“Lost In My Own Shadow”: The Mirrodin Red Review

A turn 1 Dark Ritual doesn’t reach you to mana you couldn’t rely on – it just gets you there faster. By accelerating a player to things like eight mana on turn 6, you get a different effect, because somewhere around this time a player would often start missing land drops. Turn 1 Hypnotic Specter is very good, don’t get me wrong – but under normal circumstances, you have been able to cast it on turn 3 anyway. In Seething Song’s case, you can cast an Obliterate on turn 6 that might not otherwise have happened until something like turn 11. That’s a very big difference.

Thanks to Onslaught Block, Red is perhaps riding as high as it’s ever ridden, steamrolling over players across several different formats and right on through some of the most focused hate it’s ever had to face. For those that have already tired of the Goblins’ rise to power, this set offers good news – for the most part, there’s nothing like that level of power here. The bad news is that you’re going to have to wait a long time before the old power rotates out.

Looking back at the Onslaught Block is going to be something of a theme with the Red in Mirrodin. Many of the new cards offer interesting and innovative abilities, and there are several potentially powerful tourney cards to be had. The thing is, just about anything Red that comes out at this point is going to have a very hard time coming out from under the shadow of Onslaught Block. Cards like Slith Firewalker, Arc-Slogger, and Granite Shard might have ranged from”strong” to”MVP” in some of Red’s weaker ages – but this time around, these cards will all have trouble standing out when there’s such stiff competition from the previous Red cards out there.

That’s not to say all is lost. There are several other cards that will still manage to break out and bring new technology to the scene, and I feel that Mirrodin has found a very good persona and role for Red to play. Cards like Seething Song, War Elemental, and Pyrite Spellbomb all have a lot to offer, just to name a few. The question in my mind is which of these two blocks represents the future of Red. For now, I’m going to hope that Onslaught was just a case of making sure Red got its day in the sun.


Arc-Slogger is definitely a tourney-level card, but the question (at least for now) is what deck would use him? At 4/5 for five, he’s a reasonably-sized threat which becomes Constructed-worthy in combination with his ability – one which you’re likely to be able to fire off three or four times without too much worry. That would be a pretty good deal in most environments… But Arc-Slogger currently has the unfortunate distinction of sharing a casting cost with uber-card Siege-Gang Commander, and at a time when it takes significant rewards for Red mages to even consider abandoning the ridiculous power offered by the Goblin tribe. Furthermore, the current environment also features several fantastically powerful cards in the six-mana slots like Rorix. For now I suspect this card will see play here and there, but nothing serious in Standard until some of these other options rotate out of his way. Until then, don’t forget to include him in all of your 250 card decks!


There’s always been considerable power here, considering all the abuse that’s been shoveled onto the original Atog over the years. With Mirrodin, he’s been moved to Uncommon due to his increased strength in the new Limited environments, and it should be pointed out that in the very old days one of the best Type 1 decks you could play was based around this guy (really!). As to current Constructed he obviously gets better thanks to all of the new toys to play with not to mention the inclusion of all of these delicious-looking artifact lands.

Again though, as with Affinity, my concern is whether you can really afford to commit to an artifact overload strategy given the insane level of artifact hate you risk running into. If that risk does turn out to be palatable, for now I’m going to predict that Megatog is probably your guy before this is.

Confusion in the Ranks

This is an extremely strong (and disruptive) effect, but I don’t think it’s likely to make tournament decks. The effect is difficult to control and comes with a fairly expensive package – not to mention the need to overlap with whatever threats your opponent is relying on. I’m positive there will be several narrow uses to this card for those who know exactly what their decks need, but I doubt this will be a main-deck type card even for that group. However, this is definitely one to keep in mind – it’s an extremely powerful effect if you can manage to control it profitably.


Detonate is one of those nice ways to gain some bonus for going after a narrow use, returning some extra damage on your investment in return for its inherent one-for-one nature. The problem is that you’re often going to be a turn behind, since you’ve got to pay one more mana than your opponent did. That doesn’t mean this is a bad card, particularly if the artifact lands become popular. However, in modern Magic the real key is often establishing a developmental advantage through tempo gains, and Detonate’s increased cost goes against this strategy. You do get the extra damage in, which is nice, but most decks would rather just spend the two mana and Shatter the threat right away while playing one of their own threats in the same turn. Also, keep in mind that if the decks you’re going after with this card are relying on mana acceleration (as many artifact decks do), and you aren’t, then you can really run into problems trying to cast this and should probably look elsewhere.

