Good morning all, and welcome back to another Grand Art Tour! While it probably feels like I just did the Grand Art Tour for Modern Horizons (because I did), the increased pace of product release means an equal amount of new and exciting artwork to look at and talk about.

Core Sets are always particularly interesting, as they are an amalgamation of both new art and reprints. They must be cohesive to look as one whole, but diverse enough to introduce new players to a variety of game worlds and characters. I’ve looked over the entirety of Core Set 2020 and gathered a cross-section of some of my favorites, from different artists and across rarities, to share with you today.

Just as a short reminder, my Grand Art Tour series was inspired by art critic Jerry Saltz’s 2010 article A Grand Tour. Similar to his journey through the art museums of New York City, you’ll see a paramount emphasis on strong narrative storytelling, but alongside a compilation of whimsy, dynamism, and brilliant technicality. So without further delay, my favorite paintings in Core Set 2020, in no particular order:

Pacifism by Jesper Ejsing

Pacifism by Jesper Ejsing, acrylics on watercolor board, approx. 12” x 16”, collection of the artist.

The first painting up today is seventh new art for the ever-popular card Pacifism, and what a masterwork it is by Jesper Ejsing. This is Ejsing’s new favorite painting of his own hand, and we can certainly see why. The narrative here is so strong: the giant is under a spell of peace, and as a result has taken up knitting with his swords as opposed to stabbing with them! From the bold colors to the incredible detail of the giant’s accoutrements to an exceptional capturing of light; this painting honestly has it all, and is a wonder to look at.

Jesper did an in-depth Muddy Colors blog post about his process from start to finish, and you must check it out. It’s become one of my very favorites of his as well.

Bag of Holding by Dmitry Burmak

Bag of Holding by Dmitry Burmak. Digital.

A nod to Dungeons & Dragons players everywhere, Burmak’s Bag of Holding is a delightful addition to Core Set 2020. It straddles the lines of whimsy with an overstuffed bag full of whatever an adventurer may need. We see everything from a dragon head to some tentacles to multiple arrow-firing weapons, and even a wizard’s staff; and that’s just what’s visible!

Having the light shine directly on the bag draws our attention to the most important part of the work, and gives its contents a feeling of divinity, as if they were a celestial gift for this traveler alone. This is a fun artwork that will surely find its way onto many a wall, regardless of the particular game you play.

Golos, Tireless Pilgrim by Joseph Meehan

Golos, Tireless Pilgrim by Joseph Meehan, oil on paper on board, 20.25” x 28”

Joseph Meehan has returned to traditional illustration for this legendary artifact creature, and what a stunning painting it is. The background evokes a feeling of Bierstadt, juxtaposed against a science-fiction robot that is effectively an Everyman. These two major components are what motivated the collector that acquired this painting at auction, and you can read his entire body of thoughts in the comments here. In short, it’s that the tireless, faceless traveler that wears the sash of all five Magic colors is actually each one of us, on a journey that has no end—so are we as we play and interact with this game. We are Golos.

Cavalier of Flame by Wesley Burt

Cavalier of Flame by Wesley Burt. Digital.

The Cavalier cycle is something brand new to this set, and Wesley Burt’s Cavalier of Flame is my favorite from among them. Reminiscent and inspired by Frazetta’s Death Dealer 6 (1990), this work has the added temperature of the volcanic lava, radiating right off the card.  It’s an incredibly dynamic work even at small size, and the artist has an insightful thread on Twitter that shows the full art, the thumbnail sketches, and even the fountain statues from his hometown that were used as inspiration and reference. Have a look at all his preliminary work, and see just how much life can inspire art.

Sephara, Sky’s Blade by Livia Prima

Sephara, Sky’s Blade by Livia Prima. Digital.

Livia Prima has only done seventeen cards for Magic, but her illustrations have become some of my favorites. This is her second angel and one of several strong female figures she’s created for the game, and the power and confidence of character she is able to imbue into her pieces is just phenomenal. The artist placed the angel directly in front of the sun, not only creating an activated backlight but also evoking the feeling that Sephara is the sun, the savior of whom she visits and a bright spot within the world she exists. This legend stands to be a longtime and popular Commander, which means we’ll get to see this beaming piece of art around game tables for hopefully the foreseeable future.

Ancestral Blade by Scott Murphy

Ancestral Blade by Scott Murphy, oil on panel, 14” x 19.” Private Collection.

