Commander Canvas: Evyn Fong
Welcome back to Commander Canvas! Have you ever wondered if your favorite artists play Commander? Well, wonder no further. Commander Canvas is a series that features Magic artists chat about what got them into the game as players, what keeps them coming back, and of course, what cards they're slinging in Commander. For previous entries, check out Commander Canvas: Rope Arrow, Ovidio Cartagena and Jehan Choo.
This week, Evyn Fong stopped by to talk team-ups and having a Commander nemesis, and how being a player affects her art.
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Illustrator and concept artist Evyn Fong saw her first card art debut on Temple Thief for Theros: Beyond Death, and since then, she's been credited 24 other card illustrations. But while her art has appeared on two dozen cards in the last two-and-a-half years, her influence on the look of the game goes well beyond what appears in booster packs.
Currently, Fong's embroiled in creating concept art for the game, crafting designs for Magic's planes, creatures, spells and characters in addition to the occasional card art. The Washington-based artist keeps busy, but even in her free time, she's still invested in Magic. In fact, at the time of this article's release, Fong's appearing as a guest artist at MagicCon Minneapolis, signing cards and chatting with fans.
Fong is also an avid player, known to squeeze in games of Commander whenever and wherever she can, and her love of playing predates her professional work with the game. Fong said she first started playing Magic with the release of Shadows Over Innistrad, released in 2016. At that time, she was working as a concept artist in the video game industry. "I was mostly playing prebuilts and drafting, but one early deck that stands out in my memory is my first-ever EDH deck, with Tromokratis at the helm," she said. "I stayed up all night building it, and was so proud of the deck and I thought it performed well." She added with a laugh that three years later, she was sitting down to break it apart to reuse cards from it" and realized it was "literally random blue cards stuck into a deck."
That retrospective deckbuilding judgment is something to which most Commander players can relate, and Fong's only gotten more meticulous, and competitive, from there. Early on in her Magic-playing, she met a fellow artist, who is also an avid Commander player, in Jesper Ejsing. The two met during a concept push for an upcoming set, and for a period of weeks, Fong's days were designing the look of Magic by day and battling Commander by night. "I didn't play much of (EDH at the time) but I had a prebuilt The Ur-Dragon deck and we played every night for three weeks," said Fong of that time. "It was painful losing over and over again, but it really lit a fire under me to improve and build better EDH decks."
Ejsing was Fong's white whale, and after tinkering with her decks and sharpening her focus, she was able to do the unthinkable. "One night at a party I finally managed to attack him for lethal, and I remember him saying 'Okay, I take it' and starting to pack up his deck," said Fong. "'What? You mean you don't have any responses?' I asked in disbelief, since he always had something up his freaking sleeve."
Fong said she was so happy to beat him for the first time that she can still remember the moment "so clearly!"
Her relationship with the game as a player has had a conscious impact on her work as a designer and illustrator, she said. Fong said she wants every card she paints to "feel" like the card feels, not just look like what it does. "I think a good example of that is my first Elesh Norn illustration I did for fun," she said. "I love the original art, but I wanted to make a piece that shows how you feel when someone drops Elesh Norn onto the table and immediately wipes your entire board state."
In her time as an illustrator for Magic, Fong's provided the art for four legendary creatures, but they're all popular commanders in their own right: Aisha of Sparks and Smoke, Ivy, Gleeful Spellthief, Minthara, Merciless Soul, and Yusri, Fortune's Flame.
Because of her love for Commander, Fong not only has illustrated those legendary creatures, but plays them. "My current favorite deck to play is my Ivy, Gleeful Spellthief deck, because I love the weird Mutate mechanic," she said. "Every time I Mutate Ivy, I make a new token of them merged with whatever Mutate creature I've played as an eldritch abomination."
Fong said she's fortunate that, of the legendary creatures she's painted, they have fun mechanics that make for unique commanders, especially Yusri. "I love coinflip mechanics, so I also have a Yusri deck I love to play," she added.
In addition to standard Commander, Fong's also a fan of playing the format with Two-Headed Giant (2HG) rules, teaming up with a partner to take on other duos. Recently, Fong teamed up with Ejsing for a 2HG Commander event held in Portugal during Trojan Horse is a Unicorn. The rules for the event were simple: any team who could beat Fong and Ejsing would get earn themselves a prize. "But no one managed it!" added Fong.
For that subset of rules, she utilizes a deck crafted specifically for the format. "So since in 2HG 'target opponent' triggers hit each opponent separately, I wanted to make a deck using that mechanic," she said. "My original idea was to use Heartless Hidetsugu, hit myself for one damage and then tap it to make every player lose half their life total, so my team would live with 1 hp and theirs would immediately lose."
However, she laughed, this plan was nixed for being "too dumb," so instead crafted a Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow deck. "It's basically a standard Yuriko deck with 16-mana-value cards, some tutors, et cetera, with a bit of extra weight on counterspells and things to slow down my opponents so that I can support my teammate effectively," she said. "I wouldn't say the power level is necessarily super high; I wanted to give them a fighting chance."
Fong keeps a busy schedule but is always looking to get a few games of Commander in wherever she goes. She said she simply loves Magic, and has even started playing online with friends to ensure she never goes too long between games. Though she plays several decks, including a few with commanders she's personally illustrated, she said the deck that's most special to her is Melissa DeTora's Karametra, God of Harvests deck, featured on The Command Zone.
Melissa DeTora's Karametra, God of Harvests (April, 2017)View on Archidekt
DeTora's Karametra deck is firmly an "enchantress" build. "Watching her play is always so fun, and I really wanted to try to build a similar deck on my own," said Fong. "It was the first deck I was really confident in and could make good decisions with."
Fong estimated that she's had it built for approximately four years. "Honestly, I just like playing it," she said with a laugh. "I think enchantments have a lot of really fun interactions with other people's board states, you can do a lot of stupid stuff with them, and it's overall my favorite type of EDH deck to play." To date, Fong hasn't illustrated a card that mechanically can fit into an enchantress-style deck, outside of her version of Soul Snare, but she considers that a positive. "Rather than trying to fit my cards into my existing decks, I like it when cards I illustrate end up having mechanics that gives me an excuse to make a whole new deck," she said.
And perhaps it'll be her Karametra deck that she'll use to take on decks built around legendary creatures she herself has illustrated. She said she's yet to lose to a card she's painted -- "I guess this is an open challenge, now," she said with a smile.
To keep up-to-date with Evyn Fong's work, follow her on Twitter and Instagram. A selection of her works can be purchased as prints via Original Magic Art.