guy etc. The reason this card is bumped way beyond the power of shock is that it is often a free 2 damage as you invested the mana to play it earlier in the game. This is particularly important in low curve aggressive decks where you often have enough burn to remove something like a Baneslayer but not the mana to do so. Seal of Fire is the only burn spell you can always happily curve out with thus improving the overall consistency of a deck. First turn bolting someone to the dome feels very weak but throwing down a Seal of Fire feels infinitely better than doing nothing with your mana. Other areas where seal Shines as a cheap burn spell are with Wheel of Fortune, Obliterate effects and powering up Tarmogoyf. 

Reckless ChargeReckless Charge 3.0
Power 3.6
Support 2.3

This is a spell full of value. One of the very few spells that isn't a cheap damage dealing dork or a burn spell that red deck wins will play. The first time you play this spell it is as good value as Lightening Bolt in that it is 3 damage extra for just one mana. If compared to Firebolt once both are flashed back it it 50% more damage for 50% less mana. The real question is how big are the drawbacks of needing a guy to play it on and having that guy killed or blocked? I play this card a lot, and while it does happen it is not that often, less than searing blaze will be bad for you for starters. Having a charged up guy blocked is usually fine as you have usually dealt with the low toughness blockers meaning you get to take out a real problem dork reasonably efficiently, particularly on trampling or first striking guys. When you don't have a guy to play it on it is fine to for it to sit in hand until you draw one providing you don't load up on too many cards of the same ilk. If they do kill your charged guy it is pretty bad but this is easy to play around when using very cheap cards. I have so far reviewed this card as if it didn't give haste, which is not the main feature of this card but does make it much more dangerous to play against. You can feel comfortable and then suddenly be facing down an attack for 10 or something that you didn't anticipate if facing Charge. When you do manage to effectively curve out with this card and make use of the haste on a normal monster it tends to be a bonus damage or two which is certainly what your deck wants. Cards that work particularly well with charge are Keldon Marauders and Spikeshot Elder. You won't find this outside of the most aggressive decks but it is fairly happy in most, particularly red deck wins. The sheer power and potential of this card negate its situational aspect. 

Lava DartLava Dart 2.6
Power 2.8
Support 2.5

Lava dart has all the most important requirements for burn covered being cheap and instant and non-situational. The cost of this is low damage output. As with all burn, early it is removal and late it is a finisher. As a finisher this is no weaker than Shock or Seal of Fire and qualifies with the minimum acceptable damage of two for a card. As early removal it is only one damage but this is fine as so few of your other spells will only offer one meaning you are quite likely to have some appropriate targets left for Dart. When you use it to kill a relevant creature like a Bird of Paradise you always feel ahead as you still have late game value from the card. In the mid and even early game you sometime use this as a Forked Bolt and for the most part still get that lovely two for one feeling despite it being a two for two on account of the mountain lost. The main downside of this card it that it is unusable in control decks who are ending the game much later and don't want to sacrifice land until then, particularly for such a low powered effect. Dart is one of the lowest power level burn spells in the cube but easily makes up for this by offering such versatility and lack of any other pesky drawbacks and is a solid contender in aggressive decks using red. Unlike Fireblast which is nearly unplayable for its actual cost and requires two mountain to sacrifice thus making it very hard to play outside of heavy red decks the Lava Dart only needs half the number of mountains and only to use half of the card thus making it far easier to play in RX decks. Another often overlooked perk of this card is that you are almost always happy to discard it and not just because it has flashback but because it is a low powered card to begin with. Losing half the effect of a low powered card is almost always the smallest loss of a non land card you can get barring cards like Squee.

Geistflame 1.5 (C cube)
Power 1.0
Support 2.2

This is basically Lava Dart for control decks, the best use of which is getting it and a Chandra's Phoenix with an Intuition or Gifts Ungiven. In more aggressive decks the low level of burn combined with the high mana cost makes this the weakest burn spell going. Being instant and offering utility and potential card advantage is much more appealing to control decks who can afford the extortionate flashback pricetag. While it has not seen loads of play as yet it has never been a disappointing spell as the decks that do play it tend to have loads of synergy with flashback in general such as lots of looting effects which has the effect of making any card acceptable. The problem it has is that is is highly cuttable and frequently gets sidelined for more raw power. The only synergy outside of flashback that it offers is with the afore mentioned Chandra's Phoenix which is hardly a game changer. A neat little card that is just not quite enough bang to deserve a place in a main cube.

