How Heroes are Made in Magic: the Gathering
In Magic the Gathering there are many heroic characters, spanning the entire spectrum of motivations, all a different shade of what it means to be a hero, and if we boil down each of these heroic characters into their simplest forms, that of the colors that define them, we would begin to find patterns and learn that perhaps the color pie has a deeper effect on creating heroes than you might think. So what are these patterns and how can we use them to better understand the characters of the multiverse, or use these patterns to create heroes of our own. In this article I will expand on what it means to be a hero in each of the five colors of the color pie, and how there is more behind it than simply finding heroic traits within a color. In fact the system can be broken down into three parts. Alright with that let's dig into what this system is and how it creates heroes.
As I said there are three main factors that go into building a hero of the multiverse, when using the color pie as our framework. The first and most important step is defining its motivations, then there is understanding its methods and finally, setting its limitations. Once you break a character down into these three parts you will have a truer understanding of what makes a hero. First let's discuss the heroes motivations, as it's a matter of uncovering the core of what drives the character's actions?
For this we will actually look to the enemy colors of a character and what forms of evil it may represent. Often times a hero is, by its definition, a contrast to that which it combats, so in the case of a white aligned hero their enemy pairing would be Black and Red. The distinction should be made though, that this is based on a rejection of those ideal but does not mean it's pitted directly against those set of colors. It's a nuanced way to understand how a color is effected by its relationship to other colors, in this case its heroic traits are the opposite of its enemy pairs evil traits. We will dig into what this means further once we dive into each color.
The next factor is understanding its methods, what is it at the characters disposal, in regards to its personality, that it uses to achieve its goals. This will require us to ask a direct question of each color, aiming to utilize its defining traits. Finally is setting its limitations, this is a little more nuanced but very important. You see the only real difference between a hero and a villain is the limitations a hero puts on themselves, it is the understanding that if they push their ideals to far they will become a villain themselves.
This may seem odd to hear, but the sympathetic villain often times has noble intentions, it's just their methods that cross the line. To set a heroes limitations we must look once again to the color of the character and understand where it can be pushed to far. With this framework set up we can now start going through the color pie starting as we always do with White.
White aligned heroes are often portrayed as being some of the purest representations of heroism in magic the gathering, a true shining beacon of light, and when it comes down to it they are often what first comes to mind when we envision a hero. They are selfless, brave and willing to do what it takes to bring peace to the multiverse. This is something we don't question at this point, it's white that's just how the color is, right? Well no it's not that simple, and to truly understand what shapes them we must dig deeper and ask why at every step. To start let us understand its driving motivations, something bred of the resistance to the enemy pair of this color. In the case of White it's enemy pair is Red, black or Rakdos.
This pair when pushed to evil is one who leans fully into vile chaos and relentless consumption or destruction. A pair that simply wishes to see the world burn at its hand. No extra motives, no real plan, just the simple desire to exert itself upon a world and see it suffer for its own pleasure. In many ways the dark side of Rakdos could be called the purest form of evil, and perhaps this is why we see white as the purest form of hero. In this way a white aligned hero upholds the traits furthest from such ideals, that of order and peace. Often times such a hero may have fallen victim to such a force and put it upon themselves to never allow someone else to endure the same suffering. This creates a hero who wishes to bring order and peace to a world filled with sorrow and misery, one who is driven to stamp out those forces that bring about nothing but pain. The next piece of the pattern is understanding what core traits the White aligned hero leverages to achieve such a goal.
You see this hero is best defined by two core concepts and that is self sacrifice and discipline. The White aligned hero does not see themselves as more important than others, simply the only person for the job. White is often a color who views all of equal value and because of this putting ones self on the line to help others is a common trait. They are all to willing to put themselves in danger to help others, sometimes to a fault. This idea is really what we think of when we imagine a hero and perhaps that is why White is the one color that comes to mind first when discussing what a hero is. Now the final piece in understand a hero is setting it's limitations, for as I said, any virtue pushed to far can lead to villainy if boundaries are not set.
A white aligned hero must understand that they have a duty to others but not a right to define how others should live their life. What I mean is that the distinction of what is chaotic or vile can be narrowed so far that even the simplest action could be said to push against order and virtue. You see the hero cannot stamp out all human deeds that it disagrees with, otherwise it threatens to become an authoritarian force who defines the mortality of others, crushing any who disagree. In this way it is best for this kind of hero to combat the furthest extremes, those who truly bring undeniable evil to this world. To sum up this hero I would say this, the white aligned hero is one who stamps out chaos and suffering through self sacrifice, but must not enforce its own ideals onto others.
