One of the most highly anticipated aspects of the Sorcery: Contested Realm Alpha set release is the inclusion of Curio Cards. Very little information has been shared with respect to what these cards will be, their quantity, and rarity and pull rate expectations. In a recent poll in the Sorcery Fan Page Group, Curio Cards ranked second only to Foil/Full Art cards as the most desirable collectible in the set.
Creator Erik Oloffson and the team have alluded to them being exceptionally rare, and having relevance to the history of the game's creation. A brilliant and underrated aspect of the concept of Curio Cards is the fact that they may be very subtle in some cases (e.g. perhaps a type line change), and therefore incentivize customers to look very closely at every card they open in packs; especially since the full set list, and list of Curio Cards in particular, are not expected to be revealed before release (if ever). This is a notable change from traditional pack opening experiences in which people often quickly skip past 'common' card slots and focus on the most rare 'chase card' slot(s) within the pack. With the mystery of Curio Cards, every card pull must be scrutinized.
Additionally, it will encourage fans to look closely at the artwork and every aspect of the card design; which is especially fitting for a game that has invested meticulous care and attention to deliver an exceptionally high quality product, with high end traditional artwork and card design aesthetics and flavor text.
This article is a speculative exploration of Curio Card design concepts that may be included in the Alpha set. These ideas were gleaned from conversations with artists, communications with the community and Erik's Curiosa design team (note - nothing has been confirmed or revealed, but getting to know Erik and the team has helped connect dots to speculative possibilities), reviewing comments from all Live YouTube events, and considering comments made by the Curiosa team since the Discord channel creation (~Aug 2021) through present time (May 2022). If nothing more, I hope you find this article entertaining, and if we're lucky...grounded in some degree of truth as it unfolds in the coming months!
When the Kickstarter campaign reached the $1M milestone, we received the initial reveal and teaser of the Curio Card concept. Described as "very rare Mystery cards showcasing the history of Sorcery's creation", the image included a full-size sketch card version of Francesca Baerald's "Erik's Curiosa" card.
"Erik's Curiosa" is the corporation name that was established for the Sorcery: Contested Realm project. Noticeably apparent in the higher resolution full art scan of the illustration, and the card image, is the inclusion of an "Exalted Orb".
Exalted Orb comes from the game Path of Exile (PoE), which was created by Grinding Gear Games (GGG).
Sorcery: Contested Realm Creator, Erik Oloffson, was one of the three founding members of Grinding Gear Games, and served as the Art Director for many years before recently retiring from the company to pursue Sorcery full-time.
In PoE, the Exalted Orb is a currency item that can be used to enhance a piece of rare equipment in the game.
It is difficult to tell due to the low resolution of the teaser image Kickstarter stretch goal reveal, but it seems curious that the object between the skull and globe (where the Exalted Orb is clearly represented in the high resolution image) is difficult to make out as the Exalted Orb. Perhaps there is some undisclosed meaning to this; or perhaps it was simply a later addition before the illustration was finalized.
In any case, it is also fair to speculate if there are more "easter eggs" of significance within the image of the card that bears the name of the company.
Erik has commented that he has not intentionally included many direct references to GGG or PoE because Erik's Curiosa and Sorcery are intended to be its own distinct company and project. However, he has also admitted that there are some nuanced subtleties that appear in the game, as well as likely several more that may have manifested itself subconsciously during the design process.
One such example is the spelling of Tony Szcudlo's "Wraetannis Titan".
The "Wrae" spelling is a reference to Path of Exile's "Wraeclast".
Wraeclast is a continent, and the primary setting for Path of Exile. Wraeclast is the land of the damned; a forsaken continent that is home to many writhing horrors, murderous beasts, and ravenous undead.
While Sorcery: Contested Realm does not have its own developed lore story, it does feature a map as the card-back for "Atlas" cards (the landscape style cards that are used as "sites" in the game), developed by cartographer and artist Francesca Baerald (the same artist who created the illustration for the Erik's Curiosa card). Some of the regions depicted on the map appear in card names within the game (e.g. Midland Army, Queen of Midland, Highland Clansmen, Highland Princess) . It will be interesting to see if the prominent inclusion of a map as a card-back, with related regional language translated to card names, may hint at further design concept expansion within Alpha, future set releases, and/or design concept expansion for the game.
In any case, cards that reference the regions within the atlas map 'realm' may be ripe for Curio Treatment. Or perhaps we may find some kind of insert tribute to the Atlas map, in some form, as its own Curio Card within the Alpha set.
One final thing to note regarding sketch cards is that many Sorcery artists have revealed sketch cards and process photos on their social media and through Collector Arthouse interviews. Often times they are still in possession of these (or took photos of them during the artistic process), but they are less refined than the Erik's Curiosa sketch. This is because they were used as traditionally intended - to develop the concept with Erik and/or as a process step 'tool' to further develop the final illustration design.