This is probably my favorite piece (or at least very close) of Murphy’s fifty-plus Magic illustrations over his career. It may be hard to see them at card size, but look at the details he’s included: the heads at the corners of the painting, the faces of the ladies upholding the mantle, and the dragon along the sheath of the sword, whose tail wraps all the way around to the tip. This painting reads so clean and complete, and it’s no surprise the original work and sketch sold almost instantly—perhaps to hang over a mantle of its own.

Temple of Silence by Adam Paquette

Temple of Silence by Adam Paquette. Digital.

How wonderfully still is this painting? The Temple of Silence emits a silence of its own, as if it’s captured any of the noise around it like a movie still, and you wait with bated breath to see what happens next. Fellow Hipsters Writer/Podcaster HobbesQ commented on Paquette’s Twitter post showing the art about the dock being his favorite part, and honestly it might be mine too. It leads the viewer right through the frame to the Temple itself, and creates such an eerie feeling of unrest.

This is a super re-envisioning of one of the Theros Temples. If a return to the plane means more Paquette landscapes, I’m all in.

Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer by G-host Lee

Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer by G-host Lee. Digital.

Yanling has returned, and in fitting spirited fashion. This art makes you say “wow,” and my favorite elements are her eyes and her hair. Look at that intense stare of determination. We’re not sure what she’s looking at or drawing back to square against, but whatever it is, they’ve picked the wrong Planeswalker. And this heaviness of gaze is right alongside the lightness of her snow white hair, wisped and blowing from her levitation. It just seems so very real. From the overall pose to the sense of movement, this painting not only fits the card but makes for a dynamic piece of art both inside and out of the frame.

Wakeroot Elemental by Filip Burburan

Wakeroot Elemental by Filip Burburan, acrylic on board, 9.2” x 12.9” Private Collection.

Burburan has become known for his creatures and monsters. So when I saw he had a Treefolk elemental, one of my favorite types of creatures in the game, I knew I’d need a closer look. The sense of motion the artist places in this often stationary creature type makes it feel as if he is constantly growing, twisting and turning into another form right before our very eyes. The viewer travels from the bottom right to the top left and then back down like a verdant tidal wave, making this yet another great example of a super dynamic piece of art from this set. I’m on Team Treefolk for Burburan, and would love to see him do more of these.

Lotus Field by John Avon

Lotus Field by John Avon, acrylic and airbrush on watercolor board, 8.3” x 11.4”

John Avon returned to traditional media for this commission, and with good reason, as earlier this week the original painting set a new record for newly-released Magic art when it sold for $40,000. Avon is synonymous with out of this world Magic landscapes, and there’s a reason. Look closer at the image below:

See the color transitions? The incredibly small brushstrokes that create the ribs of the lotus leaf? Something that’s repeated more than a dozen times? It’s an unbelievable piece of art, and a privilege we get to see it on a Magic card.

Artist Spotlight: Randy Vargas

Randy Vargas may have only been illustrating for Magic since 2017, but his 44 cards for Magic have already left an incredible imprint on the game. His brushstrokes are especially felt here in Core Set 2020, where six of his extraordinary illustrations help make this set something special:

Core Set 2020 illustrations by Randy Vargas. Digital.

Vargas is able to create actual magic within his art, accentuating the ethereal and amplifying the intangible. The celestial components that make up many of his cards, whether the inside of an undead dinosaur, the elemental whole of a tidal wave, or the after effects of a spell, are nothing short of extraordinary. His ability to capture the raw power of what magic can look like is unparalleled, and makes his art truly unique to the game. His Tale’s End is such a beautiful piece of storytelling, and is an illustration that will stay with player’s for some time.

Wrapping Up

And that’s that for a quick jaunt around some of my favorite works from Core Set 2020. As I’ve mentioned a few times before, the art direction for this set seems to hint at almost definite returns to Theros, as well as to Lorwyn. With no Fall set announced as of the writing of this article, we’ll just have to wait and see which is first, if any.

Core Set 2020 is filled with fantastic paintings, and a delight to witness from pack opening to playing turn one. Let me know on Twitter if I missed any of your favorite paintings from this set; I’ve only got so many I can cover and I know there are more than a few great ones I missed that deserve their own time in the spotlight.

Until next time, my friends! See you then.

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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