His Dark Materials and MTG

Carlos Albuquerque
4 min readDec 21, 2022

Hey, I’m no professional card designer.

To complement my review, I decided to blend my love of both HDM and MTG. Both series are surprisingly congruent with each other, both featuring a multiverse focused around a magical substance aligned with philosophy and sapience, with a fathomless chasm between worlds. True, there are significant differences on the overall ontology, but those are trivial details.

In general, His Dark Materials is about the conflict against the oppressive institution of the church, in favor of experiencing life to the fullest. This would be a rare case where Black and Red are pitied against a villainous White, and indeed the main character, Lyra, is in my opinion Blue/Black/Red: someone who is not above lying and other trickery for the sake of her freedom as well as her loved ones. Nearly all major villains are White aligned to at least some extent, being overly zealous to their religious cause.

However, things get murky when you look at both the other characters and the ontology of the world. Prophecies cannot be avoided, fundamental natural laws cannot be broken (like daemons in the realm of the dead) and both Mary and the Mulefa advocate a harmonious existence with the environment while the freed dead rejoice in holism with the universe. All of this is pretty Green. Meanwhile, freedom of knowledge is prized by the heroes, so Blue is also well represented. In this case, you can argue that it’s less White vs its enemy colors and more White against ALL colors.

On the flipside, some heroic characters are White-aligned (Lee Scoresby for instance) and the highly byronic Lord Asriel is Black-aligned, as is the more overtly antagonistic Marisa Coulter (I’d argue she’s White/Blue/Black, more so even in the series). Iofur Raknison is pretty overtly Blue/Black, and both the Subtle Knife and the specters feel very Black aligned, so while the overall theme might put White in the center antagonist role, not every character is easily square pegged.

I don’t have time to go through every single character, so I’ll go over some major factions:

  • The Magisterium and the Kingdom of Heaven as the main antagonists represent White’s bad side: dogmatism, oppression and self-righteousness. The former might dip into Blue in the form of the General Oblation Board and similar scientific projects.
  • Jordan College and its schoolars are pretty Blue. It is clear that they are constrained by the Magisterium’s dogma, but they try to get away with preserving and maintaing knowledge as much as they can.
  • The Gyptians are pretty focused on Red mana, valuing freedom and love, though individual characters go all over the place.
  • The Armored Bears are pretty Red/Green: they act in accordance to their nature, and are impossible to deceive. Iofur did try to modernise them, a classic Blue vs Green conflict, that goes nowhere because that’s not how bears work.
  • The Republic of Heaven is headed by a Black-aligned character, but characters within it are all over the place and have all sorts of motivations.
  • The Land of the Dead is pretty White/Black, having strict procedures while being a pit of despair. The harpies eventually adopt a Black/Red mindset: if you satisfy them with good stories, they let you out.
  • The Mulefa and their world is pretty Green aligned, being a civilization in tune with their environment. Mary Malone starts off as Blue and becomes Green after her time there.

As you can see, I did a piss-poor attempt at making cards of the three pivotal artifacts of the series:

  • The Alethiometer (or “Golden Compass” if you’re an idiot) is pretty Blue, its purpose being to deliver information in what amounts to a puzzle, forcing the reader to perfect the mind as well. Lyra manages to read it intuitively (a Blue/Red mindset), but eventually loses this ability as she matures and now has to learn the symbols and how to interpret them (pretty mono-Blue).
  • The Subtle Knife is highly destructive and is said to have a malicious will of its own. To be a bearer you have to sacrifice two of your fingers and its actions cause specters to sprout, and is ultimately destroyed by being unable to cut through love. Pretty Black aligned at its worst. Will himself starts off as White/Black, having a clear sense of responsibilities while also being pragmatic and ruthless if needed, but his experiences with Lyra, the Land of the Dead and the Mulfe World gradually push him to Green/Red, living life to the fullest while conscious of the damage he’s done, and him breaking the knife for the second and final time solidifies this change of character.
  • The Spyglass’s purpose is to simply observe Dust and see how it affects the environment and the people, not to mention it is made out of amber and seed oil. Thus, pretty Green aligned. Seeing Dust through her own eyes cements Mary’s change from a pure academic to a holistic person.

And that’s it for now, and probably forever. Let me know what you think!