Iconic Masters Art Review

I love reprint sets. I love everything about Wizards of the Coast printing known cards with new art. Customization marks the difference in this paper card game from digital interfaces. Sure, you can pick different pixels for a digital game, but there is just something fulfilling about trading for a card you’ve been needing for some time because it just came out again, and you love the new art. It’s like when your long time spouse goes to your deep freezer where you keep your ½ cow and comes back with your favorite ice cream and you haven’t been to Target in over a week. It’s a surprise, a delight and that experience is yours.

I write art reviews and bring a few nuances to light by doing so. Much of what I do is making jpgs of the art available, and in doing so, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit and more get to see the hidden details. What I end up writing is secondary to accessibility and it works for us, doesn’t it?

While the vast majority are reprinted artworks and lovely, for the purposes of this review and discussion, I’m only touching on the new art because the other ones you already know. These are new.

Let’s talk about some art.


Ancestral Vision by John Avon
Digital

Good catch by Bob Barrie on connecting this “peer back in time” to modern pop culture with a recent movie:

Not really the same but of similar character to this was shown in Guardians of the Galaxy, when Star-Lord used the Holographic Scanner, supplied by the Broker to find the Orb on the dead planet of Morag.

Some things to note is how the flying ships were the past, and birds in the present version. It’s as if nature has reclaimed the space, a very Blue spell to get back to the archive. The opposite spell would be Green, a {R}{G} Gruul druidic spell even.


Auriok Champion by Eric Deschamps
Digital

A few things about this piece to note:

  • The human resistance is underground on New Phyrexia (formerly the plane of Mirrodin) and there aren’t many of them. Note that the art description didn’t ask for a small group of people, or anyone in the background to reinforce the gain life mechanic. There aren’t any other humans. They’re (nearly) all dead.
  • She looks young, as if a few young and shifty warriors were able to escape and live around Urabrask’s forges but the old, the weak, or the bold all perished.
  • Spike hands. (?)
  • Notice how organic the surroundings are. Mirrodin was an artificial world of metal, created by the planeswalker Karn. With his Phyrexian heart, he leaked the glistening oil, allowing phyresis to happen, and germs to proliferate into Phyrexians. Now, the entire plane is Phyrexianized or “compleated,” with the subsurface visuals being more organic than inorganic metal.
  • Her right leg (on our left) is larger than the other because of foreshortening on her left leg (our right) in the work. Showing stronger, more developed musculature pushes away the idea that she is youthful. Foreshortening makes the other leg look smaller, but it’s a tactic to use in a 2D plane to show depth.

Austere Command by Anna Steinbauer
Digital

It’s light painting!

I rather like the idea that an angel would be playing with a time lapse camera, making some fun art in her spare time while she smites, disenchants and destroys.

I don’t see any symbology here, though I do wonder what could represent annihilation or destruction in Magic. I’m not sure such symbols exist.


Bladewing the Risen by Seb McKinnon
Digital

Dragons come in all varieties from live to dead, feathered to metallic and often, influenced by real-world animals. Here, I see an Irish Wolfhound with a deteriorating face that appears to be wispy scruff characteristic of the breed. The digital brush he used is most of it, as we struggle to see the normal digital tells in the rock he’s perched upon or the wing on the right side. Add some water to your brown, green with a little turquoise and it can make a muddy mess, or you can create a very organic looking color like moss or zombified flesh.

Also, there was a fun piece of fan art that came out recently as well:


Bladewing’s Thrall by Craig J Spearing
Digital

This feels like an early 1990s Dungeons and Dragons depiction, doesn’t it? It looks like some sort of hero undead you’d fight in a $20 module, expanding on the preconceived notions that undead can only scale up to lich. This creature’s magic is not intended by itself, it was granted by Bladewing the dragon itself. As such, this zombie can never stay dead, as its master will call for it, again and again.

This is a strict upgrade in art description, as the original one was a bit confusing. I always thought it was cropped down, though the signature of Kev’s in the lower right made me think, well, maybe it’s just supposed to be odd.


Condescend by Kieran Yanner
Digital

Why isn’t this Jace Beleren, the marquee planewalker?

A greater question I’ve been wondering, because there isn’t a lot to see here, is who else this could be?

What if this card was Teferi, giving us a soft touch for Dominaria on what Teferi might look like? In mere months, that nod would be meaningless, but find yourself looking for clues on how the official story will progress and no greater easter egg would be better. Wizards, please think about that in the future considering reprint sets allow for soft previews.

The artist could not be reached for a jpg image and has not posted one on any of their public portfolio or social media pages.


