These are the tropes that apply to entire factions in Magic: The Gathering flavor, such as the Shards of Alara, the Guilds of Ravnica, and the five color factions of New Phyrexia. They're not the five colors (for that see Color Tropes) and they aren't creature types or characters either, but each has a cohesive flavorful and mechanical identity.
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Phyrexia, Rath, and Mirrodin
Phyrexiafleshed out as one of the most disturbing and complex factions of the Multiverse.Phyrexia was originally a dying, swampy plane designed by a dragon planeswalker. Later came Yawgmoth, which alongside the members of his civilization that were banished alongside him after a series of events in his homeworld, turned the plane into a world of nine layers that can best be described as Hell. The Phyrexian civilization was a well-structured, organised dictatorship that had a vicious, semi-religious philosophy that declared that flesh was imperfect and should be replaced by metal in various manners of Body Horror, turning the altered creatures into unrecognisable monstrosities. Worshipping machines (but only those made by Yawgmoth; the rest are heretical mockeries), the Phyrexians tried to take over Dominaria, but were ultimately defeated and their plane destroyed.However, the process of phyresis required an oil created by Yawgmoth himself, an oil that infects creatures and changes their minds, making them want to become Phyrexians. Karn's "heart" had a bit of this oil in it, and it infected his created plane Mirrodin. It infected the guardian of the plane, Memnarch, leading him to become insane, and once he died, the organisms of the plane became vulnerable to the oil's influence, resulting in the rebirth of Phyrexia.And even if New Phyrexia dies, all that is needed to create a new one is a single drop of the oil...
RathA barren plane of rock and stunted vegetation, Rath was artificially created by Yawgmoth as a staging ground for the Phyrexian invasion of Dominaria. Rath was ruled by a human evincar who served as Yawgmoth's governor and grand marshal. To provide food, conscripts, and slave labor, not to mention more land for the ever-growing plane, the evincars used planar gates to abduct whole tracts of land and their inhabitants from other planes, including two human tribes (the Vec and Dal), kor from Zendikar, the elves of Skyshroud Forest, the Rootwater merfolk, and all kinds of monsters. Some of these abductees served the evincars (like Greven il-Vec and the mogg goblins), but most were brutally oppressed.When the Phyrexian invasion began, the plane was literally overlayed over Dominaria: the smaller plane merged with Dominaria's fabric centered on Urborg, and the two worlds became one, instantly transporting Yawgmoth's troops directly to the battlefield. In the wake of Yawgmoth's defeat, the surviving people of Rath have integrated with Dominaria.
MirrodinThe world of Mirrodin is a mishmash of life and metal, populated by as many or more machines as organic life. Even the creatures there have metal within them. Since metal is colorless, the plane finds its mana sources in its suns/moons, five giant glowing satellites that glow with each of the five colors.
New PhyrexiaAfter its infection began to spread, many of Mirrodin's natives gathered in the lower layers of the world, and transformed themselves into Phyrexians. After a long period of time rebuilding, they emerged and battled the Mirrans, sparking a war that ended with the completion of Mirrodin into New Phyrexia.Unlike the mono-black Old Phyrexia, this one has all colours of Magic under its control, and has factions for each colour, each of them with a Praetor guiding it. The White faction is the Machine Orthodoxy, the Blue faction is the Progress Engine, the Red faction is responsible for the mass production of weapons (and is secretly hiding the surviving resistance members), the Green faction wants to turn the plane in a savage sentient-less world where only the strong thrive, and the Black faction is just a bunch of Starscreams trying to usurp the throne, with no observable function to the rest of Phyrexia.To see the tropes for the Praetors individually, click Other Characters.
The Mirran ResistanceOver time, all of Mirrodin unites against Phyrexia, except those already infected. The Mirran faction becomes smaller, but, as one might expect, individual Mirran cards become stronger against infect decks. For planeswalkers on the Mirran side, check out the planeswalker section.Traditional Mirran mechanics such as imprint and artifact interaction remain, with first strike and double strike being more Mirran than Phyrexian to the end.
