Magic Art Matters… And So Does the Eighth Edition Layout Design!

The man’s made his name here critiquing art and telling us how important it is to Magic. And here comes the 8th Edition, specifically redesigned just to make the art larger. What does the man who breathes artistry think of it?

While preparing my approach to this article, a response to the revamped card design for Eighth Edition, I was bouncing thoughts around in my mind, and found myself considering such high minded concepts as beauty, taste, aesthetics and effective design. How noble of me, right?

Well maybe partially noble – but at the same time ironic.

I say ironic because during that very same time of mental preparation, I was watching the first two episodes of the new season of American Idol. That’s right; for a total of three and a half hours over the last two nights I have sat in front of the TV and soaked in that sad excuse for modern entertainment. It is reality TV both at its best and its worst, but it certainly isn’t noble or virtuous – rather, it is vacuous and insipid. But it is also riveting. Watching the hopeful aspirants audition, singing their hearts and lungs out in a parade of awful karaoke, horrific boy-band renditions, all the while putting themselves at the mercy of the ravenous and often cruel judges is captivating to me.

By the way, the next episode airs on Tuesday – and shamefully, I must admit that I will probably be watching. (I feel the same way about Joe Millionaire – The Ferrett)

Seriously though, before talking about my reaction to the new layout I must draw an important distinction. The twofold motivation for Magic Art Matters, as introduced in the Spelljack review is that [1] the quality of Magic art can be objectively evaluated against the aesthetic rules of art, and [2] it is helpful for us as consumers to be informed on such matters, and that community dialog on the subject will be beneficial. On these artistic matters. I have reasonable academic training and artistic experience to speak with confidence.

However, the rules of graphic design, such as applied to a task of card layout, are a separate and distinct subject. I do not have any formal training or experience regarding design. As such, anything I say is nothing more than an opinion of like or dislike, expressed from my perspective as a consumer and enthusiast of the game of Magic.

So I won’t say much about good design versus bad design – but I do have some comments both on "flavor,” and on how the new design affects the presentation of the art.

So my opinion, in case you haven’t already guessed is that I strongly dislike the new design, and I think a lot of the initial spin Wizards is putting out, in the form of the Buehler interview, and the New Design FAQ, is thin and unconvincing. I will say, however, that I gained a lot of insight into their motivations by reading the Rosewater interview on Brainburst. Mark is a very good communicator, and his comments helped me understand their motivations for the changes much better than all the other articles.

As for specifics, the first thing I really regret is that Magic”flavor” has been severely impacted for the worse. This is a common observation on the discussion boards, and some people who comment about flavor have cited the loss the Magic typeface as a component. Personally, I think that the font plays a gigantic role in providing Magic its flavor. The font is stylish, distinctive and unique, and I have never had a problem reading the font. If my memory serves me correctly, Tolkien’s creation of Middle Earth started with his establishment of an alphabet and language; Middle Earth was created to provide a context for the language. He was a scholar of language before he was a fantasy author. To me, the typeface/font plays a similar role for Magic. To abandon it so abruptly, and replace it with such a sterile substitute, is quite a substantial loss. Other solutions could have been used to improve readability without replacing the font wholesale.

My second observation is that the presentation of the art has actually suffered greatly – mostly due to the presence of the two new text boxes that appear on the top and bottom of the art. They do not frame the art properly, and they distract a great deal from the art. I think that this is in large part due to the fact that the boxes are filled with such a light background that they reflect too much light back into the viewer’s eye. In effect the viewer has to contend with glare from the two text boxes; so much so that it actually competes with the art.

The best example of this effect is the Onslaught Swamp that features the pink orchid. That is a beautiful painting, and it looks perfect in the current frame. Compare that to the new frame which you can see on the Sideboard article; it looks terrible because it is impossible for the eye to appreciate it separately from the text boxes because they’re so intrusive. That doesn’t sound like a good way to display art, does it?

A secondary effect is that by modifying the frame so heavily, a strong unifying element has been lost. The current frame effectively conveys that each spell is represented by two main parts – its visualization, the art, and its mechanics, which are conveyed within the text box. Other important attributes such as card name, type, power and toughness, and mana cost are all discreetly embedded within the frame in a way that is unobtrusive with respect to the art, yet still readable and useful in conveying the needed information for the game.

In contrast, the redesign – while perhaps more readable at a distance – comes across more like mere stacked boxes of information. As a result, the unifying frame is lost and the overall presentation of the art suffers, despite the fact the art itself is "bigger." **

I guess for me, borrowing from a popular phrase, it’s not how big your art is, its how you present it. Yeah, that’s it; it’s all about the presentation.

So to summarize, I dislike the new design, but not so much that I would consider leaving the game. *** The fact is that there are too many ways in which Magic remains a good multifaceted hobby for me. I have had a lot of great experiences related to this game, including the opportunity that I have to write for StarCity. I have enjoyed many hours appreciating the art, building quirky multiplayer decks, and playing this game. Along the way I have made some good friends. ****

Michael Jay LaRue

Engineer Legend

[email protected]

* – Before leaving the reference to P/T, I guess it is hard to ignore a suggestion from Dr. Garfield regarding its readability "from across the table.” Speaking for myself though, I have never had a problem with reading power and toughness based on size. I have however been inconvenienced by the fact that the numbers are upside down from across the table. Did anyone ever consider solving that problem? An answer would be to duplicate P/T somewhere on the top edge, but inverted. That way the font size could have stayed the same, and the numbers themselves would be closer to the opponent, and would be very clear. How’s that for thinking outside the box?

You don’t like it? Sorry, I told you already; I’m an artist, not a designer.

** – I find it odd that Wizards has touted the "increased art size" so prominently, while ignoring the fact that other aspects of the design detract from that very same art.

*** – I am already bracing myself in anticipation of how disconcerting I think it will be to hold a handful of seven cards from a domain deck that mixes pre- and post- Eighth cards. I do not think the colors will mix well in such a hand, and I think it will be visually difficult to manage. I guess time will tell.

**** – I’ve had a great time as a member of my playgroup. ***** I enjoy getting together with the guys, and eating pizza (must cut back though…mmmm, pizza). I enjoy impressing Ken and Laszlo with my vast sports knowledge, and it is fun (for the most part) watching them go at each other’s throats week after week, spiting each other with nasty artifacts and discard effects. To this day, though, I do not understand why they tease me about liking Salsa dancing, or how I got the nickname "Colon Boy.”

Note to Laz: buy some new cards and lose the Crown of Ages; no one likes it, and your copy is kind of beat anyway.

Note to Ken: thanks a lot for getting me hooked on Survivor…Good call; thanks a lot buddy (again, sarcasm).

***** – Unfortunately, we are down to three core players in our group. Are you an adult (no younger than college age) in Southern California – Orange County, or southern LA County, and interested in regular, casual multiplayer Magic? We normally play Sunday nights and occasionally Thursday nights. Drop me a line; you know how to reach me.