Good morning everyone, and welcome back to the Mirror Gallery during this very exciting time in Magic! We are just a few days into the previews for War of the Spark, and Planeswalkers from across the multiverse have answered the beacon as they stream onto the streets of Ravnica. A set with 37 Planeswalkers is previously unheard of in Magic’s history, as these usually mighty beings appear only a handful of times in any given set.

Magic has come a long way since it beginning, from Planeswalker cards not even existing for near the first fifteen years to now having a set fully focused on their presence and power. The first time a Planeswalker card could be found in a pack was during Lorwyn back in 2007, and that’s where our article begins today.

The original Lorwyn 5 by Aleksi Briclot. Digital.

Before the days of the Gatewatch, there were only five Planeswalkers with cards. Ajani, Jace, Liliana, Chandra, and Garruk walked into Magic lore changing the game forever. Since their inception these characters have been illustrated and reimagined dozens of times by many artists, and their characters have evolved through new card expansions and storylines. Today we are going to look at my favorite depictions of these pioneer planeswalkers.

A few guidelines before we begin. First, Planeswalkers exist in our current Golden Age of Magic illustration, where there is no “bad” art, especially on cards of this caliber; these are simply my favorites and this does not mean those unchosen are any “better” or “worse.” If you’re a regular reader of mine, you know my favorite works of art are those that have a strong narrative and tell a good story, so naturally when looking through these planeswalkers I’m in search of illustrations that do just that. In short, the following paintings are those that I think excel at telling the stories of their character, in addition to being exceptionally well done pieces of art. From regular sets to one time promos to the heralded San Diego Comic Con editions, this was no easy choice and put my interpretation and story-telling focused brain to the test. But I hear a roar in the distance, so let’s not waste any more time.


We’ll start with the Planeswalker that was my easiest choice, our old friend Ajani. Ajani has collected sixteen different Planeswalker cards since his Lorwyn debut, with his newest just being previewed this week. But for me, Ajani is exemplified in the M15 rendition by Chris Rahn: Ajani Steadfast.

Ajani Steadfast by Chris Rahn, oil on Masonite hardboard, 20” x 22.” Private Collection.

Chris Rahn’s depiction of the leonin giant has been my favorite since I first laid eyes on it, and he has yet to be overthrown. At his core, Ajani Goldmane is a healer and protector, yet is unafraid to fight and willing to swing his axe whenever necessary. He is determined and resolute, stronger than even his hulking figure may communicate, and this art is emblematic of all these facets.

Rahn is a true master of light. The beams emanating from the top right hand corner that shower upon Ajani make him appear divine against the darkened landscape. He is able to handle whatever you, the one he protects, may need. The glinting gold and wind in his cape is an ever-heroic pose, one that says he must be able to stop anything and everything. This is an absolutely fabulous painting, and one that shows a soft but stoic, and true side of Ajani Goldmane.


Chandra is a fan-favorite of many, from being the focal point of several sets (in Core Set 2014 and the Kaladesh block) to being the subject of countless Magic cosplays. We have seen eighteen Planeswalker cards bear her likeness since she first appeared in Lorwyn, but it is that original illustration that has the strongest storytelling.

Chandra Nalaar by Aleksi Briclot. Digital.

Chandra is fierce firebrand, and we see this chief trait emblazoned through many of her illustrations throughout Magic’s history. That grit and tenacity all begins here in this initial illustration, as the artist frames Chandra in an incredible background. You can almost feel the heat radiating from her person, and the audience becomes claustrophobic inside the cavern in which she stands comfortably.

All the things we have come to know and love about this planeswalker, from her flaming hair and fists to pyromancer goggles, all begin here; but my favorite part of this entire work is her facial expression. She is facing the viewer as if she was chased, or perhaps she just torched her pursuer, but is still noticeably ready for anything. Her willingness to fight for what she believes creates an unmistakable determination across her brow. That courage and associated energy that Briclot instilled in Chandra is something I think we will soon see again, and I love that it has been a theme across all her different version in Magic.


Though it’s been quite some time since we’ve seen him, and no one is particularly sure if and when he will return, Garruk has been around since the beginning of Planeswalker cards. He has twelve versions across ten different cards, and the Magic community has watched his descent into murderous madness. There is one illustration that epitomizes the gravity of his situation, and that work is Garruk, Apex Predator:

Garruk, Apex Predator by Tyler Jacobson, Digital over pencil sketch.

The full image reveals much more than what one can see at card size. Yes, there is more of Garruk’s enormous bulk, but you can also feel the sheer weight of what he is going through at this particular snapshot in time. On the outside his fur cloak is matted and saturated with the swamp; but on the inside, the Veil Curse is ever-weighing on his psyche. Jacobson’s work is a triumph at conveying this burden Garruk carries as he trudges through the swamp. His axe is heavy. His cloak is heavy. His mind his heavy. His heart is heavy. And yet he presses on, to locations unknown, pursuing his prey. Is it you, the viewer? It could be.


