Hi everyone, and welcome back to the Mirror Gallery here on Hipsters of the Coast. This is my 100th article, and it is a good one. That’s right, free preview cards! Five of them, a cycle from the upcoming pre-constructed decks of Commander 2019!

Wizards of the Coast has given me these five fabulous free preview cards to share with you all today, and they are cards we’ll be seeing quite a bit of moving forward. I get to showcase one of the cycles of Basic Lands that can be found inside some of the Commander decks: an incredible panoramic by the one and only Alayna Danner:

These lands debuted as the promotional basic lands for Standard Showdown 2019, first previewed on Daily MTG by Blake and Alayna last summer (starts at 45:00). During that reveal, we learned that what connects these lands beyond being a panoramic is a path that winds through each artwork.

Today Alayna has joined me in the Mirror Gallery. To start, let’s hear her perspective on exactly why these lands were so important to her:

Alayna: So when I first got the assignment, they really just asked for a land cycle: make each land fantastical and really speak to its mana color. I have been a casual player since 2004 and I collect land cards. They are some of my favorite Magic art—making the assignment both really exciting and daunting. I didn’t want to screw up my first (and possibly only) land cycle for Magic! I just tried to epitomize the mana color while still being able to tie them all together.

Making them a panorama was my husband’s idea. I was sketching on two of them and he was like, “Oh, those could fit together. Just make them all fit together.” The idea originally really didn’t work because I had to redo a couple other sketches, but once I fit them together I really liked that more than anything else.  I asked Cynthia Sheppard (my Art Director) if it was okay and she said sure, but I had to have another unifying feature, which became the path.

This path makes these lands unique to the artist, and is our focus for today. It represents the journey a creator takes from beginning to end, whether we are looking at the making of a piece of art or, in terms of Magic, building a Commander deck. Lucky for us, Alayna is not only an artist for Magic, but also an avid Commander player!

Throughout this article Alayna has provided insights and stories that will connect the dots of how her drawing process can intersect with some of the same challenges and celebrations that go along with deckbuilding. Ready yourselves, Planeswalkers, it’s time for an expedition through her panoramic basic lands. Let’s see just what makes these lands Far From Basic:

The Plains

Plains by Alayna Danner. Digital.

Our journey begins. The path is straightforward, and while you can’t see the obstacles in front of you, the silhouette of trials to come looms in the distance. No matter, it’s time to press on. This will be no short adventure, but for now the way is clear.

Plains (Left: Sketch, Right: Final) by Alayna Danner. Digital. Image from Daily MTG

Alayna: My mana color since I started playing has usually been White. My General is Linvala, and I love angel and cat creature types, flying, lifelink, Wrath of God and swords. Drawing the Plains was really important to me, but also especially daunting.  I finished that piece first out of the five, and made sure everything worked with it first.

Every new Commander deck starts with excitement, and often from a place one is most comfortable. Picking a General that fits your play style and basic lands to match is a natural point of departure, because it allows the 100 card checklist to start strong, unified, and focused. From here, everything else must follow suit, always making sure to follow behind the General you started with.

The Forest

Forest by Alayna Danner. Digital.

The road continues on, grazing the edge of a verdant forest to your left and lofty peaks to your right. There are more questions now, more decisions to be made, and as the path gets steeper the world around you isn’t quite as open. Continued summons to contest lie ahead, and the way to triumph might no longer be obvious.

Forest (Left: Sketch, Right: Final) by Alayna Danner. Digital. Image from DailyMTG

This is the only sketch that doesn’t look quite as close as the final painting. Alayna told us last year that this one had to be re-sketched because the feedback from the Art Director was that it was “too mountainous.” Alayna couldn’t remember exactly whether she or the Art Director decided the single tree should be replaced with an entire forest. The full Forest absolutely embodies green mana, and it creates a smooth transition through the rest of he panoramic.

No different than Alayna needing to change her course when something wasn’t just right, deck-builders frequently discover something that doesn’t work as they intended. It could be a combo that only functions in a vacuum, or some counteracting card interactions; but at any case it’s something that needs to be worked out before you can continue. Refocus, realign, and move to the next step.

