Magic Art Matters – The Scourge Prerelease

As good as the preview art was, I really did not see any card that really struck me as artistically outstanding. Almost all the art seemed at least competent, if not good or even above average, but nothing I saw knocked my socks off. Still, I might as well show you the cards I played with, right?

Grabbing my Magic paraphernalia the night before the Scourge Pre-release, I took pause – should I take earplugs along or not? I had everything else I needed. Playmat? Check. A bag of about thirty-five wheat pennies* to use as counters? Check. Big bag o’dice** replete with numerous six-, ten-, and twenty-siders? Check. Empty deck box and ample Ultra Pro penny sleeves? Check and check.

But foam earplugs***? Who brings those to a Magic tourney? Unfortunately for me, the one day I would actually need hearing protection at a Magic tournament, I sadly left the earplugs at home – and I would soon regret this error.

Having been favorably impressed with the art that was leaked about a month ago,. I was looking forward to seeing more of it. Well, I guess I was both looking forward to both seeing, and playing with, whatever cards the winds of fate directed my way.

The change of venue for the Southern California Scourge prerelease was a”good news, bad news” story for me. Normally, SoCal prereleases are held at the Costa Mesa Women’s Club, which becomes impossibly crowded on such occasions. This time, however, Dan Gray wisely scouted new locations and wound up renting space at the LAX Airport Hilton for this event. That’s the good news – the substantially more spacious ballroom for the tournament itself, and the infinitely cleaner, roomier, and accommodating restroom facilities went a long way to insure a more comfortable day of gaming. Don’t even get me started on the dismal restroom situation at the Women’s Club – but if you must know where I stand on the matter, you are welcome to read my Planeshift rrerelease report, focusing on the second footnote.

As for the bad news: For some unknown reason, the world-renowned Hilton chain could not muster a volume knob for the Public Address system that could be turned to anything below a”12,” as measured on the”Spinal Tap” scale of intentional hearing impairment.

That’s right – absolutely every word uttered over the PA from the TO podium boomed from the overhead speakers with such force that Magic players of all races, colors and creeds – young and old alike – were seen wincing and cowering in pain. It was as if Urza himself was wielding the Hammer of Bogardan and was training it squarely on our fragile ears. Blow after blow, it felt like shards of glass were being pounded into my ears. And with at least eight flights of thirty-two players being run concurrently, the racket was incessant.

Oh, if only I had my little foam earplugs with me – what a salvation they would have been! Right then and there I vowed to never again be without my little foam earplugs at a Magic event. They are lightweight and easy to pack; I don’t even have to wear them. But if I need them again, then at least I’ll have them.

You know what? Maybe I am exaggerating a bit – well actually, a lot. But, I promise you, it did bother the crap out of me, and several of my opponents as well. I know this because over the course of five rounds, at least two people I played mentioned their discomfort with the PA before I even had a chance to say anything about it.

For example, in round three, A.C. mentioned his auditory pain while he was Lay Wasting my only swamp after it became apparent that I was having mana problems. I responded,”I feel your pain,” in my best Bill Clinton impersonation as I put my lone foil Swamp into my graveyard.

He did not seem to see the humor in that.

And again in round 5, my opponent – sorry, I forgot your name – said,”…that is really annoying” at the very same time that I was Wellwishering for ten, since I had my Ambush Commander out, with six forests and four”true” elves in play. Did I forget to mention that I was simultaneously Shepherd of Rotting for four a turn?

He was referring to the PA, wasn’t he? I thought he was.

Kidding aside, I don’t mean to be a jerk – he really did say something about the noise. Also he was playing three colors with only sixteen lands, with no acceleration or search, other than whatever landcyclers he might have had. Those mana problems allowed me to get my combo out, and even I – who gladly take my wins when I get them – apologized several times for the cheesiness. He was a good sport about it, though.