Gut ShotGut Shot 1.5
Power 1.2
Support 2.0

This is a card I suspect will find itself in the B cube in not too long. All it ever offers is one damage which makes it one of the least powerful cards in the cube ignoring mana cost. Mana cost is of course the strength of this card giving it applications in combo as well as control and agro. The problem is that the card is so marginal that it gets cut for something beefier most of the time. Only in decks with Snapcaster Mage has Gut Shot seen any play and not been bad. A free spell is lovely but the effect this free spell has is barely worth a mana anyway when it costs a card and so the benefit is far less pronounced that it is with mainstays like Fireblast. It is almost more like Daze than any other card as the real strength of Gut Shot is when you don't have it but they play around it none the less as pinging their one toughness guy in response to an equip would be game over. Daze does more when it does stuff and scales better into the late game than Gut Shot as well as blue having vastly more card quality to dispose of when unwanted from blue. As such Daze is a cube mainstay and Gut Shot is a fleeting fancy but a cute card and good to spice things up with now and again.

Mizzium MortarsMizzium Mortars 3.6
Power 3.5
Support 3.7

This is a lovely all round spell that can fit into a fairly wide array of decks. This is a different kind of mass removal that doesn't help with planeswalkers or man lands but offers flexibility and utility in other ways. It has two very reasonable and quite polar extremes in regards to both cost and effect. At one end of the spectrum you have a very cheap and efficient single target removal spell while at the other you have a reasonably costed fairly effective one sided mass removal card. If you are playing against creatures this card will be good for you at all stages of the game and likely game winning late on. Cards with variable costs are great as they improve your options and your ability to curve well. This is better viewed as a single target removal spell with mass removal capabilities rather than a mass removal spell as its primary function. If you need to kill something you shouldn't, in most situations, sit there bleeding trying to get the overload off on the Mortars and should just blow it for two mana. Sorcery speed is a bit of let down on single target removal but would then make the mass removal side of the card unreasonably good. Doing 4 damage for the small cost of 1R outweighs the sorcery speed set backs. Four has always been a tedious toughness for red to deal with and often two for ones them and this helps lots in that area. Triple red is not easy to muster for the overload but is still viable even in three colour decks with the help of filter lands and remembering we are mostly using this as a 1R spell. As it only hits their guys it is vastly more playable in decks that are heavier on creatures as well as far more devastating when you do overload it. Few mass removal spells are as easy to throw into a deck and fewer still require as little set up to profitably use. Even so four damage doesn't deal with all the things you want it too making it a card you rely on less as mass removal.

Smash to Smithereens
Smash to Smithereens 1.5 (C cube)
Power 2.8
Support 0.8

Shatter and more! This used to be a staple in red deck wins where the ability to kill things and deal damage was too much value to pass up. With the power culled from my cube there less targets floating around and more decks with none at all making Smash to Smithereens too much of a liability to main deck. Cards like Manic Vandal, Torch Fiend and even Chaos Warp are more appealing red solutions to artifacts, even in red deck wins, simply because they are never dead. With red having little card draw or quality spells it is even more important to not fill up your deck with potentially useless cards. As such Smash to Smithereens now only gets sideboard slots and therefore has lost its A cube slot. It might sometimes be called upon for red deck wins sideboards as it is so proactive however the more potent and effective artifact kill spells such as Shattering Spree and the newer one with overload tend to be the preferred sideboard choices. When boarding in a card to do something it should be pretty obvious you really want to do that thing and therefore care less about bonus ancillary damage.

IncinerateIncinerate 3.5
Power 3.4
Support 3.7

Once you have put in the obvious Lightening Bolt your second burn spell becomes an interesting choice. This, Burst and Chain Lightening are all of very similar power level each offering something slightly different. Is 3 damage your priority, is instant speed more important or costing one mana? I generally find that the mana cost is quite acceptable with the colourless half really helping to cast this. When you want to do a lot of damage all at once it can frequently be the lack of red rather than the lack of mana that limits you and in such situations incinerate is your friend. The anti-regenerate aspect of the card should be a boost to the card but in reality is about as relevant as the ability on Chain Lightening but I'll take it any ways, it could easily become quite significant if a really strong cheap creature arrives with regenerate on. For the record, I do think this card is better than Lightening Helix, it goes in more decks not being gold, most that care not for their life total, and is far easier to cast. Helix is the superior control card but those decks have far fewer slots in them for just burn spells. Fire is also more red feeling than Lightening which gets most of the top burn slots and so Incinerate wins the flavour contest too!

