Inside Magic: The Gathering’s Lost Caverns of Ixalan, a set driven by a love of Latin America

Lengthy earlier than Wizards of the Coast senior artwork director Ovidio Cartagena and his staff of artists conjured up cavernous depths populated with jade merfolk and fungal tyrants, he would trip the bus forwards and backwards to highschool every day in his hometown in Guatemala. In his day-to-day life, Cartagena noticed Mayan pyramids and statues of warriors who fought the conquistadors. Quick ahead a number of years, and he’s now residing in the USA, however these experiences stay on by way of the artwork of Magic: The Gathering within the Lost Caverns of Ixalan set.

The Lost Caverns of Ixalan is Magic’s 98th enlargement. Set for world launch on Nov. 17, this new enlargement will deliver gamers again to the airplane of Ixalan, a land impressed by Latin America stuffed with explorers in search of a misplaced metropolis of gold. This time round, somewhat than discover the jungles on the floor, the set explores a huge underground world stuffed with gods and thriving cultures. In anticipation of the discharge of The Lost Caverns of Ixalan, Cartagena sat down with Polygon by way of video chat to speak concerning the creation of the set and reveal the artwork for eight never-before-seen playing cards. In our dialog, he talked about constructing a colourful, vibrant world that served as a love letter to Latin America.

For Cartagena, the concept for The Lost Caverns of Ixalan set has been within the making “for years.” He performed the primary Ixalan set when it was launched in 2017, which impressed him to work as a Magic artist. He ultimately utilized for a job at Wizards of the Coast. When he interviewed for the place, he pitched a set that adopted the idea of going underground primarily based on the Popol Vuh, the sacred ebook of the Maya Ok’iche’ individuals. Although it was simply a pitch for an interview, a few years later, he discovered himself engaged on a Wizards staff that was trying to create an underground world.

“We were thinking: Should it be on the original new plane or should it be an existing plane? And so on,” Cartagena instructed Polygon. “About halfway in the process or something we were like, ‘Well, you know what? It makes sense that it’s Ixalan,’ and the vision team went with that. Doug Beyer was a creative director at the time and Jessica Lanzillo, the other creative director at the time, went, ‘OK, OK, you know what? You get your Ixalan.’ And I was very lucky that I had been thinking about many ideas for a long time. I had a lot of ideas.”

Picture: Aurore Folny/Wizards of the Coast

Ixalan is concerning the thrill that comes from using dinosaurs and taking names. It’s additionally about conquest. The authentic set instructed a story the place factions competed to find a mythological metropolis of gold. So far as tales go, the primary go to to Ixalan portrayed a normal colonial narrative the place outsiders descend upon a darkish and mysterious land with the intent of exploiting its riches. Now, The Lost Caverns of Ixalan turns this world inward, actually. As gamers gather playing cards, they’ll see artwork that dives deep beneath the floor of the land to find fully new worlds and cultures.

“Originally, my conception was the Popol Vuh. We didn’t do the Popol Vuh. We did something that was very keyed into what Ixalan has been about in the last few sets, which is about cultural encounters. This time, the difference is the Sun Empire is going to encounter a different culture, which is the one that originated their own. And others in the same plane under the surface.”

Visually, Cartagena needed the colour palette to be brighter and extra colourful than the prior two Ixalan units. “I wanted it to be vibrant. Like I remember, you go into a market, there’s a lot of colors, there’s a lot of noise, there’s a lot of music, and there’s people yelling at each other or laughing or dancing.” Even with easy playing cards like Braided Internet, artist Diego Gisbert imbues a depiction of an Oltec fisherman onerous at work with hues of fuschia and turquoise.

Cartagena emphasised that Lost Caverns nonetheless accommodates all of the enjoyable from the unique set, dinosaurs, pirates, and all. Along with the 4 factions beforehand launched, The Lost Caverns of Ixalan introduces three further teams. First, there’s the Malamet, a tradition of jaguar folks recognized for growing a wealthy written custom. Subsequent, there’s the Mycoids, a hivemind tradition of fungal beings led by an ominous chief generally known as the Mychotyrant. And final, however actually not least, are the Oltec, the residing ancestors of the Solar Empire who stay in a “highly advanced communal society with a direct connection to their gods,” as Miguel Lopez, a world-building designer on the enlargement, described them in a presentation.

Braided Quipu: Draw a card for each artifact you control, then put Braided Quipu into its owner’s library third from the top. “The Oltec repurpose objects out of reverence rather than scarcity, believing them strengthened by the memory of each past function.”

“Quipu is a piece of Inca attire. It was a combination of language and chess. It was a way to communicate, and we just haven’t cracked it. […] It was one of the coolest things for me to include.”
Picture: Diego Gisbert/Wizards of the Coast

“The Oltec are a love letter to Latin America, not just the history but the peoples now,” mentioned Cartagena. “They wear clothing that are worn right now. Huipiles is something that you use right now, the Oltec use huipiles and ponchos. The patterns are of modern design. The palette is of modern design. There are colors that you just couldn’t replicate 600 years ago that you can use now, and the Oltec use it in their clothing, along with Cosmium.”

Previous to this set, Cartagena additionally labored as senior artwork director on Magic’s The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Center-earth enlargement. In that set, Cartagena needed to depict a heat facet of Center-earth that felt “lived in” and embraced the folks facet of its fantasy world. He emulated this strategy with Lost Caverns and prolonged it into a celebration of a number of totally different varieties of Latin American cultures.

