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Dragons of Tarkir Art Review

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Hello, and welcome to an art review of Dragons of Takir, Magic’s newest expansion set. If you’re new to my writing, I definitely recommend reading my article on the overview of Tarkir in this new current timeline. In short, from it, we’re at the pendulum swing all the way to traditional art, and if history serves us right, we’ll be swinging back to digital—and then back again.

As for the art, I find that we, as the community, never really have a chance to see the art without its card context. Yes, we can see a full art in a mothership article or on an artist’s blog, but art exhibition showing laid-out art without context to taint it doesn’t really exist.

That will be changing soon. I hope my nickname of “The Curator” will be coming to Magic in the next year. I’ll keep everyone posted, but efforts are being made, and proposals are written to bring Magic original art in front of you, the players.

Conceptually for this article, I have a few things to touch on—and then an Easter egg hunt through Magic’s art with a few comments in between. Then, we’re ending with what I believe is the best art in the set. Enjoy your journey today.

Flying and Landed Dragons

In case you missed it, yes, it is intentional to have the Dragonlords in flight in Fate Reforged and landed or on the ground in Dragons of Tarkir. I thought a downed dragon was a dead dragon. I could only kill dragons in the AD&D world of Tenne when they exhausted their breath weapons. It’s not so much that they’re lazy, they’re just lords. Like food critics, they don’t have to eat everything if they don’t want to. They can spew fire if they want to; they would just rather take part in leisure.

Breath Weapons

Speaking of breath weapons, I feel that I’m taking crazy pills such that I keep expecting to see the dragonlords as instant spells. I see Ojutai's Breath, Radiant Purge, and Coat with Venom, though no other dragonlord has an instant named after it. Why didn’t they go full-cycle and have a designed-color removal card? It seems like such an easy cycle that was missed:

  • Light breath: Radiant Purge exists.
  • Ice breath: Ojutai's Breath exists.
  • Acid breath: Coat with Venom exists.
  • Lightning breath: Twin Bolt works, but it could’ve been Kolaghan’s so easily.
  • Fire breath: Draconic Roar could’ve been so easily just art from Atarka.
  • Green fire? Okay, so green makes no sense—maybe it destroys a land or a noncreature permanent.

Each dragonlord could’ve each had two breath weapons/blessings of the dragonlords. The venom/acid is present in two black cards, and they make sense. This could’ve been a cycle that tried to work but just couldn’t, so it was scrapped. Sometimes, cycles don’t present themselves in mechanics, but art rarely lies because art descriptions are written early, and you can see remnants.

Foe-Razer Regent
Ojutai's Breath
Twin Bolt
Coat with Venom
Death Wind
Draconic Roar
Sarkhan's Rage
Radiant Purge
Sunscorch Regent

Why Twitter Is Great

It really is the best.

If you’re a lefty, a southpaw or wrong-hander, look through the art. I found more than a half-dozen lefties from a cursory look through Gatherer.Wizards.com. Enjoy the journey down the rabbit hole!

Let’s play I Spy . . . 

I loved the I Spy articles from my childhood from Scholastic. Perhaps that’s my art upbringing to find things out of focus or within the frame. I love finding Magic Easter eggs because I study an artwork closely. It’s the closest thing you can mimic to an actual art museum visit. That’s what makes museums so special because you confront the art, and the other noise and distractions disappear. The context is singular, and the purpose is clear.

In order for you, the reader, to get a deep dive into Dragons of Tarkir and what it feels or looks like, slow yourself down and try to find these things in the massive art list below. You’ll begin to notice the usage of light and traditionally painted brushstrokes. It’s a thrill. Enjoy!

Find These:

  • A brand guideline affects a dragon’s face
  • An Abzan symbol in a Dromoka depiction
  • A nice-lookin’ mustache
  • Scale birds
  • A ghost face of Silumgar
  • A bird’s-eye view of a camp
  • A fully armored woman warrior
  • A white rabbit
  • A knocked-over grill
  • Cornrows from an Atarka human
  • A human chest that’s a tad green
  • A dragon with five fingers (that isn’t his wing!)
  • A soldier that’s late
  • People on green fire
  • A Bird Warrior looking great
  • Soldiers climbing a treacherous mountain
  • A sunset over a mountain
  • A shadow of a dragon
  • An efreet in adventuring gear
  • A character homage to Elspeth
  • Dragons emerging from clouds—not being born
  • A city along a lake

Art of MTG

I also have to give a lot of credit in today’s article to David Rojas. He is the mastermind behind the increasingly popular Twitter account @TheArtofMTG. It’s a gallery project, as he says, not a community project, but the community is who benefits. He started as a Tumblr, and his newest effort is having a place to find high-res art—called mtgartgallery.com.

I asked him to elaborate, and he said this:

I wouldn't say I'm terribly interesting. First played Magic with friends in middle school, right before Eighth Edition. Didn't really get into it until about 2008, on the heels of Eventide. Shards of Alara was my first real set. I just remember being blown away by the quality of the art on the cards, and I've been obsessed with Magic's contributions to the genre ever since. Appropriately, this was all during art college (I'm sure Noah Bradley would have something snarky to say about that). I studied graphic design and sound design simultaneously at SCAD, which definitely fueled my appreciation for illustrators (I had a lot of friends who were illustration majors). Actually, I believe Ron Spears is now a faculty member at the Savannah campus, which is pretty cool.

He currently works for a software company in South Florida, and he’s a must-follow on Twitter, and he’s all-around good people. Thanks again, David!

