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Cosplay: Wildseeker Elf and the Toughest Climb


Wildseeker Elf by Moxymtg Cosplay. Photo Editing by James Arnold. Inspired by the art of Anna Steinbauer.

Today, I have a three-scoop waffle-cone treat for you: Cosplay pictures, an interview with MTG artist Anna Steinbauer, and MTG short fiction written by former io9.com contributor Ed Grabianowski.

I have a love–hate affair with elves. One of my earliest fangirl/cosplay experiences (long before I knew what cosplay was) came during the Lord of the Rings film era, when I was living in Seattle with my then-boyfriend-eventual-first-husband. To some extent, I’d repressed my fantasy geek side during high school and college and was just getting back into it playing some Diablo II . . . when the trailers for LOTR suddenly started and my head actually exploded in the middle of our one-bedroom apartment near Pike’s Place.

Original image found here.

I’d watched the animated The Hobbit many times as a child, but I had never read the books, and I could barely believe Tolkien’s fantasy classic was being made into a mainstream movie. But something in those seconds-long teasers spoke to me, rekindled something dormant. So by the time Fellowship was over, I had seriously nerdy creative ideas and an equally serious—and much more embarrassing—Legolas crush. Predictable. It’s anyone with a bow, really, from Link all the way back to Robin Hood (either Errol Flynn or the Disney fox); to allll the way back to Artemis (as in the Greek goddess).

Eyes wide as shot glasses and hardly able to breathe properly, I started researching LOTR fandom. Somehow, it got into my head that dressing up for the Seattle premier of The Two Towers made perfect sense, and I embarked on my first personal immersive cosplay project.

I have no pictures of the amazing Legolas and Arwen cosplays (and subsequently Strider and Eowyn) I made because, well, people divorce, and this happens:

Divorcing Destructive Revelry by Kev Walker

But yeah, you can trust me: They were awesome costumes. I vividly remember the premier night, being so nervous going out in public dressed up and how the line for the theater was already around the block. Another fond memory is of the ass hat muggle ranger who turned an appraising eye on my fiancé and me and proclaimed, “Hmph, Asian elves!” with thinly veiled barbaric suspicion.

Know what I say to that?

“One bone broken for every . . . ” Elf ears about $18 on Etsy.

I do have some items left from those LOTR costumes—elvish gauntlets and greaves, a Fellowship cloak—which I’m sure will resurface in a Magic context at some point, and I’ll be sure to point out to you. So, with Legolas as the foundation of my return to geekery, how pleasantly symmetrical that my first professional cosplay engagement involved portraying a blonde elf (sordid details of my love–hate affair with blondes on another day).

When I first saw Anna Steinbauer’s Seek the Wilds art, I literally shook my head and said, “Great, a blonde elf.” Imagine my chagrin when StarCityGames was like, “Hey, guess what, we want you to cosplay for Gtrand Prix Atlanta . . . ”

Last laugh’s definitely not mine—or is it? Anyway, I necessarily took a much closer look at Seek the Wilds. Taking my time with the image, I was blown away by the amount of detail Anna had put into the outfit, the lushness and scope of the background vista. I noticed that Anna is very, very proficient with clothes, something a lifelong fashion maven like me can really get off on. She’s also fantastic with hands, not something you think of as a necessity and can limp along without, employing just rudimentary mastery (plain Frappuccino)—but when hands are good, it’s definitely a Frappuccino with whip. And whips.

Okay, it’s a hook, not a whip, but Gideon still ain’t got nothin’ on me. The “hook” is actually a 1.5 lb. folding anchor, while the climbing rope is nylon paracord held in a loop with Gorilla glue.

For the Wildseeker build, I strove to emulate the elf’s contradictory prettiness. She came alive for me as a character, an adventurer bombshell who was all about her climbs and appointments with her colorist—until the Eldrazi attacked. Anna brought the character to life in her painting, I took it to 3D, and then Ed gave my cosplay voice with his short story.

Super bonus: Anna Steinbauer took the time to answer a few questions for us. Enjoy.

Modified a pre-fab Attack on Titan harness with Jacquard brand textile paint and silver puff-painted “Eldrazi runes” to get the right Zendikari look.

Left: early fitting. Right: final. I’m really a fan of wearing a corset under everything; it gives the “fantasy” structure and a clean line, even if it’s not squeezing that much. Corset + push-up here.

A Moment in Line for the Elves’ Room with Anna Steinbauer

Bloodbond Vampire by Anna Steinbauer

Magic brings yet another powerhouse lady artist on board. You might know Anna from the fabulous and controversial Blessed Spirits art. She also did Stone Haven Medic, Anointer of Champions, and Dutiful Return. Her sensual and romantic style is characterized by figures that are ridiculously good-looking and possess an inner core of steel. And by that, I don’t just mean great abs.

