Cover image: The Brothers’ War promotional art by Dominik Mayer

Good morning folks, and welcome back to another week here in the Mirror Gallery on Hipsters of the Coast. Today I return to a series that’s only had a single entry in 2022, and that’s Behind the Brush! I gave a little preview of our guest during last week’s Grand Art Tour, and I’m so excited to have had the chance to talk to the one and only Dominik Mayer about his six piece contribution to the latest Magic expansion, The Brother’s War.

While at Magic30 last month I spoke to Principal Art Director Taylor Ingvarsson, who was the lead AD on this set, and has used Mayer as an artist on every major set he’s directed. He spoke of Dominik’s work as an example of an artistic triumph of The Brother’s War, preparing a different lens: “He got to strip us out of the cinematic approach, and bring us more into the abstract space.”

After hearing only a bit of what went into these pieces, I knew I needed to find out more. Let’s waste no time today, as Dominik has told some of the most thorough tales this column has ever seen. This is Behind the Brush: Dominik Mayer!

DC: Let’s begin as I often do: who are you, where are you from, and what do you do?

Headshot of Dominik Mayer

The artist, Dominik Mayer

DM: I am Dominik and I am a freelance illustrator and art director from Nuremberg. It is an old medieval German city with tons of great inspiration for all my fantasy illustrations. I come from a smaller town close by. I studied Illustration and 3D Animation in Nuremberg and after working in different in house art positions in Hamburg and Munich, I came back here. My focus is on dark fantasy illustration. I did a lot of Concept Art and Art Direction as well but at the moment I am focusing almost completely on the illustration part. Mainly for Card games or Video Games. Sometimes some work for a movie or trailer. I am 31 years old and also a big MtG fan myself!

Tell me about your artistic background—how did you get started, and what journey led you here?

It is a pretty straight forward story. I always loved drawing but did not really know that you can earn money with it. After school I tried a few things. Studied History and Orientalism but quickly stopped and transitioned into art and started my studies in design. After that I worked as a 3D generalist and Graphic designer in house for 1.5 years. During that time I did a lot of drawing and painting on the side and landed a few illustration gigs, which I worked on after my day job. During the second half of this time in house I switched to half time in-house and half time freelance. At one point I had the feeling that my in-house work was preventing me from taking on the more interesting, bigger freelance jobs, so I decided to try full-time freelance. Which worked out very well for the last six years.

Where do you draw your inspiration? Any art heroes?

That is a really dynamic thing. I would say mainly the art of other artists I admire and also stuff I read or see elsewhere. It really can be anything. But I love history and weird stuff so when I am at a museum and see some old artifacts from old civilizations, I always find that super inspiring.

I of course have a bunch of artists which I always come back to. That pool is constantly changing over time as I discover new things. To name a few: John Singer Sargent, J.C. Leyendecker, Hieronymus Bosch, Alfons Mucha and Gustav Klimt. But also more recent ones like Piotr Jablonski, Black Gold Sun or Zhihui Su.

A VERY strong source of inspiration for me is music. I love listening to music of all sorts and letting the mind wander. I always try to find some music that fits the briefing or my idea and mood. That works like magic for me.

If you could describe your style in a sentence, what would that be?

Meeting of the Five by Dominik Mayer.

Meeting of the Five by Dominik Mayer. Digital, For Streets of New Capenna.

Dark and creepy stuff coated in beautiful colors and spiced up with high contrast and strange geometrical shapes.

Let’s talk about your most recent contribution to Magic in The Brothers’ War—you had six cards total, the five Commands & Visions of Phyrexia. Can you take us through each one and peel back the layers?

The general idea for them all was to show as many story background bits as possible. This set is so rich on the lore and backstory side that I wanted to see it reflected in the artwork. But it should not feel like a set of movie shots or from a flashback scene. I wanted it to feel like we as the viewer are somehow deciphering some old murals—telling us the story of decades and centuries. Like if we find some old Roman wall paintings and try to imagine how it was back then.

The visual idea for those was that they all are built up by strong geometric shapes. I wanted to push the limits here a bit and go for a cubism inspired style where seemingly random shapes build up the composition, cutting into each other and creating a very dynamic mood. That combined with all the great characters and story moments was the style idea behind all of them.

