MattcavottaCreating Magic the Gathering involves many different functions.  From Design to Brand management, there are a bevy of teams that work together to make the game the best that it can be.  The Creative team is an integral member and the artists there work tirelessly to bring the world of Magic to life.  Matt Cavotta is now the Senior Creative Art Director for the game and we could not resist the chance to sit down with him and ask him a few questions.

Matt, since starting freelance illustration for Magic, you have become an ever larger part of the game, going from art, to storyline and even working as a member of Magic R & D.  Can you give me a brief history of your involvement with the game?

Brief, eh?

  1. Hooked on the game
  2. Became licensed WotC product retailer
  3. Retail store plan died
  4. Started submitting my portfolio to WotC art directors
  5. Almost qualified for the pro tour (2nd place…so close)
  6. Painted first cards for Mercadian Masques
  7. Took a long shot on a job opening as a writer on the R&D Creative team
  8. Worked as a writer on Ravnica and Time Spiral blocks
  9. Wrote “Taste The Magic” column for
  10. Worked on Future Sight design team.  Helped make Planeswalker cards become a reality
  11. Returned to the world of freelance scribbling, painting Magic cards and writing names and flavor text
  12. Took a long shot on a job opening as Magic’s Senior Creative Art Director
  13. Returned to Wizards to try and make Magic an eensy-weensy bit cooler than it was before.

We’ll leave it at lucky 13.

Future SightNot every artist becomes so integrated with the companies they work with preferring to remain freelance.  What has been the driving factor for your decisions to get more involved with Wizards?

Some folks enjoy the comfort of the known, while others like to test their mettle against new challenges.  I am an “others.”  That, and I really dig Magic.

When did you start working in commercial illustration?

I sold homemade buttons with my own cartoon characters draw on them when I was in 2nd grade.  The character was called “Treebark.”  It was a dog?  It looked more like a pygmy hippo.

According to your bio you graduated from Columbus College of Art & Design around 1993, right when Magic was debuting.  Were you aware of the work being done for the game at the time?

Nope. The world has changed so much since then. The internet allows young artists to easily keep current with what’s being done in the art world.  In 1993, we were pretty much just trying to keep pace with the other bozos in the classroom.  I didn’t learn about Magic art until the guy at my local comic shop showed me how to play the game.

Goblin PiledriverWorking as the Creative Lead from 2004 to 2006, you must have had a great impact on some of the worlds designed at the time; Kamigawa, Ravnica, Lorwyn.  Can you give us any insight on how these worlds came about?  Some interesting history of the design process?

To clarify, I was not a creative “lead.”  I managed the process and selection of card creative text, but the creative output as a whole was led by folks who were not as green as I was.  I did have creative contributions to the world design in both Ravnica and Time Spiral blocks, with a faint whisper of involvement with Lorwyn.

Was there anything that didn’t make to production that you were hoping for?  Anything left on the proverbial cutting room floor?

I wish I could offer an interesting glimpse behind the curtain, but I’ve got nothin’ here.  I’m sure there were a whole bunch of cards I designed for Future Sight that didn’t make the cut, but I don’t remember any of them.  I tend to remember the little engines that could, as opposed to the engines that crapped out.

ErayoAfter working on the creative team, you went on to work on the R&D team for Future Sight, one of the most powerful sets in the game.  What was your role on the team?  How did your experience in creative and art shape the set’s development?

Actually, my work on the creative team was concurrent with my work on the design team for Future Sight.  I was asked to be on that team not because I was expected to be a trusted card mechanic grinder, but rather because I could offer creativity and a divergent mind set on a card set that was expected to be bizarre.  Also, creative team members are often used on design teams to create a bridge between the mechanical and creative sides of Magic.

Any word on how Tarmagoyf came to be?  Or some of the other higher powered cards like Bridge From Below, Magus of the Moon and Summoner’s Pact?

I have nearly no recollection of Tarmogoyf, except for the fact that it was the very first place where “planeswalker” appeared in rules text.  I was annoyed at the time that “tribal” also debuted there, stealing thunder from the word that really mattered.  Of course, planeswalkers have gone on to make big splashes all over the place, while “tribal” has dipped its pinkie toe in the pool just once.

Firemane Angel

In addition to contributing storyline and art, you have also added terminology to the game including “Okra, Twinkie, Tofu” to describe word choice and “Vorthos” to describe a new player profile.  Were there any other terms you championed that you feel have not gotten the attention they deserve?

Rauck-Chauv.  It’s a term used in Ravnica’s first go-round.  It’s a Gruul holiday that they spring on top of other people’s holidays, crashing the celebrations and clobbering the guests of honor.  I think more people should honor this tradition. ; )

The Vorthos player profile has been greatly expanded upon since its inception.  What do you think of the current role of the Vorthos in game play and design?

I think it was natural for the profile of the flavor gamer to increase once it became recognized in the first place.  At one time, Magic was aimed too squarely at tournament players, leaving out a whole host of other fans.  This is no longer the case, as Magic cards, experiences, and brand elements are designed with a whole spectrum of consumers in mind.

Master of EtheriumHaving worked freelance and in house, what advice would you give to anyone looking to become an illustrator?  What has been your experience working in the different ends of the spectrum?

First—love it enough to be happy regardless of commercial success.  The business is feast or famine, and at the beginning it’s mostly just famine.  The key to it all is being passionate about the craft. If you can find happiness solely in having painted a kick-ass skeletal goblin swordsman, you’re more likely to work hard enough at it to earn recognition and/or greenbacks to go with it.  My last bit of advice—learn to draw and to think.  The first one is a requirement to getting in the game, the second is your key to making the big play.

Working at Wizards, you must play a bit of Magic from time to time.  What is your favorite format?

Ironically, my passion for doing good work for Magic soaks up all of my card playing time.  If I do play, it’s sealed deck or draft.  I just don’t have the time to put into deck building anymore.  This, too, is ironic, since my deep love for the game is rooted in the fact that deck building is simultaneously a creative and competitive outlet.  It’s pretty much the perfect pastime for the guy whose favorite things include art and playing sports.

Do you play Commander at all?  If so, what is your preferred General?

Full disclosure here—I have never played Commander.  Sad times.

Questing PheldagriffAre you still primarily a Vorthos?  Has your time hanging around Johnnies and Spikes all day rubbed off on you at all?

I am a man of many hats.  I have an appreciation for the flavor of Magic cards.  Some cards I just won’t play with if the name sounds dumb or the art rubs me the wrong way.  In some circumstances I put that aside and just get down to biz.  I was a PTQ road warrior for a while.  Good times.  But at the core I am a Johnny, looking to make waves with unlikely combinations of redheaded step-cards.  I take pride in winning with a deck that is built on team players, rather than a collection of all-stars.

Gen Con 2013 is going to mark the 20th anniversary of the game.  Are there any hints you can give us on what may be in the works for the convention, or is it too early to ask?

It’s not my role to be dishing out the juice on this topic.  What I will say is that I think that it’s appropriate that Magic is turning 20, as this is an age at which many people find their voice and begin to really settle into their own identity. Less searching, more honing and enhancing.  I feel like this is happening for Magic.  It’s found a groove as an evolved, contemporary, intelligent fantasy property.  I’m really stoked to be a part of it.

Etched Champion

Well, we look forward to more of your art and other great things to come.  Thanks Matt!

As always, if you enjoyed this interview make sure to leave a comment below, follow us on twitter @OriginalMtGArt and stay tuned for additional content coming out this week.