Top Ten Pieces of Ixalan Art

Sometimes I feel like Mike Linnemann is one of the writers here for Gathering Magic that I have the most similarity to in my own views on the game, the importance of flavor, and life in general. He’s always one of my favorite writers here, and I always devour his works.

Now when I talk with people who read my column, they tend to have one of two views about me as a writer and gamer.

  1. Abe as Casual, multiplayer, Commander and Five Color, friendly Timmy — I am certainly those, right? I mean, most of my articles today are geared toward Commander, multiplayer, and causal gaming, and that’s nothing new. I’ve been about casual gaming for years now, and love the social aspects of the game.
  2. Abe as Crazy Johnny Deck-builder and Project Builder —During the 15 years of my writing career that has spanned more than 1000 Magic articles, I’ve written a lot of projects. I’ve created Core Sets, made countless Cubes from the Crap Cube to my Commander Cube, my project tracking my trading from a Deck-builder’s Toolkit to a Commander deck, done random card articles, the 100 Combo Decks in 20 Weeks project, and more, the Magic Role-Playing Game, creating numerous casual formats, all in addition to my regular unusual decks and lists. This was more common in days when I had “A Deck a Day” daily articles and lots of 60 card decks in each week, but still, I have the reputation of the crazy deck-builder and project maker.

And those are both core parts of my identity. Crazy combo guy and furious project tackler! And fun-loving casual big plays for the win guy!

But there is another part which is a lot deeper and which I think often gets missed. The flavor. The art. The very character of the game itself resonates deeply with me. From the character of Portal: Three Kingdoms to articles on card names, art, and even characters and items in the lore of the game that would make cool cards, this is a huge part of me too.

I even own some art. This is who I be. The flavor of planes, characters and concepts just hits me. Right here. I adore spoiler time, often more for the stories and character of the plane than for the cards or mechanics. In fact, I once took the full Theros spoiler to a friend of mine who was a serious devotee of Greek Mythology, and we read the cards and flavor text together for the first time, and she loved it. Even though she was a non-player who never really got the game of Magic, she certainly dug that set and really enjoyed it.

Flavor matters. Art matters. Characters matter. Concepts matter.

And there are a number of writers and major Magic personalities that I have never met that I really feel like I just connect with at a visceral level. Evan Erwin. Ben Bleiweiss. MJ Scott. Chas Andres. Evan Erwin. Anthony Alongi. John Dale Beety. Bennie Smith. Evan Erwin. Some names that I think the internet has, unfortunately forgotten, like Johnny Liu, Mary Van Tyne, and Carl Jarrell.

And Mike Linnemann is right up there. I feel like we get each other. Like we see the game much the same way.

Last week, he wrote an article on why you think that all recent Magic looks the same, even when it objectively may not. It’s a good article, and like every article ever written by Mike, I recommend it.

Inspired by that spirit, I wanted to look at ten great pieces of art from Ixalan that have already been spoiled.

10. Herald of Secret Streams

I think the Ixalan Merfolk are the best looking and conceived iteration of the species we’ve seen on any plane. They have a natural level of color and spirit to them that works, and as both Green and Blue species, they also work for me too. Kind of in the vein of Kiora. We have not had really colorful Merfolk like this, despite countless fish in real life with these colorations. Now, we had one a while ago, you might have heard of, called Lord of Atlantis. Check it out:

Lord of Atlantis

That has good color to it. But it’s been pretty hard to see despite the obvious connection with tropical freshwater and saltwater fish.

9. Spires of Orazca

The new Gaea’s Cradle . . .  er . . .  Itlimoc, Cradle of the Sun is not the only old school land to get reprinted. Spires of Orazca is basically a new, and better, version of Maze of Ith. It still taps for mana and preventing combat damage is wonkier than this cleaner language that removes it from combat, so you won’t be killed by Guiltfeeder or allow triggers like Ophidian. (Although it just works for opponents, so you can’t save one of your own creatures). Meanwhile the art is beautiful with the golden tops of Obelisks or something just peeking out into the sun-kissed forest. It’s a majestic sight!

