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  • December 25, 2023 6 min read 0 Comments

    I love to read. My favorite part about finishing a book is selecting the next one to read—I have continued in this chain-like fashion for well over a decade now. As a result, I’m always in the middle of a book.

    My most read genre would definitely be fantasy (this likely comes as no surprise). I’ve even read a handful of Magic: the Gathering novels. The Gathering Dark, The Eternal Ice, and The Shattered Alliance are some of my favorites, and The Brothers’ War is also fantastic. In general, if the book has a troubled hero, a dragon, and/or some mysterious magic, then I’m intrigued!

    Onen thing that my fantasy books very rarely contain are realistic firearms. I suppose it’s not impossible that such an earthly weapon appears in a fantasy land, but for some reason these have always felt anachronistic in fantasy books. And the same applies to Magic – usually.

    There is actually a smattering of Magic art that depicts real-life weaponry, some of it based on history and some based on more modern times. I’m not talking about the Transformers cards with science fiction weaponry, either.

    blaster dj art

    The weapons in these Transformer cards, as well as cards from Unstable and other such supplemental sets, are in the style of the science fiction stories they’re depicting. I’m not counting these, because for these particular sets it could be appropriately depicted.

    Let’s instead look at a handful of others that seem a bit more incongruous with the Magic multiverse.

    The Alaborn

    According to Magic lore, “Alaborn was a highly advanced human kingdom on the southern plains of Caliman on Dominaria…the folk of Alaborn were among the only Dominarians known to use firearms, and their military inventions saved them from complete destruction…”

    I mean…I guess the story holds up, but look at these cards!

    alaborn cavalier art

    alaborn grenadier

    alaborn musketeer mtg art

    This group of creatures are all depicted sporting some sort of firearm, with Alaborn Zealot carrying a weapon that looks most life-like. Apparently, Wizards of the Coast took a bit of a detour away from a fantasy world for Portal: Second Age.

    alaborn veteran art

    alaborn zealot art

    vengeance art mtg

    The art itself is all beautifully done. I love David Horne’s depiction of the Alaborn Zealot—the armor, the mountainous background, the beautiful, reflective lake. I feel like I could walk right up to this person and shake her hand! Similarly impressive detail is used by David A. Cherry, Heather Hudson, and Henry Van Der Linde. The character that Kev Walker paints for Alaborn Cavalier is a force to be reckoned with! I would not want to sit across from that mounted soldier on a battlefield. Then there’s Vengeance by Keith Parkinson.

    Judging by some other art in Portal: Second Age, I’m guessing that some of the “bad guys” occasionally get their hands on an Alaborn weapon. The result is a card like Prowling Nightstalker, depicting a Nightstalker creature holding a weapon. Surely, this creature wouldn’t be intelligent enough to invent the technology itself, right?

    prowling nightsalker image

    And then there’s Talas Warriors. Where did they get these weapons from? This is one group of pirates you do not want to mess with!

    talas warrior mtg art

    Let’s just say that, despite returning to Dominaria on numerous subsequent occasions since 1998, I’m relieved that we’ve never revisited Alaborn.

    Other Depictions

    No artwork in Magic depicts weapons as realistically as these Portal: Second Age cards, but that doesn’t mean there are no other depictions at all. There are, in fact, a couple more noteworthy appearances.

    For example, there’s the Alchemy: New Capenna art for Arming Gala.

    arming gala mtg

    This use of weaponry isn’t too out of place, given that New Capenna was a world inspired by modern urban gangster movies and early 20th century organized crime. I’d be pretty confident such a world would use these weapons, and Arming Gala by Fajareka Setiwan does a great job bringing this focus to life.

    Despite the gangster theme of New Capenna, the art directors did a phenomenal job bringing the world to life without egregiously depicting excess violence and weaponry. In fact, the only other direct inclusion of a firearm in art from the set I found comes on Nightclub Bouncer, another Alchemy card.

    nightclub bouncer mtg art

    Outside of Streets of New Capenna, there’s a smattering of cards that depict weapons in their artwork that look more out of a fantasy or science fiction universe than an earthly one.