Magic’s title character and poster boy has just gotten his twentieth planeswalker card for War of the Spark, outnumbering any other character of his class. He has received his own Signature Spellbook, been the protagonist in many of the last decade’s blocks, and been an ambassador for the larger growing brand of Magic: the Gathering. There are many great versions, but my (now) favorite has come quite recently in Anna Steinbauer’s Jace, Wielder of Mysteries.

Jace, Wielder of Mysteries by Anna Steinbauer. Digital.

Once again, I’m drawn to the face of our subject. We’ve seen all sorts of Jace faces. Mysterious Jace, super-power Jace, and forgetful Jace. Each character is dominated by his facial expression, and yet this Jace is different. Steinbauer has incorporated a resolve in his eyes and body language that tells the viewer Jace not only knows what he is doing, but intends to act upon it no matter the outcome—something his friends and Ravnica may need now more than ever. This painting is a breath of fresh air to a character we see more than most others, and makes me incredibly excited, just from one illustration, to see how this story will play out.


Liliana, it would seem based on the War of the Spark trailer, has an even more important part to play than anyone could have imagined. Her newest card is the nineteenth for her character, and her story has taken a roller coaster ride of twists and turns through Magic’s lore for the better part of the last decade. That story, maybe even her entire persona, is encapsulated in one card with two illustrations, and that is Karla Ortiz’s Liliana, Heretical Healer and Liliana, Defiant Necromancer:

Liliana Heretical Healer/ Liliana Defiant Necromancer by Karla Ortiz. Digital.

In this dual depiction of Liliana, we see her humble beginnings as well as her time as a Planeswalker begun anew. As a young healer, she is dressed in white, smiling against a manorial background. Yet darkness is not absent even here; the forest creeps closer and the three crows that cross her are a sign of those things that will come to pass. In her complimentary work, Ortiz captures the idea of “defiance” perfectly. She stands above all, spark in hand, her power not to be contained by anyone or anything.

Defiance has always been a key part of Liliana: it’s what ignited her spark, allowed her to free herself from her demon-bound pact, and what seems will ultimately finish this storyline in the War of the Spark as she turns a hand to Nicol Bolas. Her facial expression as Defiant Necromancer echoes through time as she now becomes a Dreadhorde General. Only time will reveal her choice of who she chooses to defy: herself and her Oath, or her pact and overlord, Nicol Bolas.

Nicol Bolas

Speaking of—while not an original member of the Lorwyn Five, what would this article be without mention of the title Dragon, the Pharaoh, and the God himself, Nicol Bolas? He currently has eight cards of his own with an almost certain ninth on the way in War of the Spark. Of all these, Vincent Proce’s panorama bookend depiction is my favorite.

SDCC Promotional Panorama by Vincent Proce. Digital.


Nicol Bolas God-Pharaoh (detail) by Vincent Proce. Digital.

I haven’t always loved this depiction of Bolas, opting to not even purchase this card set when it was first available. But the more I played and followed the story of this dragon through Amonkhet and beyond, I grew quite fond of this re-imagining of the God Pharaoh. Proce illustrates Bolas as almost human, on two legs but hunched under the pressure of the spell he is casting. The sparks that fly from his hands etch the hieroglyphs we see into history; his goal of absolute power eminent but not yet achieved in his eyes.

The storytelling here, Bolas vs. the Gatewatch, is supreme, and the vehicle of a polyptych with these individual card pieces working together to create a larger narrative is superb. The fact that Bolas is the anchor of this stunning digital painting is quite fitting, as for now he is the Alpha and the Omega, both the beginning and the end. It will take far more than five planeswalkers to change that, and the time is now to see exactly what will become of the multiverse.

Wrapping Up

A lot of things started with Aleksi Briclot’s initial illustrations of these Planeswalkers, a story that may soon tell its final tale in the upcoming set. The idea of what exactly it means to be a Planeswlkers could very well be changed forever, and with that their illustration will be changed forever. These showcase some of the most powerful storytelling in the game, and I hope you enjoyed this objective look at some of my favorites. I would love to know what yours are, so please feel free to pick up where I left off and start some discussion over on Twitter!

With War of the Spark previews now in full swing, that means there will lots of new and exciting things to talk about. From artists interviews to another Art Grand Tour to the return of the Art Market Minute series that comes with each new set release, make sure you keep your browser tuned to the Mirror Gallery here on Hipsters of the Coast for all of your Magic art information. I’ve got a handful of things in the works, and I promise you won’t want to miss out.

And as always 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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