Hedonism With Attitude

Posted in Making Magic on January 1, 2012

By Mark Rosewater

Working in R&D since '95, Mark became Magic head designer in '03. His hobbies: spending time with family, writing about Magic in all mediums, and creating short bios.

Welcome to Rakdos Week! Finally! Yes, the ten-part two-color guild articles are finally coming to a close, this being number ten and all. (In case this whole series is new to you, feel free to check out my columns on Selesnya, Golgari, Dimir, Boros, Gruul, Izzet, Orzhov, Azorius and Simic.) I’m sorry for the delay, but Coldsnap doesn’t like to be ignored.

The ten-part series was inspired by an original five-part series (six if you count artifacts) on the mono color and their philosophies (green, white, blue, black and red). So if you like what you see here today, there’s lots more where this came from. Finally, as always, I should point out that my column today is not about the Rakdos guild in particular. Rather it is an examination of the philosophy that results from the overlap of black and red. Please check out Matt Cavotta’s “Taste the Magic” column this Wednesday to hear more about the Rakdos guild.

As it’s been a while, let me recap how this is going to work. For each of these guild articles, I answer the following questions:

  • What do the two colors have in common?
  • How do the two colors differ? What is the guild's internal conflict?
  • What does the guild care about? What is its end goal? What means does the guild use to achieve these ends?
  • What does the guild despise? What negatively drives the guild?
  • What is the color's greatest strength and biggest weakness?

After the questions I will examine some aspect of the Rakdos that I feel is misunderstood. Then, as is tradition, I will end the column by giving some pop culture examples. This is then followed by numerous board threads and emails where all of you tell why I’m mistaken about one of my choices. And with that, you are now done with ever having to read this intro ever again. (And I never have to write it again – hoo haw!)

What do the two colors have in common?

The trick to understanding an allied color pair is to examine the color that shares their enmity, in this case white. So let’s begin by looking at what white represents. White is all about order, both civil and moral. The first half leads white to care about the law and the second to care about religion. White believes that there is a right and a wrong answer to every problem. White is also very focused on the needs of the group. White does not what is best for any one individual, but rather what aids the society at large. So what does this mean for black and red? They’ll have none of that.

Black and red could care less about the needs of the group. Black/red believes that everyone needs to look out solely for themselves. The welfare of other people? That’s their business. (Okay, okay red does occasionally look out for those it has strong feelings about.) Black/red also doesn’t like rules. It does what it wants to do. It does what helps its cause. And since it has no allegiance to structure of any kind, be it laws or morality, the Rakdos does what the Rakdos wants to do. Which basically means creating mayhem and chaos.

The biggest overlap between black and red is its desire to do what it wants and not allowing the needs of others get in its way. Black is more motivated by selfishness and red more by emotion, but the two combine nicely into hedonism in its purist form.

How do the two colors differ? What is the guild's internal conflict?

To understand the conflict between an allied color pair, you need to take a look at the conflict of the color’s other two allies. For Rakdos that is green (black’s other enemy) versus blue (red’s other enemy). The key green/blue conflict is nature vs. nurture. Green believes that things are born as they will always be. Blue sees creatures as coming into the world as blank slates that are shaped by their experiences. To green, you are born with your destiny. To blue, you create it.

Black/red’s biggest internal conflict comes from this schism. Black sees the world as a place ripe for picking. As such, black is very motivated to try and change the world around it. Red, on the other hand, takes the world at face value. Red doesn’t want to work towards anything. Red just wants to deal with the world as it is. Black’s long term thinking clashes with red’s “think it now, do it now” philosophy.

While many a guild’s internal conflicts are more philosophical in nature, Rakdos’ conflict is very internalized. Black/red acts both impulsively and with thought. Often at the same time. This makes black/red quite schizophrenic and, often times, just plum crazy. This is why Rakdos’ enemies have trouble predicting their behavior. Because even Rakdos doesn’t know what they’re going to do until they do it.

What does the guild care about? What is its end goal? What means does the guild use to achieve these ends?

To understand the guild’s goals, we have to first look at the goals of the two individual colors. We’ll begin with black. Black is motivated by a quest for power. Black wants it all – total control. Why? Because black is driven by selfishness. Black wants what will help black. To this end, black has learned that there is no commodity of greater value than power.

Red, on the other hand, seeks freedom. Red wants to do what it wants to do. It doesn’t like anything that tells it can’t. Red is driven by its emotional impulses. When it feels something, it acts. If it is unable to act, it focuses all its energies on the thing stopping it. Once that is destroyed, then back to Plan A.

The overlap between black and red is pretty clear. They want things their way. And both are willing to take the action necessary to make it happen. True, red tends to be more physical than black, but black is more than happy to take action, you know as long as it knows it’s going to win.

The Rakdos achieve their goal through a willingness to do whatever it takes. Black/red is not held back by any sense of morality. Black/red doesn’t allow itself to be influenced by the needs of others (especially people it doesn’t know personally). Black/red looks out for number one.

What does the guild despise? What negatively drives the guild?

The easiest way to determine this is to just look at what the shared enemy wants. Once again, that would be white. White wants peace. White wants everyone to be happy with what they have. White wants people to sacrifice for the good of the group. White wants structure. White wants order. White wants morality. White just wants us to all get along.

