Orzhov Color Philosophy | Definitive Duality
Darkness and light. Discipline and self indulgence. Humility and Ambition. Is it possible to find the place between such fundamental ways of thought. You see deep within us all this exact struggle wages on. It's the little voices on either side of our shoulders which either beg us to make the selfish or selfless decision and there is no other color combination in Magic the Gathering where this is felt any stronger than that of White and Black, also known as Orzhov.
The key to unlocking the philosophies of a given enemy color pair comes down to one thing, finding how opposing ideals can meet somewhere in the middle. Just because two ways of thinking oppose each other does not mean that they can't meet in some space between. The issue is that this space can be hard to find at first but with a little creativity and introspection we can get there. This is why we will be starting with Black and White, the two colors where this opposition is felt strongest. For if we can combine these two enemy colors then we can do it with any of them.
To start, let's discuss the biggest difference between these colors, and that is their takes on morality, with one dictating much of its life through a moral code while the other abandons it completely, opting for a life unfettered by it. This doesn't mean there is no way to bridge this gap, in fact I would say most of us are doing it already. It's rare to find a person who lives a perfect moral life, as morality changes depending on culture and upbringing. That right there shows us that morality is malleable. On the other side there is rarely a person who lives with no morals at all. Even a crook will live by a code of conduct to some degree even if a person like you or I would disagree with it. Without this functional moral code a criminal organizations would crumble under it's own weight. So as we can see there is inherently a space between and this is where White and Black, when combined, are situated.
Now this isn't to say that there is a perfect balance, a point directly in the middle, no in the case of enemy pairs it can, and often will lean more or less into either side of this debate but never on one extreme or the other. So in a way you could say that White Black has a more nuanced view of morality. It could be a more realistic outlook on life and its challenges or it could be used as a way of dictating ones own life in a manner that facilitates a persons needs without restricting it arbitrarily. As an example it could be as loose as saying morality is simply allowing yourself the freedoms you desire so long as those freedoms don't infringe on the freedoms of another.
To say morality is the starkest contrast between Black and White would be misleading, because at the heart of every conflict between these two colors lies the idea of Self versus Society, or in other words, what is good for me versus what is good for us? This conflict must be resolved to properly combine these colors and yet its not that hard of a task. Once again we can look to humanity. As much as we call ourselves good people we will often take the path which benefits us over another, unless that other is a person who is close to us in some way. This does not mean we are evil or selfish for doing so, it just comes down to the attachments we create.
In that way being purely selfless is a rare trait, just as being totally selfish is as well. In that way we could say the purest middle ground is taking care of those who you care about while disregarding the struggles of others. Its a more pragmatic outlook, one that says as long as my friends and family prosper then this is all I can ask for. Once again this would be closest to the center of these opposing ideals so be sure to play with the ideas closest to each edge as the experiment will lead to new ideas. For instance you could be a selfish person in most cases, putting your needs first, but you help those close to you because if they succeed then you succeed. On the other hand you could be a kind soul but have a realistic outlook, you can't help everyone, but you help those you can, not losing sleep over what you can't do.
The intersection between society and morality for white is the idea of Law and order and thus to dictate a healthy society in Whites mind one must enact laws which restrict our more dark human tendencies. On the other side of it there is Black, who always thinks of self over society and doesn't place morality in its way, think of laws as needless restrictions that deny us our desires. So how can these two see eye to eye here, what is the middle ground for better or for worse. On one end it could be taken as a way to benefit those at the top, a sort of laws for thee and not for me.
In this way it still makes laws create order and yet the push to its more Black side allows the combination to benefit from these laws. An all too common notion that this combination holds is that order is important and yet it should never be used to restrict me or those close to me, once again coming back to the idea that what it good for the group I am within is good for me. This isn't the only reflection of law and order in this combinations of course, just as we said with morality what constitutes lawful action can change from place to place and from culture to culture.
Perhaps in this way Law is a malleable thing as well, maybe its something that shouldn't restrict us and we should instead police ourselves. Should someone have the right to set rules for us that make no sense. Of course there are cut and dry instances where order must be maintained but it should not then cost us our autonomy. Kings cannot pass a law that only makes the serfs life hard, everyone should have the chance to be themselves and pursue their own interests so long as those interests don't align with the taking of property or life from another without merit.
This way relies more on humanity to police itself instead of rigid laws, because culture changes and the laws are always to far behind. So as you can see the intersection between law and Independence is a vast one, it's never it can be a choke-hold a group has over a community, it can be independent freedom policed by the good parts of humanity, or it could be something else entirely, I could go on with this aspect of this combination for a while but we should really move on.
Part of living and contributing to a society where each person acts for the greater good of the group requires humility, and thus this is a factor in White's personality. What this means for Black, as its enemy, is of course the opposite approach. Black instead is the color of ambition, and will take any advantage or opportunity it can for itself. With this in mind how can we find that space between these ideas? I like to think of this way. Ambition without humility will take a person down a path where they shed everything for small gains, trampling on others and inflating their ego past a reasonable point. This could lead to a person who genuinely believes themselves to be better than everyone else, a toxic outlook for sure.
On the other hand Humility without ambition will have the opposite effect. You will miss out on many life changing moments, times where you could have made more of yourself. A person who is humble will find such gains to be inconsequential, but this doesn't mean you should forgo the possible pleasures that life can bring. Will you look back and be thankful of a simple life. So in my mind this combination takes a more pragmatic approach to these ideas. They see the purpose that their life holds and yet know that they are just a person with faults. If we sit completely in the center this is actually a very balanced outlook, but this isn't always the case. Remember even if we are part of a combination it doesn't mean we sit perfectly in the middle.
This topic leads perfectly into the next and that is the dichotomy between discipline and self indulgence. Much like humility white understands that it will take discipline to better oneself and the world around them. What good are laws and the pursuit of peace and order without the discipline to hold it all together. On the flip side Black discards discipline for the finer things in life. Pure self indulgence is better suited for Black. Once again Black asks the opposite, why restrict oneself when there is so much of life to enjoy. I may be doing harm to myself or others but if I am happy and I got what I wanted out of this short life, is that not all I could ask for. Now a life of pure discipline makes for a good monk and a life of pure self indulgence tends to end in self destruction, so of course the space in between this is a life of both discipline in the things the individual finds important, or of discipline when it comes to the preservation of self or of those you call kin, all while carving out time for yourself to do the things that you want, to enjoy life and its many pleasures.
This topic displays to us that the philosophies we hold close as our own aren't a two sided coin where, one where we either are or aren't something. In the same way the five colors aren't the whole story on their own. White Black is a combination that must wrestle with ideas such as self and society, said another way, it's what is good for me versus what is good for us. This combination can express itself in many ways depending on what colors you lean more or less into or by taking on specific traits from each color and finding an ideology somewhere in the middle. For instance we can look to the Orzhov syndicate, who utilize White's influence over society and its focus on piety, then they applies some of Blacks worst traits, such as greed.
This is declared on the card Castigate which reads “We have no need for military might. We wield two of the sharpest swords ever forged: Faith in our left hand, Wealth in the other.” On the other hand we have the Silverquill, who utilize Blacks need to be center stage and the belief in the power of its own words and expression, which is then paired with Whites desire to lift other up. For this we can look to the card Silverquill Initiate “She had spoken the words a hundred times, but under the spotlight, in front of everyone, something new emerged. And the crowd went wild.” As you can see White Black can be diverse and its up to you to find how to best apply the colors present in this combination and how their opposing philosophies can compliment each other. Because after all life isn't so Black and White.
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