Welcome back to part two of my series on the Magic illustrations of Rebecca Guay. In Part 1, I covered Guay’s first work, way back in the Alliances expansion (1996), and came chronologically through Weatherlight (1997). We saw a few examples of the classic style Guay is known for, as well as some experiments and variety. A few references to Guay’s various artistic influences popped up, and in particular, Guay rose to the stylistic occasion of the Mirage expansion. We ended with gaeas blessing and angelic renewal (one of Guay’s personal favorites), some of the most iconic and recognizable cards Guay has done in Magic.
Today we begin with the Tempest block, and continue through the 1999 Starter series. So, without further ado, let’s consider some cards!
The story that began in Weatherlight would continue through the Tempest block, and on through four years worth of sets, ending finally with the Apocalypse expansion. Thus, the entirety of this period of Guay’s work would be wrapped into the same story arc, were it not for several smaller sets released, such as core sets and starter products. Still, the style we saw in Weatherlight (as seen on Angelic Renewal, Gaeas Blessing, and Serras Blessing) was the aesthetic basis or benchmark for this epic series of Magic expansions, and we’ll see some stylistic continuity during this period because of that.
Another subtle use of the Edmund Dulac -esque misty snow effect gives this dryad a dreamy quality. Shadow was a central new card mechanic in Tempest, allowing creatures with shadow to have a superb form of evasion. The ability of this dryad to block such creatures puts her in a righteous kind of force-of-good light. The pale magical light emanating from her outstretched hand, and her somber but confident composure make the card’s mood feel no-nonsense. I like the piece, particularly the folds in the Dryad’s cloak. We see the pulled-back hair here, which is a bit of a Guay hallmark as well… floating out of scene in a way that almost makes the scene seem underwater… Guay does this with long hair at times, and while I wouldn’t quite describe it as a “peeve” because it’s endearing, I still notice it often, and it makes me smirk. Many of these images are dramatic poses, and you can almost imagine a stage hand off stage to the right pointing a big fan at the Dryad for the photo shoot. But let’s face it, hair and cloth look more interesting when they’re flowing in a breeze. I can’t complain.
Ah, the Skyship Weatherlight. Guay renders it well, a distinctive vessel central to the long story arc. This reminds me of the card Mobilize, a scene going down in the woods that we see from afar, framed by trees. I like the card. Guay has done several fog variants, including one of the most popular in terms of tournament play, as we’ll see when we get to Moments Peace in Oddyssey.
Presumably a picture of Crovax Windgrace, root maze is a simple piece showing the hero crouching to contemplate an intimidating snarl of roots. Root Maze is a pretty useful Magic card, but the image is somewhat underwhelming. The saving grace is the interesting attire worn by the crouched figure, but the tangled roots and the background seem blasé somehow.
Lands are a sad sticking point with me for Rebecca Guay. Wizards of the Coast, if any of your employees are reading this, please, I beseech thee! The problem is that Guay has done so few lands. She’s only done Mountain and Plains from among the basic lands, and a couple other nonbasics. This is a real hurdle for a Guay purist who wants to make an all-Guay art theme deck. You’re constrained to white / red, splashing green, blue, and black. I think a savvy art director would commission Guay to do an Island, Swamp, and Forest for an upcoming set, maintaining the value of the two APAC lands she’s done. That Rebecca Guay, among the game’s preeminent Green Artists, has never done a basic Forest, is a bit of a travesty to this fan. But I digress.
Pine Barrens is such a neat and simple card. Lands have special appeal as anyone who plays the game can attest… they are the primary resource you’re managing in this resource management game… they’re so basic and essential, and the beauty of them is that they represent places. It is Landscapes from which the energy of Magic’s wizardy is drawn. This cycle of lands was a failed attempt to “fix” what wasn’t broken, in this case, Ice Age’s cycle of “pain” lands. By making the lands come into play tapped in the Tempest block, they relegated the cards to the dustbin of Magic history in terms of playability. However, this hardly matters for such flavorful pursuits as an all-Guay (or all-single-artist) themed deck, and for that reason Pine Barrens is kind of a fun card to run. Again, a pure Guay-only deck has to run these if it ever wants to run black or green.
