Art Decko

Posted in Feature on September 5, 2002

By Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

First, here are the results of last week's Writer's Challenge! A whole slew of you voted, and your favorite deck appears to be (drum roll) . . .

Deck Creator Votes
5 Lands, 8 Guys, a Lot of Rares, and a Whole Bunch of Winning by Ben Bleiweiss 1142 40.4%
Infinite Wood by Aaron Forsythe 429 15.2%
All or Nothing by Mark Rosewater 323 11.4%
Challenge, What Challenge? by Toby Wachter 265 9.4%
How Lucky You Died by Anthony Alongi 177 6.3%
Boggle by Rei Nakazawa 144 5.1%
Coalition Endurance by Doug Beyer 119 4.2%
Just Win, Baby by Randy Buehler 118 4.2%
Epic Combat by Bennie Smith 109 3.9%
Total   2826 100.0%

Ben pretty much smoked the competition, proving both that bigger truly is better and that stuffing your deck full of rares won't kill your chances of winning. Ben's deck does probably win the award for most versatile by trying to win using almost every alternative win condition suggested. I think Aaron's deck (and Randy's, too, for that matter) would have gotten more votes had I done a better job of explaining their combos. But it's clear that Ben's deck is the favorite for round one of the Writer's Challenge. Nice job, Ben!

Only a few people wrote in to guess my favorite of the bunch. Oddly, they all guessed correctly. I personally loved Rei's funky counters-tokens-creatures deck. I mean, Flock of Rabid Sheep? Come on, people!

It goes without saying, but if you have ideas for future Writer's Challenges, let me know. I will do this sort of thing only occasionally (probably once every few months), but I'm always up for creative column ideas. For all of you chomping at the bit for the next Deck Challenge, you need wait only about four weeks.

In an artist theme deck, the most relevant information on the card is the illustrator.

Now, let's talk artist theme decks.

Art is an obvious place to look when assembling theme decks, because a card's art gives it a great deal of its thematic flavor in the first place. The original version of might of oaks, for example, clearly belongs in a Squirrel theme deck, even though its mechanic suggests nothing at all about Squirrels. Choose some cryptic topic like "North" or "World War II" or "Easter Bunny" and assign people to make theme decks. My guess is that many people will rely heavily on art, which will result in, for example, Kezzerdrix in the Easter Bunny decks.

Card names, mechanics, and flavor text all suggest themes, but a deck with consistent art is somehow more thematic. When you shuffle your "Night" deck and draw your opening hand, it just looks cool if it has mostly black and dark blue art. In addition, if you have clearly tied your theme deck to art, it's usually easier to envision what's happening in the "game world" as you flip cards across your dining room table.

An artist theme deck ties together the deck in a slightly different--but no less aesthetically pleasing--way. I define an artist theme deck as "a deck in which all the cards, except possibly basic land, are illustrated by the same artist." Beyond that simple definition, you can supply your own guidelines for deckbuilding. I naturally tend to build decks using two additional rules:

  • "Normal" Constructed guidelines apply (max of four of each card other than basic land, 60-card minimum deck, etc.).
  • Cards may be from any set, including the Portal and Ungluedsets, and the Starter game.

You can throw out these two rules if you want. For example, wouldn't it be interesting if you made artist theme decks that were Mirage block, 40-cards minimum, and you had no maximum on the number of each card you could use?

If you don't understand why someone would want to build an artist theme deck, then you probably don't understand the House of Cards column. Restricting yourself to one artist means using creativity to turn a very limited card pool into a playable deck. Artist theme decks are a challenge, and deckbuilding challenges are fun. Artist theme decks are fun to build, and they feel thematically consistent because the same hand painted all of the cards. In short, they're spiffy looking.

Like most theme decks, I strongly advise you to play artist theme decks against other artist theme decks. Hold a "theme party" for which everyone brings an artist theme deck and plays round-robin. Otherwise, your deck will look cool, but will probably get slaughtered by any nontheme Constructed deck. For example, when building a "Mark Brill" deck, your creature-removal possibilities are pretty much Agonizing Demise and Flameshot. These choices are fun if you're playing someone else who has similar limitations, but not so fun when your opponent busts out Jackal Pup, Ball Lightning, and Fireblast.

