Good morning folks, and welcome back to the Mirror Gallery here on Hipsters of the Coast! This weekend, Magic: the Gathering’s brand new set Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty will be lighting up local game stores around the world, and in true Mirror Gallery fashion, that means it’s time for another Grand Art Tour. Magic first landed on Kamigawa back in 2004 in the midst of a war between the human and the spirit world. What has been 18 years on Earth is now 1200 years on Kamigawa, and has resulted in a blend of tradition and technology that sprawls over the mountainside and through the towering cityscape.

For those tuning in for the first time, my Grand Art Tour series was inspired by New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz, and his 2010 article entitled A Grand Tour. That original piece took readers through the museums of New York City that Saltz visited that summer, essentially a highlight reel for those works he found particularly narrative and illuminating. This will be our mission today: to go deep into this reimagining of a place and glean what has made it so special.

This particular edition features work by some familiar faces as well as artists who once were found only in alternate art subsets, now illustrating as a part of the main expansion. It’s also a showcase of different styles we have never seen before, both specific to that artist and the larger game as a whole. Together these two facets are responsible for the bounteous rainbow of life and color that is this body of work.

So plug in! This is the Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty Grand Art Tour!

Discover the Impossible by Ryan Pancoast

Discover the Impossible by Ryan Pancoast, oil on canvas, 20” x 30”

I’ll start with a painting that has received an exceptional amount of chatter, and rightly so. We’re very used to Ryan Pancoast’s legendary creatures, but not so much when he’s allowed to play in the abstract, to illuminate an idea as opposed to a figure or story spotlight. The result is mesmerizing, as the Kamigawa of years gone by is reflected in the ebb and flow of the progress of the modern day, all the while keeping a reverence for its own history. From the koi-inspired boat with rudders like fins, to the sunken building that Pancoast added at his own option, this is an absolute masterwork from the artist.

Perhaps Art Director Zack Stella described it best, calling it “the perfect intersection of Kamigawa’s futuristic present with the flooded remains of its past.” There is no better way to set the stage of this setting than with this painting.

Touch the Spirit Realm by Marta Nael

Touch the Spirit Realm by Marta Nael. Digital.

Marta Nael continues her Grand Art Tour streak with another absolutely knockout artwork, capturing a Kami “mid-glitch” between two worlds and in all of the colors we’ve come to love and expect in her work. I’ve mentioned in several past articles how soft her brushstrokes are, and this piece has a beautiful contrast between a pastel background and the sharpness of the techno-centric foreground. It’s another perfect abstraction of modern reality in Kamigawa, and a showstopper of an illustrative addition.

Mechtitan Token by Victor Adame Minguez

Mechtitan Token by Victor Adame Minguez, oils on board, 12.5” x 16.5” on a 14 x 18 gessoboard.

I’ve had the pleasure of watching Victor Adame Minguez absolutely explode over the last two years, creating some of the strongest pieces in all of Magic. This Mechtitan is one among seven other cards of his in the set, and is a masterclass on blending science fiction and fantasy into one cohesive piece of imaginative realism. To create a singular, believable work of art between a background of fantasy and a figure of science fiction, all while reminiscent of the stylings of the Golden Age of illustration? It’s honestly mind-blowing. We might not be sure how you do it Victor, but please don’t stop.

Akki War Paint by Jeremy Wilson

Akki War Paint by Jeremy Wilson, oil on panel, 24” x 20”

Jeremy Wilson is back, and has once again found himself in the main Magic set as opposed to an alternate art subset. His bold forms and brilliant color were made for this neon world. Such a complementary commission takes us to the streets of Sokenzan for some good old fashioned goblin graffiti. The most important thing to note about Wilson’s work is that each and every brushstroke is intentional. Even for a work that requires erraticism, paint is placed with the utmost care, all to the order of supreme storytelling. I’m glad to see him back in Magic once again, and hope to see more work like this included in future sets.

Boseiju, Who Endures by Chris Ostrowski

Boseiju, Who Endures by Chris Ostrowski. Digital.

One of the title images of the entire set, Ostrowski has been charged with showing us the two Kamigawas: the old and the new, tradition and technology, the past and the future blended into one modern day. In my Mind’s Eye this painting functions as the movie poster for the entire set, telling us everything we need to know about this new Kamigawa, yet leaving a thousand questions unanswered about what lies within. It’s a narrative-infused artwork that gives us the roadmap for the story we’re seeking and leaves us yearning to find out more.

Tamiyo’s Compleation by Dominik Mayer

Tamiyo’s Compleation by Dominik Mayer. Digital.

I think there was a collective gasp when this artwork was first revealed to the world; Magic fans learned the fate of the planeswalker Tamiyo as only Dominik Mayer could convey. Mayer began working as a showcase artist during Zendikar Rising, but has since made his way into the main sets of 2022 and his style is now here to stay! Smoke-infused tendrils and vibrant vials cradle a limp Tamiyo as she undergoes her transformation, all while the dizzying perspective and Phyrexian symbol that glows in the background creates an overwhelming uneasiness. Mayer is a master of macabre and blending abstraction with reality, and has brought that talent to Kamigawa for this perfect occasion.