The artwork itself is quite simple and elegant. A copse of trees growing in some eroded or mulchy soil, perhaps a primordial compost heap. It feels like a place from which black and green mana might emanate.
Still, I can’t help feeling like Guay may have wanted to paint a figure in the foreground of this setting. It seems like a backdrop to any number of typical Guay subjects, minus the subject. There’s a slightly lonely feeling here.
Sky Spirit is iconic, beautiful, and resonant. It’s also conceivably a reference to several other works. Edmund Dulac illustrated “The Rubaiyat” in 1909, and it includes an image titled “Hidden by the Sleeve of Night” seen below:
I can at least see some influence here. There are other Dulac images which portray floating feminine spirits in flowing gowns, so while this may not be a direct reference, clearly Guay’s use of these themes is influenced by this Golden Age artist.
I’ve always loved this card’s illustration, with the relaxed spirit in repose among the evening clouds, perhaps even sleeping gently adrift high above the town nestled in the hills below. It’s dreamy and magical, with lots of high fantasy archetypal imagery happening. A strong image on a card that, while never doing much in constructed formats, certainly had its day in the sun for limited formats as an aggressively-costed first striking flier.
Stronghold was the first expansion in the Tempest block and was released in March, 1998.
Bandage is another very straight forward piece, with feminine hands off-scene finishing the bandage around the injured man’s head. However, the flavor text here alludes that this is Starke of Rath, and the female hands doing the bandaging are those of his daughter Takara. However, it turns out that, in the story, “Takara” is actually Volrath, master of the Mercadians, who is a shapeshifter and merely adopted Takara’s appearance. So there’s a little bit of a disconnect on this card, but it’s still a pretty fitting image, even removed from the odd magic storyline.
Youthful Knight is some classic high fantasy Guay again, with the mounted rider passing through the mist. Pretty sweet.
I like Wall of Tears a lot. A strange architectural framing of what appears to be a man-made waterfall, seemingly serving as a curtain drawn across the opening to some cave or tunnel. The serpent and various skulls and masks give us a certain foreboding, while the mist of the waterfall adds to this eerie warning. As a wall that “bounces” creatures it blocks, to use the Magic parlance, this veil of water takes on a very cool symbolism… as if creatures encountering this mysterious wall, pass through this veil and end up in non-existence, wiped from reality, but returned to their state of pre-birth rather than being killed and ending up on the other side of life. A very neat flavor is going on in this card, and it’s always just seemed cool to me.
Mulch! This is a hippy, tree-hugger kind of card. We see a hippy babe raking the woods, filling up a cool wheelbarrow, and revealing a nice midriff. Are those dreadlocks? I think I’m in love!
This card saw a decent amount of play, and has a potentially powerful card advantage effect. The muted, earth tone colors and scene are very “green,” hanging together well with the card’s name and mechanics.
Samite blessing is a sweeping scene that reappears in other forms later in Guay’s career. We have a healer or attendant caring for a sleeping damsel. The scene is draped with smoke from two braziers and has an apothecary feel to the setting. It’s a calm, but anxious mood, in which a healer is trying to overcome some ailment.
Exodus is the final expansion of the Tempest block, and was released in June of 1998.
Mana Breach has excellent artwork with themes familiar to us by now. A beautiful woman under some kind of duress in the woods, with flowing hair and cloak framing her fancy dress and attractive figure, with a mystical kind of snow or pollen permeating the air, giving the scene tranquil depth.
