Greetings, and welcome to part 5 of this series covering the Magic card illustrations of Rebecca Guay. Today’s post begins with the Odyssey block of late September 2001. If you dig this piece, I encourage you to have a look at my prior installments here: one, two, three, and four.
A quick not before we begin: I’ve been organizing the cards in this series in the “WUBRG” color order, which will be familiar to Magic players. Somehow, it feels wrong to see cards laid out in any other order.
As always, please post feedback in the comments section if you are so inclined.
Odyssey was released in September 2001. In terms of the Magic storyline, Odyssey takes place a century later than the events depicted by the Invasion block, and is set on a distant continent called Otaria.
Auramancer is a very useful creature in various EDH decks, and has great interactions with other Guay cards, making it a sweet choice for white-centric Guay-only artist themed decks. Angelic blessing and squees embrace can both make auramancer virtually invincible, albeit in a “slow” socery-speed manner, for instance.
Maybe I’m simply falling victim to the low cut V-neck here, but I’ve always been attracted to this piece artistically as well. I feel like this wizard is twirling in a somatic gesture of invocation, which is what you want to see on a wizard card that has a comes into play ( / “enters the battlefield”) effect. I expect to see some spell casting in that case. The background is a cool set of cloudy mountains that makes this feel portrait-like. The background is vague enough to seem blurred by contrast to the sharpness of the figure, popping it into the foreground. The shadows in the folds of this skirt are superb. Why did this kind of dress ever go out of style?
Embolden showcases some unorthodox style in the ornate headdress of the fair lady. She is bestowing upon a kneeling knight a very cool looking sword. The hanging cloth in the background also has a very unique look. All of these peculiar elements are part of the style of Odyssey and Otaria. For whatever other criticisms of WotC art direction I may make in this and other pieces, I must say I appreciate the lengths to which they go to ensure that each setting has a unique and distinctive feel.
Predict enjoyed a modicum of success in the tournament scene in its day in various Threshold and Psychatog decks. The card is still played in some Legacy decks as well, including CounterTop varieties and Team America.
My eyes often see a merfolk when I glance at the artwork here, but closer inspection reveals legs, not fins… this is a result of the blue tones in both the piece itself and its border, and of the exaggerated flowing hair, a gravity-defying stylistic hallmark of many of Guay’s pieces. The near topless pasty-style braziers also evoke the coconut-shell or clam-shell look typical of merfolk. But mer-confusion aside, this piece is wonderfully colorful, with this beautifully clothed sorceress in the act of performing some divination magic using the large blossom in hand. The drapery and cushions are an interesting backdrop, a setting that recurs here and there in Guay’s work. All in all, a neat piece that is instantly recognizable to many players, and it appropriately representative of many of Guay’s familiar motifs.
Since holistic wisdom saw print, the types planeswalker and tribal have been added to the game, giving this card unintended future utility. The card’s effect is a very useful one in certain decks.
The artwork is very clever here, being seen through a sort of scrying device or crystal ball, giving it a unique and magical frame. The woman’s dress, curling smoothly out of and around the ball itself like a kind of stand on which the ball rests is an interesting feature. It is as if the woman pictured here is stepping through this scrying device, being transported, which is quite an appropriate image for the graveyard-recursion of the card’s effect. She is, as we’ve come to expect by now, a beautiful maiden, dressed in fine, flowing cloth. Her arms are outstretched in a peaceful or even pious manner, again reiterating the theme of rebirth and return that the card’s mechanic suggests. A striking image, exemplary of the interplay between card mechanics and artwork which every magic illustration must necessarily strive for on some level.
Mentioned by Guay as among her personal favorites of her Magic illustrations, Moment’s Peace has enjoyed widespread use, including many tournament decks, both concurrent with its release, and on into the present day. Here, an enormous lakeside tree gives shelter to a resting female. She is dwarfed by the tree, an effect which, combined with the composition of the piece, “zoomed out” to emphasize the tree’s size and age, gives it all a very peaceful and safe feel indeed. The sunset / sunrise setting behind, and the carefree upward gaze of the figure evoke a peaceful mood as well.
I recall reading a piece by Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar, in which he reveals with pride his ownership of the original artwork for Moment’s Peace. Alas, it seems the images have broken in that piece, but it’s an article that inspired me to begin collecting original Magic illustration artwork as well. In future installments of this series, I will go over the Guay pieces I own, and I would encourage anyone with an interest in art collecting to look into it. The magic illustrations I own are among my most cherished pieces of art, and they’re a very fun way to own a piece of Magic that is unique and personal.