Shards of Alara
Many aeons ago, Alara was a single, whole plane. Then, a cataclysmic event known as The Sundering occurred, which ended with the plane fractured and stripped of all its mana. Over time, the plane fractured and separated into five sub-planes, known as the Shards. Each of the five Shards regained mana over time, but with a twist. Only three of the five colors of mana returned—one dominant color and its two allied colors. Each Shard is defined not only by what mana they have, but the traits of the other two colors they don't have. Throughout the events of the Shards of Alara block, the planes drifted back together, bringing massive culture shock with conflicting ways of life and finally all-out war. It turns out Nicol Bolas was behind The Sundering, as he sought out the plane as a new base of operations after the disastrous events of Time Spiral. He planted spies in each of the five Shards, sowing dissension and mistrust wherever they went.
Bant: White, with green and blue (article here)
Bant is a world where White mana reigns supreme — its own virtues, combined with the absent forces of chaos and selfish ambition, have made this Shard an exemplar of law and order. The architecture is straight out of a Medieval European Fantasy, complete with Knights in Shining Armor, glory and honor in battle, and expansive castles. The planeswalker Elspeth Tirel discovered Bant, and soon made it her adoptive home, never desiring to planeswalk ever again. Because it lacks black and red mana, there is no unnatural death, no disease, no natural disasters, and no anarchy. However, there is also no creativity, and almost no offensive magic (there is nighttime on Bant and the people have enough access to heat and fire to warm their homes, cook their food, and forge their weapons, but that's about it). Because of the importance placed on honorable combat, Bant's keyword ability is Exalted, which makes creatures more powerful if they attack alone and with other Exalted creatures staying behind.
Esper: Blue, with white and black (Article here)
An intellectual's dream come true, the Blue-dominated Shard of Esper is all about the pursuit of knowledge and technological advancement. However, the absence of green and red mean that emotion and instinct are completely under the control of Blue. Even the natural parts of Blue are controlled and documented like pieces of data; the night sky resembles a star chart, with every subtle nuance documented and accounted for, as are the tides and the winds (in fact, there are only 23 possible wind currents on the plane). White lends its desire for order and structure, but it also brings in the subversion and deceptive techniques of black. The pride of the plane is a highly malleable and durable metal known as Etherium, which oftentimes is implanted into a body in place of the much-maligned flesh...and the supply is running out. Tezzeret calls this plane home, but stumbling upon an ancient conspiracy led to his near-death...and the ignition of his Planeswalker Spark. Esper doesn't have a keyword mechanic to call its own; its main gimmick is that every creature native to Esper is an artifact creature (this also introduced the notion of colored artifacts to Magic).
Grixis: Black, with blue and red (article here)
After the Shards developed their mana deficiencies, the people grew desperate and lost hope. With the rise of demon lords and death spreading, one king attempted to barter with the new dark lords. This ended predictably (the last of the civilized nations were overrun). Thus, the shard was given the name "Grixis", after an old-language word meaning "traitor." Without the presence of new life energy (green) and protection (white), the necromancers and demons of Grixis make use of beings that have died over and over in their armies, leading to their special keyword ability Unearth.
Jund: Red, with black and green (article here)
On Jund, natural selection is the order of the day. On Jund, only the strong survive. The savage Shard of Jund is cruel and merciless, and each living being acts as a food source for something else. Living to see another day means killing something that was going to kill you first. Civility? Order? Those will not help you (and don't last long on the plane anyway). Getting stronger from consuming prey is the hallmark of Jund's keyword ability, devour. At the very top of this food chain? Dragons. They are the ultimate predator, whose power and majesty ultimately drove the Planeswalker Sarkhan Vol to the plane, where he wished to worship them akin to gods.
Naya: Green, with red and white (article here)
If Green was allowed to have its way and follow it to its logical conclusion, nature would grow completely unchecked by opposing forces. That's exactly what happened on Naya. Similar to Jund, only the strong survive; but with white in place of black, there is reverence in place of bloodlust. Several sentient races live among the massive jungles of Naya, their rank primarily determined by what part they live in. Humans live among the jungle floor, the Nacatl (a race of catlike warriors) take up the middle, and elves sit high in the treetops. This is the start of the journey of the planeswalker Ajani. (Indeed, this version of Ajani is him when he is young. When he meets Sarkhan Vol, he leads him to Jund, where his desire for vengeance and retribution lead him to awaken a stronger power in him, triggered by a volcanic ritual, which gives him access to red mana.) Like Esper, there isn't a keyword ability for Naya to call its own. However, its theme is big creatures, the bigger the better; specifically, creatures with power 5 or higher.
