Beyond Izzet: Examining The Red/Blue Archetype

Images © 1995 - 2013 Wizards of the Coast LLC

Clockwise from top-left: Frenetic Efreet, Noggle Bandit, Dominus of Fealty, Inside Out
All Images © 1995 – 2013 Wizards of the Coast LLC

Before I get into this, let’s get one thing straight: I love Izzet. The idea of wild creativity and reckless inspiration is groovy as hell in my book, as is the scientific method of, “Yeah, but can we make it explode more?” In terms of the intersection of red and blue’s portions of the color pie, Izzet is a great example of what these two wildly disparate colors can accomplish when they find a common goal to work towards.

But, that’s just the thing; Izzet is but a subsection of the entire space that is the U/R philosophy. I’ve always felt that there is a singular trope that truly defines what it means to be both red and blue, combining blue’s search for knowledge and information with red’s desire for freedom and enjoyment.

This trope is the Comedian. The jester, the trickster, the clown. How do I justify this? Let’s start by examining the red/blue color pie as described by the one and only Color Pie Guru, Mark Rosewater. Here’s a quote from his 2006 column on Izzet, published as a series on two-color combinations when the original Ravnica set was released.

Red/Blue embraces the tools of emotion. They think, but they think passionately. Their emotion allows them to leap to ideas and thoughts that their logical cousins would never encounter. They find rationality in the heart of irrationality. They make intuitive leaps. They slay sacred cows. They connect things that no one else would think to connect.

I don’t know about you guys, but to me, that sounds like a normal night in the life of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, or Louis C.K. A common way to illustrate two or more colors coming together is to demonstrate achieving one color’s goals through another color’s means. Izzet is presented in such a way; through impulsiveness, they seek knowledge. I see humor as less of a one-way street, and more of a legitimate sharing of philosophies between the two colors.

HUMORCYCLEComedians receive enjoyment through insight, and wisdom by way of laughter. If you listen to comedians like George Carlin, you won’t have to wait long before they say something extremely poignant. This is wisdom, obtained by making connections others might not see or may actively ignore. Being smart and being wise are two very different things. “Smart” is knowing how an umbrella works and what the sky looks like before it rains. “Wisdom” is putting those two together and bringing the umbrella with you before you leave the house.

Through humor, blue makes connections it may have missed, puts together ideas that seem incompatible at first glance, and gains valuable insight into the quirks that make our world interesting. Red uses humor for a good time, to entertain friends, and to disparage foes. The concept of humor applies individually to each color better than the Izzet philosophies do, as well. I could see a mono-colored character from either red or blue being a trickster, but I don’t even know what a mono-red scientist would look like.

If you look at red/blue cards from sets other than those in the Ravnica blocks, you will see a bunch of seemingly random effects. There is overlap, though, if we return to the words of Maro:

The two colors find that they have some similar tools. For example, both colors enjoy messing with the opponent. Blue tends to do it more out of trickiness while Red does it out of playfulness, but in the end, Blue and Red are the two colors that most mess with other players’ spells. Red/Blue is tricky/playful and creative.

nogsThe cards with their art displayed above, especially the Noggles of Eventide (pictured to the right), are good examples of this. Their abilities and effects are not overtly dangerous; unlike many Izzet cards that simply strive to deal burn damage in interesting ways, red/blue cards in other sets provide genuinely tricky and unique ways to interact with one’s opponent.

If we take a look at further card effects that both red and blue share, there is definitely a humorous streak to be found. Strange combat tricks, in the form of the Instants that both colors love so much, can switch power and toughness or copy spells played against you. “Funny how that didn’t work out the way you thought it would, huh?” Red and blue also both love stealing their opponents’ weapons, flavored as the ironic turn of a person’s greatest strength becoming their new weakness. Both colors also enjoy the cruel but delicious humor of rubbing salt in the wounds of their enemies through abilities that trigger when a creature deals combat damage to a player. Commonly referred to as “saboteur” abilities, they have a delightful feeling of “that was the injury; now here comes the insult.”

It takes an insightful person to recognize humor, and a bawdy one to utilize it to its full potential. When red meets blue, their wildly different philosophies form a perfect overlap when it comes to finding tricks others wouldn’t, poking holes in strategies that seem flawless, and enjoying true freedom of thought and expression. The Izzet can have their mad scientists. I’d rather have the cutting flavor text quips of Jaya Ballard and Ertai, the trickery of faeries and goblins, and the unpredictability of enlightened but bored efreets and djinn.

6 Responses to “Beyond Izzet: Examining The Red/Blue Archetype”
  1. cookiegambit says:

    If you did this with other color combinations, I think I would pay you Actual Real Life Money.

    OK, probably not (out of destitution rather than desertion), but suffice it to say that this was a really impressive, intuitive, and fascinating dissertation on the topic with which I am most interested in MtG; the lore & paradigms surrounding the “Color Pie”.

    Love it.

  2. Deep Thinking says:

    “Saboteur” abilities are blue/black – note Return to Ravnica’s Dimir mechanic was based around it – although with evasion unfortunately bleeding into red with menace and trample, that may soon change.

    • Saboteur abilities are not unique to blue and black. Red has had access to this type of triggered ability consistently since the days of Tempest.

      • Deep Thinking says:

        Flying abilites are not unique to blue and white; that doesn’t mean that type of ability is a red ability.

      • Flying is a red ability. It’s an ability red has access to.

        Now, it’s true that red is /primary/ in neither flying nor saboteur abilities, but I never argued that it was. I argued that red enjoys sharing that subset of its pie with blue.

        At any rate, did you have a point you were trying to make here?

    • Deep Thinking says:

      As much as red enjoys sharing flying with blue. I guess red does tend to focus on enjoying everything. 🙂

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