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Black mana symbol

“ 

Power through ruthlessness

— Mark Rosewater[1]
 ”

Black is one of the five Colors of mana in Magic. It is drawn from the power of swamps and embodies the principles of free will and amorality. 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.[2][3][4] Seeing the world as a place where every individual works for their own earned benefit and is responsible for their fate, Black seeks to acquire self-determination and power by any possible means, including opportunism, murder, treason, and cruelty.[2][5][6][7]

In gameplay, Black's willingness to use amoral tools such as death and mental afflictions is represented by targeted destruction and discard spells. Black's contempt towards morality grants them access to more abilities than other colors, but they require an additional cost, such as trading their own life and creatures for card draw. Black harnesses its own dastardly specialties as well, such as weakening victims' stats. In combination with attrition strategies, such as reanimation spells or gradual life drain, Black can reduce its opponents' outs until they have nothing left but defeat.[8][9][10]

However, Black's ruthlessness can put it into precarious positions with little resources, such as after spending too much life or sacrificing too many creatures. Black's fascination with fear and death makes it struggle to deal with unfeeling, lifeless artifacts. Black's tempting selfishness also makes it the color with the highest tendency towards monocolor, with Black being the color with the most colored pips in its costs. Note that unlike Red which recklessly leaves itself vulnerable in the long term, Black makes calculated risks that might come back to hurt Black in the long term, as exemplified by its Devil's Deal effects. To Black, power always comes at a cost, and failure is not dependent on your enemy's mistakes, but the inability to outrun your own.[9][10]

The current member of the council of colors for Black is Corey Bowen.[11]

Flavor[ | ]

The essence of Black can be summarized in having the last word on its own life.

Black looks at the world and sees a simple reality: power is everything. Power dictates who succeeds and who fails; who commands and who submits; who lives and who dies. And whether the weak see it or not, they are at the mercy of the powerful. Black sees its own will as something so precious that the idea of losing it or giving it up is unacceptable. Thus, to live according to this notion, Black must preserve and expand their free will by all means; which inevitably translates into gaining power. It aspires to be as powerful as it could be, reaching omnipotence if possible.

To achieve power, Black follows a simple rule: don't follow any rule. It looks for any opportunity to get ahead and takes advantage of it without mercy or shame. Of course, killing and sowing terror is not a problem for Black either. All living beings are subject to fear, and Black does not hesitate to provoke and use the fear of others to achieve its purposes.

The ambition of power is the greatest factor in Black's inner psychology, countering all forms of meekness, laziness, and conformism. On a philosophical level, this power search can be positively motivated, from the recognition of one's individuality and free will as the basis of human dignity and happiness; or negatively, from a deep fear of defeat in all forms (including death) that leads to power for power's sake, losing identity and humanity in the process. This second perspective is the most reflected in MTG, stereotyping Black as the classic "Dark Lord" creator of its ruin, although there are also a few examples of the first one, especially in recent editions.

On a mechanical level, it must be noted that black magic is NOT creative. Black sees power dynamics as a zero-sum game not subordinated to anything external. That is why it uses parasitic mechanics (zero-sum) and amoral mechanics (power does not submit to systems, but originates them). Life draining, abuse of the cemetery, theft of enemy cards and sacrifice of permanents to obtain a benefit are typical examples of this.

Attributes[ | ]

Black individuals focus on themselves and their interests. They are proper, kind, harsh, treacherous, etc. only if they find it useful to be it, and vice versa. This doesn't mean they haven't personal predilections about how to be or act, but they'll rarely let them interfere with their quest for power. A truly Black individual does not worry about how to acquire power, as long as he/she does. The end justifies the means. Not always; but very few ends are so particular as to care about the means.

Black is also the most honest and unashamed color, at its core. While it can pretend to be something that isn't to surpass others, doesn't allow itself to fall for its lies and masquerade. Black values and respects the reality and the truth, even if it misrepresents them before others to gain an advantage. But with itself, and to those it wants to help, Black speaks the naked truth without distorting or hiding anything. This adherence to truth is key for its success, as allows it to do things no matter how horrible, abhorrent, shameful, or even laughable they are, overcoming any remorse or peer pressure.

