Hello Folks! I hope your Friday is going well!
Today I want to continue my five-part series where I look at the art for each of the basic land types in the game. Last week we looked at Swamps, and today I want to investigate the Plains. I have enjoyed this game since the first Plains were printed way back when. Since then I have played, drafted, and used every set that came down the line. I have sought out and collected copies of every single promo, APAC, Euro, Guru and Arena land for my signature deck, Abe's Deck of Happiness and Joy. I understand these lands and their art in the context of actual play, rather than merely online.
Given that experience, today I want to look at what I consider the best Plains art of all time. Just like last week, any list like this is always going to be subjective, not objective. I can't create an objective list of things that I want in my Plains art and then give it to you, and then rate these art on a scale from 1 to 10. This is art. There are around 150-ish, pieces of art for each land type, although they aren't all on Gatherer, so the number isn't perfect.
Again, fair warning good readers! I am just a fan. I have never taken an art criticism class, nor am I an artist by trade. None of my analysis is meant to represent anything other than that of a fan.
Oh, and at the end of the final article, I'll give you my quick Top Ten of All Of My Basic Land Art and combine my lists into one giant one for you.
Also, a quick heads up; nothing I am about to mention is meant to be viewed an attack on artists. I will be giving you the context for Plains upfront, and show you some that don't work for me. In some cases, I don't like what the artist does in some art, but I do appreciate it in others (cough, Rob Alexander, cough).
Plains, in particular, I feel lack a lot of interest. Maybe it's because the spaces they are showing can be bland too. The scenes are often washed out, and lacking anything for me to focus on, nothing to hang my hat on. While every basic land type has some pieces that feel "meh" to me, I think Plains are prone to it more.
Here, let me show you:
Take this perfect example from Masques. No disrespect to the artists, but this card doesn't look any better in real life than it does online. Nor does foiling help it out. The yellow is way too bright, the art saturated, and there just isn't much here that resonates with me. There are other examples out there too that make that error.
These just don't have anything in them that lives. Nothing for me to sink my teeth into. From faded colors to lack of anything happening, there's nothing there. It's just a picture of a Plains with very little to remember. You have some pieces where there's too much fog and not enough scenery.
And in some of these works, like this Pat Morrissey Plains, the colors and everything look good, but there's nothing else there. No figures, structures, trees, or anything to hold my attention. It's a pretty scene that I don't take with me.
Here's a good counter example from the same set and illustrator:
Do you see how in this scene, with the snow, your eyes are drawn to the front with the front where you have things happening? In this Plains scene from Fifth Edition, Pat draws you into the scene because there are things in it that help you do that.
In other cases, I think the talent of good artists was wasted by wanting darker and washed out worlds and landscapes.
As another good counter-example:
Take this work by Larry MacDougal. It's from Shadowmoor, which is the dark side of the bright and happy Lorwyn. It has to be dark. And yet, there is stuff here. Detailed work. The stumps, the fence, the colors, there is a detailed design here that works really well for me. I enjoy this piece as a good example of a dark landscape that can still work.
All right, now that I have set the stage, let's look at what I consider the best Plains of all time!
Honorable Mention- Shadows Over Innistrad, Plains by Andreas Rocha
Andreas Rocha hasn't even done 20 pieces of art for Magic yet, but I love what we are getting so far! Andreas only does the occasional piece, from M14 to Core 19, and others, but the works are very nicely done. They are rich tapestries and scenes. Here we have the sun peeking out of a distant cloud, shining on the land far way. It has a richness to it that really works for me. I'd love to see even more cards from, Andreas. I can't be the only one, right?
Honorable Mention #2 - Portal: Second Age Plains by Fred Fields
Fred has a reputation for having these colorful and dense pieces of work. He only did a handful of pieces for MTG, but you may recognize his art as some of them are big - Mutavault, Mystic Gate, Reflecting Pool, and Scapeshift. This Plains wasn't just a minor P2 card, as folks appreciated it even then. It was heavily reprinted in Core Sets, as well as other places, and you can find it in foil too. The colors, the small castle in the background, the recent rain with the puddles, there is a strong piece of art here. Enjoy it!
Honorable Mention #3 - Ixalan Plains by Raoul Vitale
Take a look at this thing. It's just so....fun! How can you not like it. Terraces? Fun Plants? Statue in the background? Pretty horizon and sky? Fun green everywhere. What's not to like? Good job!
Honorable Mention #4 - ZendikarPlains by Jung Park
The problem with the pieces that come from sets where there was full-art and then cropped art is that we know the full version, and the cropped version often is much worse and doesn't work. It's not really fair to compare these giant-sized art to the normal sized ones. I only consider the cropped version. If it stands out, then I'll give it a spot on my countdown. In this case? Jung Park's Plains is so good that it works even when cropped. It's just a beautifully dark landscape in Adventure World. Check it out!
Park can also bring it with lots of other art out there as well. He appeared in my Swamp Top Ten List as well.
10. Time Spiral Plains, by Richard Wright
This is a great example of how to really make a dark piece of art shine. Here we don't have a lot of colors, but we do have detail, shadows, different levels, and more. The torn landscape is very strong, and feels appropriately post-apocalyptic in nature. It works very well, and Richard Wright really brought it here. I love it.
9. Commander Plains by Rebecca Guay
Rebecca Guay is probably one of the most iconic MTG artists of all time. Her style is different than most out there. You can feel that she has really poured herself and her time into pretty much every card she makes. And it shows, even on this Plains. Her style pulls you in, and won't get go. From the tree bark to its leaves, look at the detail in this work. This is a quality piece, so thanks!
