I hope that you are having fun and staying safe in our COVID-19 world!
While reviewing the Core Set 2021 visual spoiler back prior to its release, I felt a few pieces of art that spoke to me and I was inspired enough to write an article about them! I really enjoyed how these pieces looked in a card frame. A card is not just the name, casting cost, power and toughness, type, and description. The art compels the card and ties all the various and disparate elements together.
Please note that I come to this article as a fan only. I am not an artist myself nor am I trained in art criticism. Therefore, any of my comments should not be taken as anything other than the musings of a fan.
In order to make this list, you need to have new art. A reprint with new art like Grim Tutor is eligible. Something like Faith's Fetters or Duress with older art is not eligible. I am only considering new art.
Are you ready for my list?
Honorable Mention #1 - Chromatic Orrery
Let's kick things off with Volkan Baga's Chromatic Orrery. Not only is this a fun card, but the far away image helps to frame what is happening. The people near to it and small show the size of the machine well. I enjoy the colors of the machine in those glowing globes and the various choices that were made for this piece really paid off. Volkan Baga is a name well known to MTG fans with an even 150 cards to his credit. You might have heard of some of his hits like Edric, Spymaster of Trest, Edgar Markov, Elspeth, Knight-Errant and many others. My favorite card by him is Brimstone Mage. Good job Volkan!
Honorable Mention #2 - Ghostly Pilferer
This is Craig J. Spearing's 67th piece of art for Wizards of the Coast and his previous work includes cards like Ainok Survivalist, the Ixalan Opt, and my favorite from him, Seeker of the Way. This is another well-done piece. The central theme of the work is the half-in the wall aspect of our ghostly image. However, while that was done well, you and then struck by the extra hands, which is not an obvious way of making the art work with the concept, but which sits well with me. We need more hands! Good job Craig!
Honorable Mention #3 - Dire Fleet Warmonger
It's not often that Rakdos gets a great piece of art. Mathias Kollros's piece feels like a throwback to the best pieces from Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan which was a block with a lot of great unique cards and looks to them. From the Ixalan-style Goblin in the art for the Orc in the forefront, this card has a lot of good things to merit. My favorite part of this piece is the action at the bottom of the piece. Mathias has recorded 104 pieces of art that includes Guttersnipe, Tatyova, Benthic Druid, and Aether Revolt's Ornithopter. My favorite piece is the Ultimate Masters Dark Depths. Good job Mathias!
10. Animal Sanctuary
This beautiful piece of land is crafted by Alayna Danner. She has a lot of creepy art such as Bloodtallow Candle or beautiful things like Alpine Moon (Alpine Moon is also my favorite of her pieces). She's also become a bit of a land specialist as roughly half of her art on Gatherer is lands. As you can see, it's been earned. Alayna's piece is beautiful, detailed, captivating, and strikes me as I look at it. Good job Alayna!
9. Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse
In Core Set 2021, there are a cycle of rares that Joreal is a part of that are characters that have interacted with our main set's Teferi as allies, enemies, or others. I feel like this cycle has had a special emphasis on character and taking a deep dive into this people that have influenced Teferi. A lot of legendary characters get a bigger piece of art that seems to have more effort in them.
For example, compare the two versions of Hanna, Ship's Navigator. The first was back from Invasion, and the card's art, while not bad, was not heavily emphasized. It was before the era of emphasis on legendaries for Commander. When Hanna was reprinted in Commander 2016 her art could not be different and the result of this emphasis is seen in Core Set 2021 with the cycle to which Joreal Take Two belongs, and she feels more like the Commander 2016 version of Hanna than the original one. Izzy does a great job her in profile as well as the Cats in the background that play nicely into the view of the character. The result is very good. This is not going to be the only one in this cycle to hit my countdown. This also won't be the only piece by Izzy to hit either, hint hint. Good job Izzy!
8. Rambunctious Mutt AND Pridemalkin
Has our modern COVID world or its recession got you down? I get it! Turn with me to look as this duo and get your "...d'aww" on! If you like cute in your art look no further! These two Cats and Dogs are amazing fun. Each common is good in various builds and will get played. Campbell White's Rambunctious Mutt is all about the scene. Look at the look of playfulness on the Mutt against the look of anger on the owner. Someone is about to get into trouble! Karl Kopinski's Pridemalkin on the other hand also has a great look on the face of its Cat. The leaves are done quite well and even the collar on the Cat is nice as well. As a result, either are super cute, and I couldn't choose one. Good job Campbell and Karl!
Campbell White just got started with art for the game in Ikora and he has six works. This is my favorite. Welcome!
Karl Kopinski has clocked in 162 cards and includes heavy hitters such as Acidic Slime, Nim Deathmantle and Krenko, Mob Boss. My favorite card by him is Reaper of the Wilds. Or maybe Tormented Soul, I'm not sure.
