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Sorcery: Contested Realm - Curio Cards are Here!

The highly anticipated debut of Sorcery: Contested Realm Alpha has arrived! One of the most exciting discoveries thus far has been the first three Curio Cards! This article revisits my speculative theories from an article I wrote in May 2022 that presented several possibilities for what Curio Cards could be; several of which have come true, and others a fascinating surprise!

What is a Curio Card?

Thus far the company has not revealed any information regarding Curio Cards, outside of the fact that they somehow relate to the historical development of the game. We do not have any information regarding rarity / pull rates, number of different Curio variants in the Alpha debut set, nor any specifics regarding what style and form in which Curios may appear. However, the first five discoveries provide an interesting representative sample with many historical development components to analyze, and intriguing insights from which to project future possibilities.


Sketch Cards

The first theory that I presented in my May 2022 article was the possibility of "sketch cards", as we had the benefit of some potential clues from the March 2022 Kickstarter campaign, and "stretch goals" therein.

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 early development image of Francesca Baerald's "Erik's Curiosa" card.

"Erik's Curiosa" is the corporation name that was established for the Sorcery: Contested Realm project. Notably 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 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.

At the time of writing my May 2022 article, I noted that it seemed curious that the object between the skull and globe (where the Exalted Orb is clearly represented in the high resolution image) was difficult to make out as the Exalted Orb. I speculated that perhaps there was some undisclosed meaning to this; or perhaps it was simply a later addition before the illustration was finalized. Interestingly, as it turns out, this was exactly the case!

The image seen here is the Curio sketch card that has been discovered in the Alpha set. Note the Exalted Orb does not appear in the sketch!

This appears to lend credence to the notion that this was a requested 'add' by Erik in the illustration development process. It also seems to validate my theory that the teaser image was intentionally obscured during the Kickstarter campaign.

In my discussions with the company over the months leading to the Alpha debut, they noted that some of my speculative theories were surprisingly accurate (and some wildly off...but we'll leave that aside...).

I reached out to artist Francesca Baerald to ask about the development history of this beautiful illustration. Here is the story in Francesca's own words...

First of all, I was looking through my old email exchanges with Erik regarding this piece and

it's from 2019! Wow, 5 years ago!

I immediately understood from the name of the card that this was a special one, but I didn't imagine it would be so unique.

Also, Erik asked me to work on a painting double the size of my usual card illustrations, so I guessed there was something going on with this piece.

Erik gave me a few indications on this piece. He wanted a table with various medieval curios elements laid on it, like an old-fashioned globe and a few maps, and maybe some spell books.

All the items you see in the painting are inspired from objects that I own and each one has a special story behind it. For example, the keys and lock come from a shop in an English castle.

As you can see from the two images attached, the famous Exalted Orb was not on the first drawing. It really wasn't planned even after I started colouring the painting. Erik probably thought of it and mentioned it only later, so I added the Exalted Orb during the painting phase and that is quite unique, it usually never happens to me.


Early Stage Development

On to my personal favorite category, and some very exciting discoveries for Sorcery historians and early development enthusiasts!...

In some of the Erik's Curiosa 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 (See my May 2022 article for a more detailed explanation of what these were).

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 was the third artist commissioned for the project. I wrote in my May 2022 article that 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, I referenced discord correspondence about this early era of game design, and also some questions I had 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, led me to speculate that a potential Curio Card insert in the format of an early stage "concept card" frame design would be fitting.

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.

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", "heaven and hell", or "angels and demons"; a very fitting theme for Wayne Barlowe's style...

But alas, on to the actual Curio discoveries that fit this theme!...


River Styx Early Concept Curio Card by Elwira Pawlikowska

River Styx is the first full size Curio card to be discovered in Alpha packs (more on the "9-piece" card later!). The card is artist Elwira Pawlikowska's personal favorite from her portfolio of illustrations commissioned for Sorcery. It has had a very interesting journey through the early development phases of Sorcery.

Initially we were introduced to River Styx as an Atlas site card as shown below...

