Welcome to part 3 of my series covering the Magic card illustration work of Rebecca Guay. Apologies for the slight delay. I haven’t found the time to edit my interview with Mrs. Guay yet, but it will surely be available shortly. So far we’re up to Mercadian Masques, which was released in October 1999. If you’re just joining us, here are links to part 1 and part 2.
The last few blocks of Magic sets we’ve examined have had a distinctly high fantasy kind of style to them. I tend to associate Guay’s inherent style with this high fantasy feel, but I also enjoy seeing how she approaches magic expansions that have artificially or externally imposed stylistic guidelines. Not since the Mirage expansion have we seen a set with as unique and distinctive a style, as Mercadian Masques has. As was the case in part 1 of this series, when we looked at Guay’s Mirage cards, her Masques block cards rise to the stylistic occasion, and her cards help shape the overall feel of these sets. They are the execution of the stylistic vision for this setting.
Crackdown is such a suspenseful image, it definitely puts me in a adventurous mood. Surrounded! Oh snap! I’m not sure how well the scene really represents the effect of the card, though I suppose the suppression of creatures part makes sense. I guess I just don’t intuitively see why small creatures are exempted from this ambush being portrayed. It’s a minor point about how the overall effect of the card hangs together, but the artwork is great. The wardrobe of the surrounded chaps in the foreground is a great example of the distinctively Masques style to which I referred above.
This is a personal favorite, a piece I’ve copied onto the lid of one of my box lids for practice and added decoration. Dork customization, right? Plain white cardboard lids are so boring.
There is some disconnect, again, when I think of the card as a whole, mainly due to the name here. I’m not sure whether I get a reverent, respectful vibe here, or more of a love / cherish tone. Maybe it’s merely the mantra which is reverent, and the broad shouldered man is expressing his love for this woman through this formal, almost monastic act. Or maybe his averted gaze suggests that his mantra is the only thing keeping his love in check… is this woman off limits to the man? Perhaps he is her escort? Her arms are folded which does signify being closed off. It’s a posture of rejection, not embrace. Maybe I can dig the name after all. Either way, the flowing robes, the interplay of the two subjects’ postures, it’s all very beautiful, and my eyes just want to wander around, taking it in. These are both beautiful people to look at.
The hair here always makes me think “merfolk,” which is to say “underwater.” The shell-like shield doesn’t help either. But I guess if static electricity can play with one’s hair, then who am I to say that a little spellshaping can’t do likewise? Cool dresses here, on both the escort and her diplomat in the background.
Ah, Dark Ritual. This is among the most sought after Guay cards. It’s a common, but as the first and for a long time only foil printing of Dark Ritual available (which has been printed in twelve normal sets and a handful of promotional products), the common commonly sold for $20 USD. The artwork is trippier that most of the Guay pieces we’ve seen thus far. We’ve seen some dreamy images, but this is Sgt. Pepper territory, I think. The ritual doesn’t seem extremely dark to me, however, which kind of adds to the charm of this card, I think. I mean, consider some of the other printings…
Tom Fleming, from Urza’s Saga:
Ken Meyers, Tempest:
Clint Langley, 5th Edition:
My previous favorite, the hilarious Justin Hampton version from Ice Age:
(more awesome D&D notes artwork, that…)
And of course, the original Alpha version by Sandra Everingham:
Coming full circle, let’s see Guay’s once more.
I think Guay’s version of Dark Ritual offers a nice tribute to the prior versions, with its cloaked figures, while still being a Guay piece through and through. The druidic circle, the blue earthlike sphere they stand upon, and the tye dye cloud and pencil line 1960s swirly eye lashes, all contribute to the psychedelia. This is a cool, sought after, iconic, and trippy card and a highlight for many a Guay collector.
Once more we see a card that really expresses the feel of Mercadian Masques, with marauding pirates, swashbucklers, rebels and mercenaries. Puffy shirts everywhere. Dig the patterns on the choke-slammed guy’s MC Hammer pants. So cool. And the similar tailoring on his Alladin vest? Very cool details. This has a jarring feeling, obviously, of the dude being slammed into the wall, his scimitar falling useless to the ground. I dig it.
This set features several of the few non-gorgeous subjects in Guay’s Magic portfolio. Most of her characters tend to be stunningly gorgeous babes or valiant looking Princes with some Legolas elf types for good measure. But here we actually see a rotund old timer smacking some sparkling, presumably magic hammers together. His flowing cape rocks, with its detailed moon and stars print and blowing folds. Stunned merchants in the background are a nice touch, setting us in the typical crowded streets and bazaars of the Mercadian Masques setting. Another spellshaper, this, he’s got a sweet beard and some rocking puffy capri pants… aka pantaloons. Any SCA enthusiasts out there reading this who want to make me this outfit?
Yeah, this is the terrible Roland Emmerich movie 2012 in Magic form in a lot of ways. A tectonic plate falls into the sea, bringing with it a large manor in the foreground. More waves! I still think “The Ship Struck a Rock,” by Edmund Dulac from his Arabian Nights, has influenced Guay’s rendering of a crashing wave. What do you think?:
What you see here are some Wumpi… at least I’m guessing that’s the plural of the make-believe creature, the Wumpus, which inhabits the Mercadian realm. I know that if you try to google “wumpus” looking for a description of the beast, you’ll find a neat computer game called Hunt the Wumpus, and it seems that someone at Wizards of the Coast must have played the game, cause there’s even a card in MM called Hunted Wumpus. But I digress.