While this does not preclude Erik's Curiosa from procuring sketches or licensing their use, it does suggest that sketches were likely not commissioned in fine detail with the intent of including them as Curio Cards in the Alpha set. Perhaps the Erik's Curiosa sketch was commissioned specifically for this purpose; or perhaps it was just coincidentally well refined and suitable for inclusion as a Curio.
Another potential exception may be the four elemental avatars. Reasons that these could be plausible Curios could be both their significance to the fundamental design of the alpha set, and also the detailed sketches that were developed by artist Severine Pineaux are phenomenally detailed and well-developed, and thus suitable for a special Curio Card variant.
Lastly, before leaving the category of 'Sketch Cards', it is worth considering Elvira Shakirova's Mystic Dream Quest as another possibility. The process image below would be fitting for a Curio sketch card variant. I am not sure if it has particular historical significance to the game's creation, but it was prominently featured in the "The Art" section of the Kickstart campaign.
In several YouTube appearances and in discussion in the Sorcery Discord, Erik has shared stories of the early development of Sorcery. The story starts even before the more
formal development of the Sorcery concept. In a community Q&A (11 minute mark), Erik describes a time pre-dating Sorcery development when he would play "old school" Magic the Gathering and commission his own cards from MTG artists, which he refers to as "Alternate Universe Cards". This was also discussed in an excellent interview with the CCG History YouTube channel (9 minute mark) where images of Alternate Universe Card art that Erik commissioned from Dan Frazier (the artist who illustrated the famous MTG Mox cards) first surfaced.
I asked Erik about this months ago in the Sorcery discord, and revisited the idea with him recently to suggest them as potential Curio Card ideas. Erik clarified that he purchased the paintings by Dan Frazier but did not own the copyrights. However, he did like the idea and added that he could theoretically license the artwork (similar to the Frazetta Estate license agreement to use Frazetta artwork). Perhaps a long shot, but an interesting throwback to what first led Erik on the path to creating his own Trading Card Game.
Here are some additional images of the Dan Frazier alternate universe paintings...
Early Stage Development Images
In some of these same YouTube appearances, Erik explains the very initial design concepts of Sorcery, and how closely correlated they were in both game mechanic and artistic design to MTG and the Alternate Universe cards that he had been developing.
Further obscured behind the Erik's Curiosa sketch card in the Kickstarter stretch goal announcement is what appears to be Drew Tucker's "Bell Tower" illustration in a classical MTG-style card frame.
Drew Tucker has done many illustrations for Sorcery: Contested Realm, and is thought to be one of the earliest artists commissioned for the project. So it stands to reason that there could have been an early concept card of Bell Tower in the more traditional MTG-style card frame circa 2018-2019. This would be fitting to the thematic concept of Curio Cards as a historical reference to game development.
Additionally, there has been some discord correspondence about this early era of game design, and also some questions I have asked Erik through the Live YouTube events that provided additional insight.
This image, shared by Erik in the early days of the Discord channel's creation, lends further credence to the theory of a potential Curio Card insert in the format of an early stage "concept card" frame design.
Interestingly, I asked Erik in the YouTube "Kickstarter Countdown Celebration" event (30 minutes, 25 seconds mark) who his top 3 dream artists for the project would be. One of his answers was Wayne Barlowe; the artist whose artwork is depicted on the card image above.
Fascinatingly, this image also appears on Wayne Barlowe's website and is noted as a "private commission" (could it be Erik??) that was commissioned in 2013 and titled "Semjaza Rising".
Could Erik have been inspired by Wayne Barlowe's book, "God's Demon"?
Could this be a reference to Samyaza? Semyaza was one of the fallen angels referred to as the Watchers. More can be read about this character here.
Another speculated (and fitting) theme for a future Sorcery expansion set centers around a concept of "light and darkness" or "heaven and hell"; a very fitting theme for Wayne Barlowe's style...
Erik has commented on several occasions that Dan Frazier and Wayne Barlowe are two of his dream artists for Sorcery, but since they are in high demand and have long wait times for commissioned work, they were not able to be included in Alpha. Licensing the rights to include them as premium Curio Cards in the Alpha set would present an opportunity for their inclusion; and with the weight of a record-breaking Kickstarter debut, perhaps provide some leverage to negotiate a few pieces for an expansion set!
The Concepts That Started it All
It was in fact through the shared interest in custom MTG card design that Erik met co-designer Nickolas Reynolds. In several interviews and YouTube event appearances, Erik tells the story of his initial encounter with Nickolaus, and the flavorful cards and game design mechanics that sold him on changing course to pursue a grid-centric game design.
There are two cards in particular that Erik often cites as strong examples of the flavorful mechanics that really sold him on the design possibilities that a grid-centric concept could offer. Those are Brian Smith's "Pudge Butcher" and Elwira Pawlikowska's Cloud City.
Given the historical significance of these two cards tracing directly to Erik and Nick's first encounter, and the design concepts that set the duo on a path to design the game as we know it today, it is fair to wonder if they may find a way to pay homage to these in some way as Curio Cards.