Electrostatic Bolt

Strictly a Limited card unless things warp even more than I’m currently expecting. In that role, however, it’s excellent.

Fiery Gambit

This card seemed at least interesting to me until I realized that you risk losing what gains you’ve picked up if you continue on and then lose the flip. At first I thought you could flip once and win, then flip the second time and lose and you’d still get that first effect. Since you have to double or nothing every time, and you start with nothing, this is garbage.

Fists of the Anvil

Blood Lust gets a makeover and comes back better than ever – and still won’t see much Constructed action. In Limited this strikes me as workable in combination with evasion creatures to put as quick a clock on opponents as possible. For Standard, however, I don’t see what kind of deck you would use this in. You still risk losing the two-for-one to any instant-speed removal, and Red has plenty of great aggressive options without resorting to this kind of risk-taking.

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At five mana, this is just way too expensive to consider for Constructed. The effect is potentially dramatic, but you’re investing something like three turns’ worth of development and a ton of mana – all of which comes crashing down around you in the face of a single creature removal spell. For that much work, you can do much, much better. Limited is a bit more forgiving, of course, but this still seems like too much to ask at such a high mana cost.

Fractured Loyalty

This is one of the funkier little cards in the set, providing a screwy effect – but an effect that’s costed aggressively enough that we might have a real contender here. It’s going to take some practice to get a better read on this card, but currently I would guess that this is worth considering in Limited when you have a reasonable number of ways to target, particularly if you have repeating abilities available. In return, you get to disrupt the opponent’s best creature for only two mana, and potentially you’re going to get to actually keep it as well.

In Standard, I don’t see this as a maindeckable card under normal circumstances, but this stealing ability could definitely see sideboard play in certain decks to shore up specific weaknesses where you know there will be worthy targets.

Goblin Striker

This guy hails back to the days when Goblins sucked. Sorry, buddy; you showed up a day late and a dollar short.

Grab the Reins

This one seems like a bit of an improved Threaten, but the key is the missing phrase”untap.” That significantly lowers the power of the card, making it much less likely to allow Ray of Command-style trades and forcing you to resort to the full seven mana for the card to reliably kill opposing creatures. The Fling effect is handy as a bonus, and there will be times you can profit from just stealing without the Entwine, so I expect this card to see Limited play but I suspect it’s not quite as good as many people seem to currently believe.

Incite War

Not a chance for Constructed, but very good in Limited. You gain several options here, picking up an okay combat trick – a kind of Falter – and a reasonably priced Entwine ability that should help guarantee you’ll come out of the turn with the better position. A very good common and one that opponents will probably find difficult to play around.

Krark-Clan Grunt

I guess this is playable in Limited, but it’s never going to see a sixty-card deck. (Except in really bad Limited decks – The Ferrett)

Krark-Clan Shaman

This is a reasonable ability for a Limited 1/1 one-drop, but it’s also self-limiting in power since it’ll die to its own ability without some help. On the plus side, you can dump several activations on the stack to generate a more significant effect – but you’ve got to have a lot of artifacts you don’t want any more to pull this off. If it comes to this, hopefully you’re at least saccing artifact creatures that would have died to the effect anyway.

Mass Hysteria

Concordant Crossroads never saw any significant tournament play – and that was back when it could kill threats like The Abyss just by coming into play. I can see where this might be interesting as a sideboard option for certain match-ups, but at the same time I have to wonder why you wouldn’t just use Lightning Greaves instead.


Megatog might be one of the sleeper cards in the set. Unlike the original Atog, this one comes with a sizable body to start with – and more importantly, it gets a serious pump effect in combination with a potentially devastating Trample ability. You’re still risking some significant card disadvantage if you have to throw everything in the basket and your opponent has an answer, but they also lose the ability to just hide behind a chump blocker.

I’m not sure if there’s a deck here yet for Megatog, but I’d certainly see what I could come up with. The power level is there, it’s just a question of finding out how best to use it.

Molten Rain

Stone Rain, meet Choking Sands. Actually, I have to say I was surprised by this one. In combination with the presence of Stone Rain in 8th and a few other viable land destruction elements, it seems that Wizards is dipping a toe back into the LD waters. The most important point is the chance to essentially have eight Stone Rains, as the redundancy at the 3cc level is one of the fundamental requirements for many decks like this to become viable. Fortunately, Pillage is gone so this won’t be as attractive as it might have been – but I had been hoping it was decided that potentially serious LD decks were just bad for the game.

