She is a theme of honour and renown,
A spur to valiant and magnanimous deeds,
Whose present courage may beat down our foes,William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida
We have seen a lot of dark cards in our past articles, with no shortage of scary and horrific quotes. When we analyzed citations from Poe and Coleridge we encountered many dreadful cards, and unsurprisingly, most of them were Black. So, why not tackle the opposite side of the Magic color wheel?
In this new installment, we'll deal with some typical values and themes seen in the color White, such as faith, innocence, perseverance, and peace. Let's just take a brief look at some preliminary examples, before moving on to an exploration of major themes.
As you can see, no matter the card type, the values of White are always clearly discernible in both the image and the flavor text. Pearled Unicorn with its charming Lewis Carrol quote, and Repentant Blacksmith with its image of men hard at work, suitably convey the concepts of faith and endurance. Sacred Nectar, with its Coleridge quote from Kubla Khan about "the milk of paradise" bespeaks an Edenic vibe of blissful innocence. Even Karakas—which is a land and therefore technically not white but rather colorless—partakes of White's usual values through its image of an idyllic temple and its playful Dickinson quote about clovers, bees, and revery.
Now, let's start with the real analysis. This time, we are not going to proceed in chronological order, but rather by grouping together cards that share similar values and discussing them together. There are plenty of cards meeting our parameters, so we'll split this into two parts. In this week's article, we'll deal with Courage and Peace. In the next installment of the series, we'll address Endurance and Honor.
Bravery is among the most distinctive traits seen in White cards. While it's not necessarily the main characteristic of this color as a whole, when it comes to White creatures, it's possibly the most common theme. In fact, two out of the three cards that we are going to analyze are creatures with a courage theme, and even the third one, despite being an instant, pertains equally to this same matter.
She is a theme of honor and reknown, [...]William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida
Whose present courage may beat down our foes.
Let's start with an Angel, i.e. one of the most typically white creatures. Ever since Serra Angel, this creature type has been beloved to every Magic player. Exalted Angel was originally printed in Onslaught (2002), a set that used to rely heavily on tribals. In 2006 it was reprinted as one of the Judge Rewards Promos.
The original card had no room for flavor since the box was needed for the reminder of the new ability Morph. Here, instead, we find this quotation from Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, a play set during the Trojan War which ends with the death of Hector. The actual quotation, spoken by Troilus, has an extra line. You can read it at the very beginning of this piece, but it was omitted on the card.
The woman Troilus is talking about is no less than Helen, who as you may know was the main impetus behind the entire Trojan War. Here, she is described as a motivation for the Trojan heroes to keep fighting in defense of their city. On the one hand, it feels a bit funny to associate the famously beautiful Helen with such a strong creature (4/5 with Flying and Lifelink). After all, she never fights: she just stays behind the walls of Troy. However, she inspired the Trojans to endure a ten-year siege—not to mention spurring the Greek king Menelaus to start the war to save face in the first place—so the flavor text with its themes of honor and valor is in fact quite fitting.
We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat.Queen Victoria
Seasoned Marshal is a much less impressive creature than the previous one. An uncommon originally printed in Portal (1997), it's a run-of-the-mill card created for core sets and beginners. In fact, it got a few reprints, but mostly in core sets. The version we are interested in is the one from Ninth Edition, which is the only version with a real-world flavor text.
The quotation comes from a letter Queen Victoria wrote to Arthur Balfour during the Boer War. As such, it's similar to some of the cards we discussed in our previous installment. It contains an excerpt which is not coming from a proper book or literary text. The full citation continues with a final statement: "They do not exist," just to make sure she's not been misunderstood.
The illustration by Matthew D. Wilson shows a fierce and confident woman, dressed in armor and holding a banner. While this character may not look like Queen Victoria at all, she nevertheless conveys that same spirit of determination expressed in the letter to Balfour. All around, it's a great pairing of art and flavor, delivering a message of strength and confidence.
The hour of your redemption is here… Rally to me… rise and strike. Strike at every favorable opportunity. For your homes and hearths, strike!General Douglas MacArthur
Inspirit, as we mentioned in the introduction, is an instant, but still, it has very much to do with creatures. It pumps and untaps a creature of your choice. The first version comes from Onslaught. It received this flavor text when it was reprinted in Ninth Edition.
The person speaking is General MacArthur, and the quote is an excerpt from his speech to the people of the Philippines on October 20th, 1944. Again, it's not from a literary source, but rather from a speech. This makes Inspirit a weird card, as it draws directly from modern history, like Seasoned Marshal. If you are interested, you can listen to the full speech on YouTube.
It's a rousing address, and surely among the strongest quotes that have ever appeared on a Magic card. The fact that it was actually delivered as a public address makes it even more impactful, notwithstanding the perennial issue of real-world quotations disturbing the suspension of disbelief typical of any fantasy work.
We have just seen three examples of how the color White in Magic is the color of courage, military valor, and strength. On the other hand, it's also the color of peace, and when possible it tends to avoid a conflict altogether. The two cards we are going to look at give proof of this duality, as they both prevent creatures from fighting.
Swords to Plowshares
Peace hath her victoriesJohn Milton
No less renownd than war.
Possibly the most famous of all White instants, Swords to Plowshares is a super-efficient removal spell. At the cost of just one mana, and at instant speed, it simply exiles a target creature. The only compensation its controller gets is gaining an amount of life equal to the creature's power. Very similar to Path to Exile, it has always been one of the most popular ways for White to deal with enemy creatures.
It has existed ever since Limited Edition Alpha (1993), but this quotation is only present in the version from Friday Night Magic Promos. The quote is from John Milton's sonnet XVI, known as To the Lord General Cromwell, published in 1852. The aim of the persona speaking is to avoid war, and when quoted on a Magic card and out of context it still delivers a clear antiwar message. Of course, if you cast this spell you'll end up exiling a creature, but at least it's not going to fight... right?
The day of spirits; my soul’s calm retreatHenry Vaughan
Which none disturb!
Let's conclude this article with another white instant costing one mana, but whose effect is unlike the other one. Holy Day is practically a White Aven Fogbringer, much like Bane, Lord of Darkness, which could be called a Black version of the same. For one mana, Holy Day prevents all combat damage that would be dealt in a given turn. It's not normally seen in competitive play, although it is a crucial card in the archetypal deck known as Turbo Fog.
Just like Swords to Plowshares, it shows White's tendency to avoid conflict when possible. It does so in a different, and even more peaceful way, as it doesn't even remove creatures: it just prevents them from causing harm to each other. It's quite similar to Pacifism, at least when you look at the relationship between a color's philosophy and its actual abilities.
It's also very White from a merely linguistic point of view, in that it mentions concepts such as "spirits", "soul", and "calm". With the addition of some peculiar art by Justin Hampton—which shows a man on his knees, absorbed in contemplation or prayer—it makes for another great card, as far as I'm concerned.
We have only discussed cards from some of White's typically identifiable features, i.e. courage and peace, but in the next piece, we'll complete the picture with some more examples. What do you think so far? Do you have any additions to the list? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter, and stay tuned for the second part of this installment!