One of the ways in which Magic: The Gathering (a.k.a. MTG or simply “Magic”) can be a hard game for new players to learn are the specialized names and terms that are frequently used by the playerbase at large. Among this jargon is the naming of the various color combinations: instead of just referring to their deck as “blue/white” or “black/red,” players can say “UW” or “RB” or a name such as “Azorius” and “Rakdos.”
The aim of this guide is to lay out all of the different color combinations in Magic and the names that are used by players, and provide an explanation for where the terms come from. These naming conventions are unique to the lore of MTG and are very widely used, so gaining an understanding of these terms will significantly help a new player who is beginning to interact with the Magic community – be it online, with friends, or at a local game store.
These terms are also heavily used here on MTG Meta and MTG Arena Zone; this guide will allow you to understand all of the color-naming terms that are used around the site and across the broader internet.
Deck archetypes have their own complicated naming conventions as well. We’ve created a separate guide that will help you learn these terms as well – check it out at the link below:
The Five Colors of Magic – WUBRG
Even most players who are just getting started with their MTG experience are aware that the game is based around five colors of mana which are used to design the cards: White, Blue, Black, Red and Green. The colors are often presented in that specific order on a wheel, and are abbreviated as WUBRG for short. A common source of confusion among players is that the letter “U” is always used to represent the color Blue, as Black uses “B”. This is a convention that was created by Wizards of the Coast to allow for each color to be represented by a single character when necessary or convenient, and its use has been wholly adopted by the community.
The five colors of Magic are a core part of the game’s balance. Each color has its own role and unique design that is planned in a way that each color has its own role to fill and no color has access to all of the game’s tools. For example, Blue is known for being the color of efficient card draw and counterspells, while Red is known for burn spells (spells that do damage directly to the opponent’s life total). Additionally, the five basic land types (Plains, Island, Swamp, Mountain, and Forest) each represent one of the five colors and produce mana of that color when tapped.
The paradigm of the five colors each serving their own role in the game is also known as the “color pie.” Magic’s designers have talked about “bends” and “breaks” to the color pie that allow for cards in one color to serve a function that might not normally be attributed to that color, although usually less efficiently or with some downside. A famous example of this would be Mana Tithe: it’s a counterspell in the color White even though Blue is usually the only color with counterspells. It does, however, come with a heavy downside: if the opponent has just one mana available, they can simply pay it to prevent their spell from being countered.
The concept of the five colors and the roles that each of them play are so integral to the design of the game that the color wheel is even depicted on the back of the cards themselves – note the color and arrangement of the five pips in the center:
This takes us to the most simple of the color naming conventions in Magic: Mono-colored decks. Decks that only consist of cards of a single color are simply referred to as Mono-Red, Mono-White, and so on. There are no special names for the mono-colored decks, although due to the nature of the color pie’s design, there are often archetypes that are strongly associated with each color.
Two-Color Pairs: The Ravnican Guilds
The original Ravnica block contains some of the most influential card sets in Magic’s history. The plane of Ravnica is mostly made up of one massive, sprawling city that is divided into guilds. Mechanically, the Ravnica sets were designed to focus on the ten possible two-color combinations in Magic, and so the city’s ten guilds are each based on one of the pairs.
Allied and Enemy Color Pairs: Another thing to note about the ten color pairs in MTG is that you will sometimes hear people refer to five of the color pairs as “allied” and the other five as “enemy.” This has to do with the arrangement of the color wheel, and is used in set design. For example, land cycles will often release five lands in a set, aligned with either the Allied or Enemy colors.
The color pairs that are arranged next to each other on the color wheel are considered allied, while the color pairs that “reach across” the wheel are the enemy colors. You can see this illustrated quite nicely by the diagram directly above. The Red/Green color combination is allied because Red and Green are situated right next to each other on the wheel. However, Green and Blue is an enemy color combination since they connect through the center of the pentagon.
