Welcome back to the Mirror Gallery for my last piece dedicated to Theros Beyond Death. So far during this visit to Theros we’ve explored Sam Burley’s basic lands and Jason Engle’s marvelous star chart, and I’d be remiss if I skipped a Grand Art Tour like I’ve been doing for the last handful of sets.

Normally in my Grand Art Tour series I’m looking for works that have strong narrative storytelling. While that is still going to be true today, these works all stood out because of an extra detail I wanted to highlight. It could be historical references, design elements, an unusual style, or an artist’s story as it’s related to the piece. There are dozens of great illustrations in this set to be written on, and I could have very easily added a Volume II to cover even more of the outstanding work that was a part of this set. But in the interest of word count and so I’m not strung up by my toes by my editor, I kept it to my usual twelve. In no particular order, these are my favorite works from the Theros Beyond Death:

Elspeth Conquers Death by Ryan Yee

Elspeth Conquers Death by Ryan Yee. Digital.

Ryan Yee made a mosaic, and knocked it out of the park.

Two-time Chesley Award winner for his Magic work (Die Young and Fruit of the First Tree) Ryan Yee painted a mosaic of one of the most important moments in the Theros storyline. I cannot imagine the time that went into this work, from reference to color coordination to execution. It’s an absolute standout among this set’s catalog of artwork.

The artistic range that Saga cards, the new storytelling vehicles of Magic that debuted with Dominaria, allow for has made them one of my favorite new parts of the last few years. Historically, mosaics (like the Antioch Mosiacs at the Baltimore Museum of Art) told the greatest stories of their cultures; this illustration does just that for Theros. This card was also an absolute all-star of the Magic World Championship XXVI that aired this past weekend, and I love when great art is able to be seen by the masses on a world stage.

Sphinx Mindbreaker by PINDURSKI

Sphinx Mindbreaker by PINDURKSI. Digital.

This was one of the first cards to be shown during the Theros Beyond Death preview season, and one of six different illustrations Hugh Pindur has in this set. I want to draw your attention to the wings, and the wonderful “meander,” or Greek Key design he’s incorporated. This element was one of the most common embellishments in ancient times, and has continued in popularity within art of many forms to this very day. Its addition here becomes the intersection between ancient and contemporary, real-life, and fantasy. Creative details like this should not be overlooked—they are the very seams that connect these worlds to ours.

Mire Triton by Seb McKinnon

Mire Triton by Seb McKinnon. Digital.

We can always count on Seb McKinnon to pack the emotion into his artwork, and this piece is no different. This Merfolk wears the mask of tragedy, and exudes an unmistakable and overwhelming sadness as they are caught between the world of the living and the dead. The golden, face-covering façade is infused with worry, misfortunate, and an anxiety of uncertainty that we have all faced at some point. And yet the creature continues on in search of answers and what lies ahead, even amongst the most difficult of circumstances. The Mire Triton is no one in particular, and yet everyone at the same time.

The Akroan War by Steven Belledin

The Akroan War by Steven Belledin, acrylic with oils atop on gessoed hardboard, 11″ x 18″

Rewind to Dominaria, and you may very well remember Steven Belledin’s oil painted, tapestry-esque saga The First Eruption, a masterwork in making a painting appear as something else. Well for Theros Beyond Death, he’s one-upped himself.

The Akroan War is a painting, but you would never know at first glance. Belledin has seamlessly created an unfinished tapestry, steeped in historical reference, on an ever realistic warp-weighted loom. The cloth like texture is precisely-applied gesso, and you can read all about how this work came together in both idea and execution on the artist’s Muddy Colors blog post and Hipsters own Art Market Minute. It’s a truly incredible work of art that you must see up close outside the card frame.

Treeshaker Chimera by Vincent Proce

Treeshaker Chimera by Vincent Proce. Digital.

Vincent Proce is known for his scary stuff, and his seven other cards from this set all fit that bill quite nicely, from statues of skulls to titan’s made of a million mouths to the rising undead. But one work is different and I absolutely love it.

Treeshaker Chimera, although a hulking, three-headed beast from which someone is hiding in the foreground, has a storybook softness to it, and a regality not unlike Aslan from The Lion, The Witch & the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. It’s a treat to see Proce’s incredibly wide range of artistic talent on display, especially within the same set, and it’s something I hope we continue to see in the future as well.

Callaphe, Beloved of the Sea by Zack Stella

Callaphe, Beloved of the Sea by Zack Stella. Digital

The Odysseus of Theros, Zack Stella has subtly painted one of the most alluring scenes of this set in this legendary mariner. Callaphe has been a part of the Magic story for some time, if you can hear the tales of her triumphs if you look closely. Stella has instilled the demigod with a thousand years of wisdom, exploration, and salt-sprayed skin, and from her posture to her expression, a heroic confidence pours out of the card frame. This is an instant classic, and a beautiful piece of art.