If you liked the cute and then you be razzled by the next card.
Before I talk about the awesome art, I don't like this card's name generally. Puns are not good names. This is clearly a pun version of gourmand. However, my dislike for the card cannot keep me from enjoying the creepy art. The art is the best part of this Demon. From the blood red blood on the body of our Demon to the arm in the front-ish of the work, the entire thing is creepy in a good way. And if you like creepy in a good way check out #3 below! Igor Kieryluk is one of the most published among our charters today with 180 pieces for the game we all know and love. These include Agent of Treachery, Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, Geist of Saint Traft, and Griselbrand. My favorite piece by Igor is Varina, Lich Queen. Good job Igor!
6. Niambi, Esteemed Speaker
Niambi is the daughter of Teferi, hence her appearance in this Teferi themed set. The art here is really strong by Eric Deschamps. I enjoy how the glass in the back frames Niambi's head and lights the scene. I really enjoy the details of Niambi's clothes that also move well with the wrinkles of the garment. The entire piece is gorgeous and was clearly meant to sit in a gold frame. Eric has 155 pieces for the game that have as their highlight's cards like Celestial Colonnade, Dack Fayden, Elspeth, Sun's Champion, Fatal Push, and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. He's probably my favorite artist in today's list as he is so consistently good. My favorite piece by him (hard to say) is his High Tide or his Oloro, Ageless Ascetic. Good job Eric!
All right, top five time!
5. Anointed Chorister
Our highest ranking common is Bastien L. Deharme's beautiful Anointed Chorister! The light crashing down from above onto our target. The feathers floating around the scene. The gorgeous and well-crafted stained glass. The entire package is great, and the light here is my favorite feature! Bastien can do lit up scenes nicely - take his Apostle of Purifying Light as a good example. He's also done big name cards like Ephemerate and my favorite version of Animate Dead from Eternal Masters. Good job Bastien!
4. Kaervek, the Spiteful
Daarken knows Magic. He knows it well. He's done hundreds of cards and has loads of great art to choose from. I love this piece of work, with Kaervek Take Two. Kaervek was the antagonist for Mirage block and thus was a major player in the Teferi Saga. This is a great card and a great piece of art. I enjoy it a lot and it's in the same cycle that Joreal was in above. Again, not the last time you'll see this cycle hit. I love the flame effects in this piece, especially the crown. Daarken knows how to marry these effects with the objects around them. Daarken has done well-known cards such as Hangarback Walker, many of the Gods from Theros Block, and my favorite of his which is Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath. Good job Daarken!
3. Peer into the Abyss
Hello fans of creepy art! Welcome back Izzy! This art is so creepy that it could make a top ten list for creepy or uncomfortable pieces of art and you wouldn't question it! Izzy has done 171 pieces of art for the game. That's a lot! You might know cards like Lord of Extinction, Kess, Dissident Mage, or Blue Elemental Blast and Red Elemental Blast from Masters 25. He is a strong illustrator of the arcane. This piece has him eating more and more of the same scene in a very dark and creepy way. Izzy pulls this piece off well. I won't call it beautiful. But I will call it unsettling. Good job Izzy!
2. Subira, Tulzidi Caravanner
Here is another hit in our top ten list from the cycle I have already mentioned twice before, and our only red card that charts. Like Campbell White, Leesha Hannigan is also a newcomer to the stage of MTG and has fewer than ten pieces to her credit, but this one is incredible. She started with Ikoria, and she's already getting #2 on my list, so I hope to see good things from her moving forward! The use of color here is incredible. I love the sky here and how it sets the caravan in the background off. I love the caravan itself and how detailed it is. I love the foreground character, and the flapping of the flag that feels like it's in front of me. I enjoy this work immensely! Good job Leesha, nd welcome!
Now here is my favorite art from this set!
1. Mangara, the Diplomat
So majestic and pretty! Majesty is how I would best describe how I feel when I see Howard Lyon's piece. This is another card in the cycle of Teferi's people. Mangara was a key ally for Teferi's team in Mirage block and inspired cards like Mangara's Tome. The Diplomat has a great column that is well crafted, a throne feature to the left that's awesome looking, the gorgeous cloth that's on it, and loads more. From the look on Mangara's face to paper in the hand there is a lot of love here. It's majestic. Howard Lyon has done 112 cards, which is a lot of cards. You might know his Zendikar Expeditions Ancient Tomb, Basilisk Collar, Rings of Brighthearth, and Nissa, Steward of Elements. My favorite card by him is Conclave Naturalists. He's a very consistent top-notch artist who I am happy to give my top spot to. Good job Howard!
And there we go! I hope you enjoyed my favorite pieces of art from Core Set 2021. What did you think of my list? Did you agree or disagree with anything? Anything I missed or that you love that I didn't mention? Just let me know and have an awesome day!