Magic The Gathering Color Philosophy Explained What Do The Five Colors Represent

Magic The Gathering Color Philosophy Explained: What Do The Five Colors Represent?

Knowing what each color represents can really improve your understanding of the game.

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Magic The Gathering Color Philosophy Explained What Do The Five Colors Represent

Magic The Gathering’s defining feature is the five colors at the center of the game: white, blue, black, red, and green. Almost every card is split between these five colors, and each has their own mechanics and philosophy behind them.

Magic’s color themes impact a lot more than just the art or style of a card, and knowing how what each of the colors represents can massively help your deckbuilding. It can also help with understanding your opponent’s strategies; after all, a mono-blue player isn’t likely to be running a lifegain-focused deck.

This guide looks at the five basic colors of Magic in isolation from each other. While they do sometimes mingle and bleed into each other, each have their own very important roles to play in Magic’s design.


Magic The Gathering Color Philosophy Explained What Do The Five Colors Represent

White cards seek “peace through structure”. The color of morality, order, and hierarchy, white cards often depict how creatures come together, whether that be in communities, religions, or even militaries. Protecting and serving the ‘common good’ is white’s biggest goal, and it does this mechanically through effects like lifegain, protection, and phasing.

However, it’s important not to mistake white’s morality as being inherently good. White cares about the group, not the individual, which is why it’s one of the best colors at producing numerous, small, disposable creature tokens. When taken to the extreme, white can even become fanatical or downright fascist in its approach; it’s the color of removal, with lots of powerful exiling spells and board wipes in its arsenal.

White is also the color of ‘rules setting’, and attempts to limit how much other colors can flex with the ‘fairness’ of a game. For example, taxing effects like Smothering Tithe and Monologue Tax are white, and it tends to limit its own card draw capabilities to ways that benefit other players too, such as Secret Rendezvous.


Magic The Gathering Color Philosophy Explained What Do The Five Colors Represent

Blue is all about “perfection through knowledge”. It’s not good or bad, lawful or chaotic, blue seeks to gain more knowledge in any way it can.

As opposed to red’s impulsive, rebellious approach to the rules, blue simply doesn’t consider limitations or rules a concern if they’re getting in the way of a bigger, grander goal. This is why blue is the main color for card draw – gaining more cards, more understanding, and more options with little drawback is an incredibly powerful ability that is core to blue’s identity.

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Like white, blue is very sure in how it wants the world. Unlike white, though, a blue player is more about bending the world to their own design, rather than conforming to what is strictly ‘fair’. Whether it be counter spells, changing or bouncing other players’ permanents, or even just forcing opponents to ‘forget’ all they know by discarding their entire deck, blue challenges white’s rigidity by an on-the-fly, very fluid approach to board management.

Though blue is concerned with knowledge and perfection, that doesn’t always have to necessarily mean in an academic sense. For example, the planeswalker Niko Aris is based in blue because they have spent so long pursuing athletic perfection.

You also tend to find a lot of sea creatures in this color. Though it’s mainly a way to ensure blue has a few big creatures of its own, there is also a metaphorical aspect to it, as the ocean in Magic often represents the unknowable and unattainable – something blue would care about very much.


Magic The Gathering Color Philosophy Explained What Do The Five Colors Represent

Power at any cost is black’s core theme. Opportunistic and self-serving, its main concern is “power through ruthlessness”.

Black is the color most likely to make sacrifices to get the upper hand. Most commonly this is through either sacrificing their own creatures (such as with a Viscera Seer to scry), or using their own life with cards like Vampiric Tutor. In exchange for these downsides, black is a bit more flexible than most other colors, being able to do a bit of everything, as long as it’s willing to pay the price.

Black can sometimes be spiteful, too. Other people having strength is a direct threat to black, and so it is the best color for destroying other players’ creatures or forcing them to discard cards.

Because black is so obsessed with gaining its own power, it struggles with anything it can’t manipulate or corrupt. Artifacts and enchantments are a big, big weak point for the color, as their lifeless, insentient natures protect them from black’s schemes. On the other than, it is an excellent color for killing creatures, and has lots of board wipes and removal effects to deal with anything living.

Like white, it’s important not to confuse black with being evil. While it is self-serving and ruthless, the goals it pursues don’t have to be malicious. Liberty and freedom to act however you like is core to black’s identity, whether that comes out as a tyrannical demon fuelled by war like Ob Nixalis, or a vampire who is protective of his home, like Sorin Markov.

