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Secrets of the Planeswalker Summit


Planeswalkers: just a little bit cray. Photo by Foto Matica.

There are some bad ideas that just have to come to fruition. You know, the kind that start out like this: “Wow, wouldn’t it be cool if . . . ” quickly followed by, “There is just no way. That’ll take too much ____. There’ll be all kinds of problems like ______, _____ and ____. I definitely should NEVER follow through on this idea.” You try to drop it, erase it from your memory, pretend it never popped into your head in the first place . . .  to no avail. It just stays there, lingering, taunting you from the chainlinked back alley of your hippocampus until one day, you crack.

You’re suddenly saying, “How can I make this happen?” instead of, “I can’t make this happen.” And in my case, you find yourself besieged with photo op ideas based on pretty weak jokes, such as:

“A bunch of Planeswalkers walk into a bar . . . ”

Planeswalkers enjoying the Russian hospitality of lauded Portland eatery Kachka. Photo by Foto Matica.

And this was how the first annual Planeswalker Summit came into being from speck of an idea birthed in the Blind Eternities to a meeting of twenty flesh-and-blood walkers who touched down right in my hometown of Portland, Oregon at Grand Prix Portland 2016.

This is an article of relentless eye candy so if you’re not prepared for that, you probably want to navigate away now while your eyeballs are still intact.

All right, you were warned . . . 

“Sorry, Jace, didn’t mean to melt your eyeballs. Seriously. It was an accident.” Matt Wardle of Jackal Costuming as Jace. Photo by Foto Matica. Editing by James Arnold.

At its core, the Summit was just an excuse to get a bunch of seemingly cool internet friends together IRL in one relevant location. If you haven’t read Meghan Wolff’s awesome mothership article, do so. She did a great job capturing the essence of the gathering in A Meeting of Mages: Peeking into the Planeswalker Summit.

Encounter: Lili and Mr. Markov.

“Duel . . .  or rap battle? Your choice, Lord of Innistrad.” Justin Rix as Sorin. Photo by Foto Matica.

I expected to see some cool costumes up close. I expected to shake some hands and give air kisses and engage in mutual appreciation of MTG fandom. I expected to have a deece time. And yeah, that kind of all happened. But.

I didn’t expect to form lasting friendships. And that happened. I didn’t expect to be emotionally moved by the generosity and kindness of those present. That happened. I also didn’t expect to be blown away by the way egos were checked at the door of destinies and to come away from this a better person than I was before. That happened.

The alliance that no one really wanted endures in our hearts; a nexus of Vorthosian nostalgia. Michelle Shepardson as Elspeth. Mel Li as Koth. Elliot Scott as Venser. Photo by Foto Matica. Editing by Mel Li.

Cosplay for me is a serious hobby, an escape from the complete and total isolation/utter hopelessness that is life as a creative writer. Cosplay is better with friends. It naturally begs you to break out of your shell. Share that costume. Walk through that crowd. Seek that crafting advice. Reach out. It’s a nice reprieve from the stereotypical yet sadly true writer’s curse of constantly reaching in (where the demons are).

Lucky Liliana got to meet Magic’s tiniest celeb player, Dana! We discussed the joys of crushing opponents.

In all seriousness, half of me was terrified that I’d find out that outside of the internet’s Blind Eternities and on solid ground in my home plane that most of these folks would turn out to be cads or egomaniacs and they’d find out I was a robot charlatan and end up hating me.

Will they like me? Do I deserve to be liked? Will I like them? I’m 36 years old. That social anxiety never really goes away.

“Keep your friends close . . . ” The dynamic white-haired duo in better days. Justin Rix as Sorin. Ashlen Rose as Nahiri. Photo by Foto Matica. Editing by Mel Li.

Yet despite my fears the potential rewards outweighed the risks. Yeah, I got an A+ in Econ 101 son. So I made an announcement across social media, simply stating that Liliana, Chandra, Elspeth, and Freyalise planned to have an MTG cosplay meetup at GP Portland, and would be happy to have others join.

Sadly Freyalise was called away on Skyshroud business and didn’t end up making it, but to my shocked surprise and glee sixteen other Planeswalkers did — from Canada to Florida, the call was answered.

Photo by Foto Matica.

“You guys are awesome!!!” called one GP attendee as we gathered for our Planeswalker photo.

“Liliana, put down the clipboard for a second!” yelled another who wanted a picture. I had to threaten that guy (Liliana doesn’t take orders, she only gives them), but did grace his selfie since he was obviously such an enthused minion.

“We gotta get pictures together,” said Ryan Yee.

Um, yes?

