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By: MTGOrzo, Sam Hardin
Nov 21 2016 1:00pm
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 Lightning Bolt


There was a point in the not too distant past where Lightning Bolt was playable and played in most sanctioned formats. R for three damage to a creature or to the dome was long considered the gold standard of burn. Two mana used to get you Incinerate, but now gets you Lightning Strike. In Commander, the joke often goes: "Who plays bolt in Commander?"

I play bolt in Commander.

Red needs all the help it can get in a format the scoffs at traditional burn and aggro strategies. There are 353 Legendary Creatures with toughness less than 3. I've compiled a list of the top Generals that bolt takes care of for one mana. Path to Exile and Swords to Plowshares are real cards. Lightning Bolt is a real card too, and can be a threat to be respected when you leave up a single mountain.


Alesha, Who Smiles at Death

Threat Level: 3/5

Bolt-ability: 4/5

Alesha is a very popular budget commander. With an emphasis on weenie strategies and the necessity for her to survive a turn around the table make her a prime bolt target. Alesha is also a deck that works best with her in play so bolt becomes a great single mana removal for her. The only reason she is not a 5 on the bolt-ability scale is that many of her tiny guys may need to be dealt with more than her, however, any creature killed with bolt is more fodder for her triggered ability.


Angus Mackenzie

Threat Level: 4/5

Bolt-ability: 3-4/5

Angus Mackenzie is one of those old generals that is only feasibly played online where he sits comfortably at sub-twenty-five cents. Turbofog is an archetype red traditionally has trouble with, and bolt ends an Angus the turn it comes in. In a deck that traditionally wants its commander on the field, bolt acts as a Time Walk. Bolt gets around taxing counters like Mana Leak and Spell Pierce in a 1v1 setting. Getting shut out by a hard counter is not a slight on bolt as most counters outside Hydroblast stop bolt the same as path or swords.



Animar, Soul of Elements

Threat Level: 5/5


Animar, Soul of Elements is a powerful general. He gets out of hand quick, and the protection from white and black blanks most traditional forms of single target removal. Bolt provides a modicum of protection in the early turns of an Animar onslaught. Catching Animar in the first turn after he enters the battlefield is key to getting the maximum value out of your bolt.


Arcum Dagsson

Threat Level: 5/5

Bolt-ability: 5/5

One of the commanders that elicits an immediate groan when he plops down on one side of the table. Arcum is doubly boltable; he himself can be taken care of by your removal, and his ability requires a sac after payment. This means you can bolt the tiny Myr he targets to get his Darksteel Forge and the ability will fizzle. Prime target.



Azami, Lady of Scrolls

Threat Level: 4/5

Bolt-ability: 3/5

Azami, Lady of Scrolls is a commander that demands a response. Once she resolves, everyone at the table needs to be aware of the Mind Over Matter lurking at every draw step. While Azami can activate her ability the turn she comes out, effectively coming out up on the card exchange, her large, color intensive mana cost often times make recasting her a slow ordeal. Just watch out for free counterspells on the turn you think she might combo off.



Azusa, Lost but Seeking

Threat Level: 2.5/5

Bolt-ability: 5/5

While you can't respond to the special action Azusa provides (unless an ability is placed on the stack such as Rampaging Baloths or Crumbling Vestige), Azusa is simply asking to be dealt three to her face. Often played turn two or three as a ramp spell, Azusa offers very little in the way of a forward threat. While her abilities might not warrant more universal removal, you bolts won't do much against her large monsters that she casts off her ability, making Azusa or another one of her early game mana dorks a great target.



Captain Sisay

Threat Level: 4.5/5

Bolt-ability: 5/5

Captain Sisay's tutor a legendary creature ability cannot be allowed to happen multiple times, if at all. Reliant on artifact-equipment to grant haste, being able to deal with the toolbox herself before she can tutor up any number of combo creatures or lockdown pieces. Making Sisay cost six mana is an unappealing prospect to her pilot. Taking care of a stray Mother of Runes or Gaddock Teeg should be reason enough to pack a bolt to your next local game.



