Last updated on April 19, 2022
Errant, Street Artist | Illustration by Alix Branwyn
What really separates Magic: The Gathering from so many other games I’ve played is its artwork. Say what you want about metagames, broken cards or decks, and formats you’ve loved but have now grown to despise, art is eternal. Magic has had over 400 artists over its almost 30-year history, all of which have produced almost too much art to count.
Art is important. What I find most engaging to new players is the potential to cast the powerful spells they see depicted or summon the fantastical beasts that they couldn’t otherwise imagine. A lot of the first memories that new players form is seeing the awe-inspiring art of their first set.
Vengevine by Raymond Swanland
Vengevine | Illustration by Raymond Swanland
Vengevine is one of my all-time favorite arts. Raymond Swanland is known for having very visually busy arts, and in some cases there’s almost too much going on. But here it just works on another level. So many gorgeous shades of green that are typical of more serene settings come to life in an action-packed stance.
Bitterblossom by Rebecca Guay
Bitterblossom | Illustration by Rebecca Guay
Bitterblossom evokes everything I love about Rebecca Guay’s art. It’s rich in color and features extremely sharp humanoid features in a dreamy setting. The wings in the back are beautifully translucent and the art itself seems to sing in a low pitch. Truly stunning.
Gift of Orzhova by Johannes Voss
Gift of Orzhova | Illustration by Johannes Voss
This is the art that made me fall in love with Johannes Voss’ work. A great perspective piece and while the details on the background are somewhat blocky, Gift of Orzhova’s stained glass is masterfully rendered. The colors that are still somewhat close to the background somehow still stick out and shine.
Llanowar by Kev Walker
Llanowar | Illustration by Kev Walker
This is from a Planechase card, but I had to include it nonetheless. It’s quiet and serene and it reminds me of scenes from Miyazaki films; an ancient forest, home to elder beasts and impossibly huge vegetation. While not very representative of Kev Walker’s unique style, Llanowar shows a versatility in his portfolio that makes it clear just why he’s Magic’s most prolific artist with over 400 works.
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite by Igor Kieryluk
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite | Illustration by Igor Kieryluk
The art direction for the white Phyrexians is impeccable, and no art represents that better than Igor Kieryluk’s Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. Regal and overwhelming in power despite the thin, exposed physique, the white porcelain complementing the crimson flesh underneath… This has it all.
Binding the Old Gods by Victor Adame Minguez
Binding the Old Gods | Illustration by Victor Adame Minguez
One of a couple media that I want to point out for being neither a digital art nor a painting, Binding the Old Gods is an actual wood carving that Victor Adame Minguez made out of mahogany. A couple of sagas have been made non-traditionally, but this is definitely my favorite for how rich the colors came out and how much definition the various figures have despite being made out of the same material.
Daze by Richard Wright
Daze | Illustration by Richard Wright
The detail in every last one of the ibises in the forefront contrasted by the ibises that seem like only shapes in the back is impeccable. The lone figure gazing into the distance makes Daze perfect. And the reflection in the water adds a whole ‘nother dimension to this.
Huntmaster of the Fells by Magali Villeneuve
Huntmaster of the Fells | Illustration by Magali Villeneuve
Magali Villeneuve’s figures are so rich in detail I do a double take every time I see one of her pieces on a card. It’s rich and gorgeous and full of life. Her ability to use reds, blues, and oranges is among the best of any of Magic’s many artists right now.
Demystify by Veronique Meignaud
Demystify | Illustration by Veronique Meignaud
Veronique Meignaud is instantly recognizable by her prismatic palette. Her art has so many bright colors going on and her talent really shows when she gets the opportunity to shine light through her subjects. She only has about 31 Magic art credits but she has a couple pieces coming up in Streets of New Capenna!
Pernicious Deed by Christopher Moeller
Pernicious Deed | Illustration by Christopher Moeller
I don’t really know why I’m drawn to Pernicious Deed’s art so much. Freyalise looks almost alien in her features. The eerie green light from the soul bomb illuminating her tells the tale of what is to come and the rich brown of the bomb itself evokes the ancient technology of the Thran.
