As I am sure you are aware, every now and again StarCity posts a feature article pair under the banner of”The Fill-in-the-blank-with-a-card name Dilemma.” You know the drill; some pair of cards that could come up in a draft poses a thrilling dilemma – which card to choose? The pair always seems to be highly playable, roughly comparable power-wise, and hard to discriminate between when making the final decision on the pick.
Ken Krouner and Paul Sottosanti spar nobly, taking opposite ends of the argument, and I have found the series both informative and entertaining. I’ve even learned things that have directly helped me in a couple of Sealed deck events.
Earlier this week, the”dilemma” duo of writers rose to the challenge once again, and debated the relative merit of Echo Tracer versus Mistform Seaswift. Last I checked, there was some healthy follow-up debate taking place in the discussion threads of the two respective articles. Hopefully, that discussion is ongoing, and what I offer today will serve as a nice supplement – since I plan to tackle the same dilemma, but this time from an artistic perspective.
The premise is, given roughly comparable pieces of Magic art – such as Echo Tracer and Mistform Seaswift – is it possible to evaluate them and say that one is better than the other? I will boldly say yes – yes, it is possible to declare one better than the other. In this case, when all is said and done, I will have offered an opinion about which one I think is better, and I will have provided my rationale.
Before diving headlong into the art discussion, I must say that I did not think the Dilemma this week was really that much of a contest. Even though I am a big fan of flying and would therefore give the nod to the Seaswift, I have personally had much better results with the Tracer. Fact is, if I am looking at blue, I was probably already fortunate to get a Lavamancer’s Skill, in which case I want more wizards in my deck. Now, while the Seaswift has the ability to become a wizard for U, I guess I just prefer a natural wizard for my Skill target. This is preferable, given my play style; upping the natural wizard count, in my case, is a passive form of idiot-proofing. In Sealed, I have actually activated the ping ability of a Skilled Seaswift, without paying (oops!) the one U to change creature type prior. It mattered in that game, and I lost.
Anyway, don’t listen to me for single card strategy; I am just saying that the Tracer is an easy choice for me. There are too many combat tricks made possible by using the bounce ability, not to mention the downside associated with the Seaswift’s lowly one point of toughness. And the Tracer is just plain old fun to play with.
Even though the card images are shown above, in order to avoid contracting”scroll-itis,” I recommend that you dig up a copies of these cards from your cardboard collection. For those of you who have gone fully digital and own no real-life cards, I don’t know what to tell you. Really, I just don’t know what to tell you.
Now to assess each card on its merits regarding the key artistic attributes:
Echo Tracer – This is a good composition. The main and secondary characters are well situated within the frame, and there are no tangents. The row of buildings in the background serves nicely to separate the painting diagonally into two triangular shapes. The buildings comprise the lower left triangle, and provide a good anchor for the painting. This is nicely balanced by the upper right triangle that holds the murky, mustard colored sky. One thing that I do find ambiguous* about this composition is the identity and role of the dark blue shape that is top and center within the frame; is it a cape, or some kind of mechanical device attached to the back of the character? Whatever it is, it works well in the composition. Imagine if it were removed – then the starkness of the sky behind it would look too barren. As it is currently, both triangular shapes – lower left and upper right – are well-balanced in their complexity and use of space.
Mistform Seaswift – Again, this is a fine composition. The cloud character is well placed and balanced against the island city below. All the space within the frame is carefully used and the overall composition seems to be harmonious. In other words there are no vacant areas, nor are there overly complex areas for that matter.
Regarding the use of space, I want to call attention to an earlier review of Daru Cavalier; Daru Cavalier was also painted by Dany Orizio. For that painting, I took issue with the way Orizio chose to display the chain-like whip. I thought it looked unnaturally forced to fit into the frame. If he had, rather, let it slightly exceed the extent of the frame, it would have at least allowed the chain to assume a more natural shape. In the case of the Seaswift, Orizio has done a much better job; he has allowed the wings of the cloud creature to reach slightly outside the frame without compromising their overall shape. Same thing with the tail. It bends naturally and trails off effectively, the bend overlapping the frame ever so slightly, but not excessively, and at the same time avoiding creation of a tangent. Good job.
Regarding composition, I would rate these two paintings as”even,” both getting a grade of”B.”
Echo Tracer – As mentioned in the discussion of composition, all the space is effectively used. The negative space formed by the rooftops in the upper left corner is visually appealing. Also, the edge of the blue bubble in the lower right creates a nice shape in conjunction with the sky in that area. The two major sky shapes are both irregular, and distinct enough from one another that as a result, they create visual interest.
Mistform Seaswift – The primary negative shapes of note are those formed by the wings and the sky. Unfortunately, these tend to be more uniform in nature, and offer less contrast to one another that they are less interesting than the negative spaces found within Echo Tracer.
Regarding Negative Space, Echo Tracer gets the nod by scoring a”B,” while Seaswift gets a”C.”
