Magic: The Gathering/Analysis

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Colour misconceptions

Very often, people have very erroneous views on the colours of Magic: The Gathering, depicting some colours as good and others as evil. Generally, this occurs as either considering Black evil, White good, and the other colours neutral; or considering Black and Red as evil, White and Green as good, and Blue as neutral. This is understandable; people like to simplify things, and like to judge the colours by superficial traits. Black, for instance, symbolizes selfishness and darkness/death, which are generally seen as evil, while Green values nature and community, which could be seen as "good." However, this is a very superficial take on the colours, and if things were actually as simple as the Fan Dumb seems to think, there would be a lot less diversity of characters. Thus, I intend to explain a little more on how things actually work, and thus explain more about the colours.

The first colour usually to be mentioned is White. White is easily seen as the "good colour", because it is the colour of law; it concerns itself about other people, focusing on forming a community. Its ultimate goal is peace, and besides, its elemental domain is light, which people see as good. However, while White is well-intentioned, calling its methods "good" is... an arguably inaccurate description. To keep the peace, White believes that it has to control its community, and as such, it uses laws and structure to do so; because White is more focused on the group than the individual, it finds satisfying the desires of every single citizen to be too expensive in terms of time and resources, and so it uses its laws to restrict personal freedoms. Individuality is absolutely loathed by White, because it sees it as the producer of conflicts. Therefore, White tries to eliminate individuality to the greatest possible extent; it will readily discriminate against ideas and actions for the sake of them being unpopular or perceiving them as being too individualistic, even if they're largely harmless. The end result is that White, while caring about the community, doesn't care about the individual, and as such gladly sacrifices freedom for peace (hence why systems like fascism and communism are essentially White in nature); White sometimes even sacrifices individuals for the sake of the group. And because it sees its philosophy as superior, and willingly destroys those that oppose it, it is also essentially xenophobic. White is obviously the colour most interested in spreading its philosophy, and depending on who you ask, it may either do so by converting other people to its cause, or by being fiercely elitistic and eliminating its opponents. In war, it is lethally efficient, being a master of strategy and organized armies, which it uses to crush its enemies; it has a strict policy of "killing first, asking questions later". Combined with its black and white view of the world (derived from its focus on morality; whoever strays from it is considered evil), it is very easy to argue that White is far more extremistic than it is benevolent, even if that comes across more as Lawful Stupid than Lawful Evil (note that all Lawful alignments are possible within White). So, White can produce a rabid Knight Templar just as easily as it can produce a noble hero, because its light isn't always good.

Blue is the next colour in the colour wheel. Blue is generally seen as naturally neutral; its main motivations are curiosity (as it wishes to learn as much as possible) and perfection (as it wishes to change the world into becoming better). Fundamentally, these goals are good, as Blue's wishes to improve both itself and the world often benefit people (Blue is, after all, the colour of technology and progress). Unfortunately, Blue is generally not very interested in the people, other than using them as subjects in its experiments, as it is emotionally disconnected and secretive. Thus, it is naturally neutral; it seeks to improve the world, but does not usually care about other people. Much like Black, it is a very individualistic colour, but unlike Black, it is not particularly selfish, as it believes that the accomplishment of its goal will improve things, which ties in with White's need to make the world better for its people. Still, its usual lack of interest in other people, as well as its desire to learn more, might eventually lead Blue to conduct morally questionable experiments; to Blue, its curiosity and belief that its actions will make the world better are more important than morality. Furthermore, someone's idea of "perfection" might not tie well with another person's view of a perfect world; many would object to be subjected to experiments to make them "better", for example. Thus, it is no wonder that some of MTG's main villains are pure Blue, though there is an equal if not superior number of Blue heroes.

