Black

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Black is one of the five colors of mana in Magic. It is drawn from the power of swamps and embodies the principles of parasitism and amorality (though not necessarily immorality). The mana symbol for black is represented by a skull. On the color pie, it is the ally of blue and red, and the enemy of white and green. [1]

Contents

Black mana.png

Flavor

Black can be summarized with a well-known phrase: Look out for number one.

Black looks on the world and sees just a plain reality: Power controls. Power says who rules, and who dies. And whether the weak can see it or not, they are no more than slaves for the powerful. The essence of Black is to see one's own ego[2] as so supremely invaluable, that this prospect of enslavement, of subordinating that ego to another, is utterly inadmissible. So, to be in accord with its perceptions and beliefs, Black simply must discard all obligations but to acquire power for itself. It can be no less than the one supreme being who is subordinate to no other, the possessor of all power in the universe - it must become omnipotent.

In order to reach omnipotence, Black's rule is simply to follow no rule. Life is hard enough without putting limitations on oneself. Black looks for opportunities to get ahead, and seizes them without mercy and without shame. Greed and ambition are the largest players in Black's internal psychology - Greed counters shame, always demanding more; ambition counters humility, never permitting compromise. And of course, killing is no trouble for the color sometimes portrayed as "obsessed with Death." It is fortunate for Black how much the planes are populated with living things (not necessarily true in the multiverse). Living things are naturally subject to terror and despair, weaknesses on which Black thrives mercilessly.

There are essentially two pillars to Black's efforts, which play out in mechanics roughly as follows: Parasitism, which is Black's readiness to steal power, and Amorality, which provides Black direct access to its desires, provided it can pay the price.

Before proceeding, it is worth noting that Black cannot create something out of nothing. Recall that Black's world-view is very unflattering. Black cannot imagine into existence what isn't there. Instead, Black uses liquidation and nullification. These are explained under Amorality below.

Also, while Black does not limit itself, the world still says power cedes to greater power. As such, the power itself of an adversary cannot be confronted by Black. If such were possible, then power wouldn't be power. Thus, any power consolidated in something irreducible, (with no weak pieces to decay internally) cannot be attacked by Black. This is the reason Black magic has no influence over artifacts and enchantments. Both are just permanent magic (one more worldly than the other[3]), and so Black magic can attack no part of it.

Parasitism
Black can take what it doesn't have, for keeps. If this does not rouse surprise, the reader is already understanding. Black can take away anything, with one salient limitation worth noting (artifacts and enchantments). All manner of mundane resources are for Black's taking; so much should be clear. With the power of Black magic, Life itself is just pocket money, stolen as easily. That includes life-force, like the strength of a creature; willpower, won by corruption, terror, or other horrors; Life, as in, being alive; and life total, the game resource with which a player begins the game.
Amorality
This comes out in two ways - liquidation and nullification. Liquidation is turning one resource into another fluidly and efficiently. Without getting into the specifics of mechanics, Life is a commodity in such "deals with Devils" (in Magic, sometimes Devils are actually involved). This capacity is threatening because sometimes it isn't how much one has, but what one has that crowns a victor. Resource-exchange is at the heart of the game in all colors, but there are some prices that only Black will pay. Nothing is out of the question for Black.
Nullification is simply that - utter erasure. Black, in its total selfishness, can deny the world what the world denies it. This translates into an affinity for killing, most noticeably. Again, artifacts and enchantments are a bit of a thorn in Black's side. To put pressure on the Black mage, game design decided that one's own bargain-striking shouldn't be so easily undoable. Black isn't reckless, but it does have a seat-of-its-pants element. Giving a bit of character (and perhaps, game-balancing limitation) to Black magic, it is decided that the removal of one's own enchantments, and to a lesser degree, artifacts, is difficult in Black. This is enforced typically by limiting the number of such effects available in each non-eternal format.

It could be said that Black acts more out of fear than anything. Black sees the prospect of being controlled, and of actually dying, as one and the same - the compromise of the ego. Further, Black cannot understand trust. Black cannot imagine depending on another, and Black will not sacrifice itself for another. These conditions force Black, truly, into its position: defending itself from a terrifying, unforgiving world - alone.

If one can say he understands the terror of seeing death in everything but knowing trust in nothing, he can say he understands Black.

Individual Expression

(For the sake of not overusing the term, to give a sense of humanity and to better explain the subject at hand, the "Black individual" in question will be named Charles. The two terms are interchangeable.)