Befriending the Moths by Matt Stewart

Befriending the Moths by Matt Stewart, oil on primed Medium-density fiberboard (MDF), 16” x 38”

When I first saw this painting, I had to make sure I read the artist line correctly. Matt Stewart is a Magic: the Gathering legend but generally paints realistically as opposed to stylistically. He described this painting is essentially trompe l’oeil, a far cry from his normal. Appearing as a Japanese scroll that exists in three dimensions, the graphic style is something we’ve never seen from him on a card before; while I’m sure it was a challenge, it’s executed wonderfully for these storytelling Saga cards. Even after 200 cards, you’re full of surprises Mr. Stewart.

Invoke Justice by Kekai Kotaki

Invoke Justice by Kekai Kotaki.

I love when an artist gets to go full flex with what they like to paint, and that’s exactly what’s happened in this work by Kekai Kotaki. Known for his personal work depicting fantastic knights and soldiers in elaborate armor, he’s brought those characters and stylings to Kamigawa and dropped them in the heat of battle. You can feel the heat pour off the supersonic yellow flames, and feel the reflection from the almost glowing shinto-style armor. It’s exactly the commission we’ve been waiting for from this artist, and you can tell he had an absolute blast.

Regent’s Authority by A.M. Sartor

Regent’s Authority by A.M. Sartor.

A.M. (Amanda) Sartor makes her Magic debut in Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty with a storybook style that’s perfectly reminiscent of Old Kamigawa. We see the new character Light-Paws rendered somewhere between myth and mysticism, hand raised mid-spell and tails swirling behind them. It is solemn yet sweet, subdued and still oh so stirring. Years ago this style would have only been possible by way of alternate artwork, but I sincerely hope we see her return to Magic. I absolutely dig her style, and want to see her tell other stories from the Multiverse.

Light-Paws, Emperor’s Voice by Randy Vargas

Light-Paws, Emperor’s Voice by Randy Vargas. Digital.

Speaking of Light-Paws, this Grand Tour features the character two ways, as I’ve included Randy Vargas’ artwork for the card of the character itself. Vargas is known for his dynamic depictions of magic in multicolor, but I’ve selected this work for the opposite reason. It’s quiet and serene, a departure from his usual action-packed commissions, and he’s delivered Light-Paws with a reverence perfectly suited to the situation. The light that streams through the ceiling frames the perfectly symmetrical composition and illuminates everything technically superb, from the folds in their robes to the masks hanging on the wall. It’s a beautifully executed work, and a testament to the range of the artist.

Walking Skyscraper by David Auden Nash

Walking Skyscraper by David Auden Nash. Digital.

I’ve got a soft spot for dramatic perspective, and It’s something we don’t often see on Magic cards simply because of the difficulty in making it legible in such a small box. This illustration is the epitome of a city come alive with the literal twist, and doesn’t lose any of the beeps and boops of detail that make it feel real. Nash began working for Magic at the beginning of last year, and has incorporated interesting and unusual perspectives in much of his work. Whether we’re looking down or looking up, the artist ensures that you take that second look and engage each and every time.

The Kami War by Kieran Yanner

The Kami War by Kieran Yanner, oil on paper on panel, 15” x 35”

We’ll end today with where our journey in Kamigawa began all those years ago, as seen in Kieran Yanner’s depiction of the Kami War waged between the great Kami spirit O-Kagachi and the Emperor Konda, Lord of Eiganjo all those years ago. This is a traditional painting with the most vibrant palette that makes it stand up off the card itself, as a pearlescent O-Kagachi breaks through the ethereal veil of Kamigawa more than 1000 years ago. Sagas hold so much potential for innovation in artwork, and to see a story delivered so masterfully makes my heart sing. Bravo Kieran.

Wrapping Up

Here ends another Grand Art Tour, of what is perhaps my favorite set of the last few years. We’ve seen artists flex their strongest muscles, and others made to try something completely new to astounding results. Kamigawa has been a stage for showcase artists to join the regular ranks, and for new folks to enter the game for the very first time. The same melting pot of tradition and technology that is present in the story has extended to the set’s own artists, and it was by no mere mistake.

I want to take a moment to give a special shout-out to Zack Stella. There were several art directors who worked on this set but the lion’s share was handled by artist-turned-AD Stella as one of his first expansive projects. The result is perhaps the most beautiful and cohesive set since Throne of Eldraine, and one that will live on in Magic memory for quite some time. It was an incredibly steep task to try and make a cybernetic world full of motorcycle riding rats and steampunk ninjas and Japanese-inspired everything else work as one, but he and his team were able to do just that. It’s an incredible accomplishment, and it has not gone unnoticed.

Before I go, you may have noticed that this article did not include any of the Japanese alternate Showcase art you might have seen during the previews. While fantastic in its own right, I’m not familiar with the artists and can’t speak to the art and style as well as I would like for an article. I would absolutely love it if some other art-loving Vorthos wrote about these pieces and introduced the artists and studio responsible. And if that’s you, I’d love to help make it happen. I also didn’t include anything from the Commander decks, because this article was already well underway when those new artworks started dropping. We’ll save those for next time.

The next Mirror Gallery article will be a new featurette and include dozens more pieces of art I couldn’t squeeze into this article. I’ll be doing something I’ve never done before with the help of a little Disney Magic, so if you enjoyed this article and the art of this set, you won’t want to miss it. 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. 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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