Introducing Team MTG Manager

Greetings! Today we’re very pleased to introduce the team that will represent MTG Manager this season on the Pro Tour Team Series!

Here’s our squad:

MTG Manager team presentation during the GP Lille live coverage.

Gonçalo Pinto (Team Captain)

Pro Tour Dominaria finalist

Occupation?
Digital Marketing Analyst; Writer for Hareurya.

When did you discover Magic?
I was addicted to Heroes of Might and Magic III and some friends showed me the game at school, the flavor was very similar, so I was immediately hooked. Stronghold was the latest set at the time.

What Standard deck are you playing with right now?
Wish I knew… I think I will play GP Lille with some red deck and then reevaluate for the Pro Tour.

What’s the best card in that deck?
Experimental FrenzyRunaway Steam-Kin and Goblin Chainwhirler are strong contenders as well.

What Guilds of Ravnica card impressed you the most?
Definitely Experimental Frenzy. I thought it was unplayable and now I think it’s the nuts!

Dmitriy Butakov

Two-time Magic Online Champion

Occupation?
MTGO Grinder.

When and how did you discover Magic?
About 15 years ago from my uncle.

What Standard deck are you playing with right now?
All of them.

What’s the best card in that deck?
Rekindling Phoenix!

What Guilds of Ravnica card impressed you the most?
Aurelia, but it took quite a while for me to realize she gives +2\+0 to any creature, not just red ones.

Antonio Del Moral Leon

Pro Tour Fate Reforged Champion

Occupation?
Grinder.

When and how did you discover Magic?
12 years ago for a friends.

What Standard deck are you playing with right now?
I liked UR Drakes.

What’s the best card in that deck?
Arclight Phoenix.

What Guilds of Ravnica card impressed you the most?
Aurelia.

Francisco Sifuentes

Peruvian Captain for World Magic Cup

Occupation?
Administrator.

When and how did you discover Magic?
When I was in school back in 2005, the game was very popular and I loved it right away. My first Magic adventure outside of school was the original Ravnica release.

What Standard deck are you playing with right now?
BG mid right now, I’m trying to figure out the mirror and how to balance against other strategy’s.

What’s the best card in that deck?
I think Carnage Tyrant, it’s good against mirror and vs. control.

What Guilds of Ravnica card impressed you the most?
I really like Aurelia, mostly for limited, the card is very powerful and has 5 toughness.

Louis-Samuel Deltour

Five GP Top 8 appearances, three runner-up finishes

Occupation?
MTG Player.

When and how did you discover Magic?
Around Odyssey, my cousin introduced me to it.

What Standard deck are you playing with right now?
I like Golgari!

What’s the best card in that deck?
Vraska, Relic Seeker.

What Guilds of Ravnica card impressed you the most?
Shocklands (boring but true).

Bernardo Santos

Three GP Top 8 appearances last season

Occupation?
Magic.

When and how did you discover Magic?
In 2005 a friend showed me the game and taught me how to play. Only in 2012, with Returna to Ravnica, did I return to the game and actually started playing in tournaments.

What Standard deck are you playing with right now?
I’m going to play BG mid because i couldn’t find anything better.

What’s the best card in that deck?
Probably Jadelight Ranger.

What Guilds of Ravnica card impressed you the most?
Arclight Phoenix, didn’t understand the potential when I first saw the card.

Thank you for reading!

We will provide more information and coverage throughout this season.


Ed Beard Jr. Interview

Welcome to our MTG artists interview series (#25), There’s No Magic Without Art.

For today’s interview we talked with Ed Beard Jr., who worked on the game from 1994 to 2004, and illustrated over 100 Magic cards. Enjoy!

“You know what an ATOG looks like Ed? Now take that and think of a basketball with teeth”

– Ed Beard Jr.

Hi Ed. You started working on the game in 94. How did it all start?

I was an invited guest at Gen Con TSR 1992 as a comic book/fantasy artist as I was debuting my collectible card set and game called flights of fantasy, a very simplistic basic role playing dice type game but with fantasy art cards that were popular during the 80s and early 90s.

While I was there a couple of representatives from this small company called Wizards of the Coast, which had at the time only had a role playing book out, came to me inquiring about my illustration work and if I was interested in participating in a new card game that was to be coming out.

They offered $50 and some shares in the company, of course at the time the company little to no value. I had just recently been taken to the cleaners by another company that went bankrupt and stiffed me for $30,000 or more, so I decided I wasn’t in a gambling mood so I declined the offer.

Obviously in retrospect, I suck at gambling…LOL because I made one of the biggest financial mistakes in NOT investing I had ever made. The next year at Gen Con 1993 the game came out and it was a huge success and they exploded into a five Fortune company.

They came back to me and asked me if I would be reconsidering and of course I said well certainly, “I’ll except the offer you made for me last year at which time they said oh that offer is off the table now we are only offering $100 per card and a 2 1/2% royalty”. Needless to say I had already lost in my prior move not wanting to gamble, so this time I said yes!

So that’s how I began the commission work for the elder dragons and the legend expansion which they started commissioning literally in August 1993- 1994.

At what point in time did you first notice the game was a huge hit?

I was at the debut release at Gen Con in 1993 and it was very evident to anyone there that just about everyone was talking about this game.

This year marks Magic’s 25th anniversary. What do you consider to be the secret behind such longevity?

As an illustrator for products long before WOTC / MTG came out and long after through my 39 years as a self employed illustrator, I have observed many companies come and go and many companies that have been able to stand the test of time.

The key ingredient is a fundamentally strong mechanic and a company that listens to its audience follows the trends and gives the consumer what they want.

“In the early 2000’s I witnessed the progressive fail of WOTC at listening to their consumer base.”

– Ed Beard Jr.

For a while in the early 2000’s I witnessed the progressive fail of WOTC at listening to their consumer base. I had a discussion with the then art director, who believed my work was “expected” or “too traditional fantasy” (he pointed out my Birds of Paradise as something that should never be in Magic art).

I pointed out the importance of the diversity of styles and that my so-called “traditional fantasy” had a very large following, after all, I was fan favorite artist of the year 2001 inquest magazine at the time this discussion was taking place.

He explained to me in a variety of examples that regardless of what they did with their product – whether it was the design of the card borders or the change of the overall look and feel of the artwork – the public would buy it, because they are simply too invested in it to do otherwise.

In general, that phone conversation was all about how he was going to change the face of Magic art direction and that my style is yesterdays news regardless of my Fan favorite status or what the public might have desired.

This proved to be a very large mistake on their behalf that they quickly realized a few years later. In the end, I decided that that there was no longer enough creative freedom nor any tolerance to work with that art director.

When he was no longer working at WOTC, I witnessed a slow return to the very thing that made the product successful across a wide demographic, that was keeping the artwork diversified rather than a streamlined, homogenized look where the color scheme of the entire set looked like it was the same color hue pallet. I have no idea what any of the sets have looked like after Return to Ravnica so I can’t speak to their success or not.

“I had not been commissioned to do lands throughout the sets so this was a good opportunity to enjoy a little Bob Ross relaxation”

– Ed Beard Jr.

Ed’s re-imagined Nicol Bolas for The Gathering book, that focuses on the early art done for Magic, and was organized by Jeff A. Menges, who we also interviewed.

When they allowed for more diversity of styles and color ranges, they found the public to be far more responsive, and they captured a wider audience.

The variety of styles and techniques are also due to different tangible mediums that were used in the early years. Those tangible mediums allow for an innately and dramatically dynamic different look that we rarely see in the more streamlined digital imagery.

Can you give us a brief description of your painting process?

Ironically, the entire legend set artwork that I did were actually color comps done with colored pencil and ink, they were never intended to be the final illustration. However, the art director was impressed enough with them that he felt I didn’t need to submit anything fully painted and of course myself, not really thinking how huge this game would be. or that it would continue to be around for 25 yrs, I didn’t insist on repainting them as I would’ve done.

All sets after that, you can clearly see a difference in medium used, acrylic and airbrush, which was the medium of choice and I still use it today for most of my clients.

I really like your five basic land paintings, I feel there’s a special quietness about them. Do you recall how did they come to be?

The land cards were a unique opportunity. The idea was that they had to be pretty accurate to those countries landscapes. The Mount Fuji for instance is literally the actual Mount Fuji.

I had not been commissioned to do lands throughout the sets so this was a good opportunity to enjoy a little Bob Ross relaxation which may be what you’re pulling from that as your impression call it the happy little mountain forest swamp and island.

“For some reason the most awesome card art always winds up on a common unplayable card”

– Ed Beard Jr.

I remember that Psychotog caused an impression on me as a kid. What can you tell us about this painting?

I can remember very distinctly getting the call from the art director saying he had a rush job, had to be done overnight and FedEx to them overnight. The description I was given was “you know what an ATOG looks like Ed? Now take that and think of a basketball with teeth”.