Originally, enemy colors were meant to be opposed to each other in both a lore and mechanical sense, while the allied colors generally have more synergy and more in common in terms of the color pie. This paradigm is still a part of Magic, but is not as important or as heavily reinforced through design as it was in the game’s earlier years. These days, enemy color pairs are often just as well supported as their allied counterparts.
Because of both Ravnica’s popularity among players and the guilds being so key to establishing the identity of each color pair, the names of the guilds have become synonymous with the color pairs, and are still commonly used to refer to decks and cards in those colors. Below, we’ll go over each of the guilds, and what kinds of decks their color pairs are often associated with.
The Azorius Senate is made up of the lawmakers and functional government of Ravnica. The Azorius value peace and order above all else, and use special law magic and armies of paladins to maintain their rule of law. The Azorius color pair in Magic is most famously known for control decks that often run board-clearing spells (like Supreme Verdict and Doomskar) along with counterspells (Dovin's Veto, Saw it Coming), exile-based removal, and draw spells to keep the cards coming.
Explore the links above to see an example of an Azorius Control deck in the Modern format.
In addition to control, the Azorius colors have also been known for the Spirits tribe, aggressive flying creature decks, blink strategies (exiling your own permanents and then returning them to the battlefield for value, see Yorion, Sky Nomad) and more.
House Dimir is the guild that represents the blue/black color pair, and they are known as a shadowy, secret organization of assassins and spies. Espionage and subterfuge are the specialties of the Dimir, using mind-controlling magic and necromancy to manipulate the people of Ravnica to their will.
Linked above is an example of a Dimir Control deck in the Standard format.
Like Azorius, Dimir decks are perhaps best known for control, thanks to blue’s access to counterspells and powerful draw spells and black’s specialty for discard (Thoughtseize, Duress) and creature removal (Heartless Act, Fatal Push). Dimir decks have also been known for mill (Glimpse the Unthinkable), creature strategies such as Zombies and Rogues, and many others.
Cult of Rakdos (Black/Red)
The black/red guild is the Cult of Rakdos, founded by the demon Rakdos himself. The Rakdos serve as the entertainers of Ravnica, over-the-top to the extreme and sometimes sadistic and cruel in nature. The Rakdos revel in chaos, pain, and suffering. Rakdos decks are quite varied, but have become known for midrange and especially sacrifice strategies wherein your own creatures are sacrificed for positive effects (Village Rites, Mayhem Devil). However, Rakdos decks have also taken the form of aggressive burn-style decks, control decks, and graveyard-based decks.
Rakdos sacrifice decks have been popular in Standard in recent years.
Gruul Clans (Red/Green)
The Gruul are a loose, decentralized collection of wild clans who are meant to be the guardians of nature that keep the sprawl of civilization in check. However, as the other clans spread across Ravnica and the city sprawled across the whole plane, the Gruul clans became purveyors of chaos and destruction, rampaging through and destroying sections of the city.
The Gruul colors are strongly associated with aggro decks in Magic. Red is the primary color for haste, the ability which allows a creature to attack the turn it’s cast, and Green often brings the trample ability to its aggressive creatures, which allows excess damage dealt to a blocking creature to spill over to the defending player. These keywords, sometimes even put onto the same card such as Gruul Spellbreaker, combine with other powerful creatures, fight spells (Prey Upon, Blizzard Brawl), and sometimes red burn spells to make formidable, fast aggro and midrange decks.
An example of an aggressive Gruul deck in the Historic format.
Selesnya Conclave (Green/White)
Known as guardians of peace and nature on Ravnica, the Selesnya are ruled by Dryads and defended by pegasus-riding Equenauts and elven archers. Just as the other color pairs, Selesnya decks can be quite varied. However, Selesnya has been known for +1/+1 counter themes (Conclave Mentor), creature tokens ( Join the Dance), lifegain strategies, and aggressive-leaning decks more generally.
The Selesnya Humans archetype in Historic combines fast white creatures with powerful green support cards.
Orzhov Syndicate (Black/White)
The first of the enemy color guilds, the Orzhov are the business and banking clan of Ravnica. Formerly ruled by a council of ghosts known as the Obzedat, the Orzhov is an unsavory combination of religion and money lending. Ravnicans trapped under the debt of the Orzhov are stuck even in death, as their spirits are forced to live on in servitude.