So as you can tell by now, I was Green and Black for this event, and I really liked my deck. Elves, Zombies and some big Beasts – many with Morph – were complemented by Smother, Cruel Revival, Lingering Death, and Dream Chisel. Throughout the day I had fun with my big Wellwisher/Rot combo. I got to play a nice bunch of opponents and I ended with an acceptable result (for me, anyway) of 2-2-1. If only one of my losses had been a win, I would have been in contention for some packs!

No biggie; I had fun, and I enjoyed my deck.

My only disappointment was my pairing in round 4, though it had nothing to do with my opponent Sam, who was a fine opponent – no complaints from me. It turns out that he was at 3-0, while I was 1-1-1 at the time. That was no fun; I was pretty intimidated that he might be a really good player with a strong deck, and I felt overpowered. Does a 3-0 really get paired with a 1-1-1? After he won the match, making good use of both the Black and the White Warchiefs, I checked the parings again and noticed that he only had six points prior to the round, so I let him know – seems that there was an error entering the result from an earlier round which was then corrected. Glad that worked out for him.

Well since this is”Magic Art Matters,” and since my prerelease method is to discuss the artwork for one or more standout cards from my deck (or from having seen a card put in play by my opponent), I guess it is time to talk some art. Unfortunately, as good as the preview art was, I really did not see any card that really struck me as artistically outstanding. Almost all the art seemed at least competent, if not good or even above average, but nothing I saw knocked my socks off.

But I must say that the prerelease foil was a pleasant surprise. Soul Collector, which was also a preview card, actually seems to have survived the cropping choice imposed by the art department. I was worried about that because in the preview, the painting was shown in the original composition as being much taller that it was wide – enough so that it was obvious that cropping would be required. Highlights of this art include great composition in the arrangement of the figures and the resulting appeal of the many negative spaces. I also really like the way the (apparently naked? – huh, wha…?) hooded, roly-poly guys seem to have form and weight due to the effective shading technique employed. Anyway, Matt Wilson did a great job, and Wizards’ Art Department even came through with a good cropping choice – nice!

Soul Collector FOIL - Scourge NM/M

As for the first of the cards that made my deck I’d like to talk about Mark Tedin’s Wirewood Guardian.

Wirewood Guardian - Scourge NM/M

I think the best thing about this card, aside from its nice attention to detail, which is evident in the rendering of the elves, is the depth. Notice how the relative size of the various characters plays a big role in the composition. The main character obviously towers over the elf at his feet. This is apparent because they are in the same plane, yet the mutant elf is much bigger.

Now compare the small elf to the elf in the foreground. Logically, we assume that these two elves are similar in size; however, the artist has drawn the foreground elf as larger. By doing so, Mark Tedin has done a good job creating depth. I like this one.

Woodcloaker - Scourge NM/M

Moving on to Woodcloaker, I bring this up for the sole purpose of comparing it to the painting I called”Crouched in a Tree.” For that painting, I registered a complaint that the background indicated an upshot, but that was inconsistent with the way the character was drawn in a pure side view. Here, within the Woodcloaker painting, which is also an upshot, no such problem exists – and the painting is commensurately better. The background includes multiple trees that taper upwards in perspective, which both looks good and firmly establishes the camera angle. Then, in a consistent manner, the character is also drawn in perspective. Basically, this composition is successful because it looks like the same camera that is viewing the trees is also viewing the character, from the same vantagepoint. That’s what makes this good.

Finally, I like Daren Bader’s work on Twisted Abomination.

Twisted Abomination - Scourge NM/M

Here, I think Daren has nicely composed a scene and provided visual interest. The interior, curved wall that tapers and recedes into the background is simple yet effective; it sets the context very nicely. Imagine how much more pleasing to the eye this approach is than had it been a”square” interior space.

Also notice how Daren has effectively broken the rule of”light-to-dark” when receding from foreground to background. That’s okay; after all, they say rules are made to be broken, and that is especially true in the hands of a skilled artist like Bader. In this case, the light foreground just indicates that there is a strong light source somewhere in the front. Whatever is happening in the background is shrouded in shadow because it is perhaps under a roof or something else happens to be blocking the foreground light. In any case, the result is a more dramatic light, and the characters tend to”pop” out in contrast. The result is that we have a black card that has more”light” than usual, but it is still true to a black motif – we just get a more interesting and dramatic painting to enjoy.

