Duality in Magic - White-Black (Orzhov)
Updated: Apr 6, 2021
At its core, Magic: the Gathering is a game that centers around five colors, and it is those five colors that give the spells we play meaning beyond their function. But what happens when the designers combine those colors? How does it affect any given plane, and what does it tell us about the many dual-color characters and factions of Magic? In the "Duality in Magic" series, I intend to take a look at each of the color combinations of Magic and discover what happens when colors collide. In this episode, I will be combining the 2 most iconic enemies of magic, White and Black. Alone, they are two drastically different sides of a coin, but when brought together, they become something else entirely: a force of pragmatism. One that uses law and order to its advantage. So sit down, get comfortable and join me as we combine the most iconic enemies of Magic: White and Black.
To best understand how the colors of Magic act when you combine them, we should first discuss what the primary ideals and motivations of each of the colors are. If you want a more in-depth analysis of each color on its own, you might want to take a look at my videos on the mono-color philosophies. First, let's begin with Black. To put it simply, Black sees the world for what it is: A dog-eat-dog world where only those willing to take what they will get anywhere in life. To this end, Black seeks total power: power in itself, and power over others.
In this pursuit, one can never be bogged down by morality or relationships. You must always be willing to do whatever it takes to further your ambitions.
When it comes to White, what you have is the flipside of the coin. They believe we are only as strong as our weakest link, and we must always be willing to help our fellow man. White wants to create a world that is better for everyone, and believes that the only way to achieve this is to abide by strict morality and laws. White wants to see a world where no one suffers and peace is not just an ideal but a way of life. So now that we have established that, what happens when these colors are combined? For one, we must take into consideration the primary aspect of each color: Black is a selfish color, while White is selfless in nature.
Black desires power while White looks to create equality. Black is amoral, but on the other hand, White writes morality into law. So, as you can imagine, no one group or character can be all of these things; it would be a mess. Instead, what we get is often dependent on the plane the characters or factions are from. The designers grab certain aspects from each of the two opposing colors to create something new.
For example, what happens when you bring Black-White to Ravnica? Well, we get the Orzhov Syndicate, which is a small group that looks out for itself. It doesn't want society to succeed, but rather its peers.
This manifests itself into a criminal, religious, and zealous organization. Black-White creates a strong bond between those it calls its kin, and has no love for that outside of it.
It creates a group that upholds laws that benefit those in power, yet crushes those below them. Often people desire structure and peace; this version of White-Black sees this as an opportunity. It promises these things all the while strengthening their hierarchy and solidifying their power. Black-White believes that power can be gained and maintained better in the courts than on the battlefield. They use religion and debt to ensure power over others, through life and in death.
Now, this version of Black-White isn't the whole picture. It's just what happens when you combine the structure of White with the power-hungry nature of Black. You see, there is no one way to design a multicolored character or faction in Magic.
I think the Black-White vampires of Magic best represent a different aspect of this color combination. On many worlds, these vampires represent the duality of Black-White. They stand on the precipice of life and death. They blur the line as to what is right and wrong and see a world that is gray. Often when we see Black-white vampires, they are knights or clerics; they are power and darkness tempered by law and order. They have no qualms with death and dish out their justice with a heavy hand, but don't kill for the sake of it. For me, this is the most fascinating side of Black-White: the ying, and yang... the duality of existence.
The other facet of Black-White is shown in the abundance of spirits -- not the undead, but rather the souls of those lost. This encapsulates their relationship with death, not as a loss of something but rather a transition. On Ravnica, spirits are an extension of the person and tied to their deeds and debts in life. On Theros, spirits move from one realm to another to be judged accordingly, shipped there by the Black-White ferryman Athreos.
Black sees the dead as nothing more than a commodity.
White, meanwhile, sees a soul to be respected, and it's when these colors come together that we get spirits, a haunting bridge between life and death given form.
In the end, what makes a character or group multicolored is more complex than simply meeting in the middle. For Black-White, it's bridging the gap between life and death, it's abusing laws for the gain of your kin, or it's the duality of existence. Bringing colors together is pulling more or less from each side; it's twisting aspects of the other to fit within a new framework. With this idea in mind, it's not impossible to create versions of Black-White that suit any plane. It's up to your imagination and that of the designers to see how far this concept can be stretched without losing its meaning. As we move on with this series, we will see how each color, when combined with another, can create something completely new.
[Edited by Cameron Davis]