Tag Archives: magic the gathering

Duel Decks: Knights vs. Dragons Decklist Announced

symbolToday Wizards announced the decklists for Duel Decks: Knights vs. Dragons. The expansion symbol is pictured to the left. (I’m seeing a dragon… but a knight? Hmm.)

Notably, knight of the reliquary, with its ~$10 pricetag should cover the knights’ half of the $19.99 MSRP all by its self. Plus, she has some sick new art, which Monty Ashley showed us back in February:

New Reliquary Art

You’ll also get a loxodon warhammer, along with a number of other decent rare knights:

On the dragon side, the previously hard-to-find Thunder Dragon arguably pays its team’s half of the price tag as it tends to run around $10 as well, and you’ll get a slew of junk rare Dragons to boot:

Here’s the alternate artwork on the dragon side, for Bogardan Hellkite:

hellkite

The decks will likely be fun to play against each other, and I’m pretty sure the fanboys will grab this product for the new artwork. The price seems to be just about right, making this duel deck a deal deck to boot. Expect to see the old knights reliquary popping up in a trade binder near you!

Mirrodin Beseiged Prerelease Albuquerque Tournament Report

War!  Mirrodin is under attack and this past weekend was the first chance players had to finally pick a side in the war.  The Mirrodin Beseiged Prerelease was very different from any event Wizards has ever organized before.  Players were asked to pick a side in the Mirran v. Phyrexian war, and that side would determine what packs the players would have access to.

ThrunIwantyou

Chatting with other players around the hall it quickly seemed that the sides were evenly matched.  People went with Mirran because of better spot removal, better mythic rares, deeper card pool from Scars, and the more expensive prerelease foil.  People joined Phyrexia because of better sweepers and of course infect.  “It seems good when your opponent starts at 10 life,” one player told me, making the argument for infect.  The consensus was that If you picked Phyrexian you would be playing infect.  I decided to go Phyrexian because I want the third set in the block to be a dark evil place, entirely a flavor choice.  I loved the Phyrexian threat from the entire Weatherlight Saga and I was glad to see their return to Mirrodin.

For the sealed pool each player got three packs of Scars of Mirrodin and three faction packs based on their choice of allegiance.  No matter what faction a card belonged to you could play it if it was in your pool.  Here was my pool:

Artifacts

Colored

The first thing I looked at was how many creatures with infect I had; nine. Nine? Really?  I was sure that if I went Phyrexian I would end up with a solid amount of infect creatures.  Too bad.  Trying to keep my dream alive I looked at all of the the other cards that added poison or proliferated; seven more.  I realized that if I stuck with the infect game plan that I would force myself to play cards that were not good.  I usually do not try to force an archetype.  I decided to go back to square one and evaluate the cards the way I always do.

Bombs.  I was lucky to crack two bombs that can end the game on their own.  Carnifex Demon can wipe away the opposing board with ease.  This monster is also awkward for other infect decks to play against since any block he makes will reload him for more devastation.  Myr Battlesphere is a giant threat that will win you the game without too much effort.

Removal.  I was lucky here with plenty of good choices for spot removal and a Wrath-like effect in Creeping Corrosion (Foil).

Monsters.  I had a mixed bag of infect and non-infect guys that were all over the mana curve.  Flyers in white, but not much else.  Four mana myr would go nice with my Battlesphere.

Goodies.  Darksteel Axe was going in no matter what.  Livewire Lash too.  Other than that I was pretty flexible.

Colors.  Carnifex Demon ensured I would play Black.  I also had three Black removal spells.  Virulent wound is great at killing mana myr and opponents little infect guys.  I liked the game swing that Creeping Corrosion offers so I decided to go Green.  White was cut after that since the most important cards required WW and even though I had mana myr I did not want to loose out on black mana.  Blue was not deep enough, only Corrupted Conscience had game changing potential and I wanted to be as aggressive as possible with my curve.  I only had four Red cards  total and two Red mana myr, but those cards were all removal (one on a stick) so I decided to splash Red.  Deciding on Jund, here is what my deck looked like.

It seems like this build is not focused enough on one game plan but I just had to change my mindset.  My goal was not to poison out my opponent but rather to use my infect creatures as a from of removal.  I wanted to force my opponents into bad blocking situations to eliminate the threats from their guys and then break through with one of my bombs or equip a smaller guy to go to work.  I tried to maximize the value of each one of my cards with symmetry.

Virulent Wound can reload Carnifex Demon, can kill an Emissary to tutor up a missing land, and is removal.  Bloodshot Trainee, once equipped with the Axe or the Lash can deal with almost any threat.  Lash on any one of my infect creatures is extra awesome with Untamed Might.  Viridian Emissary was awesome for me since people would take the damage early thinking I was infect.

Took this build to a 4-0 finish at the tournament.  I won with poison counters twice and with good ol’ damage the rest of the time.  I only lost one game with it all morning.  The lesson here is to not be distracted by forcing an archetype.  Going into the tournament it was a given that if you were picking Phrexian you were picking infect.  In sealed format, it is more important to evaluate which cards have the most value through symmetry.  In draft it tends to be easier to force a specific build since you have control over what cards you will take.  I hope you all had fun at your prerelease tournaments over the weekend.  If you have any cool stories just leave a comment below.

Teneb, the Harvester EDH: Mtg Commander

The rush of the holidays are behind us.  Between bouts of shopping and decorating I got a chance to visit some family and friends.  While on my pilgrimage to Texas I caught up with my best friend, Jim.  After some preliminary catching up we decided to play some Commander.  I was fresh off of building my Kangee, Aerie Keeper deck (here) and wanted to deliver some flying beatdown.  Jim had recently put together a Teneb, the Harvester list that wanted to steal games with a big Genesis Wave.  Jim’s build was pretty awesome and I had a blast watching some cool interactions.  When it was time to go I asked Jim to e-mail me the list so I could sleeve it up and play it myself.  I have seen Genesis Wave in action in Commander many times since it came out and it can be backbreaking (just ask Power 9 Pro’s Joe about his Azusa, Lost but Seeking deck).

Since the deck wants to abuse Genesis Wave it needs to have a high concentration of permanents.  Jim runs a huge number of creatures backed up with a few artifacts, enchantments and Planeswalkers.  The list only has five non-permanents in it.

Seems a little sparse but it will work for now. I am sure Jim does not own Vampiric Tutor or it would be in there.

