Over the course of 25 years, Magic: The Gathering has seen a lot of amazing worlds, powerful creatures, intriguing personalities, and devastating events. And with it are some of the most iconic pieces of gaming art to ever be put to a game. Seriously, there are artists who have worked for this company who paint and design some of the greatest fantasy works of art all to be on a 2.5 ' x 3.5" card that you slap down on a table to instill fear and horror and loss into your opponents. VIZ Media put together a special book with Wizards of the Coast called Magic: The Gathering – Concepts & Legends, documenting that very work, which we got a chance to review.
So let's start off with the basics: This is not what you would call a traditional history book or historical account of everything that's happened with Magic: The Gathering since it was being put together in a basement in the '90s. I feel like we have to get that out of the way, especially after the recent D&D book Art & Arcana, which may make some people believe this is along those same lines. It's not. This book, at its core, is a retrospective look at the visualization of all the worlds, creatures, people, and more of the game through visual representation.
Every chapter of this books has a little something of three basic elements: A discussion fo what you see, a visual of what you have today or what it was when you last saw it, and the occasional sketches and rough ideas of what it could have been. One good example of this is a look at Kamigawa, where they show off a couple pages of what it looked like on some cards in the game, but also had some rough concepts showing hopes in teetering cliffs overlooking a vast waterfall. What looks like great ideas that just didn't quite fit what they were going for, but still displaying the wonder that was crafted for that particular look.
The book is divided into four sections of Magic: Planes, Races, Creatures, and Characters. Planes give you the rundown of all the awesome places you can go in this world, even though the majority of them don't look all that appealing. That's not a knock against the book, that's just fact. While a lot of games went out of their way to make their universe look like it was somewhat liveable, Magic: The Gathering always had a look and feel about it that appeared to be in constant chaos. Swamps always filled with deadly creatures, volcanos always on fire, towns and villages always in a state of ruin. Even great empire landmarks like Ravnica and Ixalan appearing as if one single fire could bring the city down. A lot of that chapter looks cool but feels dreary.
The Races are is much like you might expect it to look like. There's a great breakdown of how every specific race in the book was created, evolved, changed, and grew into what they represent today. Many of the images you see are cleaned up from their original design while others are better left in the discard pile. It was particularly interesting to see how the Merfolk and Vedalken came to pass over time as both of their races have seen significant changes over time. Not to mention the goblins who have taken on a new life altogether.
Creatures was probably the most in-depth section of the book as you're given what I can best describe as an extensive tour of everything you'll ever encounter. The Angels sections alone is enough to make you want to explore this book for hours. You're given a look at the current build of creatures from every color and artifact version out there, in all of their impressive features and designs. Stuff that will make your eyes glisten with enjoyment and make your blood run cold if you ever saw one up close. The hydra area was one hell of a rogue's gallery of horror. The Characters area, while informative, was probably the least entertaining of the bunch. You're shown the Weatherlight and many of the familiar faces over the years, but nothing that really shows or explains how they came to be in this universe. They're all simply just "there", which is a bit of a letdown.
Overall, I enjoyed Magic: The Gathering – Concepts & Legends for what it is. It's a decent coffee table book for those who love the game and like looking over the history of where it came from. I give it kudos for the visualization, but this book could be so much more. There's a long history with the game just waiting to be told and explored, but that's not what this book is about. If you like visual coffee table books, this is a much-own. If you're looking for something more informative, maybe not so much.