But Mana Breach stands out among cards illustrated by Rebecca Guay for another reason: there is an exceedingly rare version of this card which is the most expensive card illustrated by Guay that a collector can buy. Before Exodus was released, Wizards of the Coast began experimenting with making Foil cards. Until this time, Magic cards never had foil versions, but for a handful of Exodus cards, various foil techniques were tried out. There are something like twenty “test foil” Mana Breach cards out there, and they can fetch prices up to a thousand dollars US. This is also one of the few holes in my own Guay collection, so if anyone out there happens to own one of these, by all means, send a comment!
Maidens held by or holding men half submerged in ponds is actually a very common scene in Golden Age illustration, from my favorite example, Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs (seen below), to Rackham’s several illustrations for The Rhinegold and the Valkyrie or his image in The Little Mermaid.
In Resuscitate, a heroic and serious healer works anxiously to revive the apparently drowned elven maiden. His cloak and ears make him appear elven as well. It’s a beautiful, touching embrace, and the subtle distortion effects of the limbs and cloth dipping below the surface of the stream are quite lovely. This scene seems at once serene and full of impatient angst as the healer tries to resuscitate his patient.
As I said in part 1, when we saw the original Portal version, Wood Elves is one of the more useful cards Guay has done, able to fetch any forest, including Revised dual lands (though alas, not pine barrens!).
Perched in a tree, these elves appear to be lookouts. Given the choice, I usually run the portal version, with the more heavily armed and mist shrouded elves. For reference:
Portal Second Age
In June of 1998, Portal Second Age was released, and with it Guay’s work takes a brief aside from the realm of the Tempest Saga’s grand plot arc. Stylistically unique, the obscure and fanciful cards of Portal Second Age have always had an endearing quality of nostalgia to me as a collector of Guay’s work. The set remains among my favorites of Guay’s sets.
We’ve seen this subject before, and we’ll see it again. Guay is known for somber but beautiful images of gorgeous, elfish women, tall and slender, with long flowing hair and windswept trails of cloth blowing in the breeze. Among the many such images, Moaning Spirit ranks high in my mind, as this is a haunting expression of the theme. It’s the translucence of the trailing cloth, and the cold wintry mist that makes this a convincing image of a phantom or ghost. My only complaint here is that this is another example of an old style guideline, or lack thereof, in which older Magic cards weren’t careful with the use of the Flying ability. On modern Magic cards, if the card is a creature with flying, chances are the creature will be in-flight, or will involve wings displayed prominently. This issue is akin to the Noble Steeds-is-an-Enchantment issue we saw in part 1, and again it grants a bit of nostalgia to we Magic historians and collectors. There’s an innocence, which has been lost, to a creature like this who has flying, but which has art that doesn’t imply the ability in any way, really.
Sea Drake was, at one time, the most expensive and sought after card illustrated by Guay, that was printed in a normal print run. The primary reason for this is that Sea Drake is a huge monster at a very discounted price. 2U is very little for a 4/3 flying drake. The drawback, returning two lands to your hand, can be mitigated in several ways. The most obvious and oft-employed means was to simply avoid this requirement by having fewer than two lands in play at the time Sea Drake came into play. This can be accomplished in several ways, the most common being the use of a land that produces several mana, such as Ancient Tomb in conjunction with artifact mana, like Chrome Mox. The “Sea Stompy” Legacy deck featured this very iconic opening. That it was a rare printed only in Portal 2 meant it was scarce as well, driving up the price. I recall paying close to $50 USD for the final japanese copies of my own playset, around the peak of their popularity, though at the time of this writing, the price has dropped to between $35 and $45.
The drake itself has always seemed a bit amateurish to me, frankly, and appears to be a Pterodactyl or other similar dinosaur. But the waves below the drake are interesting and bring up another recurring theme we saw in part 1 with Sea Sprite. Guay’s waves bear a resemblance to Dulac and Rackham, and I still contend that Hokusai may also be channeled here. Consider the following pieces.
“The Ship Struck a Rock” from Arabian Nights, Edmund Dulac
“The Great Wave Off Kanagawa” by Katsushika Hokusai
Arthur Rackham’s illustration in “Undine”
Gosh, wavy illustrations are cool, aren’t they? Seems to me that once again Dulac is the primary influence, but that the others have clearly colored Guay’s aesthetic sensibility as well. It’s fun to compare and contrast her work to the many pieces done by the great artists she admires.