As for artifacts and enchantments, the selection is a bit bigger

I have always been a fan of Wild Pair in EDH.  Lurking Predators can be especially awesome in multi-player.  I thin Jim needs to be running Senseis Divining Top to take advantage of the Predators.

If you have ever been sitting opposite Sorin Markov in Commander you know that the game is pretty much over as soon as he hits the table. Liliana’s -2 ability helps look for Genesis Wave or can set up a Lurking Predator hit.

The land is pretty standard. I feel that almost every Commander deck should be running Crucible of Worlds if just for a way not to be totally blown out by Armageddon effects.

The creature package is where this deck really shines.  It is full of amazing dudes with amazing powers.  There are a lot of “enters the battlefield” effects that combo nicely with Genesis Wave.

Acidic Slime is great in EDH since there will be plenty of nice targets.  Drana is a machine-gun, destroying low toughness Generals with ease every turn and at instant speed.  Iona… well that is obvious.  Drop a Gleancrawler after you attacked with Novablast Wurm to lessen the sting.  For those of you who have not had the chance to see how much devastation Terastodon can cause, you need to trust me.  World Queller is a vastly underrated card and fits nicely with all of the recursion effects in the deck.  Thicket Elemental can be absolutely broken.

This is a great start for an awesome deck that plays with top tier creatures that can be easily cheated into play. With a few minor tweaks I am sure that this deck can be very competitive. Give me some Feedback and let me know what you think should go in or come out and I will keep the list updated.  I want to revisit this General in the future so keep the comments comming.

The Magic Artwork of Rebecca Guay – Part 6

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
Hana Kami
Hana Kami

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.

Joyous Respite
Joyous Respite

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.

Hair-Strung Koto
Hair-strung Koto

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
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
Little Girl

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.

Persecute Artist
Persecute Artist

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
Blessing of Leeches

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.

Petalmane Baku
Petalmane Baku

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.

Oboro Breezecaller
Oboro Breezecaller

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
Fiddlehead Kami

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-Onna
Haru-Onna

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:

Nikko-Onna – Lady of Sun (white) 日光
Kiri-Onna – Lady of Fog (blue) 霧
Kemuri-Onna – Lady of Smoke (black) 煙
Yuki-Onna – Lady of Snow (red) 雪
Haru-Onna – Lady of Spring (green) 春

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.

Ninth Edition
And the Core Sets keep on coming! One quick reprint here and then, alas, another brief sojourn from the game for Mrs. Guay.

Serras Blessing
Serra's Blessing

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.

Dissension
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
Freewind Equanaut

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
Silkwing Scout

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
Pride of the Clouds

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! :-)

Mirrodin Besieged Promo Cards Announced

Wizards’ arcana segment announced the new Mirrodin Besieged release event promo cards today. We get a sneak peak at three cards many of us are sure to get a few copies of, due to these events. Let’s have a look!

First up is Hero of the Bladehold, the mythic rare Mirrodin faction pre-release promo:
Hero of the Bladehold

This 4-drop 3/4 is like a mini-titan, spewing tokens any time she attacks. She seems like a good source of virtual card advantage and board position. Pretty sweet. That Battle Cry mechanic looks like fun as well. Is she riding a chrome steed?

Next, we have Glissa the Traitor, the mythic rare Phyrexian faction pre-release promo:
Glissa the Traitor

ZOMBIE ELF?! Looks like old Glissa Sunseeker has been hanging around the graveyard too much. This potential EDH general looks pretty interesting. The recurring-artifacts ability is kind of interesting, as are her relevant combat abilities and sizable power and toughness for her cost. Very cool.

And finally, Thopter Assembly, the rare launch party promo :

Thopter Assembly

Wow. 6 mana for 5 power / toughness of thopters, plus the assembly itself the following turn. It seems good, but when you consider that the tokens will all have summoning sickness on that second turn, you realize that this card is a bit like a slow motion, telegraphed boxing punch. It takes a full two turns and 12 mana before you finally have 10 power and toughness across 6 flying bodies. Pretty crappy, in the end, without some kind of shenanigans to abuse it.

So there you have it. Some fun new spoiled cards to add to the pile.

Kangee, Aerie Keeper EDH with Scars of Mirrodin

I cracked open my box of Scars of Mirrodin and was really excited about all of the cool new cards that will make EDH more fun. Ezuri Renegade Leader, Geth Lord of the Vault, Kemba Kha Regent, and Skithiryx the Blight Dragon were the new generals waiting to command an army and I was ready to oblige. I use black a lot in EDH and wanted to stay away from it so I decided to build off of our equipment loving cat and put together a Mono-White Kemba deck. Armed with swords and jittes and armor, Kemba was rather unimpressive. I did not put much effort into the build and ended up with a deck that wasn’t as fun as I wanted. I decided to put EDH on the back burner and played in a coupled of FNM draft events, built a budget standard deck, and played some Call of Duty. I was thinking about how good Contagion Clasp was in limited and it hit me; why not an EDH deck that makes use of Proliferate? Now that seemed more fun than gearing up death kitty.

Proliferate reads:  “You choose any number of permanents and/or players with counters on them, then give each another counter of a kind already there.”  I checked my Big Ol’ Binder of Legends and looked at my options.  The first thing that jumped at me was Experiment Kraj.  This ooze mutant just screamed potential.  The other Legend that seemed awesome to me was Kangee, Aerie Keeper.  I decided to go the route of Big Bird beats.  The basic game plan is play Kangee with kicker and use proliferate to make my flying army huge.

My first goal was to pick up all the goodies with Proliferate that would turn Kangee into BALCO for birds.  There are only six cards with Proliferate currently and I ended up using five of them:

This was a good place to start.  I decided against Throne of Geth since I felt that most of my artifacts would play an important role but I could definitely find room for it.  Double bonus!  Thrummingbird is a…. yeah a bird.  Next up was finding the rest of the flock.

This seemed like a good core for the deck.  I figured these birdies would be enough to give Alfred Hitchcock nightmares.  A few other creatures that play nice with our bird theme will also make the cut; Jotun Owl Keeper, Pride of the Clouds, and Soraya the Falconer.  The Owl Keeper works well with Proliferate.  I also wanted to point out that due to Oracle errata, cards like Soraya end up doing things a bit different that originally printed.  “Falcon” is no longer a recognized creature type so Soraya instead gives her bonus to Birds.  Another interesting change is that Kangee is now a Bird Legend so his feather counters pump him up too.  The only other creature in the deck is Weathered Wayfarer who helps us find our ever so important land.