So I did pretty much just that, but I added the idea of Jack Nicholson peering around the corner grinning at you in that kind of sinister way as he burrows through the Stonewall.

As artists, we were never given the information on the cards playability, the mechanic and since this card had not existed in the past there was no reference to know what it would eventually do.

It always amazed me that the pieces that I spent the least amount of time on became the most remembered because of its playability. This card was, as the players would tell me, extremely broken. The card dominated tournaments like we’ve never seen. I can remember going to tournaments or a grande pre-event and having 7 out of 10 cards that I would sign be this card.

Do you recall what were the most challenging cards to paint?

The one that stands out in my mind the most was Avalanche Riders. The reason was that this card was a portrait of one of the champion players, and all they provided me was a poor quality black and white xerox copy about 2 inches tall of his face it wasn’t even in the right position and somehow I had to turn that into his likeness. In the end he was very happy with it. He eventually purchased the original painting.

“I am now old enough, and this game has been around long enough to actually see 3 generations of players who’ve known my art as they grew up”

– Ed Beard Jr.

Of the art you made for Magic, can you name some favorites?

They are usually the ones that are least playable, for some reason the most awesome card art always winds up on a common unplayable card.

I would say some of my favorites would be Peer Pressure, Crusading Night, Battle of WitsFylgja and Goblin Pyromancer for a little comedy relief.

Is there any Magic related story/episode you’d like to share with us?

Since I stopped working for the company back in 2004 and after working for the product for 11 years, I always find it amazing that even to this day whether I’m at a comic convention or one of my Renaissance fairs where my gallery shops are, that collectors and players who were just kids back in the early 90s will come into my booth locations, look around and identify a couple of images they remembered from the game when they were kids.

Now they have their teenage children with them who also had played with my cards and still occasionally come across them or know about them due to their iconic nature such as Nicol Bolas or Birds of Paradise.

I am now old enough, and this game has been around long enough to actually see 3 generations of players who’ve known my art as they grew up. That has been a very rewarding experience.

Where can our readers find more about your work?

I attend a variety of conventions and trade shows each year but the most frequent place that you will find my works and myself attending is my different locations at my Renaissance fairs. I participate at the Tampa Bay area renaissance festival in Florida as well as the Gainesville Hoggetown renaissance fair in northern Florida, the Michigan Renaissance Festival, The Ohio Renaissance Festival, The Tennessee renaissance festival as well as steel city con in April and December.

If you are not in those locations my website has the most up-to-date variety of new art and license products ranging from throw blankets, T-shirts, jigsaw puzzle’s, figurines and statues, mugs, pint glasses the works

The website is www.edbeardjr.com


Thank you for reading!

We want to thank Ed for sharing his story with us.

Meet us next week for another interview!


Douglas Shuler Interview

Welcome to the #24 interview in the series There’s No Magic Without Art, where we interview artists that have created incredible work for Magic: The Gathering.

For today’s interview we talked with one of the original 25 Magic artists, Mr. Douglas Shuler, who created some of the game’s most iconic pieces.

Doug shared with some some incredible stories with us. Read on!

“The windows were rocking, alarms were screaming, and I could see debris blowing down the street… but I kept painting because I had a deadline!”

– Douglas Shuler

Hi Doug. You’re one of the original 25 Magic artists. How did it all start?

I was in the right place at the right time.

Throughout the late 80’s and early 90’s, I would regularly attend gaming conventions and pass out portfolios, trying to get my work in front of art directors. It was a gamble, but I was hoping that perseverance would pay off. Eventually, I started getting my work into some of the very games I loved playing, such as Dungeons and Dragons, the Star Wars RPG, Ars Magica, GURPS, Champions, and others.

It wasn’t high-paying, but I’ve been an active RPGer since high school and I was doing art for games mostly for the love of the industry. I was able to make just enough to justify the trip. Fortunately, one of the companies that accepted my portfolio was a little-known game company called Wizards of the Coast. I submitted my works and, a few weeks later, received my first art assignment.

Doug painting some of his most iconic images.

Icy Manipulator and Glasses of Urza © Wizards of the Coast

At what point in time did you first notice the game was a huge hit?

I first noticed that the game was a hit during the first Gen Con after Magic was released — possibly 1993? Wizards invited a number of artists to set up at their booth and sign cards for an hour or two.

The turnout was tremendous! We had lines of 50 or more people and would autograph for hours on end, taking shifts and relieving each other when someone was getting tired. It was exhausting, but exhilarating at the same time. I couldn’t explain the enthusiasm for the game or the art, figuring it would fade.

Then, I got my first fan letter. Then more came. I found out that some of our addressed were published in a magazine and I was receiving 50 letters a week. I tried to sign all the cards, but it soon became overwhelming. Some of the letters were incredibly touching and arrived from all over the world, each with a story of how Magic touched them, affected them, or awakened them to art.

As an illustrator, what were the major changes in the industry since 93?

The biggest change in the industry has definitely been the switch to digital arts. When I started, we all did our work on traditional mediums with oil paints, airbrush, or watercolors. Now, everything is digital. The advantage of digital work is that it’s faster to create, can be erased and created again, and can be emailed directly to the Art Director. The disadvantage is that there’s no original painting, which I struggle with from time to time. Digital effects are great, but so is the opportunity to have an original from time to time. It’s a tradeoff, for sure.

“I’ve been asked to airbrush Serra Angel on a motorcycle, airbrush Frozen Shade on t-shirts, design tattoos of Demonic tutor (…)”

What has been your favorite plane/expansion to work on?

I can’t say for certain that I have a definite favorite expansion that I’ve worked on, although I’ve enjoyed the silly expansions such as Unglued quite a bit.

Doug at a convention

Demonic Tutor and Contract from Below © Wizards of the Coast

You painted some of the game’s most iconic cards, do you get a lot of requests from the players about these cards?

Constantly. I get cards through the mail, from friends, at conventions, and even from relatives. I’ve been asked to airbrush Serra Angel on a motorcycle, airbrush Frozen Shade on t-shirts, design tattoos of Demonic Tutor, and do oil paintings of many of my more recognizable images.

What I think I find the most striking is how much some of the simpler images resonate to this day, with players commenting at almost every show “this art was my childhood”. Funny thing is, I feel the same way about the things I grew up with, so I can identify with the feeling.

Oddly, I think the simpler images are the ones that gather the strongest responses. When we were first assigned images, we were working very small and were instructed that the final art would be an inch or two at most.

We were encouraged to keep the backgrounds plain, the colors bold, and the characters simple. I made a conscious choice to use high contrast in my art so that the characters would ‘pop’, which is where Serra Angel, Icy Manipulator, and many others came from — the need to craft art that would show at a very tiny size.

What were some of the most challenging cards to paint, and why?

As the sets went on, artists were increasingly instructed to work in details. More and more details. It took longer to make each piece and the restrictions were tighter. I know Wizards was trying to achieve a more consistent look with a more high-art look, but at the cost of certain freedoms from the artists.

In my particular case, I think my most difficult card might have been Crawlspace from Urza’s Legacy, but not for anything Wizards was doing.

I was painting the card in a hotel on the way to a convention, watching the news and doing my thing. Suddenly, an alert came across the television that there was a tornado passing overhead! The windows were rocking, alarms were screaming, and I could see debris blowing down the street… but I kept painting because I had a deadline! What was I thinking? Because of the memories, that’s one painting I refuse to sell.

“After almost 30 years, it’s still one of the most defining parts of my career.”

Tawnos’s Coffin and Candelabra of Tawnos © Wizards of the Coast

Greater Good is one of my favorite arts in the game. How do you recall painting it?

Greater Good was the last piece I did for Wizards, so my feelings on the work are bittersweet. The description was to paint a statue in the desert that had plants of some sort growing out of it.

I had a sense that things were ending for me, and so I designed an image that sort of captured my feelings at the time — serene and quiet, and yet there was a new growth coming.

I moved on and have done some of my best work ever since.

Of the art you made for Magic, can you name some favorites?

That would be like choosing favorites between my children! I think I secretly like aspects of some pieces more than others, but I’ve noticed that my preferences change through the years and I appreciate different pieces at different times, for different reasons.

There’s the technical achievements of Old Fogey, the serenity of the Islands from Mirage, the power from Demonic Tutor, and of course the fame of Serra Angel. I also know I get sick of certain cards when I see them all the time… ha!

Serra Angel and Righteousness © Wizards of the Coast

What do you consider to be the defining factors behind the game’s longevity?

I don’t think I can explain the game’s longevity, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’ll be part of my life until the end. After almost 30 years, it’s still one of the most defining parts of my career.

Magic has opened incredible doors for me and has allowed me to live a good life. Even though I haven’t done any new work for Wizards since 2004, I still sign fan mail, I still attend conventions, and I still get regular requests for work. As an artist, that’s a good place to be.

I try to enjoy the ride the best I can and continue to appreciate the fans for everything they’ve done for me.

Tranquility and Mountain © Wizards of the Coast

Is it true you made three versions of Serra Angel? There was an article that said one of the artworks had gone missing, can you comment on this?

