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Magic: The Gathering has a rich history of groups, all with competing goals and interests. What follows is a selection of some of the coolest or most accomplished factions in that history.
I’ve excluded the Gatewatch and Nine Titans from the list due to them being completely made up of Planeswalkers, and that they weave into other groups in places. A Planewalker list is definitely on the cards though. (heh, cards).
Honourable Mention: The Temur Frontier- carried purely on the fact that their Khan, Surrak, punches bears and dragons.
10) The Machine Orthodoxy
“The last of the Not-Whole shall be discovered, though our eyeholes wince at their hideousness. Their bodies shall be absorbed and their imperfection shall be purged. The Machine Orthodoxy shall engorge the Not-Whole and their deficient isolation shall be obliterated in the Unity.” Izathel, High Chancellor
New Phyrexia filters the colours through the black lens of Old Phyrexia. In White’s case, the xenophobia and facism that are usually held back by white’s loving nature were bought forward. The rather relaxed Pacifism became the more dominating Forced Worship, the duty to the group became blind devotion to the glory of Phyrexia.
Due to white’s strict way of thinking, any sense of subtlety and metaphor are lost on the low level members of the Orthodoxy. If scripture tells them that the individual must be added to the whole, they will stitch those individuals into a whole. The art of Cathedral Membrane? That’s where the poor bastards end up.
The leader of The Machine Orthodoxy and de facto leader of New Phyrexia is Elesh Norn, a roughly 8 foot tall example of Phyrexia’s unique mix of gracefulness and horror. Utterly inhuman in thought and action, The Orthodoxy won’t stop until Phyrexia’s destiny has been realised, anything that gets in their way will be compleated. ALL WILL BE ONE.
9) Clan Kolaghan
The other Elder Dragons of Tarkir are kind of dicks. Oujati erased the Khans from written history, Silumgar wears Tasigur around his neck to this day. Meanwhile Kolaghan, the Black/Red dragonlord? She doesn’t want to lead, she just wants followers that can keep up.
Sure, her clan is a dog-eat-dog (often literally) horde of murderers, psychopaths and other assorted dickheads, but the cool factor of a mongol horde led by a lightning-breathing super dragon is unbelievable.
While they haven’t achieved as much as some other groups in Magic history, their relaxed attitude to conquest (kill everyone, but don’t waste time ruling the place) make them far more interesting and relatable than the Rakdos, who seem to push their domination on anyone they can.
Allies are very popular, and for good reason. The Ally deck basically builds itself with synergies out the wazoo, and even it’s own planeswalker in the form of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. The flavour of a group coming together to be more than the sum of it’s parts fantastic, and something we’ll see again on this list. They’re also one of the most accomplished groups on the list, and would’ve won the Battle of Sea Gate if it hadn’t been for Ob Nixilis calling up Kozilek.
Until Oath of the Gatewatch came out, there was one very important thing the Ally Commander deck was missing- a 5 colour legend for itself. Sure you could use Karona, but that would come back to bite you, repeatedly, for 5 (or 8) damage a turn. General Tazri was the card that Ally players needed. A reliable tutor, and a repeatable +5/+5 for your whole team means that should you decide to reenact Sea Gate, the Allies should win there as well.
7) The Golgari Swarm
Black and Green are the colours of death and life respectively. The Golgari represent this perfectly, they view Death as a natural part of Life. Both of their mechanics focus on using the graveyard to gain power for you or your creatures- Dredge gives you more fuel for your graveyard abilities (and powers a T1 legacy deck) while Scavenge shows that even the dead can be of use to the living.
On a deeper level, the leaders embody Green’s strength and Black’s ambition as their death magic gives them the borderline immortality. Outside of battle, the Golgari are farmers and provide food to the poor. They also work to maintain the sewage system- so try to avoid being poor.
It’s a cut-throat world down in the Undercity, and the Jarad, Lich Lord rules with a slightly decayed, yet iron fist. He’d love to see the Swarm rule Ravnica, but there’s no hurry, the dead all end up in the Undercity eventually.