I next wanted to include cards that work well with my tribal theme.

All of these goodies turn my Birds into beat-down machines.  Mimic Vat and True Conviction are not tribal, but I wanted to use new cards from Scars so in they go!  I needed more ways to take advantage of Proliferate so I added Coalition Relic, Energy Chamber, Everflowing Chalice, Lux Cannon, and Sigil of Distinction.  All that was left to add was tutoring and removal.

Removal:

Tutors:

I still had some space so I decided to bring in some card drawing and some defence.  Compulsive Research, Leyline of Sanctity, Lightning Greaves, and Skullclamp.

Land Time!

This list does a good job showcasing the new mechanic, Proliferate.  I am very happy with many of the interactions.  I am always looking for feedback so leave any comments, suggestions or criticisms below.

The Magic Artwork of Rebecca Guay – Part 4

Hello, and welcome to part 4 of this series covering the Magic card illustrations of Rebecca Guay. Today’s post begins with the Invasion block of late 2000. If you’re just joining us, here are links to parts one, two, and three of this series.

Invasion

Released in September 2000, this set involves the planeswalker Urza helping the crew of the skyship Weatherlight to repel the Phyrexian invasion of Dominaria. This is the climax of the longest story arc in Magic, and luckily for us, Guay has some integral pieces in that aesthetic vision. Let’s do this.

Atalya Samite Master
Atalya, Samite Master

Atalya is pictured in a dreamlike world, blending and swirling behind her, as she caresses a ball of light energy. She’s got flowing locks of hair, flowing robes, and stylish jewelry, all of which flow well with the dreamlike, soft energy of this piece. There is movement and energy, but in gentle curves and waves. An example of “gratuitous babe art,” but tastefully so. Atalya is a challenging EDH general for Guay enthusiasts to consider. A peacemaker role for multiplayer games, perhaps?

Protective Sphere
Protective Sphere

Protective Sphere has a comicbook feel to me, as the mage (presumably the Weatherlight’s healer Orim) envelops herself and her companion (Hana, the ship’s navigator) in a magical sanctuary. The coloring is wonderful, and the effect of the concentric lines does make us feel like we’re in the bubble. The two foxy heroines, one calm under duress, the other beautiful even in her incapacitated state, may be a lot of it, but this piece is attractive to me. I like the tattooed arm, and the fingerless gloves too! The fallen Hana’s garb has always seemed almost motorcross or storm trooper, with form fitting armor that’s still elegant; I love Guay’s rendition. A dramatic and enjoyable scene.

Mana Maze
Mana Maze

I like the dress this woman is wearing, but this piece has always confused me slightly. I’m not sure what the prismatic stalactites mean. Also, does she look a bit crosseyed to anyone else? Perhaps she was blinded by the light. I just feel like this is a work in progress, almost. The woman and her dress are fine, but the setting is just elusive to me. Maybe that’s the point.

Travelers Cloak
Traveler's Cloak

Wow, Traveler’s Cloak. A personal favorite, fully embracing the super-naturally wavy cloak theme, here we have just a wonderful cascade of cloth, bouncing and floating through the air, light and effeminate, draping a stunning woman, herself sillouetted against the moon. The trees seem to bend and sway from the energy, or perhaps this is all viewed through a distorting lens. The effect is almost snow-globe like, I feel this wavy moment is like a good long float in some water.

Vodalian Hypnotist
Vodalian Hypnotist

This is a big, beautiful merfolk wizard with colors like a lion fish:

lion fish

I love the way the water ripples away from her hand as she works her magic. Guay’s merfolk (and underwater scenes in general) are superb, and we’ll see many other examples yet to come.

Pulse of Llanowar
Pulse of Llanowar

This piece has a fantastic hippy drum circle vibe going on. Elven maidens drumming out in what seems to be a manicured piece of forest behind them. The maid on the left is clearly into the beat, lost in the ancient rhythm, and along with the rightmost elf, appears almost trancelike. The middle elf seems to have detected our prying eyes, and gazes disapprovingly at us, but doesn’t appear to have missed a beat. It’s a fun and dynamic, energetic scene with lots of details to lure your eyes around the piece.

Quirion Trailblazer
Quirion Trailblazer

More exaggerated flowing cloth trails behind this elf scout. Her attire is impeccable. The dreamy abstraction of her starry surrounding, along with her hand gesture, brings our focus to her serious, almost worried face. “All that matters is the path ahead.” Indeed, I feel curious about what mystery lies beyond the frame here… what has captured her attention?

Seers Vision
Seer's Vision

This card depicts Urza, later in life after his various eye traumas (seriously, the “you’ll shoot your eye out” kid from A Christmas Story has nothing on Urza’s ocular vexations). I like the way the swirling background feels in this one… it’s a good effect for a blind seer’s vision. Urza has his right hand up in a meditative sort of pose, like an antennae reaching out, attuned to the energy around him. His left hand rests delicately against the neck of his ornate staff. His long robe and scarf billow in the soft wind. A very interesting and appropriate image for a card with this effect.

2003 FNM Promo

Priest of Titania
Priest of Titania

We saw priest of titania back in Urza’s Saga. This foil version is definitely the sought after version, as Saga had no foils itself. In this, the day of mythic rares and foils, the older sets harken back to a simpler time of Magic’s innocence, as does the ridiculous power level of this and many other cards from Saga. We’ll see some other promotional foils in our journey through Guay’s work, but this is the first, and it’s a great choice at this point in the history of her cards. I still contend that this is the most powerful elf ever printed.

Planeshift

Released in February 2001, Planeshift is the second set in the Invasion block.

Keldon Mantle
Keldon Mantle

I struggle to place this image within the storyline of Invasion, but regardless it’s a neat, flavorful image. This is one of those mystic feeling pieces, with the subject floating among fiery clouds. The colorful armor is a neat blend of masculine samurai pragmatism and feminine stylistic sensibility.

Planeswalkers Favor
Planeswalker's Favor

This one is a good use of psychedelia to express the execution of sorcery. The expressive, stylized birds and the planeswalker Freyalise’s karate-esque pose… it’s one of the cards that really solidified my appreciation for Guay, and one I’ve recreated in sketches.

