Looking back: comparing old and new M:TG art [MANY IMAGES]

Lately I’ve been having fun going through my collection recently and revamping old decks as well as building new ones.  Because reasons that are boring to people who don’t play Magic, a lot of this deck-building has me going through our new Khans of Tarkir stuff as well as stuff from Return to Ravnica, which is a set from two years ago.

And the thing that I’m really noticing is that Ravnica… really sucks at it’s portrayals of women. For all that Khans artwork didn’t really include women, it also (for the most part) didn’t really fail that hard. I mean, there were a couple eyeroll-worthy pieces of art, particularly the snake tits on Kheru Spellsnatcher. But Ravnica? Man. Where to start.

Which is really interesting! Because it’s not like there’s a ton of time separating the two sets. There are only two years separating Ravnica and Khans. So I thought it would be worth taking a look at Ravnica, numbers-wise, to see how M:TG has changed direction with it’s artwork in the last two years.

The Numbers

Interestingly, while Khans may have had a much lower eyeroll factor, there were also many fewer women over all:


Yikes!  The percentage of female representation went down by half! Given that women in the Ravnica set were already under-represented, that’s a pretty startling decrease!

However my initial assessment of Ravnica’s art was pretty accurate. Ravnica might have had many more women, but a large majority of them were objectified pretty blatantly:


HALF of all women in Ravnica artwork were counted as suggestively attired! As compared to Khans, where only five female characters total were counted as suggestively attired. Yikes!

Still it might be easy to look at the numbers for Ravnica and conclude that characters in Ravnica are just more suggestively attired overall. After all, looking at the breakdown of suggestively attired figures, men account for nearly half. So if there’s equal opportunity objectification going on, that’s not bad, right?

…well. No.

Caveats. Always with the caveats

Because as always, there are very stark differences between suggestively attired male figures and suggestively attired female figures. There tend to be three rough categories of suggestively attired male figures:

1. “Savage” or “bestial” characters clearly gendered as male

With art that falls into this category, the lack of clothing is always a device intended to display their lack of civilization:


All of the above images depict characters that are clearly not intended to be sexually appealing. Indeed, I’d argue that Golgari Charm is intended to be unappealing. These are just some “savage” beast-men looking to inflict some hurt on someone.

2. Dead stuff: corpses, necromancers, and corpse necromancers

All of the following figures were counted as suggestively attired:

Which is, of course, ridiculous. These figures were clearly not intended to be sexually appealing. Not unless you happen to find dessicated corpses and dudes without noses appealing, in which case I’d like to remind you that society has agreed that necrophilia is a thing that is Not Okay.

3. Goblins and weirdos

Okay, I’ll admit this is a bit of a catch-all. But seriously, check out this art:

goblins and weirdos

Goblins always throw off the numbers when it comes to counts of suggestive figures, because it’s very common for the art of goblins to include high numbers of figures. And goblins always get counted as suggestive, because they never, ever wear pants. (I mean, I’m pretty sure if it wears pants, you can’t call it a goblin.)

And then there’s the weirdos, by which I mean figures that count as suggestively attired who are not bestial, dead, necromancers, or goblin, but are clearly not meant to be sexually appealing because they’re just… so… weird. I mean, look at the Rakdos Shred Freak. I’m pretty sure that even hardcore fetishists aren’t going to look at this guy and say “oo, look at his muscle definition”.

And the Hellhole Flailer? What the hell is up with this guy? Why are his forearms the size of his biceps? Why are his biceps the size of his thighs? Why does he have a skull on his head? Or does he have a skull for a head? Anyway, whatever is going on there – it’s clear that this guy isn’t supposed to be sexually appealing. And yet that’s how he was counted, along with all of the other savage, dead, and goblin figures.

Which has a clear spoiler effect on the numbers! Because while these figures are suggestively attired, they are clearly not suggestive.

In fact, out of all of the male figures in Ravnica, I’d argue that only one counts as being maybe sorta actually suggestive – the Golgari Decoy:

Golgari decoy

I have no idea what is going on here, but this guy is rocking some pretty extreme “boobs and butt”, which is pretty weird, frankly. Is this supposed to be a satire of the usual female boobs and butt? Or is this just an anatomy fail? I really don’t know.

Lastly, it’s worth pointing out that there are a good number of female figures who were counted as fully clothed, but who are actually kind of sexualized by their frigging boobplate. Take, for example, the Ash Zealot, who I otherwise really like because she is just straight up ending a bunch of zombies in the face:


She’s so great! So, so great! …except for her bizarre boobplate. The boobs on her boobplate are actually so high that she is actually wearing a pushup boobplate, because, I don’t know, it’s hard to want to go out and brain zombies with a flaming mace if you feel insecure about your saggy tits? I guess?

And unfortunately, Ravnica had a lot of pretty egregious boobplate:

There are 3 or 4 more examples that didn’t fit into this picture, btw.

The first three aren’t terrible, because the art itself is actually pretty rad and is about them being awesome, not about them having boobs. The last three, however, are pretty clearly a case of the artist going “bah, why draw a woman with armor if you can’t see her tits”? Arg.

In which I belabor the point

I don’t want to look like I’m arguing that the reason for the 50% decrease in female representation between Ravnica and Khans is because they got rid of all of the bullshit female characters. Because that would imply that only 50% of Ravnica art of women is bullshit. But the reality is that non-bullshit art of women is vastly outnumbered by the totally-bullshit art.

