Warhammer 40,000 and the Magic Colour Pie

Warhammer 40,000 and the Magic Colour Pie

Two years ago we learnt that there were going to be Warhammer 40,000 commander decks but little more. Recently Wizards announced more details about the decks and previewed the first few cards. My favourite part of this preview was learning what colours the different decks would be. I really enjoyed all the different discussions about the Magic colour pie and how it aligns with the different armies in the Warhammer 40,000 universe.

I’ve chosen ten factions to look at and I’m going to take a look at how they fit into the five colours of Magic. I’ll start by looking at the factions that have commander decks and then I’ll look at some other iconic factions like Orks, the Eldar and the Tau.

Forces of the Imperium

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In the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the people of Earth have spread out across the stars and colonised much of the galaxy. Humanity, or most of it at least, is united into an empire known as the Imperium which is tasked with trying to establish peace in a violent and hostile galaxy. Many of the other forces in the galaxy are an existential threat to mankind and the Imperium. Peace and order are firmly in the white slice of the colour pie, so I definitely believe white is part of the Imperium’s colour identity. This is probably also desired because of the connotation of white being the colour of good guys. There aren’t really any good guys in the Warhammer 40,000 universe but we usually get the Imperial perspective in lore and Space Marines are the face of the game. I’m sure the designers wanted this deck to include white for this reason as well.

Whilst the goal of the Imperium might be peace and galactic order, it certainly isn’t a mono-white faction. The methods it takes to enforce order are extreme. The empire itself is essentially a fascist one, where the only religion allowed is belief in the divinity of the Emperor. Ordinary citizens are oppressed and forced to serve this vast war machine. Agents of the Imperium will not hesitate to execute any heretics who refuse to support the Imperium. This includes exterminating a planet from space if they rebel. In Magic, black is the colour that will do anything for its own cause, so doing whatever is necessary to create law and order is surely in the black-white colour combination.

Interestingly the commander deck for the Imperium is black, white and blue. I’m not sure if I agree with the blue alignment. The Imperium has traditionally been very conservative, fearing any type of change or technological advancement. For example artificial intelligence is completely forbidden after an AI rebellion around 20,000 years ago. Blue is the colour that values knowledge and self-improvement which I don’t see as meshing with the Imperium.

The Imperium is made up of a variety of different sub-factions. I’ve chosen three to take a look at.

Space Marines

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The Space Marines are the most iconic faction in the game, and I have no doubt the commander deck will include a lot of Space Marines. Space Marines are humans who have undergone an intense regime of surgery, gene implants and training to become superhuman. Taller and stronger than any human, they are armed with futuristic weapons and armour to become elite warriors. I can see the argument for adding blue to the colour identity for Space Marines because they have done so much to become the perfect warrior and blue is the colour of perfectionists.

Another reason for including blue is because the most prominent Space Marine chapter in the game is the Ultramarine chapter. We can expect plenty of Ultramarines to get cards, and it would be weird to see blue Space Marines on a non-blue card.

Imperial Guard

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The Imperial Guard or Astra Militarum on the other hand are definitely not superhuman. These are ordinary humans drafted into planetary defence forces and to support the Space Marine crusades. A typical Guard army is filled with massed ranks of troops and heavy tanks. One of the main strengths of the Imperial Guard is their numbers. Amassed from across the galaxy, there are always more troops available to fight. The Imperial Guard are usually a well drilled and regimented organisation, which puts them into white. They also rely on the belief and faith in the Emperor for strength and courage. It’s possible the guard are just mono-white as all of this is core to white’s colour identity.

In Magic the Imperial Guard would probably be an aggressive deck filled with lots of small creatures. This type of deck is typically found in white, red or white-red. Red-white would be an interesting way to represent the most zealous and fervent elements of the Imperial Guard and all their tanks and barrage weapons would make good red cards as red is the colour of direct damage. I hope we get some Imperial Guard in the commander deck so I can see what the designers think on this one.

Adeptus Mechanicus

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The Adeptus Mechanicus are a cult who worship the Machine Spirit. Because they manufacture all of humanity’s most advanced weaponry, they are the only cult tolerated by the Imperium. I’ve already talked about the Imperium’s general distrust of advanced technology and improvement but the Adeptus Mechanicus are the big exception to this rule. Humanity was once able to produce far more advanced technology than it currently has access to, but after millennia of strife and turmoil a lot of this technology has been lost. Adeptus Mechanicus are trying to rediscover this technology and will do anything to recover this forgotten knowledge. Valuing knowledge so highly clearly aligns them with the blue part of the colour pie.

