WARNING: This article contains references to the events that unfold in the War of the Spark novel by Greg Weisman. If you have not finished reading, please wait to read this article.


Firemind. Dracogenius. Parun. Dragon Reincarnate. Living Guildpact.

The dragon Niv-Mizzet has been a part of Magic since the Guildpact expansion, and over the last 14 years has taken on many faces and played many roles within Magic’s twisting and turning storyline. Today’s article will look at each of his different depictions, from his initial unveiling to his current resurrected form, including one illustration that is unlike most of the others. Our story begins in 2006:

Part I: The Faces of Niv-Mizzet

Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind by Todd Lockwood. Digital.

The first depiction of the dragon, Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind, was illustrated by the master of dragons Todd Lockwood, an artist best known for his catalog of these fantastic creatures. Here Niv is strong and powerful as a dragon should be, his maw at the ready, and not quite like the intellectual being Magic has come to know.

Izzet Signet by Greg Hildebrandt, acrylic on canvas, 10.5” x 13.75.” Private Collection.

While perhaps not a direct representation of the dragon as seen in the set, the flavor text of Izzet Signet makes for a fitting inclusion:

The Izzet signet is redesigned often, each time becoming closer to a vanity portrait of Niv-Mizzet.

Nivix, Aerie of the Firemind by Martina Pilcerova. Traditional. Private Collection.

As printed, Nivix, Aerie of the Firemind shows only the guildhall with no trace of the dragon. But as painted, we see Niv-Mizzet at rest upon his platform, and for perhaps the only time in the Ravnica story, at peace.

Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind by Svetlin Velinov. Digital.

The Firemind was repainted for the Duel Decks Series Izzet vs. Golgari, and Svetlin Velinov stayed true to Lockwood’s original characterization. Although a wise and ancient genius, Niv-Mizzet is still at his core a flying dragon that breathes fire when these talents are required.

Izzet Signet by Raoul Vitale, oil on board, 9.5” x 13,” Private Collection of the Mirror Gallery.

Remember the first flavor text of Izzet Signet we saw above? True to its word, the signet has evolved again into the new Izzet crest, a more stylized but updated version of the Firemind himself.

Key Art, Return to Ravnica by Jaime Jones. Digital.

When Magic returned to Ravnica in 2012, Niv-Mizzet did as well. While this illustration never appeared on a card, it was used in much of the promotional material surrounding the Return to Ravnica, including the booster box top/standee. Niv-Mizzet has always been central to the Ravnica story, and his presence behind the would-be Living Guildpact was one of several early indications of his immense role to play.

Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius by Todd Lockwood. Digital.

Niv-Mizzet’s set card was once again illustrated by Todd Lockwood, and as the name would suggest, Niv has become less mobilized for war and more focused on his intellectual prowess. The slight smile drawn across his mouth in Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius nods to his brilliance, and to his arrogance.

Blast of Genius by Terese Nielsen. Traditional. Private Collection.

While not the main subject of this work, Niv-Mizzet looks on from the background at the rise of Ral Zarek. Zarek is smart, cunning, and one that Niv knows he must keep his eye on, lest his intellect and prowess become too much for the Guild to handle.

Firemind’s Foresight by Dan Scott. Digital.

Niv-Mizzet is very possibly the most intelligent being on Ravnica, maybe even the entire multiverse, and he’s not one to let anyone forget that. Here he is deep in thought, his head surrounded by his calculations and premonitions, eyes glowing as he processes whatever problem is at hand.

Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind by Mike ‘Daarken’ Lim. Digital.

Magic’s third visit to Ravnica could not be without our title character. Alongside his contemporary presence in the current set is this version by Daarken, a callback to the Niv we once knew and the Firemind that once was. His poise is unmistakable as the sun rises and sets on Ravnica, almost as if he knows his future fate and always has.

Niv-Mizzet, Parun by Svetlin Velinov. Digital.

In his Guilds of Ravnica illustration, Niv-Mizzet, Parun still poses as Dracogenius, only reversed. His smirk has drawn wide enough to reveal some of his teeth. He is proud of his position, of his creations, and his hubris knows no bounds. Though, is it actually hubris if you are indeed the best?

Firemind’s Research by Robbie Trevino. Digital.

One of Niv-Mizzet’s signature characteristics, as we’ve discovered via Izzet Signet, is his obsession with creating things in his own image. Whether it’s 2006 or 2018 this has not changed, and Trevino has captured this essence in Firemind’s Research taking place during Guilds of Ravnica.

Firemind’s Research by Grzegorz Rutkowski

We cannot be entirely sure what Niv-Mizzet is working on; is it the Firemind Vessel, or maybe even a component of the Interplanar beacon? Whatever that spark of energy Niv is holding, he is quite impressed with himself, emitting an “I told you so” aura to whoever is right outside the frame. He is brilliant, and is certainly not afraid to make sure you don’t forget it.

Expansion by Alexander Deruchenko, oil on board, 13” x 15.6.” Private Collection.

Expansion from Expansion // Explosion shows again what Firemind’s Research foretells. The energy that Niv-Mizzet discovers is now functional, and capable of exceptional power when charged between his hands. Here he is genius and general, soldier and savant, a combination of both forms in which we’ve seen him. Remember this illustration; we’re going to come back to this one in particular.