The Mountain

Mountain by Alayna Danner. Digital.

Though mountains now rise in front of you, this is not your first time along the trail. You find a way around, and while not necessarily easier, the extended trip allows you the time to plan accordingly for the most difficult parts ahead.

Mountain (Left: Sketch, Right: Final) by Alayna Danner. Digital. Image from DailyMTG

Alayna: I had to work repeatedly on the three colors in the middle to make sure they fit behind the Plains, and also really exemplified the epitome of their colors while still fitting all together.

Alayna’s description of the process involved with the middle three lands made me immediately think of the famous Sherlock Holmes quote about horses: “Dangerous on both ends, and crafty in the middle.” How many times, in both Commander deck-building and gameplay, do we know what to expect at both the beginning and the end, yet it’s the questions in the middle that seem to be the most intensive? It’s universal, and an incredibly important part of any process that often yields a much better final product.

The Island

Island by Alayna Danner. Digital.

There is no way around this next portion; you must go over and through if you are to continue. As you rise over the passage, the water surrounding shows you your reflection: where you started, where you’ve come from, where you’ve been. But perhaps most importantly, it shows you where you’re headed.

Island (Left: Sketch, Right: Final) by Alayna Danner. Digital. Image from DailyMTG

Alayna: The Island was the hardest to fit, and really should be zoomed out even more to make spatial sense in the panorama. But, because the image needs to look good at card size too, the proportions are a little wonky to make it work.

Have you ever run into that function vs. flavor question when building a Commander deck? As a Vorthos-first deck-builder, it’s an eternal struggle between “this will work really well in this deck” and “this makes no sense to have behind this General.” We see the same thing here. I absolutely love that this is an actual island, but to complete this literal depiction of blue mana she needed to “zoom out” to make it fit within the larger landscape. This is my personal favorite of the five, and one that is slated for a Commander deck I have in the works.

The Swamp

Swamp by Alayna Danner. Digital.

After all you’ve traveled, through tree tops, around mountainside, and across the water, the hardest part of the journey is now staring back at you. Though the murkiness of self-doubt and second guessing is very real, you’ve come too far to stop now. Just a bit farther, dear traveler; the end is in sight.

Swamp (Left: Sketch, Right: Final) by Alayna Danner. Digital. Image from DailyMTG

AD: The Swamp I finished last. The Swamp was especially daunting because I usually never play Black, and drawing a Swamp is furthest away from my usual wheelhouse. It was one of the last things I finished, but completed the journey of the five lands.

Every Commander player knows the final cuts are always the most difficult; those cards and abilities most unknown or untested and therefore furthest from our comfort zone. And yet, after the entire progression from Card #1 to Card #100, a few difficult decisions won’t keep anyone from their ultimate goal. You are able to finish strong. The panoramic is now one, and the 100 is ready to play.

Basic Land Panorama (Top: Sketch, Bottom: Final) by Alayna Danner. Digital.

Wrapping Up

And so the journey is complete. Plains to Swamp, 1 to 100, start to finish. I had no idea the parallels that exist between painting and deckbuilding until delving into these works of art with Alayna, and her path was the perfect lens to magnify the big picture. (You didn’t think we’d get all the way through without a bad pun, did you?)

Basic lands are a fundamental building block of both Commander and the larger sphere of Magic. Their art functions as an integral part of world-building, storytelling, and furthering the narrative of the game. These lands are indeed far from basic, and some of the most beautiful we’ve seen in the 25 years basic lands have existed. They exemplify their respective colors of mana, and we as players are very lucky to have Alayna illustrating the cards we play with. I’m excited to see her continue to shape the visual journey of Magic for the foreseeable future.

Thanks again to Wizards of the Coast for allowing me to preview this superb cycle of basic lands, and to Alayna for taking the time to lead us through this exploration of her artwork that connects the dots to the wider scope of Commander.

To see more original #mtgart and other #vorthos related things, make sure to follow me on Twitter, and keep an eye out for new articles every other Thursday on Hipsters of the Coast. Feel free to ask questions or retweet to continue the conversation. Thanks for tuning in, and see you again real soon!

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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