Magic Art Matters – All Hail The Osprey!

Since I don’t plan on buying any cards with the new 8th Edition card face, I am going to have to get used to playing more obscure cards that I my have previously overlooked. And along those lines, a perfect example of what one might find when trying to dredge up an old and underutilized card is none other than the awesome Fledgling Osprey.

The day has finally come! For the first time, this weekend all over the world, the customers of Magic will crack packs, build a Sealed deck, and play with 8th Edition cards that sport the new card face. For better or worse, we are stuck with the revamped design. The only way that will ever change that is if 8th Edition sales are bad, and the cause can be traced to customer displeasure with the new look. I believe the revival of the old-school card face is a remote possibility if the new design tanks… But I’m not holding my breath.

Of course the decision to purchase anything is a personal one, and if you like the new design, or are indifferent and continue to buy, I will respect you and your decision. As for myself, the question is – will I continue to purchase new Magic cards? I am not sure. I am probably leaning towards buying much, much less. I will probably only buy enough as is necessary to participate in a few sanctioned Sealed deck tournaments and booster drafts.

Will I continue to play Magic? The answer is an emphatic hell, yes! I think this is a great game. I am going to keep playing as long as my little three-person playgroup will have me, and if this groups seizes up, I’ll find, or start, another. Things are good with the group, even though we have been stuck at only 3 people for a while. However, I do think Ken is subconsciously trying to drive both me and Laszlo out into the cold with his ever-present resets and his”surprising” Elven alpha strikes. (Dude, Tribal Unity is getting really old, give it a rest… And you, Wizards of the Coast, ease off on designing our decks for us – m’kay? I am already tired of seeing Ken go all tribal on us.)

Will I continue to keep an eye on the art of Magic? Again, the answer is an emphatic hell yes! I truly enjoy the art of Magic, and I respect the artists of Magic. I envision myself buying Fat Packs until I am a hunched-over old man, poring over the Players Guide looking for good art. Unfortunately, I also see myself continuing to throw away the”novel,” as I always do – don’t you? I can’t be the only one…

And finally, I know I am going to keep buying the Fat Packs, at least until I pull a Black spindown life counter. I swear I have multiples of every single color, yet still no black one. Oh well, life goes on. Note to Wizards; lose the books, lower the price, and load more Black spindown counters into the Fat Packs – I know you are holding out on me when it comes to the Black D20s!

And what, you ask, is the main reason for curtailing my purchases? Ironically, it is not simply the fact that I think the new card face is ugly – which I do. It’s because they are is different than all my other cards now. This is huge for the Type 1, casual multiplayer crowd. Hands drawn from decks made from a mixture of old and new card face formats will be a nightmare from an aesthetic point of view – or, as it could also be called, Human Factors.* A domain deck will have at least twelve different”looks,” not to mention the lands or the gold cards. A three-color deck, which is perhaps more likely, will have eight different”looks,” again excluding land and gold cards.

I estimate that I own about twenty-four boxes, each one with eight hundred cards in it, for a rough total of 19,200 cards. And I have only been playing since Urza’s Saga! Now all of a sudden, I should start diluting my collection with a new look? Not very likely, but I am sure this is not the case for my friend Ken; he is finished buying new cards. Actually, this is good news for him as I suspect he was looking for a convenient stopping point anyway. The new design just provides a good excuse. Don’t worry about him, though; he’s got plenty of cards – more than enough to continue cheesing us out for many years to come.

As for Laszlo, his collection stabilized a long time ago at around 1,600 cards. He plays sleeveless, though, and his Crown of Ages looks like it’s been through the laundry several times. It’s no problem, as he still seems to have a lot of fun. Let’s just say he’s not as materialistic about his cards as I am about mine. And when I say”not as materialistic,” I mean”not as anal-retentive-obsessive-compulsive-don’t-mess-with-my-cards” as I am about mine. Woe unto him who even accidentally puts a fingernail ding in any of my cards. When you target one of my cards in play, how hard is it to use the fleshy part of your fingertip?

What with all this ranting, can I find any good news regarding the card face update? Believe it or not, in a roundabout way I do think there is some good news. The fact is that cutting way back on future purchases will actually tend to increase the value of all my current cards – at least in terms of how I will use and enjoy them. Basically, I am going to have to get used to playing more obscure cards that I may have previously overlooked.

I think that is a good thing.

I am going to keep playing, and keep building new decks, and the nearly 20,000 cards that I currently own will be a good pool to build from. And along those lines, a perfect example of what one might find when trying to dredge up an old and underutilized card is none other than the awesome Fledgling Osprey. Come to think, I am so impressed with the joy of rediscovering this little gem of a card, I am going to adopt it as my mascot for enjoying my old-school collection. It is the perfect card for such a purpose: First, it is relatively old-school and it hasn’t showed up in any of my decks to date, and it thereby fulfills the”obscurity” criteria. Second, it flies (well, sorta – as long as it is enchanted, anyway), and finally I like the art in a playful and light-hearted way.

