Good morning everyone and welcome back once again to the Mirror Gallery. Today I am trying something completely different, and something I’ve wanted to do since I started writing for Hipsters of the Coast about a year ago. This article is going to look at some of my favorite paintings in the set, tell you why I like them so much, and also why you might like them too. Your regularly scheduled full-scale and technical MTG art reviews will always be courtesy of Mike Linnemann over at CoolStuffInc. Those are neither my forte nor my faculty, but this series of articles will be an amalgamation of art critique and storytelling illumination—entirely informal and hopefully a bit of fun.

Even though I’ve wanted to do a “Donny’s Favorite Things” style article for specific set art for some time, at the outset of this piece I was still unable to nail down a format. I was exploring different approaches to the same idea, and came across art critic Jerry Saltz’s 2010 article A Grand Tour, where he looks at his favorite paintings in New York City from that summer and provides an image and short snippet about what struck him about each work. He is drawn to art with supreme storytelling as I am, so this will be our inspiration and our guide. I’ll begin just as he started his article:

My favorite paintings in Ravnica Allegiance, in no particular order:

Breeding Pool by Jenn Ravenna

Breeding Pool by Jenn Ravenna. Digital.

This is very possibly my favorite artwork from the set. This Simic chamber is neither distinctly above nor underwater, creating a feeling of both unrest and serenity. The architecture situates it firmly in Ravnica, and the complimentary blues and greens are undoubtedly Simic. Look closely in the middle of the painting: your eye travels down the beam of light streaming in from above, and then back up with the bubbles rising from the pool, and then back down again. It’s just wonderful, and yet another triumph from Jenn Ravenna.

Screaming Shield by Titus Lunter

Screaming Shield by Titus Lunter. Digital.

If you remember last year’s article about Tommy Arnold’s Syncopate, this painting by Titus Lunter is in the same vein of attempting something extremely difficult: painting sound. Lunter said on Twitter he was told by Art Director Cynthia Sheppard to render “sound so loud it hurt,” and he was able to achieve just that. There is no way to look at this work without instinctually moving to cover your ears. I really enjoy seeing the final product of these difficult art briefs, and Titus absolutely nailed the dramatic and awesome story this work should be telling.

Bedeck by Randy Vargas

Bedeck by Randy Vargas. Digital.

A card illustration of an important character performing a real life task is a powerful nod to the insight of Magic’s creative team. This art description was written by Alison Luhrs, and Randy captured this “everyday” of the Rakdos exceptionally. The over-the-shoulder perspective with the mirrored reflection is both inviting and intruding, and the work tells the story of the Rakdos pre-show or intermission from behind the scenes. It’s simply brilliant, and I would love to see more of this everyday depiction in future art briefs and sets.

Smelt-Ward Ignus by Jehan Choo

Smelt-Ward Ignus by Jehan Choo.

Seeing different artists paint fire is fascinating, whether it’s flame, inferno, or eruption. In this piece Choo places us deep within a molten foundry, and we get a bit of each. We see everything from pilasters of flame to sparks of lava, and because of the chaos we are provided a tour guide. Our Ignus friend breaks the fourth wall and offers a helping hand to the viewer. When we as the player can directly interact with the illustration on the card, it allows for all sorts of new conversations and connections. He certainly seems friendly enough. Will you join him? I hear it’s a bit toasty.

Bedevil by Seb McKinnon

Bedevil by Seb McKinnon. Digital.

I knew I would be including at least one piece by Seb McKinnon (he had five in the set), but the question of which one remained until near the end of this article. Bedevil was one of the first cards previewed in this set, and it’s such a perfect illustration of the Cult of Rakdos. The antagonizing characters torment the female subject, and yet their jeering masks evoke the idea it could indeed be some sort of near-acceptable cruel show. It’s a fantastic piece of art from color to composition, and Seb’s overall residence on Ravnica has fundamentally helped shape the look and feel of this set.

Eyes Everywhere by Nils Hamm

Eyes Everywhere by Nils Hamm, oil on board, 19.5” x 27.5.” Available from the artist, $6500.

This kind of artistic abstraction isn’t seen as much in Magic these days, and is only commissioned to a handful of artists. The idea here is disorientation and unrest, and Nils creates that feeling immediately. The eyeless subject is being watched indefinitely by the Dali-dripping optics all around him, and the literal kaleidoscope of colors puts the viewer off-balance in a way they did not expect. This painting is both beautiful and the stuff of nightmares, completed by a master’s hand.

Saruli Caretaker by Howard Lyon

Saruli Caretaker by Howard Lyon, oil on linen on aluminum, 18” x 24,” private collection.

