Returning to Mirrodin

Posted in Feature on September 13, 2010

By Jeremy Jarvis

This year's coming block was kind of a new challenge for Magic Creative. It's the first time that we've really revisited an expansion's worth of an established plane in the Magic Multiverse. The idea had been flirted with for Time Spiral. However, that was more of an exercise in finding ways of "dressing" recognizable places and concepts in appropriate levels of visual distress as a result of the massive wars and calamities that were inherited from past story lines (as well as how we see them start to recover in Future Sight). Returning to Mirrodin was different. We now had the luxury of keeping the things that worked and that we liked from the first views of the plane, and the challenge of reinventing, broadening, or redefining the things that were less appealing to the team.

It was also an interesting dynamic on various personal levels as Mirrodin was Brady's first full-blown world building. I too felt a strong attachment, as Mirrodin was the first block I worked on as a freelance illustrator (Loxodon Warhammer ... still awesome; Lightning Greaves ... was never awesome ...). We also had the fresh perspectives of Doug, Jenna, Richard, and Matt Sernett who, of course, had ideas and goals of their own.

My priority was to visually broaden the human and humanoid races. I felt strongly from the first block that we "same way" too many representations of what appear to be the same Neurok, the same Auriok, the same Vulshok, etc.

Enter the concept artists! As most of you know, Richard Whitters is our in-house Lead Concept Artist. He has been since Shadowmoor when he replaced me in that position as I moved on to become Art Director. The rest of the concept team we assembled for this rather specialized project was Mark Tedin—a long time Magic vet, a big part of Mirrodin block, and a member of the original Mirrodin concept crew; Wayne Reynolds—a powerhouse of all things art who needs no further explanation; and Chippy and Dave Allsop, who are not only great artists and great Magic artists, but but who both worked for about a year building the original Phyrexian style guide back in the day (we'll get to that later).

Richard was by and large the point man on expanding the existing palette of humanoids. Here is an example of his work on the Neurok, and some results it yielded:

Art by Johann Bodin

Final art by Eric Deschamps

As we worked to push the races visually we also took the opportunity to question some of the original decisions.

  • Could there be bruiser vedalken? (yes)
  • Do all Moriok really need to be blind? (no)
  • Are all Dragons here jet powered with vestigial chicken-wings? (no)
  • Why are all the male elves bald? (they aren't anymore)

The biggest overhaul of the Mirran races would be the goblins. I wanted some sort of Mirrodin look for them. I felt the originals were more or less directionless. Just generic goblins stuck into a bunch of other visually-unique races. Since they've had generations to evolve and adapt anyways, why not give them a facelift? Chippy became the goblin go-to guy. His first goblin sketches were fun, Pomeranian-vicious, and ownable in the way we liked, but we were concerned that artists would have trouble turning the exaggerated head shape in space. In other words, it would be tough to visually capture what it looked like from the front, for example. So Chippy sculpted it. Here's the page of goblin head photos that we put in the style guide:

Final art by Svetlin Velinov

The Myr have been broadened to be less homogenous but still feel like Myr. By block's end you'll have seen some fun interpretations on those guys.

There were also card-set driven concerns. For example, we would want a few vampires here. We know they were in Mirrodin (Mephidross Vampire) but that guy feels like a one-off, not really part of a sub-race. So if this syringe-armed, faceless guy is the far extreme of what they can evolve into, what are the "pedestrians" like? I had the idea of leaving them more or less intact as humanoids but letting a couple of elongated finger adaptations be their blood-siphoning method, with some tubing and cabling being visible imbedded in the skin. I went home to sketch out my idea, and the sketch was so embarrassingly bad that I wouldn't let it go in the style guide. I showed it to Richard and he quickly redrew it into the concept that made the style guide, as seen below. But still, see, I contributed! Look at the good I do (and Richard fixes for me) ...

Art by Randis Albion

We were also able to introduce some through-lines, connecting some dots within the Multiverse. In Time Spiral we established that a prolonged exposure to Phyrexian Oil will black out the eyes, and cause ichor to drip down the cheeks. This made a horrible homage to the Mishra's Bauble, which is so strongly associated with Phyrexia. We brought that visual with us to Mirrodin. It was already established that living in the mephidross blinds you, which is why all the Moriok have evolved/grown/adapted the plating over where their eyes used to be, on their slow painful journey to becoming Nim (also plated and eyeless). Well, the "ichor eyes" are an early step toward that. The team felt like this was a great way to show some consistency in Phyrexian corruption through the Multiverse.

Sketch from the Time Spiral style guide

Art by Igor Kieryluk

Speaking of Phyrexia, Dave and Chippy were back revisiting their baby. I had ideas back in Time Spiral about the direction I would like to take Phyrexia visually, even though most of the Phyrexian presence was just wreckage. Less nuts and blots, less of a "robotic" or "industrial" feel. Things should feel like organic metal. After all, Phyresis is the process of flesh turning to metal, and metal becoming flesh. Here is the single page I drew for the Time Spiral style guide to establish some do's and don'ts.

Further pursuing this direction is what I asked of Richard, Chippy, and Dave. What does it look like when a beings anatomy starts to evolve metal adaptations? Which they then augment, and then starts becoming fleshy and visceral? And then is augmented as they constantly strive to "improve" themselves in terrible ways?

Art by Chippy

Art by Whit Brachna

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