Arting Around—Llanowar Elves and What I Think of Them and Their Relatives

On the Hipsters writers’ Google Group I’m whining about how none of the (two) Magic: The Gathering illustrators I contacted about interviews have gotten back to me yet. I ask if anyone has any ideas for the next Arting Around column. Zac replies with a “Llanowar Elf: Why So Serious” which I assume is a title suggestion and in reference to the most recent art, you know, the one with the sword. Then Jess says “It might be interesting to do an art talk about Llanowar Elves, the evolution of its picture over time, and its sibling one drop manamakers, like Arbor Elf and Fyndhorn Elves.” Hunter agrees that it’s a dope idea and I get right to it. I’m not writing about Arbor Elf, though. That guy doesn’t even make mana, he just untaps trees.

Where I’m from we pronounce Llanowar like this: yan-oh-war. Luis corrected me when I was building GR Titan Ramp in the early days of my return to Magic when I asked if he had any Yan-oh-war Elves. “What?” he asked, then lets me in on the fact that the double L is pronounced like an L and not a Y as in Spanish. Fine. Whatever. I still say Yan-oh-war.

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There are three core set Llanowar Elves illustrations. The original existed from Alpha to Sixth Edition. It’s some sick Anson Maddocks painting of a pretty twisted looking elf (singular despite the card name being plural) with no clear relationship to it being a 1/1 or the fact that it taps for green mana. Zac thinks “this dude’s like he’s going to an AFI show circa 1996”. I can only assume AFI is a horrible band and that Zac knows what he’s talking about.

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In Seventh Edition we got the only Llanowar Elves to actually consist of more than one elf. The art is super shitty in an old school fantasy way (old school count: 2) which, unlike all of Lorwyn block, totally doesn’t do it for me. Congrats on knowing that the word “elves” indicates more than one elf. I still don’t get how you produce mana and why knives and bow & arrows are helpful in this endeavor.

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The current Llanowar Elve(s) began their life (lives) in Ninth Edition and haven’t deviated in their last five printings. Again, beyond the elf ears, the illustration for this card has absolutely nothing to do with generating mana and everything to do with kicking some ass, stabbing stuff, looking really tough (for an elf), and over-worked-out arms. What would “having something to do with generating mana” look like? If you work for Wizards you can hire me to paint the next Llanowar Elves and see. I guarantee I’d paint at least two of them, too. Maybe even a lady one.

I found a bunch of altered art versions of Llanowar Elves and will now comment on their quality.

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This one is the generic “expanded landscape” style of card alter. It has nothing to do with generating mana, therefore it is about as good as the unaltered art. Not having a border is pretty cool though. Oh, and please don’t sign your alters. Signatures are distracting. Painters don’t do it any more unless there’s a conceptual reason beyond “I want you to know I made this”.

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Whenever I see alters like this I think the following, “Seriously? Grow the fuck up. You’re an idiot.”

Llanowar Elves

This one, however, isn’t bad. It’s direct, anime (some people are pretty into that), clear, and doesn’t even bother putting in a background, let alone illustrating the fact that Llanowar Elves can be tapped for one green mana. Whatever. It’s fine but not awesome.

llanowar_elves

OMG! I think I got it. The singular elf is referencing the single green mana this card can produce! No, wait, that’s stupid. And this artist is lazy. Nice try, Goldilocks.

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This one is good chiefly due to the inclusion of a second elf. Do you guys create one green mana by hanging out in trees looking cranky and holding tiny swords? No? I didn’t think so.

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This art alterer went over the top and it looks cool and can maybe produce green mana but remains singular.

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This foreign elf is another border alter and looks nice until you see the big graffiti tag-like signature and you’re distracted by how little you approve of graffiti as an art form when done badly (which is most of the time) and forget that this person took a lot of time to paint all these tiny leaves and not enough time to paint a second elf.

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This card is kinda funny because it’s a Llanowar Elves hiding in a token. Llanowar Elves, you so sneaky.

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Understanding of the word “Elves” meaning more than one elf? Check. Depiction of ability to generate green mana? Check. Jay and Silent Bob for the win! YES!

