We start with the defiantly Mirran-watermarked half of the set, and then we'll proceed to the Phyrexians.
I wanted to start here because it's hitting the perfect mood for the entire Mirran faction. Additionally, this might be the most iconic image of a Mirran goblin we've seen in the two sets of Scars block so far—partly because Chippy was on the concept art team for Scars and designed the look of goblins in the Scars of Mirrodin style guide. I love his full-tilt, into-the-fray, damn-the-torpedoes-or-whatever-the-Phyrexians-have-instead-of-torpedoes attitude. The good view of his large head and stumpy limbs, combined with the action of his headlong battle charge, is both cool and amusing at the same time. Chippy was one of the minds behind the original Phyrexia style guide, but I love his Mirran-side designs too.
This was a tough art order, but I wanted to show off how well Karl Kopinski pulled it off. This Sylvok shaman is using the coppery "branches" of surrounding Tangle trees to create a gigantic copper silhouette of herself. That's what we asked of Karl, and that's what Karl delivered. Check out how the ribbons of copper bend to suggest her facial features. Look how he used color and lighting to show how there's a lot of empty space visible inside the metal, giving it depth and structure. The copper looks somehow tough (which is crucial for the mechanic) yet fluid (which is crucial for the flavor of how this spell works) at the same time.
Todd Lockwood designed the look of the Mirrodin leonin way back in the original Mirrodin style guide (see some of Lockwood's concept art). Here in Scars-land, the leonin have not just Auriok humans and loxodons to worry about, but Phyrexian invaders. Anthony Francisco nails both the metallic musculature of these proud beasts and the fierce, defiant emotion we asked for in the art description. They look ready to defend their home to the death.
For as much as we have to ask for it, it is actually not at all easy to illustrate "creatures dissolving into the æther." But in case you had to find someone to draw this for you for some reason, I want you to be aware of Erica Yang. Erica has been working on Magic since Rise of the Eldrazi, and already she's making a statement with her dreamlike swaths of color. I love how the crunchy gunmetal of the Phyrexians contrasts with the watery light of the "geyser."
The Phyrexians have begun to mount a serious threat to the plane of Mirrodin—so if the Mirrans had ever needed a secret weapon, it's now. As the Quicksilver Sea parts, we can see the arcane circle carved into the metallic sea floor. We can also see its function: to manufacture colossal 9/9 Golems. I love the look of the Svetlin Velinov's colossus here—crisscrossed with metal, rising out of the interlocking curved mechanisms of the mystical seafloor assembly plant, casting a mighty shadow against the quicksilver liquid that is pressed back by the magic of the Forge. The shape of the seawater hints that the Titan Forge artifact is actually bounded by an invisible sphere (or at least hemisphere), its metal-shaping forces pushing outward against the Sea around it, radiating outward from the heart of the titan itself.
It's always fun to recommission a card's art when it gets reprinted, because we get to interpret the flavor of the card in a new setting. We're always sad when we have to shrink a Terese Nielsen piece down to a couple inches, because her details are so gorgeous—so I'm happy to show off Divine Offering here. I love Terese's more graphical pieces, like Silverskin Armor, Nature's Spiral, the new Holy Strength / Unholy Strength in M10—and of course her Divine Offering from way back in Mirage. But here she shows her mastery of storytelling in composed scenes. Look how unconcerned that leonin abuna looks. Check out the metallic Phyrexian getting blasted to pieces. There are two intricate figures here, yet the action of the spell is what draws your eye—perfect for a spell card. Terese rocks.
Kekai Kotaki's Accorder Paladin is one of the iconic images of this set, and yet I favor his Razorfield Rhino even more. The pure momentum of this charging rhino-like artifact creature comes across—and makes you question the sanity of the little Auriok gentleman who's still in its way. Not a lot of Magic art make me want to solve physics equations, but this piece actually makes me want to multiply mass times acceleration.
Sometimes card illustration is about showing what's going on with the card, and that's fine. But sometimes it goes way past that, and delivers the essence of the setting and the story taking place there. We asked Steve for a shot of some Vulshok and Sylvok humans gathering for an attack in a valley in the Oxidda Mountains, and he gave us the Phyrexians silhouetted against the lava-glowing horizon for free. He illustrated dozens of war-mad figures here, giving us the kind of mass-battle scale that Peter Jackson had to invent special animation software to create. This is a perfect glimpse of the conflict between the Mirrans and Phyrexians—or rather, that fateful moment just before the clash of the two armies, when emotions are high and the death toll has yet to be counted.
Ka-pow. Want to add drama to your storyline? Phyrexianize one of your story's former heroes, and then have Chris Rahn illustrate her. Chris brings out the sinuous allure of this onetime protagonist while making it clear how the Gigeresque influence of Phyrexia has left no part of her unchanged. There's nothing like a 180-degree ethical about-face to call into question everything a character has accomplished in defending a world—and here Glissa looks disturbingly at home in her new traitorous skin.
This is here not because it's the set's iconic portrayal of Karn—that honor belongs to Jason Chan's Corrupted Conscience. I'm highlighting this because it perfectly illustrates the relationship between the captive Karn and the Phyrexian praetors. The figure at Karn's side—that's the green-aligned Praetor, by the way, who goes by the handle "Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger"—looks positively seductive, which is creepy considering his claws skulking up over the throne and the sinew dangling from his fangs. You get the feeling that Vorinclex would reach into Karn's exposed heart cavity and squeeze his soul directly, if it wouldn't snap Karn out of his Father of Machines reverie.
Nils Hamm has quickly made a name for himself illustrating the hell out of the creepy and gruesome elements of Magic. His Death Baron, Grixis Battlemage, and Grave Titan are all champs, and his Rot Wolf treads in similar circles of awesome. I love the bonelike and thornlike shapes done in his greasy gunmetal palette here—it communicates Phyrexia using the shapes of nature, but twisting them, to create its horrors. This monster probably has very little biological tissue left that actually belonged to a wolf—it's just the principle of wolf that's been used as a rough blueprint by the furnace-priests and birthing-vats of Phyrexia, in mockery of Mirrodin's (relatively) natural life.
If you haven't enjoyed enough Mark Zug in your life, you owe it to yourself to spend some time going ogle-mode on one of his pieces. Here he does a Phyrexian beastie seen through the lens of the Tangle, complete with copper endoskeleton and a pitted, verdigris-colored exo-carapace. Mark is a master of texture; check out not only the skin of the Hulk itself but the Tangle "trees" throughout the background. And I love the shadow falling across that front limb—you get the sense that you could almost plot out the shape of the canopy above it.
Can you believe this is the same artist behind Mothdust Changeling? Holy range, Batman! We all knew Shelly Wan could knock "storybook" out of the park, but here she shows us that she can do "traumatic grief brought on by visions of a dread biomechanical future" too. Although she may have portrayed this elf in a state of abject horror, I think it's safe to say Shelly Wan paints the opposite expression on the faces of art directors.
Dave Kendall is a guy whose style was just waiting for us to revisit Phyrexia. He got a chance to do his creepy best in places like Shadowmoor, Grixis, and the darker parts of Zendikar (Gravelgill Axeshark, Antler Skulkin, Fleshformer, Crumbling Necropolis, Crypt Ripper)—but it was Phyrexia vs. the Coalition where he got to get cozy with Phyrexia. It was a match made in—well, someplace anyway. His grimy, fleshy style and lurid palette fit the anatomical/mechanical grunginess of Phyrexia perfectly. Check out his Nested Ghoul, too—also a personal fave.
I know I'm doing a lot of creatures. Guilty. The designs are just so strong, though. Stephan Martiniere rocked the reprint of Phyrexian Rager, and his Phyrexian Vatmother may be this set's crowning glory for infect creatures. This piece was originally commissioned for a little artifact creature with lifelink (hence the little blood receptacles on its abdomen—ew), but that card was killed. That freed us up to use Martiniere's amazing monster on a much more dramatic card.
Several Phyrexian cards in Mirrodin Besieged capture the look of Phyrexia's classic style. But if there's one piece that completely captures this era of Phyrexian ascendancy, it's Igor Kieryluk's Priests of Norn. This shows Phyrexia spreading beyond its former black-and-artifact identity—into white, of all colors—and doing so with such gory gusto that you can't help but pause for a moment to take it all in. You would be looking into the eyes of Phyrexia's future, right here, if these guys had eyes. The cracked, porcelain-like material laid out over raw reddish sinew, the horrifying anatomy combined with somehow regal bearing—that is a perfect encapsulation of white-aligned Phyrexia. This piece shows that Phyrexia has achieved something it never has before on any other plane. Nice work, Igor!
There are so many more awesome pieces I didn't get a chance to discuss. I am not blowing smoke when I say that the quality of Magic's artist pool is staggering. It makes me glad I can't paint, because these guys and gals would make me burn with envy. I'm happy that Magic exists if only to provide an outlet for this level of fantasy art.
Letter of the Week
Dear Doug Beyer,
Regarding your articles on Mirrodin and the Vanished, I was curious about the metallic growths of Mirran natives. Would a Mirran native who was returned to their origin plane live out their life with the metallic plates that have grown from them, or in time would the metal slough off and be replaced with normal flesh?
I think they would be restored, yes. Without giving away too many spoilers, the end of the Fifth Dawn novel implies that at least a few certain Mirrodin personalities are returned to their old lives on their home plane fairly intact, once Memnarch's soul traps send them home again. They seem to pick up where they left off, perhaps without even remembering—or even being affected by—the events that befell them on Mirrodin. There's not really enough information there to say conclusively one way or the other, but based on those few paragraphs, I would guess that their metallic growths that they earned upon being whisked to Mirrodin would no longer be part of them when they returned home again.
See you next week!