Snakelike, rather than the typical Dune / Arrakis type of wurms with the round maws (Roar of the Wurm), Guay’s Portal 2 wurms have dragon heads. This one is all coiled up, as though resting after a nice meal. The flaming mouth is a little out-of-character for a wurm, further blurring the two monster paradigms, but it’s an interesting take on the wurm. I like the coloration of this beast.
Deathcoil Wurm is a quirky, odd little card. A beast that was one of the “Timmy, Power Gamer” big monsters in Portal Second Age, this rare is typically somewhat elusive to collectors. You’ll likely need to just buy stuff like this online, because seldom will you ever see this in a trade binder.
The art here is another snakelike, dragon-headed wurm chasing some kind of sprites? It’s inexplicable. It’s a pretty cool monster image, but there are other Guay monsters to come that surpass Deathcoil Wurm in my estimation. If I had to choose, I think I’d take the coiled, resting pose of Barbtooth wurm above.
Lynx is a very cool piece of beast art. The lines of the tree keep your eyes moving around the frame, and I like the slight feeling that we’re looking up into this tree. Serenity is granted again by the floating snowflakes. The cat is well done, and has clearly inspired a number of D&D sorcerer’s familiars over the years. Very cool.
Norwood Riders is one of my favorite Guay oddities. A patrol of mooseback (say what?) elven riders slowly traversing a misty glen is head-turning subject matter. I love the tall, grasslands tribal shield strapped behind the rider in the foreground. We have the obligatory sweeping cloth and breeze-blown hair on an effeminate figure of possibly sylvan origins that are the Guay hallmarks. Definitely a fan favorite.
Norwood Warrior is pretty damn fabulous. Norwood seems to be a fashionable place, doesn’t it?! This elven warrior is posed in iconic heroism, armed with classic weaponry, the longsword and long bow, lightly armored, wearing a long dress gown despite this, draped by a luxurious cape. This is portrait style depth, with mist or clouds as a hazy background, bringing the heroine into sharp focus in the foreground. Your eyes stay put on this one, basking in the glory. I love this piece.
This is one that didn’t receive angel errata, and remains simply a wall in its most recent printing. While I’m usually a fan of John Avon’s work, his art for the later versions of Angelic Wall doesn’t do much for me. These ghostly wings would almost seem spooky to me if I wasn’t prompted to think ‘angelic’, as they almost seem to be haunting this wood. Altogether a haunting king of card.
The APAC lands were released in 1998 in three color coded sets. These were promotional cards given away to players in the Asian-Pacific region, as a kind of marketing tool to appeal to global markets. Unlike the vast majority of other basic land cards in Magic, these portray real world locations in the region.
APAC lands are somewhat rare collectors items, fetching around four dollars apiece, which isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, except that these are basic lands, the basic building blocks of Magic. Any Magic player is going to have hundreds if not thousands of basic lands. They are ubiquitous, with functionally identical cards costing players essentially nothing. Buying a promotional basic land, even for a few dollars, is a pretty extreme act of collectorship.
However, these are the only two basic lands illustrated by Rebecca Guay, and when you’re constrained to two colors like that, you typically need around ten of each basic land to complete a deck. Thus, those of us who enjoy building artist themed decks and who love Guay’s work are in the difficult spot of ponying up around eighty dollars for the twenty (times four dollars) copies, or else sacrificing the purity of our deck’s theme. At any rate, this is a sticking point for many Guay aficionados, I’m sure. Wizards? Throw us a bone here? Just three more. What’s an Island, a Swamp, and a Forest between friends, eh?
The mountains here are from Taiwan, though I’m not certain which ones, precisely. It’s certainly a place I’d like to visit, and an image I’m very familiar with as a result of the phenomenon described above. The immensity and steepness of the rock faces are rendered well by the view, low to the ancient river which winds between them.