You see some Wumpi engulfed in a pillar of fire. I imagine Mrs. Guay may have seen just such a description when she was tasked with this piece, and can imagine it wasn’t among her most enjoyable projects. Coming from the desert southwest as I do, I actually like the mesas and the fiery sunset sky in this one. Even the weird fire tornado would be okay, I think, if the Wumpi weren’t like comical caricatures of the beasts seen in other pieces. They look like gingerbread cookies or plastic toys… you even see one being blasted into the air. Am I reading too much into this to see it as a subtle commentary from the artist on how she feels about portraying the noble Wumpus? Either way, when I pass this card in my collection, I mostly smirk at its oddity… see the burning circus animal cookies, and move on. This isn’t hate, it’s just not a piece with a lot of intrinsic Guay-ness.
Briar Patch is another beast piece I’m not terribly fond of. It’s a briar patch hiding a pack of hyenas, who are, it seems, hindered by the briar patch, though in a lame, minimal way (which is appropriate for the card’s effect, honestly). I think I see a little bleeding scratch on one hyena’s shoulder. Don’t get me wrong, again… this is passable beast illustration, by all means, but I doubt many Guay fans will name Briar Patch as her crowning achievement.
Okay, Sacred Prey is a cool example of a card whose elements don’t hang together well, causing dissonance, confusion and bewilderment. A third beast illustration, this one once more has a passable beast image which might nonetheless fail to be picked out of a police lineup of Magic cards as a Guay piece, even by some moderate fans. A large feline of some kind (likely a “Jhovall,” another contrived beast type like “Wumpus”) in the foreground is growling, perhaps in the moment of springing into attack, as a frightened horse comes running around the bend. The card, however, is a Creature – Beast. But wait, isn’t this the Prey? Is this card the horse, and it’s a weird beast horse? Doesn’t “beast” suggest this is the cat? The flavor text reads “To see one is a good omen…” That might seem to suggest the horse. The ability gives you life when this creature is blocked… does that mean when it’s eaten, or feasting?
These mysteries are unsolved, and the case has run cold. Alas, we may never know what is going on with this card, mechanically.
This organic, almost abstract feeling piece is somewhat out of the ordinary in subject. It’s got an endearing feeling of mysticism and magic to it. The mysterious runes complement the card’s name, the equinox being significant in all sorts of astrological mysticism. It also has a neat effect, letting everything go instant speed, but for both players… a cool “global” enchantment. When cards affect both players equally, they’re known as “symmetrical” in Magic parlance, and this is one such card, fittingly so for its themes. Elegant, nifty, and peculiar. I’ve always liked it.
There aren’t a whole lot of distant landscape kind of cards in Guay’s work, but this one has an interesting vantage point. Maybe this is the view from one of the dirigibles in Mercadia? Anyhow, it’s the kind of card that makes me want to play D&D. That gets me thinking about this place… where’s the ship headed? Who lives here? I want to explore the place. I guess, in short, it’s a compelling place painting. I love the towers, or minarets or what have you in the foreground. There are cool little details here and there.
Battle Royale Box Set
Battle Royale had two cards we’ve seen before:
This remains one of the all time cutest angels in Magic. Aw, shucks.
The posture still seems ever so slightly off to me.
Released in February 2000, Nemesis continues the story with the Phyrexian invasion of Dominaria on the verge of beginning.
Wicked! I can imagine this tattooed on someone’s arm in a biker bar. “Nice ink, man!”
Animate Land is one of a wonderful subset of experimental pieces from Guay, featuring acid-trippy, melty, shifting, or otherwise phantasmagoric beings of illusion that are just plain cool to examine. Here a patchwork of flora, fungi, and growth resembling coral and underwater worms are pulled and polymorphed into a dragonlike composite creature. It’s an inspired representation of the effect of the card, which literally animates the land momentarily. The pithy flavor text is a fun garnishment.
Elves lost in the fog. It’s a cool piece. It would have to be a dense magical fog to stop a group of elves, I’d think. But then, perhaps the elves have summoned the fog? This piece features beautiful garments adorning our elven subjects, though they seem more panicked than the passive flavor text and foggy mood might suggest. These are minor criticisms though, and overall I enjoy this piece for its fair elves and flowing garments, all with the hallmark misty depth.
Striking, this piece catches your eye. The pretty woman is hidden, curled up in her egg like force bubble. Spikes or shards of rock protrude sharply upward, and they seem to be the actual phenomenon being portrayed, given the nature of the ability… this woman’s shield is being burst. If anything, she seems a bit calm, given that, but her odd pose is pulled off well I think, and there’s electricity and energy to this one. I’m reminded of Glendra, the good witch, as she floats down in a bubble to Dorothy’s aid in the Wizard of Oz.
This piece is just gorgeous. It doesn’t hurt that the subject is an incredibly attractive, tall slender woman in sheer and translucent gowns. This piece is tantalizing and sexy. Alluring. And I suppose, after a hard day’s work, sure, it’s calming! I certainly feel no angst or expectancy when I consider this piece. The word “verse” in the title, and the performance-like pose of this woman’s arm, make me imagine her having just finished a lovely stanza of a poem, or a soft lullaby. Ahhh. Very pretty.
Okay, that’s all for this installment. Join me again next time when we explore the Invasion block and beyond.