Arting Around—Hipsters’ Favorites Part One

In attempting to find things to write about for Arting Around I asked, at Hunter’s suggestion, the Hipsters’ regular contributors which cards contain the best and worst art. This is the first in a series of columns that will be dedicated to me talking about their choices.

My roommate, Vincent, asked me what I thought would make Magic a better game. I took this to mean, “What do you dislike the most about Magic,” which isn’t what he was asking. I said “blue cards” and almost walked away but realized further analysis was in order. It’s not blue cards so much as the power available to blue cards in the form of card draw and countermagic. We talked for a few minutes, a little bit about a topic I’ll address in next week’s Power and Toughness, but mostly about balance.

On the whole MTG is a pretty balanced game. I don’t like countermagic because I don’t like controlling another player’s ability to play their game. This, itself, is countered by playing fast, aggressive, or uncountable creatures that’re immune to wraths, etc. This is how balance works. While I make all sorts of judgments towards control magic players, I love them for playing this game, and try to be as playful with my hatred of their chosen style of Magic as I can be (despite it INFURIATING ME). Different strokes for different folks.

Art is much the same. It’s super interesting to see what my compatriots at Hipsters think of the art on M:TG cards (as it is interesting, at least initially, to hear the feelings and thoughts of anyone on works of art).

We’ll start with Jess (quoting her response to this topic on the Hipsters Google Group):

Favorite arts: Particularly the GP Lotus Cobra, but also Descendant’s Path, Lifelink, Enter the Infinite, Silverskin Armor, Visions of Beyond… basically all of those cards where Terese Nielsen does weird patterned things.

This card is a M:TG artistic rule-breaker. It’s highly decorative. It appears to be aware of its existence as art in referencing the card frame (and the image’s boundaries) via the lotus blossoms in THE upper corners of the illustration. Grand Prix Lotus Cobra is a gorgeous card. Arguments against the work of Terese Nielson are hard to come by. Look at how beautiful some of the other cards Jess mentions are:

She’s very design-heavy, very illustrative, and, particularly in these selections, a little heavy-handed with the color blue. Her work reminds me of the paintings by Mucha and the illustrations of Winsor McCay. Nielson has a style and she’s sticking to it. It’s not really my thing, though I get why people are attracted to it. I want less detail and more iconicly powerful imagery out of my M:TG art.

Mucha’s “La Trappistine” from 1897

Mucha’s paintings combine the iconic with the decorative and details (though less so) and are much less visually confusing than Nielson’s illustrations for Wizards. Still, beauty is beauty, I get it, and respect it. I can’t get over how awesome Mucha’s work is so here are a few more.

and this one ↓

All things considered, however, I’ll take my Lotus Cobras with the original art. The absence of decorative detail makes these sorts of things sing for me, you know, in a voice that I enjoy hearing.

Onto Jess’s least favorites.

Least Favorites: I think Mold Demon is particularly atrocious, but in more recent sets I have grown annoyed by overuse of scale birds and I think the planeswalker art has just gotten annoying.  Like, do a visual spoiler search for planeswalkers on gatherer and just look at them next to each other. They’re all from the same perspective, they’re all wearing the same clothes or in the same pose, and they’re all boring. Change your damn clothes!

Hunter responded with, “Jess we said the exact same thing w/r/t planeswalkers!  I totally agree.”

We’ll get into the planeswalkers shortly but first things first, I love the art for Mold Demon and every piece Jesper Myrfors has done for Wizards, ever.

Similarly to Nielson, Myrfors is a truly original artist within the realm of fantasy art. Sure, it’s janky as all get-out, but it’s exactly this kind of flavor and variety that current Magic card art is missing! Let’s look at some other Myrfors home-runs.

The diversity of skill and imagery available to Myrfors and executed with his work for Wizards is profound. It directly relates to the second part of Jess’s least favorite Magic art response. Planeswalkers are almost always the same scale, in the same pose (or similar pose), and dressed in the same clothes. Let’s look at them all, as she suggests.

Ajani has 1.5 different ways of standing.

 

I hate Jace so will refrain from commenting on the way he looks beyond how shitty Mind Sculptor’s boomerang magic is. Architect’s hands aren’t glowing at all. Neat?

