Good morning everyone and welcome back to the Mirror Gallery on Hipsters of the Coast. For those of you in the Northeast like I am, I hope you’ve dug yourselves out and stayed safe from this crazy snowstorm of the last 24 hours. And for those of you elsewhere, who are not penguins and polar bears, be glad you’re not on Right Coast, USA.

As the year winds down, I wanted to talk about a dozen or so artworks that normally get missed. These works are not a part of a set, and they drop periodically throughout the year. I am referring to promo cards. This year, without in-person events from MagicFests to Friday Night Magic, the chance of promo cards being overlooked is even greater, and yet some of these are my favorite illustrations of the entire year. There are a lot of promo cards in Magic these days, but for this article we’ll look at those a specific subsection. Some are promos given to judges, who worked virtually to hone their skills in lieu of events to work. Others were to commemorate events, whether it was your normal weekend MagicFest or the World Championship of Magic. And more still straight to your friendly local game shop, a pillar of the wider world of Magic and perhaps the hit hardest in our community by the events of this year.

While I wish I could talk about each and every 2020 promo, I’ve chose a few of my favorites to highlight today. These are the Unplayed Promos of 2020.

Two Tutor Doves

Judge promos are earned by Magic: The Gathering judges for participation in events, conferences, and continued learning courses throughout the year. With near no events to judge in person, most of these took place online as the program fully shifted to the Judge Academy. These promo cards and artworks didn’t get to have their time in the sun, and yet are some of the strongest works we saw in Magic over the entire year.

Enlightened Tutor by Aaron Miller, acrylic on Masonite hardboard, 20” x 24”

The first work I want to talk about is honestly the genesis for this article. When Aaron Miller’s Enlightened Tutor was released at the beginning of the year, I knew I had to highlight it, even if briefly. It was so different from what’s come before, for both card and artist. This was a stylistic departure for Miller, and it knocked me right off my feet. The color and composition blend to beautiful abstraction, and yet there is immense storytelling, playing off the idea of the Mind’s Eye but in a realistic and dimensional way. It’s one of my favorite paintings of 2020.

Sylvan Tutor by Iris Compiet, watercolor, gouache and colored pencil on Arches watercolor paper, 11” x 15”

Iris Compiet’s second Magic card comes to us as Sylvan Tutor, another Judge promo from the early wave of 2020. As if straight out of a story book, animals converge from beyond the frame to this Tree of Life, all rendered in her signature watercolor style with brilliant bursts of green. I especially like how the owl in the work interacts with the new watermark in frame, a rare and serendipitous occasion that makes this a magical little package.

Four Calling Colorless

Crucible of Worlds by Ralph Horsley, oils on Daler-Rowney board 16” x 22”

The World Championship promo from this year was a reimagining of Crucible of Worlds, and this time a highly stylized illustration by none other than Ralph Horsley. The 2020 event was held in Hawaii, and following thematic suit we have a cascade of swirling lava that pours forth from Mother Earth, just as Hawaii was made from erupting volcanoes. It’s a beautiful highlight of the Before Times of 2020.

Birthing Pod by Titus Lunter. Digital.

Not quite colorless (but close enough for a punny subtitles) is another reimagining, this one by Titus Lunter for the menace of Modern, Birthing Pod. Perfectly Phyrexian and oh so sci-fi, I love how he’s compleated this commission in a way that’s both fresh and new and instantly iconic at the same time. It’s enough to make you want to build the deck.

Aether Vial by Billy Christian. Digital.

Speaking of beautiful cards that are a menace on the battlefield, enter Billy Christian’s Pro Tour Promo Aether Vial. For the first time we get a zoom of the vial itself, as outstretched hands break that fourth wall and offer it to the viewer freely. It’s a poignant perspective and one that works exceptionally within the confines of the card frame. Billy is a rising star in Magic, and an artist to watch closely in 2021.

Mechagodzilla, Battle Fortress by Nicholas Gregory. Digital.

You didn’t think I was going to skip Godzilla did you? This was part of the Love Your LGS promotion and available with the purchase of any box of product from your local game store earlier this year. Nicholas Gregory flexed his “Make a Big Monster” muscle as he’s become known for in Magic, and we get a really neat end result as two worlds collide.

To those of you that have kept your LGS running and safely supported them this year through all the challenges, you’re the MVPs of 2020. And a shout out to my local shop, The Game Haven of Maryland, for hanging in there too.

Five Basic Lands

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MagicFest 2020 Basic Lands by Jonas De Ro. Digital.

If you’re reading this you probably know how much I love basic Lands, and the Grand Prix/Magic Fest Basics this year are a highlight of my card collecting. The 2020 MagicFest Promo Basic Lands by Jonas De Ro transport us back to Valor’s Reach, reminiscent of the “Smash Lands” Titus Lunter created for the Battlebond set. These stadium snapshots at sunrise and sunset show how the arena can evolve, and they’re a fantastic narrative of a plane we’re longing to go back to.

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

Topdeck the Halls by Kieran Yanner. Digital.

I’ll end today in the same festive way Wizards ends their promo card year, with the annual holiday card: Topdeck the Halls. This card is given to employees, content creators, and Play Network stores, and is always a fun parody of holiday tradition mixed with Magic. This year’s card is particularly nostalgic, as it puts a holiday spin on the age old fan favorite Dream Halls. For many folks and especially content creators, it’s the capstone of a year of Magic, and maybe one day one will find its way into my mailbox. And art writer can hope, right?

Wrapping Up

And so ends our mini-tour of some of the promos from the Year That Never Was. Like I mentioned earlier promotional cards, at least for me, are the placeholders of important milestones in my time with Magic. It could be a tournament you did well in, a faraway place traveled to, or something earned for hard work and commitment to the game. In any case, these cards and illustrations are some of the most important releases of the year, even if we don’t get to see and talk about them as much as we should like.

For as many artworks as I wrote about, there are that many more incredible pieces that make up the full class I didn’t get to expand on. Here’s a quick lightning round of the rest of these Judge and Event promos from this year:

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There’s but one Mirror Gallery article left for this year, and it stand to be my annual Mirror Gallery reflection, a bit of a personal piece where I look back on everything that’s happened and the folks that helped along the way. Tune in on New Year’s Eve for that. 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 out there folks; 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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