Commander Canvas: Jehan Choo

Nick Wolf • April 22, 2023

Yargle, Glutton of Urborg | Illustrated by Jehan Choo


In 2018, Jehan Choo introduced Magic players to Yargle, Glutton of Urborg.

It was a big moment for both the game and for Choo himself. Magic players were provided with a new legendary creature that almost immediately spawned a devoted following thanks in no small part to Choo's depiction of the accursed Frog Spirit.

Today, Choo is the Principal Concept Artist for Magic and has worked on nearly every set since Ikoria, with releases Strixhaven, Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, and Phyrexia: All Will Be One in particular some of the more hands-on.

But Choo's relationship with Magic dates back much further than Yargle, Phyrexia: All Will Be One, and even Ikoria. His earliest memories date back nearly 30 years, to Fallen Empires, and a chance introduction to the "dark and disturbing art" contained within. Choo was in elementary school, making a trek up and down a "giant hill" in his neighborhood as he and his friend headed to and from a nearby laundromat to feed quarters to its Samurai Shodown II arcade cabinet. One day, the pair decided to pop into a comic shop on the way down the hill, pooling their remaining quarters to purchase the cheapest Magic booster possible: Fallen Empires. "From transparent thrulls to goblins getting their legs sawed off, (it) captivated and forever altered my innocent mind," said Choo.

Goblin Chirurgeon, by Dan Frazier

From there, Choo was hooked. Choo said he had "a lot of trouble making friends" in middle school, but Magic helped bridge a connection. "One particularly lonely lunch, I gazed out the library windows and noticed a group of kids playing Magic on the benches," he said. "Armed with what would be eventually called 'red-green stompy,' I gathered enough courage to join them."

Enough courage to stand and watch, anyway, until a particularly friendly kid named Matt invited Choo to join in. Matt and the "bench crew" are still Choo's best friends today, he said. "I even referenced Matt when designing the new 'Urza in his 30s' for Brothers' War," Choo joked.

Leading up to the release of Dominaria in 2018, then-Senior Art Director Mark Winters reached out to Choo after seeing some of Choo's fan art of the Homarids from Fallen Empires. That led to Choo's first card art assignments, since the set called for new Homarid designs. "But they had no idea how to represent them until (Winters) saw my interpretation," said Choo.

Homarid Explorer, by Jehan Choo

Choo's next batch of assignments contained the infamous Yargle, Glutton of Urborg. Yargle's popularity, along with some of Choo's other illustrations, like Sharktocrab, caught the eye of Wizards' internal concept team. Choo was invited in-house to design creatures for what would become Ikoria. "I was working alongside artists I'd admired for years, such as Jesper Ejsing, Daarken, Kirsten Zirngibl, Jason Engle, and Sam Burley," said Choo. "Wizards liked me enough to keep me around."

In addition to being a popular character (and most recently part of a pairing in March of the Machine that's proving to be just as popular), Yargle also holds the distinction of being the first card Choo's illustrated that he also used in a game. Playing in a Tokyo Magic bar with Dominaria prerelease decks, Choo used Yargle to swing for lethal against fellow artist Evyn Fong.

Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign, by Chris Rahn

Unraveling Riddles

Since that fateful day with a fistful of quarters spent on Fallen Empires boosters, Choo's become a devoted Commander player. In the Eternal format, Choo's able to indulge his nostalgia in revisiting many of the characters and planes he grew up with both in the game and in his role as Principal Concept Artist. "It's a real treat to share with the world the images I've envisioned in my mind all these years playing games around the kitchen table," he said. "I'm very proud to be able to use my long history with Magic to honor previous designs, while adding a fresh take."

Now that he's a Commander player, his appreciation for the format may also have a thing or two to do with the card art assignments he takes. "I'm slightly biased towards taking assignments for legendary creatures, because my favorite format is Commander," said Choo. "Having illustrated it, I may have also pushed for Cavalier of Thorns to be stronger mechanically than it was in playtesting," he added with a laugh. In fact, Choo said he's been "decimated" by opponents playing Cavalier of Thorns against him on Magic Arena. "Perhaps I shouldn't have pushed for it to be stronger after all."

Being a long-time Commander player, Choo's piloted a wide variety of decks. He's built decks for Sen Triplets, Rograkh, Son of Rohgahh, and Zabaz, the Glimmerwasp -- "I love Voltron," he added, "and my latest deck is Greensleeves, Maro-Sorcerer, who was my favorite character from the old Magic novels." But the one that's stuck around has been Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign.

Jehan Choo's Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign

View on Archidekt

Old Stickfingers, by Jehan Choo

Dreams' Riches

Choo has been piloting Yennett since 2018, and he attributes its longevity to a balance of power and mutual fun. "I think it stuck with me because it was my first Commander deck that could hold its own without getting too annoying to play against, or too predictable to pilot," he said. "The local Magic artists can get quite competitive, so I needed something fun, yet strong."

In matching up with fellow artists for games of Commander, the deck has become somewhat of a collection of signatures whenever he's up against someone who contributed the art for one of the cards in the 99. "I've battled many of my art heroes with this deck, and they've all signed cards they've illustrated within it," said Choo. Unfortunately, he added, none of the cards Choo himself has illustrated have found their way into the list. He's tried to build decks based around commander's he's painted -- beyond Yargle, he's done the art for several legendary creatures, like Gilanra, Caller of Wirewood, Old Stickfingers, Slurrk, All-Ingesting, Thantis, the Warweaver, and Umori, the Collector -- but he finds them either not quite strong enough or too color-restrictive. "However, I haven't tried Old Stickfingers yet," said Choo. "He seems good for cEDH, so I'll have to water him down since I'm strictly casual."

When it comes to building a Commander deck, one thing is certain for Choo, however. It's got to have some flash. "My commander itself can never be basic, it must be at least foil," he said. As an employee of Wizards of the Coast, Choo receives some free Magic product, but even still, he ends up buying boxes of collector boosters "for all the pretty variants" of cards. "My all-time favorite treatments are the galaxy foils from Unfinity, they make me smile every time I crack them," he said.

Jehan Choo's art can be found on his website. Prints of his work, both in Magic and other projects, can be purchased via Inprnt. Choo is active on Instagram.