I’m not the first person to talk highly of Howard’s work, and I certainly won’t be the last. Mike Linnemann uses the word “unstoppable,” and there just isn’t a better way to say it. I checked the Thesaurus for unstoppable and there was a picture of Howard. Watch the super-speed video as he is painting and you can see why this man’s art has hung in a museum. This piece is breathtaking, and is a testament to the artist’s unending effort to make every painting his very best.

Knight of the Last Breath by Milivoj Ceran

Knight of the Last Breath by Milivoj Ceran, watercolor, ecoline and airbrush on paper, 15.7” x 21.5,” auction forthcoming 2/8/19 on the MTG Art Market.

This art fits this card so very well. Ceran has created a larger than life character that forces the viewer to look from his knees all the way to the top of his helmet, thus creating an overwhelming presence heightened by the skyscraping architecture in the background. As a storytelling piece of art it’s unsettling and staggering, just as a giant Orzhov knight would be. It’s a clown in a funhouse mirror, terrifying and dominating, except he’s the last one you will ever see unless you pay your debt.

Skarrgan Hellkite by Svetlin Velinov

Skarrgan Hellkite by Svetlin Velinov. Digital.

Another work with fabulous storytelling, this painting gives me serious “Smaug destroying Lake-town” vibes. The dragon is at the forefront and mid-turn, as Velinov takes your eye from the tip of his tail around to its burning maw, a fire that can only come from the belly of a dragon. It is only then you see the incinerated building amongst the rest of the darkened city, as the dragon turns back for another pass. There is past, present, and future all in one image, and it’s superb.

Frilled Mystic by Randy Vargas

Frilled Mystic by Randy Vargas. Digital.

Randy Vargas gets the double feature in today’s article, and if you’re not familiar with his work then you must have a look once you’re finished reading. The Simic are not a guild often associated with concentrated raw power and overt confidence, but just look at this badass lady elf lizard wizard (say that three times fast). She exudes tenacity, and her poise and pose is unshakeable. The painting reads perfectly, carrying the viewer’s eye along a diagonal from the bottom right to the top left and down to the counterspell “capture sphere.” It’s a perfect fit for the card it illustrates: your spell is countered, do not pass Go, do not collect $200, thanks for playing, and see you next time.

Deploy by Sara Winters

Deploy by Sara Winters. Digital.

Thopters did not exist on Ravnica prior to Dovin’s rise to supremacy within the Azorius, which means until this set there was no “Ravnican Thopter.” I would imagine there was some reference material within the style guide given to artists with their commission, but this is the only card illustration that fully features a thopter within the city. Sara’s piece is a lovely snapshot of these new inhabitants and a complete storytelling package: we get the thopter duo as forefront characters, signature Ravnican architecture to situate us, and the changing leaves that reinforce the season of autumn. She’s included everything we need to know to know what’s happening with the Azorius on Ravnica, and this piece reinforces the idea the some of the set’s best art doesn’t come on rares and mythics. Look close at split cards folks; the art, though small, is some of the best.

Warden by Matt Stewart

Warden by Matt Stewart, oil on Ampersand gessoboard, 14” x 18,” private collection.

If you follow me on Twitter you know I have a particular affinity for this painting, so much that I purchased the original for my own collection. As of right now, this is the only traditional Magic illustration depicting Dovin Baan. Every other Planeswalker card or spell featuring this character has been rendered digitally. Stewart’s Dovin is entirely unique; he is not contemplative, or cunning, or dismissive, but wholly focused on his task at hand.

Wrapping Up

So that’s that, our first Mirror Gallery Art Grand Tour. I hoped you all enjoyed it as much as I did, whether it was just getting to see some small art real big or finding something you may not have known or seen previously. I purposely didn’t include any promotional or Guild Kit art for the sake of space, but I would encourage you to have a closer look at some of the art from these sub-series. All of it, and I mean all of it, is exceptional, and could have its own article just like this one. I’m hoping to do one of these “Art Grand Tours” for each new set, so if you enjoyed it, please do let me know on Twitter or Facebook.

Looking forward, there is a special Valentine’s Day edition of the Mirror Gallery coming next week featuring the voices of all of us at Hipsters of the Coast, and to close out the month is an interview with one of Magic’s newest artists about her artistic career, both within and outside the game.

Remember, to see original #mtgart and other #vorthos related things, follow me on Twitter. Feel free to ask questions or retweet to continue the conversation. Thanks and see you next time!

Donny Caltrider has been playing Magic since 2002 and collecting original Magic art since 2017. He has an M.A. in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University and enjoys telling stories about art, objects, and the intersection of fantasy with real-life. You can find him on Twitter talking about #mtgart, museums, and other #vorthos related goodness. Follow along and continue the conversation!

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