The Guilds and Color Philosophy

Lore forum

Posted on Jan. 6, 2019, 10:48 a.m. by ZendikariWol

I am super into color philosophy and I think I've made my stance clear on most of this, though I may comment later if I'm feelin it. But for now I'm just here to stimulate discussion. And so, without further ado,

Do you guys think that the Guilds represent the philosophy of the colors they're trying to embody? How accurately (or inaccurately), then, and how might you make change them to be more accurate?

cdkime says... #2

I think the guilds accurately represent one possible iteration of each two-colour philosophy, but are not end-all-be-all of that colour philosophy. Sometimes I feel Wizards forgets this, and the colours are far too defined by their Ravnica guild’s identity, not the potential any two colours have.

I think it would be fun to visit some planes defined by two-colour philosophies different than Ravnica’s, to really explore the colour combinations in depth, and act as foils to the Guilds we know and love.

January 6, 2019 12:31 p.m.

cdkime says... #3

The_Sorcerer - I take issue with some of your characterisations and conclusions, in particular with Azorius and Orzhov.

Blue is not just about investigation and technology - logic is a key component of Blue’s identity. Azorius perfectly embodies White’s drive for law, strengthened by Blue’s unrelenting dedication to logic.

White is often about morality, but that does not meen White is always a good colour. Both White and Black have elements of order, be it law, fanatical devotion or demon contracts. Combined together, White and Black have great propensity for order unmarred by “good”.

As for why people join Rakdos? Hedonism - the same reason people take drugs they know will kill them, or go on crime sprees, or any number of other self-destructive acts.

January 6, 2019 12:42 p.m.

ZendikariWol says... #4

I think you and I see these things very differently, The_Sorcerer, specifially the philosophy of the colors individually. Have you read MaRo's work on the subject? It's really cool, absolutely read it if you haven't!

Anyway I think you've got the right idea for the colors, but you're looking in the wrong place.

For example, you say that religion is a big part of white- and you'd be right. But it's not religion for religion's sake. Religion, rather, points toward white's real tendencies; specifically their morality and their eagerness to see that morality enforced; their pushiness.

Likewise, blue's tendency to investigate points not toward the act of investigation itself, but toward the desire for discovery, the logical nature. Their affinity for technology is, in the same way, not an affinity for technology itself, but a representation of the urge to advance and to improve.

Black's affinity for death is largely mechanical, but I suppose it does embody the desire for power- for what greater power is there? It could also be a representation of black's constant striving to control its own fate.

Red's affinity for destruction is, once again, a symptom of something else- this time, red's passion, recklessness, and disregard for consequences.

Green is not all nature. This is, for the thousandth time, just an example of green's greater theme, the desire to be part of something larger than itself. I used to be really bored by the flavor of green, before I read up on it. Green a super maternal color, focused on fulfilling the ultimate purpose of every living thing and ensuring it reaches its full potential. Green values simplicity and seeing what's around you, making the very best of what you have, and valuing the most you can the beauty that surrounds you.

Anyway yeah, TL;DR, you often name things that the color does, rather than looking at those things to see what the color represents.

Sorry for the Ted talk. I am passionate on this subject.

January 6, 2019 3:27 p.m.

ZendikariWol says... #5

Well, The_Sorcerer, you asked for this.

I suppose I should split the Guilds into three categories; flavor wins, flavor flops, and somewhere in between.

Flavor Wins

Azorius: captures the pushy morality of white and combines it seamlessly with the intellect of blue.

Boros: captures the pushy morality of white and combines it seamlessly with the passion and aggression of red.

Dimir: black's ambition combines with blue's logic and resourcefulness, once again, seamlessly.

Golgari: I would argue this is the toughest color combo to pull off, but WotC did it. Black's wanting for mastery over their fate should have directly contradicted green's subservience to the natural order. But instead we find a guild that seeks to manipulate the natural order while remaining respectful of it. While accepting nature's power over them, they find different things to be ambitious about.

Izzet: by far the easiest enemy color to pull off, the Izzet perfectly combines blue's lust for perfection with red's drive.

Selesnya: I actually love the flavor of this guild. It's essentially a utopia, everyone has total, justified trust in one another; peace achieved by submission to a higher authority perfectly fulfills both white and green.

Simic: in a similar boat to the Golgari, I thought this would be a strange paradox, with blue's drive to perfect things, combines oddly well with green's acceptance that life is perfect.

Flavor Flops

Rakdos: I like the feel of this guild, but it does NOT capture the feel of red/black. Ideally, red/black would not be a guild at all, in fact it would be a group of people with no dedication to anyone but themselves. That being said, other than gatelessness, I don't know how I would have portrayed the flavor of R/B, and in terms of the mechanics it portrays, Rakdos was spot-on.

