The beauty of Magic the Gathering is how so many characters, creatures, races, places, and abilities can meld so cleanly into one world. I genuinely loved last year’s art book book focused on Zendikar as it built up a vivid world that seemed perfectly realized and couldn’t wait to see how Kaladesh meshed everything together. I had my chance, and here are my thoughts.
The Art of Magic: The Gathering – Kaladesh (Viz Media)
So what’s it about? The summary reads:
Optimism, innovation, and the spirit of creativity fill these pages, lavishly illustrated with the award-winning art of Magic: The Gathering™! Welcome to Kaladesh—a vibrant, beautiful plane where anything is possible. Join the heroic Planeswalkers of the Gatewatch as they explore the Inventors’ Fair, and let your imagination soar alongside thopters and airships crafted by the best artificers in the Multiverse. Come discover the marvels of Kaladesh—its inhabitants, its inventors, and its artifacts. They all await you at the grand Inventors’ Fair!
Why does this book matter?
In a lot of ways, Kaledesh is the polar opposite of Zendikar as the Aether and nature itself is tamed and its focus is more on new creations being created by the races while Zendikar was an unbridled place of gods and creatures. Kaledesh, with its inventions and its peoples’ control of a great magic, feels very much like a steampunk world and I aim to delve deeper into its mysteries.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
This steampunk world is quite bright!
This book is designed in much the same way as Zendikar opening with a chapter on the world, then chapters on philosophies, races, cities, the inventors’ fair, storylines, the bestiary and finally how they invented it all. I read this from cover to cover, though you can read it in any order as each chapter is self contained. The experience of this book is one in which you’re privy to the secrets of an unknown world and as you turn its pages you become more invested and interested in how it all comes together.
It comes together quite nicely in fact, as The Art of Magic: The Gathering – Kaladesh opens telling the reader about a blue magic called Aether that surrounds the planet. Everything seems to flow from this magic waterway and the various races of Kaladesh have tamed it and can now use it to power their amazing artifacts. These artifacts are beautiful and this book breaks them down further into their uses. The races are connected to the Aether – some more than others and as I turned the pages I was amazed by how interconnected everything was and this only strengthened the overall experience of the book.
One of the coolest aspects of this book is the steampunk vibes that are tinged in a more positive and bright way. Usually with steampunk the world is wet and dark, but here everything is bright. There’s certainly some evil running about – without it there’d be no conflict – but the creators and writer James Wyatt have managed to make steampunk feel incredibly fresh. I wouldn’t be surprised if conventions had more Kaladesh-themed steampunk clothing after reading this book.
Each page goes into quite a lot of detail.
That’s in part due to the awesome art within this book. There are varying forms, from computer generated images to watercolor and oil paintings. One of the highlights of Magic the Gathering is the art on the cards and this book allows the art to shine in big double page and full page spreads. I can’t imagine how some of these artists feel seeing the glorious detail of their works shrunken down to such a small card format, but this book allows those images to really open up on the page. One of the more amazing feats visually is how the artists have integrated races we know like dwarves, humans and elves into this world via clothing and mechanics, to races like Vedalken and Aetherborn. One of the coolest elements in this book is the Catalog of the Inventors’ fair which runs 12 pages highlighting the beautiful and diverse creations. That extends to the bestiary section – probably my favorite for sheer imagination – which are quite cool with interesting descriptions tying them into the world.
The final chapter is another favorite as it delves into how the team built this world from the ground up. This includes interesting inspirations as well as notes about the cultures and the stories.
The world needs more filigree.
It can’t be perfect can it?
One of the races known as Gremlins are introduced in a funny sort of way. The book opens with their description as far as how they fit in the world and it takes a full four pages to get to how they function and feed of Aether. It’s a minor gripe, but I was left a bit lost as to where they came from and why they eat Aether at all.
Some wild artifacts indeed.
Is It Good?
Once again, The Art of Magic: The Gathering is a testament to fantastic art and impressive world building. The Art of Magic: The Gathering – Kaladesh will jog the memory of anyone who read Dinotopia due to the fantastic art, but Kaladesh tops it with even better world building.