Underworld Dreams by Carl Critchlow
Underworld Dreams | Illustration by Carl Critchlow
Where Kieryluk’s Elesh Norn is representative of the New Phyrexia, I find Carl Critchlow to be the artist I think of when I envision the old Phyrexia’s minions. Critchlow makes masterful work of the dark grays and oranges that bring forth nightmarish monstrosities here in Underworld Dreams.
Angelheart Vial by Chippy
Angelheart Vial | Illustration by Chippy
Chippy’s range is really impressive. I don’t think you could look at Angelheart Vial’s art and the art on Plague Spitter and tell me it came from the same artist. At some point Chippy moved from physical to digital media, which resulted in a drastic change of composition and definition. Chippy can use light to illuminate drab backgrounds into something full of emotion better than anyone else.
Karametra’s Favor by Chase Stone
Karametra’s Favor | Illustration by Chase Stone
Karametra’s Favor’s background is almost photorealistic and the light emanating from the bright blue cornucopia in the middle is done perfectly with respect to the figure holding it. Chase Stone doesn’t try to make picturesque subjects or backgrounds, but they end up clean anyway. It’s one thing to draw something beautiful; it’s another to show beauty in a subject where it isn’t an intrinsic quality.
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed by Chris Rahn
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed | Illustration by Chris Rahn
These days it feels like Chris Rahn gets a big headline card in every set, and it’s well deserved. Mikaeus, the Unhallowed is my favorite among his works. It’s easy to draw a disfigured and rotting zombie, but the dead gaze is done perfectly and the discoloration in his nails and the cracked staff show an overwhelming attention to detail. The gold and the white, though not torn, still seem faded, as if hope itself has died with this man.
Ashling, the Extinguisher by Wayne Reynolds
Ashling, the Extinguisher | Illustration by Wayne Reynolds
I’ll admit it, the first things that came to mind when I was browsing through Wayne Reynolds’ art were his many arts of Ajani. Reynolds’s style is instantly recognizable for his rigid geometries, which he makes spring into action in a way that belies the square and rectangular shapes that are often at the base of his figures. And oh my, does Ashling, the Extinguisher spring into action.
Hurloon Minotaur by Anson Maddocks
Hurloon Minotaur | Illustration by Anson Maddocks
When I think of iconic pieces of Magic art Hurloon Minotaur is among the first that comes to mind. It’s definitely a lot older than most of the other arts on this list. Anson Maddocks is one of the OGs, and so is the Minotaur. The rich details of its face combined with its serene expression give a greater meaning to a creature that’s generally only regarded by its physical prowess in other fantasy settings.
Mindslaver by Glen Angus
Mindslaver | Illustration by Glen Angus
Glen Angus was a tremendously talented artist who sadly passed away in his prime in 2007. Mindslaver is my favorite card of his, depicting turmoil with weird script that seems almost Phyrexian, but isn’t quite. I’m not sure if Glen developed this script by himself or if there was another file with it but it looks so cool, and the apparatus depicted looks otherworldly while its function is instantly conveyed.
Spitemare by Matt Cavotta
Spitemare | Illustration by Matt Cavotta
Matt Cavotta spent time as the creative lead for Wizards so he’s in all likelihood to be credited for a lot more than just the art he put on his cards, as if that isn’t enough already.
Spitemare has a lot going on. I like how detailed the ends of the creature are while the main body seems to either be appearing or disappearing into the mist.
Ad Nauseam by Jeremy Jarvis
Ad Nauseam | Illustration by Jeremy Jarvis
Another art director, this piece was originally commissioned for the original Ravnica: City of Guilds set, which you might guess from the subtle Dimir insignia on the subject’s forehead. I find that Jeremy Jarvis is at his best at drawing subjects that are unhinged, particularly when (even because) their face is removed in some way. Ad Nauseam is a very memorable depiction of a mundane action taken to a horrifying dimension.