Firemind’s Vessel by Jenn Ravenna. Digital.

This art meant the realization of what many Izzet League members, including myself, feared for a long time. Niv-Mizzet was dead, lost to the war with Nicol Bolas, and now preserved in an earthly urn bearing his likeness. This is a final tribute to the dragon’s infatuation with creating things in his image and a beautifully striking work by Jenn Ravenna.

Finale of Promise by Jaime Jones. Digital.

This illustration is an inspiration to the entire Guild, and to all of Ravnica. A fallen leader’s resurrection to savior-hood, and his ascension to his rightful place on the plane he’s always fought to protect.

Niv-Mizzet, Reborn by Raymond Swanland. Digital.

In what felt like the longest half an hour of any preview season, Magic soon found out that the 15,000 year old dragon had been reborn, reincarnated as avatar and Living Guildpact of Ravnica. This image encapsulates all his previous depictions of strength, genius, and vanity, exuding power and showing that Niv-Mizzet is now one of the most powerful beings in the Multiverse.

There are a few other trace encounters with depictions of the dragon, like Rising Populace and Contentious Plan, but these seventeen images cover how the game has shown the Izzet leader over this last decade and a half. Of all these different illustration of Niv-Mizzet and Niv-related iconography, only five of them have traditional paintings, including both the Signets and the Guild land Nivix. One other, Blast of Genius, has Niv-Mizzet lurking in the background.

There is but one traditional illustration of the dragon as the main character, and it has both a finished final painting, as well as an exceptionally rendered color study. The work is Expansion by Alexander Deruchenko, and that color study is the piece of art that has made its way to my collection. It’s the subject of our secondary exploration today.

Part II: Expansion by Alexander Deruchenko

Color Study for Expansion by Alexander Deruchenko, watercolor, colored pencils, and acrylic on watercolor paper, 9.45” x 9.45”

Expansion by Alexander Derchenko is a mixed media color study used by the artist during his process of creating the final oil-painted version. There is often no difference between the color studies he creates and the illustration as it appears on a card, making his color studies much more than a preliminary stepping stone and essentially as collectible as a finished work of art.

This is especially true for Expansion—other than its final oil painting counterpart, it is the only other way to collect Niv-Mizzet as a traditional piece of Magic art. As soon as this card was previewed, I sent a message straight to Alexander. He informed me that each side of the card Expansion // Explosion had two works of art, and that each would be auctioned separately in the coming weeks. I prepared for the sale and made my interest known.

Without going full Art Market Minute within this article, both paintings were sold first to different collectors, and afterwards the color studies were offered. They each garnered considerable bidding attention, with Expansion more so than the Ral-focused work of Explosion. I was ready for a fight to the finish, knowing that acquiring a work like this would not come easily. I placed my bid by private message in the closing minutes.

2 minutes.

1 minute.


There was no rebuttal to the bid I placed. I was stunned and elated; the dragon, and one of two pieces of his only traditional depiction, was mine.

Part III: Put it On The Wall

This was going to be a special piece to frame, and I recently made the trip to Ain’t That a Frame in Westminster, Maryland to find it the perfect fit. I knew going in that I wanted something to play off the guild colors of our main dragon, and preferably something that complemented the lightning between his hands if at all possible.


The mat choices came together fairly quickly, as my framer Lou was able to find complimentary colors in ultramarine and red textured that worked quite well together. Next came the question of the outside frame, and here the decision became tougher. Stylistically, the perfect match was found instantly: a moulding entitled “Eiffel” with crosshatching along a deep scoop. In this case, it was not about architecture; it looked exactly as dragon scales:

Down to three different color variations, I eventually selected the darkened pewter. It struck me as the best compliment to the mat color and the work itself. I think each would have looked as good as any other, but ultimately am very happy with the final choice.

Expansion has been “contained” and glazed with Optium acrylic in case the dragon ever needed to travel to an art show. My first dragon and my favorite of them all, the leader of my favorite guild, now hangs proudly on my wall alongside the original paintings for Izzet Cluestone and Vitale’s Izzet Signet.

Wrapping Up

And so we have traced Niv-Mizzet from revelation to resurrection, a Magic legend who will forever be a part of the game’s enduring memory. I hope you enjoyed this visual timeline, as well as getting a closer look at draconic color study you may not have known existed.

With War of the Spark now all but fully released, the next few weeks hold this set’s Art Grand Tour, as well as something I’ve never done before, where I take my shot at playing Art Director and commissioning artists for the next hypothetical round of Planeswalker commissions. There is all that and more to look forward to, only in the Mirror Gallery here on Hipsters of the Coast.

Remember, to see original #mtgart and other #vorthos related things, follow me on Twitter. Feel free to ask questions or retweet to continue the conversation. Thanks and see you next time!

Donny Caltrider has been playing Magic since 2002 and collecting original Magic art since 2017. He has an M.A. in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University and enjoys telling stories about art, objects, and the intersection of fantasy with real-life. You can find him on Twitter talking about #mtgart, museums, and other #vorthos related goodness. Follow along and continue the conversation!

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