Into the Scrapheap? – Episode 9 (X Marks the Spot)

I’m putting together a Chandra deck, and in my card searches I came across the old Red X damage spell, which got me wondering if there were any obsolete versions of this classic. Surprisingly, Wizards has a done decent job of offering new variants over the years that all offer something slightly different. As far as I can judge, only one of this class of spells is really obsolete, i.e. always worse than something else. So, I thought I would just take a brief historical tour of the available XR cards.

Disintegrate Fireball

Right from the start of the game, you had two options for all that extra mana in your red deck. Disintegrate was meant to be final–exile the creature with no possibility of regeneration. Fireball gave you more flexibility in spreading the damage around without the same finality. Both would continue to be staples: Disintegrate appearing through Fifth edition and Fireball being most recently printed in Magic 2012.

Dwarven Catapult

In Fallen Empires, they produced a watered-down version of Fireball: Dwarven Catapult does operate at instant speed, but you can’t target players. In some situations, though, the fact that you don’t need to pay extra for the extra targets does make a difference – takes out a few weenies much more efficiently (although you probably just want a Pyroclasm unless you have a bunch of weenies too). I would say this one borders on obsolete, but there is actually nothing else just like it.

Lava Burst Kaervek's Torch Rock Slide

During Magic’s adolescence, several new versions of the Red X spell were introduced. Lava Burst was a weaker Disintegrate but designed to thwart those pesky White and Blue mages’ tricks of prevention and redirection. Likewise, Kaervek’s Torch tried to help the Red mage get past those annoying Counterspells. Rock Slide offered a better damage array than the Dwarven Catapult, but with some significant drawbacks.

Heat Ray Ghitu Fire Illuminate

Out of Urza’s Saga, we got another staple of the genre: The instant speed creature removal called Heat Ray. No drawbacks, just make X match the creature’s toughness. In Invasion, Ghitu Fire allowed you the option of targeting the player instead, and for 2 extra mana, to do it at instant speed. Apocalypse brought a slower version of Heat Ray, Illuminate, with the option of getting a two for one deal on the creature’s player for 3 extra mana. Keep in mind, however, that that would have only cost you 1 more with the original Fireball; in the right deck, though, you might also get the option of drawing some cards.

Demonfire Banefire

Moving into the modern age of Magic, we find some new takes on old friends: Demonfire exiles the creature and gives you a chance at making the spell uncounterable and the damage unpreventable. Banefire was a little less powerful than its cousin, but the anti-Blue and White option was easier to achieve. Keep in mind that some sets/formats care more than others about whether that dying creature ends up in the graveyard or not.

Red Sun's Zenith Devil's Play

We also got two new options for the genre in the last couple of blocks. Red Sun’s Zenith gives us exiling power and the possibility of re-drawing the card later. And, finally, Devil’s Play, is a straight forward version that gives you two usages from a single card. Both of these seem like high quality additions to the family.

In conclusion, the reality is that a lot of the early Red X spells are probably not worth playing over the more recent offerings, but they are still not quite obsolete, unlike our last entrant:

Blaze

Disintegrate was replaced by the purposefully simple Portal card Blaze in the core sets starting with Sixth Edition. It is sorcery speed with no bells and whistles, which means that you have plenty of better options available, as we’ve seen above. So, off to the scrapheap with you Blaze!

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