Type Line Tweaks
At about the 12 minute and 43 minute mark in the Kickstarter Countdown Celebration Live event, Erik answers a question about Curio Cards and says that, in addition to the sketch card that was revealed, there will also be "subtle secrets" and "cards that will not be so obvious" that will force you to pay attention and look closely at every card when you open packs. What follows is my theory for how this may imply subtle type line text nuances for potential Curio Card variants.
In the Sorcery Discord, Erik shared a few stories regarding the unique and exceptionally flavorful type line text that we see in Sorcery cards. Here he describes how its roots initially trace back to comments he had heard from MTG Art Director Jesper Myrfors...
He then elaborated with a specific example from Drew Tucker's Lord of the Skies...
In addition to adding flavor to card mechanics to evoke the desired experiential effect that Sorcery aims to deliver, the type line is also innovatively used to describe a card's rarity (Unique, Elite, Exceptional, or Ordinary). While not an obvious choice for a Curio Card, the significance of the type line to the Sorcery card design concept may lend itself to potential nuanced text changes that align to references in the game's historical development.
One potential example may be explained in the Kickstarter Countdown Celebration Live event (starts at ~16 minute mark). We hear what may have been an unplanned 'slip' of an unrevealed card, or at the very least another insight into the early-stage creation of the game that could have historical significance for a Curio Card or reference...
Co-Designer, Nickolas Reynolds, explains a time early in their collaboration when he sent Erik a card titled "Omnipotence", with the only card text being "You may". Initially intended as a joke, Erik was so amused by the card that he and Nick had initially called the game "Omnipotence" for a while before eventually deciding on "Sorcery: Contested Realm". Given the direct historical significance, it stands to reason that it could be worked in as an independent Curio Card, or perhaps worked into the type line flavor text for a card with the words "you may" or "omnipotence" as a variant to the standard language. One such possibility is to incorporate it into Severine Pineaux's "Predestination" card; a fitting option given its card mechanic that allows you to determine random outcomes until the end of your turn.
Could we see "Unique Quick Magic of an artificial fate" be adjusted to "Unique Quick Magic of omnipotent fate"?
At the end of this story from Nick, Erik coyly says that "we are not talking about Curios anymore". However, a conspiracy theorist may speculate that this is consistent with Erik's humor and an attempt to 'recover' from a potential 'slip' to conceal a surprise...
In the same video segment referenced above, Erik asks Nick if he has the card "to reveal". Could he have been talking about a yet-to-be revealed card? Or could he have been asking if Nick still had a copy of one of the early play-test cards for Omnipotent? And could this find its way into being a very rare Curio Card insert in the alpha set?
A recent discussion in the Sorcery discord sparked this possibility when a video was shared of the early play test cards used by Richard Garfield and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania when Richard first came up with Magic the Gathering. A dual-purposed reference of historical significance (the reference to early MTG inspirations, and the early Sorcery card "Omnipotent"), perhaps this is a perfectly fitting idea to warrant 'Curio treatment'...
An Early MTG Play Test Card Explained by Richard Garfield
Another theory that has been speculated by the community is that some of the Curio Cards may be alternate art cards. I personally do not subscribe to this notion since I do not see significant relevance to the Curio Card theme of tying to historical developments of the game; but it is certainly a plausible theory worth considering.
The idea emanates from the fact that there have been several examples of artworks that have been commissioned with the same name. Card names have changed significantly in many cases through the game's development, but it is believed that at the time of commission there were several cards that did indeed have the same name; which begs the question - why?...
Examples include Wrath of the Sea, Flamewave, Upwelling, and Midland Army. Only the Mattias Frisk Wrath of the Sea and Elwira Pawlikowska Wrath of the Sea variants are shown as examples since these were discoverable in a reasonable quality resolution. Since that is not true of the other three card name variants, I did not want to include lower resolution teaser images of those.
Wrath of the Sea
My opinion on this topic is that these artworks are more likely to either be unused in the game, used as alternate art cards in the Alpha Set (same card name and card mechanics, but different artwork; and thus not a "Curio Card"), reserved for use in Revised and/or other future expansion sets, used as promo cards, or used as the "Exclusive Prize Cards" from the "Innkeeper" Kickstarter pledge tier.
To conclude, it is worth reiterating that the theories presented in this article are entirely speculative and unconfirmed. However, they are rooted in conclusions that have been derived from various statements made by the Sorcery creative team pertaining to factual historical elements of the game's creation.
If this is read by Erik and the team, perhaps it may spark some ideas to be considered for inclusion in the Alpha set! If nothing else, I hope anyone reading this found the article entertaining, and that it provided some interesting insights into some of the historical developments of Sorcery. It is a game with incredible creative depth, and I hope that the content shared throughout www.collectorarthouse.com and the Facebook Sorcery Fan Page Group piques your interest in the project and encourages you to explore its fascinating creative elements.
Please consider joining the Fan Page Group. I also welcome any feedback on content that may be of interest. You can reach me in the Sorcery Discord (Name: "Collector Arthouse (Mike)"), through Facebook Messenger (Name: Mike Servati), or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your interest, and I hope to engage with many of you across the community!