This kind of attitude just pisses black/red off. Black/red doesn’t care about others. It doesn’t want laws or religions. Those things just get in the way. Rakdos wants the world to bend to its whim. Sacrifice is good, just as long as others are sacrificing themselves to get you what you need.

Nothing drives Rakdos crazier than seeing others try to live up to white’s ideals. Black/red can’t relate to people that put the needs of others first or wait for what they want. No, people like this deserve to be trampled over as black/red seeks out what it wants. A foolish end for foolish people. The only real value these people offer the Rakdos is that it’s fun destroying them. For example, lighting squirmy things on fire is a real hoot.

What is the color's greatest strength and biggest weakness?

Dread_SlagBlack/red’s greatest strength is a complete uncaring of the consequences of its actions. Oftentimes, people are held back by their own self-imposed limitations. Rakdos doesn’t have this problem.

Black/red’s greatest weakness? No self-control. When you live day-to-day doing what you want, it’s hard to learn any sense of discipline. Black/red often gets mad at itself for later realizing that it did something stupid. Not that it really slows black/red down, it just makes them angry. This, of course, only perpetuates the cycle as Rakdos can do real stupid things when it’s upset.

Bad to the Bone

For each of the guild articles, I like to examine an aspect of the guild that it misunderstood. For Rakdos, I want to talk about the difference of its two aspects. Both black and red will act out in its own self-interest trampling others in its wake but the reasons behind each color are actually quite different. I think many players falsely believe these two colors’ motivations are similar.

So how does this differ from mono-red? Mono-red is driven by emotions. It does what it “feels” is the right thing to do. That said, red can very much get caught up in caring about others. Love, passion, loyalty, friendship – red’s into all sorts of bonding experiences. Red doesn’t set out to hurt others. It happens, but more as a side effect of red satisfying its own impulses more than any premeditated desire to cause others pain.

Black, on the other hand, chooses its actions very much to make others suffer. Black is all about power. Black takes great pride in showing others their place. Black is the color that can actually enjoy watching others suffer. Because black cares about no one but itself. That said, black does not cause other people pain without a lot of forethought. Black is not short-sighted (like red). Black is very careful in the actions it takes because it does think of the “big picture.”

Red is destructive without thought; black is destructive without care. Red will often feel sorry after the fact. Black, not so much. Red often accidentally hurts itself following its impulses. Black can cause itself pain, but only after weighing the options of what they get for such a sacrifice.

While the two colors do have a lot in common, they are not made of the same cloth.

Crazy Selfish

Now comes the fun part where I illuminate the guild through pop culture references. Fun, fun, fun.

The Joker – I don’t know if a more black/red character exists. He’s selfish, yet still driven by a compulsion to entertain himself. He likes killing, but only if he can do it in the most chaotic way possible. He even has the telltale insanity.

Elaine Benes (from Seinfeld) – I promised that before the series was done, I’d place all four of the main characters from Seinfeld. I got a number of letters reminding me that I forgot Elaine. I hadn’t forgotten her, we just hadn’t gotten to the right column yet. Elaine is clearly black, as she, like most the characters on Seinfeld, is driven by selfishness. Time and time again Elaine demonstrates that she is motivated by what helps Elaine. Unlike Jerry and George though, Elaine is very much driven by her emotions. Elaine just can’t keep them under control. And they constantly get her in trouble. Black/red all the way.

Spike (from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer) – I originally listed Spike in my Orzhov (white/black) column. A reader wrote in to point out that everything Spike ever did was done through passion. Yes, he helps out the Scooby Gang, but not because he’s a good guy. He does it because he has the hots for Buffy. In fact, you can figure out Spike’s motivation for most episodes by figuring out who exactly he has the hots for that week. Spike is about as emotional as vampires come in the Buffyverse. Plus, as I explained in the Orzhov column, he’s totally selfish. Black/red.

Anakin Skywalker – I think almost all the Sith are black/red. Obviously they are driven by selfishness. The interesting thing is how the Sith masters harness the power of negative raw emotions of their apprentices to “turn them to the dark side.” Anakin’s descent into darkness is tightly connected for his inability to deal with certain emotions such as anger and passion. Throughout all the Star Wars films, it is clear that Anakin’s inability to handle his darker emotions was the thing that pushed him over the edge into becoming Darth Vader. I mean, come on, a black costume with a red light saber? The Sith aren’t even hiding their Rakdosness.

The Party Comes To A Close

And with that, we come to an end of the guild columns. I hope you had fun with them. As always, any feedback is heartily encouraged.

Join me next week as it’s time for the 2006 State of Design column. Also, if you or someone you know has always wanted to work for Wizards, do not miss my column next week. I have news that should prove very exciting. Once again – don’t miss it!

Until then, may you find a chance for a little “me time”.

Mark Rosewater


Decking The Halls, Part Deux

Before you go, I have a little bonus section for you. Yes, it’s time for my votes for this year’s Hall of Fame. Rather than use up a whole column (I got a little negative feedback on that last year – and yes, that wasn’t the only thing I got negative feedback on), I felt it better to tack it on to the end of a normal column. It being Rakdos Week was just icing on the cake.

You’ll notice that everything after this paragraph is hidden. The reason being is that I wanted to offer a little warning. If you didn’t like my votes last year, let me be blunt. You’re not going to be happy this year, either. Take my advice and just walk away. Imagine I happened to vote for the five players you feel are most deserving. Your day will go better, I promise. For those brave souls that actually want to see who (and why) I chose, click here.

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