Absolutely anything can happen in a quarter of a century. Just in the past 25 years alone, companies like Pixar, Apple, and most recently Adidas have seen their success launch into the stratosphere. Meanwhile, Borders, Toys-R-Us, and Sears are either on their way out, shuttered the doors on their physical locations, or closed up shop completely.
Back in 1993, a doctor of combinatorial mathematics, Richard Garfield, sought to design a trading card game. This would become an immediate hit with fans of Dungeons & Dragons, as well as the populace at large, for its unique concepts, clever game design, and of course, the immensely high-quality art featured on every card. What was originally a relatively modest endeavor on the part of Dr. Garfield and CEO of Wizards of the Coast, Richard Atkinson, evolved into what is now the most popular and widespread trading card game in the world. Literally billions of cards have been sold and manufactured all around the world, with highly competitive tournaments taking place in Asia, Europe, and the America’s every single year. In 1999, Wizards of the Coast was acquired by Hasbro for a reported $325 million, further cementing evidence to the game’s success.
And though the past few years have seen a host of artbooks that give insight into the development of Magic: The Gathering expansion sets, none comes close to the breadth of the newly released “The Art of Magic: The Gathering: Concepts & Legends”. The gorgeous hardcover is first set apart by its clean, minimalist design, indicating the five Colors of Magic by their respective icons. This sets the tone for an artbook not beholden to one specific plane in the Magic Multiverse. The book clocks in just shy of 200 pages, though manages to accomplish quite a bit of coverage, especially given the vast history and lore of the game.
Our first foray gives us a look into some of the most popular planes, like the traditional fantasy of Dominaria, the living landmasses of Zendikar, and the Japanese folklore-inspired realm of Kamigawa. The second section highlights the much-beloved races of Magic, like Merfolk, Goblins, and Elves. The third portion is an overview of many of the creature types we see in Magic that aren’t necessarily as omnipresent as those aforementioned, such as Elementals. Finally, we get to see concepts and designs for the more story-driven characters: Planeswalkers.
Overall, this look into Magic is from more of a concept art/sketches perspective, so for those who are looking to gain some in-depth knowledge of the lore, you’d be better off looking elsewhere. Certainly the focus of an artbook being on art is not a revolutionary concept, but I can foresee some fans picking this up and criticizing the lack of accompanying flavor text. Generally, the art is as beautiful as ever, even when we aren’t looking at the finished products, though I have to point out how some particular pieces just do not blow up to full-page, high-res quality as well as others. This made for some surprisingly muddy, pixelated photos from time to time. This is just enough to make for a few jarring moments in an otherwise satisfying experience. The pages themselves are hefty and feel substantial in the hand, and the use of shiny silver print for the headings is a sweet touch. How the page counts were divided (only 2 pages for Ravnica?) was a little odd to me, and the lack of even a little collage of images from Shandalar, Mercadia, and other lesser-known plans made me a bit disappointed.
I will say that seeing the planes of Magic through the lens of the Races was really eye-opening. I never realized how much work the design team must put into creating unique visions of Merfolk, Goblins, and Elves into every plane. Though the placement of Kor and Dwarves, while sweet inclusions, would have been better served in the “Creatures of Magic” section. I think that the biggest missing piece here is the lack of a section on the Artifacts or Spells of Magic. I’m just really hoping this means they’ll one day create a product for JUST those missing portions, as they are as relevant if not moreso than that of the creatures or Planeswalkers.
I’d be remiss to mention how the book also comes with a series of art prints featuring some iconic figures and locations in Magic’s lengthy history. I won’t spoil what they are, but even those who aren’t devoted followers of the game should be pleased with this extra inclusion.
In the end, this is a solid pickup for a fan of Magic: The Gathering beyond only the gameplay elements. Certainly there is much to be said of the game when it comes to play mechanics, but there is clearly a whole other world of work done on the design side that often goes underappreciated. Is there some missing stuff? Sure, but for a game as massive as Magic, there is bound to be stuff scrapped for future projects. The experience is fun and I’d give it a hearty recommendation as a holiday gift to the Magic fans in your life.
Huge shoutout to Wizards of the Coast and Viz Media for putting out this release, and I am anxiously waiting for more. Happy 25th anniversary to the greatest card game ever made! Here’s to many more prosperous years ahead, exploring and expanding that multiverse so many of us love so dearly.