8. Favorable Winds

This is the perfect sort of card for getting just how splashy and colorful Ixalan is going to be as a plane and as a set as well. Just as an example, compare this to the previous Favorable Winds art;

As you see, that art works. It’s got a bunch of flyers and they are flying all over and winds are there and more. And the art is fine. But the new art just blows it away. The twisted serpentine flying shapes intersect and they are fighting or flirting or dancing whatever together. There is a level of majesty to the card that brings the art home. My only issue is the overly blue nature of the piece, and I think the art would look better away from the frame.

7. Drowned Catacomb

This was one of my favorites of many great land arts available. The ship graveyard is a staple in Pirate lore, adventuring stories, and even source material like the Lost World concept that Ixalan clearly follows. Given that, taking a current card that already was made, and using this core concept to evoke it was wonderful. Previously, Downed Catacombs were, well, precisely that . . . 

 . . .  but no more. And this did a great job with the foreground mast coming at the very corner and bleeding off into the unseen and pointing you toward that many other ships and broken masts you can see when you start looking. The colors and style line up perfectly for one of the best pieces of art from the set.

6. Revel in Riches

Revel indeed! Rejoice in your Riches! It’s a lot of coin. And we know that those with the doubloons make the sweetest of celebrations all happy throwing those coins about. Who wants that sweet, sweet treasure? So happy! With the coins all coming out the card? This could easily be an Un- card with the coins continuing down throughout the box below, right? It just works. Rejoice my Pirate friends, rejoice!

5. Wily Goblin

Goblins have returned. And many a Magic player is rejoicing with these Ixalan style Goblins. Is it possible that this is going to be one of the few planes where Goblins are more threat that comic relief? The Goblin’s anger and body just look like one big animalistic style that evokes competence. Nothing in the art, name, or flavor text reads “Insert Classic Comic Relief Here.” And the art and concept are both strong.

4. Rowdy Crew

The five different pirates here each have their own style, which is pretty cool. And also note something more. You have a base 3/3 creatures, with the potential of +2/+2 to it, and five Pirates in the art as well. And two of the Pirates are sort of bickering. If they lay it off, you get all five, but if they kill themselves, then you still have three. See how that still leaves you three, for a 3/3? And is that a monkey grabbing that necklace gold there?

3. Kinjalli’s Sunwing

Dinosaurs are back, and this time, they’ve brought the crayon box with them! A more realistic color scheme rife with feathers leads to one of the most iconic aspects of the set and the world behind it. One of the things I think is pretty interesting behind the scenes is the connect with the Dinosaurs and the Mesoamerican styled Empire of the Sun. Why? Well, there’s one major reason. The emphasis on feathers with the new dinos and the value of feathers. For example, the Aztecs had feathered helmets and shields and art. So adding feathers to the Mesoamerican buddy Dinosaur is not just ecologically correct, but culturally as well! And that’s where a card like this Sunwing comes in, both cognizant of both. Take the variegated winds, as one example. The feathers are detailed and full of color weaving a picture of effortless grandeur.

2. Deadeye Plunderers

Of the various Pirate art spoiled thus far, this is my favorite. There is a dense hush that falls over me with the pause depicted here. The detailed background, the three separate characters, the sneer on the first, and more all just combine to create a piece that has a lot to recommend. I even enjoy the planks and wood in the top. You cannot look at this art and deny the value of it and what Greg Opalinski brought to the table.

In fact, I’d say that Greg is one of my favorite current artists because of how dense and evocative his stuff can be. Here are a few more examples from Magic-dom.

Unwavering Initiate

I chose this card for my Pulp Cube in part because of how great the art was.

Scour the Laboratory
Depala, Pilot Exemplar

1. Deeproot Champion

Merfolk. Green. Here we have a wonderfully done beater for your deck, that can grow in the right build quite ably. Meanwhile, you can drop the spells making, natural setting light infused card that just works well in a lot of different setting. And again, Merfolk just work for me as a new sort of land-connecting Elf in this place. (By land, I don’t mean dry land, but instead I mean the ground, the earth, the place that is under our feet.) There is a really interesting vibe here, and this art takes full advantage of that fact!

And there we have it! Ten pieces of art from Ixalan that I really think are doing something fun and intriguing. Now, art is always subjective, and everyone will have a different take. But what is your favorite piece so far? What pieces of art from the set really sell you on the feel of the plane?

Ixalan is now available for Preorder! Pick up sealed product and singles as they're posted!