“This might hurt less if you don’t fight so hard, Ryan. The secrets of how to paint amazing MTG art will be mine!” — Liliana

This article is a behind-the-scenes of the Summit, illuminating some of the process and players. Hopefully it communicates my true feels from the event . . . it exceeded all my expectations, and I really wanted everyone to feel their hard work and money spent to be there was worth it. Read on for profiles about some of the cosplayers, see more pictures, and find out details on what we have planned for the Planeswalker Summit encore at GP Vegas.

“So that’s how he keeps his youthful glow.” Ugin gets his beauty sleep as old pal Sorin looks on. Justin Rix as Sorin, Trevor Grandison as human form Ugin. Photo by Foto Matica. Editing by James Arnold.

Trevor Grandison planeswalked all the way from British Columbia to attend the Summit as Sage Ugin, an original concept that translated the azure dragon’s essence into a humanoid shell.

“Human form Ugin was based on the idea of Magic being on the plane of Innistrad. Full moons turning humans into beasts. So I thought, ‘what would happen if Ugin arrived on Innistrad and decided to tap into a leyline and have it backfire? Dragon becomes human,’” said Trevor of his concepting process.

“You are this close to a time out, buddy!” Christine Sprankle as Nicol Bolas. Trevor Grandison as Ugin. Photo and editing by Foto Matica.

Trevor included details like hedron etchings in the pattern on Ugin’s shirt and feather designs on the scarf, stayed true to the color palette in the art and made sure to feature Ugin’s iconic horns (as shoulder armor) in order to have the costume be recognizable. The gray in Trevor’s hair and beard denote Ugin’s age.

Our Ugin happened to be recruited for the Summit by Kiora — which makes sense when you consider how well she gets along with ginormous creatures of the Blue variety. “When I was first asked to join the event at Portland. I was shown a list of Planeswalkers available,” said Trevor. “A few were out of my construction ability such as Karn. I've always like the character Nicol Bolas; Ugin was on the list and was similar. Ideas ran through my head but building a large dragon in the time frame I set myself wasn't going to work. So I decided to build a more human version and keep as many iconic traits and details as I could. Hence Ugin's horns and hedron etchings.”

Kiora gets what Kiora wants. Courtney Pozzolo of Purple Rogue Cosplay as Kiora. Photo by Ken Doffek.

Kiora was a real crashing wave all weekend. I don’t know where Courtney gets the energy — she’s a family woman, a working woman, and organizer of BC’s InCon gaming convention.

“My reason for going to the Summit had a few different layers,” said Courtney. “One, I seriously needed a break from my two jobs and working an average of 63 hours a week. Two, I needed something to make me sit down and do the hobby I love so much. Three, I had Kiora on my list of to-dos since Battle for Zendikar last year and I felt this was a perfect venue.”

Kiora on break. What better way to pass the time than photobomb a Venser selfie?

I know what I got out of the Summit, but what did my friends come away with? I was curious to know.

“What did I come away with? Wonderful bonds were formed that I hope to never lose,” said Courtney. “The experience was simply wonderful and fun. I try to explain to people that going to a Magic event is not like going to a convention. At a Magic event the percentage of cosplayers to players is below 10% and I think I can speak for everyone when I say looking around at what had been assembled from a mostly online connection was incredible and to have so many Planeswalkers come to life was awe-inspiring!”

“What happens on Theros . . . ” Purple Rogue Cosplay as Kiora. Dani Hartel as Ajani. Michelle Shepardson as Elspeth. Photo and editing by Foto Matica.

One of the original group who planned to meet at GP Portland, Michelle Shepardson was our Elspeth. If she looks a bit familiar, it might be because you’ve seen her before: as Captain Sisay at last year’s GP Tacoma Weatherlight meetup.

One thing I love about cosplay meetups is you can have so much fun shooting group and pair shots, rather than just flying solo. And yeah, going canonic or recreating card art is awesome but some of the best pictures are often just casual snaps, out-of-character characters or decidedly un-canonic encounters that tickle our funnybones and imaginations alike.

BFFFs (that’s Best-Furry-Friends-Forever)! Ajani’s selfie with Elspeth is blasting my face with rainbows.

“I decided to come to the 2016 Summit because I wanted to support the other creative people who love MTG,” said Dani Hartel, our Ajani. “I can be kinda social-anxietyish, and I totally thought it'd be a bunch of dressed up people standing around being awkward, but I was so happy once I met other people who loved what I love. And I came away with a ton of new great friends.”