But despite all the things it's capable and willing to do, Black is not free of necessity and responsibility. Daily life is full of choices that must be made, and a bad decision can ruin the work of an entire day—or an entire life—a fact of which Black is well aware. Because of this, Black invests lots of time and effort to identify the things it can control or influence (which it's responsible for) and the things that can not (which it can only accept). Black does not reject responsibility, but the exact opposite. It only rejects paying the worst parts of the price of its decisions if it can avoid it, or makes others pay for it.

It has to be noted that Black is one of the least fatalistic of colors, despite - or due to - its embracement of the most dark aspects of reality and humanity. Black believes people ought to do everything possible to improve their situations by the means available, and encourages them to do it. This does not mean that Black wants everyone to succeed - something impossible and undesirable from its perspective -, but wants everyone to have a chance.

Misconceptions and Controversies[ | ]

Good and evil[ | ]

Maybe the most common misconception is to think that Black embodies Evil. Understandable, given the omnipresent horrific-malicious flavor in the majority of black cards in all editions. But Black is not inherently evil. No color has a monopoly on either good or evil, and malice, heinousness, and violence are neither inherent to nor exclusive to Black.

Why does Black appear to be more evil than the other colors? For two reasons: it's willing to do evil and is competent at it.

True, Black has no problem doing evil to others—in horrific and scary ways—if it considers them to be the best and/or the only way to achieve its goals. This means it's willing to overcome the inner barriers which would prevent it to do, such as remorse, compassion, decency, or adherence to a moral code. But Black doesn't do this because it believes that Evil is inherently superior or desirable to Good, but because it considers it wrong to limit its options to get ahead. Black Amorality must be understood as a way to legitimize the right to choose between Good and Evil and to benefit from the power of both. Not as a devaluation of Good, or a glorification of Evil.

In the same way of thought, Black always chooses to be competent. Since it doesn't limit its ways to do evil, neither time nor place, Black is extremely dangerous when it has to do evil things. Since Black is responsible for itself at any moment, when Evil becomes the best or the only option, Black has to be able to do it, and do it well.

Power for power's sake[ | ]

Another common misconception is that Black pursues power for the power itself, trying to become the "number one" in a senseless race to omnipotence—or out from the abyss. While it's true that this is a negative way to express Black philosophy, and sadly a frequent one in MTG characters, it's not the only way to be Black-aligned. As we noted in the introduction, power is only a tool to maximize one's free will.

But what does one do with their free will? Whatever they want to do.

A Black individual is not forced to become a power-hungry monster or to see the rest of the world as a trophy and/or a menace. Also, it doesn't need to pursue by default political dominance, goals harmful to others, monetary goals, or even selfish goals. Of course, Black encourages people to take care of themselves and discourages putting others first, but neither commands the former nor forbids the latter. Black does not provide a set of goals that black-aligned individuals have to pursue, only a method (not abiding by needless restrictions) and a worldview to face reality (the truth about power). One can choose any goal they desire, for whatever reasons; Black only reminds people that freedom of choice doesn't mean freedom from consequences, so choices have to be made in the proper way to succeed.

When fear, ego, pettiness, and aversion to suffering are the main driving forces of the majority of individuals, it's no surprise that they fall into the consequences of their own poor decisions, driven by poorer motivation. Black is aware that it can overcome almost anyone by giving them a bit of power which eventually will lead them to their destruction. Excellence is for a few and doesn't reside in the power of an individual but in its will.

Egomania and selfishness[ | ]

In line with the former, Black is often represented with a monstrous ego. Once again, this is just one—sadly common—way to express Black, and not the only one. While Black certainly will defend their ego and try to reshape the world at their convenience when they believe it's a viable and optimal choice, the supreme value Black wants to protect is not its ego, but its free will. Not the reasons why it makes its choices (which can lose its convenience or sense at a given moment), but the ability to make them in the first place. Black is not above being humble or empathizing with others, or radically changing its self-image and priorities when it's necessary. The only intolerable thing for Black is not being able to decide the course of their own life, and this includes why, when, and how to die; either in a psychological or even literal way.

Rules[ | ]

A black card is defined as any card that has {B} in its mana cost or any card that has a black color indicator {CI_B}. 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 doable 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.[12]

Black is the color that 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 to several "weakness" type spells that give 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 are 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.

The following evergreen keywords are associated with the color black (as well as the colors they share it with):[13]

Mechanics[ | ]

Discarding[ | ]

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.[14] 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.

Reanimation (the primary strategy of Reanimator decks)[ | ]

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.

