Good morning, and thanks for tuning into this week’s Mirror Gallery on Hipsters of the Coast! Modern Horizons isn’t even officially released yet, but knowing that Core Set 2020 previews start next Monday, I don’t want to miss an opportunity to talk about Magic’s newest set. Back to back sets mean back to back Art Grand Tours, of course, and based on the exceptional excitement surrounding this new expansion there is plenty to talk about. Modern Horizons is one of the strongest sets in terms of illustration in recent memory, and I would be remiss if I didn’t share some of my favorite pieces of art from this visually astounding collection of cards.

As with the Grand Art Tours that have come before, this style of art review is based on art critic Jerry Saltz’s 2010 article A Grand Tour recounting his explorations of the New York City art museum scene from that summer. Herein you’ll see an emphasis on strong visual storytelling, and in this group of works especially, a closer look at some incredible details that can’t be seen on the card; they’re only visible when looking at the full art. So let’s begin as we do—my favorite paintings in Modern Horizons, in no particular order:

Rebuild by Lindsey Look

Rebuild by Lindsey Look, oils on illustration board, approx. 14” x 19”

When I first saw this artwork, I instantly knew it was going to be one of my favorites of the entire set, and it turns out it’s probably one of my favorites in all of Magic. Lindsey Look’s hand illustrations for Magic have become legendary, sitting alongside the masterworks of Donato Giancola and Volkan Baga.

She is now Magic’s undeniable go-to artist for an illustration involving hands, and Rebuild takes her work one step further. We see six different hands holding five artifacts from Magic’s history: Ring of Gix, Bone Saw, Mox Sapphire, Paradise Plume, and Spidersilk Net, situated within an abstract composition that is not only flavorful but so very real. For me this painting was love at first sight. While I don’t often show my “bidding hand,” this is a piece of art I’m going to do my damnedest to put on my wall.

Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis by Vincent Proce

Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis by Vincent Proce. Digital.

If there’s one illustration that you need to see at full scale in this set, it’s Hogaak, Arison Necropolis by Vincent Proce. In the card box it appears as a giant mass of swamp bits, but once enhanced, you realize that those are people. Every single piece is a person. Some of them have taken their place as a part of the whole while others have outstretched arms and open mouths as if they’re still trying to escape. There is something very scary in the subtlety from Proce, master of the macabre. This work is terrifyingly good.

Ayula, Queen Among Bears by Jesper Ejsing

Ayula, Queen Among Bears by Jesper Ejsing, acrylics on watercolor board, 12” x 16”, collection of the artist.

Grizzly Bears have been a part of Magic since the beginning, and their Queen has finally arrived in glorious fashion. This painting will take your breath away: from her sun-crowned head to the moss that covers the forest floor, a regal representation of the Queen that Magic might not have known they wanted, but has always needed. Ejsing noted on social media there was a lot of influence from the Russian forest painter Ivan Shiskin, and perusing Shiskin’s work we see that style and subject translated into the artist’s own realm of imaginative realism. It’s a stunning painting that will remain in the artists personal collection of his own work.

Mox Tantalite by Ryan Pancoast

Mox Tantalite by Ryan Pancoast, oil on stretched canvas, 18” x 24.” Private Collection.

In my Art Market Minute for this piece I called this the Modern Horizons Masterpiece, and I meant it. This was a painting that when it arrived to Art Director Cynthia Sheppard, those that saw it thought it was a photograph and could not believe it was an oil painting. It’s as if you could reach out and touch the tantalite orb, no different than if you were standing in an ancient temple and it was right there in front of you. It is well worth watching his Gumroad video to see this one come together. The precision and persistence that Pancoast puts into his work really shines through here. He has once again created another painting that could easily claim the title of the best he’s done for Magic.

Snow-Covered Lands by Titus Lunter

Snow Covered Plains, Island, Swamp, Mountain, and Forest by Titus Lunter. Digital.

There is something really special to this set of Snow-Covered Lands by Titus Lunter. We’ve looked at panoramas and polyptychs previously, but these lands are different. Their frosty foundations are telescopic, meaning you see the next in the background of the one preceding it; in the background of the Plains is the Island, in the background of the Swamp is the Mountain, and so on. Lunter had no brief and no plane constraints when creating the world for these lands, and thus has created something entirely unique, essentially never done before. They are dynamic and yet there is certain stillness and serenity; they are everything a re-imagined Snow-Covered Land should be.

Sword of Truth and Justice by Chris Rahn

Sword of Truth and Justice by Chris Rahn, oil on cradled board, 18” x 24.” Private Collection.

These are not the first swords we’ve seen from Chris Rahn. But Truth and Justice may be the most beautiful, especially when we get to see it large and up close. There is so much you miss at card size, from the detail of the whirling magic that comes from the blade to the incredible sheen Rahn has placed on the gauntlet, an absurdly good reflection of the energy emanating from the sword itself. Take just a few seconds to zoom in and look closely at this work, from the background forward and top to bottom—it’s just lovely.

Icehide Golem by Paul Scott Canavan

Icehide Golem by Paul Scott Canavan. Digital.

