Magic: the Gathering has been famously designed around five ‘Colors’, the basic currency that drives each tabletop match. Each color has had its own flavor, mechanics, and creature types, making it easy for players to match themes together easily. In the end, though, are five colors enough? Do they cover the many nuances of the planes, and the infinite spells of the Multiverse? Of course not. That’s why there are so many Planes, color combinations, and Guilds. To smooth over some of the gaps (and make the game easier to play), Colorless mana and Generic mana have been in use from the very beginning of the game. But where do the terms “Colorless” and “Generic” come from? What do they represent? Let’s break it down.
First, let’s consider how the colors of mana define the spells found in a deck. Black mana focuses on corruption, death, destruction, and all manners of desecration. Blue mana focuses on evasion, control, manipulation, and bending the wills of others. Green mana is embodied with growth, healing, and the wrath of nature. Red mana manifests as destruction, control, and primal rage. White mana focuses on law, order, honor, healing, and peace. Colorless mana, however, has always been a complement to the other types. It has never had it’s own wedge of the pie, if you will.
Colorless mana has always been with us. It has always had its own feel, if one that hasn’t been embraced and encouraged before now. It has also been very limited, in a definable way. Colorless/Artifact Commander decks, because of the rules regarding mana production, have been nearly impossible to craft. With no basic land that produces Colorless mana, having a Colorless Comander meant crafting a deck without basic lands, requiring dozens of unique non-basic lands to fuel the spells of the deck. With Oath of the Gatewatch, the newest expansion of the franchise, the Wizards team has introduced Wastes, a basic land with no types.
The concept of Wastes (produced in full-art cards to match the other basic lands in this set), is a place devoid of the natural order. With no mountains, plains, islands, swamps, or forests, where does the mana come from in the wastes covering huge swaths of Zendikar? After all, no place in the Multiverse is devoid of mana, not truly. Instead, the Wastes, scoured of the natural order, provide mana useless to the normal spell arsenal. The Planeswalkers that form the Gatewatch now draw mana from these regions, and must learn to use the Colorless mana with new spells.
Sticking point? Not many cards produce Generic mana, and no cards have ever used Colorless mana in their costs before. Stay with me here, okay? When a source produces mana, it produces Black, Blue, Green, Red, White, or Colorless. When you calculate a card’s cost, that cost is expressed in mana of particular colors, or “Generic” mana. But Magic has always used the same symbol to represent both. Something had to be done, so the creative team did some redesigning, including a revamp of the iconic Unknown Shores, shown below.
As you can see, Unknown Shores produces Colorless mana, and has an activated ability that costs Generic mana. Generic mana means, quite literally, any mana, from any source. Colorless mana, however is not any color, and cannot be any color. To clarify these mechanics, a new symbol has been added to the ranks. The new Colorless symbol is a mullet (a four-pointed-star), which happens to be my favorite shape. With the reworking of Unknown Shores, you can see that Unknown Shores produces Colorless mana by default, but if the planeswalker pays any mana to activate the ability, Unknown Shores can produce any color, instead.
To make Colorless mana important to the mechanics of the game, new effects and spells have been introduced. Spacial Contortion, one of my favorite cards, embraces a very Black concept, corrupting the creature. The creature become more powerful, but more frail. I love this card so much for many reasons. It’s a great pump card, allowing the player to boost their damage on an unblocked creature, but it’s also a great kill-it-quick card. Any creature with less than 4 Toughness will fall to its death in this rift. This card specifically requires the warped Colorless mana of Zendikar, and embodies the Roil’s wanton desecration.
A philosophical question comes to mind, though: What about colorless creatures that aren’t artifacts? Can those exist in a world drained of its natural order? Yes! The Scion Summoner, an Eldrazi Drone, costs Green mana to summon, but is, in fact, colorless, thanks to the mechanic ‘Devoid’. Why this crossover, though? If it costs Green, why isn’t it a Green creature? The lore is simple enough, in my mind. Scion Summoner is summoned by a Green Planeswalker, employing their Spark to summon a colorless creature. This is a new mechanic, and one that plays well with the new theme.
Now, there is a lot of hate for the new definitions of Colorless and Generic mana. That’s fine. There hasn’t been a new color of mana in Magic in over 20 years. Don’t mistake, Colorless is a new “color” of mana, with its own rules, and is created with specific effects. Introducing something this big is understandably hard to gulp down. There will be some weird errata. There will be some bizarre flavor changes. That’s to be expected.