Liliana of the VeilLiliana Vess

I don’t know what to say about Lily. There was quite the uproar about Liliana of the Veil and I get that. The other two look pretty cool, though. I’m not sure that I have any non-offensive things to say about the art on this card. Argyle doesn’t gain much visually by putting Lily at an angle.

Chandra Ablaze Chandra NalaarChandra, the Firebrand

Chandra has one mode of standing and is either excited about it or hipster about it.

Garruk Relentless Garruk, the Veil-Cursed Garruk, Primal Hunter Garruk Wildspeaker

Garruk is especially guilty of being almost exactly the same. Primal Hunter and Relentless are in almost the same stance from the same point of view. This is mimicked in the formal visual relationship between Wildspeaker and Veil-Cursed, crazy!

Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas Tezzeret the Seeker

Meh.

Sarkhan Vol Sarkhan the Mad

Sarkhan, like Tezz, has two distinct poses he can strike and has been printed twice. They are 100% varied but their scale remains the same as most other planeswalkers.

Elspeth, Knight-ErrantElspeth, Knight-ErrantElspeth Tirel

I have a pretty serious crush on Elspeth so I’m pretty biased. Tirel is my favorite of the three cuz she looks so “I don’t give a fuck” bad-ass. It’s also nice to see how well dressed she is and how populate her actual clothes are.

Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker

M13 and Conflux Bolas are pretty zoomed-out due to the need to show his mondo wings. Duel Decks Bolas puts him back in in regular planeswalker scale.

Nissa Revane

Meh.

Sorin Markov Sorin, Lord of Innistrad

Really close to being the same illustration. Fun fact: for a long time I thought Markov was aiming a Wild West–style pistol at us, but he’s just Bonding his cufflinks.

Gideon Jura Gideon, Champion of Justice
Gideon sucks.
Venser, the Sojourner Venser, the Sojourner
Planeswalker I most wished I could’ve worked with. Same scale as all planeswalkers though.
Shit, there are like twenty more.
Koth of the Hammer Koth of the Hammer
Mirrodin Koth is standard. Duel Decks Koth is in Chandra/Ajani Vengeant pose.
Karn Liberated Karn, Silver Golem
Pre-spark Karn looks pretty dope and the perspective is all weird. Planeswalker Karn is consistent with other planeswalkers.
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
Same.
Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded
Same.
Vraska the Unseen
Same.
Domri Rade
I initially left off Domri Rade, my current favorite non-Garruk planeswalker. He’s really the main variant for walker art. Domri’s the littlest planeswalker, has probably the most interesting background of any planeswalker, and my favorite ultimate of all time. Cliche: big things come in small packages, or run through the Prometheus filter, “big things have small beginnings”. Whatever.

I wonder if they’d ever use a portrait as a planeswalker illustration. Wizards probably thinks there’s enough of that in the illustrations for cards featuring planeswalkers like these ↓
Liliana's Caress
Harmonize
Dark Temper
Hot damn! That’s a lot of planeswalkes and a lot of equally proportioned art. We need more variety, less comic-bookery!
Thanks to Jess for supplying me with a list of cards to look at and think about. I’ll fight for Jesper Myrfors until the end! We’ll get to Zac, Li, Hunter, and Rich’s likes and dislikes of Magic art in the coming weeks.
Love to all,
Matt
MTGO: The_Obliterator
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Comments
15 Responses to “Arting Around—Hipsters’ Favorites Part One”
  1. Terese Nielsen’s art stands out the most of any current MTG artist, IMO. Enter the infinite and Descendant’s Path are two of my favorite pieces in the past few years. Makes me miss Rebecca Guay…

    • Matt Jones says:

      Rebecca Guay is really good. I love her stuff. On dislike and respect for Nielsen’s art – it’s like responding to anything else taste-based, you like it or you don’t. I actually thought I loved it going into writing about it and realized that, for me, it’s super formulaic and kind of … preachy? maybe that’s not the right word. It feels like it’s knowing in a kinda elitist way. It reminds me of the way some buddhists rock their buddhism, like it’s better than other things, like they know something others don’t, and this makes it special/good. It’s not. It’s repetitive and predictable. That said, I think it’s great that there’s diversity in mtg art, and it’s even better that people really respond to what she’s making. I’m not one of them anymore 😉

      • I understand the comments about it being formulai — if you look at Descendan’t Path and Silverskin Armor, you can even see the boxes and lines she uses to subdivide the piece into smaller and smaller units (I’m no art guy — so forgive any poor vocabulary). I feel like I see her art rarely enough that it doesn’t bother me. Sure, after enough drafts and passed and wheeled Enter the Infinites, I may get sick of it, but I’m not at that point yet.