“Well it’s good for the environment, but not sure this beats planeswalking . . . ”

“Jace is back there, isn’t he . . . ”

BOLAS: “You realize this was my plan all along.” NAHIRI: [Gawd here we go again . . . ]

Coming soon to a theater near you: Liliana and Narset Go to Urza’s Tower. With . . . Venser? In a box?!

New friends. And old! The Summit inspired me to make an effort, like with a longtime friend I’d lost touch with: my sister-from-another-mother Barbie. You know her as Narset.

Barbie and I go way back to unspeakable times of community college theater and my post-divorce mayhem in the abyss. You’ll never see those pictures, but you get the idea I’m sure. Barbie has been there for me no matter what plane I’ve been stranded on and this Planeswalker meetup was the excuse I needed to reconnect and bond over something we both love: costumes and acting.

Barbie Wu as Narset. Photo by Foto Matica.

Narset and Ral share a quiet Jeskai moment. Alex Cahill as Ral Zarek. Photo by Foto Matica.

Sometimes you don’t know what great friends you have till you ask them to do something out of their comfort zone and they say yes. My husband’s circle didn’t escape unscathed, as that’s how our sassy Ral came to join the Summit. A fellow #mtgdad, Ral and Venser got cozy over something other than $8 Modern Night (that’s a thing).

Cue the bromance music.

Meetups like this are a great excuse to see friends you otherwise wouldn’t, such as my fiery comrade Arielle of Air Bubbles Cosplay, appearing as Gatewatch gal Chandra. With Chandra’s facetime in the storyline at an all-time high, there’s plenty of fodder for photographic inspiration.

“I can’t work under these conditions.” —Liliana

“I came to the Summit because I wanted to meet people in person who I'd been following. It was really great to get together with others who have the same passion and mindset as I do! I came away with more friends and memories than I could ever fathom!” said Arielle.

“Watch out, Gids — this punk Baral has got me fired up!” Air Bubbles Cosplay as Chandra. Jess Dunks as Gideon. Photo by Foto Matica. Editing by James Arnold.

Ditto. Sometimes being immersed in a fandom can be strangely isolating. I can’t geek out on Magic with most of my “IRL friends” so spending time with a bunch of people at the Summit who are as into this as I am was amazing.

“Chandra means a lot to me because she was honestly a huge gateway —haha, Gatewatch pun! — for me,” said Arielle. “She not only sparked my interest in playing Magic, but she also really helped me realize that making costumes was what I wanted to do with my life. I also feel really close to her as a character, so whenever I don the costume I feel really comfortable.”

Can’t touch this. Air Bubbles as Chandra. Photo by Ken Doffek.

“Time wise I love to give myself three months to make a big cosplay,” advises Arielle. “However my most recent one was kind of a rush job and I made it in a month! With money I do try and keep it as cheap as possible, because I am a human being and have to live and pay bills and eat food. For a rough estimate I probably spent about $300 on this most recent Chandra build.”

“When are you not fired up?” Jess Dunks as Gideon. Air Bubbles as Chandra. Photo by Foto Matica.

“I'm absolutely in love with Chandra’s Kaladesh Storyline,” raves Arielle. “It's great to see more depth added to her character and a clearer timeline for her. I also enjoy they are delving more into showing her immaturity and her age difference from the other Planeswalkers. It felt like with older stories and art she seemed too old and mature for what her description was.”

Dion of Foto Matica gets the shot.

For those of us that have dared The Purifying Fire — and what’s more terrifying than a little light romance? — we know Chandra’s and Gideon’s relationship has been retconned a bit from that novel’s shenanigans. Yet they still have a unique chemistry as teammates, and you can’t have a real-life Gatewatch without a real-life Beefslab. Er, Gideon.

Jess Dunks as Gideon. Photo by Foto Matica. Editing by Mel Li.

Enter Jess Dunks, host of JudgeCast. An MTG judge from Montana now living in Georgia, complete with Gideon-appropriate military background, Jess said his judge colleagues can’t tell it’s him when he’s wearing his Gideon kit!

“Honestly, they usually don't recognize me unless somebody points out that I'm the same person. Between the wig, facial hair and glasses I look very different,” said Jess. “I understand how Clark Kent gets away with pretending he's not Superman now. When they do see it, they think it's awesome or weird. They do think it's weird that I'd rather be there dressed as Gideon for free then there working as a judge who gets paid. It's a trade-off that was totally worth it in Portland.”

I asked Jess if fans can call him The Meat without getting punched in the face. “I won't punch anyone in the face at an event, but I might pose punching you in the face for a photo if you want.”

Amazingly, this was Jess’s first foray into cosplay.