Orzhov decks, while varied, have been known for a style of play called “aristocrats,” where creatures are sacrificed for value, typically involving cards like Blood Artist and The Meathook Massacre that drain the opponent for doing so. More recently, Orzhov decks have gained popularity in Standard as a control decks that still make use of sacrifice as well as treasure tokens (Deadly Dispute, Skullport Merchant). Orzhov has also been known for tribal decks including Angels and Clerics.
Orzhov Control decks heavy on removal spells, sweepers, and sacrifice-based card draw have been popular in Standard.
Izzet League (Blue/Red)
Headed by the cryptic and ingenious dragon-wizard Niv-Mizzet, the Izzet League is responsible for much of the infrastructure of the city of Ravnica. However, they are perhaps best known for their erratic and often dangerous experiments, which are pursued with reckless abandon and little regard for the safety of themselves or their fellow residents. Izzet is full of inventors and geniuses who revere Niv-Mizzet and the special metal that he created called Mizzium. Imagery of the Izzet League often heavily features a latticework of pipes carrying Mizzium and other strange arcane liquids.
Izzet decks are often spell-heavy, and have ranged from straight-up burn decks using cards like Ionize and Guttersnipe to deal damage directly to the opponent to more control-style decks that are more reactive. In Standard, Izzet has become infamous for decks that take many extra turns back to back using copying spells like Galvanic Iteration with Alrund's Epiphany.
Izzet decks based on the premise of casting and copying spells that grant extra turns have been terrorizing 2021-22 Standard.
Golgari Swarm (Black/Green)
The Golgari of Ravnica are obsessed with growth, death, and rebirth. They are heavily associated with rot and decay, but also reanimation through necromancy and living spore-creatures. The Golgari are called a swarm because they act almost like insects, with massive numbers of them acting as one and serving a singular purpose.
The Golgari color combination is most widely known for its graveyard synergies and reanimation. Back in the original Ravnica set, Golgari is known for bringing Dredge along with it (Golgari Grave-Troll, Stinkweed Imp) a graveyard-based mechanic widely considered broken that plagued the Modern format for a time until bans corrected the problem. The Golgari color pair maintains its reputation for graveyard interactions, but has also been known for powerful midrange decks (often called “The Rock”) and sometimes control.
Golgari decks in Modern often make use of creatures that return themselves from the graveyard paired with sacrifice strategies.
Boros Legion (Red/White)
The Boros Legion are the soldiers of the city of Ravnica. They enforce the Azorius laws and are known for zealously maintaining peace and order even if doing so means war and violent crackdowns. Decks in the Boros color pair are most well-known for being aggro decks that play lots of small creatures to overwhelm the opponent. Burn decks are also popular in burn thanks in no small part to the spell Lightning Helix.
An example of Boros Burn in the Historic format. Damage-dealing spells are usually pointed right at the opponent’s life total.
Simic Combine (Green/Blue)
Finally, the Simic Combine is the clan that is responsible for ensuring the continued growth and flourishing of nature as the city spreads to all corners of the plane. The Simic are also known for biomancy and the creation of strange mutated creatures.
In the card game, Simic decks are traditionally associated with +1/+1 counters and creatures that can draw cards or have other powerful abilities. More recently, Simic has become the dominant color pair for ramp strategies across many formats, combining the mana acceleration of Green with the card draw and powerful spells in Blue. Notable Simic ramp cards include Growth Spiral, Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy, and payoffs like Koma, Cosmos Serpent.
Simic Ramp decks play spells that put extra lands into play so that they can cast powerful, expensive spells early. This example is from Standard.
Three-Color Combinations: The Shards and Wedges
While cards that are two colors or more have existed in the game since Legends, MTG’s third expansion set, the three color pairings in Magic were not fully fleshed out until much later. It was the Alara block that defined the five allied combinations, called shards, and it would be another several years before the Tarkir block laid out the five enemy combinations, known as the wedges.
