Magic Art Matters – A Post-Election Day Art Review

Yesterday was Election Day here in the United States – did you vote, can you vote, do you even care? Whether you do or not, I think it’s time to take a look at a card that’s extremely appropriate: Corrupt Official, from Mercadian Masques.

Yesterday was Election Day here in the United States – did you vote, can you vote, do you even care?

For better or worse, the right to vote is quite a privilege. If you don’t care now, maybe, hopefully, you will someday.

I vote on almost every occasion that I have. If for no other reason, I vote out of respect for those who have defended our right to vote. I am talking here about those who have served in our armed services, and who have sometimes paid the highest price, costing them their life in that very act of service. Many people have died defending our way of life, part of which is our right to vote.

That’s the good news – we can vote! The bad news is, and here is where I warn you for impending cynicism, the”system” is far from perfect.

As originally envisioned by our proverbial founding fathers, leadership was to be cultivated from the citizenry. People who were successful in their various fields of endeavor were to temporarily leave their trade or profession, run for elected office, and serve their constituents for a finite period of time. At the completion of their elected term, they would then return to their former productive role in society. The idea was that successful people in their own right would probably have what it takes to be an elected official, a representative of the people.

Somewhere along the line, though, that ideal fell by the wayside. I am not a historian, nor am I a political scientist, so I don’t know the particulars; all I know is that what filled the vacuum was a new breed – the so-called career politician.

Perhaps due to the growth of the nation, and the growth of the role of the representative, being a politician became a career in itself. No longer was it practical for the successful businessman to temporarily step up. Learning the ropes interfered with the actual practice of the role for the newly elected. The trend started to lean towards full-time politicians who just made a lifelong pursuit of getting elected to ever higher and higher office.

At the same time, it became ever more expensive to even run for office. Politicians needed to raise massive amounts of money simply to run their campaign for office. Of course individual citizens can, and frequently do support their preferred candidates via campaign contribution, which is all well and good.

Unfortunately, significantly more money pours in through special interest groups and lobbyists who trade money for access and influence. By channeling money into the campaign of a candidate, the lobbyist earns access to the politician once elected. That access allows the lobbyist to exert influence over how the politician may vote for impending legislation. Having the vote go his way is very important for the lobbyist and those he represents.

Regardless of these observations, democracy is good, and it is certainly preferable to all alternatives. It may not be perfect, but I’ll take it any day over the alternatives – that is why I still cherish, appreciate, and practice my right to vote as an American citizen.

Now, let’s talk about some Magic art.

For today’s subject, think back to the dark days, during one of Magic worst sets to date – no, silly, I am not talking about the Dark; I am talking about Mercadian Masques. Sorry if I bring up bad memories, but this sad set does sport a rather nice piece of art by the Hildebrandt brothers – a piece that is aptly titled, given the subject of today’s offering.

Have you guessed it yet? I am talking about none other than Corrupt Official.

Remember this fantastic card? Isn’t it great? A 3/1 for 5cc – super! I am thinking of dropping the Spiritmongers in my Black/Green multiplayer deck so I can put this card in the 5cc slot. Wow, it even regenerates for only two colorless more than the Spiritmonger – who by the way is only a 6/6 that grows when it kills a blocker in combat, and don’t forget, it changes color with G. In case you are keeping track, that is three fantastic, cheap, abilities on the five casting-cost 6/6 Spiritmonger.

Again, I say…wow!

On the other hand, mechanically speaking, you do have to give”flavor” credit to R&D. The Corrupt Official’s actual mechanics are, in fact, extremely clever. Let’s review the facts:

  • With a power and toughness of 3/1 it is relatively”OFFENSIVE” – can you think of any politicians you find offensive? I sure can.

  • When the Official attacks, there is a high price to pay if you get in its way – you have to discard a card just for the privilege of blocking – ever heard the expression”you can’t fight city hall”?