Agrus Kos, Wojek Veteran by Donato Giancola
Agrus Kos, Wojek Veteran | Illustration by Donato Giancola
I find that Donato Giancola takes a particular joy in painting older subjects more than any other of Magic’s artists, something that’s less common than it should be in fantasy settings. His paintings seem much more personal than a lot of other artists. He’s fully invested in his characters’ stories.
Animar, Soul of Elements by Peter Mohrbacher
Animar, Soul of Elements | Illustration by Peter Mohrbacher
In the world of fantasy arts, Peter Mohrbacher is renowned for drawing impossibly large, weird, and mystical beings, and Animar, Soul of Elements is a perfect representation of this. Some eldritch being that embodies some greater concept. In this case, nature itself.
Korlash, Heir to Blackblade by Daarken
Korlash, Heir to Blackblade | Illustration by Daarken
Sssssssmokin’! Daarken does shadowy figures wreathed in smoke better than anyone else. The tokens drawn by Daarken are also some of the best out there.
Blooming Marsh by Adam Paquette
Blooming Marsh | Illustration by Adam Paquette
I tried very hard to set aside a lot of my personal biases in making this list to prevent too many green and black cards from showing up, but look at Blooming Marsh. Stunning in every way. Adam Paquette is one of the big names who gets to draw gorgeous landscapes for lands in almost every set, and Kaladesh was no exception.
Cephalid Coliseum by Cliff Childs
Cephalid Coliseum | Illustration by Cliff Childs
Another big name when it comes to depicting lands, Cliff Childs has a tremendous talent in drawing vast scenes from the perspective of someone who just entered some cavernous enclosure. I’m such a sucker for palettes of eerie blue and teal light.
Murmuring Bosk by John Avon
Murmuring Bosk | Illustration by John Avon
The many paintings John Avon has done of lands could be an entire piece in itself. When it comes to drawing landscapes in Magic, many, many players consider Avon the best. An icon of the genre, Avon’s work with sunlight is utterly unrivaled.
Terror by Adam Rex
Terror | Illustration by Adam Rex
I’ll admit that I’m not entirely sure what the concept of Terror has to do with what’s depicted, but I’ll also admit that this painting is awesome. Magic often lacks for abstract art, and seeing it executed so dynamically is a treat.
Gilder Bairn by Nils Hamm
Gilder Bairn | Illustration by Nils Hamm
Nils Hamm has a remarkable talent for drawing things that are eerie and dark, often featuring subjects and backgrounds that are decaying or corrupted. Still, putting in a bit of whimsy and showing hope and warmth where it’s somewhat unexpected as in Eventide makes Gilder Bairn heartwarmingly charming.
Claws of Gix by Henry G. Higginbotham
Claws of Gix | Illustration by Henry G. Higgenbotham
Most artists here have done dozens of works for Magic, but Henry G. Higginbotham has only done four. His works are so visually distinct because they’re actually photographs of sculptures he made, which gives the art a variety of amber tones that I absolutely adore.
Endless Ranks of the Dead by Ryan Yee
Endless Ranks of the Dead | Illustration by Ryan Yee
There’s a lot of art in Magic featuring stained glass, but actually depicting something through it isn’t something I’ve seen much of. The contrast between the subject in the glass and those behind it in Endless Ranks of the Dead is exquisite.
Rishadan Port by Jerry Tiritilli
Rishadan Port | Illustration by Jerry Tiritilli
This is the happiest, warmest representation of urban life in all of Magic. Vibrant and colorful with a wide spanning perspective of Rishada, Rishadan Port looks like a dream setting on the coast of France. Truly gorgeous.
Ghoulcaller’s Chant by Randy Gallegos
Ghoulcaller’s Chant | Illustration by Randy Gallegos
The magical mist emanating from the tomb on Ghoulcaller’s Chant as it’s cracked open gives a slow, menacing aura to this art. I love the touch of the ring on the hand, and the red sandstone of the sarcophagus itself is a clean realistic touch.