Each of the shards is made up of a color and the two allied colors on either side, while the wedges are made of three colors which are all enemies to each other. Just as with the Ravnican Guilds, the Shards and Wedges provided a unique identity to each of their color combinations, and their names became the de facto names for their respective color combinations.
You’ll find that the three-color combinations are often similar in theme to the two-color pairs found within. Often, three color decks are centered in one or two colors that make up most of the spells. In cases like these, the third color is considered a “splash,” with only a handful of cards in that color in the deck.
Below, we’ll break down each of the ten three-color combinations as we did with the guilds, but first, a very short background on the two settings:
The Shards of Alara: According to the Magic lore, Alara was once a singular plane rich in all five colors of mana that was shattered into five pieces with their own separate mana identities. Eventually, the shards would be reunited during the setting of the Conflux expansion, resulting in chaos.
The Clans of Tarkir: Tarkir is a plane notably inhabited by many Dragons. The plane has been wracked with war for centuries by the five rivaling clans striving for power. Although the clans once hunted the dragons to extinction, eventually the planeswalker Sarkhan Vol would travel back in time and alter the plane’s history by preventing their extinction. Powerful Dragonlords then uprooted the human Khans and took control of the five clans for themselves.
Bant was an idyllic, peaceful shard without evil magic where order and stability reigned. The Bant color combination is known for ramp, thanks to the inclusion of the Simic color pair, and also for midrange strategies and the spirits tribe.
Bant Spirits is a major archetype in the pioneer format. In this case, green is considered to be a “splash” as there are only 7 green cards in the whole 75.
The shard of Esper was dominated by artificers who created a range of machines from the prevalent magical metal etherium, which was found everywhere on the shard. As a result, the Esper color trio in Magic is sometimes known for its powerful interactions with artifacts. Esper, being the combination of the Azorius and Dimir color pairs, is also notorious for being a powerful shell for control decks.
Esper Control has been popular across several formats over the years. This Modern version of the archetype combines Esper’s reputation for control with its penchant for artifacts.
Grixis was the shard of Alara ruled by necromancers, demons, and other undead monsters. The living beings on Grixis were hunted by the necromancers, who sought to steal their life force for their own power. Similar to the Esper color trio, Grixis combines the Izzet and Dimir color pairs and is therefore a popular color combination for control and spells-based decks. Where Izzet decks may struggle against fast, creature-heavy decks, the addition of black opens up an endless supply of removal options.
Grixis Turns evolved from the Izzet Turns decks in Standard, with more removal spells to help win in a meta dominated by aggro.
The shard of Jund was a primal world where nature and shamans who revere it rule the land. Jund represents wildness and chaos, with no formal governments or hierarchy other than the natural order of the food chain. When it comes to gameplay, Jund decks have become closely associated with the sacrifice theme – exemplifying the idea of the strong eating the weak.
Jund Sacrifice was a powerful force in Throne of Eldraine Standard, and the strength of the archetype carried over into Historic, where it remains one of the top decks.
Naya was the Red, Green, and White shard of Alara, a lush jungle world teeming with life. All of the races that lived on the shard revered nature and the powerful beasts that made their homes there. In the card game, the Naya colors are often associated with creature decks, with some Naya decks containing such a wide range of animal creatures that they earned the nickname “Zoo” – an archetype that still exists in multiple formats today.
The Abzan are one of the five clans of Tarkir, fierce warriors that strongly value familial connections and revere the dragons for their endurance. The Abzan are native to the rough plains of Tarkir, where they have learned to become resilient and hardy. Decks that are based in the Abzan colors are often based around synergies with creature tokens and/or +1/+1 counters – one of the clan’s mechanical themes. The Abzan colors are also sometimes used as the basis for reanimator decks that seek to cheat creatures into play from the graveyard.
While not particularly popular at the time of writing, Abzan counters decks have been a part of Standard on and off since at least the Tarkir block.
