Fan Favorite Friday #2 – Lightning Bolt

Hello everyone, and welcome to this week’s edition of Fan Favorite Friday! I hope you’ve all had a great week. I know I have – it’s been amazing watching all of your votes come in for this week’s article!

Your votes were cast on our Facebook page, and I heard you all loud and clear: this week we’re talking about none other than the one and only Lightning Bolt! I’m sorry Lord of Atlantis, you put up a good showing for a bit, but in the end, the fans chose Lightning Bolt with an overwhelming 76% of the votes. (Don’t worry fish fans, I’m sure Lord of Atlantis will make it back on the voting block someday!)

Lightning Bolt vs Lord of Atlantis

I probably don’t have to tell you this, but Lightning Bolt is THE burn spell. Instant speed, only one red mana, and three damage? What’s not to love?

Lightning Bolt is one of those cards that is almost synonymous with the game of Magic itself. Working behind the retail counter this week, I realized almost everyone has a Lightning Bolt story. It was great getting to talk to everyone about Magic’s greatest burn spell, and watching their eyes either light up with the joy of recalling a particularly awesome victory hinged upon their wielding of the spell, or the horror that comes from the phrase, “Bolt, Snapcaster Mage, Bolt?”

My friend and ABU teammate Chris O’berry was the first person to nominate Lightning Bolt for consideration. I’ve definitely been on the receiving end of a gleeful Bolt from his hand a time or two!

Here’s what he had to say about his favorite card:

Lightning Bolt embodies everything I love about Red. It is powerful, undercosted, and versatile. It can burn the face, remove a problematic creature, and enable you to steal games out of nowhere when drawn in succession. It was the first card I fell in love with, and continues to be my favorite card to this day.

I’d have to agree with Chris. Lightning Bolt captured my heart early on in my Magic career, and I don’t think a week goes by that I don’t cast one in some fashion! Whether I’m relaxing at home running Pauper Burn through a league on MTGO, playing some casual Modern at the shop on my lunch break, or last-minute deciding to switch to my loaner Burn deck during our Saturday Legacy League, you can bet I’m smiling when there’s a Bolt in my hand.

It’s one of those cards that just feels good to play. Let’s dig into it!


Lightning Bolt was one of the original Magic cards printed in the Alpha set. Featuring iconic, gorgeous art from the late Christopher Rush, it quickly captured the hearts of budding Magic fanatics everywhere. Talk to anyone who was playing back in the day before the rule limiting you to only four copies of a card was put into place and you’ll hear a story about someone running a deck that consisted of forty Lightning Bolts and twenty Mountains.

Christopher Rush’s amazing Lightning Bolt art.

It continued to be printed in all of the core sets up to Fourth Edition, and quickly set the standard for burn spells. Every burn spell since has been compared to Lightning Bolt, with many inferior imitations (that I still love, don’t get me wrong) being printed over the years. It was replaced as the standard burn spell by the weaker Shock eventually (and later still by Lightning Strike), and many players thought the days of Lightning Bolt were coming to an end.

That is until Magic 2010! Lightning Bolt made a surprise reprint appearance, and everyone went nuts! I wasn’t even playing Magic back then and I heard about it. Lightning Bolt was in Standard again, and life was pretty good.

It saw another reprint in the 2011 core set, which was it’s last foray into Standard to date. I have pretty frequent dreams of a reprint (I’m looking at you WotC), but the closest we’ve come is the admittedly pretty cool Wizard’s Lighting in Dominaria.

Wizard’s Lightning is pretty rad.

Lightning Bolt has seen thirteen total printings in it’s long and illustrious life (you could argue it’s actually 20), with the most recent being in Masters 25.

What Makes This Card So Cool?

Like I said earlier, it’s an instant speed burn spell for one red mana that does three damage to target creature or player. That’s like, the definition of cool right?

It’s one of the best removal spells around. Creatures trying to climb their way to eternal format playable status are evaluated based on their ability to survive an encounter with Bolt. You don’t have to be mono-red either, Lighting Bolt’s single red mana cost allows you to splash for it just about anywhere! Talk about versatility!

Plus, both versions of the art are pretty dang slick if you ask me.

What Formats is this Card Played In?

While it obviously no longer sees Standard play (yet – please Wizards, hear my prayers), Lightning Bolt sees play in every format it’s legal in! It makes appearances in Legacy, Vintage, Commander, Pauper, and of course, Modern.

Speaking of Modern, did you know Lightning Bolt is the most played card in the format right now? According to MTGTOP8, Lightning Bolt is played in a whopping 40% of the current Modern meta.

In fact, it was ABU Team leader Dane’s introduction to modern! I got to speak to him in depth about his history with the card:

My introduction into Modern was simple, burn peoples faces off as quickly as possible, with Lightning Bolt as my chariot to victory! I quickly fell in love with Modern Burn, in 2015 I spent most of my time at GP Vegas foiling out my burn deck. My most coveted finds were the Player Rewards full art Lightning Bolts and my Grand Prix promo Goblin Guides. Since then I’ve completed the deck and it is stunning, Modern is always changing though, so I constantly try and keep it updated to the best possible 75. In Standard right now I’m loving the addition of Wizard’s Lightning as tribal nod to the powerful Lightning Bolt, getting to burn to the face for one red mana is just so good!

I’ve also been known to play plenty of Lightning Bolts in Modern. You can check out my pretty standard RW Modern Burn list here.

While it’s not exactly the most played card in Legacy, Lightning Bolt still makes an appearance in about 25% of the decks, with an entire deck based around it and all of the burn spells that wish they were it. Legacy Burn is often the first deck players new to Legacy pick up due to its relatively affordable price and easy to learn game plan. I usually always have it put together to hand to new players at our Legacy League, and I definitely love taking it for a spin myself every now and again! NEWHJ’s 5-0 list from this competitive Legacy League is pretty similar to the one I have sleeved up.

Pauper Burn, one of my favorite Pauper decks, looks a lot like it’s Legacy Counterpart! A lot of the powerful burn spells in the Legacy version were printed at common, which allows them to wreak havoc in Pauper. Here’s a list that is pretty similar to the one I run. 

Well, that’s it for today, my friends! I’m sure there’s plenty more I could say about everyone’s favorite burn spell, but I have to bring this one to a close. What are some of your favorite Lightning Bolt moments? What important bit of Lightning Bolt lore did I forget? What cards would you like to see in upcoming Fan Favorite Fridays? Let me know in the comments, or hit me up on Twitter!

Have a good week!

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Joe Davidson is the Content Production Manager at ABU Games. When he's not playing Modern, Legacy, or following around Team ABU with a camera he's pursuing a BFA in Fiction at Boise State University. He loves Goblins, casting burn spells, and writing about Magic. You can find him on Twitter @MTGJoeD.