Best Cards in Modern – Red [2022]

The Top 5 Red Magic Cards in Modern

Authors: Andrea Piemonti, Sebastian Rosenauer, Ricardo Silva, Sven Stolz, Zen Takahashi

Editor: Philippe Zens

Last year I was approached by Sebastian, one of our magazine writers, about the idea of making a collaborative series – where a couple of authors would rate and review the best cards in Modern.

A couple of months later and here we are. Looking at one of the game’s hottest colors: Red.

This is how it works

We asked our authors to send us their personal top 10 red cards of the Modern format. No multicolor cards. We will do those another time. Then we created an aggregated list, based on their top 10, to come with a unified Top 5 list of cards. We sent them the top 5 and asked for their comment.

  • Do they think this is a good top 5?

  • Are these the worthiest cards?

  • Were there any snubs?

  • Is the number one spot deserved?

  • What impact do those cards have on the format?

These and many other questions will be answered in this article. One more note before we dive into the hot fires of Modern. We will go straight through the top 5 and then also share the initial top 10 lists of our authors.

Fifth Place – Unholy Heat

Unholy Heat MH2

Andrea Piemonti

Modern premium removal. When you have Delirium, this kills basically every creature and Planeswalker in Modern, for just one mana at instant speed.

Being able to deal with both creatures and Planeswalkers is kinda relevant, because it was for a long time nearly impossible to deal with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria or even a 5+ loyalty Teferi, Time Raveler.

Also being able to kill X/4 creatures for red decks is huge: cards like Primeval Titan, Tarmogoyf, Death’s Shadow and many more were a nightmare for red based decks, but now you have a very good and versatile tool in Unholy Heat.

Sebastian Rosenauer

Unholy Heat is another card in the style of Lightning Bolt, not much to say about what it does. For me personally it falls just short of the Top Five but I can see how it should be included. As we have seen with DRC, Delirium is not very difficult to get, especially in a format with Fetchlands and Mishra’s Bauble.

And once you have Delirium, Unholy Heat is just ridiculously strong, punishing opponents for playing any top end cards that don’t immediately impact the game.

It can kill almost any Planeswalker and most creatures, except for maybe the best blue card, Murktide Regent.

If you cannot turn on Delirium, however, it becomes weaker than Shock, which is sometimes a real problem. Compared with other removals, Unholy Heat does therefore not see as much play as Lightning Bolt or Prismatic Ending and this is the reason why I did place it just outside the Top Five personally.

Ricardo Silva

When Unholy Heat was first shown in the Modern Horizons 2 spoilers, very few people realized how prevalent Unholy Heat would be in the format’s future.

At the time, Delirium was not really a mechanic people gave much thought to, or even actively tried enabling in Modern.

This changed with the release of MH2, and once delirium is enabled, Unholy Heat is the most efficient answer to many threats in the whole format, impressively being able to remove even cards like Primeval Titan or Teferi, Time Raveler for a single mana.

There are actually astonishingly few threats in the current Modern metagame which survive Unholy Heat, and a lot of play patterns are defined by the existence of this card. When casting your Murktide Regent or Death’s Shadow for example, you should try to get them out of Unholy Heat range if possible. The same applies when casting a Planeswalker like Teferi, Time Raveler and deciding between using the plus or minus ability to draw a card immediately.

These consistently re-occurring play patterns illustrate how relevant Unholy Heat is in the current Modern format.

Sven Stolz

Unholy Heat has to be one of the stronger and more meta defining printings for Modern since MH2.

As a 1 mana instant removal on both creatures and Planeswalker, the card is already quite versatile and offers more flexibility than its counterparts Fatal Push or Path to Exile.

With Delirium it practically kills any threat in Modern, making Unholy Heat a monster of removal decks have access to these days. Unholy Heat helped especially aggressive red decks to deal with problematic threats they used to struggle against in a very efficient way.

With Mishra’s Bauble in the format, Delirium is easy to achieve, so I see the card continuing to over perform. With such a potent answer like Unholy Heat, most of the creatures and Planeswalkers are easily answered, so decks have to play a lower curve threat package to not trade big mana threats against a single Unholy Heat.

