Player Feature: Artist Desmond Toshi Bishi Bashi Just Wants MTG to be Fun

Interview with Dragonshield wall mural artist and MTG player from Singapore

Player Feature: Artist Desmond Toshi Bishi Bashi Just Wants MTG to be Fun

If you’ve walked into one of Singapore’s local MTG game stores, you might find a panoramic wall of dragon art staring back at you. The massive works of art are all hand painted by Desmond Toshi Bishi Bashi (a little tongue twister) and help to create an ambience of pure fantasy in otherwise drab surroundings. These wall murals often span the full height or width of the wall, and are part of Dragonshield’s own outreach campaign. We reached out to Desmond to learn more about his connection to MTG and how he creates these impressive pieces of art.

Tell us about your Magic playing history. When and how did you start, what formats do you play?

I starting playing Magic: The Gathering back in 1995 after the end of year exams in Primary 5. A couple of friends were playing MTG at the back of the class during recess and introduced me to the game by lending a spare deck they had. Due to the lack of fundamental deckbuilding knowledge, the deck was close to a hundred cards and had random 1 or 2 copies of many different cards packed in the deck.

As my interest grew, I started learning more about the different kinds of decks and the formats they had. It was after O levels when I started visiting the old Bishan MRT station on weekends and also visited Soulcraft regularly to play the old Extended (Type 1.5) format.

I used to play Legacy, Modern, Pioneer, and Standard, but lost interest in constructed formats as the metagame is pretty much always the same.
Nowadays I only play casual EDH and my decks include Kykar, Wind’s Fury, Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, Purphoros, God of the Forge, and Kalamax, the Stormsire. I don’t have combos in any of my decks as I find that combos defeat the purpose of playing an interactive multiplayer format like EDH. It’s not fun for anyone to only shuffle their deck after someone wins in 5 turns.

What do you do for work and play when you’re not casting spells?

I do freelance interior design, graphic design, and murals for work. I started doing interior design back in 2010 after completing my Bachelor’s degree (in multimedia and game development). My graphic design work started with doing hand drawn artwork for classmates in Secondary school (before Photoshop was a thing), and then transitioned to doing digital graphic designs after learning how to use Photoshop from YouTube and a 3D art course.

During my free time when I’m not playing MTG, I’m usually at home playing PC games. I’m currently playing Diablo IV with a Hammer of the Ancients Barbarian. Other games I’m currently playing include Brotato, Sekiro – Shadows Die Twice, Hades, and Starcraft 2 when I need to take a break from the Diablo 4 item grind. I also play football and do longboarding sometimes but not as much as I like to recently.

How did you first get involved doing wall murals and for Dragonshield?

My first mural was for an interior design company who was looking for an artist to paint the mural designs for their Bangkok Jam project. I didn’t have any experience doing murals back then but they had no other contact and asked me to give it a try. It started with me sketching out the designs with pencil then painting with acrylic paints but started experimenting with spray paints and using gridlines which cut the entire mural completion time in half.

I first got involved with doing murals for Dragonshield through (local game store) MTG-Asia. I had previously done a Liliana mural for MTG-Asia’s former Aliwal Street outlet and the topic of doing a mural was discussed between MTG-Asia and Dragonshield as a unique feature for an official Dragonshield outlet. Since then, I’ve done more Dragonshield murals for Mox & Lotus, Agorahobby and Mana Pro SG.

What is the step by step process of doing a Dragonshield mural? How long does one take?

I’ll do a site visit first and take the dimensions and photos of the wall which will then be imported into AutoCAD. I will proceed to scale the wall image in AutoCAD and subsequently add gridlines of which only the corners of each grid will be marked out on the physical wall. Once all the grid markings are done, I start sketching a rough outline of the artwork with a sponge and generic paint colour of the object that I am painting. Then it’s all down to filling up the colours and detailing work.

What is the time split between art, graphic design and murals? Which is the one you wish you could focus on the most?

Currently my time is spent more on doing graphic design and also getting some freelance interior design projects.

If I could, I would want to spend more time doing commissions for murals as I prefer doing the artwork on a large scale and it is more satisfying to see the artwork finally done up on a large canvas. The only thing holding me back is that the demand for mural artwork is low and not many people are adventurous enough to explore the avenue of designing their homes with a mural. I get more work from cafés and retail outlets but the demand has dropped also due to increasing renovation and rent prices, thus the customer is less likely to spend an additional part of their budget to do a mural.

I am not at all concerned about AI in artwork because the human mind has a preference that something done from scratch with sweat and blood is more “original” than that of an AI image. Artists may actually benefit from it more when it comes down to it being the norm as we can generate the image from AI then do our own personal tweaks and edits to the image from the client’s requirements.

I personally believe that AI will never fully take over artists due to the lack of personal human touch to each individual artwork.

Speaking about Magic, what’s the best way for someone to get into MTG?

If you really want to learn, I’d advise playing MTG Arena first. Play the tutorials, and from there start opening packs, watch people play EDH (Commander). It is more worthwhile for your cash because when you buy 1 card, you can play it in a lot of decks. The banned list is also not very long.

I think it’s better to learn from EDH rather than constructed [formats], as each game is different, so a player has to figure out how to act in different scenarios. You can throw in random Uncommons and Commons to build a deck. You can throw in jank (i.e. random) cards and a deck can still last forever. A friend of mine has only 5 decks and he’s been playing them for years.

After playing from Tempest to Urza's Saga block, Ted took a 20 year break from the game before returning to the classic Plane of Dominaria in 2018. His favourite formats are Commander, Draft, and, grudgingly, Standard.

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