This beautiful land obviously portrays the Great Wall of China, and is well done. I’m quite fond of the Guay plains. It’s quirky and among the most recognizable and sought after APAC lands here in the states. I’ll be the first to tell you that it just feels kind of cool to play Magic with a bunch of Great Wall of Chinas laid out in front of you.
Urza’s Saga, released in late 1998 was a very powerful and epic set.
Angelic Page is among my favorite angels (thanks to errata that changed her creature type). She’s also one of the smallest angels out there. She’s cute, and perched aloof, holding a sword that’s gargantuan for her. The reddish clouds and her dainty posture just really do it for me on this card.
This is one of the more pious feeling Guay cards, with the stained glass angel and the serious, reverent looking women. The faces are beautiful, and the curves of the neck of woman in the foreground are so lifelike and well painted. The shadows suggest a light high above. All in all, I feel like I’m in church looking at this image, and these women are walking back to their pews after receiving communion or something, a mood which serves the card quite well.
Silent attendant is superb. It reminds me of cloak of feathers the way you have an interior / exterior vibe happening, and it’s fairly dreamlike. Where is the mist coming from? We see stars filling the doorway, like this room is floating in the night sky. The cleric in the threshold is draped and feminine, and holds an orb of light. Its a graceful pose she’s in, it all feels delicate somehow. I can’t explain how some of these images just get my imagination going. I can’t help but be drawn in to this scene… this mystic arrival, this intriguing figure. It’s just compelling somehow. We fantasy dorks love this stuff.
I don’t mean to snub these other artists, and I like that Magic has a place for them too, but I love the compelling, subtler images in Magic. Sure, fantasy has room for violence (Gloomlance) and monsters (Hypnox) and the macabre (Treacherous Urge) and we dorks even like to include some imagery that seems to hail from some D&D notes somewhere (Weakstone, Rapid Fire, staff of zegon). But I’ve always had a thing for these golden age types of illustration. High fantasy book cover kind of stuff.
Silent Attendant is also noteworthy as a collectors item, because the Chinese version of the card has a misprinted casting cost. Even at one white mana, the card doesn’t strike me as overpowered:
Abundance is a powerful card with a fairly decent illustration of another gorgeous woman who I suspect is sylan in origin. Her golden hair waves gently in a breeze, as she crouches among an abundant garden, or forest. It’s not a particularly striking piece, but it’s still lovely.
Carpet of Flowers is atypical subject matter for Guay. The image is reminiscent of Monet’s water lilly paintings, and there are references to black lotus here as well, which are a nice touch given what the card does. It’s a neat image, but I see it as kind of a referential piece mostly, and while it’s beautiful and painterly, it’s like a way to cleanse the palette between rounds of the seven course elf maiden banquet feast.
Elvish Lyrist is gorgeous and alluring, with the sheer skirt of the maiden, and her dainty woodsy harp. For some reason she doesn’t appear completely comfortable to me, something about her posture.
Fecundity is what’s known as an “engine” card in Magic, one which can enable degenerate cyclical card combinations that can be iterated an arbitrary number of times. In this case, you will usually use Fecundity to draw an absurdly large number of cards, quite possibly your entire deck.
This image is quite striking, and I can’t think of another Guay piece that features skeletal remains. Here, the wordplay of the card’s name, fecundity, is contrasted with the image. It brings you a step back from the normal meaning of the word, and lets us see the cycle of life, of which death is a part. The flowers growing up through the ribcage are a nice touch, and the flavor text really seals it. This is a card in which all the elements hang together well… the name, the effect, the artwork, and the flavor text.
A figure similar to the Lyrist above, the look and attire of the subjects are similar. I like the sneaking movement of the piece. I definitely feel like this person is creeping down the misty terrain as silently as possible. How this destroys enchantments is a mystery.