In-Between

Gruul: anarchy is an understandable leap, I suppose, since green believes in simplicity and red is the drive and the vigor, but a lot of the time it feels pretty jund- especially in terms of mechanics.

Orzhov: this may be tied with Golgari for toughest color combo to pull off. Normally a black/white character is one who pursues good, but believes the ends justify the means. They often take liberties with the definition of "good" but usually have their heart in the right place. But, since that's tough to make a guild out of, I see why they did what they did.

January 6, 2019 10:02 p.m.

legendofa says... #6

How about looking at some other two-color sets in comparison? (I'm not always totally up on story, so I apologize if I underanalyze or get something wrong )

Ixalan had and . The vampires were decadent nobles, seeking to extend their lifespan beyond its original limits. Like the Orzhov, they sought effective immortality at the expense of others, and had a rigid hierarchy. Unlike the Orzhov, they weren't trying to enslave others. The Ixalan merfolk used strong natural and elemental magic. They're very distinct from the Simic, studying and utilizing natural forces without necessarily trying to impove on them. If the Simic represent biology, the Ixalan merfolk more represent environmentalism, if you get the distinction.

In Dragons of Tarkir, the Ojutai are reclusive mystics, not a police force. The Silumgar are deceitful manipulators, and I think they have some good overlap with the Dimir. The Kolaghan are raiders, marauders, and pillagers, and don't seem to have the hedonistic streak of the Rakdos. Atarka and Gruul probably have the most overlap, deliberately living as primitively as possible, and the Dromoka and the Selesnya have a similar relationship as the Dimir and Silumgar, overlapping in their interdependence, but differing in their approach.

Lorwyn had giants, merfolk, faeries, goblins, and elves. Shadowmoor added kithkin, cinders, goblins, and elves as major two-color factions.

Overall, seems to have the most consistent portrayal as stealthy, manipulative, and corrupting, but not physically powerful. The least consistent, I would say, are and .

January 6, 2019 11:58 p.m.

cdkime says... #7

ZendikariWol - I will defend Wizards on your alleged Flops and near-Flops.

First off, as I have said, I do not think there is one “right” answer for any two-colour philosophy, just as there are many different shades within each individual colour.

So, take Rakdos, while your proposed flavour would fit in Red/Black, that does not preclude Rakdos from also being correct. From Black comes an overwhelming sense to belong to a group, even if said belonging is self-destructive (ex. Shadowborn Apostle). From Red comes emotion. Put them together, it is quite reasonable to believe in a cult of hedonists - after all, the very act of belonging to a group is a pleasure these people crave. It is the same as many cults in the real world.

Gruul’s endgoals are not tainted by Black - they seek power for the sake of power, whereas Black seeks power for a separate end. To the Gruul, strength is everything, and destruction is a side effect of showing strength.

Orzhov I think the problem you and The_Sorcerer have stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of White. White is not defined as a “moral” or “good” colour. White is defined as a colour that believes it is moral or good. That’s a huge distinction - a crusader could be mono-white, evening they brought destruction.

When you combine White and Black, you’re combining the two arguably most self-centered colours that exist - Black’s desire for dominion with White’s unflinching belief that its personal worldview is correct. It is pretty easy to see how you can end up with a Lawful Evil guild (as opposed to a “good guild that pursues good at any cost).

January 7, 2019 1:48 a.m.

ZendikariWol says... #8

legendofa, I would love to get into other examples of color combos and what they potentially did better or worse. However, for now, I think we should really settle this whole guild deal.

To that end, cdkime, let's dance.

You're right, every color does have many different aspects, but normally a guild wants to be where two colors overlap, and that is often at a fairly specific point.

I disagree strongly with black needing to be part of a group. Black, in fact, represents self-centered ambition, something that would often be weighed down by devotion to a group. Shadowborn Apostle was a good example, but not entirely fair. There is likely no devotion to the group for the apostles, but instead a lust for power, to which the group is a means to an end.

That being said, the more I think about it, Rakdos is pretty fine as a representation of . Or, at least, I don't know what I would do differently.

You may be right about the Gruul. Still, their aggression seems too proactive for red or for green. I suppose it's worth noting that red is known for doing things just cuz, but it's totally unprovoked and that makes it a touch out of character.

I am aware of that distinction in white and I thought I made it clear that was my problem with Orzhov. When I say the word "good", that's exactly what I mean; whatever the character perceives as good. Though you're right, the Orzhov do seek power over others, they feel incredibly mono-black to me. They don't think their end is good or right, and they don't care.

January 7, 2019 9:30 a.m.

ZendikariWol says... #9

Also worth noting- nearly every character pursues what they believe is good, everyone just pursues it in different ways.

White, rather than representing morality, actually represents order, because order is what they think is best for the most people.

