I didn’t buy a single Secret Lair Drop in 2022, because I don’t play tabletop Magic the Gathering anymore. But if I did, you could bet I would have definitely bought a few, and I would have liked to have bought every single one, which at this time includes 247 cards.

It’s probably an understatement to say that the incredible number of Secret Lair Drops this year, almost 60 and counting, has been a major contributing factor to the burnout that consumers have been experiencing. And while I can admit that the number is definitely too high, I think my preference is probably for more than most would be happy with.

Our theme this week is reflection on the year that was. While there’s a time for criticism and discussing what went wrong, I want to talk about the positives and what went right. For me, Secret Lair is a beautiful product line and exemplifies Wizards dedication to building a bigger community and making the game more accessible.

So, beginning today, and concluding tomorrow, I’ll be looking at every Secret Lair Drop from 2022 (based on card copyright dates) and talking about what I love about every single one of them. Maybe you’ll learn something new, or maybe you’ll just enjoy my commentary going through the wide range of artworks.

2022 has been a strange year for many of us. For some it feels like a year full of new beginnings and potential for a brighter future. For others it feels like 2020, part 3. For many it may feel like both depending on the time of day. But for now at least, I hope this can be a bit of a moment of zen amongst that chaos.

Showcase: Neon Dynasty

Most Playable: Boseiju, Who Shelters All

Best Presentation: Freed from the Real

This series invited Japanese artists to showcase a new style and help set the tone for Neon Dynasty’s return to Kamigawa. Many of the Secret Lairs released early this year were a way for Magic to feature Japanese art, a way to ensure their representation as Magic returned to the once-problematic plane inspired by Japan.

Special Guest: Yuko Shimizu

Most Playable: Elvish Spirit Guide

Best Presentation: Hokori, Dust Drinker

Yuko Shimizu is an award-winning Japanese illustrator whose work is known for its broad range, from addressing issues of race, gender, and and culture to the more whimsical and fantastical as seen in this series. She wrote a book about her life if you want to learn more, but it might not be easy to acquire.

Shades Not Included

Most Playable: Island

Best Presentation: Swamp

Donny wrote all about these when they came out! Check it out!

Pictures of the Floating World

Most Playable: Shelldock Isle

Best Presentation: Spinerock Knoll

Amayagido is a Japanese calligrapher and illustrator who is now responsible for the absolute most stunning Secret Lair Drop. Whether or not this style appeals to you specifically, the layout, orientation, and incredible artwork and calligraphy warrant appreciation if not reverence.

Li’l Walkers

Most Playable: Ashiok, Dream Render

Best Presentation: Sorin, Grim Nemesis

Uta Natsume is a Japanese video game illustrator. In case you don’t know, this style of artwork is known as Chibi and is a form of Japanese caricature. The style can be polarizing but it is greatly adored by its fans. No doubt this series (and its sequel in part two) have found their ways into many cubes.

Kamigawa Manga

Most Playable: Swords to Plowshares

Best Presentation: Idyllic Tutor

Magic’s unexpected return to Kamigawa has created a large number of opportunities for Wizards to invite Japanese artists to illustrate iconic cards. This included anime illustrator Ryou Kamei whose credits include some fairly well known anime series such as Cardfight! Vanguard, Initial D, and Fullmetal Alchemist.

Introducing: Kaito Shizuki

Most Playable: Brain Freeze

Best Presentation: Unmask

Rorubei is a relative newcomer to fantasy illustration but their work speaks for itself. This series features planeswalker Kaito Shizuki in the art for a number of incredibly iconic Magic cards. The style is very unique for a fantasy game but definitely appreciated and would make a great addition to any cyberpunk themed Commander deck or Cube.

Street Fighter

Most Playable: Hadoken (Lightning Bolt)

Best Presentation: Chun-Li, Countless Kicks

The flavor of these Universes Beyond crossover cards is unbelievable. Maybe they don’t all hit the mark, but they’re definitely unique and very close to the game’s intent. It’s too bad Dhalsim doesn’t breathe fire but what can you do?

Just Some Totally Normal Guys

Most Playable: Vengevine

Best Presentation: Collector Ouphe

In case you don’t know, Roman Klonek is a Polish artist based in Gemany known for his woodcut arts. If that wasn’t unique enough, he’s used this medium to illustrate amazing fantasy creatures with whimsy for years. This series is a beautiful collaboration that brings some amazing art to some iconic cards.

