The Color out of Space

Posted in My Favorite Flavor on October 20, 2015

By Cassie LaBelle

Cassie LaBelle is a freelance writer. When she's not at her keyboard dreaming up stories, you can find her playing with his cats, listening to records, or building yet another Magic deck.

When they looked back toward the valley and the distant Gardner place at the bottom they saw a fearsome sight. All the farm was shining with the hideous unknown blend of colour; trees, buildings, and even such grass and herbage as had not been wholly changed to lethal gray brittleness. The boughs were all straining skyward, tipped with tongues of foul flame, and lambent tricklings of the same monstrous fire were creeping about the ridgepoles of the house, barn, and sheds. It was a scene from a vision of Fuseli, and over all the rest reigned that riot of luminous amorphousness, that alien and undimensioned rainbow of cryptic poison from the well—seething, feeling, lapping, reaching, scintillating, straining, and malignly bubbling in its cosmic and unrecognizable chromaticism.

—H. P. Lovecraft, "The Colour out of Space"


When I saw how the Eldrazi were depicted in Battle for Zendikar, I was reminded of a short story by horror novelist H. P. Lovecraft called "The Colour out of Space." Lovecraft is best known for his Cthulhu mythos, a series of stories that take place in a world where cosmic horrors known as the Elder Gods lurk beneath the ground and under the waves. Cthulhu himself, Lovecraft's most enduring creation, is a massive, tentacled giant who lives in the sea.

Remind you of anyone?

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger | Art by Michael Komarck

Cthulhu isn't in "The Colour out of Space," which is a much more atmospheric tale of horror. In the story, a meteor lands on a farm in western Massachusetts and weird things start to happen soon after. The land becomes gray and blighted. The trees bear massive and colorful fruits, but their insides are dull and tasteless. The farmer and his family slowly go insane. It's pretty chilling.

I don't know if this particular Lovecraft tale helped inspire the design of the Eldrazi devastation, but whenever I picture the blasted heath—Lovecraft's name for the ruined farm in his story—I can't help but see the blighted landscape of Zendikar.

Blighted Woodland | Art by Jason Felix

The real reason I'm bringing up "The Colour out of Space" today, though, is because it's Devoid Week here on DailyMTG. And while one of the key mechanics from Battle for Zendikar might not seem to have much in common with a story written back in 1927, I'm going to try and prove that it does.

Of all the new keywords in Battle for Zendikar, devoid was the one that took me the longest to warm up to. Devoid makes sense from a gameplay perspective: The Eldrazi don't have a color identity the same way that the Zendikari do, but playing with Battle for Zendikar wouldn't be much fun if every deck had access to all the same cards without color restrictions. Devoid allows the Eldrazi to stay colorless (and allows "colorless matters" cards to exist) without having to print too many cards that don't require colored mana to play.

I'm a Vorthos, though, so it's in my nature to reject the easy answer and look for something beyond. Is there more to this whole "devoid" thing than just a mechanical tweak to a normal ability? I say yes.

A Deeper Look at Devoid

Let's start by taking a look at which cards in Battle for Zendikar actually have devoid. Interestingly enough, none of the bigger Eldrazi creatures require colored mana to cast. There are no creatures with devoid and a power greater than 5 unless you count Vile Aggregate, which can get very big if you have a lot of other colorless creatures in play.

This can't be a coincidence.

To me, it goes back to the Eldrazi's predator-and-prey relationship to the land. The first iteration of the Eldrazi Drones (last seen in Rise of the Eldrazi) had a color identity because they were tied in some way to Zendikar. As Zendikar has been eaten away, however, those Drones have been replaced with newer colorless Drones and Processors that often require colored mana to play. These new Eldrazi still have a relationship with the land, but they're no longer tied to it. And all of the biggest Eldrazi are even further removed from their relationship to Zendikar. They are true creatures of the void, and they don't require any colored mana whatsoever.

This brings me back to Lovecraft and "The Colour out of Space." One of the creepiest parts of the story is that the meteor sucking the life out of the blasted heath is also producing an unearthly color that defies description. It is somehow the color of everything and nothing—the amalgamated whole, as I read it, of everything leached from the land and filtered through the alien meteor.

Isn't that exactly what the Eldrazi are doing, too? Ingesting the land and processing it for their own personal use?

The Eldrazi Drones from Rise, remember, weren't the ones doing the annihilating. It was the bigger Eldrazi that wiped out your permanents two or three at a time. Nowadays, though, all the Eldrazi are getting in on the action. Ingesters and Processors are everywhere, and almost every Eldrazi in the set is working on completing the devastation of Zendikar.

So where are the colored mana symbols coming from? I like to think they're the dark echoes of the land itself, chewed up through the Eldrazi machine and spit out into parts of Ulamog's brood. We see part of that dynamic happening in gameplay every time you ingest a card and process it, but the new Eldrazi have to come from somewhere, right?

From Beyond | Art by Mathias Kollros

Like "The Colour out of Space," these new Eldrazi are draining the land into brittle whiteness and using the remnants of colored magic to build a regurgitated army. These new Processors and Drones might take on aspects of the mana used to create them, but they have no real tie to the land or the color pie. In every way that matters, they are devoid.

Telling Devoid Stories

Many of the best devoid cards either have ingest or allow you to process ingested cards. Since this fits nicely into my sense of what devoid represents, a good devoid deck might want to focus on these synergies. I especially like Benthic Infiltrator and Drowner of Hope if you decide to build around a Lovecraftian horror theme. Many of Lovecraft's stories feature maddening creatures hidden deep under the dark water, so these blue-based Eldrazi fit the bill nicely.

The Blighted cycle of lands in Battle for Zendikar are among the most flavorful cards in the set, and they fit perfectly into our devoid plans as well. These lands each clearly "used to" tap for colored mana, but they've been ingested by the Eldrazi, so now they can only make colorless mana. If you're willing to pay the cost, you can "process" them yourself and cash them in for an effect that their former color of mana would have been able to produce. It's another nod to the "echoes of the land" motif we've been talking about today. I'd recommend playing as many of these lands as you think you can get away with.

There are a few cards from other sets that you might want to consider as well:

Aggressive Mining fits nicely into the idea of processing your land into more Eldrazi Drones and Processors.

Altar of Dementia lets you chew up all your Processors again and use their life forces to attack your opponent's mind.

Defiler of Souls may be a Demon, but I get the sense that it would get along well with the Eldrazi from a flavor perspective as well as a gameplay one.

All Is Dust is the perfect way to show your opponents why devoid matters and how important it is that the Eldrazi have kept their colorlessness.

Lastly, I'd be neglectful if I didn't bring up Door to Nothingness. It may not have anything to do with the Eldrazi or devoid in particular, but if you're looking to end the game in both a celebration and complete violation of the color pie, this is the card you're looking for. The flavor text even seems like it would be right at home in Lovecraft's story: "Only a madman could create such a door. Only an imbecile would open it."

That's all for this week! Before I sign off, though, I'd like to put out a call for reader questions. If you have a Vorthos question, a deck you need help with, or even a flavor draft ruling, please email me at candres@gmail.com and you might be featured in a future column. Try to keep your questions answerable in one to three paragraphs, please—asking me whether it's okay to include a massive warhammer in your deck filled with tiny Goblins is a good question. Asking me to build you a Goblin deck using only a lighter, a discarded can of whipped cream, and a booster pack of Onslaught is not.

Until next time,

Chas Andres

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