You’re dripping like a saturated sunrise, you’re spilling like an overflowing sink. You’re ripped at every edge, but you’re a masterpiece; and now I’m tearing through the pages and the ink. Let’s paint with all of The Colors of Magic, edited by Jess LeBow.
The brother’s struggel for power has ended…
Argoth is decimated…
Tidal waves have turned canyons into rivers…
Earthquakes leveled the cities…
Dominaria is in ruins.
Now the struggle for the war-torn world is to survive.
Ah, yes, the colors of Magic. In the card game, magic can be divided into five colors, each with its own strengths, weaknesses, and general philosophy of life. The pre-revision stories barely acknowledged this fundamental aspect of the game; and even post-revision, it often felt unimportant due to planeswalkers being god-like beings who could cast any spell of any color if they so wished. It wasn’t really until after the Mending (Time Spiral block) that Wizards really started getting firm about color identity and color philosophy: having five planeswalkers in the Gatewatch, each capable of using only a single color of magic, and each having contrasting personalities and ideologies based on their color. Of course, with The Colors of Magic only being a rough first attempt to articulate the philosophies of the colors, it’s not entire perfect in its description of them. Thus, for those of you who are interested, I shall follow up the book’s description of each color with a link to Mark Rosewater’s color philosophy articles, where he much more thoroughly and accurately lays out what each color believes. So, all that said, let’s begin with…
White is the color of temptation and innocence, purity and civility. People characterized by this color love life and longevity but do so without excess or grandeur. Some see white as childish – a return to youth – but others know it to be filled with focus and a desire to live an uncluttered life. White is for the honest, the righteous and eager, the decent and civic-minded who will stand up to protect justice and honor. It is the color of the plains and temples, the color of the scholar and the virtuous knight alike. White is for those who believe in a cause and believe in themselves, for those unafraid to stand up in the face of adversity.
– The Colors of Magic
Mark Rosewater on White: The Great White Way Revisited
And we’re off to a bad start. White is the color of temptation? No, I think that’s be Black: see cards like Promise of Power and Succumb to Temptation. And virtuous knights are White, yes, but scholars? There are (as of me writing this review) seven Magic cards with “scholar” in their name, and six are Blue. And, naturally, the summary only focuses on the positive traits of White, not mentioning that it’s the color of totalitarianism, intolerance, and religious fundamentalism. Because White has knights and angels and is therefore good, while Black has zombies and demons and is therefore evil. Sigh.
“Angel of Vengeance” is about a mage who summons an angel to use as an instrument of revenge against those he feels have wronged him. Forced to commit acts contrary to her nature, the angel falls from grace; but even so, when a demon threatens to destroy the city, she chooses to sacrifice herself battling it, because she is still a good and just being at heart. A fine story.
“Reprisal” is about a commoner chosen to be an assistant to a king. The king is a drunk and a lecher, and the commoner has to work to preserve the king’s public image. This one wasn’t as good, because it doesn’t have any payoff at the end. The king acts unkingly, the protagonist covers it up, the king acts unkingly again, the protagonist covers it up again, and then the story just ends without anybody really having accomplished or learned anything. Unsatisfying.
Green is the balance between extremes. Those who favor green are solid people with easy manners. They aren’t impulsive, as are those who favor red, or withdrawn like those who favor blue. Those associated with green are socially well-adjusted and organic. They are conventional, yet constantly on the go, and have a taste for the good things in life. Green has, on occasion, been associated with jealousy or inexperience, but those who have a broader understanding know that green is natural, fresh, wise, and comforting, and those characterized by it show a sensitivity to social customs and etiquette. Green provides abundance and resources. It is passive and combative at the same time, and calls to those who want to be grounded in their natural surroundings.
– The Colors of Magic
Mark Rosewater on Green: It’s Not Easy Being Green Revisited
…Alright, this description isn’t so bad. Natural, organic, and grounded is a fine way to approach Green. In fact, my biggest problem is not with the description itself but with the order the book is going. The traditional direction of the Magic color pie is WUBRG – White, Blue, Black, Red, Green. That’s the order the mana symbols appear on the cards. But that’s a really petty complaint, so let’s move on to the stories.
