Exploring Ixalan – Dowsing Dagger

Posted in Feature on September 8, 2017

By Nicholas Wolfram

Nicholas Wolfram fell promptly in love with tabletop and video games when he was only two years old, and he has been writing about them since he figured out how words worked. Now he puts together words about Magic, which he started playing way back in 2000.

As part of our preview season for Ixalan, we are going to take a deeper look at some of the cards previewed on our own homepage. Today, we'll be peering behind the scenes of the process that went into creating the design and art of Dowsing Dagger (as well as its flip side, Lost Vale), which was previewed in Mark Rosewater's Making Magic article today.


This was another double-faced card (DFC) that came up early in the Ixalan design process. Like Conqueror's Galleon, this was a top-down design. The idea here is that you have come possess an enchanted dagger that will help you find a lush new land in two ways: first, it will lead you to the land through its magical dowsing skills; second, it will serve as a tool you can use to slice through the dense plant growth of Ixalan's jungles in pursuit of the land. As a reward for your journey of discovery, you end up with a land as valuable as a field of Black Lotuses.


Florian de Gesincourt was sent the following instructions for this piece of art:

Setting: Ixalan

Color: Colorless artifact

Location: In a dense jungle

Action: We're looking out from the perspective of a Pirate, but all we see are "our" gloved hands. In both hands, we are holding a beautiful jade weapon of Merfolk construction. We're holding it out in front of us flat side up, like a divining rod, as if it were leading us in a particular direction. It seems to be pointing us right to a wall of Plants, which we will have to hack through to get past.

Focus: The blade should be the central focus.

Mood: A moment of calm, seeking guidance . . . from a blade.

This is Florian's result:

Dowsing Dagger
Dowsing Dagger | Art by Florian de Gesincourt

This art was meant to highlight the dense vegetation of Ixalan, with the dagger beckoning the player straight through a wall of the stubborn Plants. It was important that the art capture the spirit of both the dagger and the Plant tokens to make the design intent clear to the players.

The other side of Dowsing Dagger, Lost Vale, features the new border that all Ixalan flip-lands feature. This border was actually designed by our very own Cynthia Sheppard, art director of Ixalan, so I thought this may be a good time to get some background on the border's creation. Here's what she had to say on the matter:

The map frame started as an experimental treatment that I sketched out at home after work one evening. The treatment was picked up for the DFC locations after the fact—we knew that we needed the land frame to loudly communicate "don't play this side first!" since lands normally go directly from your hand into play, and that's not the case with these. I also enjoyed the immersive aspect of a map being the wrapper for the card's destination. After the initial mock-up, the frame was given to our graphic designers to finalize, and that's what you see on the finished card.

And to close things out, here's a little bonus trivia from Cynthia:

"The symmetrical expansion symbol for Ixalan was partly informed by the choice to center the symbol on the map frames."

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