I did make several versions of the Serra, but to preserve the privacy of collectors, I won’t comment what’s happened to them after they leave my possession.

I will point out that the article you linked is not correct — it even got my name wrong by calling me ‘Richard’ (“…the story goes that Richard Shuler made three versions of this artwork…”).

What can you tell us about you post-Magic work?

Since Magic, I’ve worked extensively in video games and have recently been exploring comics and book covers. Who knows… maybe one day I’ll work for Magic again. I think that would be cool. 🙂

Where can our readers find more about your work?

So much of my work is private commissions that I don’t put much online. My website is http://www.douglasshuler.com, and I also have a gallery at https://www.deviantart.com/douglasshuler Both currently suffer from being out of date, but I’m working on that.

Benalish Hero and Northern Paladin © Wizards of the Coast


Thank you for reading!

We want to thank Doug for his time and kindness.

Meet us next week for another interview!

B.F.M. © Wizards of the Coast


Drew Tucker Interview

Welcome to our MTG artists interview series (#23), There’s No Magic Without Art.

Drew is one of the original 25 Magic artists, and we recently had the chance of talking to him on Skype. Here’s what he told us!

Hi Drew! Let’s start at the beginning, can you talk a little about your early days in illustration?

I went to the school of Visual Arts in New York. I did a Masters called Illustration Visual Essay, that was run by Marshall Arisman [American illustrator and painter]. I’d always see his pictures on magazines and stuff, and so I was now a little bit older and had this opportunity of learning from him.

It was a great experience. In his classes, Marshall would encourage the idea of story-lines and personal narratives. I always had this weaving of personal narrative in illustration.

You’re one of the original 25 magic artists, how did it all start?

I had this watercolor class, and in it was Sandra Everingham [Sandra was also one of Magic’s 25 original artists, and she’s now working as a Creative Team Leader at Valve], she told me that she was working with a group of people on a card game, and she wanted to know if I’d put a portfolio together.

She brought my portfolio over to Jasper Myrfors, and from there they brought me in and I started working. I was so in the right place at the right time!

Holy Light © Wizards of the Coast

Hungry Spriggan © Wizards of the Coast

Did you have any idea about the game?

Not at all! I played D&D, but the game was so new at that point, they were still in the basement developing it. It was the first real assignment I ever got, and it was really exciting.

When did you realize it was a hit?

When the game first started out, and for advertising, they’d have us go around and do signings at comic book stores, because card stores didn’t exist yet, and sign cards.

You knew it was something, but the importance of the game to people didn’t set in until later, and it continually does so now. Maybe five of six years ago, that’s when it totally hit me!

I was signing cards at the event, and this guy came up, and I had signed his cards when he was 10, in 93. That blew my mind.

When we interviewed Pete Venters, he said that there were no art descriptions at this time.

Pete was right, there was no art descriptions. Jesper would call us up on the phone and he would just read card titles. Maybe he’d say it was a red card, but that was entirely the art direction. There was a lot of experimentation at the time.

Later they started sending Style Guides, and that changed everything.

Your Magic art seems to blend fine art and fantasy in a very unique way.

Two years ago, Jesper told me that one of the reasons they brought me on was specifically because I took a different view of Fantasy, or Imaginative Realism like how it’s called now.

I grew up with Frazetta and Boris Vallejo like everybody else, but there was a part of me that was hooked on Dave McKean, Marshall Arisman, and the idea of painting from an emotional state. If I could feel it I thought other people might feel it too.

Icatian Moneychanger © Wizards of the Coast

My style has changed over the years, because I actually learned how to paint [Laughs]. I wasn’t that great of a painter when I was younger, I think I’m better now, because that’s like twenty-five years of practicing and painting and telling stories, and all that kind of builds up.

My earlier stuff was all watercolor, and I would look at oil paintings and I would love the smoothness and slickness and the colors of oil paintings, so I started developing my watercolors, so they would kind-a look like oils. And I used gum arabic to do these glazes and things like to deepen the contrast. Now I’m painting with oil, and I find myself trying to make it look like watercolor [Laughs].

You mentioned Vertigo and Dandân were your favorite Magic paintings, what do you like about them?

Vertigo I like it for its use of perspective, I think it was handled technically really well. I just thought Dandân was clever.

Vertigo © Wizards of the Coast

You also painted Phoenix Heart, the card Richard Garfield used to propose. How did this come to be, did you know Richard Garfield personally?

Not really, no. He sent me an email and asked if I’d do it, and it was an honor to do it. We talked a little bit, and he sent me pictures, and he gave some hints of things that he wanted, talked about the region his wife was from. I sent him some sketches and we did some back and forth.

What were the hardest cards to paint?

My very first card, Power Leak, doesn’t work as a painting, especially looking back at it 20 years later. It’s real abstract, and the anatomy is off, and it’s really painful to visit.

I think the hard part was always how to conceptualize them. It got easier when things got more defined. I think Dandân was a hard card to paint with all its weird layers.

Dandân © Wizards of the Coast


Thank you for reading!

We want to thank Drew for his time and kindness.

Find more about Drew Tucker’s work on his website.

Meet us next week for another interview!

Drew revisits Dandân


Pete Venters Interview

Welcome to our interview series #22, There’s No Magic Without Art.

For this week’s interview, we had the pleasure of talking with Pete Venters, an artist that is ingrained in the game’s history.

Pete started back in 1993, painted over 250 cards, developed the Creative Department, worked as a Continuity Manager, and is a goblin specialist.

– “I started as a comic book artist and for me, narrative is king. “

– Pete Venters

Mistvein Borderpost © Wizards of the Coast

Your first card debuted in 94, the game was one year old. How did you get started?

It was completely by accident. I was visiting the USA for the first time, attending Philadelphia Comicfest in October 93 where I could show my portfolio to both games and comics companies.

I heard some buzz about Magic at the show and saw their booth where they were opening packs and inviting people to take a card. One of the companies I wanted to talk to was White Wolf as Vampire the Masquerade was big news and their art was predominantly black and white which was my preferred way of working.

It took until day 3 of the show before I was finally able to catch White Wolf’s art director at his booth. He was talking with someone else so I stood there holding my portfolio until I caught his eye. When he noticed, I introduced myself and asked if there was a convenient time to show him my work. He said that he and the other guy were both art directors so I could show it to them both right now.

The “other guy” was Jesper Myrfors, the original art director of MTG. Two weeks later I received my first assignment for Magic. White Wolf never got back to me.

Did you imagine how big the game would become at the time?

I don’t think anybody could have reasonably expected it to be huge and enduring. Early reviews of the game were very excited for it but often wondered how long it would last.

I remember attending San Diego Comicon 94 where the buzz of the game had started to make all the other companies take notice and I ended up in one conversation with some comics execs that figured the game would last about three years. I countered that I felt it could last ten but they thought I was crazy.

Do you recall your first commissions for Magic? Did you get an art description for the cards?

My first art commissions were unique because they weren’t just for one set. Wizards was scrambling to catch up as they’d been taken completely by surprise by the magnitude of demand.

I think the necessity of fixing some errors between Alpha and Beta also delayed them and then they had to get Unlimited ready. This meant that come late October 93, they had three sets ready to commission art for – Antiquities, Legends and The Dark – and they were doing them at the same time.

Magic: The Gathering first anniversary piece © Wizards of the Coast

This was the reason that in those three sets some artists appeared a lot in one set and perhaps not at all in another. There were no art descriptions – those didn’t really become a thing until Alliances. We were just given card titles and an explanation of how the card worked.

My first Magic painting was Mightstone which I completed in six hours. It looks like a sketch compared to Magic cards today.

Tanglewalker  © Wizards of the Coast

I’m curious about that transition that happened in Alliances; over the years, how did these (and subsequent) changes impact the way WotC and artists worked?

Well, the introduction of art descriptions was in response to three factors:

1) The game had become a huge success and the number of artists being hired had grown significantly. It was no longer feasible to expect each artist to take the time to learn the game and understand what a card did from rules text.

2) More significantly, Wizards realized after a year of releases that they had to do something about card leaks. Artists were originally given the card title and an explanation of the card’s mechanic. During that first year, artists were allowed to show artwork before it was released and this of course led to players asking what the associated card did, and artists saw no issue telling them.

It may seem crazy now that artists didn’t take secrecy seriously, but remember this was 1994, the game was a hit in the niche hobby games industry but pro-tours and cash prizes were a long way off and no one thought that these card powers should be treated like a movie spoiler! In a pretty short period artists were asked to not discuss unreleased cards, to not showing unreleased art, to a full NDA.

3) Wizards were eyeing other outlets for their Magic IP. Comics, video games, movies. All of these needed the IP to become more codified.

During 95 the art descriptions started to become a more structured process. With Alliances, my first set as a Continuity member, it seemed logical to let an artist be the one to write the art descriptions. How much of the art description format I inherited and how much I added is completely lost to time and my addled memory. But very quickly the art descriptions completely replaced any card mechanic information given to the artists.

