Welcome to the sophomore* installment of the Daily ‘Slaught. I am not sure, but maybe some ominous music should be playing now. After all, how many times has a sophomore effort ever been good? Not very often, but I will keep my chin up and persevere. I’ve made a commitment, and I will deliver.
The first dose of reality – and this harkens back to the whole ‘writing is hard’ dilemma – what do I write about to complete this series? Sounds like some research will be required, and research sounds like hard work. At the very least, to complete the week, I will need to pick at least four more reviewable pieces of Onslaught art.
Fact is, only a small percentage of the artwork for this 350-card set is currently available on the Wizards site, or at MtgNews.com. The former of course is the primary source for officially released preview information. The latter has typically been a great source for unofficial info, such as set rumors, spoilers, and art previews.
Another factor that compounds my dilemma is, the more I review before the set is fully unveiled, the less I’ll have as fodder for future installments of Magic Art Matters. Am I working myself out of a gig? Who knows?
On top of all that, amongst the art that is available, there exists the challenge to find paintings that I can bear to look at long enough to complete a critique. The sad news is that so far, it has been hard. If the approximately fifteen paintings that I have seen are a truly representative sample, then this will be a sorry set from an artistic perspective – unless of course, Kev Walker and Daren Bader have done the rest of the set. Unfortunately, a glance at the MtgNews.com spoiler, quickly puts that naÃ¯ve hope to bed. Nonetheless, from what I have seen so far these two artists are producing the best Onslaught work to date.
Hopefully this small fifteen-piece sample is not representative, and the remainder of the set will yield numerous wonderful paintings for our cards. I can only be optimistic that that will be the case.
So now I must pick a painting to review. Given that art by Walker and Bader is dominating the field, smart money would go with that bet – pick a piece done by either one of these Tier 1 artists, and I should be golden. Within this sample, it really is a two-horse town; no one else is even coming close. The two of them are chewing up the competition.
Some things to consider – between the two, Walker has more pieces to pick from, but Bader got the nod from Wizards, given that his Silent Specter was chosen as the pre-release foil. I’d say that is quite an endorsement. Basically, it boils down to a coin toss between the two when choosing the artist-to-beat. Decisions, decisions… It’s almost enough stress to drive a guy back to Doritos.
You know what, screw that, I’ve had about a week of clear-headedness and abundant energy since I’ve sworn off the zesty and flavorful, not to mention MSG-rich Ranchero Doritos. I am not about to cast that aside so easily, just stressing over this decision; I’ve got another idea for the selection. I am going to go rogue! I’ve got a gut feeling about this, and I am going to trust my instincts to make an unconventional choice. Who cares if people laugh at me, or I plain old scrub out and write the worst review of my life. It could be a breakthrough choice. It’s worth the risk. I’m going rogue for today’s Daily ‘Slaught!
So here’s the plan – I am just going to pick something random, and run with it. The less I know beforehand, the better. Seems like there are some good candidates on MtgNews.com. The specific update I used to help me make this choice is entitled”Five New Onslaught Arts” and is dated Tuesday, September 03. The source credited is SvenskaMagic.
This is going to be great from a rogue perspective; these choices don’t even list the artist, or even the final card name. Everyone loves a good mystery, amiright?
The options (taken from the descriptions that accompany the links to the art):
-“A blue, powerful bird-like creature” – sounds promising, and I like flying creatures…maybe…
-“…looks like a dead, multi-limbed, rhino-like creature morphing” – uh, no…too many words required to describe this – and, by the way, aren’t all rhino’s multilimbed? Have you ever seen a one-limbed rhino? I didn’t think so…
-“A wizard riding a dark drake in a swamp” – sounds kind of suggestive, let’s not go there; next…
-“Two samurai-like warriors fighting” – let’s see; two characters would be more work to review than one, and since writing a lot is hard in itself, really hard, I am going to go with easier rather than harder today… And finally…
-“A dark zombie creature” – sound interesting to you? Nope?… Me neither. I’ll pass.