6) The Abzan Houses
Known among players for their Rhino obsession, there’s actually a lot of cool things about the Abzan, like their benevolent form of necromancy, and the fact that their chariots are pulled by goats. The Abzan are desert nomads, with only a handful of permanent settlements. The biggest is Mer-Ek, one of the safest places in Tarkir in the Khans timeline. Being desert-dwellers, they place a lot of emphasis on nature to the point that each family has a “kin-tree” where they bury their dead. The deceased spirit is bound to the tree, to be called on for aid in times of need. While outwardly they appear united, the backrooms of the Clan is a storm of political intrigue.
The Abzan are focused on Endurance and self-preservation while capturing elements of their three colours perfectly, the unified appearance and duty of White, the nature-loving and community spirit of Green and the necromancy and scheming of Black. When Sarkhan saved Ugin, causing the Dragons of Tarkir timeline, it was this Endurance that saved the entire clan. Realising that fighting the dragons would be certain death for his people, Daghatar abandoned the spiritual ways of his people and struck a pact with Dromoka. Worth it.
5) The Orzhov Syndicate
Speak of Spirits and things being worth it…
The Orzhov Syndicate promises wealth, power and eternal life for those who worship the Obzedat, or Ghost Council. They also promise poverty, suffering and eternal debt to those who look at them funny. The serve as bankers and lawyers to Ravnican society, totally trustworthy right?
Well, yes. The White in Orzhov means they stick to the letter of any contract they make, although the Black means that those contracts will always be weighted in their favour. When it’s time to pay, the Orzhov take what they want slowly. Cards like One Thousand Lashes show this. The power of the Obzedat locks down a creature, and bleeds it slowly, their mechanic from Return to Ravnica also does this, spending your excess mana on draining your opponent.
Recently, Tesya has been trying to usurp control of the Guild from the Ghost Council, but her uncle and member of the Council, Karlov, discovered her plans and now holds her prisoner.
4) Church of Avacyn
Before Innistrad went to hell, Avacyn watched over humanity, protecting it from the worst predations of Vampires and Werewolves, from the mad science of the Stitchers and from other, unnameable horrors. She was aided by the Angelic Flights (Goldnight, Herons and Alabaster) in her work to keep the balance.
Her work saw the humans to view Her as a deity, and the Church formed to worship and help her. Led by the Lunarch, they were the last line of defence when Avacyn went missing in our first visit to Innistrad, and in time between Avacyn Restored and Shadows Over Innistrad, they were able to retake the plane to the point that Avacyn was able to worry about the absent Garruk, rather than threats on the plane inself. In Shadows over Innistrad, the Church seems to be split as to whether they should help Avacyn “purify” the plane or continue to defend the people.
Slivers are cool. A hivemind striving towards perfect evolution that has already caused extinction on one plane with another branch threatening a second. Slivers adapt to the immediate needs of their surroundings, and each sliver passes it’s mutations on to the others in the area. Mechanically, they’re very similar to Allies, but Slivers function all the time, making them considerably more dangerous.
Slivers first appeared in Torment, under the control of Phyrexian general Volrath and led by their Queen. They were first used to guard the Legacy, and later as an invasion weapon in Phyrexia’s assault on Dominaria. Thankfully, the army was all but destroyed when they materialised in a volcano.
Centuries after the Invasion, some researchers for the Riptide project resurrected the race from fossils, although without their Queen, the slivers slaughtered the entire staff and escaped and eventually founded a new Hive lead by the Sliver Overlord.
The final chapter of Dominarian Slivers happens during Time Spiral, where with easy access to the future Hive and it’s adaptations, the Slivers grew to take over the Plane. Without their Queen, there was no strategy to their attacks, but the Slivers’ Hivemind was starting to become sentient, forming the Sliver Legion…
More recently Slivers have appeared on the plane of Shandalar. These Slivers have the same hunger as their namesakes, but look more biomechanical and human.