Arc Trail
Arc Trail 4.0
Power 4.1
Support 3.9

There is pure burn like Lightening Bolt and Incinerate, situational high power burn like Searing Blaze, Fireblast, Galvanic Blast etc and then there is utility burn like Punishing Fire and Arc Trail. As pure burn Arc Trail does not shine at all but is still not dead which is the main requirement. I cannot really pinpoint why it is so absurdly good in the cube beyond it doing what you need it to for a very reasonable cost. The slightest change to a burn spell can make it go from good to bad. Arc Trail is just a perfect blend of this kind of damage splitting effect costing less than Arc Lightening and pretty much always doing the same thing, or that extra damage it has over Fire or Firebolt allowing you to take out much more relevant monsters while still being able to gain card advantage. The sorcery aspect of the card has not proved a big a drawback as I would normally expect on a burn spell, mostly as you are setting up the play to get value out of it rather than responding to what they do. I keep finding myself looking at my board position and thinking I pretty much lose to Arc Trail here. Early game this is about a big a tempo swing as you can hope for and late game it is still usually good value. I am happy to play this in any red deck and generally want it as my second favourite all round good burn spell after Lightening Bolt. The card just keeps proving itself invaluable. It is a rare example of card advantage on both a card in red and a card that offers a huge tempo boost. Obviously it is at its best against decks using cheap dorks but is fine against anything and highly playable in agro or control. In a list of top 10 spells that impact the game most for two or less mana this would have a place. The cube is just full of cheap powerful agro and utility creatures of which Arc Trail kills most making it a real game changer.

Searing BlazeSearing Blaze 3.0
Power 4.2
Support 1.6

I hate this card and always have. I made a futile effort to send this to the B cube but all the less stupid magic players would go find it and put it in their decks. I don't like the Blaze because it is doubly situational, first they need to have a creature and secondly you need to have landfall. The latter is not essential and Blaze can be of use just pinging stuff for one but if it just did that it would never make any deck over something like a Forked Bolt. The beauty of burn is the flexibility and redundancy it offers, which this lacks. I used not to play this unless I knew I would be facing all creature decks as I feared having the dud spells. Two mana for 6 damage is about as much as you can hope for from one card in magic. The most persuasive argument I have heard for this card is simply that it is not always great but when it is then it is the best card in your deck. The degree with which this is above the power level of other burn when optimal is much greater than the frequency of it being dead. It is a huge tempo swing regardless and it occasionally gets a 2 for 1 on planeswalkers. We don't really need to go any further than saying it is 6 damage for 2 mana and 1 card in justifying its A cube slot. It only really goes in heavy red agro decks due to the tempo aspect of the card and its double red cost and still fully deserves its A cube slot...

Punishing FirePunishing Fire 2.0
Power 2.2
Support 1.8

A neat little utility burn spell with recursion that works well against certain decks or combos with a few cards. Grove of the Burnwillows is the best way to recur the Fire and frequently end up in the same deck but both are perfectly playable separately. A slightly overcosted Shock is never going to be an unplayable card if drawn without support and neither is a duel land. This means you are more than happy to run a single copy of each in your deck without bothering with any form of tutor to find the cards. For the card to offer value it needs to be recurred a few times which makes it very slow and finds its home most often in control decks or mid range decks. For red deck wins it is too little damage for too much mana in addition to the fact that you don't want to incorporate any effects that gift your opponent life. If your match ups are known and they have a few incidental life gain effects Punishing Fire can be a worthwhile inclusion without Burnwillows support. It won't act as a direct counter to the life gain in the way a Sulphuric Vortex does but it will net you card advantage which is something red is not easily able to achieve. It also has good synergy with cards like Gifts Ungiven. Personally I never play this unless I am well set to abuse the effects in a couple of ways but it is still not the worst filler without any support or knowledge of the metagame.

