Magic: The Gathering is breaking free of its trading-card borders in a new visual history published by Abrams Books. Written by Wizards of the Coast and Jay Annelli (writer of the upcoming second book in the M:TG: Rise of the Gatewatch series), Legends: A Visual History goes on sale on Oct. 27 and contains nearly 300 pages of beautiful character and creature-based artwork, some of which has never been seen outside the context of the card game.
"I had a lot of freedom with choosing the characters. We tried to highlight Magic’s vast array of characters developed over the decades to give newcomers a sense of scope," Annelli tells SYFY WIRE in this exclusive sneak peek inside the book. "After a couple months of writing, we honed the book to be as newcomer-friendly as possible. The final character selection is based around both characters who are important to the story — past and present — and popular Commanders. My hope is that anyone can pick up the book and get a sense of the characters, while existing Magic fans might learn something new about the cards they see across the table."
While Annelli says that he's "been pretty consistently terrible at Magic" for the last two decades, he began writing articles about the game in 2015, around the debut of the "Gatewatch" story arc. "Five years later, I’m fairly well known as a lore guy from both my articles and my podcast, The Vorthos Cast — at least among Magic’s content creator community," he adds. "Commander, as it happens, is also my favorite way to play Magic and has kept me engaged in the game for a long time."
"I was more prepared for the process of writing a book than I thought I’d be," Annelli admits. "I’d been writing articles for long enough that while 20,000 words sounded daunting at first, especially when I was squeezing in writing time around a full-time job and parenting, but once I got in the groove I was writing a few thousand words in a day. I also thought I’d be lost in the logistics of putting a book like this together, but it turns out my graphic-design jobs in college prepared me for a lot of that, too. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a challenge, but I thought by the end of the process I’d be relieved to be done. Instead I wished there was more space to talk about characters!"
Annelli's favorite M:TG entity is Krenko, a goblin featured on the book's front cover (see below) in the bottom left corner. He says he believes that the character has been "unjustly maligned as a 'mob boss.'"
"As an Italian whose grandmother once described Al Capone as 'such a nice man,' I take exception when a legitimate business person and pillar of the goblin community like Krenko is slandered with false accusations about alleged ties to organized goblin crime," Annelli quips. "Goblins don’t often get a fair shake in Magic, and Krenko provides his community with protection against the authoritarian guilds of Ravnica, encourages entrepreneurship, and stands up for the little guy."
Standing front and center is Sisay: "[She's] the captain of the skyship Weatherlight" — it's the vessel everyone is aboard on the cover — "which was the core of 'The Weatherlight Saga,' the most prominent storyline of Magic’s early years in the '90s," Annelli explains. "Looking back, it’s pretty clear that Sisay was way more interesting than the somewhat bland Gerard, the '90s fantasy hero archetype who stole the spotlight back then. Sisay herself has received a brand-new Legendary Creature card in the last year, and alongside Krenko is the Commander of one of my favorite decks."
"Rethinking how I presented information for an audience that might know nothing about Magic was a challenge, but a fun one that I think really helped my writing overall," Annelli notes. "Suddenly, I had to think about all that jargon that I take for granted in Magic and that my readers were usually familiar with, and figure out how to write about everything without needing a glossary in the back. As someone who has always been about making things accessible and removing more gatekeep-y aspects of the fandom, it definitely pushed to me to rethink how I approached the lore."
Magic: The Gathering: Legends: A Visual History goes on sale Tuesday, Oct. 27. You can pre-order a copy on Amazon for $18.99.