Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
What Are Aggro Decks in Magic?
"Aggro" Magic decks believe the best defense is a good offense, seeking to hit fast and hit hard. Many aggro decks utilize red cards, renowned for their rapid damage-dealing prowess. They're also some of the cheapest competitive decks available, full of early-game plays that won't break the bank.
These builds struggle against foes who can outlast them, but with the right tools in hand, few decks can endure their swift onslaught. But with hundreds of spells available, which deserve your attention? These are the ten best cards for red aggro decks in Magic: The Gathering!
10. Fanatical Firebrand
CMC (Converted Mana Cost): 1
As of this writing, Firebrand is still legal in standard, but be sure to keep up with the rotations, as he's due to cycle out before long. Regardless, Firebrand offers quick damage, bearing a low cost and the haste trait, letting him attack immediately.
He can also tap and sacrifice to deal one damage to any target, a versatile removal that you can set ahead of time. Throw in the useful goblin and pirate subtypes and you've got a surprisingly well-rounded aggro creature.
9. Goblin Chainwhirler
Chainwhirler specifically needs three red mana, making him ill-suited to other themes, but it shouldn't be a problem for mono-red. As a 3/3 with first strike, he's sturdy enough to conquer almost all early and mid-game foes, and when he enters the field, he inflicts one damage to all opponents, opposing creatures, and opposing planeswalkers.
This works great for activating the reduced prices of spectacle (more on that soon) and finishing off enemies weakened in battle. And just like Firebrand, Chainwhirler possesses the goblin subtype, meshing with red's most abundant faction.
Shock is the weaker but cheaper version of "Lightning Strike", only netting two damage but requiring half the mana. Two is still more than enough damage to eliminate most early-game foes, and you can Shock your opponent directly to activate the reduced prices of your spectacle cards.
If the infamous "Lightning Bolt" ever rejoins standard, be sure to utilize it instead, letting you deal three damage for the same low price.
7. Risk Factor
In most decks, I wouldn't call three mana pricey, but here, Risk Factor is one of your more-expensive plays. But it's worth it, forcing opponents to either suffer four damage or have you draw three cards. Then, thanks to jump-start, you can recast Factor from your graveyard into exile by repaying its mana and discarding a card.
All-in-all, either your opponent will either take eight damage (almost half their life), or be forced to give you an incredible amount of draws, far outperforming blue's three-cost "Divination" (which only draws two at sorcery speed). Jump-start also provides a nice outlet for leftover lands in hand, as few of your spells need more than three mana.
Banefire offers an excellent coup de grâce to end the game. You pay one red mana, then an X value of your choice, dealing X damage to any target. Plus, if X is five or more, the damage can't be prevented and your spell can't be countered, ensuring blue enemies don't negate your finisher.
Unlike most of today's other cards, you probably only want to run one or two copies of Banefire (rather than the maximum of four), but it's an adaptable tool that strengthens as the game progresses.
5. Viashino Pyromancer
Pyromancer combines a decent-sized creature with reliable damage. He carries respectable 2/1 stats, and while he lacks haste or the goblin subtype, he compensates with the wizard bloodline (which reduces the price of "Wizard's Lightning"). Better yet, when he enters the field, Pyromancer automatically deals two damage to an opponent or planeswalker, edging them that much closer to death.
An easy pick for my own red aggro decks, Pyromancer is also one of today's cheapest cards, costing well under a single dollar!
4. Skewer the Critics
CMC: 3 (1 with spectacle)
Skewer's unique spectacle trait discounts it by two mana if an opponent has taken damage during the turn, letting you cast it for one instead of three. As a sorcery, you must activate it during your main phase, but you'll deal three damage to any target, granting the power of Lightning Strike at the cost of Shock (hopefully).
But if there's one thing your deck does, it's inflict damage, meaning that spectacle discount should trigger on almost every turn. With at least four mana, you can even use one Skewer to score damage and reduce the price of another.
3. Faithless Looting
CMC: 1 (3 with flashback)
Looting draws and discards two cards. Counting itself, this means you're spending three to only get two, but you're rapidly filling your graveyard and manipulating your hand, ensuring you don't miss any land drops.
You can also flashback Looting from graveyard into exile for three, a reasonable price. And running multiple Lootings works well since you can use them as discard fodder to later flashback.
2. Runaway Steam-Kin
Runaway Steam-Kin fuels your deck, ensuring you don't run out of energy mid-way into the battle. While he lacks haste and begins as a weak 1/1, Steam-Kin gains a +1/+1 counter whenever you cast another red spell, quickly gaining size. He can only have three counters at once, but an eventual 4/4 is a great deal for two mana.
Additionally, by removing three counters from Steam-Kin, you can add three red mana to your pool. That's a rare but appreciated ramping tool that you can trigger at any time, even if Steam-Kin is tapped, and it's a great way to boost the damage on Banefire.
1. Light Up the Stage
CMC: 3 (1 with spectacle)
Just like Skewer the Critics, this sorcery cuts its price to 1/3 with spectacle, rewarding you for previously damaging your opponents. Stage exiles the top two cards of your deck, letting you play them until the end of your next turn.
This provides what red aggro decks desperately need: quick card advantage. Since most of your spells probably cost three or less mana, two turns should be more than enough to cast whatever you reveal, and since the cards are exiled (and not in your hand), they're immune to discards.
How to Beat Red Aggro Decks in Magic
Red is arguably the strongest mono-color theme in standard format—how can you defend against it? Since it quickly fizzles out if its initial assault fails, you just need to outlast it. White, green, or black life-gaining spells provide extra health to survive its onslaught, and walls provide early defenders with enough toughness to ward off most removals or attackers. White's planeswalker "The Wanderer" offers an effective defense, shielding you and your other permanents from non-combat damage.
Alternatively, you can literally fight fire with fire by crafting your own red deck. But for now, as we eagerly await Wizards of the Coast's next expansion of early-game aggro tools, vote for your favorite card and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!
© 2019 Jeremy Gill