Compulsive Research – The Art Of Steve Argyle

Steve Argyle will be a guest artist at the Charlotte Invitational and Open. If you’re not a fan, you will be after reading this article and checking out his amazing work!

The first time I saw Steve Argyle’s work for Magic was not on a card, but in A Planeswalker’s Guide to Alara. A half-page in the book showed the art I would recognize later on Sunseed Nurturer. The art stopped me, and I tilted my head to peer at the credit. “Steve Argyle? Never heard of him, but he’s good.”

He’s more than good. He’s incredibly skilled as a digital illustrator and real-life hilarious to boot, almost Cavotta-esque in the way he calls his fans “minions.” Normally Steve Argyle keeps the Magic illustrations serious (Mr. Argyle has nothing like Mr. Cavotta’s Sensation Gorger in his Magic portfolio—yet), but on “extracurricular” work such as alterations and playmat sketches, he lets loose. (See “minions” above for two of his most infamous alterations, “Chandra as Princess Leia” and “Chandra in Martini Glass,” and the personal commission euphemistically titled “Planeswalkers for Equality.”)

It’s all in keeping with the running commentary on his website, where he makes even the most innocent-seeming artwork sound dirty. His FAQ page combines ribaldry and seriousness, pairing well-written descriptions of his artistic origins with section titles such as “About Me Being a Huge Jerk” and at least one question that I can’t put in full on this site.

I’ve met Steve Argyle at a handful of Grand Prix events and other card-signing events. He’s always been friendly and professional, and he was happy to sign one of the deck boxes that I use to store my stash of autographed cards and artist’s proofs. He’s a good choice as artist guest for the StarCityGames.com Invitational and Open Weekend in Charlotte. He was gracious enough to give me his “card-signing commandments,” though he missed my deadline by a few hours, so he’s going to pay a penalty (see the end of this article for details).

Steve Argyle’s Card-Signing Commandments

I used to bring along and post a page of “Argyle’s Ruthlessly Draconian Event Protocols” that declared the depth of my tyranny to all patrons. But the folks who bothered to read it were the polite players, who don’t need it in the first place. So now, I don’t really bother with rules. If someone drops a giant stack of cards, I’ll tell them the story of an artist who had a player unromantically thrust a similar size deck at him, then got on his phone with an “I’ll be back in ten, have those signed.” The artist scrawled one signature across the stack itself and handed it back. Then I politely ask, “Now which ones of these did you want me to sign?”

Like I said, the folks who read stuff like this aren’t the ones you have to worry about. But for the sake of answering the question: Steve Argyle’s Ten Commandments. 

  • Thou shalt keep thy stacks to a few playsets.
  • Thou shalt prepare. Don’t dig through your stuff and toss a double-sleeved card out every thirty seconds for ten minutes while everyone waits.
  • Thou shalt not ask “Which cards did you do?” (The list is too long to constantly go over. I don’t remember them anyway.)
  • Thou shalt not pull out each card in your deck/binder and ask “did you do this card?”
  • Thou shalt not ask me to sign something I had nothing to do with, like another artist’s card, the lucky underwear you wore to win your last event, or your fresh hernia scar.
  • Thou shalt not cut in line, ask “why are people in line?”, then drop your bags on my stuff with a “Hang on, I think I’ve got something here for you to sign. It’s worth more that way, right? Like if I sell it? Who are you again?”
  • Thou shalt respect answers I give. If you want a card alter, or a sketch, and I say “I can do that for $X human earth moneys,” your next phrase should not be “No, no, just do something quick or whatever. Nothing that I have to pay for. I’m just gonna sell this to buy a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, anyway.”
  • Thou shalt not know what the eighth commandment says.
  • Thou shalt not fear me. Seriously, the above shouldn’t scare you. I’m mostly nice. Come on over, chat, look at pictures, I won’t bite, and I don’t expect folks to buy stuff.
  • Thou shalt enjoy thyself. That’s why we all come to events in the first place.

And one last thing, not so much a commandment, as just advice: It’s best to see me as soon as you can. I run out of stuff, and my queues fill up fast. I often bring alters I did before the show, and they’re mostly gone in an hour. I was out of Liliana mats at my last GP by noon on Saturday. I’m usually fully booked for take-home stuff just after lunch the first day of any event. So, don’t skip a match or anything, but if you wait too long, you’ll miss a lot.

Steve Argyle’s Cards

Steve Argyle’s list of cards is relatively small—four large sets and the small ones in-between isn’t a long time to build up a Magic: The Gathering portfolio—yet he’s been responsible for a number of high-profile cards, enough that I’m making three potential lists of cards to get signed: one twelve-pack for the StarCityGames.com Open Series tournament player, another for the casual/Commander enthusiast, and a third for the “I like this picture” crowd.