There were hiccups though. There were a couple of sets where the art descriptions ballooned in size due to an AD’s insistence that each creature race be rigorously described. This issue was eventually resolved with the introduction of the Magic Creative Team which had Anson Maddocks, Mark Tedin and Anthony Waters as concept artists.

Under the guidance of Chaz Elliot and a returning Jesper Myrfors they created the first Magic style guide for Tempest. Style guides have been the essential method of communicating a setting to Magic artists ever since.

Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker © Wizards of the Coast

Was this a novel way of working at the time? How were other companies doing it?

From my limited experience at that time, it seemed so. Movie franchises and comic books had guides but I hadn’t seen anything entirely new created whole cloth and formatted like that before.

Now it’s common practice, I guess. Hell, when the style guide was being made, it was the first time I ever heard the phrase “concept artist”.

What was your personal favorite set to work on, and why?

It was Mirrodin block. Going into that block I never would have believed it because the pseudo-tech of the setting gave me some serious misgivings. However, the style guide included a very detailed world building section that was meant for the novelization’s authors but I found it indispensable in understanding how the world worked.

I think that deep understanding of the setting gave me a rock solid confidence about my pieces and I consider the Mirrodin block to be my best body of work in Magic.

You worked full-time on the Magic Continuity department, which makes you one of the artists with most knowledge about the game’s lore and story. How did this influence your illustration work, and vice-versa?

I started as a comic book artist and for me, narrative is king. The pieces with strong narrative or strong characters were usually my favorites and produced my best work. I think of Baron Sengir, Raksha Golden Cub, Crovax the Cursed, Pandemonium, to name a few.

As I mentioned, the more confidence I had with my understanding of the setting, the better my pieces were.

Hoarder’s Greed © Wizards of the Coast

Magic: The Gathering first anniversary piece © Wizards of the Coast

In 1994 you created a set of six promo pieces celebrating Magic’s first anniversary, one for each color and one for artifacts. It’s interesting to note the way you captured the spirit of each color, and how you successfully managed to make all these iconic creatures interact with each other, in such a complex composition. How did it feel to undertake such challenging commission?

At that time, all the art was still copyright the artists so I was trying to be very mindful of everyone’s designs. But mostly I remember just being swept up in how crazy cool the idea was. I love those potential interactions, that’s the storyteller in me showing again.

I got to do something similar for Unhinged’s Drawn Together where you can see Shauku has the poor little Cabal Trainee on a collar and chain, and the Lhurgoyf (that eats dead things) is trying to snack on a protesting Carnophage.

From an illustrator standpoint, what changed for the better and what changed for the worst since ’93?

Well, it’ll never stop sucking that Wizards chose to withdraw the royalties option for artists back in 1995. Yes, they starting paying a larger upfront fee, but the royalties gave the artists a better income and I felt it was a good way to let the artists share in the success of the game.

I’m sad to see how much Wizards doubled down on a house style for the Magic brand. There are a few talents that escape this fate (the awesome Terese Nielsen comes to mind) but on the whole I find it very hard to tell 80% of the illustrators apart.

To be clear, I think that modern day Magic art is exceptional work produced by incredible talent, but the older work with its breadth of styles (and, yes, broad range of talent) made for a more visually interesting product when those cards were spread out on a table. As individual pieces, Magic art has never looked better, as a set of cards it leaves me cold.

Megatog © Wizards of the Coast

Do you think it would be possible to keep the streamlined worldbuilding and set coherence, while also encouraging a broad set of artistic styles?

Absolutely. It’s weak world-design that can’t survive stylistic variations. Magic worldbuilding is rock-solid and I don’t believe the decision to go with a more unified style has anything to do with concerns about communicating a setting. This timidity towards stylistic differences is down to marketing; they want a defined approach for branding purposes.

This unified look is how they tie it up in a bow for licensees but given how the game started and the breadth of fantasy art, I think it’s selling the players’ artistic tastes short.

What do you consider the defining factors behind the game’s longevity?

The fact that you can almost always find someone to play with. Magic was the first CCG, grabbed the lion’s share of players, and worked very hard to never let go. There have been many great CCGs over the years but most of them died because people gave up on the game when they couldn’t find other players.

I remember when Wizards started drawing up plans for the Pro Tour and it seemed like an incredibly risky undertaking but I think that without the organized play scene the game might have dwindled away to nothing by now.

Loamdragger Giant © Wizards of the Coast

Do you recall which were the hardest cards to paint?

Sometimes an art description could be a little hard to fathom, usually because it was trying to achieve too much in a single image. That would probably result in a number of iterative sketches and discussions with the AD, but usually those issues were resolved before any paint ever touched the canvas.

For me the trickiest paintings were always ones where I was experimenting with light sources. Oftentimes it was new colors such as in Tahngarth’s Glare where I tried to capture the sky just before sunset. The shift in the blue and the pink of the clouds was a delicate balancing act.

I started as a comic artist and 90% of all the work I produced before age 21 was black and white. Color is something I had to learn and has never come naturally to me.

Of the five colors in the game, is there one you gravitate towards more, artistically speaking? I don’t want to lead your answer, but you did paint many more red and black cards than the rest of the colors…

Well, you pretty much hit the nail on the head. I would ask for more red and black cards because those were my favorites. My preferred colors (from most to least) are Black, Red, Green, White, Artifact, Blue.

Raksha Golden Cub © Wizards of the Coast

What are your favorite pieces you made for the game, and what are you favorites done by other artists?

I have a lot of pieces so narrowing it down by categories – Baron Sengir wins the nostalgia vote as he’s always been my most iconic piece, Tanglewalker was a rare opportunity to paint something attractive, Raksha Golden Cub was probably one of my best heroic pieces and Drawn Together was a very rare opportunity to do a retrospective of my work within Magic.

It was essentially a vanity piece that was also a commission and I spent three weeks painting it which is far in excess of what makes sense if you’re doing painting just to pay the bills!

As for other artists, I think there’s almost too much great art to narrow down individual pieces. I’m a big fan of Aleksi Briclot, Kev Walker, Terese Neilsen, and Mark Tedin (though don’t tell him that, he’ll never stop reminding me!). I know there’s other stuff too, way too much.

I stumbled upon http://www.peteventersproject.com/ while researching, that’s quite the dedication. I saw you were recently on GP Seattle and SCGCON. What feedback do you get from the players?

The most common feedback is that they miss the older style of art in the game. That’s a loaded response though because the people that prefer the newer stuff are probably not coming to my table to get cards signed so how that preference actually splits across the player base is anyone’s guess.

I get a lot of goblin enthusiasts – my Unglued goblin token is probably my most signed card this year – and a whole slew of people that wish WotC would reprint my version of Kiki Jiki.

Occasionally there’s also people who want to talk about the world building I did for Magic, and those tend to be long and fun conversations.

Recollect © Wizards of the Coast

Is there any Magic-related story/episode you’d like to share with us?

Too many to just pick one. Catch me at a show. Anyone who’s chatted with me at the GPs can tell you I’m good for anecdotes.

Do you have a current project you’d like to plug?

Funnily enough, no. So much of my stuff is tied up in NDAs. I know of a small something related to a popular videogame that’ll be out soon but I can’t speak about it yet. Apart from that, I have some projects of my own but they’re not ready to be revealed yet.


Thank you for reading!

We thank Pete for his time and kindness.


Geoffrey Palmer Interview

Welcome to our interview series #21, There’s No Magic Without Art.

Spoiler season for Guilds of Ravnica is over, and that means we’re back to our weekly interview series!

This week we’re going to have a special interview with Geoffrey Palmer, who has been creating amazing animations on Magic cards.

We recently teamed up, and you can now see some of Geoff’s animations directly on the cards, with our newly released Augmented Reality feature.

Here’s what Geoff told us.

Watching Prossh, Skyraider of Kher animation using MTG Manager’s AR feature.
Prossh, Skyraider of Kher by Todd Lockwood © Wizards of the Coast

Hi Geoffrey! How did you start animating Magic cards?

The short answer is that in early 2015, it all started with famous Magic artist Noah Bradley. I found myself on Reddit, as I unfortunately seem to most days, and I saw he had posted a pixel art animation of his own artwork, ‘Anger of the Gods‘.

He had hand animated each frame with a simple loop of the flames falling. It was a neat effect, but it got me thinking. What if I animated the actual artwork? Just like the animations I had seen in the amazing trailers that Wizards of the Coast puts out for each new set.

At that point in my life, I had been directing TV commercials and doing motion graphic design for about ten years. Enjoyable work, but I was getting burned out so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

I spent hours animating Anger of the Gods in my spare time. Finally, I posted my animation back on Reddit with the simple title, “I Animated Anger of the Gods by Noah Bradley“.