Attributes

A Black individual is focused on self. He is not a proper person, unless he finds that personally useful, in which case he is the most proper person you will ever know. He is not a kind person, unless he finds that personally useful, in which case he makes the average White individual look like a moneygrubbing miser. Black is all about the self. This gives Charles a curious sort of freedom, perhaps the ultimate freedom- Charles does not care how he acquires power, so long as he does. This is why Black is so excellent at infiltration- Black has no personal predilections except for power, and that is a goal broad enough to include almost any philosophy or idea that Charles wants to have.

Black is also the most unashamed color. Whereas White has a long list of what is "proper", Charles is free, open, and honest about what he does. Perhaps this is the great virtue of Black that no one really looks at- Black is honest. Charles is about power and the self, but he's extremely truthful about its pursuit of these goals. Just look at any handful of Black cards- one sees horror, teeth, blood, fangs. Black never once even pretends to lie about what it is that it seeks nor cover it up behind any other facade. No other color is this open. As an example, many of White's creatures hide their bigotry and zealotry behind the mask of righteousness, that what they do is good, but Charles, no matter what he does, will freely admit that he seeks his own goals. (A good example of White's duplicity are the Kithkin.)

Misconceptions and Controversies

Perhaps the most common misconception is that Black represents Evil. Put bluntly, Black is the most likely color to do open, honest evil. It is the element of Sauron, of Dark Lords everywhere, the blunt and the open and the honest. If Charles decides to go evil, he will be the most noticeable evil in the world.

However, this also means that, in a way, Black is the least effective color to go evil. Yes, it's open and honest about it. Yes, it's often got the raw power and lack of morality to back up its evil. But Charles is so open and honest about his evil that every single creature on the planet interested in preserving its own life will direct their attentions towards him- and that includes other Black characters, as they would see his gathered power as a major threat to their own attempts to gain power and try to bring him down. Against such odds, even Charles' open use of horrible magics cannot stand. A villain of a different color, Blue in particular but White and Green as well, who was more subtle, would avoid bringing all this firepower down on their head- and thus do more damage in the long run.

Instead, Black represents concern for the self above anyone else. Keeping in mind that any person is going to be less a "perfect" version of their color's ideas and more someone who leans towards them, it's easy to see a Black-aligned character being a great hero. Charles may be self-centered in the end, focused on himself, but that doesn't mean he never feels sympathy and that he lacks all kindness- he simply leans towards himself and a certain honesty. If he believes that by helping you he can help himself, then you've gained a powerful ally who will stop at nothing to get the job done and who will not be caught up with silly rules and regulations that could tie up a more hide-bound person.

Black is selfish, but it is also unashamed, which can lead to an unabashed honesty in its evil acts. That is not to say that Black espouses honesty, but rather that Black will not deny any immoral or evil motives behind its own actions.

Even by these means, heroic Black characters have emerged in the lore of Magic: The Gathering, counting among them the likes of Chainer, Sorin Markov, and Toshiro Umezawa.

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Interactions with other colors

Agreements

Black and Red: In Red, Black sees a color that knows that the only way to live is in one's own interest. Red's desire to do what it wants and Black's desire to get what it wants lead to a color pair that is the purest form of hedonism; do whatever you want, and damn the consequences or laws. Black/Red demolishes any rule or regulation that gets in the way of what they want, which directly opposes their common enemy, White, who is determined to have a lawful society at any cost.

Black and Blue: In Blue, Black sees a color that doesn't shy away from how ugly the world is. Blue's quest for omniscience coincides perfectly with Black's desire for omnipotence, leading to a color pair who wants absolute knowledge and absolute power. Blue/Black also subverts the status quo at any cost in its quest for unlimited power and knowledge, which puts them at odds with their common enemy, Green, who wants to preserve it.

Black and White: When White and Black agree, it's usually on more practical details. White and Black both understand the need for sacrifice (even if Black sacrifices others for its own good and White sacrifices itself for the common good), and both are the most affiliated with religion (hence Black and White getting the most clerics, and the Orzhov Syndicate being a religious organization on its face). Whenever Black and White cooperate, it's usually in the creation of laws (White) made to benefit a few at the expense of the many (Black).

Black and Green: When Black and Green agree, it's usually on a fundamental, natural scale. Even though Black and Green conflict on the Death vs. Life debate, both colors understand the need for death to prune excess life (even if Black uses death proactively, and Green lets death happen naturally). Similarly, both colors are firm believers in "survival of the fittest." Black and Green manipulate the graveyard more than any other color pair, being able to use the cycle of life and death to its advantage during the moments that the two cooperate.