Reanimation has been proven to be a hyper-competitive strategy that has been implemented successfully in Commander, Legacy, and Modern. Reanimator decks also occasionally appear in Pioneer and Historic. It is a way to skip ahead cheating a big creature into play.

Although the most efficient Reanimation spells are seen as hyper-competitive, there are plenty of other cards with Reanimation effects that allow for healthy casual play.

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 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.

First strike[ | ]

This creature deals combat damage before creatures without first strike.

Though this mechanic is primarily a red and white ability, several black creatures 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, 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.

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 its parasitic spells do. It shares this ability with white.

Sacrifice[ | ]

Black utilizes sacrifice differently from each other color. While white believes in self-sacrifice for the good of others, Black will sacrifice their 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 that 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 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.[15][16][17] However, due to the unpopular reception from the players, the templating being longer, and damage overlapping too much with red, this has been reversed.[18]

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 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 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.

Parasitism[ | ]

Target opponent loses X life and you gain X life

Black's primary source of life gain, parasitism siphons the life out of others, allowing the mage to feed on their life force. This has been an ability of black consistently throughout 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.

Interactions with other colors[ | ]

Agreements[ | ]

Black and White[ | ]

While the rivalry between White and Black is the most iconic of the game, they agree on important and fundamental values like Free Will (for Black is quintessential, for White is the element that gives value to moral choices), Responsibility (for Black is a duty to itself, for White is a duty to the world), Hard effort and sacrifice (even though Black is willing to make others effort and sacrifice if it has the choice, while White will do the opposite) and Religiousness (for both this world and the next, religions offer a way of salvation; and Black's respect for truth doesn't allow it to deny the spiritual dimension of the reality). At a practical scale, they're the embodiment of Machiavellism and merit-based aristocracy, whether they are an elite genuinely concerned about the fate of their people or mere mobster leeches in power devoted to luxury and the good life.

Black and Blue[ | ]

In Blue, Black sees a color that doesn't shy away from the ugliness of the world and values quality and competence. Blue's quest for omniscience matches perfectly with Black's desire for omnipotence, leading to a color pair that wants absolute dominion over reality. Blue/Black doesn't make excuses, but looks for solutions to problems, being the most rational-optimist combination of colors. They're also extremely cold and calculating, which can lead to a total lack of humanity towards others, or to a refined self-consciousness able to fit gracefully in any occupation, environment or circumstance.

Black and Red[ | ]

In Red, Black sees a color willing to live its own life under its terms, overcoming any obstacles in the process. Black's emphasis on Free Will mixed with Red's emphasis on its Sensitivity leads to a combination that stands for the most deep and true desires of the human heart - be those sublime or abhorrent. Black/Red is the chain-breaker par excellence, which defends its importance and dignity against everything and everyone else, no matter other considerations. They're fearless, resolutive, independent, and able to express true triumph and joy of life - or total dehumanizing nihilism - more than any other combination.

Black and Green[ | ]

While it could appear that Black and Green only can agree on basic notions of survival and necessity, this is simply not true. They both share important and deep values like respect for reality and truth (Black focuses on what is and what can be from it, while Green most on the former), the acceptance of death and predation as necessary for life (with Black more being proactive and Green more letting them happen), the celebration of strength and beauty as inherently good things, unyielding determination in everything they do, and a full immersion on themselves and their circumstances as an existential answer; since nature is the first and only environment in which free will truly be, and nature acquires its essence and value when their creatures not only live, but they choose to.

Disagreements[ | ]

Black versus White[ | ]

In White, Black sees a color that wants to legitimate and perpetuate weakness in the world, and which tries to force everyone to live under an arbitrary set of rules. Black rejects being restrained to only one set of tools labeled as "good" (which, to make it worse, aren't even utterly good under Black's view), as it defines the goodness of an act by the result it provides, not its nature. On the other hand, White encourages people to put their trust in a force external to them (being God, the State, their group of peers, etc.) and to entrust their fates to it, which is anathema for Black as it sees it as a perpetuation of dependence and naiveness. Of course, the fact that White is not vulnerable to fear, blackmail, or bribes, and is willing to receive pain to enforce its beliefs and serve as inspiration to others, is no good news for Black when it needs to corrupt or submit those others.

