Building Character

It’s part of the human condition to want to assign importance to things and the easiest way to do this is to give it a name; not just any name, but a proper name. There’s a difference between a waiter and John Doe who served you dinner. John Doe has a backstory, a unique sequence of events that led to him being the person who brought you your meal.

Stretching Merriam Webster’s definition of “Legend” we get “a specific person that inspires stories”. In Magic: The Gathering, legend type cards started off as specific people (Creatures) and places (Lands) within the story created for the game.. That has expanded to include Artifacts, Enchantments, Planeswalkers and most recently Sorcery types.

Now I was having a conversation with fellow writer Donny Caltrider about Magic Art; we were going back and forth about why certain pieces spoke to us. Donny likes art with strong narrative storytelling; he wants to look at a painting and see that something is happening or has happened. Personally, I want something that implies a story, but around a person or event. I own the final sketch to Savra, Queen of the Golgari and if you were to look at the art it is a very green and black Elf female, but because it is a legendary card, it is a specific Black and Green Elf female from the plane of Ravnica.

Savra, Queen of the Golgari by Scott M. Fischer

Savra, Queen of the Golgari by Scott M. Fischer

Even if there were no stories written about Savra (there are by the way) she has history inherent just from having a name. Last month we went over the importance of a name and how it affects the way we view a card. If she had been named Golgari Shaman, the art would still have worked. Scott Fischer painted a beautiful green and black elf shaman. By assigning the name Savra, Queen of the Golgari to this art we now know that she is a powerful female figure and this art is specific to her.

Savra, Queen of the Golgari Final Sketch by Scott M. Fischer

Savra, Queen of the Golgari Final Sketch by Scott M. Fischer

By giving a character on a card a proper name we give an importance to the depictions of those characters. Another example would be, Nicol Bolas. He is one of the most powerful characters in the story of Magic: The Gathering, and he is also one of the oldest. Nicol Bolas was originally printed on a card in the set Legends in 1994 with this art.

Nicol Bolas by Edward Beard Jr.

Nicol Bolas by Edward Beard Jr.

Bolas would keep that art until the 2008 when he would get a new art by D. Alexander Gregory [link: http://dalexandergregory.com]. Showing a younger Nicol Bolas and setting the stage for the same artist to do the art for his Planeswalker card in the Conflux set in 2009.

Nicol Bolas by D. Alexander Gregory

Nicol Bolas by D. Alexander Gregory

Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker by D. Alexander Gregory

Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker by D. Alexander Gregory

Now there have been hundreds of dragons printed in Magic’s history, but there is only one Nicol Bolas and now D. Alexander Gregory’s depiction is synonymous with the character. See if you can find a common element across all of these paintings of Nicol Bolas.

The Eldest Reborn by Jenn Ravenna (Original Art Location: TokyoMTG)

The Eldest Reborn by Jenn Ravenna (Original Art Location: TokyoMTG)

Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh by Raymond Swanland

Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh by Raymond Swanland

Behold My Grandeur by Zack Stella

Behold My Grandeur by Zack Stella

Nicol Bolas, the Arisen by Svetlin Velinov

Nicol Bolas, the Arisen by Svetlin Velinov

Hour of Devastation key art by Tyler Jacobson

Hour of Devastation key art by Tyler Jacobson

You probably noticed those horns with the orb between the points, those read as Nicol Bolas just as much as his name. The name and the art go hand in hand, making Nicol Bolas the character we all know. All of these different artists doing paintings and we can all look at them and think of the same character.

Return to Ravnica concept art by Wayne Reynolds

Return to Ravnica concept art by Wayne Reynolds

During the Magic Art Show at the Las Vegas GP in 2017 we had a large collection of Magic concept art on display. There was a specific one that I really enjoyed and that was a Simic mutant Frog creature. Simic mutant creatures are a staple of the guild on the plane of Ravnica. So why was I so interested in this one? Wayne Reynolds, the artist on this particular drawing, had taken some time during the process to write a text bubble for the Frog thing. It read “Hi, my name’s Chedder & I will walk you home.- Yes Sir!” Suddenly a generic Simic creature becomes Chedder and he is VERY enthusiastic about walking people home. If you were lucky enough to go the Magic 25th Exhibition you might have seen Cheddar on the section discussing the Simic guild. You might not have known it was Cheddar, but now you do. See if you can spot Cheddar in this video around the 35 second mark!

I don’t know about you, but I became very attached to Cheddar, and all because of a name. A proper name can give so much meaning to a piece of art. Names can work with the art to imply a history and story behind the character. A common element makes multiple paintings instantly recognizable as showing a familiar character. And maybe, if you’re like me, naming something just makes it that much easier to get attached to something like Chedder.

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