Seventh Edition

Released in April 2001, 7th ed. was the first and, regrettably only core set to be released since Alpha with all new card art for every card. I wish this were true of every core set. The anti-capitalist in me figures “money talks” and that WotC simply won’t foot the bill for artist commissions that they don’t “need.” Bah humbug. But, in 2001, it seems a different ideology prevailed, and seventh edition is the fruit born thereof.

Ancestral Memories
Ancestral Memories

Awesome Alice in Wonderland flavor text, and a great high fantasy scene. Three merfolk gaze out at a scene that’s like a mystic vision into the past before them. This card has the name that was, at one time back in the earliest days of Magic when Alpha was being developed, to have been the name of one of Magic’s most iconic, powerful, and sought after cards, one of the power nine (for which this blog and company were named); Ancestral Recall. This card was originally printed in Mirage, illustrated by William Donohoe, and again in Portal by Dan Frazier. No surprise, Guay’s is my fave.

Coral Merfolk
Coral Merfolk

Coral merfolk isn’t too impressive as far as creatures go, but I really dig this artwork, especially the warrior’s mardi gras mask/helm. When you’re illustrating a 2/1 merfolk, it is what it is… just the dork, sort of there… composed dead center, but tightly framed, this has a confrontational feel. Sort of a “who goes there?!”… or rather “ … who goes there?!

Twiddle
Twiddle

Originally from Alpha, Twiddle is a weird sort of effect that seldom increases the cost by a single mana when it’s stapled in re-usable form on a creature. In other words, it’s pretty weak (when it’s not un-tapping time vault, that is). Rob Alexander’s version is almost Salvador-Dali-esque, below:

twiddle

I sure dig that one, too. Guay’s depicts a female wizard blasting Tsabo Tavoc (a make-believe BS sort of spider phyrexian thing…). It’s an action snapshot that works fairly well. As usual, the female wizard is decked out in regalia that are absolutely fabulous.

Dark Banishing
Dark Banishing

This forlorn merfolk is a perfect match for the Romeo and Juliet quote in the flavor text. Dark Banishing was revolutionary in its day back in Ice Age for being able to nail artifact creatures, unlike the similar card terror. We’ve got the waves we’ve seen before, though in a dark, somber black tone. This is also a fairly rare piece for Guay (and for Magic) for being essentially a nude. The pain in the merfolk maiden’s face is palpable.

Thoughtleech
Thoughtleech

This is an odd one… I almost feel like this could be the view from whatever the merfolk in ancestral memories were looking at, above. I’m confused by this card being green, and I’m not sure I understand the smoke / steam. I think it’s another case of art / mechanic dissonance.

Apocalypse

Released in June 2001, Apocalypse was the last set in the Invasion block.

Shimmering Mirage
Shimmering Mirage

Shimmering Mirage is a beautiful card that hangs together very well… it’s also pretty archetypal of Guay’s landscape imagery. Here we have the waves and mist, reminiscent of Edmund Dulac, as we’ve seen in previous installments of this series, along with a great rendition of this illusory land-type distortion. The verdant forest hovers in mist above the crashing waves, conveying this card’s effect well and jiving with the name. Very cool.

Gaeas Balance
Gaea's Balance

A precursor of sorts to modern cards like scapeshift, Gaea’s Balance shows a dancing female in the midst of some ecstatic magical performance. She bears some resemblance to Freyalise, pictured in planeswalker’s favor, above. I love the halo effect. Here and eslewhere, I feel there’s a subtle reference to the work of Alphonse Mucha, who loves these circular patterns and halos. Here’s a couple examples from Mucha:

(‘The Moon’)
The Moon

(The well known ‘Princess Hyacinta’)
princess hyacinta

Remember Travelers Cloak from the beginning of this piece? The same holds true there, and in fact, the figure in that piece has a very Mucha-Princess look to her. At any rate, The exaggerated flowing cloth and the delicate posture of the figure… her beauty and grace… these elements help make this card instantly recognizable as a Guay piece.

Squees Embrace
Squee's Embrace

Captain Sisay, portrayed here in a darker skin tone than usual, is on the deck of the Skyship Weatherlight, embraced by Squee, the ship’s comic relief Goblin cabin boy. It’s a touching piece, though its composition, centered and “zoomed out” as it is, leaves it a bit static. The eye stays put in the center of this card, which isn’t necessarily bad, as it focuses us on the embrace itself. It’s a cute one, endearing us to Squee, and showing Sisay’s patient acceptance of her odd companion.

As a side note, this card is particularly fierce in the all-Guay deck (which again, must be white and red with a potential black and green splash due to the regrettable dearth of Guay-illustrated basic lands in magic. WotC, throw us a bone! What’s three basic lands among committed fans, eh?) in combination with Auramancer. But I digress… we’ll talk more about the Guay-only deck when we get to auramancer in part 5.

With that, I will bid you adieu until we meet again. I apologize to my anxious readers for the unfortunate delays with this series. I’m cranking them out as quickly as I can while still giving due diligence to the artist. I have footage from a Skype interview to get to as well, and will do so as soon as I can. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next time!

Scars of Mirrodin – Impact on Standard (Type 2)

Scars of Mirrodin.  Looming large over the horizon, Wizards’ newest expansion is set to hit the stores on October 1st.  With the release of Scars of Mirrodin new strategies will emerge and once powerful decks will disappear to the realm of Extended.  With all of the available spoilers it is time to speculate on what changes will occur to the Standard (type 2) meta-game.  This shift will be important with the 2010′s State and Provincial Championships on October 9th.  We will see if we can figure out which cards will make the biggest impact in the post Shards of Alara/M10 tournament world.  It is a time of new beginnings and a time to revisit places in our past.  Thinking about our past, I would like to take one moment to say goodbye to all of our Shards of Alara friends:

So long, Jund!

Time to hang up our Putrid Leechs and Sprouting Thrinaxs.  No deck was more dominant in the Shards meta-game than this B/G/R build.  High powered threats and spectacular removal made Jund the most feared and prepared against deck since the Faeries of Lorwyn.  The biggest loss?

Bloodbraid Elf

Forget Maelstrom Pulse and Broodmate Dragon, this Elf provided amazing card advantage to steal games all by herself. Without Bloodbraid, Jund would not have been remotely viable. This Elf Berserker found a home in every deck that could support her colors. Easily the best uncommon in the set. Now for a few more farewells:

It’s been fun, but now we need to move on. See you in Extended!