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Magic The Gathering Color Philosophy Explained What Do The Five Colors Represent

Red is impulsive and emotional. The color of passion, frivolity, and chaos, it’s the color most focused on “freedom through action”.

While red is happy to burn itself for a leg up, like black, it’s much more in the moment, and very rarely looks ahead further than a single turn. It wants to experience all the things, and it wants to experience them now. This is best shown in red’s impulsive draw mechanics, which makes extra cards available to you, but only for a limited amount of time, and in rummaging and looting effects, which both force you to discard a card and draw a card.

Red is fine with making smaller amounts of progress if it can do them quickly. It likes direct-damage burn spells like Shock or Lightning Bolt, and has lots of cheaper creatures with haste who can start swinging as soon as they’re cast. It’s also more recently become a color that really enjoys making single-use mana artifacts, like Treasure or Gold tokens.

Though quick, red has a tendency to run out of steam even quicker. If an opponent isn’t defeated in the first few turns of a game, it can struggle to keep the pressure up in the long term. Its passion can also massively backfire on them, with lots of red cards focused on chaotic, random-chance outcomes, such as Chaos Warp or Warp World shaking up the game beyond what any player could reasonably predict.

That doesn’t mean red can’t have some big, late-game plays, though. Red’s most well-known creature type are the dragons, who are expensive and volatile, but can also deal massive amounts of damage. A great example is the Scourge of the Throne, a dragon that gives an additional combat phase when it deals damage to the player with most life. It’s one of a number of red cards that grant a player extra combat phases, to ensure their creatures can swing and attack as much as possible.


Magic The Gathering Color Philosophy Explained What Do The Five Colors Represent

Growth, strength, and sturdiness are all central to green’s identity. Defined as “growth through acceptance”, it’s a color that likes to make slower, but more stable improvements over black or red’s fast and costly advantages.

As you’d expect, green is the color of nature, and can pull lands out of a deck better than any other. All the best ramp spells in the game are green: Cultivate, Rampant Growth, and Migration Path among them. It can deal with unnatural artifacts and enchantments incredibly well, through cards like Return to Nature or Reclamation Sage.

Like white, green cares about community, though green’s ideal is more based on the natural order of things than any organized society. It’s great at producing creature tokens, and is also defined by its larger, ‘stompier’ creatures. +1/+1 counters are also a core theme of green, as they represent the constant growth of nature.

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In combat, trample is central to green, letting those big creatures ignore any petty defenses an opponent might put up. Nature is nurturing and communal, but it’s also uncaring in the face of anything that tries to stand in its way.

A downside to green is that it is a very narrow-minded approach. Nature is seen as the perfect system, and so it has little time for anything that isn’t raising creatures and smashing them against an opponent. That means it is incredibly vulnerable if anything stops the game plan, like a board wipe or an even bigger creature standing in its way.

What About Colourless?

Sometimes treated by players as Magic’s sixth color, colorless doesn’t have an identity or philosophy in the same way white, blue, black, red, and green do. However, it does have something of a theme. Colorless cards tend to reflect one of three things: the artificial, the unknowable, and the underdeveloped.

Colorless artifacts are incredibly common. These inventions, contraptions, and tools can slot into most decks without issue, as tools are only as good as the person using them. Artifact tokens, such as treasures, food, gold, or clue tokens, are colorless as well, as they’re simply objects found in the game’s world. Artificial beings, like the Planeswalker Karn, are based in colorless mana too, though may be able to develop into one of the other five colors at a later time.

Creatures outside of our understanding are often represented as being colorless. The Eldrazi, which exist outside of the Magic multiverse and are the closest parallel the game has to Cthulhu, are all colorless. The block of sets they most appeared, Battle for Zendikar, even had a colorless-matters theme and introduced Wastes, a colorless basic land. You could also put the colorless dragon planeswalker Ugin into this category, as he is an immensely powerful and inscrutable being of untold power.

Finally, a more recent development is to use colorless cards to represent those who haven’t yet developed into one of the other colors. In Ravnica, the guildless (those who don’t belong to one of the ten-color guilds) have Guildless Commons, a land that produces two colorless mana. In Strixhaven: School of Mages, students don’t decide on which of the five two-colored colleges they want to join until their second year, after they’ve completed a series of lessons represented through colorless sorcery cards.

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