Long before art books were such a common sight, one franchise already displayed a strong emphasis on the quality of their artworks: the now ubiquitous trading card game Magic The Gathering (MTG). This artbook was released in 1998 and displays an attention to detail akin to a Hollywood movie production artboard. Over the years it has become a rarity in itself, and only through dumb luck I managed to secure my own copy at a reasonable price.
The Weatherlight Saga (1997-2001), of which the Rath Cycle is part of, was the first time Wizards Of The Coast (MTG’s editor) wrote an actual story arch that would span over numerous sets of Magic cards. It follows the planeshifting skyship Weatherlight and its crew in their quest to stop a Phyrexian invasion. In the Rath Cycle, they must enter the wolf’s den -the Phyrexian-controlled artifical plane Rath– to save one of theirs.
I started playing in 1998 right around the Mercadian Masques set release, meaning the market was choke-full of cards based on the Weatherlight Saga. Needless to say this artbook was like a huge whiff of nostalgia and bittersweet teenage memories.
There have been numerous discussions regarding the art direction of MTG. Roughly put, the game went from an abstract/painterly phase unto a more high-detail, comics-oriented illustration style (Ron Spencer, Jeff Miracola, Paolo Parente…) with fine artists thrown in for good measure. This resulted in an endless supply of incredibly vivid, high-quality illustrations of all kinds, varied yet all holding themselves to extremely high standards.
Over the past couple years MTG embraced a more realistic fantastical style that we will talk about in future reviews of their more recent art books.
There are twenty-four pages (!!) dedicated to the design of the skyship Weatherlight itself. This is of course compressed from certainly hundreds of more sketches and concepts. For a collectible card game, this level of dedication to a unified vision was unprecedented.
Each crew member get their share of lore and love: Gerrard of course, but also the enboldened Sisay, the hard-working Tiana, the easygoing golem Karn, Mirri, Squee…
…And all their opponents as well. Crovax, Volrath, Greven il-Vec…
The enemy airship Predator was designed to be alienesque enough without falling into a science-fiction trope.
The kind of problem-solving situation concept artists love to explore.
More of a love letter than a review, really. As I mentioned in the beginning, just to see all those vivid images that were lost in the back of my mind for twenty years suddenly in their full glory gave me a feeling that I could not really transcribe, but I’m sure you, dear reader, feel the same for stuff you grew up with.
Slivers (see right above) in particular really struck a nerve deep inside of me. I wanted to learn to draw just to be able to bring life to things like that one day.
“Where are they now?”
That is a question I often wonder about when looking at people’s work that helped me define myself as an artist and a person. And thanks to the internet, answers are often just a click away.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of artists that contributed to the Rath Cycle, apologies for the ones I missed:
Paolo Parente seem to have moved to a different worldbuilding project, involving designs for actual figurines!
Tony DiTerlizzi made some of the most vibrant goblins for the game. He is now a very successful writer and illustrator for his own stories too, including his bestseller The Spiderwick Chronicles that was made into a movie.
I am unsure about the whereabouts of Ron Spencer, one of the most memorable and recognizable artists by far. His last post is from 2015. I hope he’s doing fine, and if someone knows anything I’d be happy to update this post.
There are many, many more that I wish I could feature but this list would run endless. I would still share a warm thought for Quinton Hoover and Christopher Rush (painter of the Black Lotus!) both of whom have left this plane since the release of this book. Their legacy lives on.
The Art of Magic The Gathering – The Rath Cycle
Wizards of the Coast, 1998
The books reviewed are from my personal collection and fully paid for.
- Posted by Paul Takahashi
- On December 9, 2020
- 0 Comments