Initial design showed the artwork portrayed in landscape layout, as we had come to expect for all Atlas site cards. The card was a "Unique" rarity with an interesting mechanic that likely proved challenging and problematic in early game play testing. Although flavorful, the mechanic was a bit confusing and use-case limiting. Here is an image of the landscape format sketch and illustration by Elwira:

During the Kickstarter Campaign in March 2022, we learned of a significant development

change that would forever change the fate of River Styx. The illustration was re-introduced as a "token" card, its title changed to "Death's Door", and its gameplay use case changed entirely.

Death's Door is now used when an avatar is reduced to zero life, placed on "Death's Door", and on the brink of defeat if it were to take one more hit point of damage to end the game.

Stylistically, we now see the card in portrait form, which was our first hint at the art commissioning evolution of this piece.

I reached out to Elwira Pawlikowska to learn the story behind the illustration for Windmill (which showed up in a '9-piece' Curio card discussed later in the article), and our discussion surfaced a related insight pertaining to the development evolution of "River Styx". The insights are fascinating.

The portrait version was the first illustration I created for Sorcery [here referring to Windmill]. After a few months Erik decided that he needs a landscape format for cards with lands so I had to draw it once more. It was similar with Death’s Door and Styx.

This would align to insight we heard from Erik in YouTube appearances where he noted the change from portrait format to landscape format for the atlas sites to make the gameplay easier and more presentable when cards overlay the sites.

Here is a first look at the original sketch and painting illustrations by Elwira Pawlikowska:

And now let's analyze the Curio card for further insights into the development history of this card which preceded our earliest known version in Atlas site form:

To study the composition of a Curio card, one must analyze all elements from top to bottom; and thus, we start with the card title box. The name is as we originally knew it, "River Styx"; however, there is an interesting nuance here. In the upper right-hand corner where we now find the power level of portrait-style spell cards, we find the triangular resource symbol. In fact, this detail is deeper than that. In their now landscape form for the Atlas sites, we find the only text box that exists on Atlas site cards. The box is now complete with card title, type line text, and resource yield on the right of the box as shown in the example below:

The next interesting historical relic that we find on the Curio card is the term "legendary" in the type line text. This implies an early "rarity" tier that did not persist through the

game's later development. It was likely replaced with what we now know as "Unique". This is consistent with an earlier finding on one of the earliest known printed cards for Sorcery TCG. The "Spellcraft" cards were featured on the Collector Arthouse YouTube channel, and were thought to precede the game's Alpha debut by several years, before the name "Sorcery: Contested Realm" was even decided for the game title.

Aside from the "legendary" reference in the "Fiery Inferno" Spellcraft card, it is also interesting to note that this artwork by Alpha artist Brian Smith has not yet been formally revealed and was not used in the Alpha set. When it was commissioned, it was called "Genocide". Make sure you are subscribed and following Collector Arthouse YouTube for a comprehensive historical documentation of the game's development, and many exciting first-seen findings and speculative theories that sometimes come to fruition in the project!


Bloom of Frogs Early Concept Curio Card (a magnificent FIRST EVER REVEAL!!) by Michal Nagypal

And now, the first ever seen discovery and reveal of "Bloom of Frogs", with illustration by Michal Nagypal! Michal was the 2nd artist ever commissioned for Sorcery TCG. Fortunately for us all, he was discovered by Erik only one week after Michal established his artstation account, making it possible for all of us fans to discover his beautiful work.

This is a very fascinating card on many levels. Again, we start from the top...

In the title box, we find new casting cost symbols that are dramatically different from the current design of Sorcery: Contested Realm cards. Compare the Bloom of Frogs Curio Card next to its Alpha Plague of Frogs version in glorious foil...

Moving along to the type line text (above the gameplay mechanic text), we once again find the "Legendary" term, and further evidence to suggest that "Legendary" was the prior term for the highest level rarity that we now know as "Unique".

Regarding the game mechanic, I do not generally consider game mechanic changes to necessarily be indicative of a "Curio concept". A large majority of cards have had changes to gameplay mechanics through the years of development leading to Alpha Kickstarter fulfillment, and even in the timeframe between the Kickstarter campaign and fulfillment. We saw many of these differences in Sample Cards. However, there is one interesting finding to note in the Curio card mechanic. The mechanic indicates a difference between "attack" and "defense"....

The frogs have 0 attack and 1 defense...

When the official Sorcery Discord was established in Fall 2021 there was very active discussion between the game creators, developers, and fans about design elements. One point that was highly contested was how to treat attack and defense. Ultimately the company decided to unify attack and defense to be a single number, in an effort to simplify the gameplay.