The only one to pique my interest at all was the”bird-like creature,” so I guess that’s it – I will review the”bird-like creature.” What a relief; I was stressing over that choice. At least the choice is over now, and I didn’t even resort to the Doritos for comfort.
Here we go; no turning back now!
I clicked the link, and this is what I saw:
Uh… Well, what can I say; I am already getting a funny feeling about this choice. This is a case where I am glad that the artist is not identified (yet – soon enough this will hit the streets and we will all know). The fact that the artist is anonymous will help me, because it will make what I have got to do now seem less personal.
This painting is really bad, and I am already regretting not going with a Tier 1 choice.
In fairness to the artist, and before I proceed to rip it to shreds, I am going to assume two things that could at least partially excuse this effort;  perhaps the artist was given very poor instructions from the art department, i.e., sparse guidance, and/or very dull subject matter to begin with, and  the artist was given a very tight deadline under which to produce this art.
I suggest the former, because through the miracle of the continuing Magic Arcana, Sketches installments, I have seen some very terse starting instructions given. For an artist who is very mature, this just provides an opportunity to excel and to invest individual creativity into the art. I offer the latter possibility because that is just a reality of the working world; if the boss needs something sooner than time will permit to do the best job possible, then quality will invariably suffer.
There is a phrase that describes the situation presented in the last sentence above -“Better is the enemy of good enough.” Since this piece passed Wizards criteria for the acceptance of final art, then really the burden is on them to account for this card. I can’t blame the artist for doing the best they could under the circumstances.
I think fundamentally, Wizards should set higher standards for the art they accept, and they should insure that artists have a reasonable, appropriate and sufficient amount of time to complete their projects. This may be difficult, of course, given the volume of new product that Wizards puts out each year. Oh well.
As for the painting itself, it suffers from two cardinal sins with regard to the aesthetic rules of art: First, there is no discernable composition, and second, it is flat, flat, flat!
The main thing that thoughtful composition provides is a meaningful context for the art. Composition answers the questions, what is the setting, what is in the background, what is in the foreground? To a lesser extent the compositional choices might serve to set up interesting relationships between positive and negative spaces.
On the subject of positive versus negative space, look at big blue bird here. The only negative spaces exist around the creature’s head, and they are only a small percentage of the painted area on this canvas. Arguably, there may be some negative space under the left wing, but the boundaries are so obscure that the viewer can’t tell without squinting – and even then, who knows? Fact is, as a viewer of this art, I do not want to waste my time trying to figure that kind of thing out.
So if only a small percentage of the space is negative, and the resulting shapes themselves are boring, what is the point? The notion of balance is chucked right out the window, and the opportunity to gift the viewer with compelling, interesting shapes is blown, and lost forever. Want to see some beautiful negative spaces? Check out Snapping Thragg from yesterday’s article, and Spelljack, from an earlier installment of Magic Art Matters. Both contain outstanding examples of thoughtful execution of compositional technique.
As for the flatness of this painting, the subject shows no volume at all, and it exists entirely in one plane. For the arm on the left side, one would expect that the hand should project slightly towards the viewer, drawn properly in perspective. It is not.
The meager attempts to show form, by the wrapping of light and shadow about the creature, fall short. While there is some attempt to make the underside of several body parts darker – and therefore in shadow – even that is done inconsistently. I cannot tell if the primary source of light is coming from the upper left in the foreground, or from the same direction in the background. The confusion is caused by the semi-transparent look of the left wing: To me, that indicates backlighting. Unfortunately, that is inconsistent with the underside shading of the ribcage, and the right arm. In any case, for the right arm to be as dark as it is, it must be trailing into the background, but it isn’t drawn in perspective as such.
It just occurred to me: I hope this card has Morph. My first reason is, if I was ever forced to use it as my 23rd card in Sealed, I could play it face-down, and never activate its Morph ability. Then I’d only have to hope that my opponent did not have the creature listed below, and use his activated ability, forcing me to look at my own Morphed, big blue bird:
Ixidor, Reality Sculptor 3UU
Creature – Wizard Legend R
Face-down creatures get +1/+1.
