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Guide to Every Combination Name in Magic: the Gathering



Magic: the Gathering is one of those games that is just littered with terminology. Some of the most important are those we use to describe our decks. Whether you are a fresh or seasoned player, I'm sure you've heard things like Esper control, Boros aggro or Abzan mid-range. But with the game being as old as it is there are many players who don't even know where these shorthand names came from. I've been playing for nearly 7 years now and even though that sounds like a decent amount of time, it turns out all of these names predate my own story with this game. So in this article I will take you on a journey through Magic's history to uncover the names and origins of each color combination, and let you in on all the interesting facts I found along the way. The best place to start would be at the beginning with the birth of multi-color cards.


History of Multi-Color Cards


Nicol Bolas

The concept that a given card could be made up of more than one source of Mana wouldn't be a thing until Magic's third set Legends, and was the brainchild of Steve Conard and Robin Herbert, who actually designed much of the set before the Game was even release, as they were so enamored by Richard Garfield's initial design.


These multi-color cards would come in both two and three color, and you might be in the right to assume that this is where the story would end, surely all the names for each color combination would be defined in the first set that introduced them, but this was still early in Magics turbulent history, and as such naming combinations of colors wasn't really a thing. The reason for this was simple really, as there was no consistent name shared among any of the combinations. As for any given color combination introduced in Legends there were multiple characters assigned to them, so nothing really stuck.


Which brings me to the key concept to keep in mind when it comes to the names we use for color combinations, that is for a combination name to work it must express a group or faction and not an individual. Now 4 and 5 color combination names would break this trend but let's put a pin in that and save it for later. Multi-color sets would pop up from time to time, with the invasion Block being the most notable.



In this block the idea was that the 5 colors would band together to stand against Yawgmoth's invasion, resulting in colors coming together to form multi-color cards, and while there were cycles of all sorts that aimed to bring the color pie front and center there still was no unified vision, and I would be hesitant to call this a color pie first set, but rather an experiment on how to design around multi-color cards. In the end the naming conventions for color combinations wouldn't really begin until the release of Ravnica, Magic's cornerstone Plane.


Color Pairs



Ravnica holds a special place in my heart because it was the first set to really put the color pie first in its design of the Plane and its resulting cards. Giving us the sort of faction or guild model that is used heavily to this day in sets like Phyrexia all will be one, Strixhaven or New Capenna. And while some of these focused on mono, dual or tri color, this idea that the world should be built around factions focused on combinations of the color pie would begin here, by providing us with 10 distinct factions, in the guilds that make up this Plane, all of which helped define the philosophies of each color pair and set in stone this idea of providing naming conventions for their given combinations.


Those guilds, and subsequently the color pair names we use because of them, are. Selesnya, Orzhov, Boros, Azorius, Dimir, Rakdos, Golgari, Izzet, Simic, and Gruul. Considering that this initial block itself came out in 2005 and that Magic: the Gathering is an ever evolving game there is a good argument to be made that the names itself should evolve with it as well. For instance the enemy color pairs were most recently re-defined in the set Strixhaven, with its five schools. Those being Silverquill, Lorehold, Prismari, Witherbloom and Qandrix.



And while you can be that contrarian at your LGS, the truth is most people don't use these names. Why is this, well I think its really as simple as Ravnica just being the first. Don't get me wrong, I do really liked what Strixhaven did for enemy pairs, but the idea that we should rework our definitions around every color pie first set, only leads to confusion. So if Ravnica was the first to provide names and definitions for pairs, what was the first instance of three color combination names?


Shards



2 years after the end of the first Ravnica Block we would be given another great color pie first set in the set Shards of Alaraa from 2008. What's interesting is that not only would this block give us names for 5 of the 3 color combinations, it would also provide a naming convention for this grouping of combinations as well, in Shards. Shards represent a cluster of 3 colors, all of which have one of Magic's 5 colors at it center, and its two allies to the left and right of it. So for instance the Esper shard has Blue at its center and is made up of Blue's two allies, those being White and Black. As such there are 5 total Shards: Bant, Jund, Grixis, Esper and Naya.


Each of these names would come from Alraa's unique composition, in that it was a Plane made up of 5 mini Planes. As it was once a single world that had been shattered in the sundering. Each of these five mini Planes would consist of only 3 colors of mana, unlike every other world in the multiverse, which consist of all 5 colors. Bant being a Plane where there is no Red or Black mana, Esper being that of one devoid of Red of Green, Jund having no White or Blue, and so on.


