Good morning friends, and welcome to a special edition of the Mirror Gallery here at Hipsters of the Coast! My name is Donny Caltrider, and this is the Hipsters home for all things related to Magic: The Gathering art. Wizards of the Coast has given us a free preview card to show off from March of the Machine, and while my co-pilot Zach Barash is talking mechanics, I’m talking art for the brand new Battle card Invasion of Gobakhan and it’s flip side enchantment, Lightshield Array!

One one side, we see the shieldmages of Gobakhan repulsing a massive Phyrexian incursion fresh from the portal. And on the reverse, that same group of mages from a different, more serene perspective; it’s the practice and preparation they’ve been training for on one side, and the nightmare fully realized on the other.

The new Battle cards appearing in March of the Machine show us Magic: The Gathering artwork like we’ve never seen before: wide-lens and landscape style (think Planechase) but on a standard size Magic card. This new series is an incredible feat in artistic legibility, packing entire storylines and full scale invasions into linear bands of illustration. A lot of very conscious compositional choices were required to make these illustrations work on the cards, and as such, I wanted to catch up with the artist, Andreas Zafiratos, and see how he brought these micro-fiction in miniature to life.

Behind the Brush with Andreas Zafiratos

DC: I always like to start my interviews the same way—who are you, where are you from, and what do you do?

AZ: My name is Andreas and I am an illustrator located in Greece. My main studies were in architecture, but pushing paint had a grasp on me since I was very little, eventually fully taking over.

DC: We’ve got two of your new artwork to check out as a part of this free preview, but before we go too far; our location is one lots of folks might not be familiar with, Gobakhan, the home of planeswalker Teyo Verada. What sort of research went into setting this stage?

AZ: Magic’s Worldbuilding team does a phenomenal job providing reference material—it’s an inspiring work of art in itself and a huge team effort. So, I had a pretty good start in terms of the forces at play and a background of other aspects of this cohesive universe, of which this plane should be a part. The city under siege is built around a magical monastery. The notion of the city being in danger brought Greek Meteora to mind, structures densely packed on huge pillars of rock. I found this notion of prior serenity taken over by the wave of compleation a good point to start.

DC: In Invasion of Gobakhan, we’re presented the artwork in an entirely new way. What was it like designing a composition for this entirely new card type and format? And how did you tackle it to create the most impact?

AZ: The new Battle card canvas was definitely an exciting challenge. Taylor Ingvarsson, the Art Director for these two pieces, was very patient with me (and my perpetual tendency to zoom in!) and provided crucial guidance with letting this piece breathe and work for this new format. Complex scenes de facto make organising tone and compositional balance harder to check during the process. In a landscape, information gets significantly denser right above and below the horizon line, so in a scene full of action like this one, you have a central zone where things are packed and should at the same time remain relatively readable. The new format combined with my camera angle of choice at the time, brought focus on that information rich stripe.

Invasion of Gobakhan by Andreas Zafiratos. Digital.

Invasion of Gobakhan by Andreas Zafiratos. Digital.

Finding necessary areas of visual rest without losing the feeling of large-scale ongoing battle was a challenge. Placing darker foreground silhouettes over a sunlit middleground was a way to ensure some clarity in card size scale and hopefully create some interesting contrast with the white porcelain of Phyrexian Goliaths.

DC: And on the flip side Lightshield Array returns to the traditional format and scale—walk us through the story you’re telling through these figures, and how they came to life.

AZ: I should be a significantly worse storyteller than illustrator! A diverse group of Shield Mages joined in a defensive effort was the goal here. A snapshot of almost choreographed individual motions, necessary to sustain a vital barrier against an inhospitable environment.

Work in Progress of Lightshield Array

Work in Progress of Lightshield Array

Lightshield Array by Andreas Zafiratos. Digital.

Lightshield Array by Andreas Zafiratos. Digital.

DC: These two works create a considerable narrative between both sides of the card. What were some of the challenges and triumphs you encountered while working on these together? 

AZ: When I first read your question, I caught myself smirking going over the word “triumph”- only possible small victories here and things learned. There are of course the common underlying and ever present challenges of painting! A constant resisting background for someone that is trying to approach painting and gain a better understanding of it, regardless of level. Organisation of values, successful abstraction and deliberate contrast. I found the first two to be the most challenging in these pieces. I definitely learned a lot too, the complexity alone was humbling. Not only the raw quantity of shapes and forms one is responsible for, but how they should work together and be part of a believable result. An exercise in restraint.

DC: Wrapping Up: these two illustrations make nearly 30 for Magic since Fall 2022, and it seems like you’ve become quite the regular. What’s next for you and your career?

AZ: I am very one dimensional in terms of goals—I am entirely process driven and my “carrot” is the tiny occasional breakthroughs in my understanding of seeing and painting. That said, being able to paint for Magic is surely a personal milestone and a childhood dream. Experiencing the amazing work of former MtG artists over the smell of a freshly opened booster pack back in the day, is part of why I pursued illustration in the first place. As for what’s next, who knows? (But let’s paint some more as we wait!)

Did you all read that last part? Experiencing art, over the smell of a freshly cracked booster pack.

That, my friends, is the good stuff. Thanks for reading, and enjoy the rest of the March of the Machine preview season!

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