Tournament Player Pack

Three four-of playsets chosen from the following cards…

Bloodbraid Elf (FNM Foil) – Hello Modern (and brave people trying it in Legacy). I’m not quite the person who won’t play a card because I hate the art, but let’s just say I wasn’t a fan of the original illustration. This Bloodbraid Elf, though, I can get behind. Mostly because she’s way too fierce for me to want to be in her way.

Chandra’s Phoenix (2012 Full Box Promo Card) – “I have foil! You must obey!” If you’re in thrall to the shiny cards and spicy alternate art, this is the Chandra’s Phoenix you want to run in your Mono-Red builds. If not, you have no soul.

Glistener Elf – Will U/G Infect make a comeback? Maybe not, but I still wouldn’t rule out poison for this Standard cycle, and if green is a part of it, Glistener Elf will be there. I like the composition, too. It’s a little busy—Steve Argyle tends toward “busy,” especially if he doesn’t have to edit—but for a certain market segment, it’s nice to know that, despite the Phyrexian infection and the fusing of metal and musculature, Elves on every plane—New Phyrexia included—still show a fondness for thigh-high boots.

Hive Mind – We already knew Jace’s home plane was a little weird from the Fuel for the Fire comic, but this weird? How could we have known? It took Steve Argyle to bring out the bizarre truth (and a Pact of Negation to make this formerly “bad” rare a Legacy staple). Not my favorite Argyle, but serviceable.

Liliana of the Veil – Remember the mention of thigh-high boots? Apparently, that’s what non-Elspeth female planeswalkers are into, at least when they’re being dressed by Wizards creative and Steve Argyle. (I asked how he got two planeswalker illustrations—the other being Chandra Ablaze—in such a short time. Did he have the ultimate art director blackmail photo? To which he replied, “If I told you that, the photo wouldn’t be much good to me, now would it?”) This Liliana knows what she wants and how she plans to get it, and it doesn’t involve any heterosexual males in her orbit thinking rationally.

Ponder (Textless Rewards) – Is anyone else getting a Tinie Tempah vibe out of this one? Just me? Oh well. It’s the most dramatic and most different of the various Ponder printings, and it’s an eight-dollar card in the store for good reason… if you can find it in stock.

Snuff Out (Liliana version) – If you’re playing a long day of Legacy with your BUG deck, would you rather be looking at Liliana or Squee? That’s what I thought.

…and your top singleton from the “Doing It for the Art” pack.

Casual Player Pack

Ten singletons chosen from the following…

Angelic Arbiter – A more classic angel than Steve Argyle’s usual, but it fits his talents well. Clouds alone don’t convey the sense of how powerful and important the Arbiter is; this is one of those illustrations that would benefit from a slightly narrower text box that would make the figure appear to fill more space.

Celestial Mantle – Simultaneously abstract and representational, an illustration that gets better with a closer look. That, and what casual player doesn’t like a card with the word “double” in the text box?

Chandra Ablaze – If nothing else, get Steve Argyle to alter one. He has an extraordinarily fertile mind for putting Chandra through all sorts of depravity… and that’s why people like him.

Damia, Sage of Stone – Oversized? Regular-sized? Just get your favorite Gorgon signed already. The oversized version in particular provides a wide space for alteration and customization, not that the intricately detailed backdrop and mysterious figure really need it.

Dawnglare Invoker – A great card for multiplayer politics, and this Kor at least is easy on the eyes, though her Marilyn Monroe impersonation leaves a little to be desired.

Emeria Angel (Zendikar Game Day Extended Art) – While Jim Murray’s original art for Emeria Angel is plenty beautiful, the extended art by Steve Argyle has a majesty all its own. Sure, there isn’t a bird to be found, but the players who know the card already (and are thus most likely to get their mitts on the “boxless” version) know what this six-winged angel does, and they’re ready to put her to good use. A great choice for foil Cubes.

Everflowing Chalice – This would’ve been in the tournament pack last year, though its status in other formats is yet to be seen. Of course, that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying its mana-producing qualities in Commander and other multiplayer, and considering that this card inspired the “Chandratini” alter, I expect at least three copycats over the Invitational weekend.

Glissa, the Traitor (Mirrodin Besieged Prerelease) – No offense to Chris Rahn, but this is the definitive Commander version. The crouch is a reminder of Glissa Sunseeker from back-when, a nice touch.

Kresh the Bloodbraided (From the Vault: Legends) – To my mind, the better Kresh art, mainly by virtue of the “Kresh and nothing but the Kresh” aspect to the art. The lack of armor is a Jund thing, so I can get over it, and there’s a slight “John Carter of Mars meets Bob Marley” vibe that gives this piece an X-factor.

Lavalanche – Close inspection helps with the art on this one, to pick out details like the engulfed stone monument and the tiny green dudes fleeing in the background. Of course, when you’re pointing this at the annoying Commander opponent who’s going to win next turn, you don’t care about the fine details. Just make with the burninating!

