When it comes to Magic’s fan-favorite plane of Ravnica, there are numerous expectations to be met. For example, you can expect outstandingly detailed renditions of sprawling cityscapes and towering skyscrapers. You know there are going to be intense political struggles between rivaling factions with sometimes polar opposite ideologies. But at the forefront of Ravnica are the color identities themselves.
The most defining characteristic of Magic are the colors that are reflected in every ounce, gram, and liter of the lore and game design. When I happen to find a fellow Magic player in the wild, the first question that comes up before anything else is “What colors are you?” or “What colors do you play?”. Why is this the case? Because the identities themselves are so distinct, what a person plays can say a lot about that person’s values, traits, and philosophies. And when you combine those colors together, you get some much more particular feedback on what that person is like.
Ravnica is known for being the first plane to give an explicit lore background to each of the 10 color combinations. Each combo has a name for the political faction, called a Guild, existing on Ravnica, such as the Orzhov Syndicate or the Golgari Swarm. These names over time have become synonymous with their color combos, such that a player can say “I play Dimir Control” and the listener instantly knows they are dealing with a Blue-Black deck. Furthermore, it speaks volumes about what to expect in a match: the battle will likely be slower-paced and decisions will be much more crucial 4-10 turns down the line. There will be more mind-games than a battle against Gruul (Red-Green) Dinosaurs.
And so, in the Art of Ravnica, we are treated with a fascinating peek into how many top-notch artists portray the guilds. Each group is given its own section with accompanying lore and insight into the history of the guild, alongside gorgeous, full-blown renditions of the art. One of the problems with specifically Magic cards is that they are much too small to fully appreciate the intricacies and details of the work put into their accompanying art pieces. In fact, just last week I was pointed out by someone how one of the most popular cards from the last set, Guilds of Ravnica, had a hidden easter egg as a reference to another beloved card (for fellow Magic nerds, I’m referring to “March of the Multitudes” and “Totally Lost”). This detail is extremely difficult to notice on the original printing of the card, and gives further evidence to why these art books are so necessary and valued in the community.
Though this hefty hardcover tome is sold as the “Art of Ravnica”, it’s quite a disservice to call it just that. There is SO much lore, history, and details in every little nook and cranny of this book, I can’t overstate my satisfaction. Every chapter on a new guild proves to be extraordinarily enlightening, deepening your understanding of how the guild functions, the history of the leadership, and even provides brief one-liners that reflect what that guild thinks of the other guilds. Not to mention the final section of the book that helps summarize the major plot points of the story at the time of writing and explain why the Big Bad Nicol Bolas and his agents are on Ravnica. I was a long-time dedicated reader of the old MtG novels back in the day and was disheartened when they discontinued that series. Honestly, the amount of lore here really helps fill out the hole left in my heart, and though it may be an unpopular opinion, I feel it is better than some of the Magic stories written for the Wizards website. Kudos to James Wyatt in relaying so many details in such a descriptive, yet succinct manner.
The quality of the book itself is of the caliber I would expect, and yet I still feel impressed flipping through pages. The paper is just the right amount of weight so you can open to page 1 and not have the pages all jumping around. It stays in place quite easily such that a bookmark isn’t really necessary. The pages are a good balance between matte and glossy, and I especially like the designs and layouts of the sections. I will say I’m not a big fan of the two-page spreads for two reasons.
1. Many of these art pieces do not translate as well when blown up to such proportions. If you recall, this was also an issue with some of the pieces from the Magic: The Gathering Concepts & Legends artbook. This is less an issue here overall I’ve noticed, but the two-page spreads are still very susceptible to looking a little janky.
2. Two-page spreads mean less LORE! Granted there is still a TON in this book, but I’m a greedy little Vorthos.
Bottom-line is that if you are interested in Magic for any reason besides just the game-playing aspect, and even if you are, you’re going to eat up this release. I actually had trouble finishing this review because I kept catching myself not stopping on a section I said I would. I’d be like “Whew, the Orzhov are SO cool! …but what about Izzet?” So look forward to that. I’d call that a good problem to have.
Thanks again to Erik and Viz for providing a review copy!