Updated: Feb 19, 2019
When a lot of us talk about Magic, we’re looking at it terms of gameplay. But to many players—or even just admirers of the game—a different element has always captured their attention. The art of Magic has kept a consistently high bar for so many years and yet still manages to produce some astounding portraits. This commitment to quality has done much to enrich the game we all love. While many long-time players probably already have a style or artist they call favorite—Nils Hamm and Seb Mckinnon come to mind—for this article, I wanted to take a closer look at a few of the most prolific artists of our current standard block. Hopefully I can draw attention to some names that have either been subtly impressing for some time, or rising from anonymity to do more for Magic than you might realize.
Svetlin Velinov - 34 cards
Svetlin is not a new name to Magic, a fact evident just by looking at two of his cards legal in Standard.
Ajani’s Pridemate, a frequenter of the ‘Soul Sisters’ deck in Modern and a part of many lifegain strategies in Commander, and Goblin Electromancer, a powerful piece of the oft-seen Izzet Storm deck in Modern are both Svetlin’s works. And if we’re looking at notoriety, the list hardly stops there. A mono-red Standard list is hardly complete without a set of Goblin Chainwhirlers, nor will any serious Grixis deck find itself without some number of Nicol Bolas, the Ravagers.
Other cards you might be familiar with are Legion’s Landing, a staple of many token and aggro strategies, and Niv-Mizzet, Parun, a powerful finisher for spell-heavy decks.
But we’re here to examine art, not functionality. So what do Svetlin’s cards say about his style? If you were to pull up all of his art and browse through it, it’s clear to see his strength is in emotion. Specifically expressions. Take Maximize Velocity for example.
Look at the wild excitement in that face. It doesn’t matter what manner of creature that is, his recklessness traverses species and planes. It perfectly encapsulates the spirit of Izzet and the rashness of their experiments. And on a different spectrum we have Disdainful Stroke.
Instead of an impulsive goblin, we have a collected naga, striking down her enemies’ banner with one hand while keeping a grim lookout for any threats on a foggy battlefield.
Beamsplitter Mage. Deep Freeze. Legion Guildmage. I could go on and on about the powerful emotions within Svetlin’s expressions. He makes his mark by finding a way to relay to us exactly the spirit of the card without the need for a single word of rules text.
Magali Villeneuve - 31 cards
Let me start you off with a sentence pulled straight from Magali’s Wikipedia page:
“Her art has been used for official games and products set in many large fantasy universes and franchises, including Magic: The Gathering, A Song of Ice and Fire, Star Wars, Warhammer, The Lord of the Rings, and Call of Cthulhu.”
Magali is a fantasy all-star. But before I get into the bulk of her work, I have to take a moment to gush about one card in particular.
Not only do I love this card mechanically, but I am so digging the Orzhov aesthetic Magali has established in her art. The stark contrast of white and black in the thick layers of modest clothing brought together by a strategic addition of gold, the fine balance on the Seraph to match the icon of scales, the serious yet thoughtful look on the Seraph’s face, and the way her wings billow out behind her—it’s gorgeous.
But what do I see when I look at most of her work?
Motion and powerful arcane energy. Look at how she portrayed the harpoons missing our merfolk savant in Dive Down, going from top right, where the light draws our initial attention, to the bottom right, in the same direction the merfolk dove and where our eyes are meant to spend the most time. On Shanna’s card, you can see the wind grabbing her cape and the mystical aura that protects her from harm. Patient Rebuilding shows the calm descent of building blocks, guided by Nicol Bolas’ power, to their final placement shown in the water’s reflection.
I think there are a lot of things to love about Magali’s art. Take more than a few moments on any of her pieces and you can really start to appreciate her mastery of the flow of information and the story of a still image.
Winona Nelson - 28 cards
I think a skilled application of contrast is easy to overlook. It’s simple enough to tell when an image has poor contrast, but it’s also has a tendency to fade to the back of our thoughts when done well.
And from what I can see of her art, Winona knows contrast.
When art is shrunk and compressed to fit in a very particular window on a card smaller than you hand, contrast is especially important. In order to communicate clearly, you need to be able to see what’s going on at a glance. It’s clear what’s happening in Dusk Legion Zealot: a cautious explorer ventures into a dark place, leaving the safety of light behind.
Here we have a figure, attention transfixed on someone in the background, and even though we can’t make out who or what it is, it’s clear they’re relaxed and the figure in the foreground is not.
A neat use of the blood in this image tells us the story of this composed cleric and the beast without a need for detail. By looking closer we can make a good guess as to what weapon he’s using and exactly how clean the cut was, but those are icing on the cake. Winona has done a fine job with this narrative before we ever pick up the card.
While Winona’s cards may not have made the splash in the format that other artists like Svetlin have, it’s easy to appreciate the attention she gives to contrast in order to tell a story, even at card size.
Victor Adame Minguez - 23 cards
While there are a couple other artists that have more cards in Standard right now, I must admit a bias towards Victor. First, because he drew the art of Divine Visitation, my current pet card, but also because he’s a bit more active on social media like Noah Bradley and Titus Lunter.
And while I’m being on the subject of angels, can we all just take a moment and appreciate how well Victor draws wings? I mean, look at Shalai!
The detail on Serra Disciple is hardly lacking as well!
Something I really love about Victor’s art is how he lets the mana color of his cards dominate the art. It’s not so oppressive that it takes away from the detail of the subject, but at a glance you can tell exactly what color or colors a card is.
Now, I know this isn’t exactly a fresh or unique concept. Most cards do have a strong color identity, but the way Victor is able to incorporate it into the art and treat it not as a requirement of the piece but rather an opportunity to bring out the real potency of color is quite refreshing.
And while I’m on the subject of color, let me segue into another of Victor’s strengths: glow and reflection. Take another look at Shalai. The dull reflection on her shield is different from the glimmer of her greaves and sword. The shield, worn and battered, can't give off the same gleam her well-cared-for sword can.
On Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants, you’ll notice the lack of reflection on most of him due to the mostly-overcast skies and the fur that diffuses the light and prevents and real glints on his body. Yet, the gold pauldrons and weapons really stand out because they’re the one part of the ensemble that does reflect well.
I hope now that you’ve gotten a glimpse of a few of the active artists of Magic, you’ll be interested in looking at a few more. Like I mentioned before, Nils Hamm and Seb Mckinnon are fan favorites, but personally I would recommend Johannes Voss (his Restoration Angel is amazing). Wherever you look, I’m sure you’ll find something to enjoy. Thanks for reading!