  • Instead of dying in combat, you can use the replacement effect of regeneration, but… It’s gonna cost you. B and two colorless, get it? Pump in more mana – analogous to money – and the Official lives another day. I swear, sometimes I think R&D doesn’t keep paid nearly enough when I think about the clever stuff they create… And then I think of Pale Moon, and I am brought rudely back to reality. In fact, based on Pale Moon alone, I think R&D owes me. Dudes! Pay up… I cracked a Pale Moon in sealed one time, and I am still pissed!

All kidding aside, when you think about it, could there even be a more stark way to compare Masques to Apocalypse? Incredible, but I guess you don’t need me to tell you that Spiritmonger is good and Corrupt Official is bad. If you need me to tell you that, you are in deep trouble strategywise.

But… there is one way that the Corrupt Official is better, quite aside from the already mentioned mechanics, which are at least clever, if not greatly overpriced, the art for Corrupt Official is vastly superior.

First off, I like the composition. The characters are nicely posed and greatly contribute to the storytelling of the card. The poses of each character are perfectly representative of the mood and body language you would expect for such a transaction; money is changing hands in return for some favor. The character in the turban seems to be saying,”Here it is – just like I promised, isn’t it nice?” while the Official – who happens to be Corrupt – has a contemplative, greedy look, which is reinforced by the Rizzo-esque hand-to-the-chin mannerism. On closer inspection, the look* is one of pure evil.

Also I think to color palette used is very nice. The purple and gold scheme is very appealing. Notice how the box and the gold inside of it are the brightest objects in the frame. This effectively draws attention to it, and emphasizes its role in the story being told.

Having already mentioned the poses, it is also true that the proportions and human anatomy of the two characters are well done. No mistakes are evident – not that I would expect any from this highly accomplished team. An extension of the accuracy of these drawings is the success of the form, or the”three dimensionality” of the characters. Contributing to the form, as always, is effective lighting: The highly-lit topsides nicely reflect the strong light from above. The undersides of the various forms are appropriately shadowed, and the combined effect helps to reveal the form.

The camera angle has been carefully chosen to increase the drama of the scene. The camera angle is an upshot, and it has been very thoughtfully placed. We can see just enough of the tabletop to indicate that is very slightly below eye level. However, we as the viewer are still looking up into the faces of the characters. I think this is a subtle, yet essential, key to the success of this painting.

As far as nice accoutrements go, notice the flourish on the front face of the table. This flour de lei-like pattern provides an interesting foreground object; it is one that adds visual interest, without distracting or overwhelming other more important parts of the scene.

Finally, a parting note concerning the composition: Notice the contrast between the squareness of the table when compared to the elliptical shapes in the top of the frame. These bold, simple shapes are nice elements of the design, and contribute subconsciously to our appreciation of the art.

Before concluding, I should say that I have always been intrigued by the work of the Hildebrandt brothers, and I am curious as to how they split the work. Does one of them work the design and composition – and once that is acceptable to both, the other paints over the original sketch? I am just wondering as to their process; anyone out there know? How about you, Greg and Tim? Drop me a line. That’d be cool!

Well there you have it: A review of an obscure card from the forgettable Mercadian Masques set. Without the occasion of yesterday’s US elections as the inspiration for dusting this card off for review, perhaps you could have made it through the rest of your life without ever seeing the card again. Whether that is good or bad, I’ll let you be the judge – but just because the card is bad, it doesn’t mean the art is bad.

In the case of Corrupt Official, I am personally very happy to have accidentally rediscovered this very fine, yet underappreciated art on the fortuitous occasion of my reflecting upon Election Day.

Michael Jay LaRue

Engineer Legend

[email protected]

* – Take that, Rizzo! That’s what you get – a negative reference in my otherwise nice art review. That’s what you get for leaving me off of your review of StarCity Feature Writers. That’s the thanks I get after all I’ve done for you? Well, I guess I haven’t done all that much for you, if anything at all…

Okay, I have done nothing for you – but as you of all people should know, it is hard to turn off a ramble while mid-stream in rant mode.