Molten RainMolten Rain 1.5
Power 2.0
Support 1.2

Rather a dull card in cube but not without its roles. Molten Rain has two homes however it is far from a mainstay in either. In one Stone Rain or Pillage would be better but the cube only has so many slots, especially for weak marginal cards and so it must make do with Molten or no Rain. Destroying a land for three mana is way too fair for cube, even on the play or with ramp the loss of tempo you get from spending turns and cards to kill lands off usually ends up killing you. For single target land destruction to work as a plan you need to draw near perfectly and have you opponent not draw optimally as well. Cards like Vindicate or even Wastelands a fine as one offs as they snipe out lands only at optimal moments while Molten and Stone Rain have little other applications when the moment isn't optimal. As such you never run decks with lots of cards like this, instead you play a card or two like this for timely disruption when it works with what your deck is doing. Wildfire decks come in a selection of builds, RG, WR, mono red and nearly pure artifact based. A cheeky bit of land destruction can win the odd game early when appropriate but is rarely dead late game as you have mass land destruction effects to help keep it significant. Killing their 6th land for three mana and a card is poo but killing their 2nd after you cast Wildfire is backbreaking. The other common home for Molten Rain is in red deck wins where the two damage bolt on bonus is often more important than the killing of the land. Three is a lot for red deck wins and I find a good indicator of how good my deck is. When I have two or less 3+ drops (no including Fireblast) my deck is amazing and when I have more than four my deck is weak. This is only a trend and not a certainty but it does mean Molten Rain only ends up in a fifth at most of red deck win lists. It is a lovely compliment to Rishidan Port and/or Wastelands but in red deck wins would rarely be used in combination with any more land destruction and would never be used without the good shot at getting two bonus damage through.

SlagstormSlagstorm 2.5
Power 2.4
Support 2.7

There are a wide array of cheap red mass removal spells of which the cube definitely wants at least one of. This is my personal favourite as it covers most of the bases. Three mana is fine and only double red makes it playable in multi-coloured decks. Three damage is of much more use than two as more and more creatures evade the sweep. It hits fliers which so many fail to do and on top of all this it can double up as a burn spell to the dome which makes it viable in red deck wins as it is never a dead card. So while it doesn't seem like it offers much more than any other spell of this nature, and in many cases it offers less, it does give you all the things you need and most want. Typically played in counter burn decks but due to the all round nature of the card it is finding play in more unexpected places. The most surprising of these homes is the afore mentioned red deck wins where the option to sweep the board is handy in some match ups so as to buy enough time to be able to burn them out or get some value out of measly one drop guys later in the game. Cheap sweepers are often more effective than more costly yet reliable ones such as Wrath of God. The decks where these shine most against are typically very explosive and can often over extend into a more expensive Wrath as sufficient damage will have been done already. Slagstorm is one of the best of the cheaper mass removal effects as it comes out fast enough to stop an elf or affinity deck getting to an unbeatable position yet still hits the vast majority of things you can cast for the same cost or less. The unreasonable number of dorks with 3 toughness all over the place from one to three mana makes cards like Pyroclasm not only too narrow but also way too ineffective at its task.

Volcanic Fallout
Volcanic Fallout 1.4  (C cube)
Power 1.6
Support 1.2

As cheap global removal goes Fallout is fine but not exciting. For the extra mana you pay over Pyroclasm you get to damage players, ignore counterspells and play it at instant speed. As this is a control card the damage to players is a mixed blessing. On the good side it keeps planeswalkers in check although rarely killing them. It can also help recur a Chandra's Phoenix. Uncounterable is pretty irrelevant and makes the card more of a hoser than making it a better card. The only deck you want it against where the counter proof is relevant is faeries style decks. Ultimately the question boils down to is instant speed better than 50% more damage that Slagstorm can give to which the answer at present seems to be a no. The present cube meta has far too many cheap 3 toughness dorks for this to be a mainstay. Fixed cheap mass removal spells are not maindeck features in many archetypes at all and do not merit more than one slot in the A cube at present.

Wheel of Fortune
Wheel of Fortune 4.0
Power 4.7
Support 3.5

The red version of Timetwister is as good as the blue counterpart although does see less play and has slightly different applications. The primary function of both cards is to cheaply draw lots of new spells for use in decks that will use all their resources quickly. Timetwister sees more play mostly for the reason that there are more blue decks that need a hand refill than there are red ones. At three mana it can often clog up the hand of a red deck wins player and in big red Memory Jar has more synergy as well as often being easier to cast. Being symmetrical in effect it can be a dangerous card to use against a number of different archetypes. While often not seeing play in red deck wins the deck is more than happy to see this kind of effect coming from their opponents. The crucial difference between this and Timetwister is the lack of graveyard reshuffle. In singleton formats the ability to reuse a number of your cards that have already gone to the graveyard is pretty important for some control and combo decks and can offer additional robustness to a deck. While this can be desirable in some archetypes others prefer to leave their graveyards intact, indeed some archetypes such as reanimator not only want to keep their graveyards in place but can make use of the discard aspect of Wheel. On the whole I would say more decks want to reuse cards than those that wish to discard cards or retain graveyards however there are more archetypes still that care little either way, predominantly aggressive ones. In these more aggressive decks Wheel tends to help the opponent less than a Timetwister and also far more frequently than you might imagine will simply win the game due to milling the other player out of cards. More than being a very cost effective way to draw spells it is a rare example of card draw outside of blue or black which gives a lot more options for building and designing decks. An absurdly powerful card but somewhat out of place making it harder to find homes for and  incorporate into them