It instantly shot to the top of the Magic subreddit and even the front page for the day. Tons of commenters posted words of encouragement and demands to see more. Noah Bradley himself said simply, “This is awesome. Sweet work, man. :)”. I was hooked and I’ve been animating Magic artwork ever since.

We recently made a video together, where we used our card detection system together with Augmented Reality to show your animations. How did it feel to see your work on the actual cards?

I’ve been animating for several years and I’m coming up on my first year actually working in Magic full-time for ChannelFireball. I’ve seen and done a lot during that time, but I have to say when I saw the cards spring to life with my animations – it took my breath away.

I’d seen AR before, it’s such a cool effect when done well, but to see cards actually become “living” with my animations was beyond cool. It honestly inspired me to get back to animating more!

Animated by Living Cards
Anger of the Gods by Noah Bradley © Wizards of the Coast

Our newly released AR feature with some of Geoff’s animation work.

How do you decide which card to animate?

It all starts with the artwork. I have to see a story to unlock in the piece. Rarely do I pick hero poses or wide landscapes. The animation works best when I can take an action in process and show you just a moment before or after the main frame that the artist originally created.

I love effects like fire, energy, and well, magic so I’m drawn to those types of pieces. Lately I’ve been obsessed with making perfect loops like I created for Icy Manipulator.

I also love picking artwork from newer artists or artists that I personally love in hopes they will see and enjoy what I have done with their work. I’ve never had a negative comment from an artist and many have sought me out to work on their own special projects!

Can you give us a brief description of your animation process?

Once I have selected a piece, it all starts in Adobe Photoshop. To create, I have to destroy. All the artwork that I receive is a flat piece. To animate, I have to separate the artwork into many, sometimes tons, of individual layers.

Finally I have to put it all back together so you can’t see the seams. The less you notice what I’ve done, the more amazing the effect is in the end. I can’t say I’m much of an artist myself, but I do a ton of photo editing so I’m able to stitch pieces back together to convincing effect.

Now, I’m ready to animate so I head over to Adobe After Effects. If the piece calls for 3D, as in the case of the impossible shape in Icy Manipulator, I use Cinema 4D.

Much like a traditional animator, I create keyframes of motion for the characters and set pieces – often using a digital camera to create movement and depth.

Finally as the piece calls for it, I composite stock footage and particle systems to fully flesh out the world.

On average, how much time does it take to do a single card animation?

The amount of time that I spend animating varies wildly from piece to piece. These days, I don’t have as much time to animate so I tend to favor smaller pieces.

I would say 4-5 hours on the low end and I think I spent about 20 hours over two weeks to animate one of my earlier pieces, Liliana, Heretical Healer AND Liliana, Defiant Necromancer.

Animated by Living Cards
Icy Manipulator by Doulgas Shuler © Wizards of the Coast

Animated by Living Cards
Liliana, Heretical Healer & Liliana, Defiant Necromancer by Karla Ortiz © Wizards of the Coast

What are your favorite animations?

It’s so hard to pick a favorite, but I think I’ll go with the animation that I’m probably most known for – Sol Ring. Some of my animations are used for The Command Zone podcast and in every single episode, they thank me and promote my work.

After about a year, I was looking for a way to give back to them so I animated the most ubiquitous Commander card, Sol Ring, and turned it into a title design for them.

They were overjoyed and that boosted my status within the community, leading to work with Tolarian Community College, Loading Ready Run, and many more.

Animated by Living Cards
Sol Ring by Mark Tedin © Wizards of the Coast

As a Senior Motion Graphics Designer for ChannelFireball, you’re also working on Magic professionally. What can you share with us about your day-to-day?

After about two years of working with ChannelFireball as a freelancer, they hired me on to work full-time doing graphic design and animation. We’ve got a ton of things going on so my day-to-day varies quite a bit.

I create all of our advertising and promotions for the website. We launched a new show called, MtG Top 5, which highlights the best clips of Magic content from around the whole community and I edit that weekly.

I work with our awesome Events team that runs all of the Grand Prix tournaments. Go check out Turbo Town, I created the logo! I create graphics for our content that you can read on ChannelFireball.com and and a ton of social posts for Twitter and Facebook.

It’s an absolute pleasure to work for a company that cares so much about delivering the game of Magic at the highest quality, in the form of cards and content, to a great community. I hope I get to do this for many more years, but don’t worry – I’ll never stop animating!

Animated by Living Cards
Chalice of the Void by Seb McKinnon © Wizards of the Coast


Thank you for reading!

We want to thank Geoff for sharing his vision with us!

You can find more about Geoff’s work on Twitter.

Meet us next week for another interview!


Steven Belledin Interview

Welcome to our interview series (#20), There’s No Magic Without Art.

For this week’s interview we had the pleasure of talking with Steven Belledin, who shared with us the stories behind his craft.

We used several images present on Steven’s blog, which we highly recommend you check out.

Here’s what Steven told us.

“I am a problem solver by nature”

– Steven Belledin

Hi Steven. Tell us a little about how you got started working on Magic.

I got into Magic through working on Dungeons and Dragons. I’d been doing DnD art for years and in the process worked with several different art directors. I happened to be in Seattle for a friend’s wedding and so I decided to go and meet all the people I’d worked with in person.

I also used that opportunity to get in and see the Magic art director (who was Jeremy Cranford at the time). He interviewed me, looked through my portfolio and was brutally honest in not liking a lot of what I’d done. Fortunately, there were pieces that he did like and he brought be on board as a Magic artist as a result. The first set I worked on was Coldsnap.

Can you give us some insight into how you conceptualize a Magic card, from the art description to the first stroke?

When I get an art description, the first thing I do is read it over and over again. If it references images in the styleguide, I take a look at those too. Then, I stop looking at the description and the styleguide and I let my mind wander. Before too long, images start to appear in my head.

These images are largely the result of what I take in. Comic books, movies, cartoons, photography, other people’s art, television shows, landscapes and cityscapes I’ve seen, places I’ve been to and books all contribute to the images swirling in my head. As I’m trying to pin down what I want to do with a Magic painting, my brain takes little bits from all these various sources and melds them together.

Narstad Scrapper© Wizards of the Coast

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Fevered Visions  © Wizards of the Coast

These mental images often come in very quick flashes—sometimes as still images, sometimes as one or two seconds of motion—and I sometimes have trouble capturing what I just saw in my head. Usually, though, while my brain is doing all this, I am sitting there with my sketchbook making very rough drawings. I say “drawings,” but they’re actually just scribbles and random marks.

As time goes on, the images start to coalesce into more legible thumbnail sketches. After I’ve started to latch onto a general idea, I go back and reread the art description yet again and reexamine the artwork in the styleguide (again, if there is any). This is a way for me to recheck my thought process and make sure I’m still on the right track.

From there, I start to refine my scribbles into an actual image. Only after I get the idea to a point that I like do I go forward to a finished sketch. Sometimes I have more than one idea, or more than one point of view of the same idea and I’ll do multiple explorations.

But in the end, it’s rare that I submit more than two sketches. Most of the time, though, I submit just one. Then I send these sketches off to the art director and await their reply. If I get approval, I start painting as soon as I possibly can because painting is my favorite part.

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What makes for an exciting art description?

I am a problem solver by nature and solving problems is what makes illustration a fun career to me. With art descriptions involving pre-determined visuals, a lot of the “problems” of the illustration are already solved.

So, I prefer any assignment that involves getting to actually design elements within the finished image. In short, I like using my brain and the more I have to figure out and create within a given job, the more exciting it is to me.

Why did planes like Kaladesh and Theros felt to you more distant aesthetically, and what were your favorite planes to work on?

Kaladesh is a world whose visuals rely heavily on a lot of ornate and decorative design. I don’t really like that kind of thing because decoration has no real purpose. I prefer more practical design because it makes more sense to me and tends to feel more usable and real.

The more decorative things become, the more distant the feel to me personally. I don’t know why, but that’s just always been the case for me. A banged up, rusty or greasy gear is always going to be more interesting to me than the filigree-covered gears of Kaladesh.

Wasteland © Wizards of the Coast

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Herald of the Fair © Wizards of the Coast

Theros was a different issue in that the world felt too close to its inspiration to me. Ancient Greece is interesting, but I wished they’d pulled the aesthetic further into the world of Magic.

I know that Wizards wants to continually broaden the boundaries of what Magic’s aesthetic is, but for me, Theros felt too much like actual depictions of Greece and its mythology and not enough like it belonged to Magic. In a way, it felt more to me like doing historical painting than fantasy painting.

Of the many planes I’ve had the privilege of working on, Mirrodin is near the top of the list of my favorites. Well, Phyrexianized Mirrodin, anyway. I really enjoyed working in that world and I can’t think of a plane that Magic has ever gone to that is more unique and more “ownable” as a Magic plane.

I also feel like I painted some of my best work for those sets. Ravnica is another place I like a good deal. Unfortunately, every time we’ve gotten to visit that world, I have things going on in my life that prevent me from taking on as much work as I’d like, and so I have only a few paintings set there.