I did some very detailed sketches for them all. That is something I usually don’t do. I usually jump right into color with some very very rough scribbles as a base. Sometimes I even skip those. But for these I did a lot of planning where to place the elements and how the flow of the different shapes works best. That is special for those cards.

What is also special is that these are all full art illustrations. They were commissioned as normal sized but I thought it would be great to have those with more content under the text box so we can have them as extra epic in full art. I really like the long high format to work with. Even if it is not required.

Kayla’s Command

Kayla’s Command by Dominik Mayer.

Kayla’s Command by Dominik Mayer. Digital.

It was important that we feel the strength and might she holds in her hands while ruling her people. She clearly is a powerful person. She knows what she wants. It should be clear that her realm is beautiful and rich, but it is not only nice and shiny, it is protected by a powerful army.

She holds everything together with strength and order. That is reflected by the symmetrical composition and the beautiful and colourful ornaments. Her face shows a nice but confident look.

Kayla's Command borderless card image.

The colors should give us a welcoming feeling as we are coming to her. In front of her we see a golden diamond shaped relief. It shows herself together with her husband Urza. But in the back on the left side we see a third person—Mishra. It shows the complicated connection of them all and gives us a hint of what is going on between them all.

Urza’s Command

Urza’s Command by Dominik Mayer.

Urza’s Command by Dominik Mayer. Digital.

Urza is often portrayed as a good guy. But same as Mishra he did a loooot of questionable stuff in his time. Especially the destruction of Argoth and the genocide on the elvish population by using the Sylex. That in mind, I wanted to make sure we get this side of him as well.

So his command is structured in a way that we see him and his face in the center. He is pondering about a perfect and bright future. The three spheres are a small easter egg and hint for the spell Ponder which also is often portrayed with the three spheres.

Card image for Urza's Command.

He is dreaming and looking up. All he wants to see is the right side of the image. Everything is in order and he can focus on his studies. Pondering away in his tower. But the reality looks different. And that is the left side of the composition. The stuff behind him. The things he does not want to see. Or acknowledge he did. It is perfectly aligned with our reading direction from left to right. So it feels very easy for us to overlook all the details on the left side and focus on his face and the more calm right side of the image. We are, like Urza, unconsciously ignoring the left side and its consequences.

The war machines he built. The thopters on the left upper part. Or his ground army on the lower left part which are spreading destruction and death. Even the death of some of his loved ones. The face of Kayla in the flames is a symbol for that. All of this comes through the power given through the Mightstone. Which is hovering in the center of the whole image. Beneath the stone we see the Sylex, the powerful weapon he once used and which the whole story of this set is about.

Beneath this mighty artifact we see a procession of people walking towards the right side. This is a symbol for his followers, who believe in him and his plans. They are carrying the last spark of hope for peace in their hands. They all are walking towards that bright future. The end of the war. The right side of the painting.

Gix’s Command

Gix’s Command by Dominik Mayer.

Gix’s Command by Dominik Mayer. Digital.

This illustration should portrait the power of Phrexia and its emissary Gix. We see Gix as a master manipulator playing with the life of the two brothers like a puppeteer. And the two tiny figures are the two brothers. One is holding the Mightstone and one the Weakstone. Both look completely similar. That shows that both of them are the same. They are of similar strength and power, both played by the big force of Phyrexia in the back.

We see a ring of people on the outer parts of the illustration. A lot of dark figures with halos shaped like the Phyrexia sigil. Their heads and the pointy lines are facing inwards towards the brothers. Those people are the cult of Gix. It feels like the Phyrexia sigils around the heads of the cultists are stabbing the brothers in the back, which is exactly what the cult is doing in the beginning of the story.

Card image for Gix's Command.

The whole image is built up in circles. Nine in total. Coming from the center—the Phyrexia sign—stacking outwards. Those ring shapes stand for the nine layers of the Phyrexian home world, which is also built up by nine layers with the core and Yawgmoth in the center.

The whole image is inspired by the shape language of HR Giger. It perfectly creates this feeling of machines growing like an organism and taking over everything.

Mishra’s Command

Mishra’s Command by Dominik Mayer.

Mishra’s Command by Dominik Mayer. Digital.

Mishra’s Command is the opposite of Urza’s. He is aware of what he is doing. He is looking those who stand against him right into the eye. He is facing it. So he comes more out of the image, towards us and against Urza. (If you place the two cards beside each other.)

