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A Brief History of Magic Art Books


Welcome back, Lore Seekers! Today is the release of my very first book, Legends: A Visual History! In honor of my art book's release (the development of which I talked about last week), I thought I'd take a stroll down memory lane and look at the official art books of Magic's past (and present). There are twelve art books from Magic's history, one from the Weatherlight era, and the rest from the last five years!

The Art of Magic: The Gathering - The Rath Cycle

Cover Art by Mark Tedin, Anson Maddocks, Anthony Waters, Brian "Chippy" Dugan, and Sonia Telesco

The original Magic art book, The Art of Magic: the Gathering - The Rath Cycle was first printed in 1998, has become something of a holy grail among fans of the Weatherlight Saga. Wizards of the Coast put a lot of effort into their first big original storyline, resulting in a lot of backstory and concept art not really available anywhere else. The Rath Cycle defined a lot about their characters, from a height chart for the characters to the exact dimensions of the skyship Weatherlight. It's the source of a significant amount of lore details not really available anywhere else. We wouldn't see true Magic art books again for 18 years.

While this particular art book is expensive (you'd be hard pressed finding one in good shape for less than $180), Anthony Waters' Worlds Beyond sketchbook includes a good amount of that concept art and is much easier to find these days.

The Art of Magic: the Gathering - Zendikar

Cover Art by Adam Paquette

Almost two full decades after The Rath Cycle, The Art of Magic: the Gathering - Zendikar appeared alongside Oath of the Gatewatch card set in early 2016. This series from publisher Viz Media would become a staple for what became known as the Bolas Arc, published alongside the serialized web fiction of the time.

Many of these books were, in essence, expanded Planeswalker Guides (or worldbuilding documents) for the plane in question - especially for planes we were returning to. The Zendikar Art Book is no exception, going into significant detail about the geography and cultures of the plane. While some of it is now out-of-date with Zendikar moving on from the Eldrazi as of Zendikar Rising, it's still an excellent look at the plane for any fan.

James Wyatt also developed Plane Shift document that serves as a companion for each of these art books, allowing an easy conversion into a D&D setting. You can find Zendikar's Plane Shift here.

The Art of Magic: the Gathering - Innistrad

Cover Art by Adam Paquette

Released in mid-2016, The Art of Magic: the Gathering Innistrad is similar to the Zendikar Art Book in approach, covering geography and history of the plane (and will similarly be slightly out-of-date with our third visit to Innistrad next year). For any fan of the plane, however, it's a must have. Like the Zendikar Art Book, if you've read the existing Planeswalkers Guides to Innistrad, a good chunk of the content will be familiar to you, but the expanded detail is always useful.

The Plane Shift that accompanied Innistrad served as a way to convert the pre-existing Curse of Strahd campaign into an Innistrad-based campaign.

The Art of Magic: the Gathering - Kaladesh

Cover Art by Adam Paquette

Released in early 2017, The Art of Magic: the Gathering - Kaladesh was the first new plane to get an art book, and the first to forego a Planeswalker's Guide because of the art books. Because the Kaladesh block focused on Ghirapur, the city where the Inventors' Fair was happening, the book likewise focuses on the central city. There are a few reasons for this, largely based on the needs on the card set.

The world building of Magic settings is developed into a document called a World Guide (planeswalker guides were usually taken fairly directly from the World Guides), but those details are generally only developed as far as what will actually appear on the cards. That means, especially for new planes focused on a single setting, there's just not a lot of information on everything else.

So instead, this book was developed with a lot of focus on Ghirapur, rather than Kaladesh as a whole. Where I would describe the Zendikar and Innistrad books as horizontal, encompassing a wide breadth of information about their respective planes, Kaladesh's art book has a much more vertical approach, with a lot of depth on the singular city of Ghirapur.

You can find the Plane Shift for Kaladesh here.