Cryptic Command by Jason Rainville
Digital

Plenty has been said already about this triumph of an artwork. You don’t get motion graphic animators work on your card art if it’s marginal.

Jason Rainville doesn’t get a ton of love from the Magic community due to his art. Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t attend as many Grand Prix events. Maybe players are wary of Canadians. In any case, being able to take a really open ended concept and making a silk feather bed not only stand out, but be the best artwork amongst the new art printed, is a feat.

It’s so simple, yet the meaning is so wide open for interpretation. Are the blankets and robes supposed to represent a middle eastern culture? Yet why would he paint the person as white? Are they wearing a turban? How does this mean control magic? These are good questions to be asking, and giving people who study art another example to show that deeply conceptual art is still alive and well is heartwarming.


Furnace Whelp by Shreya Shetty‏
Digital

Look at this cute little dragon.

If there was one you would call a “dargon,” this is it. It even has a feathered tail.

Notice Shreya’s ability to paint dragon wings with a light source, likely using bats as reference to give us a sense of realism. Lovely.


Guardian Idol by Igor Kieryluk
Digital

Look at the patina!

Impossible to see at card size, only with a larger jpg image can you see the green patina, showing age and environmental exposure. You also see that it is standing in water-check the knees and the line on the sword showing the reflection.

In Fifth Dawn, the original printing was one idol, likely amongst many, below the surface of Mirrodin. Here, we see a very specific narrative being told: the guardian is protecting a room that is now below the water table, and has been for some time. We also see how a 2/2 artifact creature is enormous, towering over the door’s outline frame. Add in the carved out door from rock, and this room feels more tomb than treasury.

What is it keeping out, or rather, what is it preventing from going in for good reason?


Guttersnipe by Mathias Kollros
Digital

The sticking out tongue is great. He looks like one of those dogs without teeth.

I see more Gruul here on Ravnica than Izzet. The original Guttersnipe looked more Izzet, {U}{R} aligned, in its art and it was printed in Return to Ravnica, which omitted Gruul. Gatecrash had Gruul of {R}{G} alignment and this new Guttersnipe looks like the barbarian clothing they wore, including the mohawks that they wear. This is where reprinted sets shine. They give a guild player a new art that shifts from one guild to another. That is fantastic art description writing. Smart move creative team.


Horizon Canopy by Noah Bradley
Digital

Art can change meaning of a word and here, the canopy is the actual land, and it just happens to be shown during a sunrise, which feels more white. At night, the sky would tend to be more red, but I digress.

Noah knows how to paint light, this is known.

The artist could not be reached for a jpg image and has not posted one on any of their public portfolio or social media pages.


Jungle Barrier by Christine Choi
Digital

That is a beautiful wall. It reminds me of Fallen Empires.

The artist could not be reached for a jpg image and has not posted one on any of their public portfolio or social media pages.


Manakin by Dave Palumbo
Oil on masonite, 12x16"
In the collection of Daniel Chang

Dave Palumbo’s large brushstrokes, talked about in depth from known associate Sam Gaglio give us a lovely doll, with a single coat of white paint on its arms, simply due to Dave working traditionally. It looks well used, but also not in perfect condition either. This doll is used, and used often. The string to keep it together is rough, in a spool behind it, breaking the composition from a vertical line, giving us time for our eyes to adjust to the dark brown case.

This is a beautiful painting and further shows that core sets, and reprint sets like Iconic Masters allow for more flexibility, less stringent of art descriptions to give artists breathing room to explore a concept fully.


Mana Drain by Raymond Swanland
Digital

This image depicts Mana Drain, the marquee mythic rare of the set. It’s conceptual and since the Draining Whelk concept has already been done in Time Spiral, it needed a new idea. Considering the old flavor of a Blue counterspell stopping a Red fire spell, this {U}{R} artwork by Swanland brings the old to the new, while keeping it ambiguous on how it throws us back.


Oblivion Stone by Gabor Szikszai
Digital

Sure, the original concept is pretty great with the tentacles and Star Wars Sarlacc pit reference, yes. But, have you look at the hand Tedin painted? Look at it. He was a young man then, painting fingers wasn’t a strength for him, sure. Is the concept better than the one Gabor received? In theory yes, but Mark Tedin with Nevinyrral’s Disk didn’t have an art description. He had a one liner at best.

So while it was more open-ended, the technical level of the painting just wasn’t as strong.
That is ok. We improve with time.

As for Gabor here, I don’t think the digital lightning bolt is needed at all. Let the light insight the destroying orb tell the story. We get what you’re doing.

The artist could not be reached for a jpg image and has not posted one on any of their public portfolio or social media pages.