Guilds of Ravnica
Note: as stated several times even by the staff, "guilds exist in layers". The following are the most common tropes, but do not cover all individuals.
Azorius Senate: White and Blue (article here.)
Enter the Senate, the seat of justice and the foundation of Ravnican society.Logic & Power (Blue), and/or Law & Order (White). The Azorius Senate is the legislative body of Ravnica. Their goal is to control the city with law-magic and maintain order—at any cost. The status quo is prized above all else in the Azorius Senate, and thus its first Guild mechanic, Forecast, allows them to use weaker variants of its spells without actually losing or casting them.Similarly, in Return to Ravnica, the Azorius Senate uses the Detain mechanic, which allows them to stop cards on the field from doing anything for a turn.
Orzhov Syndicate: White and Black (article here.)
Enter to find wealth, security, and eternal life... for just a small price up front.So, what do you get when you combine the equalizers (white) and those who want power at any cost (black)? You get the Orzhov Syndicate, a "religious" organization which resembles a mafia more than a church. They manage business and commerce in the city by means of a protection racket — authorized businesses pay taxes to the Orzhov, and unauthorized businesses risk being shut down or worse. Ability-wise: Haunt is perfect for either, because it combines black's ability to manipulate the game from the graveyard with white's incremental advantage. Strategy-wise: bleeding to death, slowly and painfully. The Orzhov takes white's ability to slow down the entire game and let the opponent be chiseled away, bit by bit. Plus you probably owe them money.In Gatecrash, the Orzhov Syndicate has gained the Extort keyword, which allows the Orzhov to, whenever it casts a spell, pay mana up to the number of extorting cards they control to steal that much life from each opponent, strengthening itself while slowly whittling everybody else down.
House Dimir: Blue and Black (article here.)
Enter and become a mastermind of spies, lies, and deception.The blue-black House Dimir is not interested in sharing information. In fact, they like secrets so much that they decided to conceal their very existence. As far as most of Ravnica's citizens know, there are only nine guilds, and that's just the way their leader, the mind-leeching vampire Szadek, likes it. As master mind mages, the Dimir have domain over both players' hands and libraries, with the ability to manipulate spells before they're even cast by discarding, rearranging, or milling them. Their guild mechanic Transmute is just one example, allowing Dimir mages to exchange spells in their hand for other spells from their deck.Gatecrash introduced to the House Dimir the ability to encode their Cipher spells in creatures, making copies of those spells whenever the encoded creature sneaks through their opponent's defenses.
Izzet League: Blue and Red (article here.)
Enter those with the vision to create and the daring to release their creations.The Izzet are the main researchers in Ravnica. Science, engineering, and other similar topics fall to them. They even have exclusive dominion over something called Meta-magic (or the study of magic itself). Through this, they have the ability called Replicate, which allows a spell on the stack to be copied over as many times a player wishes. This combines blue's knowledge of magic and red's love for instant gratification. The guild's leader and founder is the vain but brilliant Niv-Mizzet the Firemind, who used to be "the last dragon", a status which is no longer true by the time of Return to Ravnica.In Return to Ravnica, the Izzet League gained the ability to Overload its spells, combining Blue's knowledge and Red's impulsiveness to transform a single-targeted spell into a powerful, widespread one.
Cult of Rakdos: Black and Red (article here.)
Enter and indulge your darkest fantasies, for you may never pass this way again.For the Cult of Rakdos, the whole world is a party. The kind of party where you die. Led and founded by the demon Rakdos the Defiler, this guild is a sadomasochistic cult that thrives on causing pain and chaos just for the thrill of it. Their hedonistic outlook leads them to care very little about how many cards they need to discard or creatures they need to sacrifice to do what they want. This is exemplified in their Hellbent mechanic — when you've exhausted all the cards in your hand, that's just an excuse to party even harder! And by "party" we mean "kill people". Despite their penchant for causing mayhem, the other guilds tolerate the Rakdos Cultists because they run a useful slave trade that provides the rest of the city with cheap labor.The Cult of Rakdos's second keyword is Unleash, which allows you to send its own creatures into a reckless rampage, making them stronger at the cost of being unable to block.