Black is easily the colour most associated with evil. Its core philosophy is that one should only care about him/herself; being the colour of amorality and parasitism, it believes that it can do anything it wants, regardless of the consequences (for others, at least). Many villains are classifiable as Black, and as it represents darkness and death, many people call it evil. However, Black is just as neutral as the other colours, and in fact can be quite benevolent, at least occasionally. It represents both individuality and ambition; the first means that Black values the needs of the individual more than anything, and the latter means that Black is the colour that most encourages one to follow his/her dreams (contrary to what media says, ambition is NOT an evil thing; if it was, you might as well not achieve anything you want, because then you're being evil). Hell, even amorality is not strictly evil; the problem is that many confuse it with immorality. The first is merely the absence of morality; it is a lack of concern for the concepts of right and wrong. The latter directly opposes morality; it revels in making the "wrong" choice and being as malevolent as possible. Thus, while some Black characters are immoral, most simply just leave other people with their business. In addition, just because one person belongs to a colour doesn't mean it will follow its philosophy to the core; just like many White characters aren't oppressive extremists and many Blue characters don't sacrifice people in the name of progress, many Black characters are simply selfish and can actually feel sorry for doing some actions. A few pure Black protagonists do exist in MTG, while the staff behind the game identifies likable characters as Bart Simpson and Daffy Duck as pure Black. And the Real World culture most strongly affiliated with Black? The United States of America.

Before we're done with Black, I would like to say that some people erroneously assume sadism is a feature of Black. While some Black characters are sadists, not all are, and sadism is present in other colours, most obvious of all being Red. Even White characters are not immune to sadism, as Akroma clearly shows, and in theory, Green characters should be able to display it well too. The colour least likely for sadism to be present is Blue, because it is the colour that is the least concerned with emotions; even so, that is debatable.

Red is a colour that is easy to understand, but it's also easy to completely miss its point. As the colour of freedom and emotion, it is a very impulsive colour; while certainly capable of thought, it prefers to guide itself by its emotions. Emotions are fundamentally selfish, so Red shares Black's focus on the needs of the individual above all else; hence, why a selfish, brutish villain driven only by his/her needs can easily be pure Red. However, because Red is driven by emotion, it gladly embraces love and friendship; such a character cares about loved ones as much as, if not more, than for him/herself, not to mention that the fact that a Red character is driven by how he/she feels might make a Red individual uncomfortable about doing certain actions. Freedom is what Red wants the most, to do as it wishes without anything between it and what it wants, and as such it tries to destroy barriers to freedom as early as possible, sharing White's policy of "killing first and asking question later". Of course, lack of order will occasionally cause a few conflicts, but being the colour of chaos, Red is fine with that. Red really is a truly neutral colour, being both the colour of war and slaughter and of art and passion, and as such it is as easy to create a Red hero as it is to create a Red villain. Just as easily as there can be a mindless brute, there can be a passionate hero.

Green is occasionally simplified as just caring about the environment, but the truth is has a quite complex philosophy. Standing between Red and White, it shares two fundamental traits from both colours: impulsiveness (Red) and value of the community (White). It is guided by instinct, and as such is probably the colour that least values thinking (although some Green characters can think, they generally prefer to not do so), acting purely on natural impulses. Yet, being the colour of interdependence, it seeks to form a community, caring about the other members of its "pack" or "clan" as much as about itself. And, naturally, nature's well-being is its biggest concern. It is easy to see Green as benevolent: it cares about others and it cares about the surrounding world. Alongside Black, it has little to no interest in spreading its philosophy, and doesn't want to change the status quo; indeed, there are very few pure Green antagonists in MTG. However, like all colours, it has its more sinister side; its insistence in keeping the status quo means it will be opposed to progress no matter what, though in some cases it is justified when it's the survival of wilderness that is at stake. Being driven by instinct means that Green is often irrational, and this, combined with its strength, means that a lot of damage and causalities will occur when it goes on a rampage. And there's also a tendency in Green MTG villains to be elitist - elves being the primary example, as they believe themselves and nature to be superior to everything else. Few people in general are pure Green, since very few human beings are purely driven by instinct, but other aspects of Green philosophy, like the caring for the community and nature as well as keeping the status quo, are very common. However, some animal species, like elephants, embrace Green's philosophy fully.