Zen Takahashi

Historically, a significant problem red decks in Modern have had is its inability to deal with large creatures.

Red’s removal was basically limited to just Lightning Bolt, with options like Rending Volley or Roast available as sideboard options, but ultimately too narrow or inefficient to play in the main deck.

The natural villain to this problem was Tarmogoyf, but even creatures like Deceiver Exarch and Linvala, Keeper of Silence could often be an issue simply for having four toughness. One of the most significant issues that I always believed held back Blue Moon from being a good deck was its inability to deal with a resolved Tarmogoyf.

This meant that red decks, except for Burn, almost always had to be paired with another colour that provided removal for bigger creatures. Black was the natural combination, as seen in decks like Jund and Grixis, as it offered powerful removal options like Fatal Push and Liliana of the Veil. The other option was white, which brought with it Path to Exile, and this was seen in decks like Jeskai Control and Naya Zoo.

However, with the printing of Unholy Heat, red decks now no longer have to rely on another colour. This has led to decks like Blue-Red Murktide pop up – a deck that would traditionally struggle to deal with a creature like Tarmogoyf, but now you have a clean, one-mana answer to deal with it.

In fact the printing of Unholy Heat (and to an extent Solitude) has mostly pushed out cards like Tarmogoyf out of the format, as the removal in the format is now so efficient that creatures either need to be one-mana, so you trade at an even level (Dragon’s Rage Channeler and Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer), too large to be killed by Unholy Heat (Death’s Shadow and Murktide Regent) or generate immediate value upon being played (Solitude, Fury and Omnath, Locus of Creation).

Fourth Place – Fury

Fury MH2

Andrea Piemonti

Zero mana interaction is always pretty good. This elemental specifically is the only one of the MH2 cycle that can trade positive when you cast it with Evoke.

Its stats, 3/3 double strike for 5 makes it even good to win the game with. For sure, it’s an ace in tempo-based decks, where you can sweep the board in the early turns and eventually hardcast it when you finish the gas.

Sebastian Rosenauer

Fury is an amazing Magic card. At first, it has been overlooked since Grief  and Endurance drew more attention to them, but now it becomes more and more apparent how strong the five-drop is in the creature-heavy metagame of Modern.

Fury is a nightmare for Hammer Time and Yawgmoth players, and it is a powerful answer to Teferi’s and Omnath’s. I play the elemental in my Gruul-Ponza-pile, and it always performs well. The Evoke ability makes it such that it is almost never a dead card, and thus a great maindeck staple.

The fact that it does not have Flash was pointed out by many as a major downside, but I think that it is simply a necessary way to balance the card, as it would be too strong otherwise.

All the Elementals are wonderful at performing the task they were designed for.

However, I find it interesting that the ones that were underrated in the beginning (Fury, Solitude) are now being the most dominant while the very hyped Grief did fall short of the expectations. I have placed Fury third on my personal list because I think it has a lot of impact in the current Modern environment and may even continue to gain influence.

Ricardo Silva

The second Modern Horizons 2 card showing up in this Top 5 is one of the five pitch Elementals.

Out of the whole cycle, Fury interestingly stands out as the only one which can be cast for free, and at the same time be card advantage if you happen to kill multiple threats.

This has turned out to be especially troublesome for tribal decks like Humans, Goblins and similar strategies which used to be played in Modern but have since dwindled in prevalence.

This goes to show how format defining free reactive cards can be, and as long as Fury is regularly played in the format, I doubt that any strategy relying on going wide with creatures will be a good choice or even a Tier 1 deck.

Sven Stolz

More of a sideboard card, Fury is in the context of Modern a buffed version of Pyrokinesis.

With its ability to trade against multiple creatures as a 0 mana 2 for 1 effect, it won’t become dead in later stages of the game due to being a castable threat itself.

The playability of the card is a little more dependent on the meta you’re facing, meaning it definitely can overperfom in creature heavy metas while being a bad choice of card in your 75 against a field of combo and control shells.