If I had to choose just one plane, though, it would probably be Innistrad. I’ve had a lot of fun working on the paintings for that world, and I hope it’s a place I get to go back to again someday.

How was it to work on the Concepting team for Innistrad, a fan favorite set?

Concepting in general has been a blast. It’s a very intense experience that is inspirational and also exhausting. I’ve had the privilege of working on Kaladesh, Ixalon, Dominaria, and Tarkir as well, but all of those experiences can’t top working on Innistrad.

Part of that is because it was my first time doing concept work. Part of that is that it was the first time I got to work alongside other artists. The rest of it is that Innistrad really fits well with my work and my sensibilities and is a place that I could really sink my teeth into.

Drawing things for that world was almost second nature to me. While there were certainly challenges, they weren’t frustrating ones, and collaborating with Steve Prescott and Mike “Daarken” Lim made solving any problems interesting and exciting.

We were constantly bouncing ideas off of one another and helping to make one another’s ideas even better. There’s a part of me that wishes I had that all the time, but then my studio would be too crowded!

On the left: the images Steven used as reference.
© Steven Belledin
On the right: Floodtide Serpent, Lantern Scout and Veteran Explorer © Wizards of the Coast

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You also mentioned that Demolish was an unexpectedly hard card to paint. The First Eruption resulted in ‘severe hand cramps and occasional hand spasms’. What makes a card challenging, and what – on the other hand – makes it ‘a breeze’ to work on?

I had a teacher once tell me that when one has finished an illustration, what one has learned is how to paint that specific illustration. While there are lessons one may take from that illustration into the next illustration, the combination of problems one had to solve will never be the same again. I’ve found that my teacher was generally right about this.

I know how to paint metal, but the combination of the metal, the lighting, the shear amount of detail in Demolish, made it very hard to paint. The First Eruption, meanwhile, was a test of endurance. Sometimes I know what the challenge in a piece is going to be. Often it’s the lighting or the amount of detail. Other times, I find myself in the middle of the piece suddenly realizing that I’m stuck.

Fortunately, we live in an age where I can take a photo of the painting in progress, import that photo into Photoshop and digitally paint on top of it to figure out what my next step will be.Then I can take the solution to the easel and paint confidently. The reality is that the biggest factor that has made Magic paintings challenging has been the passage of time.

Greater Sandwurm © Wizards of the Coast

When I first started working on Magic, the illustrations were simpler and required less detail. Over time, the amount of detail and the level of realism have continued to increase and it’s frankly very hard to keep up. The simpler an image is, the easier it tends to be. To this day, the fastest I’ve ever painted a Magic piece was two and a half days and that piece was Deathmark.

Why did it take so little time? It’s essentially just a close-up of an eyeball. While there’s still a lot of detail in that piece, the image is primarily made up of large, simple shapes. If you look at most recent Magic illustrations, the shapes tend not to be large or simple.

The illustrations are increasingly detailed and chock-full of stuff. The more stuff a painting contains, the more problems there are to solve and the more time these images take. So it’s the combination of those things with the ever-looming deadline that tends to make things so challenging.

Of the art you made for Magic, can you name some favorites?

Surgical Extraction, Rampant Growth, Overgrown Tomb, and my original basic Forest are among the favorites that have been released.

The First Eruption © Wizards of the Coast
Detail on the right

You said about Mox Amber that “it’s not exactly shouting its value or power, either. It is, in many respects, the perfect example of my aesthetic philosophy”. What other aspects define you as an artist?

In general, I like to keep things pretty simple and real. The things I am asked to depict are generally very unreal and so I don’t like to make those things feel inauthentic with extreme points of view or exaggerated perspective.

I try and depict things in a very straightforward way as though the viewer were standing there, actually seeing the things I’m trying to show them. I try and let the subjects of the images call attention to themselves naturally.

Also, I tend to dislike lots of bright color (which may be another reason I don’t feel completely comfortable in Kaladesh). I like seeing the bright colors in the work of other artists, but it feels very unnatural to me. So I tend to stick to more muted tones whenever possible and limit the amount of bright hues.

Rampant Growth © Wizards of the Coast

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We recently saw two new pieces from you on the Core Set 2019. How did it feel to work on them?

Both were a lot of fun, honestly. I don’t think of myself as a creature designer, but more and more I’m finding that I’m asked to do just that. Obviously Wizards likes what I do in terms of creature design, and hopefully the audience does too. Additionally, I got to create these creatures from scratch, so both were a lot of fun.

The new version of Vaevictis Asmadi was especially interesting and fun since it was an existing character that needed to be reinvented. Wizards provided some very basic guidelines, but I was essentially free to do whatever I wanted with him. I felt pretty honored to be given that degree of trust.

For our last question, is there any Magic related story/episode you’d like to share with us?

Sure! I need to start by saying that my sketches nowadays are largely digital and almost fully rendered out. They’re pretty elaborate (though not as detailed as finished work) and pretty clear for the most part. That wasn’t always the case.

My sketches used to be quite bad and to some extent open to interpretation. This could sometimes be problematic but also led to a funny incident. Well, I found it amusing, anyway.

Island © Wizards of the Coast

The paintings I did for Tome Scour and Idle Thoughts are strangely related to one another because of my poor sketches. Tome Scour was one of the first Magic paintings I ever did, but it was for a card that didn’t get published and so it was kept in Magic’s art files waiting for the day it could be used for a new card. I submitted two sketches for Tome Scour.

The first was a sorcerer magically pulling the printed words off of the pages of a book and is what the painting was based on. The second sketch depicted the words falling out of the same book as the book was being shaken by the sorcerer. For some reason that second sketch really stuck in the art director’s head.

A couple years went by and I was assigned the art for Idle Thoughts. The art director asked me to paint the second sketch I submitted all those years ago of the flying book. I was confused and had no idea what he was talking about. I had never drawn a flying book. So he called me on the phone and tried to jog my memory. It took a while, but I finally understood that he meant the unused sketch for Tome Scour.

I looked at the sketch and I realized that he wasn’t wrong and that it really did look like a flying book. I pointed out to him that the book wasn’t flying but rather the words were being “poured” out of it. Obviously that’s not what he saw in the image I’d created. It was at this point that I realized I needed to start making my sketches a bit clearer so art directors could properly interpret my intentions.

© Wizards of the Coast

Surgical Extraction © Wizards of the Coast


Thank you for reading!

We’re incredibly grateful to Steven for taking the time to share his passion with us.

Find more about Steven’s work on his website.

Meet us next week for another interview!


Yeong-Hao Han Interview

Welcome to our MTG artists interview series (#19), There’s No Magic Without Art.

We had the chance to catch up with Yeong-Hao Han and talk about his work on Magic: The Gathering. Enjoy!

Hi Yeong-Hao Han. We saw your first Magic card six years ago. How did you got started?

I submitted some work to Jeremy Jarvis. The work had a lot of photo textures in it, which I knew wasn’t really Wizards style, so I didn’t really think anything would come of it. Jeremy got back to me saying the work was perfect for the upcoming set. That set turned out to be Return to Ravnica.

Were you familiar with the game at the time?

I used to play 4th Edition back in the day. To be honest, my play group was so rudimentary compared what I see people doing now. I’m not sure if it’s the internet that has people sharing information or if the game simply evolved over time, but my gameplay was childish in comparison.

Carnage Tyrant © Wizards of the Coast

Millstone © Wizards of the Coast

Can you give us a brief description of your painting process?

I always start out with thumbnail sketches in a sketchbook. Then I blow them up and do a rough, black and white painting on the computer and submit that to Wizards. Once that sketch is approved, the process deviates from painting to painting.

It really depends on the subject matter and how I want the final painting to look. Sometimes I start with a traditional painting, or I might build a 3D model, other times I’ll do a really detailed line drawing, and most often I’ll jump in digitally. Whatever the process, I always bring the illustration back to Photoshop to finish the painting.

You painted the five weapons of the powerful Gods from the Theros block, how did these cards came to be?

I was given an art description that said the weapon is floating in the sky and with the Starry Nyx Mechanic glowing in the shadows. The weapons had already been designed, along with their prospective gods. My first pass on the cards, I did dramatic up shots at the sky with the weapons dropping down about to wreak havoc on the people below. Jeremy Jarvis, the art director, came back and told me to tone it down. Wizards was actually just looking for a plain side view of the weapon in the sky.

I was a little bummed out because it’s hard to make a really dynamic looking image with these requirements. The weapons themselves are very simple in design, so it’s not like I could go crazy with some ornamentation. Because of all of this, I put most of the emphasis on the clouds, to spice up the image.

In terms of getting a set of cards to work on, getting 5 paintings is definitely better than 1! One of my favorite parts of working on Magic is seeing my cards get play, but generally, I don’t know if the card is going to be any good. In this case, I figured one of these weapons will be decent enough to see some play time.

Sanctum of the Sun © Wizards of the Coast

What cards were the most challenging to paint, and why?

