Magic: the Flavoring
When it comes to Magic: the Gathering, something I’ve noticed is the focus on its mechanical nature rather than it’s flavorful one. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the fun of Magic: the Gathering is in the card interaction, the depth of play, and the synergy one can discover in its immense list of cards.
However, these aspects come to be appreciated through time, effort, and love being put into this truly larger-than-life game. More often than not, these features of Magic: the Gathering aren’t the initial pull of the game to a newer player. Sure sure–there are those who definitely seek out this type of game, and would love to be presented these parts of Magic: the Gathering first, but for the average person these in-depth and jargon-infused descriptions of any game rarely catch one’s attention.
I am here to help you better explain the flavor that so juicily oozes from the game that is Magic: the Gathering, so that the person you are explaining the game to can better understand what the game truly entails. Maybe you are an employee of Board Game Barrister, and you would like to articulate the game better to a curious customer; or perhaps you are an avid player, and would like to have a good way to explain the game to your friends, so you can share your obsession with them; or you might have just stumbled across this post and have always been interested in the game, but never knew where to start. No matter who you are, or for what reason you are reading, allow me to express the true flavor of Magic.
The 5 Colors
Magic: the Gathering’s best and most unique quality is the 5 colors of Magic. There is more than one reason this aspect is so key to Magic’s success, as well as reasons for it’s ingenious inception in the first place. Key among these is the balance and symmetry that comes with choosing the number 5. By having 5 colors, each individual color has two ally colors (the colors next to each other in the color wheel) and two enemy colors (the colors opposite each other in the color wheel).
(Caption for picture on right: “The color wheel is visible on every Magic card back.”)
Each color has its own identity and way of doing things. This is shown in both the mechanics and the flavor of the game. Colors that agree with each other more often than not are ally colors, and those that usually disagree are enemy colors. However, what’s really cool is how these colors interact with each other; every color agrees and disagrees with each other color on the wheel in at least a few aspects. Even White and Black can agree on some ideas and methods for achieving victory, as does Blue and Red relationship, which represents the classic dichotomy of Ice and Fire respectively.
In addition to this, no color should be seen as one-dimensional. As I often say to my friends as a reminder when it comes to talking about the colors, “it isn’t what you do, but how you do it”. This ideology is important, because all colors can be either good or evil in their own unique way. With that intro out of the way, here are some flavorful overviews for each of the 5 colors.
White is the color of organization and structure. It is rigid and unflinching, stalwart and set in its ways. White is the color of civilization; the ideas of community, armies, and governments are most associated with this color. White likes things to be done correctly, and “correct” is usually exactly whatever White thinks should be done. White is the sense of justice in the world, and will try to fight for the little guy. Even so, White still believes that the whole is greater than the parts, that the group trumps individual needs and wants. This can cause White to be aloof, self-righteous, and more concerned with maintaining order through unforgiving, unfeeling, divine judgement rather than truly helping others. This is why Angels are the mascot of White, representing the inscrutable and powerful force of protecting others.
White is at its best when it is caring for the weak, guarding the meek, and defending against injustice to create true equity through order and deliberate due process.
White is at its worst when it becomes preoccupied with its own ideology, becoming blind to other ideas, rigid and set in its ways, unfeeling towards others, and un-open to change.
Blue is the color of the mind and knowledge. It is fluid and dynamic, isolated and hyper-analytical, picking apart everything it comes into contact with. Blue is the color of information; whether it’s expanding one’s own stockpile of info, disrupting someone else’s, or using illusions to obscure both, Blue loves to toy with the options given to it. Blue is about choice and the potential that exists in every situation and problem. Blue tinkers with the world around it, loving the modularity of both the physical and magical. However, this love for tinkering can easily become consuming; Blue can lock itself away, forgetting the outside world to focus solely on whatever obsession it has chosen to envelop itself in. To match this equal parts intellect and confusion, the Sphinx is Blue’s mascot, representing a labyrinthine mind filled with riddles.
Blue’s creatures are the intuitive artificer, magical illusions made real, and the wise wizard.