Out of the dozens of cards that have been spoiled already, I have picked up on a few that seem like they will make an impact on the Standard Meta currently dominated by U/W Control, FauNaya, Valakut-Ramp and Mythic Conscription.

U/W Control
Come rotation on October first U/W Control will loose a few pieces, most notably Elspeth Knight-Errant. It will be interesting to see if Elspeth Tirel will be able to replace her old incarnation. The new Planeswalker costs one more and cannot generate counters and token together. I think that the five mana casting cost will not prevent the switch initially but might come to really matter since the meta game is so fast right now. On the flip side, Elspeth’s new ultimate is very powerful. The next option in Planeswalkers is the powerful Venser the Sojourner. Also comining at a casting cost of five, the U/W walker has some interesting abilities. Being able to exile your Baneslayer Angel and following that up with Day of Judgment is a strong play in control. The other loss is the token generating Martial Coup. This loss should not impact the archetype to significantly since most build will only include it as a one-of. Path to Exile is another big loss to U/W, the role will need to be filled by the more situational Condemn.

FauNaya
This archetype is on the way out in my opinion. Scars of Mirrodin does not offer anything to this deck that is on par with Knight of the Reliquary or Noble Hierarch. The deck also looses Oblivion Ring, Qasali Pridemage, Realm Razer and the superstar Bloodbraid Elf. I am sure that the Vengevine/ Fauna Shaman engine will still be around but I think the deck will look vastly different.

Valakut-Ramp (Titan-Ramp)
The plan is simple; ramp into Primeval Titan and use him to set up a kill with Valakut the Molten Pinnacle. This is the big dog in the yard, Valakut-Ramp only looses Rampant Growth in the rotation. However, nothing in the new Standard will fits the curve of this card. Cultivate might work. I like Strata Scythe as an alternate win condition if you need to play around Spreading Seas. I also think that Genesis Wave fits nicely in the deck. Valakut-Ramp will be the archetype to beat early in the season until new strategies are discovered.

Mythic Conscription (Eldrazi Conscription, Mythic)
The biggest loss for this deck is Sovereigns of Lost Alara. The Exalted Spirit let you search up your Eldrazi Conscription in order to put the game away. Without the ability to tutor for the key enchantment, Mythic should no longer be a threat in Standard.

What’s Next?
Scars of Mirrodin offers us a vast selection of powerful spells that are sure to have an immediate impact on the new Standard. Take a look at some of the things you should be hoping to pick up at your Pre-release event this weekend:

Scars of Mirrodin will offer us plenty of new options and old favorites will soon go by the wayside. I am really looking forward to playing Phylactery Lich with Darksteel Axe. I recommend going to a Pre-release this weekend since there will not be much time to prepare for States coming up in October. The 2010′s State and Provincial Championships will be the first big events to play with the new Standard. Study your spoilers and see what you can do to deal with U/W control and Valakut-Ramp. Goodbye Bloodbraid Elf, and thanks for all the fish.

The Magic Artwork of Rebecca Guay – Part 3

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.

Mercadian Masques

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
Crackdown

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.

Reverent Mantra
Reverent Mantra

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.

Diplomatic Escort
Diplomatic Escort

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.

Dark Ritual
Dark Ritual

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:
dark ritual

Ken Meyers, Tempest:
dark ritual tempest

Clint Langley, 5th Edition:
5th dark ritual

My previous favorite, the hilarious Justin Hampton version from Ice Age:
ice age dark ritual
(more awesome D&D notes artwork, that…)

And of course, the original Alpha version by Sandra Everingham:
Alpha dark ritual

Coming full circle, let’s see Guay’s once more.
Dark Ritual
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.

Strongarm Thug
Strongarm Thug

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.

Hammer Mage
Hammer Mage

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?

Tectonic Break
Tectonic Break

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?:

Dulac Ship

Volcanic Wind
Volcanic Wind

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
Briar Patch

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.

Sacred Prey
Sacred Prey

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.

Vernal Equinox
Vernal Equinox

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.

Saprazzan Cove
Saprazzan Cove

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:

Angelic Page
Angelic Page

This remains one of the all time cutest angels in Magic. Aw, shucks.

Elvish Lyrist
Elvish Lyrist

The posture still seems ever so slightly off to me.

Nemesis
Released in February 2000, Nemesis continues the story with the Phyrexian invasion of Dominaria on the verge of beginning.

Animate Land
Animate Land

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.

Fog Patch
Fog Patch

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.

Prophecy
Aura Fracture
Aura Fracture

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.

Calming Verse
Calming Verse

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.

Elspeth vs. Tezzeret Decklists & FTV:Relics Art Preview for Sol Ring

The mothership had two fun tid-bits today. In arcana, they announced the decklists of the new Elspeth v. Tezzeret decks. For this artwork fan, the highlight of this announcement was the fantastic new version of tournament staple Swords to Plowshares done by Terese Nielsen:

Nielsen Swords to Plowshares

Among the other 5 new artworks announced was a new Mishras Factory:

Factory

Not my favorite, really, but the coolness factor of the card counts for something. Alas, I find both the new planeswalkers’ artwork to be lacking and sub-par:

Elspeth

Tezzeret

Yeah… I’m not a fan of either one… they seem quite amateurish.

Lastly, in Mike Flores’ article, “Great Looks at Great Decks” we see a neat new image with a link to the old announcement of the From the Vault: Relics release (releases tomorrow at the time of this writing!) that is presumably the new artwork for Sol Ring:

Sol Ring FTV Relics

Interesting artistic developments. I can’t wait to get my hands on some of those swords!

EDH General: Vhati il-Dal / EDH Decklist

Work has held me hostage the past few months but I could no longer resist the pull of Magic.  I needed to find something that would get my non-work self pumped again.  I decided to dig through my Legendary binder (I collected Legends before I ever heard of EDH, yay for me) to see what would jump out at me.  I was almost to the end of the binder when I saw my old pal, Vhati il-Dal.  Vhati is a political General that can really shine in multi-player.

I was excited to run green/black and started pulling out cards that interested me.  I dug deep into my card collection trying to come up with combos and never seen before interactions.  What I ended up with was a giant stack of cards and only 99 (!) open slots.  *sigh* 

stack-baloon It seemed like an impossible task; how do I choose between Strip Mine and Wasteland?  How can I fit all of the most broken cards ever printed in Black/Green in to one little 100 card deck?  I can debate card choices with myself all day long.  I feel it is much easier just to stuff the cards in and replace what doesn’t work later (for EDH). 