2U: Turn target face-down creature face up.
“Reality has exiled me. I am no longer bound by its laws.”
Kev Walker 89/350
My second reason for wanting this creature to have Morph is that, if my opponent plays big blue bird, and Morphs it, I can always use this card:
Turn target creature with morph face down.
Cycling U (U, Discard this card from your hand: Draw a card.)
Some things are better left unknown.
Pete Venters 70/350
Good thing it’s a common; I’ll be sure to be packing four copies. The flavor text is very amusing, and in this case appropriate.
You know what? I’ve had enough of this. Trying to make sense of this painting is really starting to test my patience. It is a beautiful day outside, here in sunny Southern California – there is just enough time to get out and enjoy the afternoon, and collect my thoughts for tonight’s multi-player at Lazlo’s.
Regarding the game tonight, I am looking forward to it. It should be fun – unless, of course, Ken uses his dastardly Black Vise/Vexing Arcanix deck. If he does, all hell will break loose, and we will probably be throwing cards at each other, and near fisticuffs (again!) by 8:35 p.m. Should be fun regardless, because some of us will probably stay late, after the game, to watch this week’s episode of the Sopranos – tonight is Sunday, and we will tape the show while we play. By the way, what is up with that guy Paulie – he is probably my favorite TV character right now; I’ve heard he is kind of like that in real life too – wow!
As for my deck selection tonight, I am leaning towards my Black and White, pro-black, Plague Spitter deck that uses Paladin En-Vec, with a partial Masques Rebel Chain. Want to see the list sometime? We play Type 1, but this deck is mostly Tempest and newer sets. I can say from experience that Equal Treatment really speeds things up after the Spitter hits the table. Save the Death Grasp for the kill. You should try it sometime.
Well that’s it for this little experiment in going rogue with an art critique. Of course I would have liked better results – I was so sure going in! Regardless, the brief review did give an opportunity to point out the importance once again of not treating your negative spaces lightly. Also, if you have an opinion similar to mine, but did not know the specific reason why this piece seems lacking, hopefully I have given you some objective reasons to explain why it is weak.
All in all, I am glad I did this – it was a great learning experience for me. Would I do it again? Hell no! From here on out I am sticking with Tier 1** choices all the way! Going rogue always sounds like a great idea when it is just you, alone with your cards, and you are thinking, wouldn’t it be cool if I could just…
Well, you know what I mean. Rogue is as rogue does.
I think I have done a reasonable job controlling the extent of any possible mood swings.*** Thank goodness for the sweet elixir that is Diet Dr. Pepper for that, and thank that very same beverage for providing its flavorful refreshment, as I continue to forsake the MSG-laden Doritos and enjoy the resultant tremendous benefits of heightened awareness and abundant energy!
Michael Jay LaRue
* – In case you are not familiar with this term, it is a reference to the college experience, where quite often a student’s freshman year is fantastic. The classes are introductory level and easy – the scene is fresh, new and exciting. It’s all keg parties and Co-eds. Then comes the sophomore year; the sheen has worn a little, and the classes are harder. Seldom is the second year of college as good as the first. This translates to many other fields such as music, and film, where often the second album, or the sequel to the blockbuster movie fails to live up to the hype. (Side note: Not all freshman year classes are easy; in tough curriculums like engineering and pre-med, the freshman classes are the weed-out classes. I am not required to tell you how many times it took for me to pass Calculus 101, am I? No? Good… Thank you very much, and please don’t ask.)
** – This statement is most likely an outright falsehood. I reserve the right to revert any time I please: I just couldn’t conclude this particular article with a fairytale ending, as if rogue could just go off, win the whole shootin’ match, get the girl, and live happily ever after. That would have kind of defeated the whole purpose, if you know what I mean.
*** – Thanks also to Jan, for the use of her computing facilities which were employed for the second half of this article, and for her patience while my creative gears whirred tirelessly towards the creation of this – the second installment of the Daily ‘Slaught.