Sulfuric Vortex
Sulphuric Vortex 3.8
Power 4.2
Support 3.5

I rate this as the best three mana aggressive card. It is not unlike a Chandra's Phoenix in that it costs the same and deals two evasive damage a turn while being difficult to deal with. Vortex offers much better evasion than Phoenix and is harder to stop even if it cannot be recurred. In addition to this impending clock the Vortex provides insurance against reds worst hoser - life gain. Stigma Lasher used to be in the cube as it was an OK dork that had a desirable effect for red but Vortex is so much more reliable and effective in this role it is well worth the extra mana. The damage this does to its owner is basically irrelevant, not only does it do it to them first but presumably you have an aggressive red deck complete with some burn spells to ensure you always have the life advantage. Infrequently you will have had a bad draw and lost the tempo thus being unable to cast this as it will help your opponent kill you faster but in such situations you have probably lost regardless of the dead card. The only time Vortex is not something you want for your aggressive deck is when you are also in black as they have better uses for their life total or when you are trying to abuse Kavu Predator. Black red is not a common or established archetype and so this is not a real downside to the card. Against any deck trying to be the control player throwing threats of many different forms, man lands, direct damage, planeswalkers, dorks, equipment, artifacts etc is optimal as it makes it less likely they will have the appropriate thing to deal with the threat at the time it is required. There are very few enchantments which are also threats for aggressive decks and so the Vortex occupies two niches very effectively (being an enchantment and preventing life gain). It is a complete mainstay of red deck wins and likely its best card however is plenty powerful and appropriate enough to find a home in any agro deck containing red.

Chaos WarpChaos Warp 1.8
Power 2.1
Support 1.5

This is no Beast Within even with reds complete inability to deal with enchantments. The simple reason for this is that you have no way of knowing what the drawback will be prior to use. Lots of the time it is nothing which makes this a lot better than instant Vindicate, let alone Beast Within. Most frequently they get a land which is also probably better than Beast Within most of the time. The thing is it can get something worse than what you dealt with or even exactly the same thing that you just dealt with. Against decks with few big threats such as red deck wins or white weenie or those with cards you have to deal with such as combo decks or something tedious and lame like a Worship then Chaos Warp is the go to card in red. Generally though answer cards want to be reliable and predictable and this is neither. You cannot happily include it against any old match up as you can with beast Within as it will sit in your hand dead until you are forced to use it through having nothing else. If they are playing a couple of big threats you cannot justify using it on things you would otherwise love to spend three mana killing such as a bounce land or a Dark Confidant. The risk of gifting them something far better is rarely worth it even if lowish odds. If Wishes or sideboards were more commonly used  in my cube, or if I have had more hoser cards like Engineered Plague and Moat then this would be more useful. As it stands red has far better solutions to its various problems than the unpredictable last resort Chaos Warp. I have lost a game where my opponent was drawing for his only out in his deck which happened to be an Inferno Titan. Instead he missed and hit this and figured he may as well try and luck out blowing up his own land to get an extra shot as the Titan, which obviously he did like all the best pros.

Brimstone VolleyBrimstone Volley 2.0 (B cube)
Power 2.6
Support 1.6

I am fairly happy to call this the best three mana burn spell that there is. The thing is that three mana is rather a lot to pay for burn in general. The more you pay for burn the lower the ratio of damage per mana you will get. This is to offset the fact that the ratio of damage to cards increases as the burn spells rise in cost. Burn is about cheap removal and tempo and less about card advantage hence the prevalence of cheaper burn in the cube. You want your burn to be really efficient for the early game or to scale really well into the late game like the X spells. Brimstone Volley is about as midrange as you can get with burn and so is far less appealing in any archetype despite its decent power. It is quite easy to get the morbid trigger with red although the reasonably high cost of the card can get in the way of this a bit. The more expensive the card the worse the morbid trigger hence Volley being far worse than Tragic Slip. That said the card would not see all that much more play if were a guaranteed 5 damage every time (counter burn being the only deck that this would be really significant in). As burn goes it does tick all the right boxes, it is instant, does not have an onerous demand of red mana, is not situational and hits all required targets. Three damage without a morbid trigger is also acceptable. Overall red decks want to pack more game changing and interesting cards in their three slot than just high output burn. Probably it is better than Ball Lightning but it is far less cool than my sexy original Ball from the Dark.

