Not Quite Metal?



Magic HeaderMagic: The Gathering, the first ever trading card game, was given to the world by Dr. Richard Garfield in 1993. The concept is that each player is a mage engaged in a duel, casting spells represented by the cards. Magic has grown in popularity every consecutive year since its introduction, with no signs of slowing down in the near future. New sets of cards come out every few months, and just about every year the game takes place in a new and different plane of the Multiverse, with new settings and characters, represented in-game by brand new creatures, spells, and artifacts. Of course, the rules remain the same no matter the setting, and the game retains the essence of its character no matter far we travel into the vast infinitudes of the Multiverse. One of these crucial constants is the Color Wheel (also called the Color Pie), represented pictorially below.

MTG color wheel

The idea behind the Color Wheel is that a mage will study one or more disciplines of magic, represented by the five colors of Magic: White, Blue, Black, Red, and Green. It’s a wheel because any one color has two neighboring “ally” colors on either side of itself, and two “enemy” colors on the opposite side. Colors have mechanical and thematic kinship with their allies, and are conversely distant from their enemies. This post is inspired by conversations had on the road with Maeth, wherein my bandmate Boone and I attempted to determine what Magic colors best represented various metal subgenres and individual bands. Let’s explore the color’s themes, strengths, and weaknesses, so you too can participate in our discussion even if you’ve never played Magic.

White is the color of courage, protection, and purity. All noble qualities certainly, but White is also the color of authority, armies, and potentially even fascism. White has the best defense and has strong “control” options, but is also capable of being aggressive, especially by swarming with many small creatures.

Blue is the color of intellect, caution, and sneak attacks. It is the least aggressive and most controlling color; Blue would rather not attack immediately, but will instead hatch a grand plan that takes some time to unfold, and will stall the opponent with counterspells or slowly pick at the opponent’s life total with evasive creatures.

Black is the color of selfishness, embracing death, and gaining power at all cost. Black has both aggressive and controlling natures, and is capable of some of the strongest moves in the game, but everything comes at a price. To kill your opponent’s creature you may need to sacrifice one of your own. Or you might be able to draw several cards to add to your hand, but at the cost of half your life total.

Red is the color of fire, impulse, and damage. It is the most aggressive and least controlling of the colors. It can deal damage the fastest, but has very little orientation towards defense. Red creatures may get in one huge short-sighted attack, but die that very turn. Red spells can do direct damage to players and creatures, an enormously powerful effect, but it has no way of dealing with opponent’s sorceries and enchantments.

Green is the color of life, nature, and instinct. Just like the natural world, it can be both fearsome and serene. It has the biggest, most cost-effective creatures and can cast large spells in earlier turns than the other colors. Thematically, this is due to Green’s reverence for nature and hatred of anything artificial. Green doesn’t tend to vanquish its foes with sorceries; it prefers to summon an enormous beast that can simply trample over the opponent.

ok cool story bro BUT WHAT ABOUT THE METAL!?

WHITE: Traditional/Power Metal
Judas Priest, Blind Guardian, Manowar

White is the establishment, and bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden have set the tone and template of what we call “metal” in modern times. Bands that follow in their footsteps are a part of their army, maintaining order within the populace. To this end there is perhaps no Whiter band than MANOWAR, champions of purity, calling out to their brothers in arms against the scourge of false metal.

BLUE: Progressive metal
Cynic, Tool, Animals as Leaders

Blue is all about thought and trickery, so duh, that’s prog. Any band whose songs could just as easily be considered “compositions” with distinct movements is knee-deep in a pile of Blue. Cynic is the oldest prog band I can think of that I could describe as being metal, but also not particularly aggressive, so I’ve selected them as my Blue totem.

BLACK: Death/black metal
Death, Mayhem, Morbid Angel

Black bands are those who utterly disregard convention of what is appropriate, in favor of sounding as evil and unapproachable as possible. Black doesn’t pays no heed toward being kind to others, and neither do death metal and black metal bands. Do I really need to explain why Mayhem is Black as fuck?

RED: Thrash/hardcore
Slayer, Kreator, Converge

Red is fast, chaotic, and doesn’t have time for your shit. To me, Red basically describes bands with strong punk influence, whether it manifests in the form of 80’s thrash or chaotic metalcore ala Converge or Botch. Slayer is archetypal Red to me, because not only are the riffs fast, but the solos sound like a vicious mess, exactly Red’s style.

GREEN: Doom/sludge/stoner metal
Black Sabbath, Sleep, Red Fang

Of course stoner metal is Green (seewhatididthere?). Green cares about the past and wants to accept its surroundings rather than build over them, so sludge bands that take more directly after Black Sabbath than other branches of metal or are still somewhat rooted in blues are Green to me. Extra credit if the band is obsessed with having a “live, natural, warm sound.”

Most Magic cards have a single color, but many have 2, 3, or even all 5 colors. Similarly, some bands are most effectively described as a multi-color combo. Opeth epitomizes Blue/Black. Wolves in the Throne Room are of course a Black/black metal band, but the tranquility in their music and their obsession with nature makes them equally Green. Calling Symphony X simply either a power band or a prog band fails to capture their identity; they are perhaps the ultimate White/Blue band. There is a strong argument to be made that Blood Mountain-era Mastodon is a tri-color combination of Red/Green/Blue, combining sludgy sensibilities with the intensity of thrash and the detailed composition of prog.

Footnote: Much of the content of this post borrows heavily from the writings of Mark Rosewater, the current head designer of Magic and the planet’s foremost authority on Magic color philosophy. If you have any interest in the making of Magic or just game design in general, I highly recommend reading his weekly column on the official Magic blog. If you want to see every column Mark Rosewater has written about the color wheel of Magic, click here.

Your turn to sound off, readers… Who is Blacker than Mayhem!? Could there ever be a more Green/Blue band than Giant Squid? What band (if any) should rightfully be represented as a 5-color card, taking legitimate inspiration from all 5 aforementioned subgenres of metal!? 


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