Real-world Flavor: Red’s Philosophy in Citations

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The purest ore is produced from the hottest furnace, and the brightest thunder-bolt is elicited from the darkest storm.

Charles Colton

The quote above is full of semantic references to what the color Red represents in Magic: The Gathering. It mentions pure minerals and hot furnaces, as well as bolts and storms. This kind of stuff is the Mountains' domain, and Mountains are what produce red mana.

While Black is the most represented color when it comes to real-world quotations, Red is by far the least inclusive of the five. How come? Are the values typical of Red's philosophy less easily found in literature? Or are they just less immediate? We'll try answering this question at the end of this installment. For the moment, let's have a look at what Red is about.

Red's Color Philosophy

Action, recklessness, and chaos are the first characteristics coming to mind when you try and define Red. The color's first necessity is to enjoy life as an adventure, which translates both into seizing opportunities and taking chances. Unlike blue mages, calculation is not a strong point of red.

The drive towards risk and carelessness often produce, in gameplay terms, creatures that sacrifice themselves at the end of the turn, or spells that deal damage both to your opponents and to you. Let's try and discuss a few cards we haven't touched yet. All of them will present a flavor text from a real-world quotation.

This time, we are not going to split the analysis into macro themes. Instead, we'll divide it into a part dealing with creatures and one dealing with spells, since they show similar characteristics.


Red's most famous creatures are typically dragons or goblins. However, a couple of elementals with real-world flavor are just what we need in order to discuss Red's values. Both from the perspective of flavor text and from that of abilities.

Lightning Elemental

A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave,
He passes from life to his rest in the grave.

William Knox, Mortality

While certainly not a staple, Lightning Elemental is a decent card for Limited, just like any creature with haste. It can help spoil the opponent's calculations when it comes to damage racing. A 4/1 with haste for four mana, Lightning Elemental is a typical red creature. Its flavor text is also not that different.

All Magic cards that reference lightning call to mind the classic card Lightning Bolt. It's a staple in every format in which it's legal thanks to its efficiency. One mana for three damage is a great rate and the litmus test against which all other damage spells are judged. The fragile Lightning Elemental isn't as good a rate, but has the potential to deal much more than three damage should it survive combat.

Its flavor text comes from William Knox's Mortality, a poem of roughly 60 lines dealing with the nature of human mortality. The concept of quickly passing from life to death is perfect for a fast and fragile creature like this one. In the previous verse, before the printed quote, the human being is compared to "a fast flitting meteor." The next card in our discussion is even faster than that.

Ball Lightning

Life, struck sharp on death,
Makes awful lightning.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh

Ball Lightning is a much more playable card, as it costs less, has higher power, and has trample. This increases the chance of it connecting with the opponent's face. Sure, it has the drawback of being sacrificed at the end of the turn, but that's a small price to pay. Trample and haste are a particularly strong couple, and they often appear together on red creatures.

The flavor text quotes Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh, an epic poem in nine books. It's a very short citation, but you can spot the same characteristic we saw on the other elemental. It mentions life and death, and the abrupt passage between the two states.


Now, let's move on to discuss some spells. When it comes to spells, Red is famously concerned with damage, as we've seen, and is by far the best color in dealing direct damage to both creatures and players. It's also the color of fast mana production, which we will also explore.


Hi! ni! ya! Behold the man of flint, that’s me!
Four lightnings zigzag from me, strike and return.

Navajo War Chant

This sorcery originally from Legends is a strong Limited card, but seldom sees constructed play. It's a fine example though of Red's ability in dealing direct damage to one or more targets. Red is not famous for its cleverness or its ability in making plans. It's the best in the business though at dealing a lot of damage to a lot of things. Pyrotechnics deals four damage divided as you choose, making it a versatile card when you need to light some things on fire.

The choice of this Navajo chant for the flavor text goes well with the effect of the spell. It mentions four flashes of lightning, just as the spell deals four damage.


And topples round the dreary west
A looming bastion fringed with fire.

Lord Alfred Tennyson, In Memoriam

Cursed Firebreathing Yogurt showcases another typical feature of red, the ability to pump the power of creatures. Green, and to a lesser extent white, typically increase both power and toughness. Red, on the other hand, is usually limited to the former. Of course, this is coherent with it being the color of aggression and rage. You're not worried about your safety when you're trying to get your opponent dead. In gameplay terms, this translates to red's strategy of aggression and its focus on winning the game as quickly as possible.

From a lore perspective, this card is a direct reference to Shivan Dragon, a rare card with this ability built-in. This fact is almost more important than the Tennyson quote printed here. Both cards were originally printed in Limited Edition Alpha. Many similar cards have been printed in the almost 30 years of Magic, but this is the original Aura with the power of Shivan Dragon.

Seething Song

The purest ore is produced from the hottest furnace, and the brightest thunder-bolt is elicited from the darkest storm.

Charles Colton, Lacon

Let's finish this piece on Red's philosophy with another sorcery, Seething Song. As we mentioned earlier, another common trait of red spells is explosively producing mana. This sorcery is very good at that. We discussed the flavor text in the introduction, so let's focus here on the in-game strength of the card.

Seething Song is so good that it's banned from Modern tournaments. The reason is that these kinds of spells tend to add up quickly, generating tons of mana. Explosive mana like this can snowball into game-ending plays where the opponent has no chance to respond. Look no further for an example than Modern Storm decks. The Storm deck turns all its explosive mana into casting a flurry of spells before casting a lethal Grapeshot a spell with the storm ability, which gives the deck its name.


As we've seen, Red is the king of damage, and its spells and creatures are a testament to that. It's also the color of aggression, rage, and passion. Green is a strong rival in the damage race, but as we'll see in the next installment, Green relies on permanents for its damage, with only rare exceptions.

What red cards did we not mention that you'd like to have seen? Next week we wrap up with our discussion of the color Green. What green cards should we discuss? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter!

Francesco Spagnol

Francesco started playing Magic in middle school just as the Onslaught came out. He has taken part in many tournaments and organized several events himself. Booster draft is by far his favorite format, but he also enjoys Pauper and Pre-Modern. When he doesn't play Magic, he works in the publishing industry, as an editor of children's books. He is always looking for good stories.

View More By Francesco Spagnol

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