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. Black seeks power through ruthlessness or opportunity.
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 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 is unable to 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), and so Black magic can attack no part of it.
- 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.
- 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 that one understands the terror of seeing death and suffering in everything but knows and trusts in nothing, one may say that one understands Black.
A Black individual is focused on self. They are not a proper person unless they find that personally useful, in which case they are the most proper person you will ever know. Black is not a kind person unless they find that personally useful, in which case they make the average White individual look like a moneygrubbing miser. Black is all about the self. This gives Black a curious sort of freedom, perhaps the ultimate freedom—Black does not care how they acquire power, so long as they do. This is why Black is so excellent at infiltration—they have no personal predilections except for power, and that is a goal broad enough to include almost any philosophy or idea that Black wants to have.
Black is also the most unashamed color. Whereas White has a long list of what is "proper", Black is free, open, and shameless about what they do. Perhaps this is the great virtue of Black that no one really looks at—they are truly shameless. Black is about power and the self, but they are extremely truthful about their 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 façade. 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 Black, no matter what they do, will freely admit that they seek their own goals. (A good example of White's duplicity is the Kithkin.)
Misconceptions and Controversies
Perhaps the most common misconception is that Black represents Evil. What is true is that Black is the most likely color to do blunt, open, honest evil; it is the element of "Dark Lords" everywhere: the most blunt cruelty, the most open terror, and the most honest dishonesty. If Black decides to go evil, it 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 blunt, open, and honest about it. Yes, it's often got the raw power and lack of morality to back up its evil. But Black villains are so transparently evil that every single creature on the planet interested in preserving its own life will direct attention towards them—and that includes other Black characters, as they would see the villains' gathered power as a major threat to their own attempts to survive and gain power and would try to bring them down. Against such odds, even Black's open use of horrible magics cannot stand. Villains of other colors, Blue in particular but White and Green as well, by acting subtly would avoid bringing all this firepower down upon their heads, and thus would probably do more damage and be more successful in the long run.
Rather, Black represents the concern for the self above anyone else. Keeping in mind that any person is going to be less a "perfect" or otherwise "extreme" 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. Black may be self-centered in the end, focused on itself, but that doesn't mean it never feels sympathy and that it lacks all kindness—it simply leans towards itself and a certain self-honesty. If Black characters believe that by helping you they can help themselves, then you've gained powerful allies 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. Ironically, whenever Black is anthropomorphized in interviews, it repeatedly criticizes a White-run world. Despite admitting that such a world would make it easier for someone of its color to seize power, Black advocates for individual rights. It wants everyone to have the opportunity to seek power. Rather than forcing others into a restricted system, Black advocates for advancing the interests of the individual, and though Black also includes the interest of any individual to exploit any other individual, those interests can be as varied as individuals themselves, and can easily include things such as (rational) love, friendship, and even egoistic forms of altruism (doing good because it feels good to do it IS technically benefiting the self). After all, all these things provide comfort, pleasure, company, fulfillment, and a whole host of things. Characters who discard those who bring them happiness have no right to call themselves selfish.
So while Black is indeed Selfish, that does not mean it is always materialistic or sadistic. It certainly can be. But Black never defines WHAT you should value. That kind of moralizing is White's business. Black only cares about the aspect of "how".
If your desire is to have all the money in the world. Black doesn't care.
If your desire is to derive pleasure from pain. Black doesn't care.
If your desire is to make yourself and others happy. Black STILL doesn't care. It's the choice of the individual.
Its only real tenets are this:
- "Do what you want because YOU want it. Not out of duty, or obligation, or because someone else told you. Be your OWN advocate. Define your OWN values."
- "Above all else have power. If you do not have power. You will lose all that you value. Because other people DO have power. And they will not hesitate to use that against you."
- Beyond that, Black is free to be as kind and cruel as it wishes. It is, after all, the color of individual choice and self-determination. Why should it force its users to act in a specific way?
As shown by cards such as Locthwain Paladin, Black is also one of the best colors of the hero who never gives up. Heroes persevering against even the most impossible odds, or constantly seeking to improve themselves or their life. For all its cynicism about the nature of people, Black is one of the LEAST fatalistic of colors. This latter aspect puts it in conflict with Green, which strictly believes that individuals are predestined to specific roles in life. Though most instances of this conflict revolve around Black being ambitious and Green being either wiser than or the victim of Black, instances in which Green's the more malicious party of the two have been observed, as with Klothys stamping out people attempting to escape the Underworld.