This is mainly the reason why I put Fury on place 6 rather than place 4 on my list, but with the meta looking more creature heavy with strong results from UR Murktide and Temur Footfalls, Fury might be one of the stronger contenders than more traditional powerful red cards like Blood Moon.

Zen Takahashi

Part of the Evoke-Creature cycle from Modern Horizons 2, Fury is essentially a sorcery-speed Pyrokinesis on a body.

Funnily enough, at the time it was revealed, it wasn’t as hyped up as Grief and Solitude, but has ultimately ended up as one of the better ones in the cycle – behind Solitude but about on-par with Endurance and ahead of Grief and Subtlety.

There is not too much to comment on Fury other than the fact that it is extremely flexible – you can play it on as early as turn one, but it’s also a solid turn five play where you can kill a creature or two and still be left with a 3/3 double-striking creature. If you can combine it with Ephemerate, as the four-colour decks often do, you can set up some devastating turns where you just wipe the opponent’s board.

Similar to Unholy Heat, the presence of Fury in the format has pushed out certain creatures, and in Fury’s case the card has almost entirely pushed out small-weenie decks from the format. Decks like Humans and Elves can no longer compete in the format, as they are just too weak to Fury.

Third Place – Dragon’s Rage Channeler

Dragon's Rage Channeler MH2

Andrea Piemonti

This card is currently the most efficient red one drop, being a helpful tool to manipulate the top of your library basically for free each time, but also being a respectable and elusive threat during the mid-game.

Channeler was a very good addition to blue-red Spellslinger decks, and took the spot of the “Legacy Delver” in Modern being a reliable 3/3 flyer for one mana.

Turning on Delirium is actually fine: Mishra’s Bauble is played in the format and together with fetches, cantrips and creatures it’s not a problem.

Dragon’s Rage Channeler works really well with previously mentioned Unholy Heat, since both care about Delirium, and they help each other out reaching that common purpose.

Sebastian Rosenauer

“DRC”, aka Delver of Secrets on steroids, is an integral part of the current Izzet Murktide deck, where it serves as a tempo one-drop alongside Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer. The card selection and graveyard filling ability are just so valuable for the Murktide lists.

I’ve heard people say she is even better than the monkey in this specific deck.

Surveil is a cool and somewhat rare mechanic that we don’t see often on a Modern playable card, and probably for a good reason. Dragon’s Rage Channeler can often single-handedly enable Delirium and an early Murktide Regent while also getting in for three damage consistently. I think the little caveat that it must attack eack turn is a funny drawback, but one that does not really diminish the power of DRC.

Here is the first deviation of my personal list with our author’s average. While Dragon’s Rage Channeler is a great card in the current Modern environment, I have put her not that high up my list. The reason is that I have included Blood Moon in my Top Five, a card which has not been picked by other others. I think DRC will have a long and bright future in the format, but for me, she falls just short of the very best cards.

Ricardo Silva

The third Modern Horizons 2 inclusion in this list, Dragon’s Rage Channeler is the other reason why Delirium is a relevant mechanic in Modern nowadays.

Similarly to Delver of Secrets, “Darcy” is very aggressively statted and fits best in decks playing cheap non-creature spells to trigger its ability.

The natural inclusions in any deck playing Darcy are Mishra’s Bauble, Unholy Heath and, if paired with Blue, Expressive Iteration and Counterspells.

This combination turns out to be a winning formula in Modern, and both UR Murktide as well as Death’s Shadow have been Tier 1 decks in the recent past, showcasing the strength of Darcy.

Sven Stolz

One of the strongest aggressive red drops ever printed, Dragon’s Rage Channeler is a busted but fair Magic card in Modern and all current Eternal formats. Generally, Dragon’s Rage Channeler[/card] is such a strong card because of the following 2 aspects:

  • On the one side, it’s a 1 mana 3/3 flyer which gets to play an aggressive game plan for Rx tempo and midrange decks. Being 1 mana is very under priced for a 3/3 stat line while being a flyer, it stays relevant in later stages in not getting blocked by bigger threats.

  • On the other hand, the Surveil ability of DRC helps both with enabling Delirium and represents incredible card filtering to the point in which you don’t play with bad cards from the top of your library anymore.