January 7, 2019 9:34 a.m.

cdkime says... #10

A desire for individual power does not preclude individualistic ideations. You can be dedicated to the group, as an existential concept, or its (usually demonic) leader without being dedicated to your equals in the organisation.

The group, to Black, is a means to an end, but a means that requires absolute devotion. Self-sacrifice, to the group’s end, is seen as a blessing, and a means for obtaining additional power in another life.

If you want another example of how can work, look to Kaladesh. The rebels in Kaladesh had strong Red-Black representation - people who wanted to throw aside the established order.

January 7, 2019 9:56 a.m.

ZendikariWol says... #11

Huh. Sort of similar to what I proposed above, isn't it?

"Ideally, red/black would not be a guild at all, in fact it would be a group of people with no dedication to anyone but themselves."

I mean you're right, red/black often sees fit to become part of a group, and often that group is a group of rejects (or rebels, as it were), much like I had in mind. Perhaps, thinking about it now, I might portray r/b as the gateless; a band of charming, morally ambiguous misfits.

January 7, 2019 10:36 a.m.

cdkime says... #12

I agree that would be an acceptable use of Red/Black, but I do not think that makes sense for Ravnica. Rakdos, like all the other guilds, serves a very specific purpose and is necessary for society to function.

Ravnica is a plane dominated by tyrannical entities. The Dimir want to control you; the Azorius want to rule you; the Orzhov want you in debt; the Boros are prone to crackdowns; the Selesnya want to put the collective whole first; the Simic want to transform you. How do people, particularly the downtrodden, traditionally react to such an overwhelming abundance of order?

  1. The embrace their position at the bottom, and try to make the best they can. The Golgari gives these people a home, and they provide important services for Ravnica.

  2. They try to improve their lot in life through study and ingenuity. The Izzet gives these people a home, and they advance and maintain Ravnica's technical prowess.

  3. They reject society all together, and call for a return to a simpler time. This is the Gruul's domain, and the Gruul have turned the focus on fighting one another for power, rather than destroying Ravnica.

  4. They give up, and just decide to embrace chaos and their own personal entertainment. These are people who have embraced destruction, but have not given up on society as a whole, making them very dangerous. Rakdos gives them an outlet for their aggression, turning their machinations to spectacle rather than the destruction of society itself.

  5. They just live and let live. These are the Guildless, and, with the exception of the goblins, they're not going to pose a threat to the established order, and thus don't need to be controlled.

While it would make sense on any other plane for Red/Black to be an aimless group of individuals, Ravnica is special--the entire system is designed to maintain the city, despite power struggles. By being an organized guild, Rakdos has a place in society, and fills a necessary role in the city's order.

January 7, 2019 11:12 a.m.

ZendikariWol says... #13

I disagree, cdkime. Here are the responses I would postulate for tyranny:

1) a group with no social hierarchy at all, kinda like the Selesnya.

2) a violent counterculture, kinda like the Gruul.

3) people who gently resist tyranny, looking to preserve civilization and the social hierarchy while also denying tyranny, kinda like the Boros (I will go into detail that point if you like), Izzet, Golgari, and Simic.

January 7, 2019 4:34 p.m.

cdkime says... #14

I will concede that I made a bit of an oversimplification of the complexity of human reactions. Arguably a point could be made for each guild, and how it is, in its own way, a reaction against the other nine. I will stand by my statements for the guilds mentioned in my previous post however. In the interest of discussion, I will respond to your second point, then go into more detail about the six guilds I neglected to previously mention.

With regard to your second point, I think you have made a wild simplification on point I had previously made with regard to Gruul. While I agree the Gruul represent a reactionary counterculture, they fail to encapsulate the full spectrum of this type of reaction. The Gruul represent the side of the counterculture coin that wants to tear down society; Rakdos represents the other side--the side that accepts society, but still remains apart from it. The Gruul are, effectively, Luddites--people who ran about England smashing industrial equipment in protest of their society. The Rakdos are a more extreme version of the Swingjugend--Germans who protested the Nazi dominion through counter-culture dance and parties.

Moving on to the other guilds (with the caveat that, these will also be brief simplifications of the complexity of emotion):

  1. Selesnya - in a world where there seems to be constant conflict and struggles for power, Selesnya offers an escape--a more holistic approach to life.

  2. Boros and Azorius both serve similar functions, though the former through enforcement and the later legislature. One might join either group for the reason you addressed in your third point--to resist oppression by standing up for your personal ideals.

  3. Orzhov represents a path to escape the tyranny of death, and the potential for a better life in the next life. While this is a bit more literal on Ravnica than in the real world, there are pretty clear parallels with historical religions.

  4. The Simic offer a path to self-improvement, as well as a chance to deny convention. Like the Izzet, they offer a chance for one's own merit and ingenuity to propel them forward.