Blue is at its best when it is being thought provoking, testing the boundaries, asking the right questions, and helping others to formulate the best plans and create astounding projects.
Blue is at its worst when it cuts itself off from the world with paranoia and anxiety, distrusting the world and itself, not knowing what is real or not real, or existing only as a copy of the real.
Black is the color of power and being able to do whatever one wants. It is demanding and strong, focused on the task at hand to get its way. Black is the color of being able to do as they please; selfishly using whatever resources and abilities are at its disposal, Black doesn’t care about the rules or limits that are placed upon it, and in fact enjoys trampling such laughable constraints. Black is all about allowing anything to happen, so long as the right price is paid. However, this quest for power and notereity can cause Black to be foolish and become a servant to its own whims and will, or even to a more tyrannical force. Black is the source of power and domination over others, and as such, Demons are Black’s mascot, representing both the power of a Demon’s bargain, but also those who become trapped by such a force.
Black is at its best when it is driven and self-confident, pushing forward at any cost, and devotes itself to a worthwhile cause to put its strength and need for power to good use.
Black is at its worst when it is tyrannical and overbearing, controlling others for its own gain, to become the classic villain trope, or becoming a slave or subordinate to said villain.
Red is the color of passion and emotions. It is intensity, pure and simple. Red is the color of feeling strongly about what matters most, and being unrelenting in that feeling. Red is honest and obvious, wearing its heart on its sleeve; for better or worse, Red refuses to hide its intentions, to pretend to be anything else, or ignore who they really are inside. Red loves strongly and hates stronger, which can cause Red to be grudging, as well as gullible. Red wants to believe in something true, to use their individuality to really express their wants and needs and show that they align with this thing they believe in. Red is all about the highs, prone to gambling and risk-taking. Red will bet it all for a win, for a chance at victory. This reckless destruction is why Dragons are Red’s mascot, representing hunger of all consuming flame, and power to back it up.
Red is at its best when it is defiant and strong, charging down enemies and not standing for tricks or tribulations, but still keeping itself in check so it doesn’t burn the whole world down.
Red is at its worst when it is out of control, rebellious for rebellions sake, and refuses to restrain itself, becoming a dangerous ticking time-bomb to itself, and everyone around it.
Green is the color of the wilds and all the creatures that exist within them. It is bountiful and giving, it as-matter-of-fact about life and the way things are. Green is about the connection between all things in life; it is every creature in each niche in every ecosystem. Green is laid-back and understanding. Nature is a perpetual, constant thing, and Green exudes these very same traits. Green likes to continue to build on what already exists, honoring the past and refusing to change it. This causes green to sometimes be distant, or far too passive. It will just let things be, rather than take the time to change things, or put in the effort to try something off the beaten-path. Green abides by the laws of nature, and nothing else, concerned only with the survival of the fittest, which is why the Hydra is Green’s mascot, representing unstoppable growth and strength.
Green’s creatures are the intune druid, elementals made of nature, and the village farmer.
Green is at its best when it is amiable and kind, helping others to be a supportive heart of the group, and using its abilities to lift others up and make them stronger, better people.
Green is at its worst when it is uncaring, frivolous, and ungrounded, living a life only concerned with being the best survivor, whether that is a resilient hermit, or an indiscriminate killer.
More Than a “Drop” of Sci-fi
The last piece of flavor I will impart to you is that there is more Sci-fi in Magic: the Gathering than one would initially think. The setting actually takes place on many different worlds, each with its own rules and style, and each is on an entirely different plane of existence. Planeswalkers (literally walkers of the planes), which is the role one takes when playing Magic: the Gathering, is a sentient being that has the ability to cross the Blind Eternities, the space between planes, and go to other worlds. Not only this, but there is also a multitude of machinery and robots that exist in Magic: the Gathering, both magically made or physically constructed. This element isn’t as prevalent or key to the flavor of Magic: the Gathering as the five colors, but if someone is intrigued, this can be the right hook to catch someone’s attention.
With that, I have taught you the basics of Magic: the Gathering’s flavor. Now you can go into the world knowing that much more about the world’s original, best, and most successful Trading Card Game!