If there’s one modern tabletop game that has stood the test of time as well as Dungeons & Dragons, it’s Richard Garfield’s collectible trading card game, Magic: The Gathering. Created in 1993, this wallet killing game involves two or more players building card decks using booster packs of randomized cards in order to defeat the other player. I remember the game fondly, even though I was mostly a casual player, and recall more than a few lunch periods spent playing the game against friends in the school library. The twenty-four year old game shows no signs of slowing down. To celebrate the April 2017 release of the Amonkhet expansion game, publisher Wizards of the Coast created a collectible book that offers high-quality recreations of the in-game artwork and establishes the lore of this Egyptian-inspired land.
When I first played Magic: The Gathering, I had little concern for the game’s story. To be honest, I don’t even remember if there was one beyond casting the players as Planewalkers, powerful beings capable of freely traveling across a multiverse. The art book for Amonkhet spends a considerable amount of pages detailing the rich history of this new pocket universe, something I doubt many people would concern themselves with during play. At any rate, the expansion focuses on the evil machinations of Nicol Bolas, an evil dragon and Planewalker who subverts the civilization of Amonkhet. In this world, which is clearly inspired by ancient Egypt, its people spend years training for five unique trials that end with their death. Much like the ancient Egyptians, death was nothing more than a transition to the afterlife, where people would go as a reward for dedicating their lives to the trials. Seeing the potential for unlimited power, Bolas subjugates the god-pharaohs and controls a necrotic energy called lazotep which causes the souls of the departed to be denied their eternal peace as they are forcefully conscripted into a terrible undead army.
The art book presents the circumstances and end game for Bolas’ power grab which helps to give the game sessions involving the expansion a bit more gravity. Beyond that, the text offers a deep dive into the culture and peoples of Amonkhet, shedding light into their daily lives and spirituality. Everything you ever wanted to know about this corner of the multiverse is presented in a coffee table-sized collectible book that’s bursting at the seams with gorgeous reproductions of card artwork featuring characters, monsters, and other notable accouterments. The artwork is often presented alongside related lore that provides context for the images created by Wizard of the Coast’s stable of talented artists. The lore itself is quite extensive and feels just as epic and thorough as Chris Metzen’s work with the World of Warcraft universe.
As a curated collection of card game illustrations, The Art of Magic: The Gathering – Amonkhet is likely to be a treasured resource for the most ardent fan of the card game. Though the game plays perfectly fine without knowing its complex backstory, the time and energy put into world building adds a whole new dimension to the experience.
The Art of Magic: The Gathering – Amonkhet
by James Wyatt
Art by various
Perfect Square, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: Teen (13+)