Finally, we make our way down to the bottom of the card and for the first time discover some very interesting findings. The card shows 3 distinct elements that did not make it to the final design format for Alpha: Year, Set Card # / Set Size, and Set Symbol.

The year tells us that the design dates back to 2019; THREE years before the Kickstarter campaign and FOUR years before Alpha Kickstarter fulfillment. Also the set number is very interesting. This is another hotly contested topic, especially among collectors, who contemplate the best way to organize and display their set collections, and even what one would include in a "complete set" (Curios? Foils? Promos?). Even the set size is debated and technically unknown, since at the time of this writing the company has not disclosed what the Curios are and how many variants exist in the Alpha set. This approach would also make set numbering problematic, because it would implicitly forfeit an element of that "unknown" and "search" that they have intentionally included to re-capture the early 90s pre-mainstream internet element of card searching and discovery.

And finally we observe the set symbol. and a revelation that precedes our earliest knowledge of Sorcery TCG development evolution. Even in most Spellcraft cards, and in all Sample / Test Print cards, we see the artist name and copyright symbol, but no set symbol. In Alpha, the copyright symbol was replaced by the alpha symbol. However, the Curio card provides our first look at a set symbol distinctly separate from colocation with the artist name.

Interestingly, I had discovered and revealed many of these Curio card elements in a special feature video that I did on Severine Pineaux's Kythera Mechanism (formerly known as Predestination) a long time ago in this video on my Collector Arthouse YouTube channel. A few months before this writing, I reflected back on this video and shared the image at the Sorcery: Contested Realm Community Group on Facebook; a must-join if you are into Sorcery TCG!

Note that the card title says "Trill Wolpertinger". This is a different card with artwork by Severine Pineaux that ultimately was not used in Alpha. The image demonstrates that the same template was used for multiple illustration pieces (out of convenience) to see how the illustration frames relative to text box locations. Hold that thought for the next Curio card investigation that follows in the next section!

Here in the Kythera Mechanism / Trill Wolpertinger template, we see that those following my upstart YouTube circa October 2022 had already discovered many elements in this template that would later become what we now know as Curio cards!...

  • Mana resource symbols

  • "Legendary" rarity

  • Simplified type line text (before expanded type line text that brought different rarities and favor aspects that better tightened the correlation between card title, illustration, type line text, game mechanic, and flavor text)

  • Texture / Styling of gameplay mechanic box

Here is an early sketch concept that Michal provided to Erik, and the final versions of his magnificent "Plague of Frogs" painting...


Grim Tangle by Drew Tucker

The most recent Curio card discovery as of this writing is Drew Tucker's Grim Tangle. Drew is the third artist ever commissioned for Sorcery TCG, and sure that early development kinship with Michal Nagypal as the second artist ever commissioned for the project.

This provides us a clue as to the development stage of the game circa 2019. You'll note that the footer information on this card starts exactly the same with "KS2019 Full Art 25/300". The "KS" is presumed to be "Kickstarter". The year is the approximate timeframe when this work was commissioned, and interestingly the set number is exactly the same as the Bloom of Frogs Curio card. This would seem to reinforce the point made about common template usage to frame illustrations relative to text boxes.

There are a few distinct differences that we see for the first time:

  1. New element resource symbols in the upper left title box

  2. The threshold symbol and cost in the right side of the title box, separate from the element resource as it now pairs today in Alpha

  3. The circle / pie chart symbol as part of the gameplay mechanic

  4. Type line text ("Continuous Event") positioned below the game mechanic box instead of above

  5. The "Continuous Event" mechanic that no longer exists

  6. The set symbol highlighted in gold, as opposed to white in the Bloom of Frogs Curio card

Below is the updated Alpha version of Drew Tucker's "Entangle Terrain". As I reflect back on my archives of full art images, it is interesting to find that I had the file labeled as "Grim Tangle"...


The 9-Piece Curio Card!

Now we move on to perhaps the most polarizing Curio card yet to be discovered; a concept that seems to be either loved or hated by Sorcery fans.

