Top Five Red Core Cards
- Fireball (many times, most recently M12) - There's value in Volcanic Geyser of course, but Fireball has such a history in Magic that it makes the top of my list. I also actually kind of like that it's a sorcery spell; the flavor of X mana spells feel like they ought to take full focus, rather than being instant speed. The massive burn available to Red is its calling card.
- Furnace Whelp (5DN, 10E, M13, M15) - I picked Furnace Whelp when I could have just as easily picked Shivan Dragon. I went with the Whelp because uncommon cards feel more "core" than rares. But either card in this "slot" fits two important roles: dragon, and firebreather. Firebreathing is like Fireball in creature form, and it's probably Red's most important creature characteristic.
- Lightning Elemental (many times, most recently M12) - Lightning Elemental captures two features of Red. The first is obvious: haste shows up in Red more than any other color. The other is the vast difference between power and toughness, usually with power being considerably higher. Fire Elemental is a classic Red card, but it's not particuarly, you know, Red. You could put the same stats on a card in any color and it'd make some sense.
- Fling (STH, M11, M12, DKA) - I had initially planned on including Shock or Lightning Bolt, but I came away with the opinion that Fling was perfectly suited to describing Red. It's instant-speed burn, and it depends on building up a creature's power (or, "enraging" them). It also has the added bonus of being exploitable; I've got a Landfall-based deck that's really all about Fling. One of my favorites.
- Siege-Gang Commander (SCG, 10E, M10) - Red has hundreds of goblins to choose from, so I tried to find one that helped explain a little more of Red. Goblin tokens are in fact a fair part of what Red can do, so that goes in there. Additionally, the sacrifice of any creature, but goblins in particular, for the greater good is a typically Red or Black feature. It came down to Siege-Gang, Goblin Arsonist, or Goblin Grenade. Grenade didn't fit my set rules (and has effect overlap with Fling), and Arsonist is too typically Joe. So Siege-Gang Commander and his goblinburn is the choice to round out this list.
So there it is, the last of my top 5 "Core Set" lists. It was a fun exercise, but it feels somehow incomplete. Like, talking about these cards in only the context of each other is insufficient, and there's some other way to take these lists to the next level...
...I'm working on it. Stay tuned.