Unmask by rk post
Unmask | Illustration by rk post
Unmask depicts a key moment in the story of Mercadian Masques where Volrath reveals himself after having taken the form of Takara En-Dal. Solemn and beautiful.
Crucible of Worlds by Ron Spencer
Crucible of Worlds | Illustration by Ron Spencer
Another one of the original artist from Alpha, Ron Spencer has the most visually busy style of any artist. Things are always happening suddenly, and he draws moments of action very well. Even when drawing something as peaceful as an hourglass he finds a way to instill action into it.
Swarmyard by Thomas M. Baxa
Swarmyard | Illustration by Thomas M. Baxa
“Fleshy” and “fluid” are the first two terms that come to mind when describing Thomas M. Baxa’s art in Magic, and this unholy combination has led to some fantastically horrifying scenes.
The First Eruption by Steven Belledin
The First Eruption | Illustration by Steven Belledin
This is just a work of tremendous talent. Rather than painting a picture for The First Eruption Steven Belledin actually wove a tapestry, which gives it this gorgeous and unique look.
Dusk Legion Dreadnought by Titus Lunter
Dusk Legion Dreadnought | Illustration by Titus Lunter
Titus Lunter draws vast scenes so well, which has led to him drawing so many wonderful landscapes. He seems to be able to somehow hide enormous structures like ships in the mist of the storm.
Eldrazi Monument by Mark Tedin
Eldrazi Monument | Illustration by Mark Tedin
Mark Tedin is another of the few Alpha artists who continued to produce excellent Magic art. His stylistic interpretation of the otherworldly horrors that are the Eldrazi made waves in a lot of future sets. The tendrils interspersed with the geometries on Eldrazi Monument are a perfect blend of rigid and writhing.
Smokebraider by Anthony S. Waters
Smokebraider | Illustration by Anthony S. Waters
Look at these rich colors. So many different colors coming from something as simple as fire. The Lorwyn block was a great set for these rich colors, and nothing personifies that better than this art on Smokebraider.
Solemn Simulacrum by Dan Scott
Solemn Simulacrum | Illustration by Dan Scott
I love the contrast between the rigidly defined automaton and the fluffy cloud in the background. Crisp and clean.
Noggin Whack by Alan Pollack
Noggin Whack | Illustration by Alan Pollack
Hilarious scene aside, Noggin Whack delivers comedy in a dynamic fashion. No genre should take itself too seriously, so it’s refreshing to see something done so well.
Thoughtseize by Aleksi Briclot
Thoughtseize | Illustration by Aleksi Briclot
An art that most will recognize, Thoughtseize is a lovely mixture of realistic subjects performing some abstract magics. The palette perfectly relates the insidious nature of what’s happening.
Martyred Rusalka by Alex Horley-Orlandelli
Martyred Rusalka | Illustration by Alex Horley-Orlandelli
Absolutely haunting. A lonely tree and a lonely figure whose ghost now stares accusingly at the subject while an uncaring city lingers on in the background.
Elves of Deep Shadow by Jesper Myrfors
Elves of Deep Shadow | Illustration by Jesper Myrfors
Another very old classic, this was a portrait done of a subject that Jesper Myrfors knew, his friend Amber from the band Varnish. Dark, quiet, and menacing, Elves of Deep Shadow’s art is one that most old-school players will instantly recognize, and for good reason. That Kubrick stare gazes into your soul.
Thran Turbine by Brian Snoddy
Thran Turbine | Illustration by Brian Snoddy
When Urza asked the viashino what it did, he answered: “It hums.”Thran Turbine flavor text
Thran Turbine’s art really does hum, and I love art that stimulates one sense via another.