Mayael’s Aria – I’ve tried to make it work. I couldn’t. If you’re making it work, share your secret! Oh, and get your copy signed. I love the artwork, if not necessarily in the context of the card… if it’s Mayael’s Aria, shouldn’t she be, you know, singing?

Nevinyrral’s Disk (From the Vault: Relics) – As Steve Argyle puts it, this is more “conveniently sized universe eraser button” than biological creep show. I can get behind that. It’s not the old Disk, and I can understand being attached to the previous art for nostalgia’s sake, but to me, this is an improvement.

Praetor’s Grasp – Confession time. I hate this art. Hate hate hate it. That said, the exact reasons why I hate it are why others love it. It’s sick, wrong, dangerous… and incredibly detailed in a way even I have to admire grudgingly. If I ever have a need to play this card, I’m commissioning a playset of Invader Zim alterations.

Slave of Bolas – Did Steve Argyle just out-rk post rk post? I think it’s possible. The Gothic angel vibe certainly matches post, but the intricate digital-illustration details are all Argyle. Just remember, Steve did not do the promo version, a break from his usual pattern.

The Hippodrome – “Two creatures enter. One creature leaves.” Wait, wrong dome. A great pick for the Planechasers, and as with the oversized Commander, the broad surface provides a lot of space for alterations.

Vampire Lacerator – Another “ex-Standard” card, it’s worth sticking your neck out for this one still. Locally, I know several players with Vampire-themed Commander decks, and as a quarter-common, this is a relatively accessible card. I have fond memories of scrambling to find one for Steve Argyle to sign on the Friday of Grand Prix Fort Worth, when I didn’t know he would be there.

…as well as three favorite singletons from the “Doing It for the Art” pack.

The “Doing It for the Art” Pack

Many of the tournament and Commander cards listed above have great art, and if you want to include one as your “art card,” that’s perfectly valid. This is a list of “mediocre card, meritorious art” pieces.

Admonition Angel – I’m not sure what’s going on with her leg, but I admire the stained-glass window effect in the background. Like many other Steve Argyle works, the Admonition Angel gets better the larger the picture is.

Arrow Volley Trap – I guarantee 95% of you never noticed why this is the funniest illustration Steve Argyle has done: there’s a goblin cowering behind the shield, and the prize they were going after is a crystal 20-sided die. How can I make that guarantee? I’m an art freak, and I didn’t notice until Steve Argyle told me.

Bonds of Faith – A great blend of elegance and monstrosity. Chances are good this card will never go anywhere in Constructed, but at least a lot of folks are getting a good look at it during the Innistrad Limited PTQ season. Easily picked out of draft leavings and a great signing candidate.

Child of Alara – Because who doesn’t love an evil baby avatar of doom? The weird mix of the skeletal (the arms) and the fleshy (the body) gives this art plenty of intrigue.

Jace’s Ingenuity (FNM Foil) – The intricate background sells it for me. I don’t particularly care for Jace in most contexts, but he works here, and the large version shows Jace as he truly is: Doctor Manhattan meets Michael Jackson.

Naya Battlemage – I love the details here. There’s an almost classical beauty to this piece that lets it show much of the elf’s body without coming across as too prurient.

Seize the Initiative – Steve Argyle offered this non-comment on Seize the Initiative and its scantily clad lady leonin: “I hesitate to even begin writing my own commentary on this one. It’s already a veritable titan-sized cornucopia of lolcat captions, resting precariously on top of a colossal heap of furry love/hate jokes, floating on an ocean of cat-girl “truth-in-jest” sexual innuendo.” For what the art is, it’s well-done. Go ahead and get this one signed. If I’m behind you in line, I won’t mock you too much.

Sunseed Nurturer – So much detail, so little space… and it works! If I make it out to the Invitational (work’s looking dicey), I’ll have to buy a print of this one. If the original were an actual painting instead of a series of pixels, I’d probably own it already. It’s that good. Get one signed.

Woolly Thoctar (WPN Foil) – Clearly of a kind with the Wayne Reynolds Woolly Thoctar, but I prefer Steve Argyle’s close-up and dramatic pose. That face and those trees scream “5/4” much more than on the regular version. This promotional card has had some Cube sightings as well.

And now for something completely different…

Steve Argyle’s Totally Fake List of Totally Awesome Cover Songs

Complete with totally fake endorsements from Brian Kibler for “Song of the Tournament” status…

Celine Dion, “I Drove All Night”

Hilary and Haylie Duff, “Material Girl”

Faith Hill, “Piece of My Heart”

Limp Bizkit, “Behind Blue Eyes”

Barry Manilow, “Never Gonna Give You Up”

…yes, that just happened. You got Manilow-rolled by Steve Argyle. But let me tell you, folks, it could’ve been worse. You could’ve been KISS-rolled.

Or Ashley Tisdale-rolled.

Or Mario Paint-rolled.

Or Barry White-rolled… wait, that’s actually a good song. Let’s end it on that note.

As always, thanks for reading.


@jdbeety on Twitter