Yesterday, we kicked off a countdown of the top 25 red cards of all-time. Today, we're going hard, right out the gate...
#20: Koth of the Hammer
Nowadays, we've been spoiled by good Chandras for so long, many people don't realize there was once an extended time where red lagged behind the other colors in mono-color planeswalkers.
Don't get me wrong, black wasn't exactly keeping up with white, blue, and green, either; but in the hearts and minds of players, red was behind thanks to a couple of expensive Chandras.
Koth of the Hammer basically turned most existing heuristics about planeswalkers on their heads.
"Planeswalkers need to be able to defend themselves to be good."
Oh? Do they? Do they, really?
Sometimes, the best defense is a good offense, and Koth of the Hammer was certainly a good offense, to say the very least.
In many ways, Koth would function as a four-power haste creature, but one that was fairly resilient to removal and the possibility of trading in combat. He was especially good at punishing players relying on sweepers, both in dodging them and in how quickly he goes ultimate, creating an inevitability that's extremely hard to race.
This quick damage and late-game reach played well into the burn-heavy strategy Toshiyuki Kadooka used to great effect in Koth's debut Pro Tour. While there wasn't a surplus of good X-spells to sink extra mana into, there were still plenty of occasions where you'd want to drop Koth and -2 in order to make another big play in the same turn.
Koth might not be able to defend himself, but if you can cast a burn spell in that same turn, taking out the attacker, maybe that's enough? Besides, there were plenty of occasions where untapping a Mountain for his +1 was all the mana you needed, enabling a Galvanic Blast to keep Koth safe and well on his way to ultimating.
#19: Punishing Fire
Since we already talked about Rubin Zoo here, I'd like to take a moment to revisit another Punishing Fire deck, one of my absolute favorite decks to play of all-time, a deck featuring basically a who's who of my favorite spells to cast:
For sure I played all these cards on many occasions, but all at the same time?
Also, Preordain might stand out a little, but you've got to remember the context. In those days, nobody played Preordain in Extended. Like, nobody. In fact, when I first showed the list to Michael Jacob, I only had two Preordains myself. After a day of jamming games, he was convinced to play the deck… he just wanted to cut the two Mulldrifters for two more Preordains!
And the rest, as they say, is history...
This deck existed during the brief period with Extended where it was going to rotate and just be the last four years of sets instead of the last two. While you might think Jace, the Mind Sculptor; Grave Titan, and Cruel Ultimatum were plenty of endgame, the ability to Mystical Teachings up a Punishing Fire was an absolutely crucial addition for being able to combat Faeries and grind out games that went long against even midrange decks, such as Doran.
While Paul Rietzl got the last laugh at PT Amsterdam with a Nassif-fueled White Aggro deck packing Mana Tithe, the joyous memories of Cruel Ultimatuming with a Jace on the table after Cryptic Commanding their best permanent back to their hand will last a lifetime.
I thought we were talking about Punishing Fire?
Look, how many burn spells have ever been banned? That's already saying something, and when a burn spell can singlehandedly change the rules of engagement for the entire format…
Some players maligned the Miracle mechanic for being too swingy, but there's no denying the number of great moments it helped make possible (or at least dramatic moments, depending on your perspective). Even when things are going poorly, you've always got hope. At the end of the day, what more can you really ask for? Sometimes, you just wanna feel something.
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 3 Borderland Ranger
- 3 Fiend Hunter
- 4 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 4 Scorned Villager
- 1 Ulvenwald Tracker
- 4 Wolfir Silverheart
- 1 Mikaeus, the Lunarch
Josh Cho's Top 8 list from Bonfire of the Damned's first Pro Tour was, in many ways, a good stuff deck. Garruk Relentless, Huntmaster of the Fells, Restoration Angel, this deck was extraordinarily thick at the four-spot, but the card quality was undeniable.
As for interaction?
Well, plenty of decks in Innistrad Block Constructed were extremely light on threats, and what interaction did exist left a lot to be desired. Instead of messing around with inefficient answers that would just be dead a lot of the time, anyway, Cho played nothing but threats, all the way down. Every nonland card in the deck attacks, and even the lands would contribute to the offense, thanks to Gavony Township and Cavern of Souls.
The deck's lone sorcery or instant, Bonfire of the Damned was obviously capable of going upstairs, but it also was especially good at taking advantage of the battlefield stalls that would be created by all these powerful four-drops.
#17: Ancient Grudge
Ancient Grudge was a tough one to nail down. After all, from just the sheer quantity of decks and formats it's played a key role in, it could easily be a top five red card ever. However, it's also not really undercosted or anything. It's just the right way to combat some mistakes made in various artifact blocks.
Ancient Grudge has already appeared in several lists in our countdown, and there are several more to come, so let's take a look at its "breakout event," aka the first Pro Tour where it was legal.
- 4 Bogardan Hellkite
- 3 Scryb Ranger
- 4 Spectral Force
- 4 Wall of Roots
- 2 Akroma, Angel of Fury
- 3 Radha, Heir to Keld
Time Spiral Block Constructed was a strange landscape dominated almost entirely by white aggro, if Magic Online results were to be believed. However, when the actual Pro Tour rolled around, Five-Color U/B Teachings decks, Red Aggro, and R/G Ramp were the real stars.
The problem was how much this plan for achieving and maintaining a mana advantage was thwarted by Prismatic Lens, such as those found in the Teachings decks Guillaume Wafo-Tapa and Mark Herberholz ran the tables with.
In the end, Teachings prevailed that time, but Ancient Grudge was on the scoreboard, and it appears to have been holding a persistent feeling of ill-will this whole time.
What can I say? Eventually, Chandra started getting into plenty of nice designs, but Chandra, Torch of Defiance is just head and shoulders above the rest. This card just does it all. It attacks the enemy's face, goes after their creatures, makes mana, draws cards, and has a game-winning ultimate. It's just versatile and reliable while also being powerful.
Chandra was much hyped out the gate but initially was somewhat overshadowed by Smuggler's Copter and Aetherworks Marvel. However, she managed to get the last laugh. Red aggro began to climber higher and higher up the food chain, while Chandra also served as a backbone for various two- and three-color midrange decks.
- 4 Bomat Courier
- 4 Ahn-Crop Crasher
- 4 Earthshaker Khenra
- 4 Falkenrath Gorger
- 4 Village Messenger
- 3 Hazoret the Fervent
- 3 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
Now, I know some people are going to claim Hazoret the Fervent is better than Chandra.
She's not, not on rate. She can be a better card in some formats, some of the time, and it's not like it's the biggest slam dunk or anything. However, I think Chandra puts up more big finishes in more universes, given just how many more decks can make good use of her.
Okay, this one pains me. I've got to admit, I'm torn. There are plenty of ways to make this list where it would be crazy to not include Glorybringer, Stormbreath Dragon, or Thundermaw Hellkite. After all, when it comes to impact on Standard, these five-drop Dragons are really high on the list. And it's not like their crossover success has been zero…but it's not far off.
What does that mean for tomorrow? What are the top fifteen red cards, then, if not Dragons?
In our hearts, anyway...