Good morning friends, and welcome back to another Secret Layers of Secret Lair here on Hipsters of the Coast. It’s been a little less than two months since our last trip down the Secret Lair rabbit-hole, but with a full slate of new releases staring back at us for this summer, I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to muse on some of these most recent illustrations by old and new folks alike.

The Spring SuperDrop can really be split into two sections: The three March of the Machine ‘volumes,” which I’ll cover in an upcoming article talking about the Multiverse Legends, and the five Artist Series and collections illustrated by a single creator. The latter will be our focus for today, as we explore the hands and minds behind these newest artworks, and I pick some favorites out of the bunch.

Let’s look inside at the Secret Layers of Secret Lair: Spring SuperDrop 2023.

Artist Series: Alayna Danner

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Linvala, Keeper of Silence, Sunblast Angel, Emeria, the Sky Ruin, Seraph Sanctuary by Alayna Danner. Digital.

There have been a handful of artists who have wanted to illustrate cards they play with, but this is the first Secret Lair Artist Series where an artist has chosen not only cards in their deck, but their Commander! Careful Mirror Gallery reader’s may remember Alayna Danner’s General is none other than Linvala, and has been since she started with the game in 2017. Way back when I previewed her basic land cycle for Commander 2019, we talked about her deck, the color White, and how important this section of the color pie is to her and her artwork. And now she’s now been given the opportunity to reimagine some of these cards for the game (and her own devices!)

Sunblast Angel & Linvala, Keeper of Silence by Alayna Danner. Digital.

What you may not realize is that these four cards are actually two artworks, diptychs that create complete scenes when joined in the middle. Diptychs and other multi-card artworks are still a bit of a rarity in Magic, so it’s always fun to see them pop up, especially within a special set like this.

Emeria, the Sky Ruin and Seraph Sanctuary by Alayna Danner. Digital.

I’m forever a sucker for Alayna’s landscapes, and have been for a long time. She’s more than 60 lands and counting for Magic, and hopefully not done any time soon.

Also for those keen-eyed folks, there was a bit of a mix-up with the art that got used for Seraph Sanctuary, which Wizards has done their best to correct for a future printing. But don’t fret; it just means there is more shiny stuff to track down in the future, and you might even be able to snag a copy from Alayna herself at a future con!

Artist Series: Randy Vargas

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Grand Abolisher, Selfless Savior, Akroma, Angel of Fury, Umezawa’s Jitte by Randy Vargas. Traditional.

2017 was also the year that Randy Vargas, another Magic veteran who is closing in one 150 cards for the game, started on his Gathering journey. He has his Artist Series featured in this SuperDrop as well, and boy did he go hard. While he often works digitall for card commissions, all four of these pieces were painted traditionally, including one of my most nostalgic cards and what I think the star of the set, Umezawa’s Jitte

Umezawa’s Jitte

Vargas called this painting his “love letter to Magic” on Twitter, as it harkens back to one of his earliest commissions and explorations of Magic lore. For me personally, to see a card I played with endlessly during my high school years, now fantastically reimagined by an artist I’ve followed for my entire art writing career, it’s just really special. You can tell Randy poured every ounce of himself into these cards, and that’s what these Artist Series are all about.

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And a little something else to look forward to: Secret Lair collecting veterans know that the Artist Series “secret card” is often a sketch version of one of the final artwork’s. Vargas mentioned this again on Twitter when showing off all four sketches, but here’s the catch: even he doesn’t know which sketch will become the bonus card! Guess we’ll have to wait and see!

Artist Series: Rebecca Guay

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Cleansing Nova, Serra the Benevolent, Stoneforge Mystic, Muddle the Mixture by Rebecca Guay. Traditional. 

A living legend in Magic: The Gathering artwork, Rebecca Guay began with Magic in 1996 and worked regularly with them for the next 15 years, leaving publishing entirely at that time to pursue her personal work and further develop her inimitable style. She has teased longtime fans of the game with a pair of cards in the last two years, a small piece of her oeuvre with the game and a taste test for what was to come this year.

Her Artist Series within the Spring SuperDrop arrives with bells on and heralds her return, with a four card series that combines that aforementioned style many of us grew up with mixed with her contemporary work a decade in the making. The Stoneforge Mystic is my favorite of the group, a powerful, many-armed woman that is both strong and beautiful, and from what I can see, was also painted beyond the frame!

Stoneforge Mystic, Full Art

She described it on Facebook as “holding the light of oneself in our many hands,” and it’s without question that this Stoneforge Mystic will hold a lot of equipment for players for years to come.  

Nature is Adorable by Aya Kakeda

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Joraga Treespeaker, Nature’s Will, Ulvenwald Tracker, Yeva, Nature’s Herald by Aya Kakeda

Aya Kakeda is an award winning fine artist and illustrator from Brooklyn, NY by way of Tokyo, Japan, and joins the Magic roster for the very first time with her adorable renditions from deep within the forest. She works across mediums in both two and three dimensions, and has chosen a flat, storybook-esque style full of whimsy and wonder to bring these cards to life.

I love that she’s been able to infuse all matter of different colors into this very green-centric Secret Lair, and in doing so, can change the temperature of what we’re viewing. From the red of Joruga Treespeaker to show rising power to the blues and whites that chill down Ulvenwald Tracker, each color and design choice is intentional to intensify the mood. It sets these artworks apart from their original printings, and cements her place as a unique storyteller within the larger Secret Lair story. 

Cool Ocean Breeze by Lauren YS

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Llawan, Cephalid Empress, Master of Waves, Thassa, Deep-Dwelling, Thassa’s Oracle. Digital. 

Lauren YS is a Los-Angeles based artist who works at literally every size and scale, from these tiny squares of cardboard to the entire sides of buildings. They are not new to MTG, and were in fact a part of the very first Secret Lair way back at the end of 2019. Since then and before now they’ve done two more cards for Magic, each piece a rising tide that has crescendoed into this four card collection of some of the best in the color Blue.

Thassa’s Oracle by Lauren YS, from her Instagram

My favorite of the group is who Lauren called “Public Anemone #1” and that’s Thassa’s Oracle. It’s a 180 degree turn (literally and figuratively) from the realism found in the original, turned on its head and the brightness up to 11. It’s completely representative of their work and at the same time is perfectly recognizable as the card it contains. It’s a match made under the sea, and YS has absolutely crushed it once again for MTG.

Wrapping Up

When an artist has an opportunity to create a collection of work, whether picking their own cards or illustrating around a theme, the most Magical results are realized. Secret Lair has really leaned into these sorts of offerings and for good reason. They offer a creative and collecting experience that’s hard to find elsewhere, and it’s one of the facets that keeps setting Secret Lair apart. 

You’ve still got over 50 days from when this article comes out to order the bits and bobs of this SuperDrop that best fit your collection, so take your time (but don’t wait too long!). The 60 day ordering window seems to be a new normal for Secret Lair, and personally I like the extended time to be able to breathe and appreciate the new artwork in between other set releases. Secret Lair continues to bring us new and nostalgic art, and it needs its own time in the sun, each and every time.

And before I go, MagicCon Minneapolis starts tomorrow, so if you’re there on the ground, stop by and say hello! I’ll see you all back in two weeks, and as always thanks for reading. 

Donny Caltrider (he/him) is a Senior Writer at Hipsters of Coast writing about all things related to the art of Magic: The Gathering and the larger imaginative realism genre. 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. When he’s not writing for Hipsters or working with artists, you can find him traveling with his wife, petting his two cats, and watching the Baltimore Orioles.

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