  5. Dimir - the Dimir offer a chance to make a difference in the world, akin to the Boros and the Azorius. Whereas Azorius and Boros seek to change Ravnica through order, the Dimir do not seek to change Ravnica directly--but rather use manipulation to convince others to change Ravnica in a way the Dimir find favourable.


For the short form: Each guild is a reaction against the other nine, and each fills a different role in keeping the remainder balanced. I stand by the fact Rakdos fills a gap others cannot; and that existing within a structure allows Rakdos to fulfill the needs that Gruul alone cannot.

I know that's an awful lot to say in defense of Rakdos' existence in its present form. Both Ravnica and Colour philosophy are topics I find fairly interesting, and enthusiasm on a topic and an inclination toward verbosity do not mix well!

January 7, 2019 5:26 p.m.

ZendikariWol says... #15

1) I agree, and I think that's the whole appeal of Selesnya.

2) I would argue that the Azorius and Boros differ in one key aspect: the Boros want the populace to be moral but understands basic boundaries, where the Azorius do not. The Azorius want to control people, where Boros want to enforce justice.

3) Orzhov does NOT lead a path to the next life for anyone who's not in debt.

4) Once again, I agree, and the embracing oneself combined with the understanding that you have room to improve is the very thing that resonates most with me about the Simic Combine.

5) while you're right, technically, usually the Dimir don't have illusions of pure intentions. They know what they're doing and they're doing it, usually, for power. I think.

And I... actually agree wholeheartedly with you on the role of the Rakdos. But I think that they could have made the guild maybe not a crazy sadomasochistic cult? Red/Black to me has always been about relentless, fearless self-expression, and while the guild's members often encapsulate this, once again, it feels like the guild have two modes: genuine, progressive, and honest, or, ya know, crazy sadomasochistic cult. Get what I'm saying?

January 7, 2019 9:22 p.m.

That was too long, I didn’t read. But will it really matter once Ravnica is conquered?

January 8, 2019 6:49 p.m.

ZendikariWol says... #17

Unfortunately, NicoFreakinBolas, you can't spell Nicol without an L at the end, no matter how you may try. And from the looks of it, the end is at hand for our elder dragon nemesis.

January 8, 2019 9:26 p.m.

ZendikariWol You think the Great Bolas hasn’t died before, not even death can stop the most powerful being in the Multiverse

January 9, 2019 7:03 p.m.

Teferi-3030 says... #19

Forgive me, but I feel the need to point out the mathematical theme of the guild’s color distribution.

Just in case no one has looked up “Ravnican Guilds” on the MTG Wiki, all guilds that are aligned with Nicol Bolas have planeswalker leaders and guilds that fight against him have creature leaders. After some mental deliberation, I unearthed these facts:

Each side has even mana colors, meaning that the loyal guilds have two guilds with white, Boros and Selesnya, two guilds with blue, Dimir and Simic, two guilds with black, Dimir and Rakdos, two guilds with red, Rakdos and Boros, and finally two guilds with green, Selesnya and Simic.

The disloyal guilds are the same: Azorius and Orzhov for white, Azorius and Izzet for blue, Golgari and Orzhov for black, Izzet and Gruul for red, and finally Golgari and Gruul for green.

P.S I found out the leaders of the RNA guilds on a website called Scryfall. It’s just a database for MTG cards.

Next, each set has color balance!

In Return to Ravnica, we have Boros and Selesnya for white, Izzet and Dimir for blue, Golgari and Dimir for black, Boros and Izzet for red, and Golgari and Selesnya for green.

Likewise, RNA has Azorius and Orzhov for white, Azorius and Simic for blue, Orzhov and Rakdos for black, Rakdos and Gruul for red, and finally Gruul and Simic for green.

Hope this is interesting to someone, sorry if you think it’s off-topic, and have a nice day!

I spent way too much time figuring this out BTW

January 12, 2019 6:52 p.m.

Teferi-3030 says... #20

Also, if you add the numbers of letters in the full names of each guild, e.g. “Azorius Senate” would be thirteen letters, and then add all of the other guilds’ full names the result is exactly 120 letters. If you divide by the number of guilds (10), and subtract how many words are in every guild’s name (2), you get the number of guilds. And if you look at the number of letters that the full names of the guilds give separately, in the order that they appear on the guildpact going clockwise, you have this pattern: 13, 14, 10, 11, 10, 12, 10, 11, 15, 12. Looking at the even vs. odd numbers, we find: odd, even, even, odd, even, even, even, odd, odd, even. If we convert this into streaks of either even or odd: 1-2-1-3-2-1.

I don’t know if anyone else knows about this or cares, but there you have it.

January 12, 2019 8:17 p.m.

ZendikariWol says... #21

The first post was common knowledge to me, but the second... I did not follow that at all. What is the significance of that string of numbers? ANY of those strings of numbers?

January 12, 2019 11 p.m.

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