In Monster Culture: (Seven Theses), Jeffrey Jerome Cohen offers a reading of monsters as symbolic constructs that embody specific cultural moments, difference made flesh. They appear to us as grotesque spectacles that trouble the borders of existence such as: the animate corpse, a man-eating plant, or a murderous child. Monsters surface frequently in Magic: the Gathering on the cards that players collect and construct decks with. A highly developed mythos informs the game that is set in the Multiverse: a macrocosm comprised of countless planes of existence, where a dazzling array of beasts and horrors abound. In 2010, Wizards of the Coast (the game maker) introduced a new creature into the lore, the most terrifying and improbable species in the entire Multiverse. But what would the monster par excellence look like and behave in a world where monstrosity reigns, where demons, giants, and dragons are everyday occurrences? Enter Magic’s interpretation of the symbolic Other: the Eldrazi Titans and their progeny. They are transgressive not only in their creature design and visual appearance, but in their unique interactions within actual gameplay.
The Monster of monsters do not resemble or act like any other Magic cards previously printed. Unlike werewolves and vampires the Eldrazi have little in the way of cultural context. All Eldrazi descend from three massive primordial Titans, Ulamog, Kozilek, and Emrakul, who live to consume, but are never satiated. Their very presence dissipates reality and inspires madness. The Eldrazi creature design pays homage to the works of John Bottin, H.P. Lovecraft and H.R. Giger: they are simultaneously humanoid and alien, skittering insects with tentacles or dozens of eyeballs, floating appendages, uterine canals, bulbous flesh sacks and exoskeletons.
But what truly distinguishes the Eldrazi from their monstrous cohorts is how their abject form is represented in the mechanics of the game. The cards themselves subvert normal gameplay with unique Eldrazi abilities, in particular their status as Devoid, or colorless. Magic: the Gathering’s philosophical framework is constructed around the color wheel. White represents organization, Blue symbolizes logic, Red refers to impulse, Green to instinct, and Black to self-concern. Within those terms, the colorless Eldrazi are defined by their lack, their monstrous ambiguity. Monsters threaten both individuals and “the cultural apparatus through which individuality is constituted and allowed.” (Cohen, 12). The very existence of colorless Eldrazi defy categorical definition.
The Eldrazi are Wizards of the Coast’s attempt to render abjection within Magic’s core game mechanics. The illustrative paper cards, though enchanting, are mere pieces within the true medium of the game: the abstract rules structure communicated through the text of those cards. The meat is in the interactions, which the Eldrazi uniquely disrupt.