Sneak Attack
Sneak Attack 2.4
Power 3.0
Support 1.6

Another of those cards that allows you to cheat vast monsters into play on the cheap alongside Reanimate and company, Tinker, Flash, Show and Tell and Oath of Druids. It is a great mix as they all do similar things but in different colours and with different dynamics. This makes it very interesting in deck building allowing you to chose one or more of these strategies which gives lots of combinations of resulting decks. Do you go for just reanimation so as to increase the consistency with fewer colours and more dedicated cards or do you increase your redundancy and routes to winning by going for more of the cheat into play options. Sneak Attack is the most expensive of this kind of spell but does allow for repeat use and so could be compared more to Recurring Nightmare than Reanimate however it is very much a combo card and not a control card so I tend to group it based on that more than any thing else. Sneak Attack only gives you one attack with your dork while most of the others leave it in play. This makes Sneak Attack better with certain kinds of dork, those that kill in one hit like Serra Avatar and Blightsteel Colossus and those that have powerful effects when attacking, entering or leaving play which include the Titans (including Sundering), Wurmcoil Engine, Emrakul, Myr Battlesphere and so forth. Stand alone dorks like Akroma are far less powerful when suck into play. Griselbrand is a new fatty that begs for these effects and was a big reason for me putting so many back into the A cube. One of the issues with Sneak Attack decks is that you can't play too many things to sneak in or the deck loses all consistency and when one fails to kill or is dealt with you have nothing else to be doing. Flopping down a Griselbrand and drawing one or two more hands prior to the attack phase is very effective in sorting this problem out. Sneak Attack is a narrow card but different and fun and a good support card for other narrow but cool cards like Griselbrand and is happily welcomed back to the cube. The style of combo deck it supports is so varied and diverse that it far better suited to limited formats such as basic booster draft than most other combos are.

Chandra, the FirebrandChandra, the Firebrand 3.5
Power 3.3
Support 3.8

This is reds best planeswalker being reasonably cheap and versatile complete with a self protecting mechanism. Not as aggressive as Koth she tends not to end up in many agro decks and finds her home in counter burn more than any other place. She is a little fragile with relatively low loyalty, expensive minus costs on the middle ability and only a low impact plus one ability to boost her. The ultimate is quite cheap and is used more than a lot of the best walkers but still very infrequently. It is unlikely to ever hit more than a few things as well as Chandra would probably not be around let alone loyal enough to fire off a one sided Inferno. It is the unassuming -2 fork ability that has huge blow out potential and rather makes up for the limp but acceptable +1. Forking a Fact or Fiction or a Cryptic Command or a Fireblast or a Time Walk or a Devil's Play, even things as minor as an Arc Trail or a Fire / Ice will completely swing the game in your favour. It is a little bit situational on you having the cards or the mana but this is fine on an ability you will not be spamming. A solid all round walker that is one of the least broken of the good walkers. Best in control and quirky ramp decks as they have the most abusive cards to fork. Typically too slow and of low impact to be worth playing in the more aggressive decks she still occasionally gets filler spots for her ability to easily recur her eponymous Phoenix.

Koth of the HammerKoth of the Hammer 2.2
Power 3.0
Support 1.6

Koth is a little weaker than most of the other walkers due to being purely aggressive. If you lay him into a board in which you are already behind the best you are likely to do with him is get in for 4 points of damage and save yourself 4 when they kill him. This isn't awful but does compare poorly to other walkers and gives your opponents way to much choice while you lose card advantage. A 4 power haste attacker for 4 mana is easy to come by in red and so Koth's main ability isn't offering you too much new. Red deck wins is the main aggressive red deck and Koth is rather too high on the curve to be any sort of regular in it and has very few homes as a result. Koth isn't all that much harder to cast than most other good planeswalkers however all of his abilities require mountains which highly limits the decks he can be good in and how those decks must be built if he is included.  The ultimate is generally game over but getting there implies you got 2 hits in with 4/4 mountains and were ahead on the board before doing that which means the game was probably over anyway. Extra mana is a great second ability but is infrequently used and designed so as to be rather unwieldy. I have yet to see it be used in a really powerful way and is mostly a way to get out a chump after casting Koth when you are already behind. Definitely one of the weakest walkers in the cube although for being situational rather than being underpowered. The abilities all require mountians but beyond that have very little in common. The first is purely agressive, the middle rather combo in nature and the ultimate is a control effect. The best archetype for Koth is a mono red control deck with lots of defensive blockers that uses Koth's +1 as a really bad version of Garruk Wildspeaker's +1 and tries to go ultimate. The problem is that archetype is a weaker version of big red and only really gets played when artifacts are being cut as a backup strategy.

