We teamed up with renowned Magic artist Mike “Daarken” Lim to create this exclusive 3/3 beast token. Daarken has drawn some of Magic‘s most iconic monsters, so we were excited to bring him on to help us celebrate Ikoria.
Daarken has over a decade of experience creating art for Magic: The Gathering, and he was part of Ikoria‘s initial concept push. We chatted with him over email about his history with the game and what it was like to bring the Lair of Behemoths to life.
Card Kingdom: What’s your artistic background like? How did you get started as an artist?
Daarken: I drew a lot when I was a kid, but I never really considered it a possible career. Originally, I went to the University of Texas at Austin for computer programming, but I quickly realized it wasn’t for me. I didn’t know what else to do, so I decided to switch my major to art. I moved out to San Francisco to attend the Academy of Art University and graduated cum laude with a BFA in traditional illustration in 2004.
About three months after I graduated, I received a call from Fantasy Flight Games and WotC about doing some freelance work. I started on D&D at WotC and after about a year I started working on Magic.
CK: Who are some of your biggest influences?
D: I think Brom was my biggest influence when I was a kid. His work really got me interested in becoming a fantasy artist. There are too many artists out there that I love, but some of my favorites over the years have been Sargent, Justin Sweet, John Sweeney, Alex Konstad, Jaime Jones, Karla Ortiz…I could go on and on.
CK: Have you always created fantasy art? Are there any other properties that you’ve worked on besides Magic: The Gathering?
D: Hah, pretty much! My first gigs were all fantasy, so I think future clients tended to hire me based on my previous work. There are some other things I’ve worked on over the years that aren’t fantasy. One of the most recent properties I worked on was an X-Files iOS game, but unfortunately it folded after Disney acquired Fox.
Some of the other things I’ve worked on include Doom, Mass Effect, Warhammer, Artifact, Shadows of Mordor, Hearthstone, The Elder Scrolls: Legends, Dungeons & Dragons, and League of Legends, to name a few.
CK: How long have you been creating art for Magic?
D: My first set was Future Sight, which came out in 2007… I created the art for it in 2006. It’s kind of crazy to think that I’ve been working on Magic for 14 years. Now I feel super old.
Of the pieces that you’ve created for Magic, which are you proudest of, and why?
D: Oh man, I have a really bad habit of hating most of my work. There are a few that I am pretty happy with. Gonti, Lord of Luxury was one piece that I was really happy with. I think it’s because I was trying to play around more with lighting and I hit the mood I was going for.
CK: We heard that you worked on concept art for Ikoria! What was that process like?
D: Concept pushes are always a lot of fun, but some are definitely more challenging than others. Creatures tend to be a little more forgiving, and since this set has a lot of creatures, I think it was easier to hit some of the targets.
Typically when I start a push I like to make a broad stroke across all of the factions so that I can see how they look as a whole. I did the same thing with Ikoria. I started off by creating a creature of each type. It allows me to figure out the shape language that defines each group. Will players be able to quickly tell which creature/character is which? I actually made a flow chart for Ikoria, although I mainly did it as a joke. Maybe they will let me share it one day.
One challenge that is always the same, regardless of the push, is how to create a fresh take on a given creature or character. What do dragons look like, or merfolk, or goblins, etc. You have to stay close enough to what has been done before so that people can recognize it, but at the same time you have to make it new enough so that people don’t get bored. How far can you push the design of a dragon before it isn’t a dragon anymore? If you go too far, then people complain because it isn’t what they thought it should look like. But if you don’t go far enough, people complain because you aren’t being original. It’s a weird line to walk.
CK: In your opinion, what distinguishes Ikoria’s art from that of other Magic sets?
D: Lots of colorful big creatures and giant crystals! From the cards I’ve seen so far, the colors are looking amazing. I think in most other sets, characters tend to be more of the focus, but this time, it’s all about the creatures.
CK: Take us through the process of creating the Card Kingdom Beast Token. What choices did you make and why?
D: Most of the creatures I paint are pretty scary and evil. I wanted to paint a beast that was a little more comical, but still looked like something that could smash your face in. I was thinking along the lines of Hellkite Hatchling.
At first I wasn’t going to include the tiny guy next to the beast. I didn’t think about adding him until the last moment during my sketch phase. Not only is he a good way to show the scale of the beast, but it was also an opportunity to add a bonder. I’m not sure how much info has been released about bonders, but it just goes to show that this beast isn’t just a lumbering behemoth; there is someone who loves this giant beast, and vice versa.
I also wasn’t planning on adding the crystals and they weren’t even present in the sketch. After finishing the painting I felt like there needed to be some sort of warm color to balance out all of the cool colors. I thought maybe I could add some warmer colors in the sky, but that seemed a little lame. Crystals are a big part of Ikoria, so they seemed like an obvious choice.
CK: Are there any other major projects you’re working on (or have released recently) that you’d like our readers to know about?
D: I think most of my projects are still under NDA, but keep an eye on D&D and Humblewood.
CK: Where can our readers find you and your work online?
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(Interview has been condensed and edited.)