Magic: The Gathering contract artist who copied fan art: 'I was overworked, but that's no excuse'

Magic: The Gathering card art compared to a piece of fan art.
(Image credit: scarypet, Wizards of the Coast)

This article was originally published on March 28. It was updated on March 31 to reflect the latest comments from Wizards of the Coast and the artist.

On Tuesday, Wizards of the Coast suspended work with contract artist Jason Felix following accusations that a Magic: The Gathering card he illustrated for the new Strixhaven set plagiarized official and fan-made art. Felix has now admitted to copying the artworks, and has pledged to compensate the original artists. 

The plagiarism came to light last weekend, when artist Kitt Lapeña, who goes by Scarypet online, was told that Magic card Crux of Fate strongly resembled one of their DeviantArt fan art uploads from 2016.  The similarities between Crux of Fate's depiction of Magic elder dragon Nicol Bolas and Lapeña's 2016 depiction of the character isn't subtle. Even details like skin folds are mimicked.  

Most notably, the original fan art contains a critical error which is repeated in the final Crux of Fate art. Nearly all modern art of Nicol Bolas gives the dragon three fingers, while Lapeña's rendition has five. The Crux of Fate art's Nicol Bolas also has five fingers.

Lapeña took the incident in good humor, posting a lighthearted video to Twitter showing how similar the images are.

The art of the other character on the card, Ugin, is also similar to art from another Magic card depicting that character: Ugin, the Spirit Dragon by Raymond Swanland.

Although Lapeña said on Twitter that they were "not really looking for confrontation," Wizards of the Coast took notice. On Tuesday, the company announced that it would stop working with Felix, a freelance artist with 127 pieces of Magic: The Gathering card art to his name, for the immediate future.

"It has come to our attention that the card Crux of Fate from the Strixhaven: School of Mages Mystical Archive may overtly feature Magic: The Gathering fan art and the contracted artist did not receive permission for this incorporation," said the company. "These actions do not reflect the values of Wizards, and, as a result, we will be suspending future work with Jason Felix until we have been able to bring this matter to successful conclusion."

(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

On Wednesday, Felix acknowledged the accusation on Twitter and apologized.

"I've waited to make a public response because I wanted to reach out to the affected artists Kitt Lapeña, Raymond Swanland and WotC first," he wrote. "I was overworked, but that's no excuse. I messed up and I'm trying to make amends."

Felix goes on to say that he will compensate both artists, and that he plans to advocate for their names to go on the card rather than his.

"The artists did not deserve this. It's not much and I don't expect forgiveness," he said. "But I hope it's a step towards being better. I'm so sorry this ever happened and to let down the fans."

Crux of Fate is a variant for a reprint of an old card, and was added this year as part of the Strixhaven set's Mystical Archive feature. Wizards of the Coast often works with freelance artists on Magic: The Gathering, who produce the majority of the game's art and often retain limited rights and receive royalties for its future use.

Jon Bolding is a games writer and critic with an extensive background in strategy games. When he's not on his PC, he can be found playing every tabletop game under the sun.