You may know Magic: The Gathering as the strategy-based card game where angry unwashed nerds flip tables at each other in protest. Yet underneath the stereotype lies a rich world of wonder illustrated by some of the best artists you may have never heard of. Or perhaps you know exactly what I’m talking about, in which case let us luxuriate together in the warm glow of some of the best Magic: The Gathering art there is.
Today I’d like to talk about Seb McKinnon. He is probably one of the most highly regarded contemporary artists illustrating cards right now. His speciality lies in the macabre with a fairy tale twist and a heavier atmosphere than the bleakest of funeral doom albums.
McKinnon is a Canadian artist who also writes and directs films with the same dark, fantastical imagery that feels utterly unique to him. He and his four brothers run the film production company, who together have created a trilogy of ethereal and captivating films called the KIN Fables. The haunting, delicately driven soundtracks are written by him under the name of his musical project: CLANN.
You could pause the film at any point and find a beautiful still, with every detail and shot created with utmost care. The filming was done in Quebec and inspired after McKinnon and one of his brothers became enchanted with the landscape of Scotland during a trip together.
McKinnon’s art effortlessly straddles the lore of the MTG Multiverse and the symbols that inhabit his personal art as well as the KIN Fables films. His ability to convey scale through masterful composition, where often darkness and light are pitched against one another in the process, has never produced a bad piece.
The Archfiend Of Ifnir card is one of many good examples of McKinnon’s cleverness when it comes to illustration. First off you have the classic interplay of light and darkness, with a threatening band of red on the horizon that could either be the promise of dawn or the threat of descending night. Ifnir is the desert wasteland area in the realm of Amonkhet that is patrolled by such demons, supposedly banished there by the God-Pharaoh Nicol Bolas as punishment for their attempted rebellion against him. In the foreground the Archfiend itself sits staring directly at the viewer, contemplating you with demonic calm. The tomb-like ruins on which the Archfiend sits hint at the text of the card, which rewards you for discarding cards into your graveyard. The tornadoes raging in the background could also be a wry nod to the card cycling reward as well. For a card with no flavour text, McKinnon has managed to subtly honour the details of the extended lore and the rules text.
McKinnon’s legacy will long be felt in the art of Magic: The Gathering. His distinct work is one of the most anticipated parts of a new set release by many fans. If you’re new to the world of MTG and would like to find out more then the free Magic: The Gathering Arena desktop game has a brilliantly simple tutorial guide that highlights the basic rules and helps you get going. To those who are not new, thank you for reading and may your mana bases always be strong.
Words: Nina Saeidi (Lowen)