The split between which red cards have done best in Standard/Block vs Modern/Legacy produces lists with a lot of cards that wouldn't be on the other…
But not always...
#15: Young Pyromancer
Young Pyromancer is that rare "role-player across all formats." It doesn't matter if you're drafting, playing Standard, Modern, Legacy, or Vintage. Young Pyromancer is a fine tournament caliber roleplayer in all formats.
In Standard, Young Pyromancer was sometimes an alternate victory condition for blue decks, but other times a proactive threat for burn heavy red decks, such as Matt Sperling's top 8 list from PT Portland 2014:
Young Pyromancer helped enable Sperling to play either of two modes:
- Midrange/Red Control - When facing opponents with lots of creatures, this list would have to play a makeshift control game at times. It wasn't always fast enough to just straight up race, Lava Spike style; however, Young Pyromancer is exactly the kind of card that can generate a big enough advantage to actually take over the game a little. If nothing else, threats spread across many bodies limited exposure to the extremely popular one-for-one removal that was so popular at the time. It didn't need to deal twenty to "take over the game," just enough to get them into burn range.
- Burn - When facing opponents relatively short on creatures, Young Pyromancer played naturally as a part of a plan involving just playing lands and passing turns, accumulating resources. Then, when you've got a fair bit of mana, you can drop the Young Pyromancer and rattle off a couple spells in the same turn.
The more powerful the format, the more Young Pyromancer is primarily slotted into a tempo-oriented blue aggro or aggro-control role. This can frequently be merely in a sideboard capacity (particularly in combo or control decks seeking to switch gears), but it can also just be a solid threat for Delver decks of all shapes and sizes.
Cabal Therapy has such perfect synergy with Young Pyromancer. First of all, just making two tokens for only a single mana and a single card is already exciting. What's more, the "payoff" Young Pyromancer gives you is perfectly suited to paying Cabal Therapy's flashback cost. Even if you have no knowledge of your opponent's hand, casting Cabal Therapy gives you the token you need to flash it back, now with perfect info. That effectively makes it a Thoughtseize without the life, but that can hit multiples and might hit a card on the way in. It even leaves you with a 1/1 from flashing it back, putting you way ahead in a lot of ways.
#14: Past in Flames
Yeah, because it's totally normal to give Yawgmoth's Will flashback...
Okay, admittedly, Yawgmoth's Will also plays artifacts, creatures, lands, etc. Nevertheless, Past in Flames hits the two most exploitable in powered formats and is almost seems too perfectly engineered to be a part of Gifts Ungiven packages.
Basically since its inception, Past in Flames has been used almost exclusively as a way to turn Gifts Ungiven into a "one-card combo." You can end step a Gifts Ungiven and find three red rituals and a Past in Flames; whatever they give you, you're basically Yawgmoth's Willing on your turn.
Once you factor in creatures like Goblin Electromancer and Baral, Chief of Compliance, it's pretty trivial to win turn four if left unchecked. Turn two Electromancer, turn three Gifts, and then turn four, you're off to the races (particularly if you were able to sneak in a couple cantrips on turn one, or in the case of Gitaxian Probe or Manamorphose, whenever you want).
As for Vintage, Past in Flames can be combined with all sorts of restricted cards and eventual restricted cards, almost single-handedly adding a combo dimension to control decks or giving extra staying power to dedicated combo decks that might want to try "going off" multiple times against blue decks.
- 1 Black Lotus
- 1 Lotus Petal
- 1 Mox Emerald
- 1 Mox Jet
- 1 Mox Ruby
- 1 Mox Sapphire
- 1 Fastbond
- 1 Ancestral Recall
- 1 Brain Freeze
- 1 Brainstorm
- 4 Dark Ritual
- 4 Force of Will
- 4 Gush
- 4 Manamorphose
- 1 Vampiric Tutor
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Empty the Warrens
- 4 Gitaxian Probe
- 1 Mind's Desire
- 2 Past in Flames
- 1 Ponder
- 4 Preordain
- 1 Time Walk
- 3 Treasure Cruise
- 1 Wheel of Fortune
- 1 Yawgmoth's Will
On second thought, let's not go to Vintage. 'Tis a silly place.
