A closer look at Deathreap Ritual by Steve Argyle
Steve Argyle is amazing at what he does, however there is an occasional problem that arises every once in a while with pieces of this resolution. Let’s hear Steve’s own words about this piece before I continue.
"The scale of the piece kind of got away from me. I started with a small alter made of bones, and just kept pulling back and adding more. Unfortunately too far. Because now you can’t tell quite what you’re looking at. Even on the high-rez version, but definitely on the card." - Steve Argyle
There’s no getting around it. The artwork is simply too large for the appointed framing space of a Magic card to do it justice. Now, the relationship between resolution and size is rather arbitrary. On my computer MSPaint tells me that a 3071 x 2244 pixel image (the full size of this piece) translates to 31.99” x 23.37”. Let’s take that and apply it to a Magic card image area of 2.06” x 1.50” and we get a meager 6% of the original image size. What we are essentially saying here is that without magnification you are missing 94% of the detail in this artwork on the card.
Steve has graciously permitted me to share with you some full-resolution portions of the art (shown above) for the sake of this discussion, just so everyone has a chance to see what they’re missing.
Let’s look at the fragment I’ve numbered “1” at the top. Now we can see roots. We now have a hint at an underground cavern, but what about those weird translucent sacs? Asking what they are intended to be would be an interesting point of discussion if only we could see them. The portion of the alter is covered in bones, as is pretty much the entire thing. The wisp of colored light is about the only clear element on the card but here we can see the element clearly and it is a wonderful technique.
Fragment number “2” is the central image of the piece. The humanoid figures are clear on the card, and if you look closely you can actually tell they are skeletons, so I guess the image isn’t reduced too far for that technically, but the creep-out factor of seeing them clearly is lost. The little explosions of lights below the skeletons feet can not bee seen at all.
The third fragment of the lower portion of the alter I was guessing at stairs or possibly something like church pews when I first got to look at a card, but the bones and skulls are simply not visible on the card. There is a little repetition among the skulls if you really scrutinize the area, but it is essentially free of pattern even at full resolution.
The fourth fragment is a portion of the central part of the alter that really hammers home the bone and skull construction for me.
Every one of these areas is completely realized with color, light and shadow all in place.
The intent of the piece, which was entitled “Lore of the Departed” in its working form (which is a cooler sounding name in my opinion and also ties in to the card effect better. “Lore” makes me think of card draw and “Ritual” has been associated with mana production since the game’s inception.) is to show movement. The colored lights move the eyes. The levitation of the skeletons gives us an anti-gravity frame of reference which instructs us to follow the lights upwards, following a soul from its previous location deep in the underworld up past the alter where the energy is captured to send to the surface while the bones are added to the alter itself.
I, of course, am deciding for myself what is being depicted here, but that’s the beauty of art. Someday this piece may be available to you on a playmat or print and then you can find your own suitable story for what exactly goes on at the Deathreap Ritual alter of Steve Argyle.