The hero in Blue is not always so readily apparent, in that their heroic deeds are a little more subtle than that of the White aligned hero, and yet their place as a hero is vital. This kind of heroic character will always be looking for the most efficient resolution to a problem, which at times can conflict with more direct characters, yet their abilities are invaluable to a team. Truly the only way to understand where this comes from is to apply our pattern, starting with the enemy pair that it wishes to combat, or in this case, understand. The evil of Red Green, or Gruul, is a unique one in that it's not evil done with much intent. In many ways it's like the unfeeling storm full of unimaginable power and violence.
We cannot enforce our will upon it and yet it will crash through our cities and take all from us. Bringing this up to a higher level then it could be said that the Blue hero fights to understand these unfeeling forces, to learn how they work and protect others by manipulating them. In some ways it's not fighting a concrete villain but an idea. The idea being the chaotic and unfeeling greater forces that surround us. Because of this the Blue aligned hero is one to uncover mysteries, make sense of nature, or bring down that which wishes to destroy with no thought or feeling. In many ways making sense of a chaotic world and the greater entities outside of it.
Creating a hero that could be as small as a detective who uncovers a great mystery, a scientist who builds machines to control the uncontrollable or a wizard who reaches into the blindness of space and time. Now this leads us quite nicely into its methods, as I believe it has already made itself apparent at this point. The strength of Blue lies in its ability to understand and manipulate larger concepts, and to find what is hidden through hard work. A blue hero can be relentless in its pursuit of understanding and to them this is their greatest tool.
They can see things that others cannot and achieve deeds others may consider beyond their reach. Now this sort of aloofness that is present throughout this description is no accident, Blue can be a more detached hero, solving a mystery more for themselves than others at times, which leads us into the understanding of its own limitations. You see Blue is a color who often will take what they consider to be the most logical path, not placing empathy into its calculations.
In this way the Blue aligned hero must stop and ask themselves what is right and not what is most logical, casting aside a better plan for the one that means the most for the people they protect. For if they always take the logical path, it may lead to the abandonment of those who could have been saved, or worse. In simplest terms the Blue aligned hero is a thinker and a tinker. A character who brings some form of control to the smallest mysteries and the greatest violent forces beyond us all, but must apply empathy otherwise it can become just like the unfeeling forces it wishes to control.
Black and heroism are not usually said in the same breath. A color often shown as vile or selfish might not cross your mind as a color even capable of heroism, but the truth is that there can be heroes in this color just as there can be villains in any other. The key here is that Black is a color who values its independence and self reliance just as most of us do, and will fight for such a cause, often making it their goal to topple oppressive entities, even if the reasons might be selfish in nature.
Just like with our other colors this is due to the evil found within its enemies when combines. You see Green and White or Selesnya is a pairing, when pushed to its darkest form that will crush the sickness of the individual, consuming all into one. This could take the form of a powerful nation, a god above our existence or an alien force that consumes all into one hive mind. This form of evil would be one to go to great lengths to assimilate through oppression. This sort of concept is something that the Black aligned hero would push back against, holding strong to the ideal that all should have the room to be themselves and pursue their own desires.
You see on its own Black is the color of the individual, of looking out for yourself, and yes this could mean it turns to selfishness, but for this hero what is good for me is good for the people. They will witness the fate of those consumed and look inward, sparking something in themselves that turns to hatred for those that commit such deeds. In some ways its this hatred that pushes them further and not some moral or ethical code. Once it has it sights set, how does it accomplish such a feat, well for the Black aligned hero it is this, resourcefulness plain and simple.
This sort of hero will go to great lengths to fight against the evils it sees in this world. Often times considered an anti hero because it will take measures most heroes might consider a step to far. In the mind of Black there is no wrong action when it comes to doing what is right. Now of course such a hero does indeed need some limitations, or must recognize aspects of itself that could push it into villainy. The Black aligned hero must then be cognizant of its rise to power. Many times such strength is a good thing, when it comes to accomplishing its goals, but power for its own sake can drive such a hero down dark road, one where power becomes the focus.
Its a fine line to walk and Black is the one color who balances closest to the edge, in this way the Black aligned hero may falter at times, and will require a good friend to keep them in check. To summaries the Black aligned hero it would be this, they are a hero who fights against those that wish to crush or assimilate the individual, a hero of the people and for themselves. One who will go to great lengths to achieve their goals, sometimes teetering on the line of villainy themselves.
