Eleventeen M12 Art Tidbits. Also, Plants!

Posted in Savor The Flavor on July 6, 2011

By Brady Dommermuth

Doug's on vacation currently, so I'm your guest writer this week. Art director Jeremy Jarvis and I decided it would be pretty fun to take you on a little guided tour through M12 art so we could show off art we particularly like, point out stuff you may not have noticed, and give an anecdote or two.

First things first, though. The second printed compilation of our Planeswalker web comics, Path of the Planeswalker II, is available now! Learn more here. The book contains a partial reprint of the "Awakenings" issue so that readers who pick it up on a whim won't be totally lost, as well as the newest six issues. Maybe you've already read the issues for free here on our website, but we hope you like the comics enough that you want to own a copy, or maybe gift it to the comics fan in your life who doesn't yet know about Magic: The Gathering.

Anyway, bring on the delicious tidbits!

    Aegis Angel

Aegis Angel | Art by Aleksi Briclot

Top-down design—starting with a concept and designing a card to fit it, then doing the name, art, and flavor text—sometimes yields great results. But working in the other direction does, too. In the case of Aegis Angel, we set the artist loose with the following art description: "Just show us the best angel you can muster." There was no corresponding card; the art was commissioned speculatively. But when you work with ringers like Aleksi Briclot, you can afford to take some shots in the dark. The result is predictably magnificent.

Increasingly, we're doing this sort of speculative commissioning for illustrations we know will find homes in time: goblins, elves, human soldiers and mages, angels, dragons . . . the perennial favorites. Because they're commissioned "out of context," they tend to be destined for core sets.

    Chandra's Phoenix

Chandra's Phoenix | Art by Aleksi Briclot

Speaking of Aleksi, that disgustingly talented Frenchman painted Chandra's Phoenix while sitting around at Grand Prix Gothenburg in August 2010. Take a look.

As for the card, I'll take this opportunity to ask you a question. We've been doing "Planeswalker signature" spells and creatures such as Garruk's Companion and Jace's Erasure. What do you think of these cards? Love 'em? Want more? Or is the volume of them just about right? Or too high? Let us know in the forum thread for this column.

    Furyborn Hellkite

Furyborn Hellkite | Art by Brad Rigney

I'm almost hesitant to promote the work of Brad Rigney, a relatively new artist to Magic, because I don't want other companies' art directors to catch on. But dang his stuff is good. Here, he shows the moment a dragon busts out of a volcano, which is pretty metal. Elsewhere, you've seen his tableau of M12's Planeswalkers, which is also the feature image of Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012. But wait until you see the version with three times as many Planeswalkers in it. Epic. It's my desktop wallpaper.

    Volcanic Dragon

Volcanic Dragon | Art by Chris Rahn

Staying on the dragon theme, I give you this molten badass, who is easily among my top 20 Magic dragon illustrations of all time. Chris Rahn is versatile and skilled, of course, and we're lucky to be able to work with him. The unusual thing in this case, though, is that Chris had an idea that wasn't in the art description: He wanted the whole frickin' dragon to resemble lava, cool and rock-like at the back, all business in the front. Like a mullet. We were a little skeptical when he asked to represent a semi-molten-head dragon, but I'll be damned if he didn't pull it off beautifully.


Plains | Art by Howard Lyon

    Island, Swamp, Mountain

Island, Swamp, Mountain | Art by Cliff Childs


Forest | Art by Volkan Baga

What do these basic lands all have in common, besides being real pretty? They represent part of a trend of integrating Duels of the Planeswalkers and the Core Sets, so that (a) most Magic stuff feels like it's all "pointing in one direction" at a given time, and (b) new players can move smoothly from Duels to real cards by having as many points of familiarity as possible. Because let's face it: Magic is daunting when you first get started. In this case, those of you who have played the awesome value that is Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 might recognize these landscapes in a different context: they were used as the basis for the 3D rotating backgrounds in Duels 2012.

    Grand Abolisher

Grand Abolisher | Art by Eric Deschamps

Not all cards lend themselves to easily solvable visual challenges. We try to set up our illustrators for success whenever possible, but from time to time particular cards demand that we take a risk or try something that just might not work, or might make the illustrator's job tougher. Like this:

His armor a mix of battle-ready and ceremonial. Perhaps an elaborate plate with chain mail elements adorned with blazing white cloth or wraps over top. His weapon, be it sword or mace or whatever should be equally as impressive and ornate. Maybe off to his sides we see the background through a sort of 'gasoline' distortion, or we see waves of distortion coming off of him, as if it is a repressive sonic phenomenon. Perhaps his eyes glow white or gold as a sign of the immense power that he effortlessly wields.

