“That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.” Those are the words immortalized by William Shakespeare in his play Romeo and Juliet. Honestly, I’m not a fan of that play, but I am a very big fan of that line; it makes you think. Is something the same even if you change the name? Magic has some of the most iconic names in the gaming industry. If I say the words “Black” and “Lotus” together that immediately brings to mind a Magic card for a lot of people. But what if it had a different name? Would that change the way you look at the card, or the art itself?
In my last article I had mentioned that Magic artists get an art description which tells them what the art director is looking for. The art description details the color, mood, setting, and subject that should be in the final piece; with that art description is usually a name. What most people don’t know is that oftentimes the name of the final card is not the same name that the artist sees when they get that art description; I certainly didn’t know. I found out about design, concept names, and working titles when I started looking at the original art for cards and noticed that the names didn’t match up with what was actually printed on the card.
I was lucky enough to talk with Mark Zug at Illuxcon and I took some time to discuss with him one of my favorite changes to a card name I’ve ever discovered. During the Magic Art Show in Las Vegas in 2017 we had the final sketch for the card Coiling Oracle by Mark Zug on display.
When the art description came to Mark Zug it was originally titled ‘Manaconda’. A fun little combination of “Man” and “Anaconda” that is so appropriate for the art. According to Mark the description called for a Blue/Green or Simic, since it was set on the plane of Ravnica, creature with a humanoid upper torso and a snake body instead of legs; very fitting for the Simic with their penchant for combining species together. I asked Mark if the name influenced any decisions while he was working on the piece. The art description and style guides didn’t mention any particular markings on the snake portion. Lacking specific direction Mark took inspiration from the concept name and modeled the markings on the snake body after an anaconda. So the name ‘Manaconda’ actually informed the final design.
While at Illuxcon I also managed to find some other examples of name changes. There is one that caught a lot of attention for the name on it. Magic artist Mike Burns brought several sketches to the show and among them was Party Crasher from the Magic set Unstable. Party Crasher was originally known as “Even More Raging Goblin”, alluding to the popular 1/1 Raging Goblin by Jeff Miracola. I had the opportunity to talk to Mike about the working title and how it influenced his art. As an homage, Mike made the shoulderpads on Party Crasher to have a similar pattern to the original Raging Goblin; he goes into in more depth in a blog post here. The name “Even More Raging Goblin” is a really fun name, and in an “Un” set I could see that happening but, sadly, it wasn’t meant to be.
Wayne Reynolds, as an artist and awesome human being, is a personal favorite of mine. If you played during the “Return to Ravnica” block in 2012 you’re probably familiar with the card Dreadbore that displayed Wayne’s art; it’s a powerful removal card and is still played in some Modern and Legacy decks. I was lucky enough to see the original painting in person and found out it was originally titled ‘Chest Gouge’. While I think Dreadbore is a much cooler name than ‘Chest Gouge’, I love knowing a little bit more about the history behind the card.
A friend recently acquired the original art for Storm Herd and I am holding on to the piece to deliver it to them soon. I started unwrapping to check the condition of the painting from shipping and it’s a beautiful painting by Jim Nelson. After taking in the artwork I noticed the piece name on the bottom right corner, ‘Pegasus Migration’. That name fits the card art and the effect just as well, but Storm Herd just sounds so much more like an offense oriented card; it made me look at the artwork differently. I always took the art as a rush of Pegasuses swarming the opponent. Taking another look it could just as easily be a natural migration scene, like a flock of birds traveling south for winter.
Wanting to dive a little deeper I reached out to some Magic designers on Twitter asking about some card names. During the launch party of the Magic Art Show 2017 we had Ethan Fleischer, give a tour and at one point he discussed the names cards have during development. Names like ‘my goth girlfriend from high school’. I asked what card this eventually became and Zac Hill, a former developer for Magic that worked on several sets, including “Dark Ascension”, said that it became Thraben Heretic. I his words the creature was “just OBSESSED with the morgue!”, alluding to it’s graveyard effect and the very gothic horror setting that was Innistrad, the setting for that particular block.
Ethan also brought up a fun name for the card Elusive Krasis, a 0/4 Simic creature with Evolve from “Gatecrash”, Zac’s Steatopygous Mutant. Steatopygous coming from the Greek words for “Fat” and “Buttocks”, alluding to the slang of referring to high toughness/low power creatures as having big butts. So literally it’s “Zac’s Big Butt Mutant” creature; or at least it was for a time.
So, in the end, I think that the name does matter. The names cards are given have influenced the final piece of art. A name can make you feel more connected to the work by adding another layer to history onto a piece. It can even make someone reassess their first impressions of a painting just from knowing the piece had a different name when the it was being created. That’s just from my personal experience, and I would not have even known about art descriptions if it wasn’t for Magic art.
I opened a pack of the “Masters 25” set a few months ago and while flipping through the cards it wasn’t the rare that jumped out at me, but the reprinting of Coiling Oracle. I immediately exclaimed ‘Manaconda’ loudly and then had to explain it to the people around me. Now my playgroup refers to that card as ‘Manaconda’; and I hope some of you will too.
Do you know the another name/nickname for your favorite card? Do you have an interesting story behind the name of a Magic card? Let me know on twitter, I’d love to hear from you all.