The strange thing is that so much of the rest of the recent sets seem to be pushing us to try bigger and cooler spells. If so, why throw stuff like this in the mix? For now, serious LD decks will clearly be a possibility; hopefully, that’s all they will end up being.

Ogre Leadfoot

Unplayable in Constructed, this is even slow for Limited. There are enough little guys in Mirrodin that the extra mana for a decent fatty is still sometimes worth it, but I doubt this will be more than marginal in most decks.

Rustmouth Ogre

By the time you get to six mana, this ability is a lot less relevant than on cards like Goblin Vandal. If you do play this, it will be in Limited – and even there, the body and ability don’t really match the casting cost very well.

Seething Song

Further cementing Red’s relatively new claim on the acceleration slice of the ability pie, Seething Song is sure to raise some eyebrows. The net gain is still the same as good old Dark Ritual, but the casting cost now helps ensure that the acceleration (and its accompanying threat) isn’t played until opponents have had some reasonable chance to set up. An interesting side effect is that at this casting cost players start thinking large, eyeballing all those goodies priced in the six-mana range.

Another interesting factor is that it forces players to hold it considerably later than most Rituals would get held. The difference is that a turn 1 Ritual doesn’t reach you to mana you couldn’t rely on – it just gets you there faster. By accelerating a player to things like eight mana on turn 6, you get a different effect because somewhere around this time a player would often start missing land drops. Turn 1 Hypnotic Specter is very good, don’t get me wrong – but under normal circumstances, you have been able to cast it on turn 3 anyway, so you’ve gained two turns. In Seething Song’s case, you can cast an Obliterate on turn 6 that might not otherwise have happened until something like turn 11. In that example, assuming a player runs out of land on turn 6 means that a 40% mana ratio would average around five more turns to get those remaining two lands. That’s a very big difference.

Again, I’m not saying turn 1 Specter is bad; I’m just stressing that this much mana acceleration can have a different effect once you start getting to the later stages of the game and have a deck prepared for it. You’ll need to make sure that Song decks have plenty to do when they don’t draw Song, as well as ensuring that you don’t run out of business cards too quickly. Given the powerful midrange to expensive cards available in the current Standard format and the fact that countermagic based control looks to be on the way out, I suspect that this card will see some significant play in the new Standard environment.


This (or something like it) was sure to come back in a block with an artifact theme. The thing is, Shatter has always been something of a letdown to me. Sure, it blows up artifacts for a reasonable cost – but that’s all it does. With it already showing up in 8th Edition, I was hoping we might get something a little more interesting this time around. It does the job, though, and it’s clear that Green is now the king of artifact destruction + benefits, so I guess Red will just have to settle for this when it comes to vanilla artifact removal.

Shrapnel Blast

Five damage is a big chunk to carve out in just one two-mana shot. Sure, you have to sac an artifact – but that, as they say,”can be arranged.” The main thing keeping this from getting too scary is that it just doesn’t seem to fit into the kind of deck that would most want it. Aggro decks are too busy rushing out their swarm to stop and drop out fodder artifacts, and burn decks don’t typically have a lot of time to pause along the way to make machines either. However, some burn decks do employ artifacts – and here I’m thinking mainly of Burning Bridge, an archetype that seemed to float just on the fringe of viability in the previous Standard metagame. By combining Ensnaring Bridge with Mindstorm Crown and including the four artifact lands Red offers, you’ve already got twelve artifacts – and that’s without breaking a sweat. It’s possible there will be other Constructed uses for this card, but I suspect this is the most likely to work out.

Slith Firewalker

The best Slith hands-down, this is also one of the best two-drops Red has ever been given access to. The”bad” news is that it comes at a time when Red is flush with amazing creature threats, including another amazing two drop which doesn’t play nice with the Slith (Goblin Piledriver). This seems well worth a look for Block Constructed and is also quite strong when it hits early in Limited. Whether it’ll be good enough for much Standard play remains to be seen (the Goblins have a hell of a union, and they don’t like outsiders) – but once the previous Block rotates out, this guy may become the superstar he deserved to be this time around.