Anyway, the punchline is Deschamps's final piece, which makes a tough concept look like child's play.

    Personal Sanctuary

Personal Sanctuary | Art by Howard Lyon

The art description for Personal Sanctuary read, in part, "Show a pious female paladin who has set up a magically protected zone to surround her camp in the wilderness. Streaks of magical white light have twined together to create a kind of 'weave of light,' and that magical weave forms a circular barrier around the camp. Inside the ring of light, the paladin's camp seems bright, wholesome, and inviting. Outside it, it looks gloomy and fraught with danger. She's so at ease here that her weapon and plate armor rest against her camp or a tree as she attends to other things." So far so good, right? Illustrator Howard Lyon decided to have a little fun with the concept. How do you show that someone feels safe? Have her reading a book and having a snack.


Fog | Art by Jaime Jones

You know what's hard to paint? Air. As with Air Elemental, we've taken lots of swings at Fog over the years, with mixed results. I like John Avon's Fog well enough, but it has an inadvertent World War I, trench-warfare, mustard-gas feeling. We put the task of painting Fog in the hands of the masterful Jaime Jones, who has proven he's good at obscuring things with illustrations like Progenitus. I dare say we made the right choice.

    Jace's Archivist

Jace's Archivist | Art by James Ryman

In Jace's ongoing story, which began with the Agents of Artifice novel, he worked for the shady criminal organization led by Tezzeret, known as the Infinite Consortium. After turning against and defeating Tezzeret, Jace became the de facto leader of the Consortium's Ravnica cell and put its resources to work quickly for a smooth transition of power. Here we show one of Jace's functionaries on Ravnica hard at work. What's he examining? The mysterious glyph found on the scroll Chandra Nalaar stole from the Sanctum of Stars on Kephalai—the scroll Jace was hired to recover that later led both Planeswalkers fatefully to the Eye of Ugin on Zendikar. The scroll's first appearance is on the final page of the Fuel for the Fire comic.

    Goblin Grenade

Goblin Grenade | Art by Kev Walker

I like this piece a lot and wanted to take the opportunity to talk about how to be funny in paint. Kev's great at this: You let the subject matter be the funny part, and you paint it seriously. You can also see this on, for example, Knight of the Hokey Pokey. It's not that "painting funny" (usually cartoonishly) is inherently bad or anything—it just doesn't feel like Magic: The Gathering. Why aren't we funny more often? It ain't for lack of tryin'. It's just that being funny is really hard, and when you try to be funny and fail, it's worse than if you didn't try at all.


Distress | Art by Michael C. Hayes

Sometimes art director Jeremy Jarvis gets a bee in his bonnet to have an illustrator do some crazy visual treatment he came up with—usually one that's abstract, surreal, and disturbing. Can you guess whether this card is one of those times? Jeremy showed his love for The Simpsons, and in particular the comic stylings of Lenny Leonard, in the art description: "Ow, my eye! I'm not supposed to have little Me's crawl out of it!" Kudos to the illustrator, another relatively new name in Magic, for making it look unnerving rather than disgusting.

    Phantasmal Dragon

Phantasmal Dragon | Art by Wayne Reynolds

You've probably played some video games. If so, you've seen semi-transparency, luminescence, floating runes and swirls, and all manner of "glowy magic." So you figure these things can of course be painted, right? Well yes, but only by the very best. Transparency and light-emitting objects are incredibly difficult to represent in traditional media (oil, acrylic, and watercolor paint, for example), and much easier—although still no cakewalk—to represent in digital paintings. Wayne Reynolds's badass Phantasmal Dragon proves that it can be done, however. You can have his paint and pencils when you pry them from his cold, dead, bony British hands.