And it comes in so many different flavors! Flavors like “sexualized spellcasting”!


Or how about “the spec for this card actually has nothing to do with boobs at all, I just super like them”?

Boobs for the sake of boobs

The Oak Street Innkeeper (far right) is the only one of these where you could maaaayyybe argue for the inclusion of some boobage. (But given the extremity of that boob window, I’d argue pretty hard against that). Chorus of Might and Electrickery (top left and top middle) don’t necessarily exclude ridiculous boobage, though the fact that some pretty ridiculously sexualized women were the go-to for otherwise ambiguous art requirement says a lot, I think.

But check out the Wild Beastmaster (top right). If you look up the full artwork, the animals she’s commanding are cropped almost entirely out of frame so that we can see the totality of that boobplate trainwreck she’s wearing. Even worse are the Korozda Monitor and Slime Molding (bottom left and bottom middle). The art requirements specifically called for not sexy ladies. Giant-ass lizards are not sexy ladies. Huge slimes are not sexy ladies. And yet, in both cases, the artist was so devastated about having to draw not-sexy-ladies that sexy ladies were inserted where none was needed. This is why we can’t have nice things.

And then we have the closely related flavor of “I can’t take this art seriously because of these gratuitous breasts”:

Maybe no one will notice

I’m sure that these were all intended to be dramatic pieces of art, but you completely lost me at the ridiculous sexualization. Why would a “Keening Apparition” (top middle) be a Kirsten Dunst-lookalike at serious risk for some nip-slip? Why would a soldier wear armor that completely fails to protect her vital organs? Why would you decide to summon a giant-ass rhino in a “Horncaller’s Chant” (top right) while completely failing to wear pants? Wouldn’t you think that putting on pants before summoning spectral rhinos would be a good call?

Anyhow, we can’t forget the “I don’t even know how that clothing is supposed to work”:

Nipple straps

I have spent way too much time staring at those weirdo straps on Rites of Reaping (left) and still can’t figure out how they would do anything to prevent that vest from shifting, causing her boobs to fall right out anyway. Copious amounts of body glue? Which is also the only explanation I can muster for what the fuck is going on with Treasured Find (right). For fucks, sake, she’s a gorgon. Why would she go through such ridiculous fashion shenanigans if anyone who looks at her is just going to turn to stone anyway?

And last, but certainly not least, we have “what the actual fucking fuck”


No, seriously. What the fuck. What the actual unholy fuck is going on here. Who the fuck thought that this would be a good idea? And why the fuck would an art director let these awful breasttacular trainwrecks slide? Because about three seconds after…. whatever they’re doing in that card art, this would happen:

stab wound

This card is delightfully called “stab wound”, and this is pretty much what would happen to all of these women in bullshit outfits. I have no idea if this piece was intended as satire (I suspect that it is, given the comical facial expression), and I’m reluctant to Google it lest I find out otherwise.

Concluding Thoughts

So I think we’ve pretty thoroughly disproven the notion that sexualization of men and women in Ravnica art is somehow “equal”. Which, you know, yay.

After looking at all this bullshit art, I’m left with a lot of mixed feelings about the direction that M:TG art direction has taken. On the one hand, it’s great to not have to look at bullshit art. Ravnica had a lot of super great cards with some super-bullshit art, and I have some Ravnica cards in my current decks with some pretty terrible artwork as a result.

But on the other hand, I don’t really feel that great about the “solution” to the problem of Magic artists being incapable of not treating women like shit. The only way that Magic can have NOT shitty women is to pretend that women don’t exist, period? What the ever-loving fuck is up with that? It is totally possible to have awesome, fantastical artwork that includes women and doesn’t ridiculously sexualize and objectify them. Look at D&D 5E! They pulled it off beautifully, and D&D is published by the same damn company.

So, you know, thanks for mostly not treating women like shit in the new Khans set. Now maybe we can take another small step and remember that we exist and actually do things.

8 thoughts on “Looking back: comparing old and new M:TG art [MANY IMAGES]

  1. It’s just so interesting that the narrative about MTG and D&D is the reverse of what it usually is elsewhere on here. I’m not sure what to think about that.

  2. It’s always interesting to read your caveats/explanations of why certain cards don’t exactly mesh with the established rubric. I think it would be interesting to see a post at some point where you do the established rubric, and then break down each card (card by card) using the rubric, and not using the rubric to show the differences. I would guess that not using the rubric would give you a more subjective, but also more accurate statistical result but I don’t know for sure.

    Obviously, that would be a lot of work, even for a small set, and I’m certainly not qualified (or willing) to do it. It’s just something I think would be neat to see.

    • While I agree that it would be interesting to do, these posts are already so time consuming that I would be able to drill down in any greater detail. This post, for example, took 8 hours(!) to put together over about a week. Alas.

  3. I’d love for you to do a comparison of Ice Age block & Fallen Empires stuff to the new or a decade-by-decade look at the overall art evolution.

  4. It’s kind of sad how the image of the woman getting stabbed is actually among the less breastacular examples. I wish I could say it gets better in Gatecrash, but I’m still traumatized by Crotchknight Legionnaire.

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