Disagreements

Black and White: In White, Black sees a color that is held back by a set of morals. Naturally, the main debate between White and Black is that of Morality vs. Amorality. Black sees no universal set of morals that life conforms to, and thus acts without morals (note that this does not always lead to evil). White's moral system is, to Black, archaic and outmoded, and only serves to get in the way of what's best for oneself. Black also sees White as overprotective of society's weakest members. A purely Black system ensures that the strong excel (an example being Capitalism), while a purely White system ensures that all are treated equally (an example being Socialism). White enforces laws to create equality, while Black exploits laws to benefit itself.

Black and Green: In Green, Black sees a color that is naive to the basics of life; that the world is an ugly place and that letting life happen unhindered only leads to more and more problems. The main debate between Black and Green is Parasitism (Death) vs. Interdependency (Life). Black believes that the masses only exist to be exploited by the strong (and will use death as a tool to cull the weak). Green's belief in the masses being essential to maintaining synergy through nature makes no sense to Black.

Black and Red: Occasionally, Black sees Red as being far too chaotic in its search for freedom. While Black certainly supports destruction for a belief (creature removal, for example), Red can sometimes be far too reckless, destroying things because they can be destroyed. Also, since Black rarely lets its emotions get in the way of its plans, Red's intense focus on emotion is seen as foolish by Black. When they both get their hands on a new toy or weapon, Black is at least willing to read the instructions first.

Black and Blue: Occasionally, Black sees Blue as being too focused on how things are accomplished. For Black, while the means can certainly be important, the ends are much more so, and the process itself is secondary to the goal. Black also detests Blue's excess subtlety, which allows other colors to gain the initiative while Blue is still planning. To Black, getting rid of threats and planning for a goal's achievement don't need to be at odds.

Rules

A black card is defined as any card that has Manab.gif in its mana cost. Black is oriented on obtaining power — ultimate power at any cost. In the game of Magic, this means that black cards sometimes uses resources that other colors don't dare touch. Sacrificing permanents and paying life is certainly do-able for the right effect. A simple card such as Greed exemplifies black's determination to get any advantage.

Up until and including Mercadian Masques, black had access to temporary mana boosts, primarily in the form of Dark Ritual. This mechanic has since moved to the color Red.

Black is the color which uses every resource it can get, no matter what consequences it will bring, which is exemplified in cards such as Grinning Demon, Phyrexian Negator and Dark Confidant.

Black is the foremost color that causes a player to discard as an effect, not a cost, with Blue a far distant second (each color occasionally uses discard as cost, but that is different.) Notable discard cards are Hymn to Tourach, Wrench Mind, Persecute and Cabal Therapy.

Black is the foremost color in spot destruction, illustrated in cards as Terror and Dark Banishing. Recently black has been attributed several "weakness" type spells that gives creatures -x/-x (Last Gasp, Hideous Laughter and Sickening Shoal). A possible reason for this is that Wizards have obsoleted the term Bury ("Destroy, no regeneration") and is phasing out destruction spells that does not allow regeneration, such as Terror, and this is a different way of avoiding Regeneration and Indestructible, in that a creature with 0 or less toughness is put directly into the graveyard. A similar method is forcing the opponent to sacrifice something, giving them the choice of losing it, instead of letting you choose. This usually bypasses creatures with hexproof and shroud, as the cards do not directly target the creatures, as well as Indestructable and regeneration. It plays into Black's ability to capitalize on an opening, as since the choice remains in the hands of the affected player, these effects have to be reserved and planned for the right moment, where they can be devastating for a minimal of resources.

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Mechanics

Discarding

Black is the only color that can look at the opponents hand and choose a card from it and force that player to discard it, e.g. Duress. It is also the primary color to force the opponent to discard cards of his choice, though this mechanic has occasionally been bled to blue. Forcing the opponent to discard cards that are chosen at random is also a black ability, though some red cards can do that after having drawn additional cards.

This mechanic represents mostly coercion and inducing insanity into the opposition.

Evasion

Black is a color that values secrecy and doing a straightforward job without interference. As such it is a color that uses evasion to get past the creatures off the opponent, such as flying or shadow.

One mechanic that was specific to black was fear. Some black creatures are too frightening to behold; they may be walking horrors, pestilent abominations, or powerful intimidators. As such non-black creatures are too terrified to engage them in combat. Artifact creatures, being cold and artificial, do not have such a limitation. This mechanic has been supplanted by Intimidate.