Since I had access to green I felt that 36 land slots would be perfect due to land search effects.

Lands (36)

The next step was thinning down the creatures I had marked for the deck.  With so many options in both black and green, not to mention multi-colored, the choices were tough.  After some quick assessing, I ended up with this:

Creatures (27)

Some strange choices and some no-brainers.   For me, part of the fun with EDH is using cards that rarely see play.  My favorite choice here is Cuombajj Witches, not only for the “what?” factor, but also because of the synergy with Vhati.  Krovikan Horror serves the same purpose, reusable creature kill.  I like the devour creatures in the deck, since I have put many recursion effects in; Mycoloth is way too good combined with Skullclamp.  Gleancrawler, Solemn Simulacrum and Woodfall Primus all combo nicely with devour as well.  Maybe I should up the count of devour creatures, Marrow Chomper perhaps?  Maybe not.  The critters that don’t seem to fit too well are Heartwood Storyteller, Birds of Paradise and Ohran Viper.

It was time for some back up.  Green/black has a great selection of enchantments for EDH.  I feel that every deck running green should run Sylvan Library.  Being able to stack your draws is really important in a Highlander format.

Enchantments/Planeswalkers (10)

Wild Pair is one of my all time favorite enchantments.  Some thought needs to go into your deck construction to thoroughly abuse its power.  Let’s check the synergy with Wild Pair so far; seven creatures have a combined power/toughness of four, four have a combined eight, and three have a combined twelve.  I like the idea of playing Monger and bringing Primus along for the ride. 

Now I needed the utility spells; removal, tutors, card drawing, etc.

Card Drawing/Tutors (11)

EDH is all about tutor effects.  The easier it is to find your answer/threat the better.  It is important to have some degree of deck manipulation.  Crystal Ball is perfect for EDH.  The format tends to be slower (now that Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary has been banned again) allowing incremental development a chance to pay off.  I play the Journeyer’s Kite in my other EDH deck and really like it.

In EDH you need to be able to answer multiple and various things.  Having a broad removal package is very important.

Removal (10)

Rancid Earth has great synergy with our General once we have threshold.  Morbid Bloom is definitely the odd man out, I added it to give myself more devour targets.  I know Maelstrom Pulse seems like a poor choice in EDH, but it is almost a Vindicate and it wrecks tokens.

Extra Bits(5)

The extra stuff can all be dumped, except for Restock.  The Sword is in because its new. Imp’s Mischief, as the name suggests, can create plenty of ways to mess with the other players, fitting nicely with the political nature of Vhati il-Dal.  Berserk can be a great finisher.

As I look over this list I can see a bunch of holes and cross purpose selections.  Why don’t I have Crucible of Worlds in here?  Why Worm Harvest without Life from the Loam?  Keep in mind this is a casual, multi-player deck.  That being said, I would love any Feedback the readers could give.  Until next time.

The Magic Artwork of Rebecca Guay – Part 1

Rebecca Guay

Rebecca Guay has long been my favorite Magic card artist. In this series, I take a chronological tour through her artistic contributions to the game, examining every card she’s ever done to date, including some which never saw print. While her career as an illustrator is not limited to Magic card illustration, the artwork which appears on Magic cards and promotional material will be my primary focus in these pieces. However, I would encourage any fans of her Magic card illustrations to have a look at her other work. She’s illustrated for several other games, including Dungeons & Dragons, World of Warcraft, various White Wolf RPGs, and some comic books. Much of her work is compiled at her website, rebeccaguay.com, where she also takes limited submissions for autographed cards.

Although I’m neither art critic nor historian by training, I will try to fake it as best I can. I am presenting each card with the full frame, as the card appeared in the original versions. I considered displaying the images alone, but concluded that part of this work of art is the card form it’s delivered on. The art is part of the card, and the card frames the art. Each must hang together with the other, for a truly sublime Magic-related aesthetic experience. And thus, through no fault of her own, some of the artist’s pieces will necessarily be more popular than others due merely to the relative excellence of the cards on which they appear. I shall try to make this distinction when evaluating the artistic merits of such iconic cards, though I can’t promise not to have my own biases. Enough ado, let’s dive in!

Alliances

Guay’s work first appeared in the Alliances expansion, released in 1996. Most Guay collectors’ binders, therefore, begin with a humble and unassuming pair of Enslaved Scouts.

Enslaved Scout

Enslaved Scout, ver 1Enslaved Scout, ver 2

I’m glad that Guay got involved with Magic early enough to do a few of these alternate / multiple artwork cards. Here we see chained and collared goblins, reluctantly guiding their mounted captors.

The gruesome flavor text on the second version with the squatting goblin gives us a glimpse of the fate likely awaiting these poor souls. These are fairly straightforward pieces. Of the two, I favor the second, with the figure painting of the squatting scout more. As the opening page in my collection binder, Enslaved Scout has grown on me over the years.

Kaysa
Kaysa

Right off the bat, we have an example of the style Guay is known for. A beautiful, slender maiden with long hair and a flowing cloak, both in this case blowing in the wind. I’m taken by Kaysa’s sexy, almost aloof posture in this piece. She’s holding a spear in a way that suggests combat, but she doesn’t seem troubled by any potential adversary. Classic High Fantasy themes, but painterly and soft, not airbrushed and sharp. The cranes flying away along the line of her spear help flow your eyes around this picture.

To me, this is standard, classic Guay. An archetypal gorgeous-maiden-in-flowing-robes subject, with a majestic high fantasy mood. What’s interesting is that much of her early work varies from what ends up being the “Guay mold,” as we’ll see. There is terrific variety before she settles into a period in which she returns to this classic kind of look.

Natures Chosen
Nature's Chosen

This has never been among my favorite pieces, but it seems to bear some passing artistic reference to Edmund Dulac. In 1911, during the “Golden Age of Illustration,” Dulac illustrated “Stories from Hans Christian Andersen” which included the story of the Ice Queen. In several of Guay’s pieces, we see a hazy, snowy effect. Here, it’s seen around the knees of this kneeling, somber, meditative maiden. This effect reminds me of Dulac’s piece, “The Snow Queen Flies Through the Winter’s Night” seen below:

Snow Queen

Now, the low-cut back of the maiden’s dress seems to suggest a warmer clime, so maybe this is supposed to be either dreamy snow, or some kind of pollen or spore? This slender woman does seem to be at home in nature, but it’s still not one of the more powerful images from Guay’s work, in my opinion. What exactly is going on? She’s caressing a tree, bonding with it perhaps? It does convey that this woman is in tune with nature, but is she merely a tree hugger? How is she the chosen of nature?

