MTG Lightning Bolt – Card in Focus

Welcome to the first installment of Card in Focus, a series of articles where we talk about the most iconic cards, their history, interesting tidbits and more. We’re starting off with the best burn spell of all times – Lightning Bolt.

This powerful spell has been around for a long time, so we’ll take a look at its history, trivia and art variations. Finally, we’ll wrap it up with a sample decklist. Let’s get to it.


Lightning Bolt was first printed way back in Alpha, in 1993. It was just as effective as it’s today, if not even more, since the creatures were worse.

Lightning Bolt MTG Alpha First Printing

It was reprinted over 20 times, but it’s still worth at least a dollar or two, because it’s always playable in every red deck.

Lightning Bolt Trivia

Four of One Card Rule

At the Magic’s inception, there wasn’t a rule that you can only have four copies of the same card in your deck. So you can imagine how that quickly become broken.

One of the early successful decks contained 40 Lighting Bolts and 20 Mountains. So to keep things like this from happening, Wizards made a new rule: Each deck can contain a maximum of four cards with the same name (with the exception of basic lands).

Wording Changes

Since the card was around for a very long time, it went through numerous wording changes. They are listed from oldest to newest here:

  1. Lightning Bolt does 3 damage to one target.
  2. Lightning Bolt does 3 damage to target creature or player.
  3. Lightning Bolt does 3 damage to any target.

Despite the wording changes, the card always did the same thing – 3 damage anywhere.

The Reprint

In 1995, Lightning Bolt appeared in the Fourth Edition. After that it didn’t appear in a regular set for a very long time. It was widely considered too strong for the Standard format.

However, 14 years later, in 2009, it was reprinted in Core Set 2010. Players were both surprised and delighted by this reprint. Wizards anticipated that, and referenced it in the flavor text.

Lightning Bolt Reprint Flavor Text Sparkmage Shrieked

The sparkmage shrieked, calling on the rage of the storms of his youth. To his surprise, the sky responded with a fierce energy he’d never thought to see again.

Lightning Bolt Jargon

If you’re a newer Magic player, it can quickly become hard to follow everything a more enfranchised player is saying. Here is just a small part of MTG jargon, based on this burn spell.

  • Bolt the bird. – Referring to using Lighting Bolt on Birds of Paradise. The saying actually goes beyond just these two cards. It suggests that you should always use early removal spells on opponent’s mana creatures.
  • Bolt you. – Iconic phrase, it means targeting the opponent with the Lightning Bolt.
  • Out of the bolt range. – If creature has 4 or more toughness, it’s out of the bolt range. This was one of the earliest tests to consider how good a creature was. A creature with 4+ toughness passes the bolt test. A player can also be considered out of the bolt range, when they have 4 or more life points.
  • Boltbait – Small, but powerful creature, that opponents will want to target with Bolt.

Modern Domination

Lightning Bolt has always been present in Modern. At some points it was even the most played card in the format – not just the most played red one, or nonland one. It was the most played card overall.

That’s also true at the time of writing this article, in October 2020, according to the Goldfish data. So even after 27 years, the Bolt is still going strong.

Lightning Bolt Alternate Versions

Besides the two regular versions you saw above, there are also a bunch of alternate art versions of Lightning Bolt.

Secret Lair: Mountain, Go

Secret Lair: Mountain, Go had not one, but four different artworks for this powerful red instant. Players could buy it on Wizard’s official Store in the summer of 2020.

One of them was also featured as a sleeve on Arena, which you can buy here.

Magic Fest Promo

Lightning Bolt also has a promo card. Player could acquire it at Magic Fest Events in 2019.

Magic Fest Promo Lightning Bolt

Magic Player Rewards

Wizards of the Coast used to run the Magic Player Rewards program between 2001 and 2010. Players were rewarded for in-store play with promos that Wizards actually mailed to them.

One of the promos was also a textless Lightning Bolt, that you see below.

Player Rewards Promo Lightning Bolt

Decklist Example

A ton of different decks use Lightning Bolt. From burn decks, to red control decks. Here’s just one example of a deck that utilizes this red instant in Modern. Shuaneehog played this particular deck was to a 5-0 finish in an MTGO League.

Lightning Bolt Deck 

Creatures (16)
Monastery Swiftspear
Soul-Scar Mage
Kiln Fiend
Bonecrusher Giant
Bedlam Reveler
Spells (26)
Burst Lightning
Crash Through
Forked Bolt
Lava Dart
Lava Spike
Lightning Bolt
Light Up the Stage
Lands (18)
Fiery Islet
Sunbaked Canyon
Cards (60)
Sideboard (15)
Engineered Explosives
Tormod's Crypt
Dragon's Claw
Shrine of Burning Rage
Kozilek's Return
Magus of the Moon


That’s it for our first Card in Focus article. Hope you enjoyed reading about Lightning Bolt. If you have any suggestions about this series, let us know in the comments below. Which cards would you like to know more about? What information should we include?

If you’re looking for More MTG articles, maybe some of the following will be interesting to you:

Until next time, have fun and may you always topdeck a Bolt, when you need it.

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