Commander Canvas: Rope Arrow
With Magic: the Gathering now three decades strong, many of today's artists grew up with the game. For many aspiring artists, Magic was their first significant exposure into the world of fantasy realism through the work of the game's progenitors, and picking up the cards for the first time set them on a path to one day help illustrate the game they love.
But even as they grow up to be professional illustrators and, if they're lucky and talented enough, get a shot at creating the art for Magic, the love of the game remains.
In Ink Duelists, we talk with the artists behind Magic about their history as Commander players: what got them started as players, what keeps them invested, and of course, their go-to lists.
Rope Arrow's Kalain, Reclusive Painter
This week, we chatted with the artist behind the "Draw Your Hand" Secret Lair, Tyler Day, also known as Rope Arrow. Day's also known in the Commander community as the creator of the marketing material, playmats, and tokens for the yearly Commander Sealed event in Rochester, New York hosted by Just Games.
Appropriately, Day's bringing a Kalain, Reclusive Painter deck to the Ink Duelist battlegrounds:
Art is Fun! by Tyler DayView on Archidekt
Harnessing the Weave
Day described his Kalain deck as "Rakdos treasures that plays like a stompy deck," and he's quick to point out to opponents that while yes, Prosper, Tome-Bound might make an appearance, he's not the commander. "I very rarely win with Revel in Riches, and mostly just cast giant creatures," he said. "She's not my best deck, but it's definitely my baby."
And while the deck has a theme mechanically, Day said there's another theme that permeates the list from an aesthetic standpoint: a theme appropriate for a Secret Lair artist like him. "Considering that [Kalain] is a painter, every card that has an alternate art (besides the few crazy expensive ones) uses that version," he said. "The tokens for the deck are all classical paintings from Original Magic Art, and the cherry on top is Kalain herself sits in the command zone on a miniature easel."
Day said he's currently got four other decks sleeved up "that are probably built better," but Kalain is the certain favorite among them. At least once a week, Day can be seen at his favorite LGS, The Board Room, joining in at Commander tables amidst what he described as a "tight communty" that regularly adds new players to the fold. "I play Commander or my Jump-Cube any chance I get with friends," he said.
Kalain is the first deck that Day really sat down to focus building, and he put it together in late 2021 after playing a "really bad" Neyith of the Dire Hunt deck for a year. "The theme and everything naturally fell together right before Streets of New Capenna came out and blew up all the pieces," he joked. "This deck does everything I want to do, has strong mechanical identity, is 'trigger happy,' loaded with symmetry, and has fun alternate win-cons."
With Kalain, Day said it's the one deck he has that truly embraces the "trading" aspect of a trading card game like Magic. "I've bought a couple of the cards, but it was mostly traded for between local folks and shops," he said. "A couple of the people I've made friends with in the hobby, I got to know [them] because they had an alternate art I needed. This is my signature deck, and the one that has fueled the most good times."
Balance and Counterbalance
Day is a recent convert to Magic.
While he had friends who played the game in high school, he didn't really join in on the fun until the Christmas season of 2019, shortly following the release of Throne of Eldraine. He credits a friend, Luke, for sparking his interest in the game. "He came home for the holidays and showed me the Welcome Decks he got from his roommates," said Day. "I think I played Golgari and thought Gravewaker was really cool."
From there, Day said he built an "awful Rakdos Goblins deck" and tried his luck in Constructed. "I tried to show up to several Modern FNMs before COVID-19 hit," he joked. During the pandemic, Day and his friend Luke were playing online, but "desperately" wanted to play Commander. "We made up a format with planeswalker commanders, Pioneer cardpool, and a singleton rule for legends," he said. "It made us build really unique and fun decks, and really made me realize the potential of Magic as a system."
His status as an avid player of Magic has certainly impacted how he approached the creation of the art of the Secret Lair cards. "It definitely inspired my work a ton, it made me want to push for a Phyrexian on Deafening Silence," he said, "and fill Counterbalance with references to Mark Poole's Counterspell."
If anything, though, the balance of being a fan of the game and an official illustrator goes both ways, he said. "I've always tried to be welcoming to the game, but it's made me check myself a little more often and make sure everyone else is having fun is a priority," he said. "Firsthand knowledge of how much the people at Wizards genuinely care about the game has given me a new perspective as well."
While an official Magic artist thanks to his "Draw Your Hand" Secret Lair, Day said he's also in the retail game, working full-time at Cabela's while he continues to produce art. Currently, the four cards in the Secret Lair are the only ones he's done, but he said "Wizards knows I'm always down" for more.
A Not-So-Shiny Impetus
As an artist, Day's got an eye for aesthetics, and that definitely comes into play in his lists.
"I would say I'm not flashy, but my decks would betray that," he joked.
Like most Commander players, Day's got preferences on how he likes his decks to look, but he's not as stringent with the requirements as others may be. "I don't care about foil, but I will go out of my way to get the art I like," he said. "I also prefer the old border when possible, but I never really try to go for the fanciest version possible. I also tend to just run budget cards that go better with the theme or are more fun."
And with four cards under his belt thanks to the Secret Lair, it was only a matter of time before one of the cards found their way into a deck. He said he had planned to include all four into an Amareth, the Lustrous list, but eventually decided to just "straight up build Bruna, Light of Alabaster," he said.
He's slowly putting pieces for that deck together now, and said he'd love to hear how the community is playing Bruna: "Getting some decklists would be cool!"