Black versus Blue[ | ]

Occasionally, Black sees Blue as being too focused on the method of accomplishing things. For Black, while the method can certainly be important in determining a desirable outcome, it'll always be secondary and isn't relevant enough to delay or suspend plans by sticking to it. Black also doesn't understand the mutual exclusion Blue establishes between planning and getting rid of threats: to replan from zero won't be as terrible as risking a complete game over. Finally, their most important conflict is the value of the very acts of learning and teaching. Black doesn't value learning for its own sake, only for the advantages it provides. This is deplorable for the truth-seeker Blue, which willingly assumes a mentoring role for both to increase its knowledge through its pupils and to transmit it to the next generations. Black will take pupils only as a tool to accomplish its goals, throwing them away when they accomplish their purpose, and will keep hidden the most advantageous information and secrets to surpass others and protect itself.

Black versus Red[ | ]

Occasionally, Black sees Red as being far too chaotic in its search for thrill and freedom. While Black certainly supports destruction for an objective, Red can sometimes be far too reckless, destroying things simply because they can be destroyed. Also, since Black rarely lets its feelings get in the way of its plans, it tends to perceive 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 happily sacrifice itself for its loved ones, putting their welfare above itself without coercion, and won't hesitate to help a stranger if it feels right. Black sees such behavior as the height of stupidity since such a decision doesn't allow one to make new ones in the future, and a loved one today could be irrelevant or even an enemy tomorrow. Not to mention the obvious and proven risks of trusting a stranger!

Black versus Green[ | ]

To Black, Green is a color that promotes laziness, conformism, and mindlessness. Black believes it's licit to exploit the natural resources (both inorganic and organic) even beyond the renovation point since it only gives them instrumental value, which opposes Green's belief in the intrinsic value and dignity of nature. Black also believes that, since unfettered life leads to trouble, it is okay to kill living beings to avoid a major ecological disaster, while Green would not interfere with such a thing, letting it happen organically. Green's tune with nature is obnoxiously passive and frustrating for Black, who sees it as an abdication of the true natural gift of being able to change things. Finally, Green strictly believes in essence-based predestination, which not only implies Black's quest for power is pointless, but also that an individual's identity core is utterly given by an external force. Losing their free will under the rhythm of the web of life, as Green does, is unacceptable for Black.

Black-aligned tribes[ | ]

Humanoid/intelligent races

Monstrous/subservient types

Classes:

Trivia[ | ]

  • Black spell with the highest converted mana cost (legal): Shadow of Mortality (15)
  • Strongest Black Creature (legal/non-token): Yargle and Multani (18/6)
  • Toughest Black Creature (legal/non-token): Withengar Unbound. (13/13)
  • 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 considered devoid of powerful cards.

See also[ | ]

References[ | ]

  1. Mark Rosewater (July 14, 2023). "Drive to Work #1051: Blue-Black-Red"
  2. a b Mark Rosewater (February 2, 2004). "In the Black". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
  3. Randy Buehler (February 06, 2004). "Defining Black". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
  4. Mark Rosewater (July 27, 2015). "In the Black Revisited". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
  5. 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.
  6. Mark Rosewater (October 20, 2008). "Looking Out For Number One". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
  7. Mark Rosewater (July 14, 2023). "Drive to Work #1051: Blue-Black-Red"
  8. Wizards of the Coast (Accessed April 3, 2024). "Where to Start". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
  9. a b Mark Rosewater (October 18, 2021). "Mechanical Color Pie 2021". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
  10. a b Mark Rosewater (June 14, 2024). "Drive to Work #1146: Color Weaknesses"
  11. Mark Rosewater (January 8, 2022). "Who is currently on the Council of Colors?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
  12. Mark Rosewater (May 23, 2017). "Are rituals still in black or is that only red now?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
  13. Mark Rosewater (February 19, 2019). "How big an issue is it if three colors all shared...". Blogatog. Tumblr.
  14. Mark Rosewater (June 5, 2017). "Mechanical Color Pie 2017". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
  15. 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.
  16. Mark Rosewater (March 12, 2018). "Why are you shifting away from life loss as an effect?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
  17. Mark Rosewater (March 13, 2018). "I'm very unhappy about black moving away from loss of life.". Blogatog. Tumblr.
  18. Mark Rosewater (February 8, 2018). ""Drive to Work #609 - Designing Direct Damage" (Explanation begins at 11:04)". Blogatog. Tumblr.
  19. Mark Rosewater (March 15, 2015). "Characteristic and iconic creatures for each color?". Blogatog. Tumblr.
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