First strike

This creature deals combat damage before creatures without first strike.

Though this mechanic is primarily a red and white ability, a number of black creature have the ability as well, such as Nekrataal and Black Knight. In black, first strike represents subterfuge, dirty tactics, and cunning quickness.

Regeneration

The next time this creature would be destroyed this turn, it isn't. Instead tap it, remove all damage from it, and remove it from combat.

Although this mechanic can also be found in green creatures, it demonstrates a basic black principle: the refusal to stay dead. Some black creatures, through necromancy or other unholy magic, are not alive but undead. Zombies, skeletons, spectres, and other living dead are just animated corpses forming the infantry of black magicians.

Lifelink

Damage dealt by this creature also causes you to gain that much life.

Creatures, such as vampires, feed on the essence of others, thus strengthening themselves. Black uses this ability to restore itself to a healthy state while taking its toll on its opponents, much like it's parasitic spells do. It shares this ability with white.

Sacrifice

Black utilizes sacrifice differently from the other colors. While white believes in self-sacrifice for the good of others, black will sacrifice its own creatures and its own life to achieve power. Also, Black forces its enemies to sacrifice their resources through spells like Pox, Magus of the Abyss, Grave Pact, Cruel Edict, Diabolic Edict and Smallpox.

Black also deals with Demons, the ultimate evil which heeds to no one, creatures of great power and hunger who demand great personal sacrifice. Examples of demons who need continuous sacrifice are Lord of The Pit, Grinning Demon and Yawgmoth Demon.

Life loss

Nearly all cards that have an opponent lose a given amount of life directly appear in black. Examples of these include Blood Tribute, Burden of Greed and Shadow Slice. Other black cards force one or more players to lose half their life total, or for a spell's caster to pay life as part of the cost of a spell or ability. Black also has numerous cards, such as Disciple of the Vault, that trigger life loss if a given action happens.

Creature destruction

Black is homicidal, and will destroy anyone in its path through different methods; frightening its enemies to death (Terror), killing them in their sleep (Royal Assassin, Assassinate) or by mere presence (Avatar of Woe, Visara the Dreadful).

Note that in normal circumstances black spells and/or effects spare black's own creatures (e.g. Doom Blade, Dark Banishing), though spells like Death Rattle and Murder break that limitation.

Weakness

Target creature gets -X/-X until end of turn

Black is the color of disease and infection. Debilitating ailments afflict any particular creature touched. Effects that cause weakness are sometimes depicted as result of plague or pestilence; other times they are depicted as some sort of asphyxia, causing opponents' creatures to gasp for air.

All creatures get -X/-X until end of turn

Black can also provoke engineered epidemics. Even resilient creatures with regeneration, shroud, or protection from black cannot escape such plagues. Bane of the Living, Mutilate, and Kagemaro, First to Suffer are examples of mass removal spells through weakness.

Parasitism

Target opponent loses X life and you gain X life

Black's primary source of life gain, parasitism literally syphons the life out of others, allowing the mage to feed on their life force. This has been an ability of black consistently over the course of the game, with cards like Drain Life and Syphon Soul.

Removing counters

Remove a counter from target permanent

Black has built a niche for cards that remove counters, like Thrull Parasite, Vampire Hexmage, and AEther Snap.

Black-Aligned Tribes

Humanoid/intelligent races

Monstrous/subservient types

Classes:

Trivia

  • Black spell with the highest converted mana cost (legal): Hypnox (11)
  • Black spell with the highest converted mana cost (any): B. F. M.; Big Furry Monster (15)
  • Strongest and toughest Black Creature (legal/non-token): Withengar Unbound. (13/13 or greater)
  • Strongest and toughest Black Creature: Marit Lage (20/20 Flying, Indestructible)
  • Strongest and toughest Black Creatures (any):B. F. M.; Big Furry Monster (99/99)
  • Most cost-efficient Black creature (The lowest cost for the biggest creature): Death's Shadow
  • Most expensive Black card: Imperial Seal and Juzam Djinn ($200.00 U. S. as valued by Starcity Games)

References

  1. Mark Rosewater. (February 2, 2004.) "In the Black", Daily MTG, magicthegathering.com, Wizards of the Coast.
  2. For the purpose of this article, the ego is the psychological embodiment of the conscious will of a thing.
  3. An artifact, while a tangible thing, is still very much magical, so mundane means like smashing are impossible. As for the existence of artifact-destruction cards like Shatter and Smash, there is no doubt more magic to the process than the names suggest.
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