Welcome back to my card by card analysis of the Magic card illustrations of Rebecca Guay. This will be the 6th installment, and when we last parted ways we were looking at Onslaught, which was released in October 2002. Guay was to take a hiatus from the game as it… explored it’s more masculine side, shall we say? (see part 5 for more on that). Two years went by, five expansion sets and one core set were released, before another Guay piece appeared in Magic. It’s now October 2004, and Champions of Kamigawa, an expansion block based on Japanese folklore, had just hit the shelves, bringing with it the triumphant return of Our Heroine™.
Champions of Kamigawa
Bizarre and otherworldly, this piece depicts a Kami, or spirit world totem god. In Champions of Kamigawa, the “real world” that we inhabit is overlaid by the Reikei, or spirit world. Each physical thing has a god or spirit representative in this spirit world. So here we have a psychedelic anthropomorphic dandelion vomiting tiny flowers from its gaping yet delicate maw. I’m therefore quite certain that “Hana” must translate roughly to “Timothy Leary“… actually, I’m being told it’s ‘flowers‘.
I’m a huge fan of these jelly-fish flower spirits, and Hana Kami ended up in several of the block’s constructed decks, helping to add recursion to the set’s signature “arcane” spells.
This card depicts how I felt the moment I opened a pack of Champions and saw for the first time, Hana Kami, pictured above. Huzzah! This piece doesn’t really do much for me, however. It does have a Handel’s Messiah “Hallelujah” sort of joyous quality to it (I found this sweet rendition on youtube). The artwork suits the ability of the card as well as its name. Sometimes a card’s illustration hangs together well with its name or ability or flavor text, and it creates a certain synergy. A card whose elements hang together well can lift up a piece of artwork that you’re otherwise lukewarm for, and endear it to you. Likewise, dissonant elements of a Magic card can detract from our experience of an illustration. This reveals the limited nature of my objectivity in such matters.
A Koto is a Japanese musical stringed instrument, but based on the shape of the instrument and the posture in which it’s being played, what we see pictured here is almost certainly a biwa, also a japanese string instrument… are we splitting hairs here? Whatever it is, the one held by this entranced maiden is quite ornate. She seems to be pondering death or doom, her hand bleeds profusely, yet she stares ahead and plays on. A light snow falls, which tends in Japanese literature to correlate with death. The swans taking flight in the background are mystifying to me: whether this is indicative of the lady’s thoughts, or is intended as a printed screen in the background, or whether she’s intended to be seated in a field, having just spooked two swans, is unclear to me.
Whatever dissonance comes from the misnomer in the card’s name is overwhelmed by the nifty synergies of the card’s various elements with its illustration. This haunted instrument from the spirit world, driving people insane just seems super cool to me. In Magic’s wizard duel metaphor, losing cards from one’s library amounts to having one’s thoughts drained away, the cards representing the spells each wizard knows. This illustration represents this in such a spooky way, the entranced (tapped) woman, causing thoughts to take wing and vanish, like the swans from the reeds.
I ended up buying the original artwork for this card, and it hangs in my guest bedroom to this day (sweet dreams!). Hair-Strung Koto was actually the second piece of Guay’s art I bought. The next card was the first, and it was love at first sight.
Unhinged was a weird set, the second of such sets, designed to parody the game itself and the game’s nascent gamer (and dork) sub-culture. At the time, I recall being very excited that there would be some Guay-illustrated cards in the new joke set.
Little Girl is clearly a commentary on the “too feminine” controversy. This is intentionally the girliest, least macho minion imaginable in the metaphorical framework of a magic card. Previous contenders like camel look positively intimidating compared to this jocund little darling.
The image is simple, and perfectly suited to the card. A little girl in ballet shoes, bunny ears and a tutu holds a stuffed doll, framed by puffy green curtains. The flavor text is fabulous. As I said, I fell in love with this card and ended up buying the original artwork, so I can share the little tid-bit that the ball you see in the foreground, superimposed just slightly over the card’s frame, is not in the original. The ball is a missing relic of the Guay universe, or perhaps was just a photoshop file on a hard drive somewhere. Its fate is unknown.
Shortly after buying the piece, and just for the hell of it, I decided to try to corner the market on this common, which was selling for a few pennies when Unhinged was first out. At last count, I own something like 1300 copies of the card, including 37 foils and two artist proofs. At the time of writing, few online stores have the card in stock, and the price is around $0.25 for non-foils. It’s certainly among the geekiest wastes of money I’m likely to achieve in my lifetime. Lo, the excesses of bachelorhood. True story.
Yeah, little girl is a pretty classic, iconic Magic card in my estimation.
I might add that readers are encouraged to send their extra copies of the card to Power9Pro headquarters, where they will be dutifully added to my collection.
Less subtle, but equally beautiful and hilarious is Persecute Artist, which is a direct commentary on the exaggerated feud between Mrs. Guay and then art director Jeremy Cranford. A self aware and humorous reference to her own style is the stereotypical maiden central to this piece, covering many of the Guay devices we’ve come to know so far: the beautiful woman, the uber-flowing robes, defying all fabric-physics, the soft hazy white lighting, the wooded setting. Fan service flavor text is always a big plus for a very large segment of the magic community, yours truly included. The effect here is also a pretty funny example of the “artists matter” sub-theme of Unhinged.
Betrayers of Kamigawa
Ninjas! Betrayers of Kamigawa continues the story line of a battle between the physical world and the Reikei or spirit world. The set was the first (and alas, to date the only) appearance of the ninja creature type in Magic, bringing the set proudly into the pirates vs. ninjas age, having had pirates for some time.