Chandra NalaarChandra Nalaar 2.5 
Power 2.1
Support 3.0

Red has not been overly gifted with powerful walkers and this is a fine example of that. This Chandra is weaker than Koth in terms of power however fits better into various archetypes and gets the job done. Unlike most other walkers "the job" in this case is keeping things calm where as most other walkers "job" is winning the game. Left entirely unchecked she takes 12 turns to win a game on her own which is pretty pitiful, especially as she fails to progress your board at all in that time. Most walkers will have made a game of magic unrecoverable if they survive for more than a few turns which is not the case at all for this Chanra. To make up for this Chandra is very good at dealing with things that you are facing. I have frequently retorted to a Baneslayer with this Chandra and taken it out out in one hit. Most of the time red has to 2 for 1 itself to take out the higher toughness creatures but not with this. She is a little worse at dealing with other walkers but will keep them honest being able to take out blockers or ping them down while growing herself. She is a solid red control card that deals with problem fatties and gains good tempo and often card advantage too. Five is steep but for that you get a lot of loyalty and can often safely cast after they have tapped out to do something big. The biggest weakness of Chandra is that the four mana version is also a good control card while being easier to cast and of higher overall power. In 40 card decks I shy away from cards that legend rule themselves. I have seen this Chandra be especially good with Swans of Bryn Argoll for drawing lots of cards.

Wildfire 3.0
Power 3.8
Support 2.6

A staple card for many red decks that want to be able to win games while casting spells that cost more than two mana. Red is lacking in ability to disrupt certain aspects of magic having mostly only damage at its disposal. By attacking mana bases you can stop ruinous stuff happening that you otherwise could't deal with. I have mixed and rotated Jokulhaups, Obliterate, Destructive Force and a few other big red destroy lots of stuff cards and never really settled on which is the overall best form. Those that sac a set number tend to be easier to build around however not being able to kill Titans and some other big dorks is a bit of a problem these days, not to mention their doing nothing little other heavy artifact decks. Wildfire being the cheapest of these (along with Burning of Xinye) makes it the easiest to include and play. More often than not it is cast proactively just to kill lands rather than trying to wait at all and kill dorks with it too. It is primarily for this reason that I prefer it to Destructive Force however their ability to kill different sized monsters does make me elect to run one of both rather than two effective copies of Wildfire. I am not sure this is right but I like to feel I am covered to deal with things when building decks. Destroying lands cripples most decks, those that can recover best from it tend to have lots of little dorks which wiping away as well sures up your advantage. Most land destruction is one for one and tends to cost about three mana to do so. This gets 4 lands at half the usual cost and allows mana denial strategies to be competitive in the cube. The only requirement is that you do not cripple yourself when casting it. A big red staple and playable in a few other archetypes too, all of which have ways to ramp up their own mana quickly.

FireblastFireblast 3.5
Power 4.2
Support 2.9

Fireblast rarely sees play outside of mono red agro decks, almost all of which are red deck wins hence the low support rating. The ways to rate burn are damage per card and damage per mana for which this trumps Lightening Bolt (the actual best burn spell) on both accounts. Most of the time casting this signifies the game has ended and so the loss of mountains isn't relevant. All the other times you cast it the mountains lost will be a minor set back or a necessary evil as you would otherwise lose immediately. The normal cost is somewhat prohibitive so you have to be prepared to sac your lands if you are to play it. When you do though it ticks every box for burn and it does so with flying colours, instant speed, high damage output, the lowest of costs and freely targettable. The most simple cards are often the best but are also the hardest to express why they are so good. Time Walk is just very very good, this is not quite so good but still qualifies for a double very in the description of its goodness. It is the red Force of Will much more so than Pyrokenisis in that it ends many games beyond question. So many situations come down to, I can do this and live unless you have Force of Will/Fireblast at which point you reveal your cards and shake hands. Fireblast is much more restrictive than Force of Will but is arguably more powerful (there are no RR instants that deal 4 damage to any target).

