The entrance to the main hall hosting the MagicCon. Hanging from the ceiling is a large sign reading "Magic The Gathering" with the game's logo. On the ground is a large prop depicting a flying ship rising from the crowds. behind it are multiple stalls of card sellers and crowds of people.
Photo credit: Eliot Olaya/AL DÍA

A look into the art of Magic: The Gathering

Though the convention has passed, it has left us with many insights into the creative processes that happen behind the scenes to make the game’s art.


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Last weekend, many Magic: The Gathering fans were able to convene and celebrate the trading card game together at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, and learn about new developments in the game and behind the scenes.

The event was in celebration of the game’s 30th anniversary. 

MagicCon’s arrival last week brought with it multiple panels hosted by artists, prominent members of the community, and representatives of Wizards of the Coast, Magic’s creator.

Of the panels available, two stood out: a discussion on the artwork used on the cards and the fictional language that has a very real alphabet system.

One of Magic’s artists, Marta Nael, sat down with us to speak about her artwork, what it is used for, and the process behind it. Nael took inspiration from religious artwork, referencing the poses made to depict the central character in her artwork.

As an artist, she has to take into account several elements of the art — the action, the mood, the scene, and other aspects, culminating in rough sketches sent to be reviewed by the art director.

While the artists are given descriptions to aspire to, the mechanical and artistic creation of each card is separate, leaving the final product remaining a mystery until its release.

The art Magic card "Atraxa the Great Unifier."
Artwork done by Marta Nael.

On the other end of art, Wizards of the Coast has been working on developing a language for the series villains, going in depth on the grammatical structure, pronunciation, and script of “Phyrexian,” the language used by the game’s antagonistic cyborgs.

Discussing the creation behind it were Bella Guo and Mary Kathryn Amiotte, both of whom have been working on the language for years.

A part of the development process is considering how such a language would develop within Magic's universe, how physiology and psychology would influence the shape and intent behind the writing. 

When it comes to actually speaking the language, nonhuman and metallic sounds become incorporated, both making it impossible to pronounce correctly while making it unique to the world it exists in.

A chart marking the pronunciations of the Phyrexian language.
Phonetic pronunciation of the Phyrexian language. Photo credit: Eliot Olaya/AL DÍA.

Taking a look behind the scenes, Senior Business Manager Emily Floyd was available to speak on the process and decisions that go into each piece of artwork used, particularly in the set shown off at the convention, called “Secret Lair.” 

Her role is to oversee the team that makes the creative decisions and selects the artists hired, though she isn’t involved in the creative process herself . When the cards are ready, she ensures they get into people’s hands and plans for the next set of Secret Lair releases.

What makes Secret Lair different from the rest of the game is that it doubles as a testing area for new and experimental art styles not within the stylebook for the rest of the game. As Secret Lair is a limited edition release, it means that these experimental cards can be quite the commodity.

As a part of the promotion of these events, Wizards of the Coast dedicates a portion of the proceeds to charitable organizations. Last year, they donated half of their proceeds to the Trevor Project to support LGBT youth in crisis. 

This year, they are supporting Black Girls Code, a Hasbro partner seeking to promote programming knowledge among Black women. Currently, half of the proceeds of special edition play mats are donated to Black Girls Code, promoted at their booth at the convention.

These philanthropic endeavors are a yearly event for Secret Lair, with new charitable organizations benefiting each year from the proceeds of sales.

Like many special events, Secret Lair seeks to push the boundaries of the game and bring in new players with its unique art styles and mechanics.

While the convention at Philadelphia has ended, Wizards of the Coast is planning another convention from May 5th to the 7th at the Minneapolis Convention Center as they continue to celebrate their 30th anniversary and the new edition of cards being released.


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