Myth & Magic: Anima Mundi, the World Soul


Elementals are a wonderful creature type, as they can essentially be whatever a set needs at any given time. Their mythos and origins are somewhat more academic than goblins or dragons. So, make yourself a cup of tea and let me walk you through some of the philosophical aspects of what we know as Anima Mundi, the World Soul.

Elementals can take any shape or form; they can fly; they can trample; they can have character and personality; and they can possess random abilities. If the World Soul sounds vaguely familiar, it should be. Nissa, Sage Animist (the flip side of Magic Origins' Nissa, Vastwood Seer i.e. Nissa, Vastwood Seer // Nissa, Sage Animist) can create a 4/4 legendary elemental, Ashaya, the Awoken World. In the very next set, Battle for Zendikar introduced the Awaken mechanic, the ability to summon an elemental warrior of the land, as part of a spell's resolution.

Nissa, Sage Animist Ashaya, the Awoken World

The Magic's Origins

The first Greek philosopher, Thales (c. 624 – 545 BCE) believed: παντα πληρη θεων ειναι – all things are full of gods. This resonates with the concept of panpsychist, wherein its doctrine states that all things have a soul, a mind, an essential being. While a complex concept, it remains with us today in a more diluted, mundane, and altogether more illogical fashion: anthropomorphism, whereby we attribute human characteristics to objects and creatures, often ignoring actual biological and societal imperatives.

Plato, in his work Sophist, writes that all things participate in the form of Being and that it must have a psychic aspect of mind and soul (psyche). In Philebus and Timaeus, he argues toward the idea of a world soul or anima mundi. The argument, according to Plato, was that existence operated too perfectly for there to be anything other than a soul at the core of everything.

Stoicism holds that the world is driven by a soul-like property called Pneuma, the breath of life. This breath is a mix of fire and air then graded according to the proportions of each. If we are to apply this to the game of Magic, we can perhaps compare it with the color pie as we now know it and state that all things have properties related to the five colors.

The World Soul

Anima Mundi, the World Soul, is an intrinsic connection between all living things in the world, the animating force of the world. It is a universal and primordial feature in all things, a pure ethereal spirit diffused throughout all of nature, the divine and spiritual essence that embraces and energises all life in the plane. In terms of broader fantasy, a similar theme is evident in RuneScape and in the Star Wars universe.

The World Soul is not a fixed or defined substance. It is a living substance made out of the hopes, dreams, and deepest imaginings of all beings. The world is a living spiritual being. It holds places of magical meaning, places where dreams can come into being. Think of concepts such as Mother Earth, Gaea, and so on.

Our connection to the World Soul flows through our consciousness and, more often, our unconsciousness. As we connect with the World Soul, we come in contact with its forces and energies, and gain power to transform them and release them into the world, bringing them to life.

If we are alienated from the World Soul, we are denying the world its divinity. We need to connect with it, we need the magical powers within it to heal, transform, and awaken the world.

The Multiverse

Magic mechanics are designed to help shape our understanding of the plane on which the current set is based. Were the Gatewatch to take a jaunt to New Phyrexia, formerly Mirrodin (it does seem somewhat likely that there will be such a trip in the near future, as Karn is on a mission), it would stand to reason that Nissa would struggle to assert herself, given the lack of natural magic within the fabric of the world.

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite Call the Gatewatch
Praetors vs. the Gatewatch, perhaps?

The previous sections are not an easy read, but hopefully it offers some insight into the sort of research the R&D teams of Wizards of the Coast are required to do. If there's some element (pun intended) of the mythos of Magic: The Gathering that you'd like me to explore in future articles, feel free to leave a comment. And, of course, thanks must go to the wonderful Maja Nebes and her brain for the invaluable and irreplaceable assistance in piecing together the threads behind this philosophy.

Winding Down

How about some decklists? Everyone loves lists, right?

Cube enthusiasts will remember one recent Magic Online combo, that of Elemental Lock, wherein you get Vesuvan Shapeshifter and Brine Elemental into play, with the former repeatedly turning face-down and morphing back up to deny your opponents an untap step. In the list below, Ryan Bemrose won States in 2007 with Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, one of the most oppressive creatures of its time. This legendary wizard, now planeswalker, prevents your opponents from responding to morph triggers with Venser, Shaper Savant, and a suite of counters and blink effects designed to prevent any possible comeback. Sower of Temptation steals key creatures; Aven Riftwatcher is a value creature designed to race burn decks; and one of the best Elementals ever printed – Mulldrifter – restocks your hand and provides another evasive threat. Just look at the 75! There's so much going on.

In 2009, Daniel Gardner took top honors at the British Nationals with a different Elemental deck. Not quite the classic UW build you'd normally see, this deck is a mix of counter magic, value creatures, and massive mythic bombs. Chris Pikula's Meddling Mage helps protect your board state by preventing expected reactions, while Vendillion Clique and Glen Elendra Archmage work double-duty in presenting a threat and as resource denial. Should you find that your early drops are trading off, or if you're evoking Mulldrifter to draw cards as a faux-Divination, then the star of the show, Reveillark, gets to make an appearance. Briefly. Once you've established a stable position, confident in your ability to counter anything you face, Baneslayer Angel enters the fray. Taking a casual glance at the list, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a Modern deck… with good reason.

And there you have it… Elementals! The high philosophy of Zendikar and the cog-like power of Lorwyn! Don't forget to comment below and we'll see you all again real soon.

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1 Comment

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Uvood(02.10.2018 08:54)

I actually remember reading Thales brifely during univeristy. He was presocratian, so there was not much information on him, but I remember liking the fact that he put wisdom over physical achivements like football, stating that wisdom was a higher good (to which I agree obv :P). I have not read those Plato texts to closely though, I am thinking I should rectify that ;).