This is also another collectors item due to another Chinese misprint:
Remember when I said that Urza’s block was powerful? Well, if the cards you’ve seen so far from Guay haven’t convinced you, behold one of the most powerful elf cards in the game. Priest of Titania is a card which I guarantee has won over many a heart to Guay’s artwork. Here, the priest leads a group of her followers with flowers in her hair, and classical high fantasy attire. It’s not particularly stunning compared to many other of Guay’s pieces, but here we see the phenomenon of how a card’s intrinsic value in the game can make it, and by extension its artwork, tremendously popular.
Ah, devout harpist. She’s always been the Veruca Salt of Rebecca Guay cards to me. She has kind of a bitchy look on her face, like she’s frustrated that we keep interrupting her harp practice. Her garments look good though. The snakes print cloth fits her demeanor well I think. I just can’t keep eye contact with her without thinking about the goose who lays gold eggs for easter. “I want it NOW, daddy!”
Hooray for more faeries! Long before Lorwyn and the fairy tidal wave it brought to Magic, Guay was one of the few artists painting the obscure creatures. Thornwind Faeries are pretty excellent, really. They’re essentially flying prodigal sorcerers, making them quite superb. For paying blue as one of the colorless of the original, you gain flying. That’s quite a bargain, and a variant of the original this good hasn’t seen print since, goblin sharpshooter notwithstanding.
Keep these long flowing green sashes (wings of flowing cloth?) in mind, as well as the setting and the pose of the fairies because they’ll all reappear later on one of the most iconic and archetype-defining fae in Lorwyn, which Guay illustrated.
When Defense of the Heart first came out, I didn’t really care for the artwork. I was confused about the beast (it’s a Maro, a creature unique to Magic that was created by head designer MArk ROsewater) and about the scene. Later I learned a bit about the back story that’s going on behind so many of the cards in the Urza / Mishra story arc in Magic, and things became clearer. This is a scene depicting the powerful planeswalker Urza, discussing something with Multani, a Maro sorcerer and de facto leader of Yavimaya. Readers who are interested in Magic dork lore can check out this wiki on Urza, which briefly describes Urza’s relationship with Multani.
Anyway, I had learned what the card depicted, and seeing that the scene was actually relevant to the illustration, since in the story Multani eventually delivers aid and reinforcements to Urza precisely because he is otherwise outnumbered by the evil Phyrexians. All of this helped me appreciate the card a bit more, but I still disliked the legs on Multani, the way they bend backward like reptile or bird legs… Still, there’s nothing really wrong with the artistic quality, I guess it’s more like the vision of the piece that I’ve struggled with over time.
Classic Sixth Edition
This core set was released in April of 1999.
Ah, Perish is so excellent. This is another Guay card that feels very Golden Age of Illustration to me. This is an archetypal kind of image, which could have several historical references behind it. For me, this primarily evokes John William Waterhouse’s painting “Ophelia”, have a look:
Next, we’ll see a number of reprinted cards from earlier sets.
This is a reprint of the portal version of this card which we saw earlier in this series. I am including reprints for for the sake of documenting chronology.
Deja Vu? Yeah, we saw this beauty above in its original black bordered printing as well. Here, it’s got a white border and the little star expansion symbol of Starter. I still like this kind of wurm better than, for example, crush of wurms style wurms.
Lynx was also featured in Portal, Second Age above, and still reminds me of D&D wizard and sorcerer familiars.
We saw Nature’s Cloak in part 1 of this series, in the Portal expansion.
Norwood Archers and Renewing Touch are both reprints from Portal Second Age.
That wraps up part two of the series. I have some exciting news to share before I bid you adieu today. It turns out that Mrs. Guay saw my Facebook announcement for part one, dug what she saw, and agreed to do a video interview with me over Skype. The footage is in the can, and I’m doing post production work presently. I hope to have the video ready with part three in a week or two. Join me then and I’ll have a link to the interview, and we’ll continue with Guay’s cards from the stylish Mercadian Masques block.