Lightning Bolt by Christopher Rush
Lightning Bolt | Illustration by Christopher Rush
Lightning Bolt doesn’t look like a red card at first glance. It’s cold, dim, and moody, yet it’s instantly recognizable as one of the most iconic arts in the game. It’s fitting that such a simple design should have such clear and simple art from one of Magic’s best.
Disciple of Griselbrand by Clint Cearley
Disciple of Griselbrand | Illustration by Clint Cearley
Disciple of Griselbrand is dark, emotionless, and yet completely sinister. I like the subtle hints that the perspective is that of a victim to be imminently sacrificed in the name of whatever dark force this man serves.
Bontu the Glorified by Daniel Ljunggren
Bontu the Glorified | Illustration by Daniel Ljunggren
Cry of Contrition by Daren Bader
Cry of Contrition | Illustration by Daren Bader
The moment of realization after some horrible deed, Cry of Contrition is a great encapsulation of such a sudden rush of emotion by Daren Bader. The contrast between the inside of the building and the outside creates a nice visual split for the before and after.
Shrine of Burning Rage by Dave Kendall
Shrine of Burning Rage | Illustration by Dave Kendall
A horde of mindless Phyrexians tending to the fire that illuminates an effigy of their leader, driven to rage by madness. It’s just so metal.
Time of Ice by Franz Vohwinkel
Time of Ice | Illustration by Franz Vohwinkel
And yet another saga art shows up here. I enjoy the concept of having card art depict another work of art. All the small figures in the corners on Time of Ice are also a lovely detail.
Hada Spy Patrol by Zoltan Boros & Gabor Szikszai
Hada Spy Patrol | Illustration by Zoltan Boros & Gabor Szikszai
I love how quiet Hada Spy Patrol’s art is. Two spies who are wondering if they could ever fight this horrible beast if they were to be discovered, you feel as if you’re hiding with them.
Moonlit Wake by Tim Hildebrandt & Greg Hildebrandt
Moonlit Wake | Illustration by Tim Hildebrandt & Greg Hildebrandt
The Hildebrandt twins are legendary for their works in science fiction and fantasy, and Magic was lucky to have them contribute pieces to their franchise as well. I love the silent composition of Moonlit Wake’s art and how the three main colors are used to differentiate subjects, setting, and background.
Fable of Wolf and Owl by Heather Hudson
Fable of Wolf and Owl | Illustration by Heather Hudson
A golden owl and a brown wolf emerge from the late autumn foliage of the forest, something that really embodies the spirit of a fable. I wish they revealed more about the story that was told on Fable of Wolf and Owl. The art is that good.
Make a Wish by Howard Lyon
Make a Wish | Illustration by Howard Lyon
I love the detail of the coin and how perfectly the moment on Make a Wish is told. You see the worry on the child’s face and in the way she clutches her stuffed bear as the weather takes a turn for the worse. I also love the callback featured in Grapple with the Past.
Ethersworn Canonist by Izzy
Ethersworn Canonist | Illustration by Izzy
The disinterested visage is striking from a figure that’s been altered so much by metal. The silent disdain expressed tells a story in itself.
Ghitu Lavarunner by Jesper Ejsing
Ghitu Lavarunner | Illustration by Jesper Ejsing
I love how the lava is moving in accordance with the Lavarunner. In one still image it’s eminently clear that the wizard has control of the lava, which he does with his own contortions.
Gruesome Deformity by Matt Steward
Gruesome Deformity | Illustration by Matt Stewart
I really love that we get the second-hand shot of whatever has afflicted this poor woman. It’s as if we get to share in her horror. Matt Stewart also nails the expression on Gruesome Deformity.
Sensei’s Divining Top by Michael Sutfin
Sensei’s Divining Top | Illustration by Michael Sutfin
This is a very simple item that’s very intricately depicted by Michael Sutfin. I love that the table is well-worn with use, as is the top itself. And again, we see some more cryptic text.