Another example of them being blue is their belief that organic flesh is weak and should be replaced with bionics. This process of upgrading and improving yourself with technology is also very blue. Cyborg creatures have typically been found in blue when they do have a colour in Magic. Red is the other colour most associated with artifice, and because the Adeptus Mechanicus are from Mars, the red planet, I can see red being part of their colour identity as well. It’s hard to tell at this stage if the commander decks will contain any Adeptus Mechanicus cards, but I’d expect them to be a good fit for the deck. Adding black and white for the Imperium to the blue for Adeptus Mechanicus gives all three colours from the Imperial deck.

Chaos

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Whilst most of humanity living under the Imperium, others have turned to worship the gods of Chaos. These gods are manifestations of intense emotions like rage, pride and despair. Sustained by the belief of their followers and commanding legions of powerful demons, the gods of Chaos are some of the most powerful beings in Warhammer 40,000. The second commander deck is going to be a red-blue-back deck. Red is the colour of emotion, so it’s natural to include red for Chaos. This is fortunate because in Magic red is the colour for randomness which we can expect to see in this deck as part of the unpredictability of Chaos.

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The followers of Chaos are all seduced by the promise of power. Being motivated to do anything for power and self-interest is definitely a black trait, which explains our second colour. If a follower earns the favour of a god, they will be blessed with mutations. We already have red to represent chaotic changes, but blue would represent mutations guided by the Chaos gods. This makes Chaos a three colour deck. Notably these colours are the opposites of green and white which are the colours of nature and order. This makes perfect sense for Chaos which is the antithesis of all these things.

Necrons

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As one of the factions that are the face of 40K’s ninth edition, it’s no surprise to see the Necrons getting a commander deck. Necrons are an ancient race of skeletal robots that used to rule the galaxy. They were once a race of flesh and blood but were tricked into being converted into killing machines. This process of biotransference made them immortal but left them stripped of all personality and emotions. If they feel anything at it all, they would feel only a burning hatred of the living. They desire to kill all the other races and reclaim the galaxy they once ruled long long ago.

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This core focus on death and hatred of the living makes them very black. In fact the Necron commander deck is a mono-black deck. I expect this deck will play a lot of artifacts to complement the black cards, but it could also play out like a mono-black zombie deck with creatures that can bring themselves back from the graveyard. Instead of being undead, Necrons repair themselves and are capable of shrugging off extensive damage. Being black also fits with the skeletal design of the Necron warriors.

It’s interesting that the designers chose to ignore the other four colours for the Necron commander deck. As 100% artificial beings with no emotions, green and red are clearly wrong as the colours of nature and feelings. Like the Imperium, the Necrons are trying to impose order on the galaxy. However they aren’t doing it in the name of peace, but for their own power. This selfishness further marks the Necrons out as a black aligned faction. Lastly blue has been suggested by some because blue is associated with technology and artifacts. Necrons have advanced technology, but individual Necrons aren’t trying to advance and improve themselves which is the hallmark of blue. I was surprised when I saw that Necrons were mono-black but after thinking about it I think this was the right choice.

So far we have seen black being included in every faction. The Warhammer 40,000 universe is famous for being grim and dark and this is reflected in a universe that is unbalanced when seen through the lens of the colour pie. There are plenty of evil factions, and many of the good factions aren’t as good as they first appear. This ambiguous approach to good and evil is part of what draws me to the lore of the Warhammer 40,000 universe but it constrains what Magic designers can do. Sets designed for limited have to colour-balanced, which is why this set comes as pre-constructed decks instead of in boosters.

Tyranids

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Tyranids are a terrifying alien race, and are a existential threat to all the other races of the galaxy. When they attack a planet, they send forth a multitude of Tyranids both big and small to consume all the biomass on the planet. All of their soldiers, weapons and even ammunition are living creatures, all controlled by a single hive mind. If they encounter resistance, the fleet evolves, finding adaptions to overcome any enemy.

This reliance on evolution puts the Tyranids squarely in blue and green. Green is the colour of nature and growth, whilst blue is the colour of self-improvement. Combining the two gives you evolution. We have already seen the evolution mechanic in the Return to Ravnica block where it was the mechanic for the blue-green faction.

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The Tyranid commander deck is going to be blue, green and red. Why red? The Tyranids are controlled by a single hive-mind. I’ve seen suggestions that this unity makes them white, as white is the colour of order and communities. I disagree because individual Tyranids don’t have any free will and are driven only by their base instincts. These primal drives are a very red and green concept, and I believe this is why the designers made the Tyranids into a three colour deck with these colours.

