Top Five Favorite Magic Systems (Wyrd and Wonder)

Welcome to a Wyrd and Wonder Fantastic Top Fives post! This week, our lovely hosts have asked about our favorite magic systems, and I am only too happy to oblige! Below are some systems that have really stood out to me, or that have a soft spot in my heart for one reason or another. What are your faves?

If you want to check any of these out, I’ve linked the cover to Goodreads!

FOUNDRYSIDE by Robert Jackson Bennett
My pitch for this system is always Magical Computer Coding. In this world, magic happens by carving specific runes on an object to convince that object of a new reality. To make automatic carts, wheels are inscribed with the command that they are actually on a sloped hill, so they’re inclined to roll. Doors are told they are unable to open between midnight and dawn. You have to be utterly precise with your commands or things could go catastrophically wrong. But the whole system is threatened when a thief discovers an artifact that lets her “talk” to the objects and find loopholes in the writing. Okay, door, you can’t open after midnight, but what exactly does “open” mean? Swinging inward? Oh, then swinging outward doesn’t count as opening, so could you do that for me? Thanks.

I’ve never seen a magic system where people have an affinity for “worked” items (glass, paper, ink, bronze, etc.), but that isn’t what made this magic system standout in my brain. The author has said she wanted to make a magic system that felt like an anxiety disorder, and boy did she succeed. You see, the more powerful you are, the more you want to be in “alignment” with your chosen material; you literally want to merge and become one with it. That means the mages constantly have to be watched for when they’re “spiraling” and losing control of their impulses; one of the best characters in the books is an archivist who knows the signs and can talk a mage down from a spiral. It’s an absolutely compelling system that helped make the book a fave of mine for 2022.

MISTBORN by Brandon Sanderson
I had to include at least one of Sanderson’s magic systems on here, and of what I’ve read of his, MISTBORN is my personal favorite. In this world, there are those who have the ability to ingest metal, which gives a person a specific power based on that specific metal. Iron, for instance, lets you pull metal in the world towards you, while Tin enhances your senses. Most magic users are only able to use the power of a single metal. The very rare Mistborn, however, are able to use all of the metals. It makes for some incredibly fun and kinetic action scenes, and is definitely a system I think about time and time again.

THE LAST SUN by K.D. Ewards
The reason I like this system is because of the constraints it puts on the magic users. In the world of THE TAROT SEQUENCE, most great spells require preparation ahead of time, to be stored in magical trinkets called sigils. Sigils are incredibly rare, and a person might only have a handful of them at best. So when you’re going into a dangerous situation, do you prepare healing spells? Fireballs? Shields? Telekinesis? It’s a bit D&D feeling, which I don’t mind at all, but I love that it forces the heroes to fight smarter, not harder. You have to be strategic about what you pack, strategic about when you use your magic, and if you’re down to a last few spells, sometimes you have to be creative about how you use them.

There are two kinds of major magic systems in the world of THE MASK OF MIRRORS. The first is very hard magic, based on mathematics and drawing precise geometry, etc. But I’m much more interested in the soft magic system of Pattern decks. This is a tarot-inspired system where those with the gift can use the cards to devise information about the past, present, and future. I think I love it because there’s an element of a puzzle to it, as you try to interpret what the cards are trying to tell you.


15 thoughts on “Top Five Favorite Magic Systems (Wyrd and Wonder)

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  1. I definitely expected to see Sanderson in this list. I’ve only read 2 standalone works of his, but he really does cook up the most complex magical systems with loads of techniques and the detailed science behind those.

    Liked by 1 person

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