The Artists of Standard

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.