Depth of Field
Echo Tracer – Here, the artist has not attempted to show extreme depth; the foreground, middle ground and background are not separated by a lot of distance. However, Fischer has used a couple of techniques to effectively accentuate what little separation there is: Look at how the buildings tend to have a curved shape. This indicated by the fact that they are wrapping around the background of the scene. This wrap is sold by the way that the buildings are taller on the left side of the image, and gradually recede into the background, getting shorter all the while. Fischer has also conveyed depth by making the buildings fade from dark to light as they recede. Furthermore, the”blue bubble” provides a foreground object of interest, again showing depth.
Mistform Seaswift – Here, the artist has taken on an interesting challenge and executed it well. Depth is actually conveyed in two dimensions; first, there is an attempt to show depth into the background. This is well done in the choice of the horizon, and the elliptical shape of the island. I assume that from directly above the island would appear circular. By showing it as an ellipse, in the plane of the water, depth is conveyed. The second way that depth is shown is evident in the”cloud creature”; it is well drawn – the right wing is larger, is drawn in perspective, and its volume appears to be projecting outward towards the viewer. So across the wingspan of the creature, depth is effectively conveyed.
The second dimension of depth is in the vertical. The artist has done a good job; it would have been easy to make a mistake and let the creature appear too close to the island and thus ruin the illusion. However, by making sure that the details of features on the island are finely rendered on a small scale. The delicate fountains and small rooftops adequately fix the island as well beneath the flying creature in the vertical dimension. In addition, Orizio has used the cast shadow to indicate vertical depth; the creature is well above the island, and it is casting its large ominous shadow downward onto the island.
Regarding Depth of Field I’d rate Tracer as a”B” and the Seaswift as an”A minus.”
Echo Tracer – Throughout this painting, it is apparent that Fischer has been careful in rendering his line with an interesting and varying quality. There are sharp edges, as found along the rooftop, but even there you can see delicately feathered shingles on several ridges. The flowing hair of the suspended character shows a differing style of free-flowing line; this variety in the line quality adds to the visual interest of the painting.
Mistform Seaswift – In contrast, Orizio has a more uniform approach in his rendered line; all the edges are softer. There is nothing wrong with this approach per se, but you can see that it is a factor in why the Tracer lines seem to have more variety, and therefore more appeal.
Regarding Line Quality, the Tracer gets an”A minus,” the Seaswift a”C.”
Echo Tracer – The easiest place to see how form is revealed on the Tracer is the shoulder armor that adorns the secondary, bug-eyed, bubble-head character. The careful way that the light is shown to wrap around the shoulder reveals form effectively, and the bright highlights serve nicely to indicate that it is made of some kind of metal. Similarly, form is revealed in the way light wraps around the body of the main, suspended character.
Mistform Seaswift – In this case the artist started with a greater challenge – how do you show form for a”cloud-like” creature? By nature, a cloud is formless. With that said, Orizio has done an adequate job nonetheless. The undersides of the”clouds” are subtly greyer, and there is a puffiness conveyed for the creature.
Regarding Form, Tracer”B plus,” Seaswift”C plus.”
This artistic attribute is kind of a wash; neither painting is remarkable in this regard. I fail to see how encasing a creature’s head in a blue bubble constitutes anything like a bounce ability. Similarly, simply drawing a bird-like creature to convey flying seems rather obvious, and effective – however, this rendition does nothing to earn any extra credit for creativity. To be fair though, we do not know what instructions were given to the artists (but maybe someday we will, if they do an Arcana article on it). Maybe they did not have a lot of latitude, or they were given lackluster instructions to begin with. Storytelling is a wash – no grade for either painting.
Use of Color
Echo Tracer – Here, I think Fischer has chosen an attractive array of colors to include in his palette for the Echo Tracer – dark blue, brick red, mustard, and light blue. Just reading them off of this list, these colors sound appealing. If you blur your vision while looking at the Tracer, you still get a distinct image that registers well. That is because the colors work well with each other, they are applied to form interesting shapes, and they effectively contrast one another. Finally, the presence of the single blue bubble provides a good compositional focal point.
Mistform Seaswift – On the other hand, the Seaswift seems to derive from a more limited (and hence less interesting) palette – medium blue to white is the range. Lavender, light green, gray, and light blue complete the color selection. This list in itself just seems boring. What happens when you conduct the blur test on the Seaswift? Well, to tell the truth, not much. The scene just melts into a nondescript blob. A lot of that stems from the way the cloud creature dominates the scene – still, the result is less interesting, perhaps through no fault of the artist; maybe he had less to work with than Fischer did on the Tracer painting.
Regarding Color, Tracer gets an”A minus”; Seaswift only rates a”C.”
Well, that about wraps it up. When I started this review I had a pretty open mind; I felt that these two pieces were roughly equal going in. Fact is, I like both, and both are well done, and the Seaswift does get some brownie points due to its”looks cool” ** appeal. However, as I carefully evaluated both paintings on their individual merits, it became increasingly clear that the Echo Tracer is simply a better piece of art.
* – Another thing that some find ambiguous is that the suspended character seems to imply flying. This was called to my attention by Craig, who wrote to ask my opinion of Echo Tracer. While I see the possibility for confusion, I interpret the floating to convey the bounce ability.
** – I appreciate”looks cool” as much as the next person, as long as it does not come at the expense of the fundamentals.