Magic: The Gathering’s latest expansion – Phyrexia: All Will Be One is here and with it sees the return of Phyrexians – amalgamated creatures composed of both organic matter and artifice that once corrupted the plane.
During the past expansions, they were hinted to be slowly creeping back to finish what they’ve started – that is, “compleating” their goal in turning the multiverse into their own view of perfection, one plane at a time.
We recently got a chance to throw out some questions to Ovidio Cartagena, Magic: The Gathering’s creative content developer. Here’s what he had to say about the creation of this truly unique world, and all things in between for our favorite collectible card game!
Playing an influential part in Phyrexia: All Will Be One’s content, what particular aspect during the creation of ONE you enjoyed the most?
It is very hard to choose what part is my favorite. The concept push, however, was very fun. There was a lot of pressure to fulfill fans’ expectations as well as refreshing Phyrexians for a new generation of players, and a new social climate with its own aesthetic preferences. The heavy biomechanical/grim theme was balanced with a lot of humor and levity in creative sessions, brainstorming, etc. The concept artists rose to the challenge elegantly, and provided so many awesome ideas the whole creative team was excited to put as many of them as possible in the final illustrations.
Magic: The Gathering has seen some unique and impactful design choices last year (case and point: Universes Beyond and the cyberpunk theme of Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty) How do you feel Magic’s design and story has changed in the last 10 years?
I have seen Magic: The Gathering grow a lot as a brand and as a game. There are more of us pitching cool ideas, and that has made the game very rich and full of different beautiful influences. Ultimately, the game has strived to make as many players as possible feel welcome and included. The look of the game reflects the diverse audience as well. In my mind, as a fan and as an art director, the game has never felt or looked better.
How has Magic: The Gathering made an impact in your life?
Besides working with a great team of creatives and putting out projects I am very excited about, Magic has had the power to make me a better artist and a more clever player. When I saw all the art that this game puts out every year, I was inspired to improve and understand the fundamentals of what composes a great work of fantasy art. I made it my goal about 7 years ago to be able to illustrate a Magic card and I am very thankful for the opportunity to have done so… and there is more to come.
What’s your overall favorite Magic: The Gathering card and why?
It is very hard for me to have favorites. The game simply is too rich to choose. I will mention a card that gives me good memories, and laughs: Crypt Incursion was a card that helped me win many a hopeless games against far more powerful cards like Emrakul, the Promised End. I basically had tons of cheap zombies and used Blighted Fen to remove powerful opponents’ creatures from the battlefield. In the end I was able to win by simply biding my time and gaining life. I think I won by concession more than life gain. It was a cool combo, and I miss playing that deck. Crypt Incursion also has the awesome shapes art which is very representative of Svetlin Velinov’s style.
What would you like the Magic: The Gathering players to know about you?
When I was preparing for the Phyrexia concept push, I travelled to a bookstore in the middle of a California desert town, and I found a Dante’s Inferno from the 1800’s with all the original engravings by Gustave Doré. Since I collect first editions and historical artifacts, this was a welcome find! Needless to say I pored over the art in search for inspiration. Whenever I´m preparing for all my projects, I seek immersive, deep experiences that are related to my subject matter, and then end up informing my creative approach, so this was a great way to dive into hellish imagery and symbology.
Lastly, the 5 colors are an integral part to both Magic: The Gathering’s game and story. What color or colors would you say you identify with the most?
This conversation often pops up at work, and I agree with the sentiment that most humans have aspects of all mana colors. However, one of my commander decks that friends have told me is very “me” is my Aminatou, the Fateshifter deck, which has white, blue and black cards.
Many thanks to our friends at Wizards of the Coast for giving us the opportunity to interview Ovidio Cartagena!
As paper Magic is coming back into full swing, might I encourage you to head out to your FLGS by using this handy store locator to find a place that handles Magic: The Gathering games near you, observing health protocols, of course.