Gatecrash has only been on store shelves for a week and a half, and the next two Grand Prix rounds - February 23 and 24 in both Quebec City and Charlotte - will see the new set put to heavy use. So now is a good time as ever to continue with my card-by-card breakdown of the entire set, color after color. I last left off with the latter part of the black cards in the set, so now I'll move on to the first (roughly) half of the red batch. So let's begin:
Act of Treason - This is one of red's par-for-the-course common tricks, and its absence for a year in core is explained by its presence here. This never has been worth much in Constructed on its own, but pick these up if you're playing red at all in Limited if they fit your curve; if you hold on to these until relatively late in the game, or until the time is right, they can end the game with you on top with the right target.
Bomber Corps - Another of the smaller battalion creatures (not that any of them are very big, but perhaps Dragon's Maze will bring a fatter one or two), this one is unimpressive to start out with; a red Squire is not exactly great in any environment. But if you can get that battalion trigger working consistently and can protect this guy (with, say, a Frontline Medic), your opponents will be looking at significant casualties from that burn ability. Definitely a reliable Limited pick for Boros - or even red + another color, aggro builds.
Cinder Elemental - Reprint number two in red for this set, this one comes to us straight from Mercadian Masques, which is not usually a good sign. Sure, the stats are extremely bad for that mana cost, but even a subpar creature becomes a heck of a lot more relevant when it has an instant-speed Blaze strapped to it - it seems like X-mana costs are a subtheme in their own right in this block. This is okay Limited removal, and, of course, can blast your opponents in the face if need be.
Crackling Perimeter - I dare anyone to say that Gates are irrelevant now. Imagine this as saying "1: Crackling Perimeter deals 1 damage to each opponent," and it's suddenly a lot scarier. Even, say, two or three activations per turn spell very bad news for anyone playing against you. The good news is, that's not hard to reach at all with how easy Guildgates are to obtain. If I pulled this in a Sealed tournament I'd go renegade and build an entire strategy, or part of a strategy, around it, just to see what would happen.
Ember Beast - Ahh, reprint number three. I don't think R&D was hard-pressed for ideas here; they seem to just have happened upon a lot of past cards that happen to fit the mechanical and flavor themes of Gatecrash red very well. Anyway, this is the midrange enabler that battalion needs; that fat butt for its cost means that it'll be a third attacker for many turns after you drop it. That's barely a drawback in a red deck, anyhow, so what you're really looking at here is a 3/4 for three mana in red with no real downside. Thoroughly solid.
Firefist Striker - A 2/1 for two is acceptable in red, so we're off to a good start. The battalion ability may seem minor - cards like Panic Spellbomb seem to imply stopping one creature from blocking costs one mana or less - but combat manipulation is exactly what the Boros crave. If it means one of your battalion members getting through to your opponent's life total and/or surviving combat, then it's worth it. Overall white definitely got the better battalion creatures in this set, but that's not to say that the red ones are bad.
Five-Alarm Fire - This is sort of structured like a Johnny card - rare enchantment that accumulates counters and doesn't do anything until it has enough of them - but it's really not, because the way to use it is extremely straightforward and it rewards you for doing things you want to be doing anyway. Putting this in the three-mana slot of a red deck's curve is a risk - there are so many relevant creatures you "should" be playing there - but if you can survive the loss of creature advantage you may take you will be killing creatures and players alike with this within a couple of turns. Not recommended for Limited, but hell yes for Constructed.
Foundry Street Denizen - This is sort of kind of technically a 2+/1 for one red mana at common. I like this design because it's the kind of thing that teaches new players, especially those starting out in Limited, to make their mana curves correctly. This is the most aggressive member of the Denizen cycle, fittingly enough, and together with Shadow Alley Denizen could certainly speed up a black-red deck's kill-clock.
Furious Resistance - Normally this is a white effect, and it has been since Righteousness was first printed in Alpha, but I support the expansion of red's common-stratum color pie in general and certainly this color doesn't have to be all aggression, all the time. In a Limited deck that does have use for defenses - certain Boros builds, for example, or the odd red control/ramp deck - this card can critically shift combat in your favor. Don't overlook this entirely. It's at least a heck of a lot better than Bull Rush.
Hellkite Tyrant - Ahh, one of the infamous alternate win conditions of this block! Although I do like all of said cards, this is among my favorites among them because the alt-win is kind of just a fun minigame that you can build your deck to enable, and if it fails to pan out, that's fine; you still can quite easily win with your 6/5 flying trampler. Not quite as Johnnyish as the other cards of its kind, but definitely still a lot of fun, especially since Timmy can now appreciate it as well.
Hellraiser Goblin - Two-and-a-half out of the four red guilds in this block really, really, really want this guy. Rakdos and Gruul have this tendency to dispense with defenses anyway and as aggro archetypes, mass haste is an incredible boon to their strategies. Boros wants this for battalion-boosting but not if it's playing into the white defensive side of things and trying to set up advantageous blocks. Izzet isn't really focused on combat one way or another but probably wants to stay on the defensive a bit while drawing into big spells. I don't have anything more to add other than that art is amazing.
Homing Lightning - Hey, it's the Echoing cycle member that never was! Like it's black-aligned spiritual kin Echoing Decay, this absolutely wrecks token decks, which I suppose was the aim in printing it. But it's not half-bad if you have to use it on a single creature, either. The fact that this exists, and so does Detention Sphere, seems to point to a "with the same name" card in Dragon's Maze to complete the rule-of-three sequence. Hmmm... For what it's worth, this is also an amazing black hoser with Kormus Bell.
Legion Loyalist - Much like that other rare battalion creature, Frontline Medic, Legion Loyalist seems to have been designed to fix a Development problem. There is absolutely no rational flavor reason why this guy should stop tokens from blocking - first strike and trample seem to get the point across just fine - but it seems that R&D felt that red decks needed a way to deal with Selesnya or with Boros mirror matches and that this was the way to give them that extra push. Anyway, I appreciate red getting good weenies like this, and this is easily the single best battalion creature out of context for both stats-and-cost and ability-granting reasons.
Madcap Skills - Looks like red got the good version of Way of the Thief. This is low-cost evasion on an Aura that also happens to pump power by 3 - absolutely devastating in Limited. Put this on the flyer or intimidater of your choice and you can end games fast. I'm actually kind of surprised this is a common; an effect this strong seems like it ought to be uncommon for Limited purposes. But I will not question R&D's wisdom on this.
Mark for Death - And here comes another combat-manipulation card that's costed quite low for the magnitude of its effect. This basically says "get an alpha strike through, or, failing that, kill your opponent's biggest threat and punch through a lot of unblocked hits on the side." Coincidentally enough this plays great with Madcap Skills. Just over halfway through, and I am very impressed with the way red handles combat in this set. As we shall see, this is a theme that will continue.