When I first saw this revealed, I thought I was looking at 9 separate cards displayed on a playmat from a box opening, but indeed it is 9 card designs on ONE single card! In person, this makes the 9 individual elements challenging to see with some aspects fairly ineligible; an issue exacerbated in a still image. The card is loaded with historical significance; and for those reasons we will break them down, "piece" by "piece"...


Ormfjord Holmganger by Vincent Pompetti

Oh, how I love the Holmganger, and artist Vincent Pompetti. I have already written a detailed Behind the Art article about the Holmganger, with insights from Vnicent, so I will refer you to the article to read that in depth and simply summarize here.

Holmgang is a duel practiced by early medieval Scandinavians. It was a legally recognized way to settle disputes. The name connects to Sorcery creator Erik Olofsson's highly graded Alpha MTG collection registry, which he titled "Holmganger". During the Kickstater campaign, the fate of "Ormfjord Holmganger" was revealed when it was introduced as a "prize" card in the retailer "innkeeper" pledge tier. It is evident that this card has special personal meaning for Erik.


Lightning Bolt by Ossi Hiekkala

Lightning Bolt is a truly incredible artwork illustration by the great artist Ossi Hiekkala. The history of Lightning Bolt was actually very well documented in an article written by Erik's Curiosa game developer Rafa Novellino and titled "Designer Diary: The Path of a Lightning Bolt". This is very well done and worth the read. It documents the design evolution, including everything from its casting cost to its damage mechanic, and how those two elements were extensively refined to settle on an appropriate power level balance for the Alpha set. It also describes challenges with the "Quick" mechanic, and how ultimately the team decided not to include the mechanic for Alpha, but hopes to further develop it and potentially introduce it with future sets.

From a Curio card discover perspective, the key historical items of note here are the older casting cost symbols, the Quick mechanic, the older gameplay mechanic, and the enhanced type line text. Additionally, wasted space and poor aesthetic detail in a text box is poor form and would not survive final design refinement, so naturally this was refined in its final Alpha form. The text is centered in the text box, and the type line text received an obligatory flavorful refinement: "Ordinary Magic of shocking uncertainty".


Furious Storm by Vincent Pompetti

The third "mini-card" in this Curio brings us back to artist Vincent Pompetti. "Furios Storm" (or as we now know it - Stormy Seas) is a great example of Vincent's mastery of capturing motion in an illustration. In beautiful colorful water-color, Vincent does a masterful job of illustrative storytelling by bringing the chaos of this raucous scene to life.

The Curio aspects are quite like the prior example for Lightning Bolt, with its historic resource cost symbols and minimal type line text. At this stage of the game, we do not know if the word "enduring" had a specific gameplay significance, or if it was used for flavor. The current Alpha version of the card uses the "submerge" mechanic.


Windmill by Elwira Pawlikowska

Earlier in the article we saw in River Styx how a portrait format artwork evolved to a landscape format through the development refinement of Atlas site cards. Windmill is another such example, originally created in portrait style and redone in landscape format.

It similarly shows the mana resource yield in the upper right corner of the title box like the early version of River Styx, before being moved to the type line text line in in the final Alpha version.

Below is the initial painting that matches the Curio version, and the beneath it the Alpha version of the card and its final illustration.


Blasted Oak by Dan Seagrave

In Dan Seagrave's Blasted Oak, we find another early version of an Atlas site in portrait format; in this case yielding a spell power enhancement rather than a mana resource value. Again, we find the "Legendary" rarity level.


Tower by Michal Nagypal

In Michal's "Tower", we once again find an Atlas site card in portrait format. The type line text is largely indistinguishable.

The illustration concept here is a night view from inside the beautiful Gothic building Rievaulx Abbey. Michal noted that the building had a mystical atmosphere, and is one of the most beautiful Gothic buildings he has have ever seen in England.

Note that the title of this card is simply called "Tower". We found evidence in the early development Spellcraft cards that all three of Michal's "Tower" illustrations/cards simply has the name "Tower", as shown:

Similarly, this is also true of Raffaela Cech's (Aronja Art) "Desert" Atlas Sites, and could be a hint at a Curio card yet to be discovered...

Here is a look at Michal's first painting of the Gothic Tower, and the final version that was created for the final Alpha illustration.

Perhaps we could see a similar Curio emerge with his initial painting for Dark Tower...