Even when Black is at its most materialistically or sadistically selfish, it is also unashamed in its evil acts, and so performs them with an unabashed forthrightness that is somewhat virtuous in its own way. That is not to say that Black espouses honesty, but rather that Black is the least likely color to deny any immoral or evil motives behind its own actions.
Even if the ends are more important to them than the means, heroic Black characters have emerged in the lore of Magic. Heroic Black creatures include Xantcha, Chainer, Toshiro Umezawa, and Yahenni; heroic Black Planeswalkers include Sorin Markov, Vraska, and Kaya, with the once villainous Liliana Vess gradually becoming more heroic over the course of the Bolas Arc.
Interactions with other colors
Black and Red: In Red, Black sees a color that knows that the best 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 and the law -if you're powerful enough, nothing can stop you, so screw the weak and frightened. 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. Black/Blue also are extremely pragmatic and subvert the status quo in their quest for unlimited power and knowledge, which puts them at odds with their common enemy, Green, which wants to preserve the communion of the natural world and is driven by instinct.
Black and White: When White and Black agree, it's usually on practical details about group dynamics. 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 as a way to live by the values of having a virtuous life or becoming superior to your peers (hence White and Black get the most clerics, and the Orzhov Syndicate is a religious organization on its face). Whenever Black and White cooperate, it's usually in the government of a group (White) by a powerful and privileged elite (Black) and maintaining this status quo at any cost, which embodies pure Machiavellianism.
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 the "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. Both acknowledge the superiority of the predator over the prey and understand that natural instinct also includes survival at any cost (even cheating and killing), predation, and willpower.
Black versus 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, while a purely White system ensures that all are treated equally. White enforces laws to create social cohesion, while Black exploits laws to benefit itself.
Black versus Green: In Green, Black sees a color that is naïve 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 weak masses exist only 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. More importantly, Green strictly believes in fate and destiny, which greatly disturb Black's ambitious and free-will oriented lifestyle. Not only does it imply Black's quest for control is pointless, but also that an individual's own sense of self has been dictated by something or someone else. Whereas true or not, Black will silence Green's proselytising.
Black versus Red: Occasionally, Black sees Red as being far too chaotic in its search for freedom. While Black certainly supports destruction for an objective (creature removal, for example), Red can sometimes be far too reckless, destroying things simply because they can be destroyed. Also, since Black rarely lets their feelings get in the way of their plans, it perceives Red's intense focus on emotion as foolish. When they both get their hands on a new toy or weapon, Black is at least willing to read the instructions first. But the most important conflict between Black and Red is the importance of emotional bonds with others - Red will sacrifice itself for its loved ones, putting their welfare above itself without coercion. This is anathema for Black, who sees such behavior as the height of stupidity.
Black versus Blue: Occasionally, Black sees Blue as being too focused on how things are accomplished. For Black, while the means can certainly be important in determining a desirable outcome, the ends are much more important as they are the outcome itself: for Black, the process leading to the goal is always 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 doesn't need to be at odds. Finally, their most important conflict is the value of the very act of learning, and the need to share the knowledge gained. Black doesn't value learning and discovering for its own sake, only for the advantage they provide it. This is sad and deplorable for the truth-seeker Blue, which willingly assumes the role of mentor to increase its own knowledge through interactions with its pupils, and also as a means to transmit knowledge to the new generations. Black only will take pupils as a tool to expand its own power, and will throw them away without regret when they have accomplished its purpose.
A black card is defined as any card that has in its mana cost or any card that has a black color indicator . Black is oriented on obtaining power — ultimate power at any cost. In the game of Magic, this means that black cards sometimes use 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.
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 do 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 Indestructible 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 amount of resources.
- Flash (shared with blue and green)
- Lifelink (shared with white)
- Menace (shared with red)
- Deathtouch (shared with green)
- Flying (shared with white and blue)
With a few exceptions, Black is generally the only color that can look at the opponent's hand, 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 or her 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.