The only Guay piece to include the word “squirrel,” Nantuko Shrine regrettably portrays none of the woodland creatures. Indeed, aside from the appropriately tranquil woodland shrine, there is a bit of a disconnect between this card’s effect and its artwork. Squirrels are bashful, however, so I’m willing to assume they’re merely out of sight in this piece, just behind this or that tree. I love when someone unfamiliar with the squirrel period in Magic comes across this card in my Guay binder, and thinks I’m playing a prank.
Torment, released in February 2002, was unique in that it focused on a single color: black. The set tells the story of Chainer, an evil dude who first discovered the block’s powerful artifact, the Mirari.
A beautiful card with a very unorthodox and potentially mind-bending effect, Transcendence has long been a favorite of mine. The levitating fellow here is perhaps the most natural-feeling examples of Guay’s penchant for flowing bits of cloth, as it feels perfectly natural for this guy to have transcended gravity itself, floating lighter than air above the otherwise dismaying scene of pillage unfolding in the background. The rules interactions that can occur when you pair this card with various others (see Phyrexian Tyranny combined with nefarious lich, for example!) are hilarious and tricky. Ultimately, this card is quite enjoyable to a player on many aesthetic levels.
Another card named by Guay as among her personal favorites, Dwell on the Past achieves a level of high fantasy splendor that is breathtaking. While I don’t particularly care for the Wizard of Oz style evil trees in the background, I must admit they lend the piece an important tension. It’s as if this suffering woman’s entire world has become hostile as she trudges through despair and depression.
Every bit of the subject here is masterfully executed. Her forlorn downward gaze and the way her neck is stretched to her shoulder… her hands grasped to her chest in the posture of heartache. Her hair and gown, folding over themselves. Gorgeous. It is really reminiscent of some of the classic works of early 20th century painters Guay admires. Consider Arthur Rackham’s illustration for Undine, or The Ring. Edmund Dulac’s The Mermaid’s Death. John William waterhouse’s Wildflowers, Ophelia, or his famous Hylas and the Nymphs. Even some of Alphonse Mucha’s pieces, like Poetry.
I don’t necessarily feel that any of these specific works are being referenced here, it’s just that I’m struck by the same sort of timeless high fantasy air here. Definitely a powerful, masterful piece.
The falls are an interesting image of a moonlit druid lady communing with some leaping fish. I don’t entirely understand the relationship to creatures in the graveyard, however, which is more an issue of art direction than execution. It’s a fine piece, but one which seldom leaps to the forefront of Guay’s work in my mind.
Released in late May, 2002, Judgement was also a set with uneven numbers of cards among the five colors. Since Torment was heavily black, Judgement got more white and green cards than the others, and fewer black ones.
Commander Eesha is a cool legend, but would make for a very challenging EDH general indeed. Odyssey block was the only block to feature any cards with “protection from creatures” and Eesha is one of only two creatures in the game with this ability (the other being beloved chaplain). Here we see an atypical subject for Guay, with this heroic monstrous humanoid. The Aven were a humanoid bird race from Odyssey which has been seen in various other sets since. Randomly, Guay has been responsible for several of the most iconic of these creatures, which endears them to me in a small way. I like the variations on familiar themes which Commander Eesha gives occasion to. We see lots of angel wings, but these have a more birdlike feel. We see lots of flowing, folding cloth, which is present in the sleeves here, but the Commander wears a taught skirt. The rendering of the hawklike head is achieved well, and I feel the piece has an appropriate air of dignity and honor. The nonchalant wildlife in the background is an interesting representation of the protection ability. Pretty cool, all around.
Wonder is among my favorite pieces in the “psychedelia” category for Guay, but I’m not entirely sure I know why… This creature is an Incarnation, one of a cycle of five (see Anger,Valor,Brawn, and Filth… though, consistent with Judgement’s white/green theme, those colors also got the rare Incarnations, Glory and Genesis). These are already “trippy” concepts for creatures, as they’re magical representations of these powerful emotion words. Perhaps it’s appropriate, then, that I find rational analysis to fail me in explaining what it is I like about Wonder, beyond “that looks cool” or “very colorful.” It’s an emotional response to this bizarre thing.
Wonder, the card, has enjoyed enormous tournament success, being a lynchpin of the preeminent block-constructed and standard decks of its time, and remaining relevant to the present day, where just last week various Survival of the Fittest Legacy decks, as well as one Dredge deck, used the Incarnation to send their forces skyward. A great card with intriguing and iconic artwork.
Seedtime was, situationally, a very powerful card, and one intended to counterbalance the dominant threshold decks of its day (an intention that largely failed, in my estimation). It’s a peculiar card, being an instant, but bearing a clause forbidding you from playing it outside your own turn. In combination with Painters Servant, seedtime can lead to some fun interactions.
