Good morning everyone, and welcome back to the Mirror Gallery here on Hipsters of the Coast for another Grand Art Tour! It’s been quite a week, and I hope you all are doing what you need to stay well. I have found some solace in continuing to write and distill some of these fabulous new artworks in what has become my favorite sub-series. I hope it brings you some enjoyment too as we celebrate these fantastic artistic achievements by some of the best in the business.

Just a quick note for those new to my Grand Art Tour series: these articles highlight some of my favorite works from a newly-released set, and often have an emphasis on superior storytelling, something you might miss at card size, or simply exemplary execution. I include all colors and all rarities and try to paint a wide aesthetic picture; this selection includes a couple of artists I’ve never gotten to feature before, so that’s extra exciting! Core Sets are all about flavorful diversity as they pull themes from across the Multiverse and throughout Magic’s history, and we certainly get a taste of that in this year’s iteration.

This is the Grand Art Tour: Core Set 2021!

Indulging Patrician by Miranda Meeks

Indulging Patrician by Miranda Meeks. Digital.

Miranda Meeks makes her return to Magic with this absolute stunner of an illustration that couldn’t be a more perfect commission. Making the mysterious and macabre brilliant and beautiful is what Meeks does best, and this artwork does all these things without sacrificing a certain spookiness that keeps you coming back for more. That pink moonrise background is just breathtaking. One of my absolute favorite artworks so far this year, I’m very excited to see her continue her career with Magic. You killed it, Miranda!

Sublime Epiphany by Lindsey Look

Sublime Epiphany by Lindsey Look. Traditional.

I’m fairly certain I yelled “Wow!” when I saw this art previewed early on a Sunday morning. I’ve been a fan of Lindsey’s work for years. Just when I thought I knew my favorite of hers (Powerstone Shard, then Rebuild), she goes full surrealism and completely levels up with this astonishing piece of art. This painting is a 10 from concept to execution, a perfect representation of what it means to play Blue in Magic, and it couldn’t be any more representative of her style and skill. Bravo Lindsey, you knocked this one right out of the park. I hope to see more Look surrealism in the future!

Barrin, Tolarian Archmage by Ryan Pancoast

Barrin, Tolarian Archmage by Ryan Pancoast, oil on stretched canvas, 24” x 30”

Ryan Pancoast is one of Magic’s go-to legendary illustrators: it what he does now, and he does it really, really well. I already wrote about Ugin—who certainly could have been included here—and couldn’t leave this other work depicting the Barrin out of this Grand Tour.

The Tolarian Headmaster is shown in full regality, the focus entirely on him with unparalleled realism. Pancoast makes you focus without losing all the details in the background, from the orbs that are a call back to his original depiction to the trinkets bookshelves that dot the rotunda where he stands. The work reads beautifully at card size and masterfully at full size, and is a true standout of this set.

Tolarian Kraken by Svetlin Velinov

Tolarian Kraken by Svetlin Velinov. Digital Final.

Speaking of Tolaria, we get a bit of a different view of the storied setting with the addition of one monstrous water-born behemoth! I love that this painting is essentially two dramatic halves: a translucent kraken, with thrashing tentacles and crackling energy; and a sunbathed view of Tolarian architecture, albeit a bit tilted now, with rising spires and bronzed rooves. We know Velinov for his creatures, but we don’t get architecture from him every day (not since Roving Keep in Throne of Eldraine). I really enjoy this juxtaposition of these two artistic strengths, combined into a single work.

Chromatic Orrery by Volkan Baga

Chromatic Orrery by Volkan Baga, oil on board, 16 inches by 20 inches

This is one of those rare almost-science-fiction crossovers in Magic. This time it comes in Worlds Fair Atomium fashion, as onlookers mill about this mysterious legendary artifact that we’ve yet to learn about. With triangular composition Baga has created an overwhelming sense of intrigue, where the curiosity of the characters in the work is transferred directly to us as the viewer, as if we explore with them. It’s very possibly that they don’t know what this technological marvel is either, and I hope we all soon find out.

Canopy Stalker by Ilse Gort

Canopy Stalker by Ilse Gort. Digital.

Ilse Gort returns to the Grand Art Tour for a back-to-back appearance with another standout from her second round of cards for Magic in Canopy Stalker. I love the perspective: we are one with the cat in the canopy, and get a front row seat to what’s about to transpire below. Like in her Glademuse from Ikoria we see an exquisite execution of dramatic shadow to highlight the height of action; this seems to be something she’ll be known for in her Magic work. I asked for more cards from her when I wrote the Ikoria Grand Tour and I hope it continues to come true like it did this time.