Black is more than happy to ignore the cycle of life and death, using creatures in the graveyard with just as much, (if not more) ease as creatures in hand, with a variety of spells and abilities that can both revive your own dead and turn your opponent's fallen against them.
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 of 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 and later, Menace.
- This creature deals combat damage before creatures without first strike.
Though this mechanic is primarily a red and white ability, a number of black creatures have the ability as well, such as Nekrataal and Black Knight. In black, first strike represents subterfuge, dirty tactics, and cunning quickness.
- 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, specters and other living dead are just animated corpses forming the infantry of black magicians. In the wake of Regeneration being phased out, Black has been given the ability to temporarily give creatures Indestructible instead.
- 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 its parasitic spells do. It shares this ability with white.
Black utilizes sacrifice differently from each other color. While white believes in self-sacrifice for the good of others, Black will sacrifice their own creatures and their 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.
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 triggers life loss if a given action happens. R&D was shifting away from life loss, in favor of direct damage, to trim out unnecessary complexity. However, due to the unpopular reception from the players, the templating being longer, and damage overlapping too much with red, this has been reversed.
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).
- 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 a 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.
Besides having temporary -X/-X effects, black is the strongest color for -1/-1 counters.
- Target opponent loses X life and you gain X life
Black's primary source of life gain, parasitism literally siphons 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.
- Remove a counter from target permanent
- Archon (shared with white)
- Demons (iconic creature) 
- Avatars (shared with white)
- Faeries (shared with blue)
- Harpies (shared with blue)
- Kor (shared with white and blue)
- Vampires (characteristic creature, shared with red and white)
- Werewolves (shared with red and green)
- Ogres (shared with red)
- Ooze (shared with green)
- Surrakar (shared with blue)
- Zombies (another characteristic creature, shared with white in Amonkhet and blue)
- Clerics (shared with white)
- Knights (shared with white and red)
- Ninja (shared with blue)
- Pirates (shared with blue and red)
- Rogues (shared with blue and red)
- Samurai (shared with white and red)
- Black spell with the highest converted mana cost (legal): The Cauldron of Eternity (12)
- 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 Creature (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: Arabian Nights Juzam Djinn ($2,500.00 U.S. as valued by Starcity Games)
- Heavily played versions go for about $1,400
- Most expensive Black card from early core sets: Alpha edition Mind Twist ($1,500.00 U.S. as valued by Starcity Games)
- Most unusual expensive Black card: Portal Three Kingdoms Imperial Seal ($500.00 U.S. as valued by Starcity Games)
- Portal sets were meant for new players, and, aside from Three Kingdoms, generally consider devoid of powerful cards.
Notes and references
- Mark Rosewater (February 2, 2004). "In the Black". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Randy Buehler (February 06, 2004). "Defining Black". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater (July 27, 2015). "In the Black Revisited". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater (August 13, 2014). "I'm a bit confused on the actual ideologies of the five colors. Is there any way I could get a quick summary of them?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
- Mark Rosewater (October 20, 2008). "Looking Out For Number One". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- For the purpose of this article, the ego is the psychological embodiment of the conscious will of a thing.
- 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.
- Mark Rosewater (May 23, 2017). "Are rituals still in black or is that only red now?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
- Mark Rosewater (February 17, 2019). "How big an issue is it if three colors all shared...". Blogatog. Tumblr.
- Mark Rosewater (February 19, 2019). "How big an issue is it if three colors all shared...". Blogatog. Tumblr.
- Mark Rosewater (June 5, 2017). "Mechanical Color Pie 2017". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater (March 11, 2018). "Is the change from "you lose 2 life" to "[cardname] deals 2 damage to you" going to be a permanent change?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
- Mark Rosewater (March 12, 2018). "Why are you shifting away from life loss as an effect?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
- Mark Rosewater (March 13, 2018). "I'm very unhappy about black moving away from loss of life.". Blogatog. Tumblr.
- Mark Rosewater (February 8, 2018). ""Drive to Work #609 - Designing Direct Damage" (Explanation begins at 11:04)". Blogatog. Tumblr.
- Mark Rosewater (March 15, 2015). "Characteristic and iconic creatures for each color?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
- Magic Arcana (February 06, 2004). "Wallpaper of the Week: B.F.M. (Big Furry Monster)". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.