Recently, my editor and longtime friend Corbin Hosler tweeted something that caught my attention.
This gripped my interest because I am an avid collector of both retro video games and cards on the Reserved List. I could spend an entire article delving into the mechanics of the sell-off Corbin refers to, highlighting exceptions and my own personal viewpoints.
This is a website dedicated to Magic artwork, however, so I won’t go far off the rails here. I’ll save my general thoughts for the conclusion. What I intend to do instead is arguably much more fun.
This week, I’m going to share some of my favorite video games from childhood and then identify a Magic card’s artwork that reminds me most of these games. I’ll request a little creative leniency here—some of my comparisons may seem a stretch, but I’ll do my best to argue my choices each time.
Nothing screams “zombie apocalypse” more to me than Endless Ranks of the Dead. Ryan Yee’s artwork for the card is one of my all-time favorites. In fact, I recently gifted a print of this artwork to my brother for his birthday. While the original video game was mostly about fighting zombies one or two at a time, there was always the unspoken threat of being overwhelmed by the undead. Survival horror comes to life in Ryan Yee’s painting for Endless Ranks of the Dead.
This is also one of my favorite video games of all time, and I have fond memories rushing over to my friend’s house every day after school to watch him play on his newly acquired Playstation. Funny enough, he didn’t own a memory card so we literally had to start over every time we played. It was always worth it—the game was that good!
In the world of constant Secret Lairs and Universes Beyond, I could easily see a basic Island printed that depicts the primary island in the video game Myst. The picture of the island shown above would make for a perfect artwork for the basic land.
Alas, I had to scan through the hundreds of options through Magic’s history to find one that conveyed the essence and mystery of Myst. I landed on a brand-new version of the card, from Lost Caverns of Ixalan. I liked Adam Paouette’s inclusion of human-made structures without depicting any humans on the island. After all, the island of Myst was vacant of living beings but clearly contained evidence that humans once occupied the space.
I think it’s this somber realization that gripped my interest when the game Myst first launched back in the 1990’s. That and an array of impossible-to-solve puzzles kept my friends and I playing for countless hours.
There are so many iconic and recognizable aspects to Super Mario Bros. 3 for the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The frog suit isn’t necessarily my favorite (I’d say finding the secret whistles would be my favorite) but it is certainly one of the most amusing!
Fortunately, there’s a Magic card that encapsulates the transmogrification Mario endures when he throws on his frog-suit. Good old Frogify, by Chris Seaman! Granted, Chris’s depiction shows a complete transformation into an amphibious creature, whereas in Super Mario Bros. 3, the change is mostly Mario putting on a costume (that allows him to jump higher and swim more quickly). Still, I find the parallels strong enough to merit highlighting here!
The sequel in the Alone in the Dark series is probably less popular than the original, which was another survival horror success story. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you see it), I only had the sequel on the Sega Saturn during my childhood so that’s the version I am most familiar with.
In this sequel, you venture to Hell’s Kitchen to confront One-Eyed Jack and rescue the little girl he kidnapped. To achieve this goal, you have to battle countless tommy-gun-wielding zombie pirates, which manage to be both ridiculous and awesome at the same time. At one point you even get to control the little girl as you attempt to dodge the zombie pirates aboard Captain Jack’s ship (see image above).
When I ran a Gatherer search for “zombie pirates” I was met with exactly one match: Reef Pirates from Homelands! Tom Wänerstrand’s depiction shows an intimidating looking version of the creature type—certainly more menacing than those you encounter throughout the game. Still, seeing a zombie pirate in Magic gives me fond memories of the game I used to play incessantly on the Sega Saturn.
If you ever have the chance to check it out I would strongly encourage it. You may find that the in-game zombie pirates are rather cordial before they attempt to slowly kill you with their weapons. You hear them announce “Hey You,” “Hi Guy,” and even “’Morning Sir” before they lift their weapons and begin to fire. One-Eyed Jack wouldn’t hire a crew that neglected everyday pleasantries, after all.
While there are no Magic cards that truly look like the funky duo Toejam and Earl from the game of the same name, the introduction of the alien creature type in Unfinity got us the closest we’ve ever been! I decided to use Dave Greco’s art on Ambassador Blorpityblorpboop as my representation for the old video game for three reasons.
First, it’s an alien that looks simultaneously cool and humorous, just like Toejam and Earl. Second, he’s an ambassador, which I could see Toejam and Earl also becoming after their lengthy adventures on earth. And finally, he has a ridiculous name just like the two characters from the Sega Genesis classic. The three of them could have been great friends hailing from the planet Funkatron.
The game itself, by the way, is one of the greatest ever. If you haven’t had a chance to play the original, I highly recommend it. Before you do, however, buckle in for some extremely whacky randomness. If you’ve ever wondered what a game would be like where you throw tomatoes at a woman pushing a screaming baby in a shopping cart, then this is the game for you!
The last game I want to touch on is the original Legend of Zelda for the NES. This game was groundbreaking in its gameplay, longevity, difficulty, and clever puzzles. I will always remember being “stuck” in the same place in the game for months before a family friend revealed the secrets I needed to make further progress in the game. My mind was blown!
When I tried to think of the right artwork to use as my depiction of the young hero of Zelda, whose name is actually Link, I first ran a search for paladin creatures. I figured, if Link isn’t a paladin in nature then I don’t know who is! There are multiple matches of human paladins, but my mind kept coming back to the OG paladin, Northern Paladin, for two reasons.
First, I always visualized Link as a pretty regular guy. Sure, he’s a hero, he takes on human-sized creatures that shoot all sorts of things at him, but he also looks like he could have gotten his beginnings in a small village in a nondescript family of low class. A true poor-man’s self-made hero. Northern Paladin, particularly from Alpha, gives me these same vibes.
Second, Northern Paladin sports a coif over his head. Link has something more akin to a hat on his head, but I figured it was close enough. I’d be open to other cards if people want to reach out on Twitter with their own suggestions. For now, I’ll stick with Douglas Schuler’s art.
As for my outlook on the health of the retro video game market, I’d recommend a very similar approach to prospective collectors: buy games to play because you love them, not as investments. Avoid the overhyped, highly graded, and sealed games at all costs. The market on those collectibles specifically appears to have been overly inflated.
The retro games, such as the ones above, that I own today are all opened, scuffed, often without original cases or manuals, and a ton of fun to play. I can extract hours of entertainment from these games without worrying about losing thousands of dollars in the meantime. Even better, the true classics are so appreciated by players that they seem to retain their value fairly well despite not being in pristine condition.
Stick to the played and playable stuff, and you won’t lose much on retro video games. On the contrary, you’ll gain some of the most enjoyable experiences and re-live some of the best nostalgia from childhood, all while storing value in a non-traditional market. What more could you want from an investment?
Magic has a certain aesthetic to it. Set in a fantasy world, the artwork has a kind of cohesion... most of the time. Sig highlights some examples where it absolutely did not.