Even so, surveilling cards to your Graveyard will not just improve your draws and hands but also enables GY strategies and synergies such as Delve threats, Arclight Phoenix and others. Both aspects combined make DRC a mix of a card advantage and card filtering 3/3 beater to dominate the Modern format.

Zen Takahashi

Essentially red’s Delver of Secrets, Dragon’s Rage Channeler has made a significant impact on the format since its release, and has also been a major role player in Legacy as well. It does everything a tempo deck in Modern wants from its creatures – it’s cheap, provides card selection and is an evasive threat. In Blue-Red Murktide, it even helps fuel the graveyard, which allows you to play an early Murktide Regent!

The one downside, albeit small, is that Dragon’s Rage Channeler is much more aggro-orientated than other threats that are usually played in tempo decks. While tempo decks do want to play on the front foot and be the one swinging sideways, it is also important to be able to play defensively when you’re behind. This is where creatures like Tarmogoyf have historically shined, and more recently, Murktide Regent. However, Dragon’s Rage Channeler is very much about attacking, as once you’ve hit Delirium, you are forced to.

Another thing to note about this red one-drop is that it helps fuel graveyard synergies, but is also therefore hit by graveyard hate. Permanent graveyard hate like Rest in Peace can be quite good against Blue-Red Murktide as it hits both the Channeler and Murktide Regent. However, weirdly enough, it’s also sometimes the best card against “soft” graveyard hate like Relic of Progenitus and Soul-Guide Lantern, as you can quickly rebuild a graveyard to fuel a Murktide Regent if your opponent has exiled your graveyard earlier in the game.

Second Place – Lightning Bolt

Lightning Bolt STX

Andrea Piemonti

This card rocks by more than 27 years! In modern is the premium red versatile removal, nowadays, a bit overshadowed by Unholy Heat. But still it’s great, being able to deal with cheap creatures and also shooting it straight into someone’s face!

I feel Lightning Bolt is an excellent design, and a pillar of the Modern format.

I’ve played Bolt in many different decks during my career: From 4x maindeck in Burn to 1x sideboard in Spicy Temur Urza deck, to 3x in UR Murktide in present days.

Sebastian Rosenauer

So much has been written about this card that it is virtually impossible to add anything new. Modern staple, defining card for the red color in Magic and an upper boundary for the power level of one-mana burn spells, Lightning Bolt is an indispensable part of the game.

It has always been really, really strong and this has not changed as of now. It is played in pretty much every deck that plays red and is always a card one has to play around if the opponent has a Mountain up. And this card was legal in Standard!

We have it second on our list, but one could argue that it is at least as good as Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, since it can kill him. Lightning Bolt is a fantastic aggro card to pressure your opponent as well as a wonderful control tool to keep your foes away. It is a great draw in the early turns and sometimes a game winner later on. I have put him behind Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer on my personal evaluation since I wanted to highlight the ridiculous power level on the monkey, but Lightning Bolt is closer to my heart and will forever be among the best red cards in Magic.

Ricardo Silva

When one thinks of the color red in Magic, it is hard not to immediately think about Lightning Bolt. It is a part of the original three for one cycle, first printed in Alpha, but is funnily enough the only card out of this cycle seeing play in Modern.

There is not much to be said in regard to its strengths, as the card has been a format staple in Modern ever since the format’s inception in 2011, and every deck playing mountains basically used to auto-include four Bolts in the 75.

With the addition of Unholy Heat to Modern, not even Lightning Bolt has been able to fully withstand the power creep of the last few years, and I personally would place it below Unholy Heat in power level when taking into consideration the context of the Modern metagame.

There are multiple very relevant threats which survive Lightning Bolt but die to Heat, such as [card]Yawgmoth, Thran Physician, Omnath, Locus of Creation, Crashing Footfalls, Primeval Titan, most Planeswalkers, Yorion, Sky Nomad, and the list goes on.

As a consequence of these numerous relevant threats which survive Lightning Bolt, any deck (besides Burn) which can enable Delirium like Death’s Shadow, UR Murktide or 4c Yorion, is better off playing Unholy Heat over Lightning Bolt nowadays.