I’ve always enjoyed this artwork, which seems to evoke a fairy tale mood in me. It’s got a very “sleeping beauty” feel to it to me. The magic using young woman is being held aloft by a blue flowered vine, presumably animated by her magic. She’s in a gentle posture of repose, and I think “gentle” captures the mood of this piece well. As usual, she is quite fair, with a long white dress and dainty slippers. A classic sort of high fantasy maiden. The Irises in the foreground are a nice touch.
Onslaught was released in October of 2002, and is based on a creature / tribal theme. It was soon after the release of Onslaught that a scandal of sorts broke involving Guay and then art director for Wizards of the Coast, Jeremy Cranford. I won’t rehash the gritty details here, as you can read about it on the Rebecca Guay Wikipedia entry under the “Controversy” heading. Suffice it to say that Guay’s art was considered “too feminine” for magic, or at least for the expansions they had planned for the foreseeable future at that time. Who can deny that this artwork, featuring fair maidens, flowing gowns, flowers, etc. is not feminine? But talk about a PR gaffe! I’ve never been more proud as a fan of her work as when the widespread outrage erupted, and never as proud of the game I love as when her artwork again appeared in expansions. So, this was a dark time for we Guay fans (though it seems lately we have entered another dark age, as it’s been nearly 2.5 years since a Guay piece has appeared in a regular Magic expansion, a point I’m sure to bemoan again at a later time). It’s reasonable to want the various sets to have their own feel, their own thematic art direction, but I think Guay is versatile enough that far fewer sets ought to exclude her style than have been the case, historically.
Enough of that debate for now, let’s move on to the cards from Onslaught.
Unless you are familiar with the cycle that this is a part of, the glowing object floating above the woman here may not be immediately recognizable as a book. Each of these cards features the magical concept of words powerfully transforming into magic (see Words of War,Words of Wind,Words of Waste, and Words of Wilding). The Asian dragon print on the woman’s robes are pretty stunning, and her revealing dress is something you’d see Jennifer Lopez wearing to a red carpet affair, twisting and turning as it does. A striking piece.
This is a cool piece, with the classic long-bearded wizard and the magical orb. I dig his peacock printed robes. I don’t see much of a deep connection between this image and the card’s mechanics, other than there being an orb featured centrally. What is being sacrificed? What is being returned to hand, the magic equivalent of undoing something’s very existence?
Here we see a female wizard locked in a magical staring contest of sorts with a Cephalid, the octopoid race inhabiting the Odyssey and Onslaught blocks. It’s unclear to me whether one is entrancing the other, or whether this is a shared, consensual trance, but the flavor text and effect would seem to suggest that the female is using this spell to keep the cephalid at bay. I love the Matrix-style body suit she’s wearing here.
I remember the executioner being fun in Limited. The art here is interesting in its symbolism and imagery. It seems that this trenchcoated cleric is ushering the soul from the fallen man in the background. A clever take on the executioner’s role. The piece feels unfinished, but perhaps the abstract background points to the odd Morph ability, which had creatures shifting from a hidden generic existence to a specific form with a concurrent release of some kind.
Bloodline Shaman is a return to a more classic kind of Guay card, prominently featuring an elf wizard, as she applies some kind of ritualized henna-like tattoos. The flavor text and ability suit the piece well, as does the name. If you notice, many of the runes and tattoos she’s drawn on her arms resemble horses, deer, etc.
Another classic feeling piece featuring an elf, Enchantress’s Presence has made a splash in many decks of the enchantress archetype. Most “enchantress” effects come from actual female wizards who grant this enchantment = draw a card effect, but this one was peculiar and new in that it was itself an enchantment.
This elf’s dress is very beautifully detailed, and the growing sapling is a cool way to show the nurturing nature of precisely what this card represents: the presence of an enchantress.
The lynchpin to many aggressive “elf ball” type decks, taunting elf is the classic sacrificial decoy. A reprint from Urza’s Destiny, it’s seen play in all manner of elf deck, though moreso in limited and casual settings. This brave soul is taunting a large beast with a bunch of fruit, it appears. The cape flowing behind the elf as he dashes along is surprisingly under control in terms or its exaggeration. This poor guy bites the dust more than most creatures, but that’s his role for certain.
The eighth core set features a single Guay card, appropriate in its imagery given the her controversial hiatus from magic which appeared during this time.
The reprinted Fecundity… I think the image sums up my feelings about this period of magic as it relates to my favorite illustrator quite well.
So, join me next time when we jump into the future a bit to Mrs. Guay’s return to Magic. As always, thanks for reading, and please chime in with questions or comments in the comments section below. Until next time!