Finally! Left-Handed Magic Cards

Most Playable: Sisay, Weatherlight Captain

Best Presentation: Garruk, Caller of Beasts

These are, disturbing? Of all the drops in 2022 this one was the most unsettling. I’m glad left-handed players don’t actually need this.

Artist Series: Wayne Reynolds

Most Playable: Sram, Senior Edificer

Best Presentation: Deepala, Pilot Exemplar

Never toss a Dwarf! But definitely illustrate them beautifully and that’s what Wayne Reynolds has done here. Dwarves definitely don’t get enough consideration in Magic’s hierarchy of fantasy races (nor in Warhammer but that’s a separate issue). It’s great to see this series from Reynolds helping to rectify that problem.

Artist Series: Sidharth Chaturvedi

Most Playable: Island (Is any card more playable than Island?)

Best Presentation: Concordant Crossroads

Chaturvedi has been illustrating Magic cards since Kaladesh and has an unparalleled ability to bring realism to fantasy art. Take a look at Fathom Fleet Boarder or Garrison Cat. These are beautiful pieces that really help make you feel like you’re in a different world when playing the game.

Artist Series: Magali Villeneuve

Most Playable: Elvish Mystic

Best Presentation: Mother of Runes

These are just stunning. Magali has been a Magic illustrator since Theros and these pieces really show masterful contrasts of light and shadow, color and darkness, and life and death even. Mother of Runes is one of those cards I might just start collecting just for the incredible artworks.

Special Guest: Matt Jukes

Most Playable: Drowned Catacomb

Best Presentation: Rootbound Crag

Matt Jukes is a very distinct artist who you can learn more about on their website. This series is incredibly unique across all of Magic’s illustrations. If you have a Cube or Commander collection these will definitely stand out among them. This probably won’t be the last time I say it, but this kind of full-frame alternate-art treatment is the kind of stuff collectors crave.

Showcase: Streets of New Capenna

Most Playable: Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice

Best Presentation: Breya, Etherium Sculptor

Each of these was a Commander 2016 legend which helped solve the long-lasting problem of supporting four-color decks in Commander, a problem mostly created by the fact that Ravnica’s Nephilim weren’t legendary. I really like how this depiction of Breya captures more of her artifice and magic and less of her rage like the original artwork does.

Pride Across the Multiverse

Most Playable: Sol Ring

Best Presentation: Bearscape

Is this the best drop of 2022? Maybe. I could probably talk at length about this drop, what it means for the community, and what it means for Wizards business goals, but instead I have a different point I want to make about this series. Each card tells a beautiful story about love and unity. One of the biggest challenges Magic often faces is that it inherently needs to revolve around conflict. After all, the game is about you and me fighting with spells and minions. But a product like Secret Lair doesn’t need to be confined by that constraint and Pride Across the Multiverse gives us a glimpse at a game of Magic without the conflicts, or at least taking a pause from those conflicts.

Special Guest: Kelogsloops

Most Playable: Mystic Remora

Best Presentation: Burgeoning

Kelogsloops is an incredible Australian-based artist best known for their watercolors including those in this Secret Lair drop. While most of Kelogsloops’s art depicts a single subject (often female), I really like that this series asked them to pan out and take in a bigger space. The results are incredible.

Rule the Room

Most Playable: Queen Marchesa

Best Presentation: Savra, Queen of the Golgari

I don’t think I’ve ever written about this, but my first Commander deck (then EDH) used Savra, Queen of the Golgari, as its general. Her depiction here is fantastic. If you enjoy the art in this drop make sure you check out some of Peter Diamonds other work. If you enjoy pop culture art you’ll find his renditions of Dr. Manhattan as well as the Ninja Turtles very enjoyable I’m sure.

Also, fun aside, I only played with that Savra deck in a single cEDH tournament in the basement of a midtown comic book shop that sadly no longer exists (if you know you know). I won the final table when my last opponent cast Fact or Fiction, flipped over the top 5 cards, and revealed another Fact or Fiction. Womp womp.

The Tokyo Lands

Most Playable: Island

Best Presentation: Swamp

I’ve never been to Tokyo but these lands look stunning and representative of what I know, which is that it’s a city with many, many different faces. As a New Yorker who spent a decade working in the Times Square district, the comparison of that kind of area to a Swamp really resonates with me.

Artist Series: Livia Prima

Most Playable: Akroma, Angel of Wrath

Best Presentation: Glissa Sunseeker

Livia Prima has illustrated Magic cards for only a few years but in that short time has put up an impressive resume including Liliana, the Necromancer, Sephara, Sky’s Blade, and Cleric of Chill Depths to name a few. While many of Prima’s card illustrations beautifully depict action, this drop features their work combining an action background with more of a portrait style in the foreground. This is the fourth interpretation of Akroma now and I think it’s definitely my favorite.

