Magic: The Gathering’s most recent set, Dominaria United, contained over 280 cards, each with its own unique artwork.
Not only did this set feature plenty of stunning work from veteran MTG illustrators like rk post, Zoltan Boros, and Ryan Pancoast, but also debuted several outstanding first-time artists. One such artist is Eli Minaya, whose work in Dominaria United caught my eye right away during preview season.
Minaya, who typically illustrates the covers for fiction and short science fiction novels in addition to his own abstract works, created two pieces for Dominaria United – Love Song of Night and Day and Cosmic Epiphany – his firsts for Magic: The Gathering.
After reaching out to Eli, he graciously answered a few questions about his artistic process and what it’s like being a first-time artist for Wizards of the Coast. You can read the full Q&A below.
Q & A
SCG: How did you get involved with art for Magic? Was it an application process or something else?
Minaya: Zack [Stella] approached me in 2021 to do these cards [Cosmic Epiphany and Love Song of Night and Day], but Magic has always been a dream job. Honestly, it was one I didn’t think would happen, as I had moved into doing book covers for fiction and short science fiction, as well as more abstract work. I think most likely [Zack] saw my work online, but you’d have to ask him.
SCG: Was your experience working with Magic any different than your normal artistic process?
Minaya: Yes and no. It was hard fighting the “fanboy” in me, and I wanted to swing for the fences as much as I could, but I also wanted to make a good impression as the reliable type. So, I maybe took less risks than I normally would, but my technique and instincts remained intact. It worked out that Zack has great instincts and ideas and we got to make really good pieces of art together, if I may say so.
SCG: Where do you draw your artistic inspiration from? Are there any MTG or other fantasy-related artists who inspire you?
Minaya: I had great mentors that exposed me to a ton of great art; from comics to fantasy and Sci-Fi to fashion illustration. I’ve been adding to that pile for the last 12 years and now I’m finding it hard to pin down any specific source. I can definitely say there is a lot to be inspired by in the most recent MTG releases. I’m seeing Dominaria United for the first time like everyone else.
SCG: Was this your first time working with an art director? How did Zack’s direction influence your work?
Minaya: No. In publishing there is always an art director to work with. Zack has the full scope of a card’s purpose in mind, and since I don’t know the details of the card effects when I’m illustrating, he acts as a guide — helping me balance the game and the art. He’s an incredible illustrator as well, so he’s got a great eye for composition and design. That was also a tremendous help.
SCG: Now that Dominaria United is fully revealed, do you have any favorite cards or illustrations aside from your own in the set?
Minaya: Hell yes! Chaotic Transformation by Joseph Meehan (the prerelease foil is magnificent), Shadow Prophecy by Rovina Cai, everything Dominik Mayer made, Bone Splinters by Jeremy Wilson, and Karn, Living Legacy by Chris Rahn is dope too. I could seriously go on and on. I feel so fortunate I get to be in the same set as those artists.
SCG: Assuming you are familiar with Magic, what formats do you play? Do you have any all-time favorite cards or artwork beyond Dominaria United?
Minaya: I started playing back in Mirage, but stopped around Mercadian Masques, so I’m only now jumping back in. I’m playing Commander mostly, as it’s been the easiest to dive into with a small collection and preconstructed decks. My absolute favorite card art is Heart Warden by Adam Rex in Urza block. I just found it very beautiful and pleasant to look at. All of Rebecca Guay’s cards had the same effect on me, too. At the time they weren’t styles of art I saw a lot. That art stuck with me all this time, even when I wasn’t actively playing Magic.
SCG: If you could illustrate any type of MTG card (creature, planeswalker, etc.), what would it be and why?
Minaya: I’d love to do a set of lands. Really abstract and textured takes on Swamps and Plains would be a lot of fun.
I’d like to personally thank Eli for taking the time to answer these questions and I hope to see more of his work in upcoming Magic sets. If you’re interested in following and supporting Eli’s artistic journey, be sure to follow his Instagram and Twitter, and also visit his website.