The hardest cards for me are when there are a ton of descriptors in the description. Wandering Tombshell is an example of this. The art description was something like: A gigantic, rotting, zombie tortoise, with ruins on it’s back, walking through a swamp. It’s hard enough to paint a giant tortoise, but it has to be a zombie as well! The buildings are ruins means I’m really limited in camera angles because they need to read as well on a small card.

When doing new art for an existing card, do you take into consideration the old art, or does it depend on the art description?

I do look at old art. For reprints, I think it’s really important to take the history of Magic into account, especially since a lot of reprints are popular cards. I try my best to do something different from the previous card art. For example, Maze of Ith already had 2 versions: An organic labyrinth, and a man-made prison version. I tried to do a combination of the two, which is still man-made but forming an undulating organic landscape.

Thaumatic Compass © Wizards of the Coast

Do you ever put some easter eggs/hidden elements on your paintings?

Not so much, but it is an interesting idea. Maybe that’s something I’ll try incorporating in future paintings.

Can you name some favorites among the art you made for Magic?

My answer is always the same. I really loved painting Wall of Limbs and was totally bummed out when I found out the card sucked. Carnage Tyrant and Thaumatic Compass are also cards where I like how the art turned out..

Where can our readers find you and learn more about your work?

You can view my work at artstation.com/fooyee or deviantart.com/fooyee/gallery I’m really bad with updating my work, so I tend to be a set or two behind.

Island © Wizards of the Coast


Thank you for reading!

We want to thank Yeong-Hao Han for taking the time to talk to us.

Meet us next week for another interview!

Wall of Limbs © Wizards of the Coast


Steve Prescott Interview

Welcome to our MTG artists interview series (#18), There’s No Magic Without Art.

We had the chance to catch up with Steve Prescott over Skype, and got to chat about his work on Magic: The Gathering. Here’s what Steve told us.

“My stuff always has sense of humor whether I want it or not”

Steve Prescott

Hi Steve. Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Steve Prescott and I have been working in the fantasy gig Industry since 95, maybe 94. I started out right out of college by doing a bunch of work for a company called White Wolf games, doing a lot of contemporary horror type stuff like vampires and werewolves.

The White Wolf stuff led to doing Shadowrun work, which let into doing a few other assignments for, you know, smaller companies there.

I gradually made my way to Wizards of the Coast in about 2002/2003, working on Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) and Forgotten Realms, and a few years later I started working for Magic.

Lightform © Wizards of the Coast

Did you have a formal education or were you self-taught?

Both, I’d say. I did go to school and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts at the Columbus College of Art & Design. What that entails is giving you the medium and the fuel for teaching yourself sort of speak. I like to consider it was both self-taught and learned education.

Were you familiar with the game at the time?

I was familiar in the vaguest sense. I played D&D in college with my buddies, but they started playing Magic in the mid-nineties. They were all very good at it, they got a good mind for gaming, but I don’t, I’m terrible at strategy games [Laughs]. So I just watched over their shoulder and appreciated the cool game with awesome artwork.

You work mainly with traditional medium?

All the work I’ve done for Magic has been completely traditional. If I’m doing concept design I’ll often use a mixture of pencil and photoshop, but otherwise, yeah, I’m an acrylic artist.

For hearthstone I’ll tweak certain details digitally because they’ll often have a fix or two after I send them the final, that usually doesn’t happen with Magic.

Can you visualize the final picture with ease, or do you find it as you go?

I find it as I go much more often. I’ll work out a lot of it on the sketch phase, if I can get the drawing right, the mood, and the facial expression right, then I can make everything else work very effectively.

But it usually isn’t that smooth of a process, there’s a lot of erasing and even when I get to the painting phase I will often change my mind, not so much on the structure of the painting, but on the colors. It’s definitely an organic process.

I have a quote here from you that says “I know if it’s right when I see it”

Yeah, that’s a shorter version of saying it than what I just battered out [Laughs].

Roon of the Hidden Realm © Wizards of the Coast

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Fleetfeather Sandals © Wizards of the Coast

What kind of art descriptions do you usually get?

It depends on the assignment obviously. There are some artists that grasp abstract concepts better, like “Show time melting away” [Steve uses a very deep voice], you know? That’s not my forte.

I can do that, but I think other artists do a much better job at that. So they go with those artists for that. They like me for something that’s whimsical, that has a touch of humor in it maybe, and is creature or costume design oriented.

You mentioned Fauna Shaman took you a week to paint, that’s a long time.

Yeah, depends how smoothly everything is going. I just did one for Magic – can’t talk about it in detail obviously – but it took about a week, not because anything is going wrong, but I just started getting into the details and had to get reference for some specific elements.

Usually they take 3-4 days, depending on how many figures might be on the piece.

Fauna Shaman © Wizards of the Coast

When sorting through your cards by color, I noticed you only painted 9 black cards out of almost 200…

[Laughs] That sounds about right actually. If you’re gonna to paint a black card, you have to have a darker approach I guess.

My stuff always has sense of humor whether I want it or not. My grizzliest black card has a comic book type flare to it, so it isn’t as gritty as they’d like.

When we interviewed Christopher Moeller, he said that for him white cards were the ones that required more thought. What’s your relationship with the different colors?

Well, I don’t read a description and say “Oh man! It’s a white card! I don’t wanna do that!”, you know? [Laughs]

But I agree with Chris, there is a certain aspect to each. I fit in best with red and green cards, I think. ‘Cause it’s usually a lot of lot of chaos, there’s some whimsy, there’s animals, whether cute or ferocious, and that kind of fits my look a little bit better.

But blue usually has some mystical magic elements, and there’s some other artists that do that better than I do; white almost has some abstract approach to it and there’s artists that do that better than I do; and of course black needs a really dark approach in order to be cinematic, and not be funny [Laughs], and there’s artists that do that better than I do!

Whatever card color they give me I always try to do my best and trust they gave that card to me for a reason.

Reincarnation © Wizards of the Coast

Some artists struggle with cards that have many figures, some struggle with backgrounds and buildings, do you have an Achilles-heel?

Hmm. Achilles-heel you said? [Laughs] I do, but I think art directors stir me clear of any stuff where I could get tangled up. Like if I had to do a sprawling city scape where it was pertinent to get the right lightning and detail, that would take me a lot longer than I wanted to. I could get it done, but there’s other artists that can do it better and faster, an art director wouldn’t put me in that position, they’d want to use my strengths.

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You mentioned in the past that, of the cards you made, you really dislike Battle Rampart..

Damn it! Don’t bring that card up! [Laughs]. It’s funny you brought that up, last week I got an email from someone saying they like the card and that only I could pull off those colors. That may have softened my view on the card.

That card just wasn’t working out, so I started pushing out the colors as far as I could just to make it kind of gory. Whatever else I had in mind wasn’t working. Someone that didn’t see the process wouldn’t know it, but when I see it I’m like: “that card makes me feel bad!” [Laughs]

Prognostic Sphinx © Wizards of the Coast

I guess when you look at the card you can see the whole process behind it, while we just see the end product. I guess it’s hard to look at something you made with fresh eyes, maybe it’s something that takes years.

There’s plenty of cards where I felt “I don’t want to look at this anymore, I don’t want to see it”, and years later I’ll go back and, while I won’t say “Hey! This was a tremendous piece of art”, there will be some aspect of it where I’ll say “you know what? that worked out alright!”. I give myself a mild pat on the back [Laughs].

I really like your Goblin Contraptions from Unstable, this is a single painting divided into 9 individual cards. How did this came to be?

It’s definitely the biggest painting I’ve done, and the biggest Magic card – soft of speak, because it’s actually nine cards. And going back to your previous questions, that was probably the most involved and most difficult piece to do, just because it was so detail intensive.

Because it was goblins, almost anything could work in it, I didn’t got to have this specific light source and make it look like this contraption could actually work, it was supposed to be chaotic and zany and whimsical, in that respect everything worked out great. It took a lot to lay it out and make sure that all the pieces were going to fit the nine cards in the right way, it was interesting though, I had a lot of fun with that challenge.

Abzan Guide © Wizards of the Coast

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Goblin Contraptions from Unstable © Wizards of the Coast

For the Comic Con Planeswalkers, the black effect was added on post-production right?

Those were done for some other project, and right when I turned it in they said “you know what, we’re gonna use these for these Magic cards”.

I just did them pretty much black on white, almost like I would if was painting a comic book page or something. They came up with the idea to make gloss black on flat black or whatever and just the color of the magic, but I thought they did a fantastic job with that.

Can you name your favorite paintings?

I have a bunch because I like certain parts of a lot of them. Even though there’s other elements on the piece, I will like I piece just because “Oh I like how I handled the clouds”.

The goblin contraption is a good one, there was just so much work and so much fun.

I like Kiora’s Follower, Silver Knight, I like the armory guy from Shadows over Innistrad, Prognostic Sphinx… I don’t know, there’s a handful.

