Good morning everyone, and welcome back to the Mirror Gallery here on Hipsters of the Coast! We’re on the cusp of Commander Masters Preview weekend, with the set officially releasing very soon on August 4th, and as such it’s time to talk about the brand new art of this nearly 1000 card expansion. Normally this slot in my writing calendar is occupied by a Grand Art Tour, where for those unfamiliar, I chose my favorite works from a set based on everything from supreme storytelling to technical prowess. However because this set is a bit different, and I’m continuing my own personal goal of brevity and focus, I used a different lens. 

With some sets and releases now pushing four and five hundred new artworks, to have a ‘reprint’ set with less than 200 new artworks to parse is…refreshing. I wanted to cross-section the newness in a new way, and ultimately landed at looking at a single standout within the different categories that make Commander Masters special. New angles are fun and keep me on my toes, and this particular survey challenged me to look at things wider, but also a bit more narrow, at the same. . 

Below I’ve chosen my favorite artwork from each Commander Masters category as delineated in the Collecting Commander Masters article on the Mothership: Main Set, Borderless, Frame Break, Profile Showcase, and one from each Commander deck that make up the full release. 

Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder by Lucas Graciano. Traditional.

Main Set- Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder by Lucas Graciano

This card has been around since Time Spiral, and has been printed into almost every type of supplementary product there is: Commander, Modern Masters, and even The List. But with this latest version, Lucas Graciano gives Endrek Sahr his first new artwork, and one that contemporizes the character and adds a realism we’ve not previously had before. Painted as if it would hang in the legend’s own study or laboratory, we encounter the figure face to face, and become a part of the work. There are no words spoken, but Sahr’s expression simply reads “Next.” 

We’re captured by his gaze: it’s enchanting, it’s alluring, and it’s a reimagining fit for a Masters set. 

Storm-Kiln Artist by Chuck Lukacs, Digital.

Borderless Storm-Kiln Artist by Chuck Lukacs

The Borderless Frame treatment within these Masters sets often brings in artists from Magic’s past; special pieces by folks who have helped to shape the game and continue to do so in exciting and awe-inspiring ways. Chuck Lukacs has been around the game since 2007, and now seems to provide a pair of dynamic reinterpretations each time one of these special expansions is on the table. 

Storm-Kiln Artist is an unassuming card, but Lukacs has made this version unforgettable, taking some of the best elements in his artistic repertoire and using them to full effect. The harnessed lightning highlights the face of the dwarf, and gives us a peek into the surroundings while still shrouding his location in mystery. This card also has one of my favorite flavor texts in recent memory, and when paired with the artwork, I can almost hear him say it:

“First you summon the lightning, then you make it dance.”

Fierce Guardianship by Randy Gallegos. Traditional.

Frame Break- Fierce Guardianship by Randy Gallegos

The Frame Break treatment is something brand new for Commander Masters; it’s not quite borderless, or where Planeswalker artwork would break the frame and overlap pieces of text, etc., but rather incorporates a considerable amount of the image into the overall card aesthetic. I am still undecided on this treatment, as I think in some cases it distracts from both the artwork and the card itself. But one exceptional example where it works is Fierce Guardianship by Randy Gallegos. 

The first new artwork for this Commander format staple, Randy did a phenomenal job both in technical execution and making sure that it worked for this new frame and format. The focus is the ‘guardianship’, and the spell that disperses the lava draws your eye immediately. From there the lava streams work as a pseudo-border and frame the work, carrying your eye through the text and to the bottom foreground. It’s a complete package that works as an image and a card, and I think this should be a model for Frame Break design moving forward.

Gisela, Blade of Goldnight by Alex Dos Diaz. Digital.

Profile Showcase- Gisela, Blade of Goldnight by Alex dos Diaz

The Profile Showcase series is also something brand new for Commander Masters, and to be honest I could (and might) write an entire article on the exciting things this style brings to the art of Magic: The Gathering. Gisela, Blade of Goldnight by Alex Dos Diaz is my favorite among them, so much that I’m literally cutting a card in my Jor Kadeen, First Goldwarden deck so I can play this version. He’s encapsulated the character perfectly and beautifully, with all the ferocity and determination she carries as the leader of the Flight of Goldnight. It’s not often that I get rendered mostly speechless when I see something new I love, but this artwork sure did it.