Golems have always been a favorite fantasy creature of mine, and this particular one by Canavan is winter-land wonderful. My favorite part of this painting is how well the creature assimilates into the background, as it would if it was real thing in a real place. When stationary, the golem would appear as an iceberg or frosty peak, but when on the move as he is here, he is both separate and one with the beautifully rendered blizzard background. The artist posted his reference board to Twitter, and it’s awesome to be able to see bits and pieces of other illustration and naturally occurring things and places that come together to create this enchanting new work. Canavan is absolutely killing it right now, and I look forward to seeing what he has new for each set as his card count grows.

Marit Lage’s Slumber by Randy Vargas

Marit Lage’s Slumber by Randy Vargas, oil on hardboard, 11.8” x 15.75.” Private Collection.

Boy do I love when Randy Vargas paints in blues and purples. His art has become a staple of contemporary Magic illustration, and this work is another home run addition to his catalog. We see the legendary Marit Lage, hazily hidden, and in colors so deep we can feel the chill of her subzero slumber. The scale people in the foreground further reinforce her immensity, and the detail of the snow and fissuring ice really make this a special artwork of this set. There is both a storybook quality and at the same time an abstraction, a beautiful blend that makes this one of the most exciting pieces in the set.

Warteye Witch by Steve Prescott

Warteye Witch by Steve Prescott, acrylic on gessoboard, 11” x 14.” Private Collection.

Magic doesn’t get quite as many cards from Steve Prescott as in the past, but when he does one we are never disappointed. This illustration is wonderfully whimsical, from the goblin’s toad hat and fish necklace to their oddly funny overbite. While we don’t know how, the witch has eighteen fresh eyeballs, and they’re all different. I’d be interested to know if Prescott imagined where each of them came from: maybe they’re just from his imagination, or perhaps they’re taken from his past illustrations. Maybe it’s worth a look? Are any past paintings now missing something?

Trumpeting Herd by Lars Grant-West

Trumpeting Herd by Lars Grant-West, oil on hardboard, 16” x 20.” Private Collection.

Lars Grant-West is a master of mixing imaginative realism with natural history, and this painting is wholly representative of this specific skill set. The elephants here are so very realistic, stampeding through a vined forest just as they might in real life; and yet the perspective, essentially underfoot and under tusk, makes it feel fantastic—we would never find ourselves in that position in real life. I thoroughly enjoy seeing Lars’ work up large and close, and every painting of his is an experience.

Twisted Reflection by Jason Felix

Twisted Reflection by Jason Felix. Digital.

There is a certain something about paintings that involve reflections. Whether it’s the trigger of introspection or satisfying layout of the parallel construction, Felix’s mirrored dragons in Twisted Reflection is a fabulous addition this set. We don’t know the dichotomy present here: is it light and dark? Good and evil? Past and present? It’s entirely up to you the viewer, and allows you to place yourself along this fantasy lake and construct your own narrative about how you experience this artwork. This is an uncommon opportunity, and one that Felix facilitates flawlessly.

Dead of Winter by Zack Stella

Dead of Winter by Zack Stella. Digital.

It’s extremely difficult to illustrate other sensory feelings, whether it be smells, touch, or sounds, and it’s even more difficult to illustrate the lack there of, in this case the sound of silence. But Stella is able to do just that. The eerie stillness of what once was and never will be again is poignant, and the absence of life and feeling is as chilling as the snow covering the ground. The flavor text words at the bottom of the card from Tevsh Szat that are so very perfect for the art, and really drive home the full flavor package:

“At last, silence.”

Bonus Spotlight: Seb McKinnon

If you’re familiar with Seb McKinnon’s work, you’ve probably been wondering where it was as you were going through this article. If you’re not familiar with his work, buckle up for a few sentences and have a look at one of the most extraordinary artists working in Magic today.

Modern Horizons illustrations by Seb McKinnon. Digital.

In his seven incredible illustrations for Modern Horizons, there is an unparalleled blending of whimsy, weirdness, and wonder. There is the astonishment-evoking feeling we’ve come to expect from his work, with just enough grim and grisly that we can’t entirely be settled when viewing. Each painting is so very different, from the fairytale angelic blessing to the eerily beautiful lake of the dead landscape, but all are still signature Seb McKinnon in one way or another. McKinnon is in a league all his own, and his breadth of style and skill is at full throttle here. This group of artwork shows that if anything, there’s only more exciting things on his Horizon as well.

Wrapping Up

Modern Horizons hit a lot of high notes for players and fans of Magic; you’ve now seen it’s surely one of the strongest sets in terms of illustration quality and diversity that I can remember. Art Director Cynthia Sheppard commissioned this set masterfully, and it really shows as these artists have knocked each one of their associated pieces out of the park. For the near twenty works I highlighted there were twenty more I would have loved to talk about, but I hope you enjoyed getting to see some of these stellar paintings through a larger lens, and maybe you discovered something you hadn’t yet seen hiding in the card box. Let me know on Twitter if I missed any of your favorite paintings from this set, or if a particular piece of art made you feel something special. I love learning about the narrative that Magic art can create, so please reach out and let’s talk about it!

Looking forward into the summer we’re going to be talking about Core Set 2020, multiple upcoming Magic Art Shows, and some of the major art conventions I’ll be visiting and the folks I’ll meet there. Exciting times await, my friends! 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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