Magic: The Gathering has revealed its latest Secret Lair drop: a five-card set themed around Friday night gig posters.
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Titled ‘Our Show Is On Friday, Can You Make It?’, the new set includes iconic cards from MTG’s history, all hand-drawn by an international cast of artists who have cut their teeth on concert posters, album artwork and other band merch. Each of MTG’s five colours are repped here: Gamble (illustrated by Sam McKenzie), Wrath Of God (Jermaine Rogers), Decree Of Pain (Ian Jepson), Preordain (Alexis Ziritt) and Nature’s Lore (Jeff Soto).
NME spoke with Jepson, McKenzie and Rogers about the inspirations behind their designs, dungeon synth music and why David Bowie’s ‘Diamond Dogs’ has one of the greatest album covers ever.
Each card has its own specific identity that makes it so different from the others. Did you get a great deal of creative freedom when designing your card?
Jermaine: “I was given a lot of freedom to execute my artistic vision. Working with Wizards Of The Coast [the publisher of MTG] was so refreshing, as they give you the space to comfortably go through the process of mining and refining ideas. Of course, there are guidelines to be adhered to, but those things are stated pretty clearly at the beginning of the project.
“Your boundaries are established right away, and they are pretty spacious. So there is a freedom of expression that is gratifying. It’s a chance to add your personal odour to the expansive Magic universe. ‘Odour’ is a good word, eh?”
What were the influences for your card?
Ian: “The influences for my card are mostly the same as with most of my work: pulp comics, old horror illustrations and film posters for weird old B-movies! As for something specific, I took some inspiration from a painting by Mexican pulp artist Araujo for this one.”
Jermaine: “In my artistic process, the most time-consuming aspect is mentally developing the idea. I’ll walk around for days – sometimes weeks – letting ideas twist and turn and mutate in my head, continually shaking the tree and taking note of what falls out. All of this takes place before I ever place pencil to paper.
“The idea must be legitimately able to stand on its own without the aid of any physical execution. It’s the heart of visual language, and no amount of technical execution can save an image that isn’t speaking to its viewers on some level.”
Sam: “I was tapping into my love of old fantasy stuff and riffing on some visual elements I’d used on posters before. Stuff like the jagged lettering and composition, and the split skull dude.”
Do you play Magic yourself?
Jermaine: “I don’t play currently. I say ‘currently’ because I’m thinking about jumping in again. I worked in a comic book store during the early ’90s and remember the first MTG cards coming out. I actually ordered them for the store! So I guess you could say that I’ve been flirting with MTG for decades. I think I’m going to wade back in.”
Sam: “I played it a little bit when I was a kid; my younger brother was really into it so we’d play it on occasion. Recently my friend Ritchie [Daniell], drummer for dream-pop band Hatchie, has gotten really into MTG. It’s made me want to dive in and give it another go.”
Well, being able to play with your own cards would be as good a reason as any! If you were to jump back in, what sort of music do you reckon would make the perfect background track to a game?
Ian: “Probably rock ’n’ roll, maybe something fantastical and epic like Dio?”
Jermaine: “I’d imagine that some activities are best accompanied by classical melodies. Heavy Bach fugues or atmospheric Satie solos. But if you’re out there in the wasteland handling the dirty business, Electric Wizard gives you the soundtrack you need to get shit done.”
Sam: “Bolt Thrower! I also think there are a lot of dungeon synth playlists on Spotify that would be getting a hammering when tabletop gaming is going on.”
And when you’re working? What plays in the background?
Jermaine: “At times, I’m listening to the band I’m creating work for. It all depends on the vibe I’m going for. The mood I’m trying to set. When I’m creating artwork, I’m speaking in a visual language. Listening to the right music during the building process helps to refine the vibe. It’s so important.”
Ian: “I’m listening to music all day, every day while I work. It’s a huge part of my process – and I’m sure it affects my work in various ways. Lately I’ve been diving back into The Jesus And Mary Chain and working through The Delfonics discography.”
Sam: “I like to put on albums when I’m working on art; it kinda gives them a chance to sink in. Whatever thing I wanna crack open, I’ll chuck on and see how it goes. Music influences my work for sure; a lot of the time they go hand-in-hand. It’s fun to do stuff that explicitly for bands, and it’s fun to do stuff that’s just got a bit of the atmosphere soaked into it.
Have you created any other music- or gaming-related artwork? Where might we have seen your work before?
Sam: “Oh yep, I’ve been doing posters, record covers, band shirt designs and such for many years now. For a long time that was the bulk of my work. The list of bands and artists I’ve done stuff for is long, but off the top of my head I’ve done a fair bit of stuff for DZ Deathrays, Jeremy Neale, Velociraptor, Straight Arrows, Gooch Palms and Drunk Mums.”
Ian: “I’m primarily a poster artist, and I’ve done hundreds of posters for bands over the years – mostly local South African groups, but a couple internationals like Spoon and The Amazons, too. I’ve also skirted the games industry and worked on projects like making loading screens for Fortnite.”
Jermaine: “I’ve created posters and artwork for a variety of musical artists and gigs, including Nine Inch Nails, David Bowie, Run The Jewels, Tool, Radiohead, Ween, Queens Of The Stone Age, Foo Fighters, Childish Gambino, and many others. I’m also a very active contributor to the ‘designer vinyl’ fine-art toy scene, creating figures for KidRobot, Medicom Toy, StrangeCo.”
What is your favourite music poster or album design? You can’t choose your own work – that’s cheating.
Sam: “Oh man, that’s a really tough question! But a couple of covers that stand out to me right now are ‘Melissa’ by Mercyful Fate and ‘Red Exposure’ by Chrome.”
Ian: “That’s a difficult one, I could go on about stuff like this for hours. Off the top of my head, Kiss’ ‘Rock And Roll Over’ is one of my favourite illustrated album covers, and basically all Iron Maiden artwork. ‘Killers’ is probably number one.”
Jermaine: “The album cover to David Bowie’s ‘Diamond Dogs’. My mother had the record, and during the late 1970s, a favourite pastime of mine was lying on the floor in the den and going through my parents’ records, studying the cover artworks. I remember staring at that record cover for hours, absorbing every strange detail. The cover art is what motivated me to first ask my mum to play the record. I fell in love with what a Bowie record looked like before I knew what it sounded like.
“That’s the power of well-crafted artwork in concert with amazing music. Hand in hand, they present a powerful force. Visual language with a soundtrack. The idea is so intoxicating to me, and a big part of the reason I got into this line of work so many years ago.”
Magic: The Gathering’s Secret Lair: ‘Our Show Is On Friday, Can You Make It?’ is out from April 26 – May 28 and priced at $29.99/€34.99/£29.99.