Wildfire was an absolute monster in its day, and would be absolutely busted these days. Getting so much battlefield sweep and so much land destruction so efficiently can be quite warping, especially when it's possible to combine it with artifact mana (as opposed to creature-based mana, like that of Llanowar Elves, which is easily torched by Wildfire).
Maybe we were on the draw and our opponent played a turn one Academy (which was a popular play in that era, since the old Legend rule meant the other player would be locked out of playing theirs).
Turn 1: Voltaic Key
Turn 2: Temporal Aperture
Turn 3: Worn Powerstone
Kai's Covetous Dragon's were big enough to live through a Wildfire, and Masticore could regenerate (if you even really need it, which frequently, he didn't, letting it go and dropping another, or just relying on Cursed Scrolls and Temporal Apertures to secure a game-winning advantage).
I'm gonna lump Burning of Xinye in with Wildfire, especially since it's never really had its own day in the sun. While it may have the same printed text as the Portal Wildfire, it has never received the errata Wildfire has (which needed to match its Urza's Saga text). Instead, Burning of Xinye really does involve the lands you choose, rather than sacrificing them, which could, in theory, be combined with stuff like Darksteel Citadel.
#12: Splinter Twin
Splinter Twin was obnoxious in Standard and probably would have been remembered for being even more of a problem, if not for Caw-Blade hogging the spotlight.
In Modern, it was a defining force from the format's inception, all the way up to its eventual banning.
A two-card combo that wins the game for three plus four mana is already pretty intense.
But to get to play the three mana part on your opponent's end step?
I played Twin in that Pro Tour, but I don't miss it. It's one thing to have such a reliable and resilient combo deck that kills so fast, but you shouldn't also be able to just fill the rest of your deck with cantrips, Counterspells, interaction, and generally just all the most efficient cards you could want anyway. Why ever play control when Twin was just the best kill card for a control deck anyway?
If you thought Wildfire was ridiculous, try playing in a format where Jokulhaups is going on! It's like a Wildfire, except for infinity. It kills all the creatures, all the lands, and even for good measure, all the artifacts. To say this slowed things down would be an understatement. How fast can you recover from a Jokulhaups? Well, even in a format like Ice Age Block Contructed, sometimes a Fyndorn Elf leading into a Woolly Spider or Giant Trap Door Spider could be a lethal threat.
With today's threats, the snowballing advantages of whatever followed would be completely unreasonable to fight, and that's to say nothing of the possibility of combining it with Planeswalkers.
- 4 Deadly Insect
- 4 Fyndhorn Elves
- 4 Giant Trap Door Spider
- 1 Gorilla Shaman
- 2 Orcish Cannoneers
- 2 Storm Shaman
- 4 Woolly Spider
Ivory Gargoyle was a common threat to pair with Jokulhaups in that event, since it was one of the very few ways to sweep the battlefield and keep a threat. However, if one ever encountered a Stormbind, they might need to use its 4W ability to exile it… assuming no one had cast Jokulhaups and made that kind of mana an unobtainable luxury.
Now, even a single Llanowar Elves is game over, since Stormbind ensures the Gargoyle player is never drawing another card!
This sequence was not as farfetched as it might sound. It even came up against finalist Sean Fleischman, featuring Ivory Gargoyles in his Four-Color Control deck:
With 30 land (!), Fleischman's plan for dealing with a format warped around Jokulhaups was to just keep hitting his land drops, and of course, the most important land for this plan was Thawing Glaciers:
This list was super sweet, and I used a similar style to qualify for my very first Pro Tour. Don't get me wrong: I love a lot of what's going on here, but I didn't end up having room for sweet cards like Lim-Dul's Vault. Instead, I preferred a different form of library manipulation I found to synergize nicely with Thawing Glaciers...
Those were different times, innocent times…