Ensnaring Bridge by Pete Venters
Ensnaring Bridge | Illustration by Pete Venters
Venters is another of the veterans of Magic art. I love Venters’ textures in his structures. They give life and motion to his settings, and I love his works depicting flowstone throughout the storyline events on Rath.
Sacred Foundry by Rob Alexander
Sacred Foundry | Illustration by Rob Alexander
Rob Alexander is responsible for some of Magic’s most well-known lands, having drawn four of the original dual lands and the shock lands from the original Ravnica cycle. All of these arts are an absolute home run. These settings ooze personality and flavor and are everything that a land art should be.
Lotus Petal by Slawomir Maniak
Lotus Petal | Illustration by Slawomir Maniak
It’s always been weird to me that the most iconic flower in Magic is an artifact. No person has done a better job convincing me that it should be as Slawomir Maniak. Lotus Petal is perfectly intricate; look at the tiny teeth on the petals and the pad. It’s as if you can see it slowly whirring as part of some greater ecosystem.
Slave of Bolas by Steve Argyle
Slave of Bolas | Illustration by Steve Argyle
A stunningly beautiful subject with a powerful expression in purple and red, this is the epitome of Steve Argyle’s work in Magic. The subtle tears and the cracked sigils are the perfect tiny details that reward a deeper inspection of his art, and I love it.
Arcane Flight by Steve Prescott
Arcane Flight | Illustration by Steve Prescott
As I’ve said earlier, painting a bit of whimsy is an art in and of itself. I don’t know if the cat is magical or its worried owner in the background cast a quick spell, but watching this surprised cat sprout wings with that expression is good comedy.
Thundermaw Hellkite by Svetlin Velinov
Thundermaw Hellkite | Illustration by Svetlin Velinov
There are hundreds of ways to draw an awesome and impressive dragon, but if I had to choose one as the best, this is it. This is a creature that doesn’t look like it uses magic. It’s a savage reptile that consists of bone, sinew, and muscle. A true killing machine.
Phyrexian Obliterator by Todd Lockwood
Phyrexian Obliterator | Illustration by Todd Lockwood
This is what a new Phyrexian horror looks like. Every last piece of it is designed to slaughter life forms. It looks fragile from its impossibly bony physique, and yet still utterly brutal.
Mox Opal by Volkan Baga
Mox Opal | Illustration by Volkan Baga
“Mox” is a loaded term in Magic. It has a legendary status so it’s expected that what’s depicted is truly legendary, which Volkan Baga delivers on. The hands of a Mirran, flesh intertwined with metal, clutch an immaculate pendant orb encasing a gem on Mox Opal. The opal sheen of the background is done so well, and the central gem still sticks out despite being made of a similar material.
Cryptic Command by Wayne England
Cryptic Command | Illustration by Wayne England
Wayne England drew the original Command cycle where he depicts a spell being cast by opening some form of jar. The vessel itself is relatively plain, but the power emanates from it. I love how the dust that comes off the jar itself glimmers.
Skymarcher Aspirant by Winona Nelson
Skymarcher Aspirant | Illustration by Winona Nelson
The figure is silent, holding a censer, yet she exudes a regal authority. The conquistador style for the Vampires of Ixalan really sticks the landing here, as if she stares down upon a domain granted to her by divine right.
Thunder Drake by Yeong Hao Han
Thunder Drake | Illustration by Yeong Hao Han
Infusing a creature with an element is always an interesting proposition, and Thunder Drake is one of the best executions of the genre I’ve seen. Bristling with raw energy, this beast is truly terrifying. I enjoy the contrast between it and the relatively peaceful sky in the background.
Dramatic Finale | Illustration by Steve Argyle
Magic has so much amazing art, I could truly go on forever talking about all the things that I love featured in our favorite game. But alas, every piece must come to an end.
What do you think about the art I’ve chosen? What’s your favorite piece from Magic’s long history of beautiful art? Let me know in the comments below or tweet at us if that’s more your thing.
That’s all from me for today. Stay safe, stay healthy, and wash your hands!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: