We'd agreed on a card sleeve. We had our April Fool's meeting, and folks talked about which teams had bandwidth and which didn't, discussed some ideas and options, and agreed it was a good time to finally do the weathered card back sleeve we'd been joking about for a few years. The plan was locked, and we started signing off the meeting.

Magic Anniversary weathered card back sleeve

Then right at the end, Kevin Moy, who does most of our sleeves and card styles, spoke up. "Y'know, I could probably put together an LGS [local game store] table battlefield really quick. Something super simple."

Reader, it was not super simple.

My first April Fool's joke in a video game was a little over a decade ago, when we replaced a jet in a mobile game I worked on with a model of a horse. I've gotten to help with a handful since then, including the classic New Historic on MTG Arena.

I have two guidelines for April Fool's:

  1. April Fool's is a great opportunity to do fun and silly things that we come up with but avoid because they would be distracting or disruptive long term.
  2. April Fool's is not an excuse to lie.

I don't know why so many people on the internet agreed it would be fine to just lie to people one day a year, but I am not on board with this, and neither is MTG Arena. I'd much rather use the opportunity to actually make the silly thing, not to lie about it.

With that in mind, Kevin managed to pull this thing off in an admirable way. See, this wasn't something he came up with last second. Kevin has been pitching an LGS battlefield for at least four years. This was his opening, and he took it.

Kevin's first stop was the art team's producer, Xib, who was assured this was going to be simple. They wouldn't even model anything. It would be a picture of a real table. Part of the joke would be how simple it was. Xib agreed, and then Kevin proceeded to, obviously, do significantly more.

Local game store battlefield sketch listing elements: Pizza slice on a paper plate, D&D dice, Lightning Bolt cola, Mox berry fruit snacks, card binder or D&D book/module, Sol Rings onion flavored snacks, Goblin Balloon Brigade cassette recording

The normal process for making a battlefield (that's what we call them) on MTG Arena takes six to eight weeks in total. First, Adam Chandler, one of our art directors, sits down with the world guide to make sure the battlefield's aesthetics fit that set and plane, and then comes up with a handful of pitches. We discuss the options, give feedback, and we pick one for Paul Chou, our senior 2D artist, to start a greyscale rough on. Once Paul's sketched that out, Adam creates a simple 3D layout to help with getting perspective correct, and Paul moves to a color rough.

(I just threw out "world guide" as if it was clear what that is. I'm sure some of you used context clues to get to "it has concept art," which is true, but there's a ton more. Pages and pages of backstory, concept art, character sketches, fashion—it just goes on. Like, if you want to draw a Kor building on Zendikar, you can find a page or two specifically outlining the masonry styles of Kor on that plane. It's incredible. And no, you can't see one.)

Paul takes the color rough to a finished battlefield texture, and from there Adam or our 3D artist Zach Cordisco will build out a final model, including any interactable objects. As they wrap up, a VFX artist gets a turn, adding any appropriate effects to the battlefield. Finally, both 2D and 3D artists get feedback, which ranges from "that looks weird" to "this VFX is distracting from gameplay," and everyone does final polish passes.

Shockingly, the April Fool's LGS battlefield did basically none of that.

Instead, Kevin came back from his "I'll just take a picture of a table" with this:

In-development battlefield showing cards and red unskinned shapes representing elements such as the can of cola, dice, snacks, etc.

Which you'll notice is 3D models and not a picture of a table. Kevin had been given five days, and he was confident that in five days he could slap some quick textures on things and get this thing looking a little nicer than a photograph of a table. Failing any of that, it was all modular, so anything he couldn't finish was easy to pull out, and everything had simpler alternatives.

Xib was nervous, but the plan made sense.

When Kevin shared this work in progress, Paul jumped in and volunteered on the pizza, and Erin Loelius began knocking out textures, starting with the table itself. What they delivered energized the whole team. It quickly became clear that this wasn't just a goof for April Fool's; this was a chance to contribute something to a battlefield that celebrates 30 years of the game we all love.

Adam added the dice, Chase Falkenhagen designed these great Magic reference brands for the foods, and Audrey Meyer built out the interactable VFX. Each time the team checked in to see progress, more people saw something they could help with, from Erin authoring additional textures, to Tamara Knoss and Audrey building out the VHS intro. Audio made not one, but two incredible music tracks complete with LGS chatter in the background. Nikitha George wrote a script to count the clicks on the onion rings, so that they could be reloaded by clicking on the bag when they were all gone. Zach Cordisco added the normal maps, and Sara Ranlett once again soloed the Art QA responsibilities.

My main contribution at this point is to note that the d20 is actually a spindown using the Beleren typeface, neither of which existed in the 1993 setting of the battlefield. (It's been over a decade since I worked in QA, but you can't ever really turn it off.)

Then one of my absolute favorite things happened. Kevin and Xib organized a doodle party, and everyone from the art team got together to contribute to the graffiti on the battlefield. It turned into an opportunity for people to put their personal touch on the game and to commemorate 30 years of the greatest card game in the world.

We hope this battlefield brought you even a fraction of the joy it brought the artists who made it.

P.S. To cover the three things I expect to hear the most in advance:

  • I know we didn't include The Cool S. It's trademarked. I, too, was disappointed.
  • Yes, this battlefield will return, but we want to keep it special, so it won't be in the regular rotation.
  • Yes, you will be able to buy the Magic Anniversary weathered card back sleeve—as a matter of fact, look for it in the Happy Birthday Magic Bundle for 300 gems or 3,000 gold beginning August 1.
Happy Birthday Magic Bundle with the weathered card back sleeve