Magic Art Comes Alive

Posted in Feature on October 23, 2018

By Corbin Hosler

Melancholy music fills the speakers as the video begins. A faceless, exhausted knight in a dreary land trudges forward, every step in the snow a struggle. As you watch, a voice joins in over the music and explains the struggle of the knight and the child who rescues him. It's a gripping intro, and before you know it you learn why you're watching—it set a mood. Maybe not a mood you'd expect from a Magic video on YouTube, but it evokes a fundamental feeling all the same.

The sounds, the production, the narration—it hooks you, and 15 minutes later you know all you need to know about the works of prolific Magic artist Seb McKinnon and his unique style. A huge portion of the audience has never played Magic at all, and yet they were hooked by the video essay all the same.

That would be Rhystic Studies. By day, he's a doctorate student at the University of Texas. By night or odd times between classes (post-graduate work doesn't leave a ton of free time) he's one of the most popular content creators in the game, and one with a focus radically different from most of his peers.

Everyone knows Magic cards have art on them. Most people know of many of the artists who create the beautiful landscapes and riveting battle scenes we're all used to seeing in miniature. Far fewer know how much work goes into that art, both from the artist's side as well as the Creative team that makes each plane of the Multiverse feel unique.

That's where Gaglio comes in. Nothing makes something as abstract as "the art of Magic" come alive quite like the video series he creates for Rhystic Studies, and hundreds of thousands of viewers have walked away from his videos just a little—or, truth be told, quite a bit—more invested in Magic and the people who make all the parts of the card, not just the rules text box or the power and toughness.

"Despite the fact there's an artist credit, we take that for granted," Gaglio explained. "As a community we don't talk about it much, but even the Spikiest of Spikes have their favorite card art. There's a lot of people that comment on my videos who say that one of their family members doesn't play Magic at all but they showed them these videos and they love it. It gives Magic players a way to communicate their love of the game with people who don't play."

That's an apt way to describe the artist profiles done on Rhystic Studies, each a labor of love that reflects the incredible passion and dedication Magic artists have to the game. The channel is one of several ways the Magic community is connecting to the great artists behind the cards in ways never done before. From artist signing booths at Grand Prix to successful crowd-funding efforts that originate within the Magic art community, Magic art and artists are more connected today than Richard Garfield ever deemed possible when he decreed 25 years ago that each new Magic card would come with its own art.

At the center of this movement stands Mike Linnemann, a dog and Magic art enthusiast in equal parts, who has worked tirelessly over the past decade to bring Magic art to the forefront of the game, to be given the same appreciation as a cool new mechanic or card design. It's a crusade that has ignited the nascent art community, and now an entire subculture has emerged, from original art collectors to signed cards from artists to full Magic art shows.

Linnemann has been a steadfast pillar of the community, and the wiring that connects collectors, artists, players, and content creators across the globe, and his push to showcase Magic art at the highest levels possible led to Magic's first-ever art show at Grand Prix Vegas in 2017. Recently he was part of an effort to top even that—a celebration of Magic's 25th anniversary in Japan that featured iconic moments, cards, and art from the history of the game. The truly massive exhibition made Magic art a focus throughout. Attendees didn't just appreciate art from Ravnica—they experienced it first hand as they "planeswalked" through a room that made you feel as though you were moving through the rooftops of the city.

Not all that long ago, such a display would be considered impractical, but for one weekend in Japan the lines for the event stretched around the corner. By the time the event had concluded, more than 12,000 people had attended, all there for a Magic event in which essentially no Magic was even played. If the original modest art show in Vegas showed such an event was possible, the exhibition in Japan proved just how successful they could be. All according to Linnemann's plan.

"This art needs to be in a museum, and that's always been my goal," Linnemann explained. "It's an emerging art field and it's a process. I can't win a Pro Tour, but I know I can help raise Magic art to the level of being in a museum. Magic isn't basement door copy, and it's become normal to be a fan of it. Look, maybe you can't play [Friday Night Magic] every week, but you hang a piece of Magic art on the wall and you're still interacting with the game. You're only going to see more of that in the future."

Descendants' Path
The original art of Descendants' Path was the biggest hit at the Japanese exhibition.

Content creation like Linnemann's own articles and innovative approaches like Rhystic Studies or Geoffrey Palmer of Living Cards MTG have been a huge part of the growth of the community, and it continues to build. Projects like Original Magic Art make it easier for players to connect with artists, and there are dozens or hundreds more people working behind the scenes to make the art of the game more accessible than ever before.

It's a world that Gaglio is thrilled to be living in—and one he never envisioned when he was first introduced to Magic as a kid, too young to fully understand the game but old enough to stare at the art on his cards, his favorite being Patagia Golem by Kev Walker. Like thousands of players before and after him, Gaglio was hooked on Magic—just not in the way you might expect.

"I bought cards exclusively for the art, just admiring it," he recalled. "Then when I came back to the game years later it was Baleful Strix that caught my eye. You get introduced to the richness of the gameplay but sometimes you go full circle and go back to the art that caught your eye in the first place."

That led to his first artist profile—fittingly a tribute to Kev Walker—and the ball was rolling. Two years later, Gaglio's videos have amassed millions of views on a subject that has at times in Magic's history been perfunctory, background noise used only to recognize a card at a glance.

Thanks to the work of Gaglio and untold others, both inside Wizards HQ and in the wider community, Magic art has become so much more than that. And the more you learn about their continued efforts to bring Magic art to the forefront of the game, well, the easier it is to think Linnemann might just be onto something about Magic art belonging in a museum.

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