Ovidio Cartagena and Miguel Lopez talk cultural representation for Lost Caverns of Ixalan

While at MagicCon Las Vegas 2023 I had the opportunity to talk to some of the people behind Magic: The Gathering. First, I was able to have a brief conversation with Ovidio Cartagena, Senior Art Director.

[Chris Wyman] We just finished the Preview Panel for MagicCon Vegas 2023, and it had so many exciting things in it, what are you most excited for?

[Ovidio Cartagena] There’s so many things in this set that I’m proud of, some you haven’t seen. There’s even more cool stuff coming. I can tell you that. So,there’s some amazing stuff coming up, and the core was one of the unique magic settings. You know, that one of the most unique things we’ve seen, we’ve never seen anything like it, in Magic. It was hard to get artists to paint it, right? But it came out really nice, and so far everyone who’s seen it is really impressed. The Oltec, are another faction that took us a while to flesh out, and it just came together quite nicely. So many artists felt even represented, right? Because we have many Latinos in our roster and that was very fulfilling for me seeing the reactions of the fans today So you ask me what? I’m the most excited about, I’m excited for people to see what we did. I’m excited for Latinos to see what we did. And for every magic fan to become curious about the work we’ve done here, it’s very often authentic, it’s very exciting, right? And it’s a take on good archaeology, right? Like people studying their own history and fighting some monster on the way, right? So which is great, you’re pinning factions against each other. You’re mashing up a lot of monsters here.

[CW] I think it’s a return to a lot of fan favorite things. I’m glad to be returning to Ixalan, and this may be some players’ first time seeing the plane. What really blew me away was the detail in the presentation. I’m a Quintorious fan, is there anything more you can tell me as he delves into Ixalan?

[OC] When we were developing Quint, we were trying to think like…a clumsy Indiana, right? Like it was quite fun to design him. It was very cool to see how he interacts with spirits and the story. I really want you to keep an eye out for that. How Quint is related to spirits from Ixalan. His powers are related like it’s his uniquely suited to explore this plane. Because of his power set. And because of his history, and because of his approach to studying history.

[CW] I know from Strixhaven the Lorehold school was sort of a new take on white/red, does that feeling still persist with Quintorious on his own?

[OC] I think you’ll have to wait for the set to see that, but it’s only the one Quint card, right? But I can definitely say it feels like playing the character.

Chimil the Inner Sun

Next I sat down with Miguel Lopez, Game Designer and Worldbuilder for Lost Caverns of Ixalan.

[Chris Wyman] What are you most excited about with Ixalan? What are you most excited to share with everyone?

[Miguel Lopez] Everything, you know, it’s funny. I was up on stage there and I, I started to tear up just looking at those cards because like, i spend so much time on the world building side of it. After we make our world guides that are internal facing documents. Most of my time after that is just spent kind of like, in the trenches, just watching sketches come in and commenting on little things. I never see the full thing until like this moment, right? So being up on stage and like, you’ll see the final art, but it’s not like it is in frame, right? So, just to see it fully realized in full color is really incredible. I mean my goal with Ixalan, I couldn’t have done it without Ovidio, without Ovidio’s help, without the vision that he had for what it’s going to look like.

It communicates a lot, I’m a writer, I try to make it sing as much as possible. But, you know, without the art, it feels sort of lacking especially when we’re trying to depict the full richness of our experience in this fantasy pan-mesoamerican culture. All of it. It sounds like a cop-out answer but all of it. I feel like the world that we built together, it builds on some of the foundations laid in the first one. I feel like we’re seeing a vertical slice when we do our internal world guides and they’re 300 pages long, there’s so much more that I want to show. I hope that we can show after this comes out. I hope other folks want to see it too.

[CW] Especially with a set like this, there’s literally so much to explore.

[ML] There’s a lot to take into account when writing.There’s a ton to explore in it. The world building in the set covers. I was very lucky to get to write a history of Ixalan to take a place that is kind of just a name and a playground and make it to make it into something that is far more than that. Ixalan has a history and a context that informs the current events and is just laden with threads to follow for the future.

[CW] Can you give us a sneak peek at any of the other characters we might be following?

[ML] We were saying up with the panel, it’s not a faction set, that it’s a typal set. We are going to see vampires again. This takes place about a year and some months after the events of March of the Machine. So we’re gonna see what happened with the Dusk Legion. We’re going to find out more about them about the continent that they’re from Torrezon and the kingdom that they have there. We are gonna find out more about the history of the River Heralds, the merfolk.The Brazen Coalition is a coalition of landless pirates but we’re going to find out what they want and what drives them and what they could become. We have to be concerned about the world building that will inform the specifics of this set. I want Ixalan to be so much more than that. This feels like the one chance that we kind of get to do massive scope and scale like Dominaria world building for like a Latino/Latina fantasy. I’m not sure if there’s anyone else at the scale that we’re operating at outside of, maybe a Marvel universe or something like that.

To sum it up, we’ll dive into the history of the vampires on the plane of Ixalan. We’re going to dive into the history of the Sun Empire. We’re going to discover, where we find them, they’re at a pivotal moment of change. They are not a monolith, and there are forces within the empire that want diametrically opposed things. Huatli’s expedition is the Sun Empire expedition. There are competing factions within the Sun Empire, so we’ll find out more about what they are now, where they are going to go, where they could go. I mentioned earlier like the Brazen Coalition. Maybe they’re not content just to be seafaring pirates, maybe they want to be something more? We’ll see a bunch of characters return from the original Ixalan . I don’t want to give too much away. A lot of favorites will be back, some of them will be different. Lastly, there will be a handful of new folks as well that will join the cast that we will hope to see again if and when we return to Ixalan.

[CW] We saw glimpses of this with Wilds of Eldraine, with the war over and the planes different, are we entering a new story cycle?

[ML] Wilds of Eldraine kicked it off. We are in a new cycle. It’s less Implicitly linked. The same way that the New Phyrexia arc was. We are going to see characters like Kellan pop throughout these sets and future ones. I touch the story team every now and then, I’m not the lead. When I’m lucky enough, I get to write some side stories. I wrote a piece for Lost Caverns of Ixalan, but what I like about it is that it gives us the flexibility to write very plain specific stories that also have sort of skipping across the top. A character in a story that they’re involved in that links all of them together. It’s an arc. It’s not going to act one, two, three, four, as the Phyrexia arc was, but it is absolutely part of a new story cycle.

[CW] I’m intrigued, I love the story side of Magic: The Gathering and I’m happy that it’s getting focus again. I think that the story is part of what makes Magic the game it is.

[ML] If I keep going I’d be giving away too much. So yeah, find me again and in like a month!

Tabletop Editor | [email protected]

Chris began tabletop gaming in college and quickly fell into the addictive world of cardboard. Beginning with D&D and Catan he became an enthusiast of all things gaming; analog or digital. Chris, now a relapsed MtG player, loves connecting with people via gaming through RPGs, board games, and video games. A particular favorite is testing friendships through social deduction games.

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