Destructive ForceDestructive Force 2.8
Power 3.5
Support 2.5

A bit better at dealing with creatures than Wildfire and both able to hit more lands while doing so at a more efficient mana per land rate. Both of Wildfire and Destructive Force are primarily mana denial spells in red with incidental mass removal. With mana denial spells you are using them because you cant easily beat the things you will face if they have all the mana they need. Waiting to hit 5 lands with Force instead of using it at 4 lands as you would with Wildfire means you are much more likely to be facing a serious problem card. I like the redundancy in these effects too much to cut it down to just Wildfire or to play Jokulhaups instead, and I like the variation in effect too much to play Burning of Xinye over it either. Force is nice in that it is the perfect follow up to an Inferno Titan or a Wurmcoil Engine but this is rather an ideal situation and not something that should be too influential in deck design. Devastation might be a more reliable effect for your 7 mana as then you can rely on it as a wrath effect and it does not ruin your artifact ramp synergy as Obliterate effects do. Big Red decks don't really need much more than three lands to be able to cast all their things and so this would also be more punishing for control decks who can't survive a Destructive Force with enough lands to carry on that a Wildfire. Overall the extra damage and land destruction does not make up for the extra mana cost but as most decks play both this and Wildfire together is it not overly relevant.

Devil’s PlayDevil's Play 2.0
Power 3.0
Support 1.9

The obligatory slot in the cube for the X spell firmly belongs to Devil's Play now. Fireball lasted a long time and kept swapping in and out for Banefire when that showed up to compete. Splitting damage and being unpreventable/counterable are both situationally useful however getting two for one on your X spell is always useful. If your deck suits an X spell it will definitely benefit from having a free one thrown in at no cost. While this may be lots better than previous X spells the genre does not have many homes. The more limited your format the better they become but in streamlined decks there are not many decks who will have the mana to abuse them and are much better off with non scaling damage as it so much more efficient for damage to mana ratios. Play works well with Faithless Looting and is powerful enough to see some play in Big Red and counter burn decks where it has single handedly taken some games with big back to back dome shots. Triple red should rarely be a problem for the flashback unless you are only splashing the red in which case it is only very slightly worse than other burn spells. Just losing two damage therefore on your flashback copy of Play is a rather minor cost compared to most flashback spells, especially those with reasonable initial costs. Also a good win condition in infinite mana combo decks as it can be easily found, cast from various places and usually offers two shots so as to avoid disruption.

Rolling Earthquake
Rolling Earthquake 3.5
Power 3.7
Support 3.4

This sort of feels like cheats when you kill off Baneslayers and masses of flying tokens but it also feels like a rip-off when your playing a mass removal spell that fails to save you. As the spell is not guaranteed to kill everything any way, does loads of damage to you and can be prohibitively expensive I have elected to go for the more powerful cheaty option in my cube over the more standard Earthquake. I have no cards with horsemanship and so this does hit all dorks which is splendid however the strongest aspect of this card over other mass removal effects is that you can generally take out their team and one of their planeswalkers at the same time. It also works nicely with red in general as you can stop any pressure being applied to you while also putting them closer in range of getting burned out. This however is a mixed blessing as decks wanting mass removal effects are usually the control deck and therefore prefer to keep their life over other people losing it. A powerful and flexible card that rates highly on the mass removal charts but does come with limitations. Doubling up as a Fireball to end the game also pushes the card higher than many mass removal cards which are pretty narrow in application for the most part. With Bonfire now fully established this sees a lot less play that it used to but is more stand alone than Bonfire and offers great redundancy in this strong area too. Mass removal simply needs to be better these days with man lands and planeswalkers being so prevalent in the format. While this ticks the planeswalker box very nicely it fails on the man lands account. 

Bonfire of the Damned
Bonfire of the Damned 4.0
Power 4.3
Support 3.8

I have been truly blown away by the power of this card which has settled into the cube really quickly and is seeing unreasonable amounts of play. Red is now generally a better colour than white to partner up with for a control deck and most of this is down to the Bonfire although the utility of Mizzium Mortars and Rolling Earthquake do make it one of the better colours for mass removal. Initially I thought red lacked any ways except Divining Top and Scroll Rack to abuse the miracle mechanic and that the alternate cost was a bit too steep. On both accounts I was wrong, casting it for three or five normally is generally enough to completely take control of the board and later in the game becomes quite unfairly one sided. It is rare to just raw dog it and not be miles ahead by casting it there and then with no prior set up or planning having gone into that play. These things make it totally fine to play in a deck with no ways to abuse where it is still powerful and versatile. As soon as you have things like Brainstorm in the mix the card goes from good to a joke that isn't very funny on one side of the table. Not only is it cheap, one sided mass removal but it also hits planeswalkers and can be used as an instant to trick people or wipe out man lands. Wrath of God is no longer the big name in mass removal and Noxious Revival is likely going to get a bunch more play simply to abuse this card further. This is the quality of mass removal required to cope with the newer powerful and more persistent monsters and is the new bar by which other mass removal will be measured against.

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