Blessing of Leeches is a delightful, yet creepy illustration. It provides the rare zero-mana cost activated ability, though it’s a pretty pedestrian effect. The image of this leech infestation and the ‘blessing’ it might bestow does flow together with the card’s effect in a medieval medicine sort of way. The card just doesn’t do much strategically, and is in fact a liability for exposing its caster to two-for-one card loss. The setting sun and striking pose, along with the creepiness of the illustration makes me wonder whether it would not be quite iconic on a card with a powerful effect that ended up succeeding wildly in tournament play, but the world will never know in the case of this and many other cards, I suppose.
Another of the garish spirits of the Kamigawa realm, Petalmane Baku is essentially a rosebush lion. The card saw some limited play in its day, but never made much of a constructed splash. I really like the floral nature of Guay’s spirits in these sets. This image is definitely fantastical and magical, good qualities for spirit totem creatures. “Baku” in Japanese can have many meanings, but seems to vaguely refer to the Southeast asian mamal, the Tapir. However, I presume that some liberties may be taken, and that the Baku of Magic aren’t so pig-like… these are spirit-tapir, after all.
Saviors of Kamigawa
The last of the Kamigawa sets, Saviors of Kamigawa, had several cool Guay pieces.
The big-ear-lobed moonfolk are the main tribal constituent for blue in the Kamigawa block. Oboro Breezecaller shares the “return a land” cost for her activated ability, a cost which has many interesting applications and side benefits in older and weirder formats. A moonfolk wizard looks just as good in Guay’s asian styled flowing robes as an elf does in her more classical western garb. Shrouded in billowing clouds is a good setting for this flying wizard.
Fiddlehead Kami is an intriguing green spirit. The swirling lines could be vines, threads, wisps of smoke, tangled hair or string… it’s left vague and amorphous. The being appears as an only roughly anthropomorphic mass. While this is a fairly simple and rough hewn piece, it still achieves a good mysterious spirit world quality.
Haru Ona is hands down my pick for best of set here, and is one of Guay’s personal favorites as well. In Japanese, “Onna” simple means woman or lady, while “Haru” means spring. In Japanese folklore, there is a “Lady of Winter” or “Lady of Snow” named Yuki-Onna (‘Yuki’ means snow), who is a ghost of sorts that appears in snow storms and much like some European creatures like dryads, will sometimes trick unwary folks into thinking she’s a maiden who needs help, only to then deceive and kill them, usually in some frosty manner. (If you want to see her in action on the big screen, try Kwaidan, based on the writings of Lafcadio Hearn) A Magic card by the name Yuki-Onna appeared in this set as well, part of a cycle of five Ladies:
With Haru-Onna, the spirit Lady of Spring dances and twirls, gowns flowing, arms stretched upward. It’s a beautiful piece, very evocative of springtime frivolity and rebirth. Also, it’s a very green image, lending to the nature spirit vibe. The interweaving of this cycle into Japanese folklore is superb as well. Definitely a nifty little piece of Guay lore here.
And the Core Sets keep on coming! One quick reprint here and then, alas, another brief sojourn from the game for Mrs. Guay.
Serra’s Blessing is a classic piece we first saw in Weatherlight, then again in 6th edition, so I won’t dwell on the gorgeous depth, the magestic stag, or the star-annointed maiden. It’s still as excellent as it was way back when.
So after 9th edition, Guay’s work was again absent for a good 3/4 of a year. Ravnica: City of Guilds, and its first expansion, Guildpact, were both released sans Guay illustration, a sad fate for any Magic expansion. Then Dissension was released in May of 2006, and we were graced with three excellent pieces, indeed.
Freewind Equanaut is a flying version of a 2/2 creature for 3 mana, or what’s commonly known as “a gray ogre” in magic shorthand. The creature was a staple of various Ravnica limited archetypes, being slightly above the curve for her mana cost. This flying gray ogre harkens back to the earliest Guay we saw, with the classical high fantasy feel. To me, this piece shows what a tragic missed opportunity it was not to include Guay’s work throughout the Ravnica block. This is quintessential Ravnica-style imagery, with a pegasus mounted archer floating above the global cityscape of Ravnica. In the act of taking aim, the gorgeous, fit, and scantily clad archer seems to be diving her mount, her hair and the pegasus’ mane both fly up with the wind, with her rich red skirt flowing behind.
Silkwing Scout is the third faerie we’ve seen from Guay (after Sea Sprite and Thornwind Faeries), and it’s a pretty one. The insectoid eyes mark this dissension fae, and her posture makes for an interesting life study type piece. Essentially a nude, this faerie’s super-hero spandex-like garb is mostly for the censors. The beautiful figure is contrasted with the insectoid winds, eyes, and tentacle-like hair, a mass of antennae, perhaps? Definitely a cool rendition of this classic mythological creature, and her boldest rendering to date. It’s exciting to see these older fae, as soon we’ll see that several of Guay’s most iconic and well known pieces end up being faeries in subsequent sets.
Pride of the Clouds was a piece of some “UW Skies” archetype decks in its day, and remains a great addition to bird themed decks the world over. A magestic sort of lion-king cloud vision moment presents us with a billowy cloud-like pride of lions, emitting birds by the flock. Able to grow to mammoth proportions with the right supporting cast, this is an intimidating, as well as quirky and unigue, creature. In later years, the Elemental tribe would rise in popularity and number, and this is an interesting “oldie but goodie” for fans of that tribe as well.
This installment saw plenty of oddity and experimentation, a little scandal, some sad fans exhilarated by a triumphant return, and a very cool detour into some Japanese flavored pieces. Please join me next time when I explore her works for the Time Spiral expansion. Until then, send me your little girl cards!