“Versipellis” is about a man who seeks to kill a romantic rival. A malevolent spirit gives him magic to transform into a bear and do the deed, but the man is afterwards killed by the town guard, thus teaching an important moral lesson: don’t transform into a bear. You know, like Pixar’s Brave, only with a much darker ending. This story… isn’t very Green. I mean, the card Grizzly Bears is Green; but if we’re talking about a malicious, deceiving spirit which manipulates and corrupts a jealous man by preying on his selfishness and desire for revenge… that’s Black. Also, the story kind of sucks. I couldn’t get invested in the protagonist, since I knew nothing of this alleged romance between him Riliana which he felt strongly enough to kill over; and all the other characters in the story were caricatures of evil who existed only to be senselessly cruel to Edgur and so drive him over the edge into using the magic. I mean, damn, Joren actually says “I’m too rich to die!”. Scrooge McDuck is subtle and nuanced in comparison to this clown.
“A Song Out of Darkness”, fortunately, is much better. Taking place in the immediate aftermath of the destruction of Argoth, a group of elves have been isolated and are slowly being worn down by some sort of evil, incorporeal undead thing called the Shadow. Unlike the previous story, this one does a good job of presenting the ideology of Green magic, with Temken showing how it is connected to the natural cycle of life and rebirth and opposes the unnatural energies of undeath which exist outside that cycle.
Red is the color of release, the hue of outward expression and excitement. It is hard to be indifferent about red. It may be loved or feared, but it is seldom disregarded. It is characterized as aggressive, vigorous, and given to impulse and mood. Those associated with red are sometimes accused of lacking patience or possessing a quick temper, but red also embodies a fervent passion and feeling for fellow beings. Red is signified by fire, blood, lava, and emotion. It manifests itself as bursts of outward expression and outspoken tirades. Red characterizes those who know what needs to be done and aren’t afraid to do it, for those who want results and action instead of deliberation and debate, for those who like the cathartic pleasures of flame.
– The Colors of Magic
Mark Rosewater on Red: Seeing Red Revisited
This description of Red is probably the most accurate of all the colors. That’s because Red is not difficult to grasp. If there’s one thing Red doesn’t do, it’s subtlety. As beloved Red character Jaya Ballard put it in the flavor text to Inferno, “Some have said there is no subtlety to destruction. You know what? They’re dead.”
“Goblinology” is the worst story in the collection. This one hurt. The whole thing is built around the joke of goblins playing football, seemingly on the premise that if goblins do it then it must be inherently funny. It isn’t. Worse, it becomes obvious very early on what the punchline it’s building to is, and yet it keeps going on and on. You know when someone starts to tell you a long and rambling joke, and you say “I’ve heard this one before”, but they just keep on telling it, and you say “no, seriously, I’ve heard it”, and they just keep going, and it wasn’t even particularly funny the first time, but now it has become the embodiment of anti-fun, each word killing a small part of your soul? That’s this story. The author appears have recognized it was bad, and thus employed the rhetorical device of an editor putting in footnotes which mock the narrator. This literary technique can be employed to great humorous effect by talented authors; for instance, Sandy Mitchell in the Ciaphas Cain stories, or Brandon Sanderson in “Allomancer Jak and the Pit of Eltania, Episodes Twenty-Eight Through Thirty”. In this case, though, it’s just a terrible story which pauses every couple of lines in order to point out how terrible it is.
“The Crucible of the Orcs” is better, even if it does for some incomprehensible reason feel the need to include a reference to “Goblinology”. A Balduvian wizard decides to make use of orcs and goblins as expendable troops in a war against the Kjeldorans, but the orc general decides the wizard is more expendable than he is. It’s a decent battle story, though I wouldn’t call it exceptional in any way.
Black, the symbol of death and despair, can be characterized as morbid, impatient, incorporeal, and stagnant. It is the color of pollution and pestilence, festering swamps. Those who show fondness for this color are not the type to show off. They will impress those worthy of their time by their real subtleties and weight. Black leans on the side of mystery and darkness but can be mighty and dignified. Black is a stark color, the beacon of nothingness, but those who favor this color abhor inevitability. They would hold to the present forever if they could and they will probably try. Black is for those who hide their darker sides behind an air of sophistication, for those who lurk in alleyways and dark corners, and for those willing to pay the price of greatness.
– The Colors of Magic
Mark Rosewater on Black: In the Black Revisited
Of course, the description of Black focuses on pollution and pestilence and death and despair. Because Black is evil, right? Ah, dame da, zenzen dame da ze. Black characters can be good and non-Black characters can be evil. Black characters are often selfish, true; but Black is also the color of loveable rogues. Han Solo was a smuggler, you know, breaking the law and dealing in illicit substances; he was in it for the money, not the revolution; he wasn’t afraid to fight dirty and shoot first – classic Black. And hey, you know, Stormtroopers? They fight to uphold the authority of the law; they’re weak individually but work together in large numbers; they suppress individuality, striving to be interchangeable servants of the Greater Good… yep, White. I’m just saying.