“I've been heavily invested in the Magic community for years, but cosplay is something that I've always had a desire to do but was never bold enough to try. One day I just decided to bite the bullet and give it a go,” said Jess. “As for Gideon, he's a character I like and in many ways identify with, but I hadn't seen him done nearly at all. Also, I'd been doing research on foam armorsmithing and this seemed to be a way to combine everything at once.”

Gideon (upper left corner) blending in perfectly in his natural environment.

With your first build there are usually plenty of surprises and Jess’s case was no exception. “This costume was hard mode. I didn't realize that I was jumping in at the deep end for my first costume. I learned a lot and if I had to make it again I could probably do so pretty quickly, not to mention so much better, but I had to remake almost every piece of armor at least once. So off and on in my spare time —and through two personal relocations — it took about 8 months. As for cost, I don't remember exactly, but I'd say somewhere around $200-$300.”

Planeswalkers chillin. Photo by Foto Matica.

Crazy ideas sometimes beget crazy silver linings — like actually getting along with your parents. I was talking to my folks about GP Portland one afternoon in July, and my dad suddenly blurts out:


So then this happened:

Dad as Sarkhan. Mom as Arlinn Kord. Arlinn’s costume by Air Bubbles. Photos by Foto Matica.

It was fun trying to decide which Planeswalkers my folks should be cast as. We considered Ashiok for my dad but when he saw Sarkhan’s profile he immediately said, “I want to be him.” And it hit me that Arlinn was the perfect choice for Mom, right down to her religious past and break with the church, not to mention fondness for lamb.

Climbing all the mountains. Barbie Wu as Narset. My dad Sarkhan. Photo by Foto Matica. Editing by James Arnold.

I know the dregs of the MTG community are out there, and now more than ever we need to have vigilance about asking people to be respectful and maintain a healthy gaming space that welcomes all. But 90% of the time, I’m bombarded with how compassionate, awesome, and kind my Magic friends are. And I’m always reminded of how Magic uncannily brings us together.

Opaline Unicorn

In early June I was at a birthday party for a good friend’s daughter. I’d tied off her gift with an Opaline Unicorn since she loves unicorns and I wrote that flavor text (never too early to start them thinking about creative career choices).

“Wait — who’s that gift from?” another mom suddenly said. The party host pointed at me, and the mom proceeded to go MTG nuts right there.

“Oh my god,” she said. “My son loves that game! So you work on the cards you said? Oh my god — he has to talk to you!” She called her son to come over to the kiddie party. We all started geeking out on Magic. And know what the punchline is?

That other mom ended up attending the Summit . . . 

Gee as Nissa. Staff by Oridayo Cosplay. Photos by Foto Matica.

Turns out a lot of folks like to get dressed up in costumes. Turns out a lot of people in your IRL circles may want to help you do cool things. Or, you know, good-for-the-world things (*wink/nudge). You only need to be brave enough to reach out and ask.

Audrey Utz of Oridayo Cosplay is a Seattle area cosplayer who’s done Liliana, Heretical Healer and kindly lent her Nissa staff for use at the Summit. I was excited to meet Audrey in person because she was just so nice online.

“I came to the Summit because I wanted to meet other people who liked Magic enough to dress up as its characters!” said Audrey.

“Let’s settle this with class!” The gang punches it out. Oridayo Cosplay as Gisa. Purple Rogue as Serra Avenger.

Nahiri by Oridayo Cosplay. Photo by Foto Matica. Editing by Mel Li.

Face off. Audrey goes toe to toe with Justin Rix as Sorin. Photo and editing by Foto Matica.

Imagine my happy surprise when WOTC Creative Team member Mel Li said she wanted to attend the Summit! I knew Mel peripherally from Twitter and working on Flavor Teams, but we’d never met in person. Initially Mel planned to bring her insane Tezzeret to the Summit, but alas Tezz was crushed during a move (serves him right).

Then Mel (who always goes 110% it seems) said she be coming as Koth.


Mel Li as Koth of the Hammer. Photo by Foto Matica. Editing by Mel.

Uncanonical alliance that totally works IMO. Mel Li as Koth, Barbie Wu as Narset, Ryan Yee as Fantasy Artist Dude, and me (Moxy Cosplay) as Liliana.

Well I’ve saved the bae for last.

My canonical bae, that is. Jace haters should turn away now. “Or you can just cover the Blue half of the screen with your hand,” says Liliana, ever practical.

Loading JacexLiliana visuals . . . 

The nose flick heard ‘round the world. Photo by Foto Matica.

Matt Wardle of Jackal Costuming was our Jace. His partner Gin made miracles happen on a stunning replica of Jace’s infamous “Coat Boy” Innistrad attire.