    The reprinted Disenchant in The Brothers’ War, for example, depicts a person firing a weapon that doesn’t exactly look traditional. Instead of firing bullets, it appears this person’s weapon, painted by the iconic Richard Kane Ferguson, is instead firing a blue beam of energy at his enemy.

    disenchant art mtg

    Then there’s the OG Rocket Launcher by Pete Venters.

    rocket launcher mtg

    Now this is a weapon you don’t want to step in front of! But despite the reference to an earthly weapon, this artwork depicting an evil Ninja Turtle firing a ridiculous weapon still feels consistent with the Magic multiverse.

    Goblin Weaponry

    The last group of cards I want to touch on this week is a collection of goblin creatures that all seem to have gotten into the armory, for better or worse!

    mogg assassin mtg art

    goblin general art mtg

    You’ll notice that, once again, many of these cards showed up in Portal: Second Age. I’m extremely thankful that they’ve never gone back to this art direction. Such realistic looking weapons don’t feel consistent with the flavor of a fantasy game like Magic.

    goblin raider mtg art

    goblin sharpshooter mtg art

    Contemporarily, we have Mogg Assassin from Exodus. Dermont Power’s art for this creature shows a goblin with a gun on his back and in a holster on his belt, but I don’t think those details are the primary focus of the piece. I’d say the bombs he’s holding are really what grabs your attention—bombs that look rather cartoony, like the ones you’d see in old Bugs Bunny cartoons. I don’t find this card as offensive as a result.

    Then there’s the original art for Goblin Sharpshooter, by Greg Staples. I guess if you name a creature “Sharpshooter” then they’re liking to be firing some sort of long-range weapon, right? This goblin is firing a crude replication of a chain gun, but I like how Greg makes it look primitive, with a wooden barrel and tripod. Yes, the goblin may have an effective weapon to shoot down foes for a little while, but you know something ill-constructed like this weapon can’t last long. It’s a perfectly illustrated, goblin-crafted weapon.

    Wrapping It Up

    As I combed through Scryfall, browsing any and all artwork that might be relevant, I was surprised to see so many matches if I’m honest. I was well aware of the anomaly that is Portal: Second Age, but I had forgotten about all the weapons wielded by goblins over the years. I was also unfamiliar with some of the Universes Beyond cards, including references to Transformers and Warhammer 40,000. The advent of these two sets, along with space cards from Unfinity, more than doubled the number of cards that fit this subject.

    I have no qualms about firearms in cards when they are consistent with a particular universe. That makes perfect sense! You can’t have a Transformers-themed set without the Transformers depicted fighting the bad guys, and if they traditionally fight with ammunition then so be it.

    Other one-off cases, such as RKF’s Disenchant, are also depicted in a way that still evokes a fantasy world. Summary Dismissal, a card from Eldritch Moon by Igor Kieryluk, is another such example. Yes, the figure appears to be wielding some sort of weapon, but it looks so fantastical and out-of-this-world that it doesn’t resemble an earthly weapon. This is consistent with what I’d expect from a Magic card.

    summary dismissal art mtg

    Contrast these with the Portal: Second Age cards depicting lifelike weapons. Those Alaborn cards are too earthly for my liking; it feels like a deviation from Magic’s aesthetic. As such, it’s good to see Wizards of the Coast has moved away from such depictions since 1998. I wasn’t around for any conversations about the art direction for this set, but I have to imagine behind closed doors there was a discussion around how they wanted to depict firearms going forward.

    Hopefully any future references will either be related to a universe beyond Magic, or else a more fantastical depiction consistent with what we’re used to seeing. This is, after all, a fantasy game with dragons and magic…and the occasional, goblin-wielded rocket launcher.