Noble Steeds

Noble Steeds, ver 1Noble Steeds, ver 2

Noble Steeds is the other dual-art card illustrated by Guay. Here we have two takes on the same pair of horses, one framed from afar in an Aspen grove of sorts, grazing, the other an action closeup of the horses rearing or running. I like the first better, I suppose, as the second seems too tightly cropped to me, the rearing horse seems to be cramped from having to rear up in such an enclosed space. I wonder what the cropping of the original was like.

Noble Steeds is an example of a phenomenon in older Magic cards, wherein an enchantment is misleading due to looking and feeling a lot like a creature. I still glance at this sometimes, thinking it’s a creature, and only realize my mistake when my eyes drift to the text box. All in all, Noble Steeds is primarily noteworthy for its illustrator, and is not among my favorites, even then.

A Short Aside on Multiple Artwork Cards

Alliances, sadly, was the last set released by Wizards of the Coast to include multiple card artwork for individual cards. This practice of alternate artwork lent a depth and a certain je n’sais qua to those earlier sets. I am a bit cynical about the official line from Wizards on the matter:

“…most players recognize cards through the artwork. With the enormous number of different cards available now, having many with alternate art can actually be a drawback, since you would have to memorize more images. … We just don’t want to be in a situation where the number of images a player needs to know to reasonably play the game gets out of hand.” -Elaine Chase, Magic R&D

This explanation seems awfully lacking in my estimation. Wizards does promotional reprints with alternate artwork all the time. New core sets often feature numerous examples of such reprints as well. Furthermore, as Chase admits, an average Magic player already recognizes an “enormous number” of different images, usually on the order of several thousand. Let’s face it, the number of images a player needs to know to “reasonably” play Magic is by definition out of hand. When you consider that Alliances had 55 cards with alternate art, and 144 unique, functionally different cards, this means roughly 38% of the cards had alternate artwork. How much difference does a marginal number of images make when you’re already memorizing thousands of them? Just under half of the cards in Beta have had recommissioned artwork at some point.

My theory is simply that Wizards can cut their costs for each given set by doing a single art commission for each card. Either way, I sure miss the multiple artwork, but I’ll settle for the promotional and textless versions we see nowadays, I suppose.

End Aside

Sustaining Spirit
Sustaining Spirit

Sustaining Spirit, on the other hand, was an early favorite of mine. As a tribute to another of my favorite cards when I first came into Magic, Ali From Cairo, Sustaining Spirit caught my eye for its effect as well as its artwork. I love the pensive angel here. While some of Guay’s early cards clearly depict angels, many were spirits or guardians or merely Legends, as the subtype conventions had not been pinned down yet. This just adds charm to the older cards in my mind. Sustaining Spirit has been given errata to change the type from guardian to angel spirit.

This petite angel seems to be perched among the clouds, and could almost be a statue come to life, like some delicate, beautiful gargoyle. Fun fact: the phrase “guardian angel” has evoked this image in my mind for years, thanks to this art and the weird creature type wording. Maybe that’s just what they were thinking in the cutting room on this one.

Mirage

Asmira, Holy Avenger
Asmira, Holy Avenger

Asmira is a beautiful image of an angelic protector. At least I thought so… turns out the errata here changed her type to Legendary Creature – Human Cleric. No matter, I will always consider Asmira an angel. The wings here don’t match the cloak well, and Asmira has flying. Come on, a flying cleric? I’ll admit that when the errata was issued I did finally see that what I saw as wings does match the color of the cloak, and there are portions of it that look more like flowing cloth than angel wings. But I digress.

Her embrace of the young child puts her in the role of protector. Her sun shaped halo and the patterns on her robes remind me of various pieces by Gutav Klimt, (like, for instance, “Julia I”). Guay got commissions for a Legend in both of her first two sets, and they were both among my favorites.

Memory Lapse
Memory Lapse

I really think Guay rose to the challenge of the particular style of Mirage. Here, we have an example of a style atypical to Guay, but very much in the feel of the set. This is a card, originally printed in Homelands, that would go on to have a number of high profile tournament appearances. Mark Tedin’s original has some intrigue to it, with the puzzle pieces falling out of a mage’s head, but the Seventh Edition version by Tristan Elwell is abysmal. Needless to say, my Homelands copies have seen no play, as I always favor the Guays. This is an example of a card which has artwork that’s not among my favorites, but which has grown on me due to appearing on a card likely to see play in a blue Guay themed deck, or odd decks from various formats over the years.

Vigilant Martyr
Vigilant Martyr

Vigilant Martyr gets my pick for best Guay card in Mirage. This is a beautiful piece, again with shades of Klimt in the patterned cloth. The piece succeeds in representing this protector, willing to die to defend another creature, or stop an enchantment from opposing magic. There’s so much going on in this frame, my eyes move effortlessly from one pleasing image to another. And finally, she’s again succeeded in helping define the unique feel of Mirage itself, with tribal themes and savannah setting.

Vitalizing Cascade
Vitalizing Cascade

Our first bit of gratuitous babe art, which would eventually become a hallmark of Guay by the time when Unglued came out in 2004. Most of the beautiful women portrayed by Guay are seen wearing flowing robes or dresses, but here we have one of the few bathing women of Magic. Nudity, nymphs, and merfolk were themes explored by many artists in the Golden Age of Illustration, the time in which many of Guay’s influences lived and worked. This attractive woman, and the lily-pad pond both evoke that period of illustration for me here.

My one complaint with this piece is that I find the woman’s hair to be too fluffy for having been drenched by a waterfall. I wish is fell straight down and just felt wetter.

Fifth Edition

Phantom Monster
Phantom Monster

Phantom Monster is a cool piece. Again we see the eerie snow effect, and what seems to me to be the shadow of the monster on the ground below as it flies above. It’s creepy and fitting to the card, the original flying hill giant. This is one of the few cards from Alpha which has been redone by Guay, though there are a few others, as we’ll see. This is also our first real taste for Guay’s penchant for phantasmal beings, which really comes to fruition in Judgment.