Sven Stolz

There’s not much to say about Lightning Bolt being that high up on the list. One of the most iconic cards in the game, the card does everything you want as a red wizard, being the best burn spell at instant speed ever printed in the history of the game.

Especially in combination with previously mentioned Unholy Heat, red decks now have an incredibly versatile removal package to deal with any creature or Planeswalker they’re facing.

Zen Takahashi

Upon putting together this list, it was both surprising and somewhat saddening to realise that Lightning Bolt is the only non-Modern Horizons 2 card here. However, in such a case, it then feels fitting that the one exception would be one of the oldest and most iconic cards in Magic’s history.

Not a lot needs to be said about Lightning Bolt and the weight it has carried throughout the game’s history. It featured in some of the earliest decks in the game, it was a pivotal piece of the “Sligh” deck which essentially acted as the foundation of the mono red aggro archetype, and its presence has been significant in Modern from the first day of the format as it has featured in many of the format’s best decks from Zoo to Splinter Twin to Jund.

It is kind of crazy to me that we are starting to see Lightning Bolt being played as a three-off in decks like Four-Color Blink and Blue-Red Murktide. For years, Lightning Bolt was so powerful that decks like Jund and Jeskai Control were essentially “splashing” red just for it, but now the cards in the format are so powerful that decks that play red and want that effect don’t even necessarily want the full four-copies.

It’s even more surprising in Blue-Red Murktide, as it is the kind of deck where traditionally Lightning Bolt would have excelled. Still, when the card is having to compete with Unholy Heat, you can see why some decks may prefer the option to kill bigger creatures.

First Place – Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer

Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer MH2

Andrea Piemonti

The final boss of this MH2-themed red article!

My take for the best one-drop ever printed for Modern. This card is incredibly crazy, and warped the format. A turn one Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer is a must answer threat that can take the game over if unchecked for some turns. A lategame Dash Ragavan can be a good gameplay in tense resource-based games.

This card is particularly very good in Modern, since there are a lot of cheap spells to rip off your opponent’s library. When this doesn’t happen (vs. big mana decks) it’s usually very good too, since having more mana helps you keeping up with speed.

Being a red card means you can clear his way with red removals (Lightning Bolt/Unholy Heat). Red is usually paired with blue, that can support the monkey with Countermagic; or black, featuring more removals and discard spells.

In the previous iteration of the Modern metagame a monkey deck (Grixis Shadow) was tier one, and now too U/R Murktide seems the deck to beat.

Sebastian Rosenauer

Of course, it had to be Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer. The format-warping one-drop is the undisputed best red card in Modern, maybe even the best red card in the game. Discussions about banning the monkey were around since he was spoiled and have not died out since.

In Legacy the monkey was deemed too oppressive and got axed already in autumn of last year. In Modern however, the monkey is less problematic, since there is no Force of Will or Daze to protect him through the early turns.

Being on the draw against a turn one Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer is one of the worst feelings in the current Metagame and you really need your deck to be able to respond to him early.

Given the generally low mana-curve in Modern, cards exiled with the pirate monkey will usually be castable with the help of the Treasures and almost any card is worth playing as it simply generates card advantage. That he is a 2/1 in addition to all this other stuff is just pushing the power level over the top of everything we have seen in a one-mana creature, and his printing will remain a controversial thing for some time.

Ricardo Silva

For one mana, this monkey does it all.

As long as you keep clearing the way for him to connect, he will reward you with additional cards and mana of any color to cast said cards.

There are very few creatures in the whole of Magic which do so much for such little investment, and it is no wonder that Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer is being hailed as one of the best creatures ever printed. Much like Deathrite Shaman, another egregiously versatile 1-drop, Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer has proven to be too good for the Legacy format and was recently banned.

That being said, I am of the opinion that Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer is currently not too good for Modern. In comparison to Legacy which is a more stack-oriented format, Modern decks are mostly filled to the brim with answers to creatures, some even being devastatingly good against Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, as is the case with Wrenn and Six.

Sven Stolz

Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer is one of the most polarized and absurd Magic cards printed for all Eternal formats in recent days and feels like a mixed up baby on steroids of Deathrite Shaman and Snapcaster Mage in Modern. From turn 1 on, Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer puts an enormous pressure on any opponent.