The Art of Magic: the Gathering - Amonkhet

Cover Art by Titus Lunter

Like Kaladesh before it, Amonkhet was a new setting with a very narrow scope, resulting in a book with a lot of depth on a specific area rather than revealing anything new about the plane outside the central city of Naktamun. Released in Mid-2017, the book went into extensive detail about the god trials of Amonkhet, which is neat but a rather moot point after the end of the set itself. Still if you're looking at these as the potential basis for a D&D campaign, that level of detail is extremely helpful (and can easily be ported over into another setting).

You can find the Amonkhet Plane Shift here.

The Art of Magic: the Gathering - Ixalan

Cover Art by Tyler Jacobson

Released in early 2018, The Art of Magic: the Gathering - Ixalan switches from the vertical approach of the last two art books to a more horizontal approach, covering the four warring factions of Ixalan in great detail. If you want to know more about the extensive world outside of the continent of Ixalan, well that's not really covered here, but by the end of the book you'd be extremely well acquainted with the continent itself.

The Plane Shift for Ixalan is here. X Marks the Spot, a special campaign given out at PAX Unplugged, is also available online.

The Art of Magic: the Gathering - Dominaria

Cover Art by Tyler Jacobson

Released in mid-2018, The Art of Magic: the Gathering - Dominaria is my favorite of this series of art books. A mix of history, geography, and the current cultures of the plane (or at least the ones covered by the card set), this book was the perfect primer for anyone curious about the deep well of lore behind Dominaria. There's little here about Terisiare or Jamuraa, two major settings of Magic's past that didn't receive much in the way of focus this time around, but the rest of book is extremely helpful in streamlining the somewhat disparate and chaotic Dominarian lore into a cohesive whole.

The final Plane Shift can be found here.

Magic: the Gathering - Concepts & Legends

Released in late 2018, Magic: the Gathering - Concepts & Legends is a much more traditional art book than any of the other Viz publications. I believe the intention was to pair it with Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History, a similar book for Wizards of the Coast's other major brand. While the previous Viz art books drew primarily from the worldbuilding, or lore side of World Guides, Concepts & Legends drew instead from the art and concept side. Where the previous Viz books mostly featured final artwork featured on the cards and focused on a specific setting, this book featured the concept art intended to help develop those final pieces throughout Magic history. If you're a fan of how Magic art and settings are developed visually, this is the book you want above all others.

The Art of Magic: the Gathering - Ravnica

Cover Art by Kieran Yanner

In early 2019, what was believed to be the final Viz Media art book released. The Art of Magic: the Gathering - Ravnica went into detail on Ravnica's ten guilds, along with a gorgeous section in the back showing concept art of how the ten guilds changed over their various iterations in the 14 years since their inception.

There was no Plane Shift for Ravnica, probably because instead Guildmaster's Guide to Ravnica, a D&D sourcebook, was released just a few months earlier. There's a good deal of overlap between the two books, but I think they work together as an excellent pair.

Rise of the Gatewatch: A Visual History

Cover Art by Kieran Yanner

Released in Mid-2019, Magic: the Gathering: Rise of the Gatewatch: A Visual History is a digest format art book that covered the Gatewatch's history from Battle for Zendikar through War of the Spark.

The Art of Magic: the Gathering - War of the Spark

Cover Art by Raymond Swanland

In late 2020, the actual final Viz Media art book (for now, I suppose) was released. The Art of Magic: the Gathering - War of the Spark covers the schemes of Nicol Bolas over the millennia, but especially the plot arc that led to the epic confrontation in War of the Spark. It follows both Bolas's early appearances and the document that laid out what would become known as the Bolas Arc, and it's on sale right now! I would definitely recommend picking this one up if you were a fan of the Gatewatch's arc Origins through War of the Spark, and this book talks more about the background behind developing the story arc than previous art books.

Legends: A Visual History

Released today, I talked in depth about Magic: the Gathering: Legends: A Visual History last week! I hope you decide to pick it up, as I'd love to write bigger and more expansive art books, and this book doing well will help with that!

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