Thus, every colour's philosophy is naturally neutral, capable of both good and evil. It is very foolish to assume that some colours are entirely good and others entirely evil, though most do restrict the number of moral alignments within them. For instance, White is always Lawful and Red is always Chaotic.

Horror tropes outside of Black

As stated in the creation of Innistrad, the staff of Magic: The Gathering is focusing a lot of their energies into spreading horror outside of the colour most stereotypically associated with it. And they, in fact, suceeded in New Phrexia. While Innistrad will have traditional Black horrors, it also has werewolves, which are traditionally Green. As such, it is time to see the horror tropes that don't require Dark Is Evil.





Magic: the Triang Relations

Each color in M:tG has its allies and enemies. What's not always clear is why the colors ally the way they do. As a guide to helping the average troper understand Magic's particular Faction Calculus (which, Mark Rosewater tells us, is one of the key aspects of its identity), here is a list of each color and how its ideologies shape not only its alliances, but the gameplay features it shares with other colors.


  • BLUE: White and Blue are allies because they both believe in the common good and in creating improvements in the world, Blue through science and White by focusing on the public good. Having said that, White accomplishes this by implementing laws and regulations, whereas Blue uses technology to improve individuals; one offers police officers, the other plastic surgeons. White and Blue tends to have a lot of "answers;" almost any spell you can play, White and Blue can interfere with somehow. Having said that, Blue tends to strike pre-emptively with counterspells whereas White uses Power Nullifiers after the fact. Plus, counterspells are expensive; White's answers are cheaper but, like most Power Nullifiers, can be removed again, or give you something to compensate for your loss if it results in a permanent change.
  • BLACK: White and Black are "enemy colors" not just because of the laws of chromaticism, but because their ideologies are utterly different. White is all about The Needs of the Many, whereas Black believes "It's All About Me" and is willing to destroy anything to get itself ahead. Black believes in protecting its individual ambitions from the world, White in protecting the world from individual ambitions. As such, White doesn't call Black "Selfish Evil"; to White, Selfish is Evil, making the second word largely redundant. In the same vein, Black just calls White "Lawful" because, to Black's way of thinking, Lawful implies Stupid. Long story short, Fettered vs Unfettered. Are you surprised they can't get along?
    • White/Black cards tend to fall into one of three molds: either an out-and-out hypocrite, who pretends to White's piety and selflessness as an act to hide or support its Black core; a person akin to Vito Corleone who is generous and loyal to a certain subgroup but doesn't care about outsiders; or a Knight Templar who is willing to use Black's methods for White's goals - if they have to sell their soul to save their people, that's a worthy trade. Black/White belongs to the Villain with Good Publicity, or believes Utopia Justifies the Means.
      • In Ravnica, the Orzhov Syndicate produced the heroine Teysa Karlov, but has commited many atrocities as well.
      • Likewise, in Innistrad, Sorin Markov's ties of responsibility to the humans of his home bleed him into black/white, and arguably makes him the Big Good of the whole plane.
      • Greed is unambiguously selfish and ambitious, but does have a sense of honour and concern for his "possession".
      • Scrooge McDuck is consistently depicted as selfish but honourable, making him the most iconic examle of a Black/White Disney character ever.
      • Mark Rosewater states Don Corleone, Magneto and Jerry Seinfeld (the character, not the person himself) as prime examples of the white-blue color combination.