“This was a very last-minute decision for me to go. With my general schedule, I didn't think it'd be possible. But went because I didn't think I'd have many more opportunities to do something like this,” said Matt of coming on board relatively late in the planning process.

I recall thinking at the time that Matt was channeling Jace’s tendency to “fall into” the right decision in somewhat chaotic fashion, getting himself in over his head, and going with it.

LILIANA: “I also can’t work under these conditions.” Photo by Foto Matica.

“It's somewhat rare to find a lot of MTG cosplayers, and in essence, the event in Pittsburgh with people like Christine Sprankle, Vanessa (VanessaLeighCos), Paul (Eveslage, @EoT_Impulse), and Serenity (Velvet Rose Creations) gave me a glimpse into what it could be like if there were a strong showing of a lot of people,” reflected Matt. “Plus, to be frank, having MJ reach out to me a few months earlier to talk about my Jace costume was a huge catalyst. It gave me a wonderful sense of inclusion that was something I hadn't really experienced before in the cosplay community.”

JACE: “I was hoping for a warmer welcome.” Photo by Foto Matica.

LILIANA: “Warm enough for you, Coat Boy?” Photo by Foto Matica. Editing by James Arnold.

I can personally attest that Gin’s craftsmanship on the Jace coat was professional grade flawless, even at point-blank range. And Matt was so easy to work with during our photo shoot. We kept cracking up between shots on the more serious poses.

“Looking back, I'll stick by what I said shortly after the event. The number of hours I spent in Portland were actually incredibly short. But the amount I lived and experienced in attending the event and meeting such an outstanding group of people far exceeded that fraction of time,” said Matt.

“And I couldn't be more thankful for it.”

"This is a dead end," she said. "Go home, Jace. I'm sure you've got forms to file." From Unwelcome by Kelly Digges.

I don’t think I can sum up the first Planeswalker Summit experience any better than Matt did.

Before I go I have to give a special thanks to our photographer, actually the father of that little girl in the Opaline Unicorn vignette. Dion donated a ton of time to the event, and was a pleasure to work with. Amazingly this was his first large group shoot, and he rocked it, definitely earning his nickname “The Photomancer.”

And I have one other big shoutout.

Urborg is a really bike-friendly town.

The one person I’ve learned the most from, in terms of social issues, is my husband, Elliot. A long time ago the thought of two dads raising a girl child was problematic for me, for reasons I thought were valid at the time. But then I thought . . .  “What if it was two men like Elliot, raising a daughter? Would they not be worthy? Would they not be great parents? Would they not do right by that child?”

All I could hear in my head was a resounding Yes. And what I thought was a deep “issue” for me became a nonissue in seconds.

Often what we don’t know, or aren’t personally associated with, is scary and/or something we feel can be sacrificed.

Reanimated, and it feels so goo-ood. Sometimes the most brilliant ideas come from thinking outside canon. Photo by Foto Matica.

A shared love of Magic brings you, my reader, and me, together. Magic is the glue of this community. Magic is our little secret. Our space to be free . . .  but, not free to hate. Because that’s something best left to your sideboards.

Now. Wanna party in Vegas with some Planeswalkers?

“I’ve never liked you. Not since that Duel Deck.”

Grand Prix Las Vegas 2017

Costume Theme Schedule

  • Thursday, June 15 — Legacy
  • Friday, June 16 — Planeswalkers
  • Saturday, June 17 — Modern
  • Sunday, June 18 — Pool Party

We are actively looking to have other cosplayers join, just send a request: Planeswalkers of the Summit 2017.

“I see that together we’re more powerful than we are alone . . . ”

Some other ways to be involved:

Photographers. Are you an image archmage? I’m looking for 2-3 photographers for Vegas who can donate their time specifically on Friday, June 16 for the large group meetup. We also need a photographer for the Pool Party. Contact me.

Charity Event Assistants. We are currently working on a charity event tied in to the Planeswalker Summit that will help give back to the local community. If you have experience in such events or an interest in helping, contact me.

Product & Art Support. If you have product you can donate for giveaways, or are an artist that would like to work with the Summit to produce some exclusive items, contact me.

“ . . . I’ll keep watch. Happy now?”

I’m really excited for 2017 because of all the good that people are motivated to do right now. I have one request, and that is, if you see someone being harassed, hurt or bullied, please stand up for that person. Even if they’re very, very different from you on the outside. Because if you let your integrity die, your spark dies. And our sparks are all we’ve got.

“I want you in my army of darkness and I want you now.” — Aunty Liliana. Cemetery Recruitment, inspired by the art of Kieran Yanner. Photo by Foto Matica.

Till next time. May Magic be your conscience.

— MJ



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