Breakdown: War of the Spark

Art Behind the Magic Copy of Breakdown War of the Spark.jpg

Welcome to the Breakdown: War of the Spark

We all have things we like when it comes to art. Some might like more realistic looking art, while someone else might prefer more abstract or non-representational art. Color, subject matter, composition all play a part in how we individually enjoy art. 

Last year, to help out a few auctions I took a few pieces from the Ravnica Allegiance set and looked at them through the lens of what I, as an art enthusiast, thought was really well done. To help with that I used the markup feature on my phone to draw lines over the art to help show what I was talking about. I had a lot of fun with it and I figured I’d do the same, but for some of the pieces in the War of the Spark set. 

Vivien’s Arkbow by  Zack Stella , digital

Vivien’s Arkbow by Zack Stella, digital

Zack Stella got a lot of praise for this piece when it was first previewed and there’s so much going on in this that makes it a truly beautiful piece. The detail in the figure and the surrounding circles showing her ability to shoot spirit animals, almost like chambers in revolver. My favorite part though, is the almost serene quality to the figure and the composition; she’s just so in her element here.


The composition is divided lengthwise by the line created by the arrow and Vivien’s arms. This is used as a way of keeping the viewer’s eye around this middle area. Then the scene is broken into three major parts: the darker area to the right of the bow, the space around Vivien and, then Vivien herself.  Notice how the images behind Vivien aren’t as defined? That’s so you don’t get too distracted from what really matters here: Vivien.


Lines, both distinct and implied help guide the eye of the viewer through the painting. Line and composition work together to carry the viewer’s gaze to the focal point but not get it “stuck” there. Vivien’s the focal point, and the elements in the painting work to keep you eye moving around her. Once you’re in the circle the most interesting parts are the circle effects in the background and the halo circling Vivien. From the right side of the piece, the arrow really stands out and uses the brightness to start the eye moving towards the focal point. If you come from the left side, the line of her arm brings you into the circle around her and if you come in from the bottom the swoosh of her cape has a nice arc leading towards the figure.


Speaking of Vivien the composition does a lot to make sure you know she’s important. The Halo effect created within the bow makes the glowing area very prominent to the viewer. Also the repetition of green circle elements are scattered throughout Vivien’s costume to emphasize how important the circles are in the composition.

Commence the Endgame by  Noah Bradley , oil on stretched canvas

Commence the Endgame by Noah Bradley, oil on stretched canvas

Commence the Endgame depicts one of the more important storyline moments for the War of the Spark as we see the elements of Bolas’ plan coming together: Liliana commanding his undead army, the Dreadhorde, the planar portal that’s bringing his army to Ravnica, the Immortal Sun trapping the planeswalkers he needs for his Elderspell so their sparks can be harvested. Despite all of that the focal point of the piece is Bolas in the center surrounded by the many things he’s set in motion.


Unlike with Vivien’s Arkbow, the focal point here is not off to the side, the way the piece is composed brings the eye right to the center of the painting. The hard line created by the Immortal Sun, the circle shape at the top of the painting, down through Bolas and Liliana are what keeps your eyes focused on the center of the piece. The lines created by the other elements in the painting, like the cloud and the Dreadhorde, all work together to highlight Bolas’ figure.

Crush Dissent by  Mike Bierek , digital

Crush Dissent by Mike Bierek, digital

Here we get to see one of Bolas’s eternals attacking Teyo, the Shieldmaage. It’s a very intimate scene with how close the viewer is to the action. The two faces fill the space and you can really see the emotion in Teyo’s face in contrast to the stark emotionlessness of the eternal.


You can see how Teyo is framed by the elements in the painting. The wall he’s pushed against, the blade along the bottom and the face of the eternal all work together to keep the focus on Teyo’s face. 


The focal point is the moment of tension between the two figures faces (which is displayed in the double-sided arrow). Look at how all the lines move the eye back to that point. 