“In the case of Braided Net and Quipu, we wanted to highlight daily life and how dignified work is as well. You see a fisherman throwing the net, and we even had a reference of someone’s relative to get that wizened look. That’s something else about this set. In Latinoamérica, elders are very important. So there’s a lot of elderly people. Same with Quipu, it’s a gentleman who’s around [his] 60s, 60 something. And you have abuelo or you have other characters that are coded this way. These people pass down the wisdom and are people you respect and admire from previous generations.”

Ojer Pakpatiq, Deepest Epoch Legendary Creature - God. Whenever you cast an instant spell from your hand, it gains rebound. When Ojer Pakpatiq dies, return it to the battlefield tapped and transformed under its owner’s control with three time counters on it.

“Ojer Pakpatiq is based on K’uk’ulkan, the Feathered Serpent. It has wings because in this case the creature has flying. So you want it to have that expansion into the set, but the wings are colorful in their own way. And they’re kind of like arms, like a big embrace. The piece was painted by the great Chris Rahn, who made the other side as well, the Temple of Cyclical Time. Ojer Pakpatiq was complicated to design and took a lot of phases.”
Picture: Chris Rahn/Wizards of the Coast

At its coronary heart, Lost Caverns is about seeing the age of exploration from the angle of the individuals who lived there, as an alternative of the vampiric conquistadors. This reveals up within the story and by way of the brand new factions, but in addition within the artwork. Even particulars just like the frames of playing cards assist drive dwelling some of this shift in perspective. Within the first Ixalan set, the land playing cards had a body that seemed like parchment paper. Now, the frames are styled to appear like codexes, impressed by the visuals within the three surviving pre-Columbian Maya books, just like the Madrid Codex.

Lost Caverns unabashedly pulls from a number of Latin American cultures throughout totally different durations of time. The artwork within the playing cards reveals glowing petroglyphs impressed by the Nazca Traces. The Maya calendar impressed the gears and different decorative motifs. The Oltec put on the braided quipu, which was created by Inca cultures. On this sense, Lost Caverns comes throughout as a collage of numerous Latin American cultures and durations. Given the methods it pulls from numerous cultures, and the potential points that may include homogenizing numerous cultures into one set in fantasy, Polygon requested Cartagena how the staff approached constructing a single world from a number of cultures and peoples.

Temple of Cyclical Time (Transforms from Ojer Pakpatiq, Deepest Epoch). Add Blue, Remove a Time Counter from Temple of Cyclical Time. Two Blue, Transform Temple of Cyclical Time. Activate only if it has no time counters on it and only as sorcery. Chimil gave the Oltec time. Pakpatiq gave them the tools to learn its lessons.

“We wanted this to be connected to water. If you notice the environment on the other side of the Temple of Cyclical Time, there’s a lot of water there. Gears were another shape that we use a lot here in the set — gears, spokes, square spirals, glyphs, those shapes show up all throughout the set. Why gears? The calendar, the Mayan calendar. The concentric gears connect to each other depending on the age, year, and month. We deconstructed that and turned it into a motif for the set. And the reason you see gears and machinery and so on in the environment with water is because the Maya are known to be big engineers who had gigantic cities.”
Picture: Chris Rahn/Wizards of the Coast

“We solely acquired the one fantasy world. We did it relying on the faction that you’d give attention to and what [the faction] does there. So the jaguar folks are primarily based on the gods and their servants within the Popol Vuh. You’re desirous about the theme, and what they do right here, and why they’re right here, somewhat than considering, OK, effectively, I’m gonna choose the Aztec and the Aztecs are gonna grow to be so-and-so. You don’t map stuff straight onto one another since you simply don’t wish to retell historical past. You wish to make individuals interested by historical past sufficient that they’re gonna go after and hunt down the sources and see, Oh, effectively, that is so cool. The place did they get it from? And I need individuals to have that feeling.

And so how did we go about it? We tried to see what was the most effective match for the philosophy or the motif, and even the cardboard mechanics. And that’s how we seemed on the issues, and of course, each card was reviewed by consultants.”

The venture included a lot of analysis and has a scholarly air to it. Crew members together with a linguist and advisor helped vet and information the set. As well as, Cartagena mentioned the playing cards included current archaeological and paleontological findings to tell the visuals. However The Lost Caverns of Ixalan wasn’t simply a tutorial train; it additionally represented a deeply private venture for Cartagena and different Latine leads on the staff.

“The set had a lot of things that I love: history, archaeology, languages, encounter of cultures, Latinoamérica, and I was very happy to include all these things. It was a process that was very taxing at times, but I’m very, very satisfied with it. This became a passion project for me and became actually a beacon.”

The venture felt so private that Cartagena couldn’t resist contributing illustrations to the set. For instance, a statue of Tecun Uman, one of the final rulers of the Ok’iche’ individuals, that he would move by on the way in which to highschool impressed his art of Jadelight Spelunker. And whereas the concept of an artist’s background informing their artwork may not be something new, the work on The Lost Caverns of Ixalan stands out in a bigger tradition that usually teaches Latine individuals to obscure their backgrounds.

“They teach many of us growing up in Latinoamérica to hate our own culture, and to hate indigenous languages. We sometimes are divorced from the people, our ancestors. And the last couple of decades have been a process of me trying to connect to that. I’ve lived in the U.S. for maybe a decade. So I wanted to connect with things I love, experiences I lived, and people I’ve met.”

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