The Art

You will notice that a few artworks are missing, from promos to tokens. This is because those artists have not responded to multiple inquiries about posting their high-resolution art or posting it on their website or social-media channels. While I don’t encourage fan entitlement of artists, I will admit that third-party sites like Gathering Magic here do drive traffic for artists, and being unavailable is less than stellar. I’m just saying: Selling an original artwork should be long sold by the time I write about the art, the first Wednesday after prerelease. I want people to have a good look at the tiny art first, and then we discuss.

So, artists: Post your damn art—or at the very least, help a brother out. It’s Magic—every commission is good, and we want to celebrate your art, and we like you!

Find those I Spy pieces!

Dragons of Tarkir’s Best

I like people to understand that, unequivocally, Magic’s art is better than it has ever been. The sheer volume of traditionally painted artworks is a crushing number. We will see what made it into Spectrum, the annual art book that honors fantasy’s best artworks later this summer, but as for now, this is what I see as standouts. I picked a top five, with three more being exemplary.

Honorable Mention

Secure the Wastes by Scott Murphy, Oil on masonite, 14" x 18" in.
Original is still available.

Scott seems to be taking the Zack Stella route and leveling up rapidly and excelling with the ability to show mist, dust, and shadow with a tan palette. The key for them is always just a little bit of purple. I love the softness of Scott’s cloth, his lightness of ice cream looking sand dunes, and the Dan Dos Santos view of foreground, midground, and background for making a composition. It’s a new masterwork for him, and it helps that the card is a very playable rare. This will be one of his artist booth cards to sign for years and sell prints for in the future. Great work.

Ancient Carp by Christopher Burdett, digital

Original sketch sold.

I like Burdett’s monsters. They’re all “rawr,” and the Magic community seemed to like him when he broke in. When he painted this giant fish, people lost their collective minds. It’s a giant goldfish—it’s basically 2015’s version of the Melissa Benson fan favorite Segovian Leviathan. While branding and style guides prevent much of the wackiness, occasionally, a giant goldfish is on point. If you give a commission like that to a monster guy, he can give you immensity and a restraint in not showing too much. I look forward to seeing his prints of this card artwork. It’s a beautiful artwork.

Segovian Leviathan

Dromoka Dunecaster by Mark Winters, digital

I love the women-fighters-in-reasonable-armor blog and this art exemplifies everything Magic is moving toward. Looking for sexism and less-than-stellar artworks that reinforce tired stereotypes can be found or one can “see them” that don’t exist—this I won’t deny, but in that same vein, artworks like this exist. Remove the armor, and this is a teenage girl in a dust circle, some preteen book on a magic-using woman. It doesn’t look like Magic’s past, but looks at a future today. The woman isn’t incredibly idealized—she’s thin, sure, but she isn’t Aphrodite-beautiful. That’s a good thing. It’s very Dromoka to be inclusive of everyone, and why wouldn’t their brood have someone that could be playing at your local Friday Night Magic? Why wouldn’t that be a figure there?

The piercing eyes are also a nice touch! It’s a wonderful little image for a common that won’t be extensively played, showing that even the minor cards visually matter.

Secure the Wastes
Ancient Carp
Dromoka Dunecaster

Top 5 Artworks

These are the boom-booms, the card artworks that can, should, and will be honored in art circles. I know, they aren’t all traditional paintings, but they shouldn’t be. Honor the best—the medium is always secondary!

Resupply by Filip Burburan, Oils on board, 15.9 in. × 12.6 in.

Original painting is sold. Sketch is available.

I’m not even surprised this is already sold. It reminds me of the living master’s James Gurney’s Dinotopia world. The stellar usage of weight in both gear and armor is mighty tough to show in a 2” × 3” card frame and read in a larger-than-average Magic painting. It’s a feast for the eyes to examine all the stuffs in the image. Remove Magic from this piece, and it’s still a fantasy art image of value. It’s Filip’s best thus far in my opinion.

Dragon Whisperer by Chris Rallis, digital

A lot of people asked me about this painting on Twitter. It’s a book-cover composition, plain and simple. It exudes power from the fact that it’s a mythic rare card. That “power” added to an interesting focusing element of the piece arrives to a successful image. It actually takes you a second or third glance to notice the motion blur he used in the image. That’s strength in finishing details!

Sarkhan's Triumph by Chris Rahn, oil on board, 14” × 18”. Original art sold.

I’m not entirely sure why more people aren’t talking about this card. It has everything Rahn exemplifies: great usage of light, soft horizons, strong foreground figures, and interesting details. I love this piece, and I won’t lie—I’m a little saddened that he didn’t put this one to public auction and instead sold it to a private collector. It’s magnificent and since it’s a dragon tutor for the Commander format—it will be seen and probably reprinted for years.

Thunderbreak Regent (promo) by Jason Rainville, digital

Sketch thumbnails are available.

This is the set’s best dragon, not close. It’s a complete composition, showing Dragons of Tarkir in an image without figures. I would’ve loved a dragon of each brood be shown like this so we can fully soak up what they look like from a complete perspective. This is a fourteen-year-old’s wall poster and an illustration to reuse in future years for printing inside a book on Magic’s dragons. It’s a classic dragon, and I’m happy the creative team wasn’t scared to commission something that was so clean, so tropey, that it couldn’t be ignored.

Sarkhan Unbroken by Aleksi Briclot, digital

Aleksi can draw epic Planeswalkers. He came to Magic and received them nearly immediately. The frame allows for an incredible amount of detail and interested elements to fill the background. He stands by Ugin’s cocoon/tomb, placing him in a storyline-significant area, and it doesn’t look tacked on. There’s a giant dragon over his shoulder, and it doesn’t fight the focus on the card. Everything is so simple, so effortless in his execution. We’ll see the art awards this will win within the year.

Resupply
Sarkhan Unbroken

Sarkhan's Triumph
Dragon Whisperer

And that’s a wrap. Enjoy the art, and I’ll be back soon!

-Mike


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