There are few Magic: Gathering artists more famous than Rebecca Guay. Beginning her career in Alliances in 1996, she has lent her signature style to nearly 200 maps over the course of the game’s 30 years.
The secret to Gui’s appeal was the ethereal nature of her compositions and the way they focused on both female characters and femininity, things that were rare in magical art and fantasy in general at the time. Although she was not as active in the modern era of the game, she contributed promotional products and Secret Lairs, whose fans are demanding a full return. Here are ten of Guay’s best works: works that prove that such dedication is well-deserved.
10 Elspeth, Champion of the Sun
Created as part of Magic’s 30th Anniversary Countdown Kit Secret Lair, this vintage rendition of Elspeth, Sun’s Champion perfectly embodies all of Guai’s artistic ideals. The artwork manages to balance Elspeth’s strength and femininity extremely well, with the point of her sword and the point of her heel looking equally sharp.
The piece also makes masterful use of its background, a dark cosmic void defined by Elspeth’s sweeping curves of light. Certain parts of her body seem to disappear into this darkness, creating a unique ethereal feel that fits very well with the Theros setting of this map’s debut.
9 A dark ritual
What’s striking about this take on Dark Ritual is, ironically, the lack of darkness in it. The pitch-black night sky is visible in the background, but it is almost completely obscured by a soft gray cloud. Below, orange-robed magicians perform the titular Ritual on a bright blue altar, perhaps a replacement for the Earth itself, if you read the piece metaphorically.
The result is one of the most unique takes on this oft-reprinted black staple we’ve ever seen, bringing light to the darkness in more ways than one. The huge eye staring out at the stage is a nice touch of the supernatural, but even that is framed by swirling sun rays in a way that transposes its dark power into something entirely different and more interesting.
8 Khan Kami
Spirits of Kamigawa always provided fertile soil in which the wildest imaginations of Magic artists can blossom, and Hana Kami is a perfect example of this fact. Combining an unconventional creature type with Guay’s unconventional style, the piece stands out even among its highly distinctive peers.
Showing a flower with a woman’s face, shedding its blue petals in an act both beautiful and grotesque, this piece evokes a complex mix of emotions in the viewer. Other flowers, quietly sitting in the background, can be ordinary, or can hide their own faces; such are the secrets of Kamigawa, which Guay has so beautifully conveyed here.
The Plane of Lorwyn and its inverted Shadowmoor form have been home to some of the most inventive, outlandish Elemental designs the game has ever seen. Guays Heartmender is here with the best of them, a boar-spider-snake hybrid that’s more likely to eat your heart than heal it.
While it’s certainly a whimsical creature in appearance, Guais’ exemplary use of texture grounds it in reality, making it terrifyingly real. The background, soft orange clouds and riverside grass, is pure fantasy, but the Sorcerers’ soulless yellow eyes ensure it’s a fantasy we’re glad we’re not living in.
6 bitter flower
Perhaps Guai’s most famous piece, the art of Bitterblossoms, will be familiar to many from his background appearances in Tolarian Community College videos. Looking at it with fresh eyes, it’s not hard to see why it has earned such a revered place in the collective consciousness of Magic players.
It is a detailed work, creating a dark fairy forest that seems to live and breathe as you look at it in awe. While the Faye in the foreground is clearly defined, a soaring curve that guides the eye across the canvas, those further back appear almost transparent, creating a sense of physical depth that mirrors the emotional depth seen in the Faye’s various expressions in the piece.
5 Saprattsan Bay
Sometimes magical art takes us on daring journeys beyond our imaginations, and sometimes it stays closer to home, reminding us of the fantastical beauty that exists in reality. Saprattsan Bay is a perfect example of the latter, presenting a sleepy seaside town rich in memories of details.
From the faded orange spiers to the patchwork tile roofs and clumps of trees lining the shore, this piece is strangely nostalgic, even if you’ve never set foot in a seaside town. A ship entering port and its sailors, no doubt longing for the comforts of home, serve as a final reminder of the piece’s cozy central thesis.
4 Orchard supervisor
Treefolk are nothing new to the world of magic a basic green creature type in Alpha 1993. However, it’s rare for the Tree People to be as impressive or unique as the one portrayed by Gui in The Guardian Garden. While many Treemen have human appendages, the Guardian appears to move around using spider-like roots instead, dispensing wisdom to young saplings with movements of its hilt-like arms.
The canopy of leaves growing on Wartow creates a lovely frame for the scene, enveloping three corners in lush green darkness, leaving the rest for the small, oddly shaped Woodfolk that Wartow is training. The Overseer’s facial features, eyes and mouth drawn in knots of wood are a great finishing touch.
A work that is both striking in its simplicity and profound in its depth, Bandage does a lot with very little. Against a black dotted background, we see the hands of a young woman tending to her father, wrapping bandages around his wounded eyes.
Reducing the stage’s female character to a set of hands may seem unfashionable for Gui, but it gives her a holiday-like anonymity that adds a lot of weight to her actions. Her father’s grim, stern expression magnifies the magnitude of her loss, making the tiny narrative presented in the card’s original text hit harder than it has any right to.
Gods and other such fundamental beings are always difficult to depict in fantasy art. After all, how to show a creature that should be beyond mortal understanding? Guay is very good at this in his rendition of Wonder, one of the original Incarnations from Judgment.
Although Guai’s miracle is superficially similar to Aven, several elements give the piece a more alien feel: strange checkerboard wings, an empty eye socket, seaweed hair, and a branch-like staff; all these combine to create a being whose basics we recognize, but whose specificity places it on a plane of existence far removed from our own.
1 The road to exile
Part of the extremely exclusive DCI Promos series, this performance of the second best white removal spell has more than earned its value beyond mere scarcity. It shows the funeral of a knight, a body lying in eternal sleep as the currents carry it down the river, a woman with a baby looking on from the bank.
There’s so much to unpack, and it’s all presented in such great detail. The predominance of natural forces such as wind and waves emphasizes the fact that death is part of the natural order of things. On the other hand, the pain on the woman’s face, visible even on such a small scale, reminds us of how cruel this natural order can be at times.
FURTHER: Magic: The Gathering – The best cards with art by Richard Kane Ferguson