Once again this block would, not only put in a lot of work in defining the names, but the core themes and philosophies of these combinations as well. Something which I believe is always a feature of a color pie first set, especially in the early years. Now with Shards defined and given proper names there was still 5 other potential combinations of three colors missing, but we would have to wait until 2014 to get them.


Wedges



In the first set of the Tarkir Block, Khans of Tarkir, we would be introduced a Plane that formed in a timeline where the Dragons that once ruled were no more and the rest of the races formed 5 distinct factions each based around 3 colors coming together. These five factions would provide us with the names for the Wedge combinations. But why do we even call this type of combination wedges in the first place, shouldn't it be like Alaraa and its shards, conversely calling this form of combinations Khans or clans?


Well not in this case, instead it seems like players gravitated more to how the shape of the combinations formed on the color pie, creating a sort of Wedge or triangle shape when you draw a line across each part. This wedge shape is formed because each of these combinations are built around one of the five colors and its 2 enemies, those 2 colors that sit across from it on the color pie.



So for instance if Green was the main color, the wedge would be made up of Green, Black and Blue. These 5 wedges are Abzan, Temur, Jeskai, Mardu, and Sultai. Similarly to how we saw a redefinition in Strixhaven and pairs, these wedges would also be re-imagined in the later set Ikoria, so if you want to switch things around you could use the names of each of 5 triomes from that set, which in itself could be another name for wedges, those combination names would be Indatha, Ketria, Zagoth, Raugrin, and Savai.


Now, with all of the 2 and 3 colors combinations covered, it's time we talk about the 4 color combinations. For that we will actually have to take a step back in time and return to the original Ravnica block.


Nephilim



This is where things start to get a bit more obscure, and every rule I mentioned about conventions gets thrown out the window, where we would be getting pretty deep into an iceberg if I formulated it in that way with a naming convention that even more seasoned players rarely bust out. As the names for the four color combinations would not come from any factions but rather from a cycle of Nephilim creatures, which coincidentally is the name used to describe these four color combinations.


Those combination names are Glint, Dune, Ink, Witch and Yore. Truthfully of all the combination I have spoken about these are the names that many players, at least newer ones, may not have even heard of. This cycle of cards all come from the Plane of Ravnica, and were the first instance of Magic using 4 color combination cards in this game, which is odd because 5 color was introduced in the game as early as 1998 with Sliver queen in stronghold.


What's more is that the four color combination is the least used set of color combinations in this game, also falling behind 5 color in this regard. Unlike with the other combinations I have mentioned we have not gotten any factions within these sets of colors that can provide us with a better naming convention and I doubt we ever will, as 4 color is just the sort of combination that only makes its way into sets randomly like with Atraxa, or Aragorn, so I have a feeling the Nephilim will forever be the names of the four color combinations long into the future of this game.


WUBRG



This leaves us with one final combination of colors and that is, well the whole color pie, or 5 color which runs the gambit, with names like Rainbow, Domain, 5 color or most commonly WUBRG spelled W-U-B-R-G. It's an odd way to go about it, but I doubt it could be anything less than rattling off the first letter of each color, because you cannot form a pattern or convention when there is no cycle to base it off of. Thus the name WUBRG. But you may be asking where the hell does the U come from.


Well early on R&D used single letters for short hand to describe the many card types and cards parts in the game, and this put Black and Blue at odds, so one of them had to change because they could not both use B. L was already taken by land, so neither could fall back to that, and A was used by artifacts, so that meant B, L and A had conflicts with one another. Considering Black would have to use its fourth letter in K since C meant creature, then it was up to Blue to change, dropping the B and the L and leaving us With U.


It's a funny little quirk, but when you lay it out like that it makes sense in a sort of matter of fact way, which in many ways reflects this combinations naming convention, there is not history or deep story, its just every color laid out in the order we see it on the back of a Magic card.


Conclusion



The shorthand we use to describe color combinations is an interesting thing, as each name we use comes with it a bit of history. Even though no name is set in stone, players have none the less gravitated to the first factions who helped define those combinations, and they are a good way of describing something at a glance, but understandably they can detract from the essence of a color combination because we then assume that the originator of that combination is the true face of it. Think of Boros versus Lorehold. Both describe the same set of colors and yet they come with their own assumptions as far as philosophy and themes. So in that way combination names can be handy in deck building but detrimental to deeper discussions, but hey that is a conversation for another day.


Well I hope you enjoyed this look into the combination names of Magic: the Gathering. Let me know in the comments if you are one of those contrarians who use a lesser known combination name and what that name is, the more obscure the better. If you liked this article then consider becoming a site member that way you can be notified when the next article goes live, and if you still want more then check me out in one of the links below. With that friends, I will catch you in the multiverse, bye!


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