I have also seen arguments for the Tyranids representing Black. Tyranids don’t just consume the other races but they also consume themselves. When a Tyranid organism is no longer needed by the hive-mind, it’s valuable biomass will be recycled to serve the hive-mind in another form. This concept matches with graveyard focused decks which are typically black-green in Magic. However where as black’s graveyard themes focus on death and necromancy, green focuses on the cycle of life. The Tyranids line up better with green here philosophically and black just isn’t required to represent the Tyranids recycling of biomass.

Orks

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I was really hoping the Orks were going to get a Commander deck, as they are one of my favourite races and one of the most iconic alien races in the 40K format. They are however getting a secret lair so there might still be some awesome cards for Ork fans.

While the other races fight for power, glory or just survival, the Orks just fight because they live for war. Your average Ork isn’t very smart and act purely on instinct and their natural desires. Acting in the moment on your feelings is red and acting according to your nature is green. This would make red-green a good colour combination for the Orks. They would fit in with the Gruul on Ravnica who also love anarchy and creating mayhem. In terms of gameplay, Orks in magic would play out as a classic red-green aggressive deck with lots of tough and powerful creatures.

It’s fortunate that the Orks fit with green because they are literally green. If they weren’t it would be really awkward for them to cross over with Magic. Another reason for the Orks being green according to magic is that they are a culture where might makes right. The biggest and strongest Orks are always the ones in charge. Green is the colour of the natural order and Orks in 40K are a great representation of this.

Craftworld Eldar

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The Eldar are another alien race that once ruled the galaxy but long ago they became too proud, hedonistic and decadent. This intense emotion birthed the Chaos god Slaanesh that decimated the Eldar race. The remnants of this ancient race diverged into different factions that all faced the same challenge. Slaanesh hungered for the souls of the Eldar and different Eldar factions found different ways to avoid Slaanesh devouring their souls when they die.

The Craftworld Eldar are the most prominent kind of Eldar in Warhammer 40,000. They use crystalline technology to capture their souls after death and dedicate themselves to a rigid code of behaviour called the Asuryani Path. This requires the Eldar to dedicate themselves to mastering a discipline such as art or warfare. They focus on their chosen discipline to the exclusion of anything else. I think the Asuryani Path means the Craftworld Eldar are blue-white in Magic. Blue is the colour of self-improvement which definitely fits with mastering a discipline. While the Eldar are mastering a discipline, they also dedicate themselves to it. This sense of purity is at home in white. We see a lot of monks in these two colours who can share a similar sense of dedication. I can see a Craftworld Eldar making good use of the prowess mechanic to represent their martial prowess much like the monks in Khans of Tarkir block.

Dark Eldar

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We have already seen one mono-black faction with the Necrons, and I believe that the Dark Eldar are also mono-black. They are an Eldar faction that have found another way to protect their souls from Slaanesh. They feed on others pain and suffering to save themselves. This has turned them into a very sadistic race who enjoy torturing others. This cruelty and selfishness marks them out as a faction that are strongly aligned with black.

Tau

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The last race I want to look at are the Tau and their empire. The Tau empire and the Imperium couldn’t be more different. Whilst the Imperium is old and in decline, the Tau empire is new and rapidly expanding. The Tau empire doesn’t have the same distrust of advanced technology like AI and their hover tanks, mechanised suits and drones are far more futuristic than the Imperial equivalents.

Another difference between the Imperium and the Tau empire is that whilst the Imperium is extremely xenophobic, the Tau empire is home to many different species. White is the colour of community and working together so I would definitely add white to the Tau’s colour identity. Another reason for this is the Tau philosophy of the Greater Good. This espouses that everyone should live their life to maximise the wellbeing of everyone. This selflessness is very white.

I think white and blue are the core colours for Tau, but I believe that adding green is a good idea as well to represent the Tau caste system. The Tau are divided into different castes that all have defined roles in society. For a Tau, your future is determined at birth. The concept of a natural order like a caste system is green-white as green represents nature and white represents order. This all adds up to the Tau being white, blue and green which starts to contrast with the Imperium being white, blue and black.

This was a fun philosophical exercise exploring both the lore of Warhammer 40,000 and the Magic colour pie. I’m can’t wait for the decks to be fully revealed and I’m sure there will be more colour pie discussions in the future. I’m definitely tempted to write a follow up article looking at more sub-factions like the gods of Chaos and different chapters of the Space Marines.