Soul Diviner by  Randy Vargas , digital

Soul Diviner by Randy Vargas, digital

In Randy’s piece we see the same kind of moment with a planeswalker in close quarters. Domri Rade is on display in his final moments right before his spark is taken by an eternal. Unlike Crush Dissent, this piece is a creature spell and because of that we see more of the eternal itself. That said though, I think this piece could have been a non creature card just as easily.


The focal point here, just like in Crush Dissent, is the gaze between the Planeswalker and Eternal. All of the movement in the piece brings the eye back to the two figures staring at each other; there’s that double sided arrow again. Domri with his worried expression as he stares into the unblinking face of the eternal is right where the viewer is meant to go.

Deliver Unto Evil by  Seb Mckinnon , digital

Deliver Unto Evil by Seb Mckinnon, digital

Every set there is someone asking for more abstract pieces like in the early days of Magic. Seb Mckinnon has been one of the major players in the less realistic pieces that have come out in the last few years. Bolas is obviously the focal point here, which is really emphasized by the sharp contrast of that black void that surrounds his face. 


Though this painting can seem a bit busy with the swirling elements, city scapes, and figures.  I think the way everything is composed helps give it a very page out of a story book kind of feel. Seb did a great job using all those elements to move the eye right back to that center focal point. The swirling star elements, the downward gazes of the Gatewatch, and the city elements create a flow around that dark ominous void around Bolas’ head.

Nahiri’s Stoneblades by  Micah Epstein , digital

Nahiri’s Stoneblades by Micah Epstein, digital

The plotline showing the fighting between Nahiri and Sorin on Ravnica really did not get fleshed out in the novelization of War of the Spark, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that from cards. Micah really shows the epic scale and destruction of two planeswalkers just determined to hurt each other.


Even with so much going on, there is a nice framing of Nahiri using the background elements;it really helps keep your eye on what matters. Sorin hanging out in the background might be distracting, but with his colors so muted he doesn’t pull away too much attention from the foreground and actually works as a part of the framing of Nahiri.


The spell is referring to Nahiri’s blades coming out of her arm and it is no surprise they’re probably the first thing that catches your eye. Several of the lines created by elements in the painting bring you back to them; which I display using the blue lines. 

My favorite part personally are the eyes. Framed by the blades, her eyes also have the same coloring, making them pop out and brings the viewers gaze to Nahiri’s.

Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves by  Ryan Pancoast , oil on Canvas

Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves by Ryan Pancoast, oil on Canvas

I love me some legendary cards, so I wanted to end on one. Tolsimir has been around since the very first Ravnica set, and even though he hasn’t been mentioned much since then, he was not forgotten. This painting showing one of Ravnica’s prominent non-planeswalker characters fighting back against the Dreadhorde, and does a beautiful job displaying the scale of the horde on a more intimate level. It’s just Tolsimir versus a nigh countless army of undead.


The painting has 3 major sections. The Dreadhorde army, Tolsimir, and then his trusted companion Voja. Voja is very prominent, but Tolsimir is given the foreground as it is his legendary card. I love the detail that they are fighting side by side, as friends.

So Tolsimir is definitely the focal point. The lines from Tolsimir’s cape and arms drive the eye back to Tolsimir and even the elements on Voja’s gear work to bring the eye back to the center. The gaze lines of the Dreadhorde also point towards both Tolsimir and Voja. 

My favorite moment in the piece is the lower left corner. Voja is obviously going to do some damage, but Tolsimir seems very composed and you have to take a moment and notice the destruction left in the wake of his sword to really know he’s swinging for the fences.


I wish I could go through all the pieces in War of the Spark, but there’s just too many. I hope you enjoyed the trip through some WAR’s pieces and that it helps you maybe think about why you like some pieces more than others or why your eye is drawn to a particular part of a painting. Did I miss your favorite piece? Agree or disagree with how I was looking at them? Let me know on twitter I’d love to continue this conversation there and I’ll keep doing this breakdown here and on twitter for pieces as art is released.