Well, almost anything can be reduced to the elemenst if you think about it, but why being a reductionist? That could be your starting point.
Taking what I just wrote above, not everything is matter, why not use energy as a source of magic? Not only telekinesis, think of Magneto, the guy can control magnetic forces, Flash was given the Speed Force, Black Canary uses the Canary Cry, which are sonic vibrations, and so on.
There are other forms of magic, not necessarily related to an specific energy, healing, for example. What kind of energy or elementat form is magic healing? What about electronic devices? There can be magic related to them. What about opening portals to different worlds, or teleportation? These can be considered superpowers instead of magic, that’s where your imagination has to step in.
To avoid the elemental magic cliché, give it a twist. What if everytime you use earth magic, let’s say create a wall to protect yourself from an attack, you create an earthquake somewhere else? What if, in order to use water magic you have to be hydrated otherwise you can’t? (There’s a scene in The Incredibles where Frozono can’t use his powers because the air is too dry).
Here are some links to guide you through
- Common Magic Systems Pros and Cons: Elemental Magic
- Are “Elemental” Magic Systems Cliché? (This is a forum, check the replies)
- Rant on Elemental Magic
- Elemental Magic Systems, Is There Still Some Fire Left In Them? (Another Forum)
- Fantasy Magic System: What’s Been Done
- Everyone’s Most Hated Fantasy Fiction Clichés (Keep scrolling ‘til you find it)
Hope this helps you.
I probably should have slapped this into the “Top Ten Coolest Magic
Systems” post, but here’s another, slightly oddball example, that might
get you thinking.
Mage: The Ascension split magic into nine “spheres,” or kinds of magic.
Correspondence was magic based on location. This ranged from a mage knowing exactly where they were, to being able to find anything, or anyone, to teleportation, depending on the power of the mage.
Entropy was the ability to predict and affect random events, or the natural decay of things. A mage versed in entropy could predict the future, prevent objects from wearing out.
Forces was the basic “elemental” magic sphere, with a significant twist. It did include things like fire and lightning, but it also affected other physical forces, like electricity, kinetic energy, magnetism, and gravity. A mage versed in forces could track an electrical current, or even prevent a security alarm from triggering. A master of forces could potentially initiate a nuclear detonation or extinguish a star’s nuclear fission.
Life was the ability to affect and alter living objects. It included sensing life, healing, harming, and shapeshifting.
Matter was the companion sphere for Life that affected inanimate objects. This included things like transmutation, but also allowed a mage to determine an object’s exact composition.
Mind was telepathy and psionics. It also allowed mages to manipulate memories or even someone’s identity.
Prime was a kind of metamagic, interacting specifically with magic. Prime could make magical effects permanent, or effectively defend against another mage’s attacks. It also allowed a mage to detect magic being used, regardless of the sphere.
Spirit specialized in interacting with extra-dimensional beings, “spirits.” This tied directly into the setting’s cosmology, but the basic idea should be fairly self explanatory. As I recall, at higher levels it would allow mages to enter the spirit realms (The Umbra).
Time was the ability to sense and manipulate time. This ranged from a mage being able to always know exactly what time it was, view past or future events, enter “bullet time,” up through being able to freeze time or step outside of it.
There was some intentional overlap, the Spheres were designed with the idea that mages could mix multiple spheres together to create a desired magical effect.
Additionally the setting operated under a consensus reality system, where overtly magical actions would incur severe backlash. So there was a very strong incentive for mages to come up with inventive ways to deal with their problems. It was flat out better to deal with an attacker by giving them a heart attack or cause their weapon to fail catastrophically, than to start throwing fireballs around.