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Top Ten Magic Artists of All Time

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Hello folks! One of the distinctive elements about Magic: the Gathering is its art. Can you imagine Alpha and Beta without any art at all? Lots of game pieces doesn’t have art attached to them. Imagine if there were no art at all on the cards? Would the game have ignited like it did? Would it be as popular? I don’t think so. Art made Magic.

So given that, what are my favorite artists? What ones sing to me?

Now for most of my Top Ten Lists, I try to have a level of objectivity to it. If I have a favorite or pet card that I love from a new set, such as Ghirapur Orrery from Kaladesh, but I don’t genuinely think it’s a top ten card, then I don’t include it on my Top Ten list. That’s just how it rolls, right? I try to limit my subjectivity, even though eliminating it altogether is impossible. But that’s not how art works. It’s just way too difficult to look at a Top Ten Magic Artists of All Time from an objective standpoint. That line of thought makes no sense.

By default then, this will be my personal favorite artists.

Don’t forget that we have a few eras in Magic art. At first, we had people drawing pretty much whatever they wanted. Take Fay Jones’ Stasis as a good example. And a lot of early art came back different than expected — Birds of Paradise was made to suit the art after it didn’t work for a dual land, we had the Lemur art from Hyalopterous Lemure, and the Waiting in the Weeds was off. The basic art description was open, and left to artist interpretation. And they took full advantage of that.

For a good comparison, take Drew Tucker’s Necrite and compare it to Christopher Rush’s. Drew Tucker’s art is basically the hint of something. It looks like a vaguely humanoid something is touching another vaguely humanoid something. It suggests, rather than represents. And artists like Richard Kane-Ferguson, Kaja Foglio, and Quintin Hoover all have very distinctive takes and pieces during this era. But there is also a lot of admittedly weak art from here as well.

But then it began to shift. We followed certain characters, and now we have like eight of Gerrard Capashen in every set for a while. World guides are crated to make sure that Elves and Goblins and such are all shown similarly. And when we go a plane-hopping, we will get very uniform views of the same terrain and characters. Now we have a lot of pictures of Chandra and fire or Liliana vamping around. And the Kaladeshi art is all perfectly in sync, and you get a perfect feel for the plane. But can you tell the difference in style between Lake Hurwitz’s Whirler Virtuoso and David Gaillet’s Empyreal Voyager?

Angel of Invention
Wispweaver Angel

What about Yolkan Baga’s Angel of Invention vs James Ryman’s Wispweaver Angel? Same wings, same style, same helmet thing, same everything. Other than colors, stance, and swords, I just don’t see a whole lot of stylistic difference. If you did not know they were by different artists, would you think they had the same brush?

And it’s not just these artists. It’s the latter era. We give an old, existing artist a new card, and it conforms, and looks very different in style in doing so. I’ll give you a great example.

Take the very distinctive art style of D. Alexander Gregory, from the early days of the game. Look at cards he did like Cursed Scroll, Well of Knowledge, Bone Mask and Final Fortune. Aura of Silence? Even later stuff like Kalastria Highborn, Gifts Ungiven, or Deconstruct still has his feel. He has a very distinctive style. But where is that style with Ajani, Caller of the Pride? Barring the artist credit at the bottom, I would never know that was him. The same is true of Garruk, Primal Hunter. He never emphasized muscles in his previous pieces. The style is different. These are just generic fantasy pinups that have more in common with Joe Jusko than his previous stuff.

All right, so given all of that, who do I like the most?

10. Adam Paquette

The first of two Adams that will make my list, and one of my favorite newer artists out there. He’s done good work on a lot of cards. Take a look at Call of the Nightwing or one of my favorites which is Epitaph Golem. It may not be a card you remember, but the art is awesome, with the mist rolling off it quite nicely. Waxing Moon is another beautiful piece of work. This Adam is pretty good on his own merits, and I enjoy the body of work he brings to the table.

9. Quinton Hoover

Quinton Hoover was one of my favorite early artists. Sadly, he is no longer with us, but his art will remain. His work was dense, and was one of the few early artists to really use the full card. Take a look at Wrath of God as a great example. It’s not just a shaded white background with a few folks dying. You have tons of corpses, the angry face, and more. The Doppelganger is great and detailed, and compare it to Julie Baroh’s Clone art for a similar concept that is realized, but not fully fleshed out like Quinton’s. And this style continues. You can see it in cards like Whispers of the Muse (still one of my favorite pieces of art) or Aisling Leprechaun or Spoils of Evil. And he has done a lot of very powerful cards like Ball Lightning, Preacher, Hymn to Tourach, or Illusions of Grandeur. Grandeur indeed! Let’s raise a glass in his memory!

8. Rebecca Guay

While her cards can be found in any color, I think we can agree that Rebecca Guay defines Green. Her stuff has a way of taking the sylvan aspects of forests, Green, Faeries and Elves, and puts them in a very different category. We all know what she is capable of. And her art also is on some great cards like Bitterblossom, Aven Mindcensor, Commander Eesha, and Priest of Titania. Plus her fans are legendary. So, if I didn’t include her, I wouldn’t want to face a major anti-Abe campaign! ? (I’m just kidding, I really do like her and she belongs at 8 on my list).

