Steve Argyle - Magic: the Gathering release - #79
Khans of Tarkir Monastery Swiftspear, card # 118/269
Cards from the Magic: the Gathering expansion Khans of Tarkir will be available first at prerelease events beginning on September 20, 2014.
There are a whole lot of reasons to be excited about this release ranging from the reprinting of the Onslaught ally-color fetchlands to the focus on enemy wedge three-color cards. This set also begins, according to information from this August 25, 2014 article, the last block consisting of three sets, which is good news for the art fans because the worlds visited in the game will change more often introducing more thematic variety both to the game in general and of course to the illustrations.
Fans of Steve Argyle took note that this is, after a very long wait, the first new cards with his artwork to appear in Standard since the release of Gatecrash twenty months earlier. This card is of particular interest in that regard actually.
This is the second of three cards illustrated by Steve Argyle in Khans of Tarkir.
Part 1 of the Planeswalker’s Guide to Khans of Tarkir describes the Jeskai Clan, whose emblem appears in the textbox of this card, both with words and illustrations, in a way that largely emulates Earthly Eastern cultures. As such, there are a number of thematic similarities to the world of Rokugan, home of the Legend of the Five Rings card game where Steve Argyle formalized his now ten-year long illustrating career some four years before illustrating the Magic card game. For those familiar with his career it comes as little surprise that Steve would be asked to illustrate cards from the Jeskai clan.
The card appeared on the last day of the spoiler season for the set, revealed in a low-quality photo on mythicspoiler.com where the artist credit was mostly illegible, the day before Wizards posted the complete visual spoiler for the Khans of Tarkir set on September 12, 2014. The message board discussions about this card possibly being a constructed-viable “better than Goblin Guide” began immediately.
Steve added a page for the art on his website the following day containing the illustration shown above, as well as sketches and a time-lapse video.
Keeping in mind the things I’ve mentioned about the Jeskai Clan, this illustration looks almost like it was taken directly from L5R. The buildings are so heavily influenced by Eastern architecture the similarity is impossible not to notice. The positioning and sizing of the buildings looks dangerously close to a space-filling exercise and would make the overall image seem almost crowded if it weren’t for their being hazed over in mist. The image is saved moreover by the ribbons, banners, and other sun-drenched, rippling fabric which guide your attention in many seemingly random directions.
The movement is this piece is far from random. There is a definite clockwise, triangular line of movement. The weight of the building in the lower left, the horizontal design elements in the upper-body clothing, and the line of the weapon all drive the eye most specifically in a two-o-clock to eight-o-clock direction down the weapon. The ribbons and banners drive the eye upward and right to the top center of the image (the haze adds a quasi-third dimensionality to this movement and seems to also move “inward” toward the background at this point) and then the hair drags you down to the other end of the weapon in the foreground.
The red and ivory colors of this piece feel at home on the red card. If we focus on that color combination we will drown in the figure’s fashion design, however the relative design complexity of her right shoulder seems to want a great deal of attention, and it should. The shape it makes is exactly opposite to, and centered within, the triangle I described earlier which conveniently goes right through her head. I find the hairstyle to be so unusual it actually is drawing more of my attention than I feel it should, but the figure’s face should get the most attention just by way of us being inclined to look to her eyes. The light source being centered on her face makes it that much more of a focus.