    Dungrove Elder

Dungrove Elder | Art by Matt Stewart

I have a confession to make: I dislike treefolk. It's not the idea of an animate tree that I hate, but rather what happens to treefolk when you freeze 'em in a still image and stuff 'em into a Magic cards's tiny art box. Too often you get the Unlimited EditionIronroot Treefolk: A boring-ass tree with a face on it who looks like he's saying, "Well, hello there. I'm a tree." Sure, the ents were cool in the Lord of the Rings films, but that's because you got to see them move, creak, and speak. And let's be honest: They were supposed to be slow and a little goofy. That said, yeah, we still do treefolk. We make a real effort to change up their shapes and designs to prevent the "Hello, I'm a tree" problem. Matt Stewart did a great job making sure Dungrove Elder didn't fall into the usual traps. It's a well-executed and smart design.

Ooh, Plant segue!

    Letter of the Week

Charlotte asks,

While thinking about a Vengevine deck, I realized that Vengevine is an Elemental and not a Plant, despite it quite obviously being composed of plant matter, etc. So, I decided to look at other Plants and green Elementals to see if there was any obvious rhyme or reason to why some plant-y creatures are plants, and others are elementals. I couldn't seem to find a clear reason. Can you offer any sort of guidelines that Development follows in choosing between these types for our photosynthetic friends?

Charlotte, I assure you that all creature-type decisions are carefully considered and airtight, as has been true throughout Magic's history. Also, I should point out that we have always been at war with Eastasia. Goblin Rock Sled's type on printing? Rock Sled. That's right: not a Goblin. Floral Spuzzem? Spuzzem.


(Both have been changed. Goblin Rock Sled is now a Goblin and Floral Spuzzem is an Elemental.)

And what I mean by that is I've learned through painful, painful trial and error that fantasy and taxonomy are not friends. Overtaxonomize and you drain any sense of, erm, magic right out of the cards (which is why there aren't types called Cetacean, Canid, or Arthropod). Undertaxonomize and not only do things stop making sense, but you don't give players enough wacky tribal decks to play. It's a careful—and annoying—balance, and yes, okay, I admit it, a balance we haven't always gotten right.

To make matters worse, once we've gotten something wrong, we have to assess how much misery is worth inflicting on players to fix it. Such is the case, partially, with the exceedingly fine and blurry lines between Plant, Fungus, Saproling, Splinter, Elemental, and Treefolk. Oh, and Brushwagg.

But before I blather on about failure some more, here are the subjective and illogical guidelines for these types:

  • The Plant type is for nonsentient, nonsapient, animate plants. It's also used, however, as a modifier for other types, such as on Mosstodon and Creakwood Ghoul. Why isn't Wall of Wood a plant? Because wood isn't a plant no more. It's wood.
  • The Fungus type is the fungal equivalent of the Plant type and fungtions (hur) in the same two ways. So what's the deal with Lichenthrope? Lichen is a symbiosis between fungus and plant. TRUE!
  • Saproling is a token-only type that means "fungal sapling." Why aren't they all Fungi? Mainly because they were grandfathered in, and it was too painful to change them all. Fifty-eight cards make Saprolings! ("Sapro-" means "rotten" or "decaying," so a saproling is a thing born of rot.)
  • Splinter is a one-card-only token type. Nothing else fit the bizarre Splintering Wind.
  • Treefolk are animate trees. Sometimes their shapes are weird enough that they are difficult to tell apart from Elementals. But I assure you, they're trees. You have my word.
  • Elementals are the living embodiments of a substance, idea, concept, emotion, or whatever. Whereas animate plants and trees are unusual but biological, Elementals are creatures of magic. Sometimes nature elementals look like treefolk. But do not be misled. They are eldritch beings, not trees!

Brushwagg is a Brushwagg. I hope that clears things up, Charlotte.

Brushwagg | Art by Ian Miller

I hope you enjoy Magic 2012, everyone. We worked pretty hard on it—even going so far as to put one of our own on the design team—so it better be tasty!

Latest Savor The Flavor Articles

Daily MTG

December 24, 2012

Is This Your Fateful Hour? by, Doug Beyer

Before the city-plane of Ravnica devoured the spotlight, the shadow-lurking forces of Innistrad were the ones doing the devouring. In this interactive article, you play the role of a tr...

Learn More

Daily MTG

March 28, 2012

Thanks and So Long by, Doug Beyer

Today I'm hurling huge explosions of gratitude and appreciation at you. To everyone who has read these articles and shared this enthusiasm for Magic flavor: you are awesome. I've loved ta...

Learn More



Savor The Flavor Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All