  • RED: White opposes Red for similar reasons as it does Black. White understands the strength of putting away its emotions; Red is ruled by nothing else. White thinks Red is Chaotic Selfish, too obsessed with its own pleasure to be trustworthy. For its part, Red sees White as needlessly controlling and doesn't like all the annoying little rules White uses to harsh Red's mellow. White, with its aforementioned specialty in Power Nullifiers, can impose a lot of new rules on players; Red has all the spells that bend the rules (f'ex, "Spell which used to target [X] now targets something else, which you get to choose"). Order Versus Chaos, long story short.
    • White/Red cards tend to be about the middle ground of Red's emotion and White's determination - taking an emotion and harnessing it to a greater cause. The Red/White Boros guild has some prime examples involving martial zeal and loyalty, but other emotions work as well. In short, Red/White is The Kirk to white's Spock and red's McCoy, able to use the strengths of both philosophies. Interestingly, Red/White almost always uses hybrid means for White-like goals, rarely Red-like goals.
      • The Boros Legion in Ravnica is heroic, but very extremistic (to the point that its only a few characters that are "good", and not the whole group) and somewhat hypocrital, as they are willing to break their own rules to impose the law. Meanwhile, the staff classifies V and The Punisher as W/R, both of which being violent anti-heroes.
      • Meanwhile, the Nobilis of War from the Shadowmoor Block and Rohan of the Fomori from the Commander Block use White methods for Red goals; namely, utter and total devotion to war. Both colours are in fact those most confortable with war as a concept; White as a tool for, ironically, peace, and Red for its own amusement.
      • Another good example, the Mirran Resistance in the Scars of Mirrodin block, fueled by both devotion to their cause, and defiance to the ever-increasing Phyrexian influence on the world. This leads to the few surviving uncorrupted mirrans to keep from losing hope of a pure Mirrodin once again by remaining defiant to the new Phyrexian rule reinforced by a staunch belief that even in this state they can reclaim their home. In short, this color combination can create a really stubborn Determinator.
      • An example of the Duality of Red/White is to Compare Alucard and The Major from Hellsing, both are Red/White Charcters but in opposite directions. Alucard uses his Red bloodlust to atains Whites peace of a vampire free England; whereas the Major uses Whites organization to spend 50 years preparing for a Red bloody war.
      • Mark Rosewater listed The Punisher, The A-Team, Worf and V as examples of white-red.
  • GREEN: White and Green are both concerned with community. Green is all about keeping everything strong, but also encourages Social Darwinism, which is why it has a Badass Army and single-target Status Buffs which make individual creatures stronger. In comparison, White cares about the Littlest Cancer Patient; it has a Redshirt Army and use large global buffs to make them all stronger. What with all the pumping, though, white/green tends to have a scary ever-growing army when it's done.
    • The human resistance in Innistrad is a good example. The humans are fighting for survival against the monsters, and where Green has all the general buffs, White has more cards that get stronger with more humans, along with more cards that incapacitate creatures.
    • Sofia Lamb is a good example of a Green/White villain; she helds above everything communitary good, but she also believes strongly in genetic fatalism, believing mankind to be slaves to their genes, a Green belief. She is even more inclined to spirituality than the other Bioshock villain (which is Black), and White/Green is the most spiritual colour.
    • The Body Snatchers in Invasion of the Body Snatchers are, as Mark Rosewater put it, "aliens on a mission". They operate as a collective if not an outright Hive Mind, they're communist allegories, and they look like plants.
    • Friedrich Nietzsche personifies the worst attributes of Green and White in the Last Man, combining Whites emphasis on conformism and lack of any personal ambition with Greens dislike of thinking and creating to create a being devoid of the will or vision to imrpove or stand out.
    • Examples listed by Mark Rosewater include the Ewoks, Oompa Loompas, and Body Snatchers.