In an artist theme party, my personal preference is to have one artist per party. It's not as interesting if two "Mark Tedin" decks face off against each other because they will probably be too similar. Instead, I like to see what happens when Mark Tedin faces off against "Phil Foglio." Usually, this is as easy as having your friends agree on who's playing which artist, or to draw names out of a hat. Oh, and don't invite your friend Joe if his first reaction to your idea of a theme party is "Who painted Morphling?"

The real trick in building an artist theme deck is figuring out who painted which cards. I suppose you could sort your entire collection by artist, but then you'd have waaaaay more time on your hands than I. I have used two pretty simple methods for finding lists of cards by a particular artist. There are probably dozens more ways to do so, but these are both straightforward.

1) Get Magic Online. Even if you've decided that Magic Online is too expensive or too time-consuming for you as a player, its base price is well worth the searchable card database. To find artist cardlists on Magic Online, follow these steps in the "Deck Editor" section:

  • Set "Sets" to "All."
  • Make sure the "My Cards" button isn't clicked.
  • Put your artist's name into the "Search for" field. Usually, you can even get away with searching for the artist's last name.

2) Read Toby Wachter. Toby is interviewing the various artists of Magic. You can already read his pieces on John Avon, Matt Wilson, Terese Nielson, Matt Cavotta, and, coming soon, rk post. A handy-dandy side effect is that at the end of each article, there's a comprehensive list of the artist's credits. Sure, the lists become dated eventually, but it's a lot easier to scan cards from Judgment for Matt Cavotta paintings than your entire collection.

Below you will find a few artist theme decks from my favorite Magic artist: Rebecca Guay. I don't know why I like Rebecca's card art so dang much, but somehow her paintings make me smile. In fact, when my wife and I recently went on a crusade to own a piece of original Magic artwork, my first and only stop was Rebecca. (You can see the results of my efforts below.)

The original art for Moment's Peace hangs in the Moldenhauer-Salazar abode.

Making a deck with only Rebecca Guay cards makes for some pretty interesting decision making. She's done most of her work in green and white, with almost no black or red cards at all. Then again, one of her red cards is Tectonic Break, and one of her black cards is Perish; these are obviously deck-worthy.

The first deck is built around Nantuko Shrine, with lots of ways to dump cards into your graveyard (the best being Mulch) and draw cards (the best being Fecundity with your little Squirrels). You can even Dwell on the Past to keep opposing graveyards from getting too full. Kaysa allows your Squirrels to be better than your opponent's, and is about the only Overrun-like effect available to a Guay deck.


Download Arena Decklist
Creature (8)
4 Elvish Lyrist 4 Kaysa
Instant (12)
4 Memory Lapse 4 Predict 4 Respite
Enchantment (8)
4 Fecundity 4 Nantuko Shrine
Land (20)
12 Forest 8 Island
60 Cards

The second deck is built around Transcendence (I'm sort of doing a "bad rare" cycle here), with Aura Fracture to ensure you don't die by gaining too much life. The deck's best way to win is probably Commander Eesha, although it does muster a halfhearted white weenie offense.


Download Arena Decklist

The third deck is a simple beatdown deck, using the best tools from green and black that Guay has painted. Pine Barrens probably doesn't fit an aggressive deck, but I like using the only multicolor land from Rebecca Guay.


Download Arena Decklist

I also toyed with a Protective Sphere - Pulse of Llanowar deck, green-white beatdown, blue-white beatdown (Sea Drake is nuts), blue-black control, and a Tectonic Break - Elves deck.

Four of Rebecca Guay's more recognizable pieces: Commander Eesha, Kaysa, Reverent Mantra, and Mulch

These are merely examples, though. Have fun with it and see what you can create from your own favorite Magic artist. And if you do end up holding an artist theme party of some kind, email me and let me know what happened.

Next week: Onslaught cards, ho!

Jay may be reached at

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