Fledgling Osprey - NM/M

Truthfully, I think that the art is well done. It is somewhat reminiscent of the naturalist style that was discussed in my article on the Thieving Magpie. I like the composition; the way the background cliff meets the sky to form a nice triangle that frames the head of the bird. I think that the anatomy, shape, and form of the bird are well done, and it appears to have a convincing volume. In addition the claws serve as the obligatory foreground object of interest. There is a strong and consistent source of light that appears to shine left to right. This is effectively conveyed in the little twigs that form the nest. Notice how the numerous branches have a light top-side and darker underside. Also the brightness, or illumination level, of the twigs increases when looking from the right side to the left side. This is consistent with the apparent light source. I also really enjoy the way the one stray branch arcs gracefully from lower left over to the upper right corner. This ties the various compositional components together beautifully, and the intersections create nice negative spaces. It also creates movement and gives our eye something to follow. Very nice!**

Finally, within the character itself, there is a kind of poignancy evident in the bird’s feeble look, as if to say -“I may not be awe-inspiring, and I may have spindly ineffectual wings, but at least I am old-school.”

So there – I did it! I came up with a positive way of looking at this card face transition. The swap makes every old card in my collection more valuable to me – even the lowly Fledgling Osprey, who I now have come to cherish even more than I ever thought possible.

To celebrate my newfound mascot, I think I’ll build a deck around the little whippersnapper. I’ll even open up the process of deck-building to StarCityGames’ reading public. Do you have any ideas on how I could make the best of this little guy? Of course the deck will need some creature enchantments to exploit the Osprey’s”ability.” And, since I automatically know that the little bird will be vulnerable to Shock (or any similar instant) in response to attempting to cast Rancor (or whatever) to make my spell fizzle, I will need some Iridescent Drakes to recover those lost enchantments.

So that’s my starting point: Four Ospreys, and maybe two or three Drakes. Remember that I like flying as a component of my decks, but other than that I am open regarding color suggestions. Also just for grins – and to push the irony factor through the roof – I will especially appreciate card nominations from the 8th Edition card list.

One thing, though, please don’t suggest Suntail Hawk. We all know that is a great little flier that shows up in 8th, but really it is a little too obvious a choice for a flying deck, and I really don’t want to rain on the Osprey’s parade. Let’s let him be the best one-drop in the deck. Basically, my group plays Type 1 multiplayer formats and we observe the T1 banned and restricted list. If I don’t already have copies of the cards, I’ll do my best to get prior versions of any 8th Edition suggestions. Heck, I bet my buds will even let me proxy some cards if they are particularly hard to find.

In parting, I’d be interested to hear from you if you have found this idea of an old-school, mascot card to be thought provoking. Is there an old, obscure card that you are fond of for one reason or another? Do you have your own equivalent to my Fledgling Osprey? If you do, let me know. I think that will be one way for us to get through this tough transition together.

And, by the way, don’t worry about me; this is a great game with a well-conceived fundamental game design thanks to Dr. Garfield, and I really enjoying playing. I am going to continue playing, and furthermore, I am going to continue enjoying, and writing about the art of Magic. The only change now is that I will be playing and enjoying Magic in spite of the new card face, not because of it.

Michael Jay LaRue

Engineer Legend

[email protected]

* – Human Factors is a design discipline that deals with the”human usability” of a product. A good introduction to the subject can be found at the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society website. While the field of human factors encompasses many types of systems for all sorts of everyday products up to and including such complex systems as airplane cockpits and cabins, it also could be applied to game design. It is the human factors aspects of”information presentation, (information) detection, and (information) recognition” that I think has been given short shrift in Wizards’ new card face for Magic.

To summarize my complaints, using a Type 1 domain, mixed card face deck as an example the problems are: [1] too many background colors, [2] typeface between cards will be drastically different, and [3] the card name and card-type lines of text will not line up (I can’t confirm, but I believe this to be true). Regardless of mixing old versus new, the elimination of color from the mana symbols in the text boxes is a problem – intuitively mana has to do with the color, not the shape of the symbol.

And finally, what was wrong with the”tap” symbols? Answer – nothing was wrong with it. In fact there was a simple elegance inherent in the diamond shape. It implied tapping should occur in 90-degree increments. The replacement now looks more like a”free-rotate” symbol. Why fix it if it wasn’t broken?

** – I have to confess, even though I have always liked Fledging Osprey, I started this article not meaning to get into much detail about the art itself. Don’t get me wrong – it is certainly good, but in the course of close inspection I have a deeper appreciation for the art on this card. It is really fantastic. I have looked really closely, and I just noticed the nice execution of the downy feathers and the detail of the scales on the bird’s claws. Heather Hudson has done a really nice job. Unfortunately, this is another case where good art gets associated with a rather lame card. Maybe in some small way this critique can do its small part to make up for that unfortunate circumstance. Good work Heather!

P.S. – Next time, look for a follow-up to last year’s Moons of Magic article, as well as a birthday report. Have you ever gone snorkeling, and had an up close encounter with a seven-foot tiger shark, on your birthday no less? I have – it was a fantastic experience!