2) The Coalition
I said I’d get to another 5 colour group becoming more than the sum of it’s parts to battle an apocalyptic threat. The Coalition was Urza’s final gamble for battling Phyrexia while the pieces of the Legacy could be gathered and used to defeat Yawgmoth once and for all. The first half of magic’s history lead to the creation of The Coalition, without exaggeration it is the most epic story Magic have ever done.
Every single sentient, and quite a few non-sentient being, on Dominaria was a member of this group, so in terms of numbers, it’s by far the biggest on this list. Named characters include Urza, the entire crew of the Weatherlight, Freyalise, Darigaaz and the other tricoloured dragons, and the gloriously named Commodore Guff.
In the Phyrexian Invasion, the Coalition were able to hold the Phyrexians back until Yawgmoth himself came to the battle. In the form of a great cloud of black mana, he annihilated the massed army and reanimated the casualties to serve him. However, this had bought enough time for the pieces of the Legacy Weapon to be bought to bear, and Yawgmoth was destroyed- as seen on Vindicate.
1) The Izzet League
I’m abandoning all pretence of objectivity here. I love the Izzet. I love them from their silly Dragon shaped crest to their blatant disregard for all things even remotely resembling safety. The first deck I did well in a tournament with was an Izzet Blitz deck using Nivix Cyclops, Burning Vengeance and Artful Dodge- anything it didn’t counter, it burnt to a cinder.
The Izzet are scientists and civil engineers. They investigate new ways to work with mana, and they build and maintain Ravnica’s infrastructure. Due to the nature of Red and Blue, once they find their project, they’ll work themselves to death to complete it.
Their leader, Niv-Mizzet is the cleverest being on the entire plane, including Jace, and knows it. Attracting the Dragon’s attention is the ultimate goal of any Izzet member, but doing so places even more pressure on them, after all, when an emotional and impulsive dragon is watching your every move, there’s a lot more at stake than just ego.
Recently, Niv-Mizzet has noticed the coming and going of Jace, the Living Guildpact from Ravnica and has had Ral Zarek investigate. On talking to Jace, the two realise that each is a planeswalker and set to tracking a third, who turns out to be Gideon Jura. This story (Project Lightning Bug) led directly to the founding of the Gatewatch.
(BONUS) Old Phyrexia
Ok. This is 11 entries. But I can’t go without talking about the ultimate unstoppable force, a race so ancient it predates Urza by a few millennia, and so evil that Cthulhu himself thinks it’s a little extreme. Phyrexia.
Where to even begin? The massacre of the Thran? The creation of the Slivers? The near killing of Urza and Gerrard? Almost completely obliterating Dominaria during the invasion? Managing to corrupt their eventual destroyer to be reborn?
If it’s evil, Phyrexia has done it. Created by the mad scientist Yawgmoth. Banished by the Thran, for unethical experiments, he was recalled when a degnerative disease began to run rampant through their society. Phyrexia began as a cure that turned out to be far worse than the disease itself. As more body parts were replaced, the infected fell slowly under the command of Yawgmoth.
Across 4 full blocks and one extra set (Weatherlight, Tempest, Urza’s Saga, Masques and Invasion), they prepared their assault on Dominaria.
It took the combined might of the entire plane to stop their armies, but Yawgmoth would not be denied, crossing into Dominaria as a cloud of mana he laid waste to the plane, ready to claim victory and spread His glory to the multiverse. That was when the Karn, the Weatherlight, Gerrard and Urza were able to stop him by activating the Legacy Weapon.
However, Yawgmoth was nothing if not ingenious and he managed to infect Karn with Phyrexia’s most subtle weapon- the Glistening Oil. After the Apocalypse, Karn carried the Oil across the Multiverse, infecting an unknown number of Planes, including Mirrodin (now New Phyrexia). It’s possible that Phyrexia is more wide spread than it ever was before.