Seek the Wilds

1. Can't tell you how many people asked, "Is that Nissa?" or just assumed it was—which kind of blows my mind since Nissa has long black hair and face tattoos. Settle the "controversy"—did the art description say anything about Nissa? Was this elf identified as a character?

I’m really surprised to hear that! The Wildseeker Elf is just a random elf following Zendikar’s world guide. Aside from the obvious hair color you mentioned, both the cosplay and the outfit in the painting look very different from any of Nissa’s costumes. I think it’s probably just people trying to somehow place a character they do not know and finding a connection with the long ears and earthy tones.

“Nissa—how’s it going down there? You can just start up the rope after I get a little—Nissa? Nissa, are you still down there? Nissa, what are you d—”

2. The environment she's climbing is just gorgeous. Did you have a real-life inspiration or reference you used to create the vista?

I used several references for the background, but no one place in particular. Actually, I get quite queasy with heights and wanted to paint something to get that exhilarating feeling of vertigo across.

Anointer of Champions by Anna Steinbauer

3. To me, both your male and female Magic figures are very sexy, very physically dynamic, very body-conscious . . . while still appearing contextually appropriate and staying on the "sensually illustrative"—as opposed to gratuitous—side of things. Is this something you consciously try to balance in your work, or does it just it turn out that way?

Well, thank you! It's not something I do consciously. I simply try to go for what seems aesthetically pleasing and cool to me, so it's great to hear that it feels appropriate!

4. If you were given the opportunity to illustrate an existing Planeswalker, whom would you choose, and why?

Personally, I really like Liliana, but painting Kiora, Nissa, or Elspeth would be great fun, too!

“Nissa, did you hear that? Anna Steinbauer said she’d love to paint me—so dope, huh?  . . . Nissa? Nissa . . . ?”

I apologize for those jokes. But between rival beautiful elves, there has to be some Ashaya-throwing. What brought Wildseeker Elf into the wild in the first place? What does her future hold? Read on to find out.

Seek the Wilds by Anna Steinbauer

The Toughest Climb

by Ed Grabianowski

The jungles of Murasa are not so much lush as hostile, not so much verdant, as impenetrable. Entering that jungle is like going underground, into a place without light, where everything wants to kill you and eat you. It's a place that is actively trying to attack you every moment you're there.

It's my favorite place to be.

Within the jungle is a volcano jutting up from the canopy, a rocky cone draped in vines and snakes and things that eat vines and snakes. At night, from a long distance, it glows like a beacon. That's how I found it. I go there as often as I can, and always alone. I can only ever go there alone.

Tonight, I'm standing at the base of that volcano—it has no name I've ever heard—preparing for the climb. I've got my gear, hooks, pitons, plenty of rope, plus my ring, enchanted to make it slightly less likely I'll die if I fall. Only slightly, though. There are no sure things in Murasa. I can't see the lava-red glow from here, the jungle blocks it completely, but I know from memory what I'll find once I get above the treetops.

The caldera is overgrown with ferns and creepers that thrive in the rich volcanic soil. Farther in is an ash field, always warm beneath my boots. And finally, in the center, is a small lake of molten rock, forever giving off an orange-red glow and a deep heat that makes the fetid jungle feel cool and refreshing. I've seen the lake bubble and swell, and I've seen lava ooze slowly from vents in the volcano's sides, but it's never erupted or even rumbled. This volcano is old and sleeping fitfully.

Murasa by Jung Park

Miles away, at the edge of Murasa, where the jungle meets the coastal cliffs, there is a city called Sundering Bay. There, the Tajuru carefully negotiate the shifting, unsteady alliances they've forged for hundreds of years. Life in Zendikar can be hard and short without allies, which is why the Tajuru work so hard to keep theirs. The humans from Sea Gate, the Kor of Sejiri, the other elf tribes of Murasa and Vastwood, even the vampires, all part of that uneasy truce. Most days it's just an agreement to stay out of each other's way—there's quite enough on this plane trying to end us all already, thanks.

Most days negotiations are deathly boring, too. The problem is, I'm Emissary Irraj, daughter of Chronicler Uliar, prime diplomatic advisor to Speaker Sutina, leader of the Tajuru.

Jwar Isle Refuge by Cyril Van Der Haegen

"Emissary Irraj," someone will say, and I will smile and nod and display my ridiculous ceremonial outfit and remember the correct protocol and politesse. I will say the proper thing and sit through the endless meeting, and the whole time, my mind will be out there in the jungle, climbing and caving and living.