When it connects, it ramps the player with Treasure Tokens while stealing of cards, which virtually and practically plays out as a complete card advantage engine. Although the cards you’re hitting will be completely random and often not or semi playable, the game definitely can be over in the very first 2 or 3 turns once you hit relevant cards with it.

Also, the ramp effect is not to underestimate, giving tempo decks mana advantage in the early turns will lead to more spells being played and increases the disruption and threat density tempo can represent to close out the game even more quickly.

The Dash ability of Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer gives the card even more flexibility to attack out of surprise, which leads the opponent to never be sure about clearing the board or attacking without leaving a blocker behind.

While Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer has been looking more problematic and especially unfun in Vintage and Legacy (banned), it’s still relatively balanced in Modern. The formats’ nature tends to play a more board focused game play, while it’s also easily removable.

The fact that Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer only does its thing once it connects, makes it fundamentally more fair and balanced than Deathrite Shaman will ever be. Also, with the printings of new removal spells which are heavily played, the format is not truly missing out on interaction to deal with a 2/1. So despite Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer being a busted Magic card in the format and maybe the best red card existing, it’s still manageable for the majority of decks.

Zen Takahashi

If you have gotten this far, you would have guessed by now what came in first place. And yes, it’s none other than everyone’s favorite treasure-stealing monkey!

What makes Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer so powerful is that it’s a threat that allows fair decks to keep up the clock with unfair decks. Historically, unfair decks “abused” mana better than fair decks – whether that be Storm, Amulet Titan or Krark-Clan Ironworks. Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer is so significant against these decks because they generally cannot interact with the monkey, which means it can start generating a lot of treasures and allows the fair deck to cast spells and progress the board while also holding up interaction like Counterspell or Archmage’s Charm for any potential broken plays.

Against other fair decks, Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer isn’t as good, especially against creature-based decks that can easily roadblock a 2/1 creature. Still, the Dash ability of Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer means that it is a constant threat that your opponent needs to be aware of, and that in it of itself is powerful as it will force your opponent to sequence in such a way to respect the potential Dash attack.

An underrated aspect of Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer is how well it pairs with Expressive Iteration. Almost every Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer deck plays the two-mana sorcery alongside it, as the more mana you can create, the better Iteration is as it is not being forced to take lands from it/having the mana to be able to cast any card you hit makes Iteration closer to a two-mana spell that draws two of the top three cards, which is utterly broken.

Personal Top 10 RED Cards of Each Author

Andrea Piemonti

  1. Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer

  2. Lightning Bolt

  3. Unholy Heat

  4. Dragon’s Rage Channeler

  5. Fury

  6. Blood Moon

  7. Monastery Swiftspear

  8. Eidolon of the Great Revel

  9. Magus of the Moon

  10. Boil

Sebastian Rosenauer

  1. Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer

  2. Lightning Bolt

  3. Fury

  4. Blood Moon

  5. Dragon’s Rage Channeler

  6. Unholy Heat

  7. Seasoned Pyromancer

  8. Monastery Swiftspear

  9. Chandra, Torch of Defiance

  10. Light Up the Stage

Ricardo Silva

  1. Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer

  2. Dragon’s Rage Channeler

  3. Unholy Heat

  4. Lightning Bolt

  5. Fury

  6. Blood Moon

  7. Seasoned Pyromancer

  8. Monastery Swiftspear

  9. Indomitable Creativity

  10. Underworld Breach

Sven Stolz

  1. Lightning Bolt

  2. Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer

  3. Dragon’s Rage Channeler

  4. Unholy Heat

  5. Blood Moon

  6. Fury

  7. Underworld Breach

  8. Seasoned Pyromancer

  9. Monastery Swiftspear

  10. Eidolon of the Great Revel

Zen Takahashi

  1. Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer

  2. Lightning Bolt

  3. Fury

  4. Dragon’s Rage Channeler

  5. Blood Moon

  6. Monastery Swiftspear

  7. Unholy Heat

  8. Underworld Breach

  9. Goblin Guide

  10. Eidolon of the Great Revel

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