To be fair the card says Llanowar Elves and the creature type is Elf Druid … so uh … WTF Wizards? You’re confusing all of your artists.

Next we meet up with the less popular and never reprinted Fyndhorn Elves. They do the same thing as Llanowar Elves (carry knives, look tough) except they live where it’s super cold all the time and always travel in groups of two. They say “Summon Elves” in their original creature type, just like the old school (3) Llanowar creature type which got oracled to “Creature–Elf Druid”. They were only printed in Ice Age.

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There are a few really cool alters. Check’em out!

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You got Link from Legend of Zelda playing his Ocarina or whatever.

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This one’s got a bad and too large signature on an otherwise watercolory and highly stylized emo elf.

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And then there’s this one, probably the best alter we’re going to look at today. It has no border, it’s full art, she’s clearly up to no good, and yet dressed very appropriately without the usual over sexualization. Well done. This thing is beautiful. I don’t even care if it’s actually taken from some video game and not hand drawn.

Our search comes to a close with Elves of the Deep Shadow. What do the other HotC writers have to say about her, you ask?

“Oh man, the one that looked like a goth hippy! Elves of Deep Shadow! That art hit a very weird note.” –Jess

“She looked like she’d had a bad trip at Lilith Fair.” –Hunter

I remember opening this thing in The Dark packs when I first started playing Magic 300 years ago. And I thought that other card was an emo elf.

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I actually think Jesper Myfors is one of the best Magic illustrators. He has some really unique pieces and his watercolory technique is stylized yet somehow fairly realistic. I’m almost always impressed. He doesn’t understand, like many artists, that “elves” is the plural form of “elf”. Oh well.

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Elves of the Deep Shadow were reprinted in Ravnica as they go really well with Golgari. This looks much more like the Modern Magic art we’ve become so used to, especially in the hyper generic looking Gatecrash. This is, at the very least, damn expressive, and scary, if still one elf shy of living up to its name.

I found a bunch of alters for this card. Let’s start with the worst. Or maybe it’s the second worse.

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Really? The photo of the guy you probably think is handsome or have a crush on doesn’t even take up the full frame. F-

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I won’t make the jokes I want to make. This alter is wack.

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A pretty good expansion of the background and foreground into abstract border overrun. The colors look good, too, I guess.

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I’m not totally sure what Jerry Tintilli was thinking when he made this. I’m not even sure the word “thinking” is correct here. Claire isn’t a Llanorwar Elves but she costs the same, does the same thing, and has the same flavor text. Jerry, why didn’t you make Claire an Elves of the Deep Shadow? I mean, she LOOKS like she shops at the same store as Elves of the Deep Shadow. Total missed opportunity, man.

HOORAY! We toured Llanowar and hungout with the Elves and their cousins Cold Elves and Goth Elves. I have to go feed my girlfriend’s starving sugar gliders or they’ll hate me. Have a great Gatecrash release weekend! See you Tuesday for Power and Toughness!

Lots of love,
Matt Jones
MTGO: The_Obliterator
www.mattjonesrules.com

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Comments
12 Responses to “Arting Around—Llanowar Elves and What I Think of Them and Their Relatives”
  1. Fetto says:

    So picky! Though I’m with you 100% on the dearth of plurality. I never really got why the Llanowar Elf never had a hoe or a garden or even a litterally green thumb. What do swords have to do with anything the Llanowars have ever been used for?

    I feel that an evil-twin Llanowar Elf would have been a good Elves of the Deep Shadow alt art. Just use the same art + mischievious moustache and possibly some eyeliner.

  2. David McCoy says:

    Deathrite Shaman is probably my favorite Elf art-wise. He even looks like he could create mana!

  3. Li Xu says:

    To be fair, Llanowar Elves had a pretty long stint holding SoWaPs and SoFaFs back in the RG Aggro days, so it fits the stabby, ass-kicking theme.

  4. DMG says:

    Old-school Elves of Deep Shadow is so sweet.

  5. Rich Stein says:

    Fun Vorthos Fact: The original flavor text on Llanowar Elves references a Bliblical commandment not to harvest the corners of your fields and to leave them for the poor and hungry. Eventually Wizards moved away from references to real literature in flavor text so it was changed.

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