I've been the official emissary to Jwar Isle for decades. I'm an expert on what makes Jwar Isle tick, how to negotiate with them, how to get the best treaties and agreements from the humans and the occasional sphinx that live there. For instance, at an official function where dinner is served, never stare at your food, because that implies mistrust or distaste. And when you clasp hands to affirm an agreement, promptly turn and gaze out to sea. I'm not even sure what that one means—it's just what they do. You also really have to learn to love eating squid.

You want a secret confession? I kind of love the ceremonial outfits. I've got my choice of hardened leather gorget and pauldrons when I want to act the part of a tough, no-nonsense negotiator, or the embroidered gown with the plunging neckline when I want to emphasize other aspects of my personality. The choice depends on my mood as much as the situation. I'm a damn good emissary.

I'm a damn good climber, too. I always opt for the leather pauldrons on these little adventures, though the gorget is a little too restrictive for climbing. Why do I go alone? Because I have to go in secret. My father would never allow me to take these kinds of risks, less because I'm his daughter and more because of my value to the Tajuru. If he could see me swinging thousands of feet up from one rock wall to the next, he'd eat tree bark. So it's a day's hike in, a night of climbing, and a day's hike back out, trekking through Murasa's rougher areas alone. It's worth it.

Tajuru Stalwart by Wesley Burt

Like tonight, for example. Tonight is all mine. Sweat trickles along my collarbone and my forearms are tight and sore from exertion, but as soon as I crest this ledge, I'll have the gorgeous vista of that caldera laid out in front of me.

Except it isn't. I throw a leg onto the ledge and scramble up to find everything dead. Every vine, every snake turned to crumbling gray powder. It's like the ash field grew to cover the entire crater, except this ash is cold, and even the lava lake has lost its fire. What could possibly have done this? The volcano itself is crumbling away beneath me.

At that moment, all that time I spent acting like I was above it all comes back to haunt me. Because I remember hearing about what happened at Sea Gate, and how it wasn't my job to worry about it, and as long as Tajuru was safe I didn't need to deal with it. The Eldrazi are just old folk tales, and the people who actually saw them last time they awoke are just lunatics. As I think about what an idiot I was for thinking those things, something skitters up out of the crater and hits me square in the upper arm with a claw, flung out with an outstretched limb that has way too many joints.

Thank Khalni for hardened leather pauldrons.

Conduit of Ruin by Slawomir Maniak

The thing is scuttling toward me now, giving off a sense of malevolence even though it doesn't really have a face. Just too many arms, too many tentacles waving around, flicking at the air as if they're trying to sniff me out. And all around it I can sense this weird pulling sensation, a lot like when the really big storms roll in from Bala Ged and your ears feel achy and full.

I'd like to tell you that in all my years as an emissary I'd been secretly trained in combat, but the truth is I panic hard. I'm all done thinking, and thinking about thinking. I see that thing coming at me, and in an instant of revulsion, I whip my grappling hook at it. Somehow, it grabs hold of some flailing, wriggling part of it, and I pull. I pull it toward me for some reason, but it turns out to be the right move. Its weird bulk heaves on top of me as I roll toward the ledge I just climbed up from, and I carry all that momentum into a desperate push. It tumbles over the ledge with a hiss so alien it makes my eyes water. There's one close moment when a groping tentacle slithers around my ankle, but I flinch away, and like that, I'm alone again.

I want to lie there gasping in terror for a long, long time, but I immediately inhale some of that white dust. Choking and coughing, I start my descent down the volcano. Near the base, I remember something: a long, deep limestone cave unaffected by the lava flows. On an earlier exploration, I'd found that it was full of endless rows of small hedrons. Hadn't thought much of it at the time, but maybe whoever made those understood the Eldrazi better than we do. Maybe there's some knowledge there that could be useful.

Looks like next time I make this trek, I need to bring help.

I've got a meeting with one of Drana's diplomats in two days. I hate being around them—I'm always exhausted after just a few minutes of conversation, and when they smile, you feel like a mouse making dinner plans with a hawk. But that urgent summons I was ready to write off as Drana just being dramatic feels a lot more vital right now.

So does my job, for that matter. I think it's going to take all of us to defeat these things. I've got the skills to help make that happen.

It's going to be a tough climb, though.

Tajuru Warcaller by Anastasia Ovchinnikova

The End

Anna Steinbauer has a list of great reference material for aspiring artists on her website. And make sure to check out her INPRNT gallery next time you need some gorgeous for your wall!

Till next time, may Magic be your in-the-wilds Glamour Shot.



Moxymtg Cosplay

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