Rowdy Crew © Wizards of the Coast


Thank you for reading!

We want to thank Steve for taking time to talk to us and share his vision.

You can find more about Steve on his website.

Meet us next week for another interview!


Volkan Baga Interview

Welcome to our MTG artists interview series (#17), There’s No Magic Without Art.

Today we have the pleasure of sharing with you our interview with Volkan Baga, whose first card debuted twelve years ago.

This interview also features questions from our friends over on reddit’s /r/magictcg! We’ve asked for your questions, and the feedback was fantastic! so thanks to everyone that participated, we’ll be asking for more of your questions in the future!

Enjoy!

“I guess it’s the balance. The “Yin & Yang“ thing. No light without shadow. “

– Volkan Baga

Hi Volkan. Could you give us a brief introduction about yourself?

Hi there, I’m an professional artist since I graduated in Illustration from the University of Applied Sciences in Würzburg, Germany in 2002. I’ve worked for different kinds of clients such as game, book and magazine publishers, advertising agencies and private art collectors.

While I took on commissions of a broader range way back when my career started, I find myself focusing more and more on fantastic art such as Magic The Gathering. It’s a gorgeous way to dive into fantastic worlds with no limits other than my own imagination.

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Sketch and final painting for Mox Pearl © Wizards of the Coast
Baga painted alternate-art of the legendary Moxen, including: Pearl, Jet, Ruby, Emerald and Sapphire
The original paintings – framed as over-sized Magic cards – were awarded to the winners of the Vintage Championship from 2006 to 2010.

In which ways have you changed as an artist since your first card, about 12 years ago?


Technically there is no difference. I still pretty much use the same materials and procedure as I did with my first card. Oils, brushes and panels. I assume that I’ve gotten better and better. At least I hope so. 😉

But I guess that the main difference is that I’ve gotten more confident by every each card. I remember being a bit nervous when I did the first card. It took me forever to finish the art as I kept revising it till the deadline urged me to come to an end. I worked into the nights. I know that the constant revision didn’t make the art necessarily better, but I felt so.

Working on Magic cards for so many years is like merging with Magic’s World. At some point I felt I’m part of it and that makes me feel confident. And that turned it into a natural and intuitive creation process.

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How did working with Donato rub off on your own art in smaller, non-hand-related ways we might not have noticed? (Asked by reddit user ButtPoltergeist)

[NOTE: Volkan Baga is a former studio assistant to Donato Giancola, one of Magic’s most famous artists. Donato has been creating creating art for the game since 1996]

Donato pointed out the importance of narration in a painting to me. With him I started strictly considering to make every artwork a piece of storyteller. I’m certainly very thankful for that input.

A beautiful painting alone doesn’t make a good painting. Once a painting starts to communicate, then you’re on a good way. It’s not an easy task, sometimes you fail.

It’s always worth to work extra time on the narration. If you go into a museum and look at all the old master pieces, you will realize they put a lot of efforts into the story telling.

That’s when you stand in front of such pieces and look at it for quite a while … as it tells a story.

Sketch and final painting for Muzzio, Visionary Architect © Wizards of the Coast
Muzzio is a former apprentice of the famous goblin planeswalker Daretti, and word has it that the pupil killed the master.

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Sketch and final painting for Angel of Invention © Wizards of the Coast
Angel of Invention features the Fabricate keyword ability, first introduced in the Kaladesh expansion.

To develop your idea for a painting, you first do 2x3cm sketches. Could you show us some pictures of these incredibly tiny sketches?

I’m using my thumbnails to get an initial capture of my ideas. They are very quick and sometimes nobody other than me can decode the wild doodles. They help me to process the ideas from my head.

It’s a back and forth between my thumbnails and my imagination. Here are some examples right out of my sketchbook. You might be able to identify the actual cards that these thumbnails were for.

[Can you guess the cards in these thumbnails?]

Baga’s exploratory sketches for Magic cards

Your paintings often depict narrative-driven scenes where multiple characters interact; and there seems to be a tendency for complex compositions, where detail plays an important role.

They seem very challenging to paint, not only from a technical standpoint, but also from a conceptual one. Is this something you agree with? What makes a painting particularly challenging to paint?

Yes, the more complex a composition is, the more challenging it is in any ways. First of all there is the story that I would like to tell. I have to figure out what the best way is to create a narrative-driven scene so it’s understandable by the viewer.

I’m thinking of individual elements at this point, e.g.: a kneeing servant in front of the main character to transport the idea of a powerful person etc.

Second I have to figure out the composition where all individual elements come together in a nice artistic way. It’s not easy as I always have to double-check with the potential of negatively affecting the narration.

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I read on your website that “the human and his emotions as well as his personal story are the focus of Volkan Baga’s works”. How do you transport these intimate feelings to the fantasy setting?

I transport these intimate feelings by sensitively using inconspicuous little gestures and mimics that makes a big difference. We humans interact with each other in our daily life. Our voices are not the only organ that communicates.

Our body language is as communicative as our voices are. Therefore I’m using specific face and body expressions to transport intimate feelings. It’s a gorgeous way to bring characters to life.

Eyes, eyebrows, mouth, hand gestures etc. are all excellent elements for emotional expressions. We humans know how to decode them as we handle it intuitively every day when we meet other people.

Sketch and final painting for Sovereign’s Bite © Wizards of the Coast
“You have given all to your kingdom, dear knight. Serenity shall be your prize.”  —Queen Lian
– Sovereign’s Bite flavor text.
 

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Do you have a favorite piece of your MTG art? Any of them you’d like to do over or differently than you did? (Asked by reddit user Zakreon)

It’s difficult to point out 1 specific most favorite piece. I really like “Elspeth-Knight Errant” or “Muzzio Visionary Architect” or my “Chrome Mox“. Each of these have their individual attraction to me.

Would I re-do one of my pieces? Actually not. All of my works are an expression of the period of time when I did them. Each of them have a reason why they look like as they do.

But would they look differently if I would do them today? Certainly, yes. There are so many aspects that will influence decisions. Inspiration for example makes a big difference.

Sketch and final painting for Vampire Sovereign © Wizards of the Coast
Vampire Sovereign, a new card from the Core Set 2019, is one of the most recent cards painted by Baga.

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My works are influenced by my surrounding. So, for example my approach for a painting may look differently if I’ve just returned from a trip from Italy compared to one from Japan.

While I’m working on a commission I constantly thinking about ideas. And ideas pop up by the influence of my environment, while I go out for a walk, look through books or do some sightseeing. So, the creation of an art piece is always a unique capture of an idea at that moment.

Is the artistic process different for a reprint compared to a brand-new card? (Asked by reddit user aec131)

It may seem that it’s different, but in the very essence it’s not. Of course I look at the existing artwork first to get an initial idea of how the original looks like.

But after that it’s the same procedure with the reprint as with a brand new card. I’m reading the art director’s description and try to find my own interpretation. The existing artwork is not important at this point anymore.

Sketch and final painting for Chrome Mox © Wizards of the Coast
Baga painted the reprint of Chrome Mox for Eternal Masters, a set intended for the Legacy, Commander, and Vintage formats.
The first version of the card was painted by Donato Giancola, whom Baga assisted in Giancola’s New York studio.

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Sketch and final painting for Snapcaster Mage © Wizards of the Coast
This card was made for 2007’s Magic Invitational tournament. That year’s winner, Tiago Chan, designed the card and got himself depicted by Baga.

What would be your dream project/commission? (Asked by reddit user Floral-Spuzzem)

I’m already pretty happy with my work for Magic. I painted my first card in 2005. So I’ve been continuously on board for 13 years and that is a proof that I really love to be part of Magic’s universe.

It’s such a versatile and vital world. Every set has its new individual attraction. Additionally I get commissioned for different kinds of cards, such as landscapes, artifacts, good guys, bad guys, creatures etc.

It’s so broad that I’ve never gotten bored. Magic’s authors, concept designers and art directors do such an incredible job on forming Magic’s universe.

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Nevertheless, something that may top Magic is finding some time to create my own personal art pieces. No deadline, no art direction, just my own art piece.

An example is my “Melody” series that I work on if my time schedule and muse allows.

Of the five colors in the game, is there one that feels closest to home, artistically speaking?

It’s weird actually, because normally I would answer that question with “white”. Nevertheless if I do a black card I find myself thinking “damn, I really enjoy doing this piece”.

I guess it’s the balance. The “Yin & Yang“ thing. No light without shadow. Everyone has a white and black side. So my true answer would be black and white.

Resplendent Angel © Wizards of the Coast
Resplendent Angel was the fifth Angel painted by Baga for Magic.

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Edgar Markov © Wizards of the Coast
Edgar Markov became the very first vampire of Innistrad by decocting Angel blood.


Thank you for reading!

We want to thank Volkan for taking time of his busy schedule to talk to us, and sharing his vision.

You can find more about Volkan Baga’s work on his website.

Meet us next week for another interview!