Interview: Ovidio Cartagena, Lead Art Director at Wizards of the Coast

Here's what she had to say in the creation of this one of a kind set!

I don’t know about you guys but I am still on a high with Magic: The Gathering’s modern legal expansion – Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-Earth! Currently, I am just about done in finishing my set cube so I can draft with my friends to infinity! Needless to say, this is probably my favorite product coming from Wizards of the Coast this year.

Now, in between collecting and card-chucking, my fascination for the set took a step further as I recently got the chance to interview Ovidio Cartagena, Lead Art Director for Wizards of the Coast. Here’s what he had to say in the creation of Tales of Middle-Earth as well as sharing her passion for the card game!


With Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth – a story that is already well-known and established as a pop-culture pillar by fans, I can imagine the team geeking-out and having fun with handling such a well-loved IP. What particular aspect during the production of the set did you enjoy the most?

I remember we had a conversation during the concept push about the destiny of elves in the end. This was not in the set, but the elves that stay in middle earth eventually spread so think that they become spirits of the forest to this day. I thought that was a very poetic bit of worldbuilding by Tolkien that linked his lore to real world legends.


What were the challenges involved in creating a set of this magnitude?

The biggest challenge is getting a comprehension of the lore despite its size. Lord of the Rings has values and a logic to it that once you understand what it is, the scenes and events are easier to understand and adapt. The rest for me is making sure I remember that North Star as I show up to work every day and do my best.


With “Universes Beyond” connecting fandoms ranging from Warhammer 40k to Dr. Who and “planeswalking” them to Magic: The Gathering, the game has seen some very unique and impactful design choices recently. How do you feel the game’s artistic direction has changed in the last decade?

For one, we’ve greatly diversified the art styles you can see in a magic card. This has opened a great range of styles and talent to us. When I put together my vision for a set I am no longer constrained by strict realism, and I can choose whatever is best for the mood of a scene.


The next set of questions are directed towards wanting to get to know you more as an enthusiast of the game. How has Magic: The Gathering made an impact in your life?

The most notable way is the work I’ve done. I’ve also found a new way of expressing myself as an artist. Coming down to it, when you make a deck or design a card it’s a very artistic process as much as it is logical. And after that we have the card art! One magic card can have so many stories and insights, and I am glad I am a part of that.


What would you like the Magic: The Gathering players to know about you?

I can also say I’ve travelled a lot in the last year meeting fans and creators. I talked to a fan in Barcelona last week, and I thanked him for his positive words. When the work gets difficult, I remember how much this game means to people and that gives me inspiration.


Who is your favorite EDH commander and why?

Jenaro, Asura of War. I’ve built a deck for a few years based on that. Last week I was playing it against a couple of artists and a fan (Johannes Voss won the game!) and they easily recognized what a threat my deck was. I didn’t win but it was very hard to take me down and the game was very fun. We all had great moments.


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?

As a player I love Bant (per the deck above), Simic or Orzhov. As a person I think White, Blue and Red represent me very much. I love order, strategy and I am very passionate about what I do.


There’s more to come with Magic: The Gathering’s Universes Beyond product line! In the next 3 years, we get to see even more collaborations coming from Final Fantasy and Assassin’s Creed, so to those who are fans of those franchises – best prepare!

As of now, fans are eagerly anticipating Wilds of Eldraine, a main storyline expansion for Magic: The Gathering which officially releases on paper September 8. You can use Wizards of the Coast’s  store locator to find an LGS near you and try the set out!

Once again, thank you to our friends at Wizards of the Coast for this interview opportunity for Ovidio Cartagena.


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