Archon of Falling Stars by Victor Adame Minguez

Archon of Falling Stars by Victor Adame Minguez, acrylics and oils on paper, 8″ x 10″

I knew very early I was including a piece by Victor in this article. I was torn between Kiora Bests the Sea God, his Kraken token, and this Archon of Falling Stars—all excellent additions to this set in their own way. His saga has stellar line work and his token the most lifelike and realistic detail, but the motion and color in this painting is out of this world. This is a palette Minguez has used before, and coupled with the star field striations in the background, has put the knight straight into a dreamlike flight aboard his noble steed.

And yes, I agree this would look incredible on the side of a van.

Erebos’s Intervention by Mathias Kollros

Erebos’s Intervention by Marhias Kollros. Digital.

A key component of the depictions of gods during the original Theros was their scale, as each was pictured super-imposed over the landscapes in which they reigned, be it towering over trees, mountainside, city or sea. This illustration brings back that idea, showing Erebos in absolute dominion over the land in front of him. Seeing the art close reveals the skulls emanating from his whip and amongst the clouds as the weapon seeks to encircle the entire scene. He is overwhelming and omnipotent; a death no one can escape indeed.

Elspeth’s Devotee by Caroline Gariba

Elspeth’s Devotee by Caroline Gariba. Digital.

This is Brazilian artist Caroline Gariba’s very first Magic card, and what a serene and reverent scene she’s created. This is another awe-inspiring example of perspective; we look up to this larger than life hero, a woman of color ardent to her cause, both in life and now in death. This painting absolutely blew up on Twitter during preview season and rightfully so; it is a glorious entrance into the game and I can’t wait to see what’s next from this artist. Welcome to Magic, Caroline!

Nyxbloom Ancient by Filip Burburan

Nyxbloom Anicent by Filip Burburan, acrylic on board, 10.6” x 14.6”

Filip Burburan has become the go-to Magic artist for green elementals and treefolk, and what an illustration he’s created here for Theros Beyond Death. The intertwining of vines, Nyx starfields, pink lotus-like flowers, and branches fill the card frame, as if the Ancient is about to wrap himself around the border and step through the art box. This is the Theros equivalent of an Ent from the Lord of the Rings, the literal forest come alive. This painting and its preliminary components were highly sought after by the collecting community, and you can see all everything that was a part of this work beyond the singular painting in last month’s Art Market Minute here.

Lampad of Death’s Vigil by Jason Felix

Lampad of Death’s Vigil by Jason Felix. Digital.

Lampad of Death’s Vigil is one of those rare opportunities where you see an artist’s personal work find a home within the commissioned card frame. Outside of Magic, Felix is a savant of the surreal through his Metamorphika, and if you page through the Projects tab at the top, you can see a stylistic resemblance between what he does there and what he’s created here. The Nyx-filled, disintegrating body is very much in the vein of his current Lost Ones series, and is as unsettling as it is hypnotic, chaotic but still retaining certain peace. I really seeing a creator’s variety of styles influence and inform artwork across their portfolio, and is an excellent example of connecting the dots to make something magical.

Theros Starchart by Jason Engle

Theros Starchart by Jason Engle. Digital.

I would be doing a disservice to Theros if I did not mention this compilation by Jason Engle. I wrote about it in detail two weeks ago, including an in-depth interview with the artist, and I implore you to go and have a look. These 11 paintings, now combined with the 15 works revealed last week for Secret Lair is an unprecedented contribution to Magic by a single artist and perhaps the most important artwork in creating exactly what Theros Beyond Death is meant to be. The set would look incredibly different without these works, and they are some of my favorite pieces of art not just in this set, but in recent memory of all of Magic.

Wrapping Up

And so closes the chapter on this Theros Beyond Death Grand Art Tour. I wasn’t writing, or even closely following Magic art, when the game first visited Theros, so it was an eye-opening experience getting to explore this world through a different lens this time around. A place based upon a civilization as infamous as Ancient Greece was sure to be full of story and history, and that’s exactly what we found, blended nicely into a fantasy world all its own that let artist’s really flex their stylistic muscles.

The entirety of this set, including the Nyx Lands and Showcase Constellations, was art directed by Dawn Murin, who just celebrated her 25th year at Wizards of the Coast. Art directors are integral in making Magic look as good as it does, and this set would not have come together as it did without her seasoned hand at the helm.

Like I mentioned when I began, I had to leave a lot of awesome works out of this semi-guided jaunt, so give me a yell on Twitter and I’d love to talk about your favorite! Next time in the Mirror Gallery, it’s the third installment of the “Best Basic Lands” series between Ryan Sainio and I, so make sure you stop back for that.  And remember, to see more 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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