Through the power from Gix—visible on his phyrexinized body parts like his left arm and chest, he is able to lead his powerful army we can see in the back. He is holding a sword in his other hand. That is a symbol for his strength and his will to fight. The dragon engines are his masterpieces, so they are the base of this whole illustration. We see how the tail and back of it are interwoven with all the other elements of the image. It is a spiral. This spiral is a symbol for the downward cycle of destruction a war like this brings.  We also see Ashnod and Tawnos, the two assistants of the two brothers, which also have their own tragic story.

Card image for Mishra's Command.

Titania’s Command

Titania’s Command by Dominik Mayer.

Titania’s Command by Dominik Mayer. Digital.

This illustration is about the power of nature. Everything in this illustration is organic and dynamic, like growth. Titania is the center of this piece, and she is not only leading the force of nature against the machines, she IS the personification of it all, almost nature itself. That shows in the fact that her whole body is transforming from tree branches to hair down over her chest transforming into an army of charging elves.

In the left background we see some tree folk creatures and on the right side we see some small figures between the branches. Those are the people of Argoth which Titania defends against the raging war of the brothers. Everything in this illustration is pointing towards the left. It is facing what is coming their way. It is against our western reading direction from left to right. That causes the feeling on the viewers side of something that stands in their way. We as the viewer are the war coming into the image. And everything in this image is standing against us.

Card image for Titania's Command.

On the bottom part we even see some leafs flying in a formation towards the left side. Every bit of nature is willing to fight.

Visions of Phyrexia

Visions of Phyrexia by Dominik Mayer.

Visions of Phyrexia by Dominik Mayer. Digital.

This image is a bit different from the rest. It is not necessarily connected to the Command illustrations. It follows the same style idea but shows not what is, but what will be if the powerstone and with it the brothers get divided.

Card image for borderless Visions of Phyrexia.

It shows the brothers at a younger age, around the time when they find the powerstones. The illustrations show a vision of the future. What awaits the brothers, who are best friends and inseparable at that time.

The left side shows Urza and the destruction he will bring with the Sylex, but also the hope he will spend for a lot of people. The right side shows Mishra and the darkness he will welcome in his life. Over his head we see a vague image of Gix’s head whispering into his mind.

In the center we see the undivided powerstone, and we also see three smaller spheres. They stand for the three parties who will play a role in this: Urza, Mishra and Gix. Alternatively we could also see it as the three time layers, past, present and future, as Teferi comes into this timeline from the future into this present to learn about the past and the Sylex.

Wrapping Up

You’ve passed 50 cards now with Magic. Can you describe the experience of growing with Magic over the last few years, from Showcase artist to now a Main Set mainstay?

Moraug, Fury of Akoum by Domink Mayer.

Moraug, Fury of Akoum by Domink Mayer. Digital.

(Moraug comes from his first set, Zendikar Rising and featured in that set’s Grand Art Tour.)

It was always a dream of mine to work for MtG. I love the game. I started with the set “Onslaught” back in 2002 with a black and red goblin deck 🙂 It was the art that dragged me in and as an artist I always wanted to make my own magic cards. So I was super excited when they asked me to join them for the Showcase cards. And I really enjoyed that. I am super glad that they are open to some more experimental approaches and now on the main set I can still go wild with my style and try new and different things for each set. The Art Directors are all super nice and I can discuss all my ideas with them and they let me do it. I really appreciate that.

And I’m hoping you have more work coming in the pipeline?

There is A LOT more 🙂

Where can folks find you on the internet to follow your work?

Instagram, Twitter, Artstation. Those are my main platforms.

And I hear we’ll see you at MagicCon: Philadelphia?!

Yep exactly! I can’t wait! It will be awesome! And my first time in the states. 🙂 I hope I see a lot of you there!

Dominik, thank you so more for the incredible deep dive into these new cards and your career. Magic is so very lucky to have your unique style among its catalog, and I can’t wait to see what else you have in the works for us fans of the game. And I’ll see you in Philadelphia in just a few short months! 

And I hope to see lots of you all there too. Until next time, take care and thanks for reading.

Donny Caltrider (he/him) is a Senior Writer at Hipsters of Coast writing about all things related to the art of Magic: The Gathering and the larger imaginative realism genre. 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. When he’s not writing for Hipsters, you can find him traveling with his wife, petting his two cats, and watching the Baltimore Orioles.

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