  • BLACK: Blue and Black get along well, because they are both The Unfettered. Both of them consider themselves Beyond Good and Evil; Blue sees everything in the world as fair game for use in experiments For Science!, and Black sees everything in the world as fair game for fodder in a Deal with the Devil. Blue and Black share the ability to draw extra cards, but Blue has brute-force knowledge gain where Black has targeted fetch-one-card spells. Also, Black is willing to self-cannibalize to get ahead, which Blue just isn't into; Blue wants progress where Black wants power.
    • Innistrad's zombies are Blue/Black; the Blue zombies are Frankenstein's-monster-type skaab, and they tend to be stronger at the cost of discarding cards or requiring certain cards in the graveyard. Black has the more standard Zombie Apocalypse cards, which tend to be slower but inexorable. Where Blue can pull out 6/9 zombies, Black can get four 2/2s.
    • Serverus Snape is a sympathetic example: he is what you get when you add Blue methods to a Byronic Hero.
      • The Master Control Program from Tron is an example of a Blue-Black villain. It uses blue's emphasis on secrecy to infilitrate various major organizations such as the penatgon to satisfy it's black goals of domination.
  • RED: Blue and Red fall on opposite sides of the Emotions vs. Stoicism spectrum. One's passionate, one's logical; one uses fire, the other uses ice; one's-- Look, do we really need to spell this out? Blue has all the poker-face spells, the ones that win games but only if you have the skill to use them; Red, on the other hand, has all the spells that involve the Random Number God.
    • Red/Blue is a rare color combination (although it certainly happens); when it does, it tends to involve copious amounts of Science! and explosions. Think of Red/Blue as Blue's Madness Place - where the research, creativity, and drive to know go a little overboard and leave behind things like cold pragmatism and stoicism... with the result that its experiments can blow up in its face. (Aperture Science at the height of its creativity is a good example.) It also, somewhat rarely, comes about because Red and Blue are the two colors most likely to have Elemental creatures and pure-elemental effects.
      • The Izzet Guild in Ravnica is mostly Chaotic Neutral, which a few bad and good apples.
      • Actually Blue/Red is very common; it is the main colour combination associated with arts, with Red providing the passion and Blue perfection.
      • Princess Luna is a good example of the artist inherent to this colour mixture, having taken great lengths to make the night aesthetically pleasing, and having quite eccentric tastes. Her main current motivation is Red (making friends and being accepted again), but she uses Blue magic.
      • The best traits of a Red/Blue mixture would be the Ubermensch as talked about by Friedrich Nietzsche , combining Blues desire to innovate and improve with Reds emphasis on emotion as well as indiviuality and self-expression. Perhaps fitting enough, Mark Rosewater considers the Red/Blue mixture to be opposed to the Green/White mixture, something fitting as Nietzsche also essencially contrasts both (see above). Whereas one supports ultimate conformity, the other supports ultimate individuality.
      • Examples listed as blue-red by Mark Rosewater include Doc Brown, Indiana Jones, Fred and Dr. Seuss.
  • GREEN: Blue and Green don't get along because of their attitudes towards the world, and nature in particular. Green believes that Status Quo Is God--"if it ain't broke, don't fix it"—which extends to a belief that Science Is Bad for meddling with Things Man Was Not Meant to Know. Blue, on the other hand, loves the "Everything's Better with Indexes" page and is constantly trying to build a half-monkey half-pony to please you. Blue loves technology, Green hates it: the archetypal artifact- and enchantment-destruction spell, "Disenchant," was permanently moved to Green (as "Naturalize") after The Powers That Be realized it belonged there better. Blue is progressive and wants to improve things, while Green is conservative and doesn't like change. That's all.
    • Blue/Green, like some other hybrids, involves mixing one color's ends and another's means. More often, Blue more or less forcibly subjugates Green - dragging it to greatness whether it wants it or not - although Green sometimes appreciates the potential for power. Green, however, is not alien to the concept of learning and wisdom. (One of the most noteworthy historians in the game, Reki the History of Kamigawa, was Green.) This sort of "natural wisdom" generally manifests as bluish effects on Green cards, but it can cross over into full-on hybrids.
    • Another common blue/green hybrid connects green to blue's small but still-present natural side in the form of water. Selkies and feral water-folk from Shadowmoor, humidity-loving jungle foliage, and natural springs of time-twisting water use green means for blue effects.
    • Dr. Moreau, Dr. Frankenstein, John Hammond (movie version) and Dr. Octopus (also movie version) are listed as blue-green characters by Mark Rosewater.