Artist Series: Chris Rahn

Most Playable: Platinum Angel (though it should be Primeval Titan)

Best Presentation: Kozilek, the Great Distortion

Chris Rahn burst into Magic illustrations during the Alara block and hasn’t stopped since. Their distinct style shines in this Secret Lair Drop with beautiful takes on all four of the featured cards.

Artist Series: Volkan Baga

Most Playable: Verduran Enchantress

Best Presentation: Elspeth, Knight-Errant

Volkan Baga is one of those artists whose range covers almost everything you’d need for Magic illustrations. Soldier on a castle wall? Bastion of Remembrance. Fancy machinery? Chromatic Orrery. A half-lizard humanoid with a rainbow of streamers on a spear? Hello Gloryscale Viashino. What I love about this drop is Baga re-interpreting Elspeth, Knight-Errant, a card they did the original artwork for in Shards of Alara.

Here Be Dragons

Most Playable: Tiamat

Best Presentation: Ebondeath, Dracolich

As a fan of the “Old School Dungeons and Dragons” aesthetic these cards speak to my soul. Obviously fantasy art has come a long way since the 1970’s but these are iconic and definitely scream “build a Tiamat Commander deck you fool!”

Zodiac Lands

Most Playable: Island (Doesn’t Matter Which One)

Best Presentation: Mountain (Gemini, Because that’s My Sign)

If I had a Cube I would definitely want to include these lands as options for players to add to their deck. D’Angelo’s style is definitely unique and you can check out more of it on her Instagram page. This set inspired me to think about a Cube where you had 100 of each basic land for your players, and every single one had different art. Life goal maybe? We’ll see.

Secret Lair x Fortnite

Most Playable: Shrinking Storm (Wrath of God)

Best Presentation: Dance Battle (Dance of Many)

I don’t play Fortnite but I know enough about it to recognize the flavor of these cards and they are spot on. Wizards made it clear that they were open for business when it came to cross-promotions to grow the player-base and build brand awareness and the Fortnite crossover is clear evidence that popular brands want to be a part of Magic as well.

Secret Lair x Fortnite: Locations

Most Playable: The Spire (Command Tower)

Best Presentation: Island

These lands are definitely not my style but I think they would definitely appeal to a wide audience of fans of video game art. My personal favorite is the Island which, because I’m old, reminds me of when Jaws pops out of the water on the Universal Studios tour. And if you immediately thought of the scene from the movie Mallrats you’re also old.

Li’l Giri Saves the Day

Most Playable: Curiosity

Best Presentation: The Flavor Text

Maybe these aren’t the flashiest cards from a Secret Lair Drop but the flavor text is priceless. This drop was only available as part of the Magic 30 celebration in Las Vegas.

Secret Lair x Brain Dead

Most Playable: Diabolic Tutor

Best Presentation: Diabolic Tutor

Brain Dead is a creative collective best known for apparel and accessories. They’ve made a bunch of Magic the Gathering themed products which you can check out here.

Dan Frazier Enemy Talismans

Most Playable: Talisman of Curiosity

Best Presentation: Talisman of Resilience

Dan Frazier is one of Magic’s original illustrators, having illustrated 39 of the cards from the original Alpha set including, most famously, the entire cycle of Moxen. He stopped illustrating Magic cards with 2006’s Time Spiral expansion, returning to illustrate 2010’s Magic Online promo Gleemox. Then, in 2021 Frazier returned for a Secret Lair cycle of all 10 Guild Signets. Frazier’s work on the original Moxes and many cycles derived from them have left an undeniable mark on the game’s aesthetic.

Dan Frazier Ally Talismans

Most Playable: Talisman of Dominance

Best Presentation: Talisman of Progress

Continuing the cycle, Frazier captures the duality of the allied colors of Magic’s color pie. One of the things that stands out to me about this cycle is how all of the talismans stand on their own except for the Talisman of Progress which is depicted in front of a bookshelf.

That’s all for part one! Come back tomorrow for part two!

Rich Stein (he/him) has been playing Magic since 1995 when he and his brother opened their first packs of Ice Age and thought Jester’s Cap was the coolest thing ever. Since then his greatest accomplishments in Magic have been the one time he beat Darwin Kastle at a Time Spiral sealed Grand Prix and the time Jon Finkel blocked him on Twitter.

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