Donny Darko, anyone?

Sea Sprite
Sea Sprite

I have a thing for Faeries, and Guay does them well. Sea Sprite was the first, and there are a couple of interesting things going on here. The Faerie itself is aquatic feeling, with gossamer wings like seaweed. The flowing skirt, disappearing out of frame is also unusual for fae, but works well here.

Note the waves in this picture. I would love to know of Guay’s influences for this and other of her images featuring waves. I feel like several candidates exist in several of Dulac’s works, but also see resemblance to “The Great Wave,” a famous piece by the Edo period Japanese master Katsushika Hokusai. In this image, my suspicion of the Hokusai reference is heightened due to the Asian feel of the jumping fish, and their passing resemblance to yin and yang iconography. I want to stress that this is “the untrained eye” talking.

Wanderlust
Wanderlust

This is classic Guay, and classic Golden Age type illustration. Beams of light and the morose wanderer, with startled birds in the foreground belying the stillness which otherwise dominates the mood here. Framed in by trees, you get an almost claustrophobic sense from these foreboding woods, despite which, the maiden is still compelled to wander on. I’m a big fan of the original Wanderlust by Cornelius Brudi as well, and I only wish foil versions existed when Fifth Edition came around, so I could get a black-bordered version of this card. There’s always Sharpee!

Portal

Mind Knives
Mind Knives

Violence is uncommon in Guay’s pieces, but here we have the impression of acute pain and violence as the magic is ripped from the victim’s mind. I must admit, I’m not a huge fan of Mind Knives, but it gets the job done. Guay doesn’t use a lot of abstract painting, so I enjoy Mind Knives for that unusual aspect.

Cloak of Feathers
Cloak of Feathers

Cloak of Feathers simply screams Gustav Klimt to me. The woman’s fetal position and closed eyes give her flight a dreamlike quality, as does the strangeness of the window on the right, open to night time stars, contrasted with the trees to the left. You can’t tell which is inside, which is out, and on this peacock feather gown, so much like sheets pulled tight, the mystery takes flight. An odd but satisfying artistic experience, in my estimation.

Elven Cache
Elven Cache

Elven Cache is in the “Beautiful Hippy Gardener Elves” category of Guay’s work. I like most of these, but there is a personal bias there. The lingerie here definitely contributes to Guay’s early reputation for gratuitous babe art.

Mobilize
Mobilize

I’m a fan of Mobilize. Not only is this a very useful card in various elfball decks, the image is pretty sweet. You see some obviously nature-aligned adventurers (see the two deer to either side of their group) mobilizing in the woods. We’re so far back from their meeting, we don’t see much detail, but after all, this is a card describing a certain spell effect. Compare to the issue I brought up with Noble Steeds earlier. There is no mistaking this spell for a creature, and in fact, the scene describes the effect well. I like the use of a foreground tree as framing, both for giving depth to the image, and giving us some closer details to look upon.

Natures Cloak
Nature's Cloak

This haunting, camouflaged elf is a very neat piece featuring the mystical snow effect, and showcasing Guay’s penchant for forests. Blending seamlessly into the sylvan scene is a great representation of forestwalk, making this art fit the card especially well.

Wood Elves
Wood Elves

Wood Elves is one of the most useful cards Guay has done, when it comes time to build guay_art.dec. This guy can fetch any forest, including Revised dual lands like tropical island and puts the land into play untapped and ready to use. I run Wood Elves in EDH decks alongside wirewood symbiote.

Guay has actually done two versions of Wood Elves, and we’ll see the second version later when we get to Exodus in part 2. This version’s two white haired elves look regal and fey. The flowing capes here are superbly rendered, amidst the mist.

Starlit Angel
Starlit Angel

Here we have an excellent angel, filling the frame. She’s beautiful, her wings are wide, her arms outstretched as she flies through the night sky. I like the flowing cloth, especially where her sleeve casts a shadow on her long dress. The stars behind her fit the description offered by the card’s name. I appreciate Guay’s angels for their classic look and feel. There’s no scantily clad, airbrushed skin, no silicon breast implants. These are beautiful, heavenly creatures, not tawdry sex objects of warrior princesses with wings. Renaissance era, classic angels. I’m not saying there isn’t a place within the wide fantasy setting of Magic for those Frank Frazetta style sex symbols and Roy Krenkel comic book heroines, or even the many examples of latex-clad Catwomen of Magic. I get that the current mass appeal is more along the lines of the X-Men than with Hans Christian Andersen. I’m simply thankful for those few artists, like Guay, who have contributed the classical ‘sensibility’ to our game.

Weatherlight

To my mind, Weatherlight is the set in which Guay’s magic artwork solidifies into what I consider to be her classic style. It includes iconic images, and a very powerful card that saw lots of play and gave Guay’s work some early exposure.

Angelic Renewal
Angelic Renewal

Angelic Renewal is one of my favorite pieces by Guay. Such a gorgeous pose, the caring embrace of this woman’s guardian angel, saving her from her demise. The fine gowns, the curly hair, the wings, all done with such painterly grace. A wonderful piece.

Gaeas Blessing
Gaea's Blessing

This card was key to various winning tournament strategies, notably Zvi Mowshowitz’s Turboland.

The image here is among the classic, instantly-identifiable cards in the game for veteran players, with a beautiful female figure snuggling the back of a majestic knight as he kneels in prayer, holding his sword in the classic cross position before him. Set in a forest scene, we see leaves and shadows detailing the flowing cape and armor of the knight. Who is this woman? She’s nude, though her skin is covered in leafy images, suggesting that this may be an incarnation of Gaea responding to the knight’s prayers, conveying the namesake blessing upon him. That her hair seems to melt away into thin air suggests a similarly sylvan or spirit nature. This is a classic, high fantasy scene. Beautiful and serene.

Serras Blessing
Serra's Blessing

Another blessing, this time from the Serra Angel of Magic lore. Another beautiful woman, clad in white, communing with nature. Her halo and proximity to the stag suggests she’s received the blessing, and is imbued with magic. I like the trees here, another Guay hallmark, giving depth the image.

This wraps up part one of the series. I hope you’ve enjoyed the first bit of the journey through Guay’s work. Join me next time as I peruse the works appearing in Tempest block and beyond. I will append updated links in the sections below as the subsequent parts are published.

Until we meet again!