The color red in Magic: The Gathering embodies hostility, destruction, and an unstoppable fiery essence. Red encompasses a multitude of themes and strategies including aggressive creatures, artifacts, and spell-slinging — and it's my personal favorite color to play in Commander.
Direct damage, hasty creatures, and mana spikes are some of red's strengths. The early days of MTG gave us iconic burn spells like Lightning Bolt and Fireball. Ball Lightning is a great example of red's hasty creatures that produce quick damage, while Jeska's Will and Seething Song give players the burst of mana they need to pull ahead in a game.
Red may seem like an unstoppable force at times, but it definitely has its weaknesses. Keeping up with green's mana ramp and blue's card draw can be challenging. That said, there are cards available in red to help offset some of its weaknesses and propel you to victory.
You may be already familiar with some of the most played red Commander cards, such as Chaos Warp or Dockside Extortionist. While the below list contains other popular red Commander cards, it also includes a few cards you might not have in a current Commander decklist. Ordered from least to most likely to make your opponents cringe, here are ten red cards you should be playing in Commander.
Valakut Awakening almost doubled in price this year, due to its playability and versatility. It helps prevent flooding by pitching lands for more cards, and can dump cards that are not relevant to the board state. (Handy if you draw an aggressive one-mana creature late in the game!)
Another functional ability of Valakut Awakening is playing its backside as a land to stay on curve. Since Valakut Awakening's casting cost only requires one red mana, it can go in any Commander deck containing red. Boros and Mono-Red Commander decks may benefit most from Valakut Awakening, as they tend to lack card draw options.
Shatterskull Smashing is another double-sided card that you can play as a land (untapped for three life) or removal spell. Hitting planeswalkers and creatures is excellent, as well as the opportunity to double the damage. Replacing a land in a Commander deck with Shatterskull Smashing gives you an extra spell without forcing you to compromise on utility.
Shatterskull Smashing is particularly good in Mono-Red and UR Spellslinger decks, although you may want to add it to Gruul or Boros decks as another source of targeted removal. It's hard to ignore the flexibility and upside of running Shatterskull Smashing in red Commander decks.
Paying three life for one red mana may seem like a steep price, but not in Commander! Treasonous Ogre's activated ability can put a commander on the battlefield a turn earlier or assist with casting other spells.
Treasonous Ogre works well with six-mana commanders like Etali, Primal Storm, Ruric Thar, the Unbowed, and Godo, Bandit Warlord. It's also an excellent fit with Greven, Predator Captain, who cares about life loss. The Dethrone ability is a nice bonus for our ogre friend, but he's really more of a support creature than an attacker.
Curse of Opulence offers a substantial effect for a one-mana enchantment. Whenever the enhanced player gets attacked, you and each opponent attacking that player create a Gold token. Though it's true that Curse of Opulence can help out other players, it excels in red decks that utilize Gold or other artifact tokens effectively.
You can take advantage of Curse of Opulence with a combat-focused deck like Grenzo, Havoc Raiser, Kardur, Doomscourge, or Xantcha, Sleeper Agent. Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer is another solid commander option to turn extra Gold into 2/1 blue Myr artifact creature tokens.
The cycle of "free" spells, including Deflecting Swat, are chase cards from Commander 2020. Casting Deflecting Swat for its alternative cost enables you to use mana towards advancing the board state while holding protection. Deflecting Swat is an excellent defense card to protect your Commander from a removal spell or avoid getting blown out by Expansion // Explosion. If you want to stop a counterspell, cast Deflecting Swat to change the counterspell's target to Deflecting Swat before it leaves the stack!
Hanweir Garrison and Hanweir Battlements are two playable red cards that turn into a wrecking ball. Each card slots into creature decks as one adds creature tokens to the battlefield while the other provides haste and colorless mana. Melding Hanweir Garrison and Hanweir Battlements creates Hanweir, the Writhing Township, a 7/4 legendary Eldrazi Ooze with haste and trample that produces two 3/2 Eldrazi tokens when attacking.
Hanweir Garrison is a solid inclusion for red Commander decks focused on Humans or creatures with power two or less. Commanders such as Subira, Tulzidi Caravanner, Silvar, Devourer of the Free // Trynn, Champion of Freedom, and Jirina Kudro are great homes for Hanweir Garrison.
Hanweir Battlements is similar to Flamekin Village, but produces colorless mana and always enters the battlefield untapped. Hanweir Battlements fits in any red Commander deck looking to attack with creatures. You can play Hanweir Garrison and Hanweir Battlements individually, but I encourage you to run them together. Melding into a gigantic Eldrazi Ooze is guaranteed to terrify your opponents every time.
Storm-Kiln Artist from Strixhaven: School of Mages is one of Commander's rising stars. An infinite mana combo with Fury Storm puts Storm-Kiln Artist in the upper echelon of red Commander cards. It's great in a Spellslinger deck led by Birgi, God of Storytelling or a Treasure token deck featuring Magda, Brazen Outlaw.
Treasure tokens created by Storm-Kiln Artist's triggered ability can provide you a ton of mana, so your opponents will want to remove it from the battlefield before you generate enough Treasure tokens to end the game.
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Zealous Conscripts make a classic two-card combo in Commander. Copying Zealous Conscripts with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker allows you to untap Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and continue creating an infinite army of Zealous Conscripts creature tokens. The game-ending combo of Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Zealous Conscripts is a common alternative win condition in Commander decks — one that can be included in most red Commander decks.
War's Toll is another four-mana red enchantment that causes headaches for your opponents. It forces opponents to cast spells in one phase of their turn or another player's turn. Opponents have to decide when to attack, since War's Toll requires either every creature to attack or none at all. The only downside to War's Toll is that mana-producing artifacts and creatures are unaffected. Yurlok of Scorch Thrash, Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs, and Basandra, Battle Seraph are a few commanders that may warrant including War's Toll in their 99.
Stranglehold is a powerful enchantment that prevents opponents from searching libraries. It's a rude awakening for opponents trying to tutor for combo pieces or sacrificing fetch lands for mana fixing. Stranglehold also forces opponents to skip extra turns they may earn off of Time Warp or Temporal Mastery. Stopping extra turns is not as common as searching libraries, but the ability can make a big difference against blue decks. Commanders such as Godo, Bandit Warlord, Norin the Wary, and Tana, the Bloodsower // Tymna the Weaver may want Stranglehold to slow down opponents enough to set up a game-winning board state.