A promise is a promise. When we did our Visions Magic History retrospective video, we promised to make a video all about the set's infamous card, Dragon Mask, and how Craig Hooper's artwork caused the card to be created in the first place.
And, as things would have it, it was because of a promise that Hooper's art wound up on a Magic: The Gathering card at all.
You can learn the whole story in the video below.
Last year when we did our Visions Magic History retrospective video, we promised to do a video about one of the set’s most infamous cards: Dragon Mask.
Well, a promise is a promise – and it’s because of a promise made at Wizards of the Coast some 24 years ago that the Dragon Mask card even exists…
In April of 1996, Wizards of the Coast released a new collectible card game designed by Magic: The Gathering creator Richard Garfield called Netrunner. It was Garfield’s third CCG after Magic and Jyhad (which was quickly renamed Vampire: The Eternal Struggle).
Netrunner’s art director at the time was a man named Craig Hooper. At some point during this time, Hooper went down the hall (as it were) at WotC and proceeded to ask a small favor of Sue Anne Harkey, the then art director for Magic: The Gathering. You see, as an artist, Hooper really wanted an opportunity to illustrate a Magic card. Harkey said “sure” and, sure enough, when the next set was ready for artwork she let him know and assigned him a single card for which to do the art.
As dragons in Magic hold a certain “coolness” factor that few other creature types do, Harkey wanted to see Hooper create something dynamic with the dragon in some sort of a cool-yet-imposing, vicious pose.
Hooper went to work and what he turned in for the card was, well, it wasn’t even close. Actually, it was too close – literally.
Instead of a full-bodied pose of an intimidating and vicious dragon, Hooper had created something that looked more like a goofy-looking dragon who tried (and kind of failed) to take a full-face selfie.
Needless to say, Hooper’s art for Crimson Hellkite was rejected and Harkey defunded the piece. It was clear that it simply wasn’t going to work. In a scurry, Harkey commissioned a second piece of artwork for the card by Gerry Grace as he was already working on artwork for some of Mirage’s various drakes and whatnot.
What Grace turned in was exactly what Harkey was looking for with a large, imposing dragon posed over an erupting volcano – strikingly different than what Hooper had drawn – and it’s Grace’s artwork that ultimately made it onto the card.
But, Hooper’s story doesn’t end here. The follow-up set to Mirage is Visions and Harkey isn’t one to forget a promise. She approached Magic R&D and said while she understood why Hooper’s art was rejected for Crimson Hellkite, she insisted they find a place for his artwork somewhere in Visions.
This put R&D in a tight spot as they didn’t feel Hooper’s artwork was worthy of any sort of dragon in Magic: The Gathering despite there being two dragons in the upcoming set – Firestorm Hellkite and Viashivan Dragon – both needing artwork. Then, someone got an idea: Maybe they can make a card that matched the artwork rather than the other way around. And, if the artwork isn’t of a dragon per sé, then what, in fact, is it?
That’s when Mark Rosewater, then a designer working under Bill Rose, came up with a solution: “What if the card was an object that was supposed to look like a dragon. What if it was a dragon mask?!”
The solution was almost too perfect.
Rosewater relayed this story to the flavor text team and they came up with a finishing touch that really serves as the icing on the cake by having Rashida Scalebane, a woman with an impenetrable disdain for dragons as her childhood home had been destroyed by the beasts, donning the Dragon Mask in order to save the day.
The end result was R&D finally finding a place for Hooper’s artwork in the form of the card Dragon Mask along with flavor text that hints at not just the mask’s role in the Visions story, but in Hooper’s artwork’s story as well:
“With no further options, I was forced to don the mask.”