Red and Black have a lot in common when it comes to the types of heroes that they produce, its just that their methods and personality are quite different. Red is a color of expression, freedom and something that comes out in such a frame, empathy. A comparison could be made with the White aligned here but I would say this, While white may say that it stands up for the weak it does so out of obligation, while the Red does so because of the pull of their heart. This is reflected in the of opposition of the enemy pairing of Red, White, Blue or Azorius, an unfeeling pair of logic and order.
One who controls, imprisons and destroys, that which it deems as against its perfect view of this world. A daunting system that towers above the people. You can easily see how the rejection of this shapes the Red aligned hero. In this way Red is often the rebellious form of hero, one who sets itself against impossible forces in order to help others. This pull of the heart can often sideline them from their core mission, always feeling as if they must do what they can to help. Their are flighty, and impassioned to aid others at all costs, leading to a bit of chaos in its own right.
Red is also a color that highly values freedom and will never stand aside when freedom is unjustly taken away. Like I said they are a rebellious force, one with the best of intentions. This is also where its strengths lie, it is a color whose methods are that of the constant thorn in the side of evil. A person who acts before they think, rushing into battle simply because it is the right thing to do. This is in many ways just as much a strength as it is a weakness.
As it can lead to a short life and yet if this kind of hero were to fall because of their full-hearty bravery, someone would be sure to take their place. As they are a the kind of hero that leaves a lasting imprint on others, a true hero. Now this does not mean that everything is all good, there are limitations Red must put on themselves. You see Red is also a color of true anger, and there will be times when that anger can replace any reason. This can lead them down a dark path where they are consumed by anger or revenge.
In this way a Red aligned hero must always be aware of this side of themselves and be sure to keep a level head. To summaries the Red aligned hero I would say this. They are a defiant hero who puts themselves on the line because of their compassion. They are a hero who despises those who restrict the freedom and quality of a persons life. Because of their core they will always fight before they think, a hero through and through, but because of what drives them they must always be aware that the same fire that ignites their passion can ignite an unending rage as well.
The Green aligned hero is possibly the most passive of any of the hero archetypes discussed today, not that won't act, but rather that it takes more of a protective stance than an outwardly assertive one. It's a hero of preservation rather and instigation. This reflects Green's tendency for balance and in that way it's a hero who guards the natural harmony of things, and if someone were to aggressively act against that balance it would then return in equal measure. Now what is it that pushes the motivations of such a hero? For that we will go once again to the enemy pair sitting across from it to better understand. In this case the enemy pair is Blue Black or Dimir, a pair who takes what it wishes even even outside of its evil form.
In fact when this pair turns fully to evil it's a pairing that does nothing but take and pervert the world around it into a disguising version of itself, for the simple reason of progress at any cost, at least progress in its view. This has a direct effect on Green as it views the world as already perfect the way it is and any force who wishes to overtly disrupt or destroy such perfection must be stopped. But how does Green achieve its goals? Green will often be the hero that looks to either the planet itself or that of longstanding traditions for answers and tools.
In the first way it's reflected as somewhat of a druidic hero who calls upon the land and animals to fight alongside it, urging that which it defends to aid in valiant defiance. In the other way it could be a hero who is part of a long linage of defenders who pass a style of fighting and moral values along to it inheritors. In this way the Green aligned hero is one who uses simplicity and underlying forces to stand against mechanical or necromantic and diabolical ones. As with all heroes there is a limit that must be set otherwise Green can push its ideals into villainy.
You see progress is inevitable and Green must balance its own intentions with that of the greater population around them, otherwise it can fall into the trap of labelling even the most subtle alterations to its environment as aggressors. Turning on civilization outright. Balance you see, must be achieved in all aspects for this kind of hero otherwise they will always side with the planet over human lives. To sum up the Green aligned hero I would say this. They are a hero who is a protector of balance, one who stands against those who would pervert the perfect design of nature. To accomplish this it utilizes the tools around them and those passed down, but it must always be cognizant of the greater world around them and learn to accept conflicting ideas, otherwise it can cross the line and become a villain whose intentions may seem noble at the time, but whose results could be catastrophic.
"A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles." - Christopher Reeve
In Magic the Gathering there are many shades of heroism and in understanding their underlying motivations, methods and limitations we can better understand and appreciate those heroes. Even in our own world we can look to the many heroes who exist, those who set an example of the great deeds humanity is capable of. My hopes is that this video gave you not just a new perspective on heroism, because if we can all aim to be like those heroes we admire then world would be a much better place.
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