Demonic Embrace by Sidharth Chaturvedi

Demonic Embrace by Sidharth Chaturvedi, oils on canvas, 16” x 20”

That’s one good lookin’ foot—his best foot since 2013, from the artist himself, said way back in September of 2019. Almost a year later, we get to see it. Behold the best foot!

Chaturvedi teases his “best foot” at the end of last year.

In all seriousness though, Sid’s command of shape and shadow has rendered some astounding recent illustrations, and this one is perhaps chief among them. That best foot is the hook that begins the visual journey through this work, and begs the question of whether or not this figure is falling or flying. Sid really makes us think and look and look and think, and that’s really something special to find in an illustration.

Village Rites by Bud Cook

Village Rites by Bud Cook. Traditional.

Bud Cook makes his return to Magic with a follow-up piece to a card he created nearly a decade ago, Village Cannibals for Innistrad back in 2011. It’s important to look at this painting up close, and I’ll direct your attention to the shadows, especially on the hands and the white cloak. Not blacks, but red and yellows and oranges and blues and purples: the man used the whole spectrum!

Bud Cook is a master of using color to convey emotion, and he’s done the same thing here; it’s what makes his work wholly unique, and read so impactful both at full size and at card size. I’m so glad to see him back in Magic, and hope we’ll be getting more from him again soon. Make sure to check out some of his other work, from coffee sketches to pop culture portraits, on his Instagram.

Forgotten Sentinel by Joe Slucher

Forgotten Sentinel by Joe Slucher. Digital.

This is Slucher’s 30th Magic card, and I’m very excited to get to talk about his work for the first time in one of these articles! This sentry is stoic and serious, but at the same time is a little chonky and whimsical, a dichotomy that is no easy feat to achieve in an illustration that ultimately gets conveyed pretty small. Art Director Cynthia Sheppard thought this Slucher’s best Magic illustration so far at the time of submission, and I couldn’t agree more. Take a lesson from this golem and make sure to keep watch on Slucher’s art: I think we’ve got some exciting things to see in the future.

Gnarled Sage by Raoul Vitale

Gnarled Sage by Raoul Vitale, oils on Masonite, 9” x 12.5”

Tree?! I am no tree . . . I am an Ent.

Maybe it was just me, but this infamous line from The Two Towers was the first thing I heard ringing in my head when seeing this new card. Treefolk have existed in Magic for quite some time, but this is Magic’s literal Ent: a tree herder, a shepherd of the forest, and he’s leading us right through the card and out of the frame. Raoul works very small (note the size of the original), but the detail he packs into his painting really makes this work come alive. This is a beautiful inclusion in this set, and for me a nostalgia trip as well.

Mangara, the Diplomat by Howard Lyon

Mangara, the Diplomat, oil on panel, 18” x 24”

Howard Lyon’s new Mangara is an illumination of his entire body of work. It brings the full feel of his spectacular fine art subject matter, both biblical and romantic, to a Magic card. Through color and composition, he has achieved a majesty that we haven’t before seen from Mangara; he’s now depicted as the diplomat for the first time. It’s one we certainly won’t soon forget. You must watch his time lapse painting of Mangara and follow Howard’s other work watching him paint is just mesmerizing, and truly incredible to behold.

Nine Lives by Paul Scott Canavan

Nine Lives by Paul Scott Canavan. Digital.

I’d like to end on this piece, and draw your attention to the clouds. Notice anything? These aren’t your average jungle cats, but some of the most famous feline figures from the history of Magic:

Canavan has captured pure magic in the night sky. I love when cards are able to reference things from years past, and characters as memorable as these. The incorporation of these eight timeless Magic legends into this new piece is a literal Mufasa in the clouds for this little kitty, and I am here for it! This is such a fun work, and I hope it see play for a long time for other folks to enjoy as well.

Wrapping Up

Here ends our Core Set 2021 Grand Art Tour. Core Sets are especially fun artistic explorations, as there is no finite story or internal style guide specific to the set. They are an amalgamation of many different planes and locations, full of the characters and creatures that inhabit them, meshed together to make a stew of a beautiful set. We get a little bit of everything: realism, surrealism, imagination, colors of all hues, creatures of all kinds, throwbacks and flash forwards; it’s truly a melting pot.

Core Sets also provide a freedom in art direction not being particularly tied to any one thing. That lets industry veterans like Cynthia Sheppard go full flex and give us something astounding. I can’t say enough good things about the sets she has put together over the last few years.

Looking ahead into the summer, I’ve got some really neat things in the hopper I’ve been working on, and I can’t wait to share these articles with you over the coming weeks and months. We’re going to look in-depth at one of the most important cards in Magic, Jumpstart another Grand Art Tour, and maybe even see some Magic in miniature.

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. Stay safe, be kind to each other, and I’ll see you back here 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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