There are more than 20,000 Magic: The Gathering cards. Cards which dozens of artists have spent thousands of hours painstakingly drafting, sketching, and painting. Despite the fairly common misconception that great visual artists can whip up images right from the depths of their brains, almost all of them use some kind of reference for the art they create. And we’re glad they did because it’s given us some absolute gems of reference photos.

Artist Tony DiTerlizzi is a MTG illustrator and early D&D artist (who also alerted folks to the fact that a lot of the original Dungeons & Dragons monsters were based off of knock-off Ultraman kaiju.) His Twitter is an absolute dragon’s horde of incredible behind the scenes nerdiness about the two most popular fantasy tabletop games. Here we get to see the incredibly silly and simultaneous badass process he used to craft some classic MTG cards. 

He used his wife and friends as models, but they’re mere mortals, not the powerful wizards and sorcerers depicted in the cards. So how to make them feel like the mighty warriors of magic they are? Chuck a blanket on them. Using props and rudimentary costumes found around his house, DiTerlizzi was able to capture the essence he wanted to portray in the cards he was commissioned to paint. Getting your friends to dress up and act like wizards might be common fare for a lot of nerds, but getting them to pose shirtless to act out a scene as a cyclops is next level. His skill as one of the great Magic: The Gathering artists is undeniable. It's pretty fascinating to see the artistic leaps he takes when adjusting the angle of an elbow, a chin, the crook of a knee when adapting his composed Polaroids into the final product. Using real life models and then elevating them, elongating them to evoke a more fantastical, epic energy takes incredible skill. And some friends with decent acting chops and a good sense of humor.

Keep the magic alive and check out the biggest bad guys in MTG, these wholesome MTG Easter eggs, and the time Sid Meier made a MTG game.

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