        I rarely look at art on cards — during play I only have a general idea of what’s on the card. At least Terese Nielsen’s art forces me to look at the card art for more than half a second.

      • Matt Jones says:

        Yeah I’m totally not dissing Nielson or her art. I respect the heck out of most people laying their creative response down to solve whatever task they wish to accomplish. Just a manner of taste, i think. I appreciate it being different than the work of other mtg artists. The things you describe are awesome and I’m excited you dig them! I can’t help but look at pretty much everything with some serious scrutiny, most of the time. 😉

  2. David McCoy says:

    I personally love the Tamiyo art. It’s definitely the most non-standard planeswalker art in terms of setting, though of course she is shown from the same perspective as every other planeswalker.

    • thejlina says:

      Ugh! I am still pissed off about that. Why couldn’t it have been Sorin vs Tamiyo, or anything other than a mono-red deck. They’ve clearly run out of decent red cards to put in those stupid mono-red decks, and Tibalt is by far the worst planeswalker they’ve ever made. Unless the deck goes hard in on the madness theme, Tibalt’s going to be a waste of a deck slot.

      That having been said, I am excited for Sorin’s deck. I like Sorin, Lord of Innistrad. But their face off poses are still ridiculous, and they’re still in the same goddamn clothes. These people are supposed to be Magic Royalty, shouldn’t Tibalt have a whole wardrobe of dapper clothing, and couldn’t Sorin rock a cloak or something (since he’s a VAMPIRE, and thus doesn’t have the best relationship with direct sunlight).

  3. Rich Stein says:

    What would you like to see on PW art instead of portraits that all look the same? If you were to commission art for a new Chandra, what would you do differently?

    • Matt Jones says:

      these are all full body (or 3/4 or 1/2 body, but the impression of a full body painting). maybe an actual portrait (face/head only) would be neat? I dunno. They DO fill the role of being the sort of “encyclopedia of the marvel universe” type imagery. I am actually OK with them. I would like, generally, to see more wonky art.

    • thejlina says:

      Personally, I want the most to see changes in their clothing and whatnot. Like, show some sort of change over time with different pieces being acquired at different points, or have a battle-damaged Chandra, or show scars that they obtained over time. The posing isn’t the absolute worst thing in and of itself, I get that it’s what works with that card frame. It’s just that pose, plus static planeswalkers that never change their clothes or otherwise grow or get dirty over time really doesn’t work for me.

      Perhaps this is why the best planeswalkers tend to be the random one-ofs, like Tamiyo and Domri. With only one point of reference, it makes sense they seem frozen in time. But Sorin is ancient, and his breastplate looks pristine and preserved between his two pics, one of which came out of the whole Eldrazi fiasco. Make him have some scars from that encounter!

  4. Garrett Koeppicus says:

    Dude! Jesper Myrfors is one of my faves. When I was a wee lad first learning what MtG was, his atmospheric illustrations totally entranced me. Who knows why, but I have spent a serious amount of time staring at Tundra; the color of the sky reminds of when it’s getting late, you’re out sledding, and it starts to snow. Badmoon and Will-O’-the-Wisp are other faves. Basalt Monolith is wicked ominous as well! Moss Demon is hillllarious.

    I enjoy Terese Neilsen’s work more for the fact that WoTC’s art director has left her comparatively alone, and she stands as one of the few that haven’t been jammed into the overarching plan that WoTC seems to have for the look of magic. Although she has her tropes, I feel that most illustrators do, and that’s one of the things that makes her distinct within magic art.

    Planeswalker art is some of the worst, I’d be excited to see something far more stylized (i.e. at the least something by Terese Nielsen/Rebecca Guay/Kaja & Phil Foglio) or try out a new way of composing the image for a change.

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