By conservative estimates, since bringing our baby home from the hospital 12 weeks ago, I’ve changed 320 diapers, meaning I’ve spent a significant chunk of my time over the last three months looking at her navel. I’m not alone in navel-gazing–some meditative practices instruct you to study your own navel, to connect yourself with your origin point and the core of your body and spine in a centering exercise known as “omphaloskepsis.”

As a method of connecting with the divine, it’s dubious, but it’s a decent gentle neck stretch, and it does help us remember where we came from and how we were first nourished. The navel as a portal for life–whether strictly medical or metaphysical–is something that appears in myth and folklore across the world; Joseph Campbell wrote on the mythic archetype that he called “the world navel,” the omphalitic point through which life flows, the origin of all connection between the divine and the physical.

The Greek “omphalos” and the Latin “umbilicus” are related–both mean “navel” or “center” and both were used to refer to the boss, or the convex portion at the center of a shield designed to deflect blows that resembles a navel. As the heater and kite models of shield–both of which could deflect from the entirety of their curved bodies and both of which were more functional on horseback–began to replace the parma-style shield, the boss became obsolete, but we kept the concept of the word for a raised button at the center of something. “Umbilicus” became “lombril” (or “the navel”) in Old French, and became the technical term for the sustaining strand of flesh that connects a fetus in utero to the bearing person’s placenta by 1753.

The Omphalos of Delphi, a religious stone artifact with a carving of a net and a hollow center.

Omphalos at Delphi By Yucatan (Юкатан) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

In more concrete terms, the omphalos is a stone sculpture at the temple of Apollo in Delphi, representing the stone that Rhea gave to the filiphagic Titan Kronos to swallow instead of Zeus. This subterfuge allowed Zeus to eventually overthrow Kronos and free his siblings from their father’s belly. In Greek, “omphalos” simply means “navel”–their understanding was that Delphi was the center of the world, and so the world’s navel was placed there. There’s a term used to describe this myopic view of the world and the belief that your limited domain has to be the center of the world: “omphalos syndrome.”

Per Scryfall, 304 Magic cards depict a creature’s navel, from various Aurioks to Zenith Seeker, from Soul Collector to Woodland Changeling, which sets up interesting questions about the world of Magic: why do Angels, creatures of pure mana, have bellybuttons? When conjuring the raw nightmare energy that would become Laquatus’s Champion, why did Chainer take the time to mold a navel? Why does Elesh Norn have a bellybutton sunk into the flayed muscles of her abdomen?

But aside from these enigmas, there’s a more important question: what is Magic’s equivalent of the Delphic stone, the omphalos, the cornerstone at the center of its world?

Many people would say Black Lotus, as it’s Magic’s most expensive, most discussed, and most recognizable card. Even the layperson knows the iconography of the Lotus and its mythic power, and it’s become an emblem for Magic much like Blue-Eyes White Dragon is the only Yu-Gi-Oh! card many people can name and holo Charizard has become the cultural avatar of Pokémon. Personally, I refuse to allow commerce to dictate the omphalos of Magic–while Black Lotus’s shot of mana makes it one of the most powerful game pieces in the history of Magic, like money, it’s ephemeral and overvalued. A Black Lotus in a vacuum is a useless trinket or a status symbol.

Some cheeky folks would–justifiably–name a land, whether Island or Strip Mine. The Player Rewards Wasteland, with its ominous Eliot quote and austere landscape reprinted from the Tempest original, definitely impressed me as a teenager. It’s been a staple in Legacy and Commander for decades, and gets reprinted enough to remain accessible but exciting to open. As iconic as Wasteland is, though, it’s a riff on the slightly-too-good Strip Mine from Antiquities, and only has the pedigree it has because Strip Mine was banned from Legacy.

A Commander player may name either their favorite general or the format’s cornerstone and crux of controversy: Sol Ring. Someone whose sole Top 8 performance was on the back of a lucky Boros Charm might say that particular card, while someone who first fell in love with the game through the splashiness Chromanticore might still carry a flame for the five-color chimera. Standard players would say Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, and they’d be right for the current environment. My current pet card, Urborg Scavengers, has been overperforming in Standard, and it took me a few games to realize that it wasn’t because the card itself has a ton of merit, but because both players were running a set of Fables. It’s easy for a Scavengers to exceed its potential when it’s pilfering abilities from a Sheoldred, the Apocalypse or an Atraxa, Grand Unifier.

There are a whole host of other candidates–from multiplayer gadflies like Rhystic Study and Mystic Remora to tournament cards that have had entire theses written about them like Brainstorm and Force of Will. Red mages would speak fondly of outdated threats like Jackal Pup or Tattermunge Maniac or Goblin Guide. But nothing seems quite right as the emblematic card of Magic–maybe Magic is just too broad to have a single iconic card represent all five colors and all the strategies contained within its 25,000+ cards. At one point, Jace, the Mind Sculptor was the face of Magic, as far as Wizards was concerned, but years of familiarity and a decrease in his playability has burned out his glory.

Perhaps I’m thinking about this incorrectly–after all, the Greeks weren’t correct about the importance of Delphi. Maybe there’s no single omphalos. Maybe Magic’s omphalos is unique to each of us, as individualized and internalized as our own navels. Perhaps it’s the card we’re obsessed with at the moment, something we can’t let go of for whatever reason. Our navels are the center of our physical being, the first way that we were nourished, and a vestigial reminder of how small and insufficient we were starting out, how much support we needed. The Greeks may have been wrong about the geographical center of the world, but they were right about what a parent is willing to do to save their child from danger, whether that’s the depredations of a hungry Titan or the insecurities that are a feature of our social system. Anyone who has had a child probably connects with the phrase “center of the world,” no matter how small that world may prove to be.

Rob Bockman (he/him) is a native of South Carolina who has been playing Magic: the Gathering since Tempest block. A writer of fiction and stage plays, he loves the emergent comedy of Magic and the drama of high-level play. He’s been a Golgari player since before that had a name and is never happier than when he’s able to say “Overgrown Tomb into Thoughtseize,” no matter the format.

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