So those are my brief artistic impressions on a few cards. Overall, I had a great time at the prerelease. Dan and his guys ran the show pretty smoothly, ear damage notwithstanding. One bad thing – seems like Wizards shorted us on cards and prerelease foils. No new Sealed deck waves or booster drafts started after about 4 o’clock. That is not good. Plus, I would have been upset if I had entered a wave later in the day and not gotten a foil Soul Collector. As it was, I did buy two copies for friends from the two card dealers in attendance – one for Jan, and another for a friend who got there after the supply ran out.

I also enjoyed running into several people. Matt introduced himself to me before my wave started. It was nice to met him and talk to him about Magic art; I do have to humbly apologize, though. When we were talking about how some artists seem to have improved or matured their technique over the years, I mentioned that I thought that was true for one of my favorite artists, Kev Walker. I misattributed Paladin en-Vec to Walker. I later realized that was really the work of Randy Elliot. There goes my argument; sorry, Matt.

It was great to see my bud Jeff and crew. I know Jeff from the heyday of Dark Star Comics (sadly, now defunct) in Fountain Valley, CA. Dark Star ran well attended Extended tourneys on Sundays – good times, but another bathroom from hell – don’t ask. Jeff was raving about two things when we spoke: GTA Vice City, and a new cigar**** called Acid (can that be right?) which is made”up north.” All natural ingredients, no filler, made by hippies (oh goody – point me to the nearest Cigar shop that stocks these babies). All this crazy talk had me reminiscing about lava lamps, blacklight Jimi Hendrix posters, listening to Led Zeppelin IV in a friend’s dank basement that could have been in Anytown, USA in the early Seventies.

Seriously, though, you do not want”filler” or”non-tobacco ingredients” in your cigar. Something bad is about to happen if you ever get an abnormally-acrid blast of chemically-tinged smoke upon taking a puff. Blame it on the non-tobacco ingredients if you will, but do start looking for some Anbesol or some other oral anesthetic creme.

So that’s my take on Scourge art from what I saw of it at the prerelease. I hope you had as good a time at yours as I did at mine. If you’ve learned anything from this essay, I hope it is that:

[1] Wheat pennies make good counters (although I didn’t really back up my argument- please just take my word; they are cool!),

[2] Little foam earplugs can come in handy, even when you least expect, and

[3] Non-tobacco ingredients in your cigar is a recipe for disaster.

Michael Jay LaRue

Engineer Legend

[email protected]

* – Never heard of wheat pennies? Check’em out; they’re cool. Minted between 1909 and 1958, they have a neat Art Deco”wheat” design on the reverse side in place of the Lincoln Memorial. Art Deco is cool. Hmmm; I wonder if there are any Magic cards that have anything that looks remotely Art Deco for their artwork. Note to self: look into the possibility of an Art Deco Magic Art Matters.

** – Come on, guys, get with the program. Is it that hard to bring your own dice to a Magic tournament? I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve looked across the table to ask,”how are you going to keep track of your life?”… (person obviously has no pen, paper, or D20)…”…uh, I dunno; in my head?” ‘Nuff said.

*** – Why, you ask, do I need little foam earplugs in real life? Well, if you lived next door to a Rock-a-billy guy who likes to have friends over till all hours on a Saturday night, and who then fires up the stereo to do a drunken sing-along at full volume, for hours on end, to John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High – well, then, my friend, you would not even have to ask.

**** – By the way, kiddies, I am not advocating, endorsing or recommending the smoking of cigars; I am just telling you a story. As for myself, I smoke maybe four or five cigars a year. All told it is pretty foul thing to do – but as I remember seeing on an episode of The Larry Sanders Show, when the secretary was chiding the Rip Torn character about how foul cigars were, and he said,”don’t worry, honey, it’s a guy thing.”