Of course, the story we actually get, “Dark Water”, doesn’t have any moral ambiguity. Two evil women murder people and feed their souls to an evil demon in a pond, until the demon eventually turns on them and kills them as well. How evil. Yawn. Black also gets shortchanged, only having one story when most of the other colors get two and Blue gets three. Color me disappointed.
Blue, sometimes called the color of distinction, is characterized by calm hands and a reflective mind. A natural sedative, blue is the color of deliberation and introspection, conservatism and experience. Blue has almost universal appeal and is considered to be the most aesthetically appealing color. Blue is the color of respect and wisdom. But, those who lean toward blue sometimes use reason for selfish and self-justified purposes. It is the color of control and passive aggression as well as the color of the sea and the sky. Blue is for those contemplative people who exercise caution in words and actions and for those who always weight the options.
– The Colors of Magic
Mark Rosewater on Blue: True Blue Revisited
The description of Blue is pretty decent, with its focus on deliberation and introspection. All that stuff about Blue’s universal appeal, though, is probably a reference to Blue being for a long time the strongest color in Magic. Right from the beginning, Blue had an advantage, as the three non-artifact members of the Power Nine, the nine most ludicrously broken cards in Alpha, were Blue: Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, and Timetwister. Future sets just piled on more absurdly good cards, like Force of Will, Tolarian Academy, and Palinchron. And yet, Blue players had the gall to complain when Counterspell was replaced with Cancel… (Even though it’s been many years since I’ve actually played a game of Magic, I may still be harboring just a sliiiight grudge against mono-Blue control).
“Expeditions to the End of the World” is one of the best stories in this collection. Crucias is captain of sea vessel, bitter and disillusioned by the death of his young daughter from a wasting disease, who takes rich aristocrats on sightseeing tours of the Brothers’ War in Argoth so they can ooh and aah at all the big machines and bright explosions. This trip, however, happens to coincide with the apocalyptic Sylex Blast, which blinds Crucias and kills most of his passengers. He considers giving up and dying, but is convinced by a fellow survivor to keep struggling to stay alive. It’s a highly emotional tale which moved me more than any of the others in the book. Incidentally, for the continuity-aware, this isn’t the last we’ll see of Crucias: though he hasn’t become aware of it quite yet by the story’s end, the Sylex Blast awakened his planeswalker spark, and he ends up changing his name to become Bo Levar (seen on Planeswalker’s Mischief and Gainsay).
“The Mirror of Yesterday” is about some apprentice wizards who are attacked by an assassin while awaiting their master’s return. All are killed but one, who uses his cleverness and trickery to overcome the assassin. I liked seeing Damon out-think his opponent; but on the whole, the story was too dark for me. Sure, he ended by overcoming the assassin; but it’s kind of hard to end on a triumphant note when all the other apprentices just got slaughtered – and it doesn’t help that Damon didn’t really have a strong or interesting personality to get me invested in him.
“Bound in Shallows” was another bad one. It was weird and incomprehensible, with a nameless protagonist who participated in magical duels to the death and was forever prattling on about control and luck and the Flow. He was very annoying and I just wished he’d shut up already. Also, while his obsession with control is very Blue, his obsession with luck isn’t (Red is the color of luck and chance and chaos; Blue is order and design and control); and at one point he uses a spell to kill a man by stopping his heart, which is Black (Blue is about control and domination, not death; when it attacks, it strikes at the mind rather than the body). Anyway, I didn’t care for this one.
THE GOLD BORDER
And finally, there’s “Loran’s Smile”, a story about Feldon mastering all five colors of magic in an attempt to bring his wife Loran back to life. He is ultimately unsuccessful. And what a perfect metaphor for this anthology as a whole: going through the colors of Magic one by one, exploring the nature and abilities of each, but producing a lackluster and disappointing end result which wasn’t worth the effort. This collection had a good idea, but it fell flat on the execution. Too many of the stories contained within its pages were bad, some of them painfully so, and good ones tended to be only average, not enough to make up for the rest. Regretfully, I have to give this anthology a failing grade.
Final Rating: 2/5