Chainer, Dementia Master

Threat Level: 3/5

Bolt-ability: 6/5

The only thing better than sniping a wayward general with bolt is getting value out of killing one with bolt. Chainer, Dementia Master is a classic mono-black reanimator general, with an unfortunate downside tacked on. Whenever Chainer leaves play, you must exile the creatures he brought back. Facing an army of big monsters summoned from the various graveyards of the game might be daunting, but a well-timed bolt at the time of an alpha strike, can both make people breathe easy and make new friends of those you've saved.



Derevi, Empyrial Tactician

Threat Level: 4/5

Bolt-ability: 1.5/5


Derevi is a commander that has not had an easy time of it since her release in the Commander 2013 product. With her unique ability to circumvent both commander tax and counterspell, Derevi often draws undue hate for her association with stax. A bolt can slow down a Derevi player, but not in any meaningful way. With bolt, you might be better off catching one of Derevi's creature based stax pieces. Bolt can catch a Derevi on a big swing, denying them the tap/untap shenanigans for the turn. 


Edric, Spymaster of Trest

Threat Level: 4/5

Boltability: 5/5

Shunned from the faster paced format of Duel French Commander, Edric, Spymaster of Trest still occasionally shows up to irritate the innocent multiplayer folk. Edric is a pervasive threat, mostly because he flies under the radar of many new players. The promise of card draw is almost too enticing to ignore. Lightning Bolt provides a small respite from the swarm. However, enticing players as to the threat of an Edric deck can often times be more effective than any removal spell.



Grand Arbiter Augustin IV

Threat Level: 4/5

Bolt-ability: 3/5

Where Lightning Bolt becomes Lightning Strike. Grand Arbiter players are often the worst of the worst, taking pleasure from the despair of other players. While taxed to the level of utmost humiliation, bolt can still deal with the oppression of a Grand Arbiter. Take care not to be caught with your pants down when he resolves; one untapped red source will not be enough to stop the bleeding.


Jeleva, Nephalia's Scourge

Threat Level: 2/5

Bolt-ability: 4/5

Hailing from the same set as Derevi, Jeleva, Nephalia's Scourge is another commander that gets incrementally better the more she's cast. Exiling swaths of cards off the tops of libraries for pilfered instants and sorceries, Jeleva is often a hit or miss general. She achieves value off the attack, meaning a timely bolt can save the trouble of a Decree of Pain or a Recurring Insight from resolving. If Jeleva's enter the battlefield trigger finds nothing too spicy, you can always save the bolt for when it might become direr.



Jhoira of the Ghitu

Threat Level: 3/5

Bolt-ability: 2/5

Jhoira is not scary on her own; dependent on cards in hand, Jhoira decks often times spend time spinning their wheels. Jhoira allows for a looming time bomb while also playing the Izzet tempo play. Many Jhoira decks allow for fallbacks in case Jhoira herself bites it, in the form of fast mana rocks, but sometimes a well-placed bolt can shut down their entire play. Many Jhoira players often wait until they have the 2 generic mana to suspend something in the case she is removed, but in that case, they're several turns behind and you can kill her at your leisure anyway.



Kaalia of the Vast

Threat Level: 5/5

Bolt-ability: 5/5

How many times has your local Kaalia of the Vast scooped after the first time she'd been removed, especially after popping a Lotus Petal or other such fast mana. Kaalia often runs out truly horrifying creatures for dirt cheap price of free. A hasted Kaalia on turn three or so often ends games to the groans of the other players. Wouldn't it be great to save the day? Bolt finds fewer targets in the 99, but Kaalia is a veritable lightning rod. Lightning bolt is also card you'd want to run in Kaalia as well, able to wipe away a small, early flyer in the way of Kaalia.



Krenko, Mob Boss

Threat Level: 1-4/5

Bolt-ability: 4.5/5

Truly the Civil war of Commander, Red vs Red. What decks benefit from efficient burn often fall onto the same sword. Krenko, Mob Boss and his goblin cohort are almost all universally caught under the magic speed limit of three-or-less toughness. Catching a Krenko before he overruns you, burning a Skirk Prospector before he topdecks a Bonfire of the Damned, burning away a lord before the walls come crashing down buys you immeasurable time against a deck that wants to go extra wide. Krenko decks often want a bolt to deal with whatever small problem they come across, but they're probably already used to using subpar removal.