Spikeshot Goblin

Oops – did we just get stuck with Sparksmith all over again? We’re only in the prerelease stage, and already players everywhere are crying foul over this guy and the various ways to pump him up (mostly equipment). On the plus side, at least he’s a little more expensive so that you have a bit more time to try and get out of the hole he’s likely to dig you into – but from my perspective at this early stage, it seems like this should probably have been an uncommon. Time (and probably lots of angry event reports) will tell.

Trash for Treasure

This is more viable thanks to the presence of the artifact lands, but I’m still not sure there’s a real deck here. If you are going to do this I think you have to think big, and that means using this as a kind of pseudo-Reanimator strategy. Cards like Read the Runes and Thirst for Knowledge can be used to get something amazing in the ‘yard, and then you can turn it to treasure courtesy of this card. That seems a bit ponderous right now, but it is one of the few remaining ways to completely play around the”regular” rules of casting costs, and should be a little more viable if countermagic really is on the way out (assuming you can somehow handle aggro). I’m sure it’s worth at least a look, but I’m not sure at this stage how much you’ll find.

Vulshok Battlemaster

According to the Mirrodin FAQ, this guy also forces your opponent’s Equipment to attach to him – so at least he should hit pretty hard when he comes down. Still horribly bad in Constructed, I’m not even sure how much I like this guy for Limited. Normally it would be a 3/3 with Haste looking pretty good at about four mana, not 2/2 for five. If you already have Equipment out, presumably you’re doing pretty well anyway, so the main use of this would seem to be a tempo trick to throw off the race by unattaching all their Equipment and hitting them once with it. For now, I’m guessing this guy is better left in the sideboard for most Limited decks.

Vulshok Berserker

Okay for the cost in Limited, if a bit light in the butt. Compared to the monstrosities Red mages have access to in Standard, this doesn’t have any chance of seeing play.

War Elemental

This is one of those cards where I just really like the flavor of the ability. This is the kind of thing Red personifies and it’s a very cool card if you manage to pull it off. There are definite risks associated with this kind of approach, but I think they’re well worth exploring. For any that do manage to get this thing going, they’re going to have a dead opponent very, very quickly.

However, I need to join Zvi in complaining about all these”Elementals” running around. I thought it was maybe just a passing mistake, but it seems to keep coming up. Guys, there’s nothing”elemental” about many of the new things you keep calling elemental!

On the plus side, I think that’s my biggest complaint for this installment (well, okay, after the commonality issue for Spikeshot Goblin); anyone that knows me even in passing will realize that if this is the most I have to bitch about, you’re probably doing an outstanding job.

Bosh, Iron Golem

This card is crazy good in Limited, where there’s a very good chance you’ll just win outright once he untaps. In Standard he’s just too expensive for what you get.

Goblin Replica

Okay in Limited, since you’ll certainly find plenty of targets for the ability, but the cost seems a bit higher than it needed to be. In Constructed, I’m sure you can do better.

Granite Shard

I keep going back and forth on this. For Limited it’s clearly a very good card, but in Constructed I haven’t made up my mind yet. Repeatable kill for one-toughness creatures at only one mana per activation is pretty handy, particularly from a colorless source that can also be used on opponents when the time comes. However, given the blistering speed that most current Red decks bring to the table, do you really want to be pausing at three mana to try and get this into play? My instinct is that this is at least worth considering for Standard, though probably just for the sideboard.

There are times in the past when Red was starved enough for options that this would have been much better. In the current Standard, I’m not sure this can be much more than a sideboard option, and possibly not even that.

Hematite Golem

As with so many of these”colored” artifact creatures, it’s fine for Limited but don’t even think about it for Constructed.

Pyrite Spellbomb

And then there’s this. For all the world, it sometimes feels like the only thing standing between Red and Total Domination is breakout hero Silver Knight (and even then Red can sometimes just smash right on through it). Throw all that out the window now – because this card solves that problem in just about the nicest little artifact package Red mages could have asked for. Paying the extra mana for the Shock ability isn’t great, but the ability to get around Protection from Red is. Many decks are going to run this in the board and I think we’ll see more than a few in the main as well – particularly control decks that previously didn’t want to risk mostly dead cards on the slots.

All’s not lost thanks to several strong anti-creature cards being introduced, but I do have to say that I’ve been more than a little disappointed at the raw power given to the Goblins in recent months. Hopefully, it won’t be more than we can handle.

Scott Johns

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