Sliver Gravemother by Chris Rahn. Traditional.

Commander Deck Sliver Swarm- Sliver Gravemother by Chris Rahn

One of these times I’m just gonna write “Chris Rahn is good at art, The End.”

I could talk about the dusky palette, or how the slivers in the background help to frame the work and add to the story, or how the trailing tendrils and forced perspective make the Gravemother feel larger than life. But I’ll draw your attention to the opalescent skin. This is an oil painting, and that is not easy, plain and simple. It’s nigh impossible to get right, especially with such contrast in the background, and in doing so Rahn has made one of the most strikingly beautiful creatures in the entire type. I’m not a Sliver player, but I’m excited to play this card.

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Commander Deck Enduring Enchantments- Battle at the Helvault/ Avacyn Token by Alix Branwyn

It’s not often the story of an entire block, or really, an entire setting, can be distilled down so succinctly into a single artwork, but that’s what Alix has done with Battle at the Helvault and the events on Innistrad. She tells the story, stained glass saga-style, of Avacyn defeating the demon Griselbrand, and the token is her victorious emergence. It’s all there, one image, beautifully rendered, clear, concise, and immersive. 

Note that these works are also painted in situ. That is to say that she didn’t just paint the windows for the card art box, but the tracery (stone surround), the altar pieces, and everything that places us as the viewer firmly in the world. Alix is quickly becoming one of Magic’s best since she joined the game in 2021, and pieces like this show us exactly why.

Commodore Guff by Matthew Stewart. Traditional.

Commander Deck Planeswalker Party- Commodore Guff by Matthew Stewart

Planeswalker don’t often make the Grand Art Tour series because generally their function is not to tell a story, or more forward a narrative, it’s to showcase a character. But I’ll ask you to pause a moment just to take in the details of this painting, most of which will never be visible at card size or behind the card frame, just to see what Matt put into the work. I’ll wait.

(keep looking)

Every corner of this painting is packed with detail and nuance, literally from cover to cover, and conveys the absolute madness (in a good way) of the Dominarian librarian and keeper of fates. Matt painted more than 50 books and three dozen scrolls by my count; he didn’t have to go this hard, but he did because he loves his craft, and he loves painting for Magic. The game is better for it.

Rise of the Eldrazi by Eli Minaya. Digital.

Commander Deck Eldrazi Unbound- Rise of the Eldrazi by Eli Minaya

We’ll end with a work by one of Magic’s newest artists, Eli Minaya. I cannot imagine the steps he went through for this composition, fitting three multiversal, universe-sized beings into a single image which needs to be legible at card size. It’s a tall order, but one he’s managed to do without sacrificing the unique style we love. In this case it adds to the fracturing narrative the arrival of The Three would cause. 

Eli works both digitally and traditionally by way of collage, and while this work was completed digitally for the card, he’s currently working on a traditional version on a grand scale that should be absolutely stunning when finished. Keep an eye on his Twitter for when it’s finished. 

Wrapping Up

Masters sets have become interesting vehicles for art; they’ve become the home to boom-boom borderless reprints, artist reprisals, introductions to new designs, and places to experiment on a smaller scale than something like Secret Lair. It’s here folks often have freedom and opportunity to do the things they do best, and with just a bit of art direction, it becomes this cohesive thing, be it beautiful, functional, or simply just fun. Personally I think the Profile Showcase cards are one of the most exciting things to come out of this set, and might be the final piece to the puzzle of an article I started writing three years ago (yes, sometimes it takes that long). I’ll be hashing out my thoughts on an upcoming trans-Atlantic flight here very soon because…

As this article publishes I will be touching down in beautiful Barcelona, Spain for MagicCon Barcelona! Again, if you’re there please do come say hi (I’ll be at Titus Lunter’s booth all weekend), and if not, a trip recap is on the docket for an upcoming article, so stay tuned for that. Otherwise looking forward, I’m going to be talking about some art from my personal collection that has just been rearranged in my home, and then Wilds of Eldraine won’t be too far behind. As always, thanks for reading these art-icle musings, and I’ll see you next time. 

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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