8. Commander Plains, by Mark Poole
Mark Poole's talent as an artist has definitely improved in front of our eyes. Here are his first lands:
And while each of these Islands certainly do show me an Island, it's not really an early piece of art that stands out. But his later work has really improved, which makes sense. This Plains is one of my favorites. The colors are there, and the shooting star or comet passing overhead is a nice touch. The entire work is elegant and there is a lot to feast your eyes on. Good job Mark!
7. Promo Plains, by Rob Alexander
As a general rule, I'm not a big fan of Rob Alexander's land art, and even some of his higher profile stuff, like the Unglued Plains, isn't that noteworthy to my mind. His work tends to be one of the better examples of washed out and overly Foggy. So let's give credit where it's due - I think this is a very strong Plains. The rock formations here and there do something to break up the scenery, and the large rock helps to give my eye something to focus on. It gives a rough perspective on the size of the rocks further out. This is a great Plains, with a nice, orange sky and a detailed horizon. Thanks Rob!
6. Dragons of Tarkir Plains, by Sam Burley, with a Shout Out to Sam's Khans of Tarkir Plains
Sam just nails the Dragons Plains. It's a powerful and evocative landscape with the weather-beaten structure, and the sandstorm in the background that's very evocative. Everything here is just so well done. Trees on the top? The walls? The birds in the background to give you some perspective. There's nothing in here that I don't love. And the bonus is that the original Khans of Tarkir art is also something very nice as well, although in this case, I prefer the Dragons art. I find Sam's land art to be one of the best, most evocative, in the last five years. He also got one of my Swamp list last week, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him again later today, as well as in another top ten list too. Good job Sam!
5. M11Plains by John Avon
John has a well-deserved reputation among fans for having strong land work, and I certainly think his work is very top shelf as well. He can have a piece of art that zooms in and uses perspectives, lands, and angles that show a scene that's actually quite ordinary but do so in an extraordinary way.
Here, let me give you another example of that. Here is his Odyssey Plains:
Do you see how it's just a zoomed in angle on grain? There's nothing here besides grain. There's no lake, river, trees, figures, magical creatures, or really much of a horizon. But by zooming into the grain, you have this close feel with it, and the surrounding landscape. You can also see his art of Ravnica is tilted. John has the ability to pull you into a painting of a science that's otherwise pretty plane and downright pastoral. If there is one thing that today's reality TV domination has told us, it's that anyone's life is interesting, when masterfully told. John Avon is a master. Any scene is interesting when seen through his eyes.
4. Promo Plains, by Sam Burley
If you've never seen this Plains before, then trust me. Just pick some up. They are beautiful. It's so striking. This is a strong piece of art, and won that works so nicely. From the landscape not feeling flat to the fun circles in the sky and the hedges, this is just a fun piece of art. There is so much whimsy here. And Sam has certainly brought his "A" game. Good job!
3. Arena Plains, by Tony Roberts
What I enjoy about this Plains is the perspective from are away of the area, the scruffy land that looks barren with the various rock formation in the back. And then the descending Angel horde puts it all together for me. You can see just how tiny the Angels are and it brings everything into focus. It gives the piece a central visual cue to look at, and it's very much something that looks and feels Magic-al. You know you are about to see the arrival of Angels! But they are so far away! It's got a strong fell to it. I can't imagine this piece of art without the angels down the middle.
2. Odyssey Plains, by Eric Peterson
One of my favorite Plains of all time is this one by Eric Peterson. You can tell that he really cared about this piece of art! Its dense with trees, clouds, figure, and the storm. The storm in the distance with that Tornado looking dark funnel far off is very strong, and as a result, this is a Plains that breathes. It shows that you don't need to have a bunch of mountains or rivers or something to break it up. You just need it to be lived in. There is a virtual wasteland of a Plains, with no bushes, flowers, or water, and just the occasional tree dotting the landscape in very small numbers, and no elevation. And yet the stark shows something ominous. And the small figure that is in front of the painting helps to illustrate the entire thing perfectly. I can't imagine a better single piece of art for Plains.
But I can think of a set of paintings...
1. The Mirage Plains Cycle, by Tom Wänerstrand
There is just something majestic and magnificent about this cycle. It just works. Tom is a watercolor magician, and the things he can do with that medium boggle my mind. His level of detail and use of colors is insane. Take these as a great example. The creatures in the foreground like the Zebra or the rocks and pools and grass all in front help to both set the stage for these Plains as well as show off some skill that I can only wonder at. They are so lived in. He is a talented artist, and his work was one of the major parts of the game's early life, and I rate his style and talent on the level of a Drew Tucker, Melissa Benson, Quinten Hoover, Phil Foglio, among others. His work helped to define the early years, and he was given a lot of lands, or land-based creatures, like Merchant Ship, Pirate Ship, the Ice Age Mountains or these Plains.
Tom is such a talented artist, and I think his Mirage Plains are quite something! Good job!
And there we are! So what did you think of my list? Did you enjoy it? Did you like any of my Plains choices? Think I made some misses? Great! Let me know!
Abe's Favorite Basic Land Art:
Did you enjoy this list? Want to check out another?
P. P. S - Did you enjoy this Top Ten List? Great! I just created a Top Ten List for the best fantasy works of all time over on my YouTube channel. Check it out and let me know what you think!!! https://youtu.be/4uj-WW9822M