7. Zoltan Boros and Gabor Szikszai

These artists are here for two major things. Firstly, they are all good, strong artists on their own. Take a look above! I adore the sheer joy and anger of Ankle Shanker. The recent Appetite for the Unnatural is strong too. And don’t sleep on other stuff like his update of Decimate for Conspiracy compare that to Alex Horley’s Decimate from Odyssey to see just how good Zoltan is. And Gabor is saucy too, even though he’s done a handful of cards by himself. And together they are a team of artistry. Their cards are solid, deep, with compelling scenes. Check out the lighting in Glare of Subdual as a perfect example. And don’t forget popular cards like Academy Ruins or Mirror Entity put them on the table as well.

6. John Avon

I’m not usually a “Go to this major Event and Meet with Artists” sort of person. And when I do go to a major event where artists are present, it’s hard for me to start up a conversation about, well . . . anything. I feel awkward. Which is why, to this day, John Avon is the only one I met at a tournament — the Lorwyn Prerelease out in London. I had to get him to sign some lands and my foil Vedalken Orrery. He is the master of lands. Nobody does basic lands better than an Avon. But he doesn’t just do those beautifully. Take a look at Cloud Dragon, Explore, or Restore. This guy is good. Better than good.

5. Adam Rex

The other Adam. To my mind, his best piece is the Tenth Edition version of Terror. That is a piece with the bones, skin, and muscles of a person all chasing each other in a circle. It’s evocative, cool, and not the sort of creative thing that people emphasize today. But cards like Symbol of Unsummoning, the Commander 2013 printing of Eternal Dragon and more, his art tends to tell a story or gives an evocative sense. It’s good. And I have enjoyed his Magic stuff so much that I picked up some of his books like Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich (I’d recommend it to anyone, it’s an awesome read.)

4. Phil and Kaja Foglio

Unlike Zoltan and Gabor, I am including this power couple of Magic art mostly for their solo efforts. While their duo stuff is limited in number, it’s iconic as well. Individually they rock. Take the underseen Portal version of Prosperity for Phil as a good example of his work. Dense. Detailed. And great for cards. He can even make iconic characters different with unusual takes, such as Squee and Gerrard on the art for Recycle. Kaja is the same. Consider Touch of Brilliance for a good example of her great work, even solo. And she has iconic art out there like Bottle Gnomes, Spirit Link, and Kismet. And then combine them for Mishra's Factory. Their cards are powerful and whimsical. You can get lost staring at the card art and appreciating just how much is there under the surface.

3. Terese Nielsen

From great pieces such as Natural Order, Sydri, Galvanic Genius, all the way up to her recent illustrations of White-kroma and Red-kroma in From the Vault: Angels. Enter the Infinite? Force of Will? She has established herself as one of the true iconic artists of the game. Period. And she’s one of the longest running as well, appearing from stuff from 1996 to 2016 — 20 years of Magic art. Shoot, you could do an entire article on the best of her works alone.

2. Drew Tucker

I think Drew Tucker may be the best artist in the history of the game in terms of hinting, and giving emotional responses, rather than truly drawing something out. Now I always remember that Tucker was a bit of a “Love Him or Hate Him” sort of style. And I get that. But man, his style was moody and creepy. There is a certain craft to him. A certain flair. An emotional quality. Take the creepy Dark Banishing or Infernal Denizen. Now he can give you more detail when you need. The creepy Deathbringer Liege is a good example. But he can just evoke more than your best Mournwhelk or Mulldrifter. He’s got the chops. But he’s not my #1 . . . 

1. Tom Waenerstrand

Tom was my first favorite artist. I grabbed a little Tom collection of cards in the early days of the game. And he still is. I love the pretty watercolors and the washed out look quite a bit. It suits a lot of early cards. He nailed this beautiful watercolor style of art early and often. His art is beautiful. From Pirate Ship and Royal Assassin in the first set through later stuff, his art stood above the rest. He was the early expert in drawing ships or boats (Included are Goblin Flotilla, War Barge, Merchant Ship, Ghost Ship, and Reef Pirates, among others). His work defined early sets, and made The Dark the moody creepy set it is, with more than 10% of the cards coming from him. Sea scenes and books were also his outré with cards like Flash Flood, Lat-Nam's Legacy, Jalum Tome, Emmessi Tome, and Tidal Influence rocking the block. He was the early John Avon, and his lands were heavily desired, with the Mirage Plains the lead, but his Ice Age and Unglued Mountains, and more were also hotly desired. From Blood Moon to Balduvian Trading Post, this guy made every piece count. And you can see the beauty of a Tom Waenerstrand piece! I could literally link to every one of his works above and I would be missing a lot of craft. So check out his Gatherer list!

And there we have it!

I want to give a quick Honorable Mention to Charles Gillespie, Brom, Jeffrey R. Busch, DiTerlizzi, Melissa Benson, and Greg and Tim Hildebrandt. All of those are good, strong artists that I like as well, and would likely be in a quick lil’ Next 10 list. Thanks!

So who is your favorite artist? And did you agree with my picks?


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