Phantom Tiger by Seb Mckinnon
Digital

Seb painted a dragon for this set, then he went full fantasy art high concept and painted this tiger to flex his muscles. He wants you to see that he not constrained by a 2x3” card art box. You can blow this up as an 18x24” print he’ll sell you and it will work in your bathroom. He makes originals of his Magic art as he intended. He creates a digital print on a canvas, then he “corrects” the lightest lights and darkest darks with paint. They aren’t prints, they’re a unique piece, which is mistakenly called mixed media when it’s really called a monotype.

It’s hard to believe this is digital and not watercolor at card size.


Sandstone Oracle by Izzy
Digital

Strength. Curved lines are soft and edges are strong, angular. The wings look heavy yet strong. The face may skew feminine but the body pushes a masculine ideal to me. Izzy sure can make a neck interesting as well, giving three headdresses of blue adorned in gold. Even the tail is a rectangular column.

The artist was contacted and was not able to send a jpg image in time for this article. Though, he did send me a video and some pictures of his “sharkpig” attacking a coconut. At least we got that going for us, which is nice:


Serra Ascendant by Howard Lyon
Oil on linen, 18 x 24"
In a private collection.

Howard wrote about creating this image on Muddy Colors, showing his original accepted sketch. (Minus the beard of course.)

Even from that stage, you can see Howard’s religious painting influence of a deity/religious figure. The circular light, in the form of a column, above the figure’s head, the fresco like brushwork, the robes and even the lightness of the hands are all in his wheelhouse.

This is religion being added to a secular game. There is nothing inherently religious about Magic, rather, it’s a game about idols, subverting tropes and killing gods, literally, in Deicide. Yet, for every Sisay and Kaya, Kynaios and Tiro, there is also room for a deeply religious artist to have their own touch on the game. There’s room for all and Magic encourages them to find their space, explore it and contribute their experience to the game.


Yosei, the Morning Star by Chris Rahn
Oils on masonite, 16 x 20”
In a private collection

I don’t know other people may like this but I struggle to see the neck because the flame obscures it and in doing so makes it look a bit muddy as a dragon at card size. Seeing it larger, you see Chris adding some rim lighting on the body in pink, the fully in flame eye, and the flames following the eel-like body of the dragon. Moving the little fish (?) into flames following was a smart choice for the art description writers. It clean up the focal point.

Were a card to benefit from the Unstable art going all the way to the edge, this is the example I’d point to within the past year. Some artworks go from good to great, you just need them to be just a little larger.


Keiga, the Tide Star by Svetlin Velinov
Digital

Interesting to me how the waterfall is now simply synonymous with Kamigawa. You have a specific site on the plane with Minamo, but for visual shorthand, the fantasy idea of a building on a waterfall has become the iconic setting. Also synonymous is the use of energy around dragons which due to Zelda Breath of the wild, the Nintendo video game, this it will become a trope for the future.


Kokusho, the Evening Star by Sławomir Maniak
Digital

Speaking of Zelda, the spikes around Kokusho sure remind me of something:


Image via Polygon article on Zelda: Breath of the Wild by Nintendo

The spikes on the dragon’s face remind me of another creature, the lion fish:

Check out the barbs or barbels. It’s subtle but I see influence on the fin ends with a fantasy rendition. I’ve seen luck dragons and this will forever be the fish dragon to me, and I love that.

And you saw the floating purple skulls too, right? Look again if you missed them. Creepy.


Ryusei, the Falling Star by Greg Rutkowski
Digital

The artist was contacted and had to check with art directors to make sure he was able to share/show the artwork. He was unaware the set came out in November or in August and the process by which Wizards, the art directors and community management team do not tell the artists when the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is lifted. I don’t blame him, the risk for upsetting a major brand is dangerous. When artists are new to Magic, they’re much more wary of third-party outlets, like Gathering Magic and myself.

Just as Seb can trick us with non-watercolors, Greg has brushes that mimic oil painting so much so that I have to zoom in to see his brushstrokes to check. His fire around the dragon’s body give it away here, though give him an open-ended art description and we’ll likely see some wings being stretched.


Jugan, the Rising Star by Filip Burburan
Oil on board, 13x17.9"

Couple things you should definitely note about this piece are the characteristic Philip Burburan antlers integration of purple, he definitely loves his spikes. We also look and see a purple background that frame is the piece on left from left to right with a softness that is what characteristic of Ryan Pancoast’s color palette.


A great variety of artworks is always welcomed by we art advocates and fans. With every reprinted set, we get more options to personalize our decks to reflect a better narrative and voice of what we wish to play with and why. I can’t wait for Masters 25.

—Mike


Unstable is available for Preorder!

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