Golgari Swarm: Black and Green (article here.)
Enter those who are starving and sick. You are welcome among the Swarm when the rest of Ravnica rejects you.The green-black Golgari Swarm has embraced the dichotomy of life and death. Life and death are a natural cycle, and the Golgari see Necromancy as an extension of that cycle. The graveyard is just another resource to the Golgari, a philosophy which manifests itself in their guild mechanic, Dredge, which allows them to harvest and re-use spells from their graveyard while simultaneously cultivating that graveyard with new spells to dredge. Of course, their role in Ravnican society is more than just raising zombies: they're also farmers who supply most of the food for the rest of the plane. (And they always have very good fertilizer.)Its second guild mechanic from Return to Ravnica is Scavenge, which allows the Golgari to combine Black's tendency for using the dead as a resource with Green's love of empowering the living.
Gruul Clans: Red and Green (article here.)
Enter and leave the shackles of society behind.The red-green Gruul Clans are a collection of loosely-organized barbarian tribes who scorn civilization, preferring to live free in what's left of Ravnica's wilderness. The original Guildpact originally stipulated them as the wardens of the wilderness then existent, to keep the city's spread from getting in there. Unfortunately, thanks to the typical political machinations, not only did the wilderness get completely breached, their duties wound up divvied among the Selesnya and Simic, leaving them little to do but seek vengeance. They're not much for inaction, which is why their guild mechanic Bloodthirst rewards players who take an active role in the game, actually drawing blood from their opponents instead of sitting around thinking about it.The second guild mechanic introduced in Gatecrash is Bloodrush, which mixes Green's love for huge creatures with Red's love for instant rewards, turning cards in hand into ways to quickly power-up attacking creatures.
Boros Legion: Red and White (article here.)
Enter with merciful hearts. Exit with battle cries.The Boros Legion are responsible for much of the law enforcement in Ravnica. They combine white's desire for order with red's passion, creating a passion for justice as they see it. Being of the law, they have to go by the rule "if it affects one, it affects all". And so, like modern law, they will arrest and execute anything they see as a danger, and empower anything they see as helpful (regardless of what that being is fighting for). This is reflected in their guild mechanic, Radiance. Through it, the guild can affect everyone/everything that shares a color with the target.In Gatecrash, under the guidance of their new guild leader, the Boros Legion takes a much more active role in the battlefield with a focus on amassing huge armies to defend their ideals, which translates to their new mechanic Battalion, which rewards you whenever the creature with Battalion and at least two other creatures attack.
Selesnya Conclave: Green and White (article here.)
Enter and rejoice! The Conclave stands united, open to one and all.The Conclave loves to help one another. The good of the community is all they think about. All the time. Ever. In the original Ravnica block, their mechanic was the ability Convoke; which combines green's mana acceleration with white's large army. With that, a spell can be played much cheaper at the cost of tapping a few creatures.In Return to Ravnica, they gained the Populate mechanic, which allows them to duplicate their own creatures to grow their ranks.
Simic Combine: Green and Blue (article here.)
Enter and comprehend the perfection of orchestrated life.The Simic Combine blue's lust for knowledge and "improvement" and green's love of life. Like other green-based guilds, they focus on creatures more than anything else. Their ability, Graft, allows strength and life to be moved to any incoming creature. Once a creature is complete, they are sellable to the mass market. But, like the Izzet, they aren't satisfied with just one; or rather with just one type. So, they continue to create new and "improved" versions of nature.As of Return to Ravnica, the Simic returned to their druidic roots, embracing long lost holism. This also translates to their new keyword: Members of the Simic Combine can now Evolve, strenghtening themselves whenever another stronger ally enters the battlefield, demonstrating Green's love of life instead of Blue's detachment, like their old mechanic did.On a more mundane level, the Simic Combine is also responsible for providing most of Ravnica's non-magical medicine and healthcare.