  • RED: Black and Red get along because neither is afraid to say "It's All About Me," and both love the freedom to do whatever the heck they want. Having said that, they fall on opposite sides of the Enthusiasm vs. Stoicism spectrum, in that Red is Hot-Blooded whereas Black prefers the Xanatos Gambit. It's like the difference between The Spock and The McCoy: both have cards which let you make sacrifices to get ahead, but Red ditches short-term resources (creatures, land) for immediate results, whereas Black sacrifices long-term resources (Hit Points, cards in hand, cards in library) for long-term gain. For Red, crippling yourself is a Desperation Attack; for Black, it's just the beginning. They also share creatures that are powerful, but come with a drawback, with Black's tend to be bigger and to take correspondingly larger chunks out of their owner's thighs.
    • Innistrad's vampies are Black and Red. Generally, the Black ones gain life and are harder to block (or just do direct damage) while the Red ones get stronger.
    • Bayonetta is a heroic example. She is quite self-focused and playful, and overall not very interested in outright heroics (not to mention embracing the whoredom inherent to this colour-mixture), but only sadistic and malicious to the angels (who are White villains, amusingly enough), avoiding most people except her two or three friends.
    • Mark Rosewater also considers Donald Duck to be this. He is consistently selfish and VERY prone to exploding in rage. Likewise, he is depicted as the member of the Disney trio least interested in outright heroism and prone to jealousy, but not consistently malicious unless pissed off.
    • Other black-red coloured examples which have been listed by Mark Rosewater include The Joker, Elaine Benes, Spike (initially listed as white-black) and Anakin Skywalker.
  • GREEN: a color that embodies the Nature Hero versus a color that embodies the Eldritch Abomination. Are you not seeing the Conflict Ball? To be specific, Green protects the cycle of life and death, while Black disrupts it for its own gain. Both have the ability to bring creatures back from the graveyard, but Green creatures are often whole and hearty, whereas Black ones Came Back Wrong (or at least weakened in some way). Green may also have the ability to sacrifice one creature to grab another, but Black will generally sacrifice its creatures to power something else entirely.
    • The essential identity of Green/Black is quite nicely summed up by the text of "Golgari Signet" - either Green/Black cards are hideous abominations, natural things infested and warped by unholy energies, or they are aware of the balance of life and death, the cruelty of instinct and the value of deviousness, and are Above Good and Evil. And, as the text suggests, which is which largely depends on who's talking.
      • Notably, Ravnica's Golgari Swarm is one of the few Black guilds to produce a hero - and a damn caring one at that.
      • As someone who identifies strongly with Black/Green, I'd like to chime in here. This intersection of colors is the fullness of the cycle of nature and all of it's complexities. It embodies both life and death, all living things die, but from that death new life comes. It also embraces the entirety of nature...not simply strong beasts, but the worms, the parasites, the bacteria, the mold and fungus. Every form of life is accepted by Black/Green. And for the treatment/consideration of others... Black cares for the self, Green cares for the group. Black/Green cares for both...Black/Green doesn't think about "Me" and "My team": It thinks about "Me and my team." It does what's good for itself and for it's Nakama, it betters itself, but tries to do that in ways that help it's allies. Another bit of harmony between black/green is that it doesn't waste anything. Black sees everything as a resource, and so everything can be used. With Green mixed in, everything can be used then re-used. A creature can be played, then sacrificed, then recovered, only to be played and even sacrificed again, only to be recovered again later. The other half of Soylent Green is Black.
      • Mark Rosewater's listed examples for black-green are Poison Ivy, Venom and the villain from Twelve Monkeys.


  • GREEN: Both Red and Green embody the idea of "Don't Think, Feel", and as such they get along quite well. Both colors are Hot-Blooded in different ways and share the highest damage potentials in the game: Green through its Badass Army, and Red by Playing with Fire. Of course, Red runs off of passion and emotion where Green listens to its instincts. Finally, Green (though it prefers to remain True Neutral and maintain the balance) does nonetheless have an altruistic streak, which Red (easy-going to the core) just doesn't get.
    • Innistrad's werewolves are Red/Green. Although both colors have similar effects, the Red werewolves are almost exclusively humans from the city, while many of the Green ones are pagans, hunters, and people closer to nature.
    • Mark Rosewater considers The Hulk, Animal, Tinkerbell and Cosmo Kramer to be prime examples of red-green characters.