Fire Maiden by Severine Pineaux

The four elemental avatars by artist Severine Pineaux hold a very special place in the history of Sorcery TCG. These four avatars were the early face if the game in the pre-Alpha era. The Preconstructed Decks product that introduces players to the game's Alpha debut prominently feature the avatars, with a deck for each of the Elemental Avatars and the avatar illustrations displayed on the deck boxes. Additionally, one of the original oil-on-canvas paintings was included with each of the four top Kickstarter pledge tiers - the Avatar of the Realm tier.

I personally have a strong affinity to the Avatar of Fire painting, as I was able to pledge at the Avatar of the Realm tier and personally own this originally painting. It is a prized possession in my collection and it was an honor to reveal it to Severine in a special early

box opening event in which I featured Severine and 13 other artists from Sorcery. I had kept the secret of my pledge level and possession of the painting for well over one year, waiting for a special moment to reveal it on camera to Severine and to Sorcery fans. You can see the full opening event here.

Notice that the Curio card is titled "Fire Maiden". This was the original name for the Avatar when it was commissioned with Severine. The image below shows the back of my original painting, showing the Fire Maiden name.

Now, taking a look at the Curio card we once again find the "Legendary" reference. In the final version for the Alpha debut, we find the Avatar of Fire only in foil version in booster boxes (non-foil versions are exclusive to the Preconstructed Decks) and its rarity level is comparable to Elite rairty cards. The card also conveys as a "Dragon", indicating a vastly different design concept for this card.

The images below take us on a journey through the design changes for this card from oldest to newest:

  • Curio Card

  • May 2022 Table Top Simulator (TTS) Update version

  • September 2022 TTS Update version

  • Final Alpha version first revealed in the Nov 2022 TTS Update version


Storied Sharpshooter by Vincent Pompetti

Next on the card we find an early development rendering of Vincent Pompetti's "Storied Sharpshooter". The type line text is so small here, that it is largely indistinguishable.

This card has retained its "Ranged" effect since its very early beginnings. However, we find the "Warcry" effect which has since been replaced by the term "Genesis" for Alpha. This indicates an effect that is proc'd when the card enters play. We learn from this card that the "legendary" rarity or card type must have been quite prevalent in the early stages of the game.

From an artistic standpoint, we can appreciate the great care and attention that Erik's Curiosa takes in its meticulous attention to design details and card aesthetics. In final alpha form, we find the composition more zoomed out, which really enhances the great water color background to frame the archer character in Vincent Pompetti's signature style.


Storied Sharpshooter by Vincent Pompetti

The final card rendering that we find on the Curio card is artist Francesca Baerald's "Pollimorph". Like several cards before it, we find similar casting cost symbols in the upper left portion of the title box. Once again, the "Quick" mechanic is prevalent. Like many other cards over the past 2+ years, the card has seen quite a bit of card mechanic design change. In its current alpha form, the flavorful concept of transforming a frog into a prince is removed and the mechanic is streamlined to only transform a nearby minion into a frog token.



It is fascinating to see how much we have learned about Curio cards even with so few discovered to date. We do not know how many variants of Curio cards exist, nor how many copies, but it is evident that they are a very interesting and desirable aspect of Sorcery's Alpha debut for passionate early adopters and historians of the game.

Even with so few Curios discovered, we have learned quite a bit about how to answer the question of "what exactly is a Curio??". As the company has hinted leading to the Alpha debut, every detail of the card is subject to having some aspect of historical development relevance. Already we have discovered early concepts and versions of each of the following:

  • Card title

  • Casting cost symbols

  • Rarity or card type

  • Set symbol

  • Card number

  • Card mechanic

  • Artwork orientation (portrait vs. landscape)

  • Artwork development or positioning

  • Sketch/Early illustration concept development

It will be fascinating to see how much the broader and rapidly growing Sorcery fanbase takes a liking to Curio cards, of its own merit and relative to other coveted collectibles and chase cards in the game. I also very much look forward to seeing if new discoveries will emerge beyond these classification categories, and any information we can glean about Curio rarity, pull rate, and population size in the set.

If you enjoyed reading this article, please consider reach out and let me know. I would love for all of you to consider joining the many Collector Arthouse platforms entirely dedicated to Sorcery TCG, its incredible artists, and playing, collecting, and discoering the history behind this amazing project!


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