Magic's 25th Anniversary Art Exhibition
For Magic's 25th Anniversary, Wizards hosted an exhibition in Tokyo, Japan. Featuring a walk through Magic history, a gallery of original Magic artworks, and exclusive Ravnica design insights, this event was the first of its kind. Jamin met up with the curator, Mike Linnemann, and now gives you a look into the exhibition.
Magic's 25th Anniversary made a huge impact on all the people who are into Magic: The Gathering. Between the controversial Silver Showcase, a Pro Tour, and Beta drafts at Grands Prix, it was quite the celebration. And just last week on 11-17 September, the final major event took place just above the world's busiest train station in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Boy, did it turn out well! During this weekend, the hall was overflowing with Magic enthusiasts hoping to get a look at the Alpha Power Nine, original Magic artworks, and so much more.
A Walk Through Magic's Past
As soon as I entered the exhibition space, there was a huge timeline on display, listing the most important events in Magic history with an interesting feature – letting you add your own Magic moment to a particular year. Seeing it filled with messages like "my first deck" or "I won FNM" helped me realize that every one of us has our own journey through Magic.
Next up was a gallery of pillars filled with every main Magic set, starting from Alpha all the way up to the current Standard-legal ones. Each pillar contained the story and extra information about a set and a few of its cards framed. If you wanted a rough sketch of Magic history, all you had to do was walk through the gallery and you'd have a decent overview of what was and has been going on. While the selected cards sometimes seemed random (although they were often related to the storyline or had proved to be very powerful in gameplay), there was another why reason these cards were selected to be on display – which we'll find out later.
While I was walking through the gallery, I also came across a big Featured Match area set up in the original layout from Pro Tour Kyoto. The organizers went out of their way, even providing decks for you to recreate the feeling of playing in a Pro Tour. Even more, multiple monitors showed some of the most exciting moments covered in Magic tournaments, including the famous Lightning Helix play from 2006.
The Rarest of Cards
Going into the next room, I headed for the main part of the exhibition.
In big glass enclosures, backlit by bright lights, I found some of the rarest and most sought-after Magic cards in the world: a set of the original Alpha Power Nine. Most of us have already seen a Black Lotus lying around in a vendor's case at a Grand Prix. But seeing the whole set from Alpha, shown off in such a vivid way, was truly impressive.
Right next to the Power Nine was a frame displaying "Phoenix Heart", one of the few copies handed out by Richard Garfield, celebrating his second marriage.
That wasn't the rarest part of the exhibition though. It also featured the only Shichifukujin Dragon in existence. The nine-mana 0/0 Dragon was created as a promo for the opening of the Japanese DCI tournament center and has remained in Japan ever since.
No Magic exhibition could be done without an homage to its art and this one certainly delivered on that part!
Only a few steps away from Phoenix Heart was the start of a gallery filled with original Magic artwork. As a Magic player at heart, I have never looked deeply at the pictures on the cards I play with., so I was lucky to have met Mike Linnemann, the exhibition's curator. He not only played the biggest role in getting the art gallery set up but is also a Vorthos enthusiast as well as a Magic Art expert. He guided me through the gallery and explained many nuances I would've missed otherwise. He pointed out that the art gallery is actually connected to the other parts of the exhibition by featuring artworks of cards that were featured earlier on. And he was right! While featuring Alpha Grizzly Bears in the spotlight earlier may have seemed weird, it then felt natural when spotting the original art for it in the hall later; Seeing a woman releasing a helix of lightning reminded me once again of the insane top deck I had witnessed earlier in the Featured Match area.
"We wanted the exhibition to be interesting to people with all kinds of relations to Magic", Mike had said me. And you could see how true it was.
There were artworks from tournament staples like Polluted Delta or Wrath of God to the recently revisited Weatherlight crew to the meme card Storm Crow to what had been voted as the most popular artwork in Japan: Descendants' Path. "I don't know why it is, but I think some of it is about the ancestors' significance in Japanese culture", Mike told me as he talked about the process of selecting which artworks to display.
The Story Behind the Art
Often, there are hidden stories behind Magic's artworks. Sometimes they are about the lore – those can be quite obvious – but sometimes, they have a lot more depth than that. Mike told me about a very special card in this Japanese exhibition: The Eldest Reborn.
You might be wondering why would The Eldest Reborn be so special in Japan. I didn't know either, but during Inktober, Jenn Ravenna created a traditional Japanese artwork which Wizards saw. They asked her to finish the card, which we all know today as Nicol Bolas regaining power. A Japanese-style art for Nicol Bolas worked so well because Bolas died in Kamigawa, killed by Umezawa himself. The Elder Dragon rising back to power tied this piece back to Kamigawa and with that, back to Japanese culture. "She chose the right paper, the right style, and the right ink to make it feel Japanese-inspired", Mike told me enthusiastically, which you can only agree with when looking at the original artwork itself. I didn't even know that this particular Dominaria artwork was tied all the way back to Kamigawa, but this story makes you realize how deep the world behind the art of Magic really goes.
Animations and Ravnica Design Files
Through the art gallery was a theater-style room that showcased short animated storyboards done by the animation studios Pierrot (makers of the Naruto anime) and Tōkyō Movie Shinsha (who also worked on the movie Akira). Both studios were told to have their way with the characters and ideas behind Magic: The Gathering and their resulting concepts turned out great. Seeing classic Magic characters in a different style (as anime) was a lot more exciting than the usual card art with slight wiggling that are usually shown between GP feature matches.
Lastly, the exhibition featured a room that was all about the new Ravnica. Laid out on tables were the design documents behind every guild – which WotC is usually strictly secretive about. In spite of being only a week away from the whole Guilds of Ravnica set being spoiled, Wizards still didn't want to show everything, so every guild document featured a few lines of text obscured in such a way as if the guild themselves had censored it: Golgari papers were covered in fungus, Izzets burned by fiery experiments, and Orzhovs simply blacked out some important parts. Normally, these documents are only for Wizards' employees and artists to know about the world they're designing, so getting to see them was very exciting.
Magic: The Gathering's exhibition for their 25th Anniversary was a special event to everyone who attended. Walking down memory lane, experiencing art on a grander scale than the small pictures on cardboard, and even getting an alternate art Serra Angel promo at the end made all this something truly unique. When I asked if there would be more events like this to come, Mike replied by saying he would love to have similar events at Grands Prix, possibly keeping all displayed artworks on-theme with the format of the Grand Prix. Although I'm sure many players would attend such an exhibition, for now, all that Mike can say is, "We're working on it, but can't announce anything yet."
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