Wizards of the Coast admits using AI art after banning AI art

Magic: The Gathering publisher Wizards of the Coast has been forced to admit that it published a marketing image for the game featuring “some AI components,” despite an initial insistence that the art was “created by humans and not AI.” Wizards of the Coast had banned the use of AI artwork in its products in 2023, after AI-generated artwork appeared in a Dungeons & Dragons sourcebook and caused an outcry.

The image, since deleted, was posted on X (formerly Twitter) by the official Magic: The Gathering account on Jan. 4. It showed five Magic cards resting on a valve-powered device next to a pressure gauge, in a brass-and-wood-filled steampunk laboratory setting. “It’s positively shocking how good these lands look in retro frame,” the post read.

Many fans were quick to point out elements in the image that bore the hallmarks of generative AI — in particular, difficulty rendering fine details in a consistent way (around bunches of cables, for example, or on the dial of the pressure gauge). But the Magic account initially dismissed these claims.

“We understand the confusion by fans given the style being different than the card art, but we stand by our previous statement,” the publisher replied, in another since-deleted post. “This art was created by humans and not AI.”

But a few days later, Wizards of the Coast acknowledged that it had been mistaken.

“Well, we made a mistake earlier when we said that a marketing image we posted was not created using AI,” the Magic account said in a statement posted to X on Jan. 7. “As you, our diligent community pointed out, it looks like some AI components that are now popping up in industry standard tools like Photoshop crept into our marketing creative, even if a human did the work to create the overall image.”

The publisher continued: “While the art came from a vendor, it’s on us to make sure that we are living up to our promise to support the amazing human ingenuity that makes Magic great. We already made clear that we require artists, writers, and creatives contributing to the Magic TCG to refrain from using AI generative tools to create final Magic products. Now we’re evaluating how we work with vendors on creative beyond our products – like these marketing images – to make sure that we are living up to those values.”

In a separate statement posted the same day on the Magic website, Wizards said that it wants “to get better at understanding whether and how AI is used in the creative process.” The company added, “We can’t promise to be perfect in such a fast-evolving space, especially with generative AI becoming standard in tools such as Photoshop, but our aim is to always come down on the side of human made art and artists.”

The incident drew so much attention because Wizards of the Coast — a significant employer of artists and illustrators, especially in the case of Magic card art — has repeatedly been called out before for using generative AI art in its materials, and has repeatedly distanced itself from the technology. After AI art was spotted in the D&D sourcebook Bigby Presents: Glory of the Giants in August 2023, Wizards said it hadn’t been aware that the artist used AI tools, and that it would revise its artist guidelines “to make clear that artists must refrain from using AI art generation.”

Wizards then issued a more definitive ban on AI art in December, after fans claimed to spot evidence of AI generation in promotional artwork for a Magic tie-in with Tomb Raider. “We require artists, writers, and creatives contributing to the Magic TCG to refrain from using AI generative tools to create final Magic products,” it said at the time.

Some artists who work for the publisher showed their frustration at its repeated failure to curb the use of AI in image creation. Long-standing Magic artist Dave Rapoza publicly split with the company after its initial denial that AI had been used. “And just like that, poof, I’m done working for wizards of the coast – you can’t say you stand against this then blatantly use AI to promote your products, emails sent, good bye you all!” he said in a tweet.

But the incident — especially the evident confusion at Wizards of the Coast over whether AI had been used in the creation of the image — shows just how hard it is going to be for companies working with large numbers of freelance artists to stay on top of this issue, as generative AI art tools become ever more widespread.

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