The Jeskai Clan has based their ideology on the intelligence and cunning of the dragons. The monks of the Jeskai consider themselves to be the guardians of the plane’s knowledge and history – on top of being fierce martial artists and spellcasters. Jeskai decks in Magic are often control decks, adding red’s direct damage to Azorius Control, but are also known for “spellslinger” type decks, often using creatures like Monastery Mentor that grow stronger as you cast more spells.
An example of a Jeskai deck in the ultra-high-powered Legacy format. The deck is heavy on interactive spells to disrupt the opponent’s plan and defend its few game-ending threats.
Obsessed with decadence and opulence, the Sultai Brood are a cruel clan controlled by cunning Nagas and the cat-like Rakshasa. The Sultai live in and operate from ancient palaces and temples in the jungles of Tarkir. Like Jeskai and Esper, Sultai is often known for control decks. However, Sultai decks are also known for their graveyard interactions, and as a shell for midrange and ramp strategies as well.
Sultai Ramp decks featuring Emergent Ultimatum as a powerful top-end were dominant in Standard. Today, the control-heavy deck is still a niche player in Historic.
Inhabitants of the rocky steppes and deserts of Tarkir, the Mardu Horde reveres the speed of the dragons. They are vicious warriors that use burn magic and martial prowess to raid the other clans, and war is a major part of their culture. Mardu decks are often aggressive-leaning or midrange, and they sometimes represent sacrifice, token, or equipment themes.
The Temur are perhaps the wildest of the clans of Tarkir, reveling in the savagery of nature and the dragons in particular. The Temur clan lives and hunts in the rocky and dangerous mountains of the plane. Decks in the Temur colors are quite diverse – the presence of green and blue mean the colors are sometimes used in ramp shells, but Temur decks can also lean more towards the red/green aggressive side of things. Sometimes, Gruul aggressive decks will splash a small amount of blue, allowing them to use counterspells to defend against control decks.
An example of an aggressive Temur deck in the Pioneer format, with a low land count and backed up by Collected Company and cheap blue counterspells.
Four and Five-Color Combinations
Lastly, we come to the decks and archetypes that contain more than three colors. Five-color decks, which are sometimes called WUBRG, rainbow, or simply abbreviated as 5c, are much less common than their two and three-color counterparts. More colors means less consistency and more demands from your landbase, but having all five colors also allows players to run the best cards in each.
In formats like Legacy and Modern, players have access to powerful lands that can produce five colors of mana (such as City of Brass) or can “fetch” lands of different colors (like Bloodstained Mire or Prismatic Vista). In these formats, adding more colors to one’s deck is easier to get away with, but still usually incurs some loss of consistency and having the right colors of mana at the right time can still be a challenge. However, in rotating formats like Standard and Alchemy, the lands that are in the card pool at a given time are much more limited, which can be prohibitive even for three color decks at times.
Four-color decks have typically been even less common than five-color, because gaining access to four colors of mana is clumsy in many of the same ways, but does not allow access to the powerful cards in the fifth color. Additionally, while there have been many cards printed over the years that include each color in their mana cost, the number of cards that contain exactly four colors is much lower.
When four-color decks do appear, they’re usually called “non-[color],” where [color] represents whatever color doesn’t appear in the deck. For example, a deck that has white, blue, black, and red would be called non-green. Four-color decks may also simply be identified with the abbreviation 4c, just as with five-color.
The format where four-color decks are the most popular is Commander, which tends to be more casual and has access to some special four-color legendary creatures (Saskia the Unyielding) and “partners” that can combine color pairs (Thrasios, Triton Hero and Tymna the Weaver). However, in formats where the card is still legal, there has been an uptick in four-color decks thanks to the recently printed Omnath, Locus of Creation.
Outdated Term – the Nephilims: While it has become much less common in recent years, you may also hear the four-color decks referred to by the name of a cycle of five cards called Nephilims from the Guildpact set. The names of each are as follows:
- WUBR: Yore-Tiller Nephilim
- UBRG: Glint-Eye Nephilim
- BRGW: Dune-Brood Nephilim
- RGWU: Ink-Treader Nephilim
- GWUB: Witch-Maw Nephilim