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References and Callbacks in the Art of Modern Horizons 3


As my appreciation for Magic has evolved over the years, one facet of the game that I started to pay special attention to is the artwork. The artists who work on Magic nowadays are so talented, and I love seeing how they bring my favorite game to life.

Modern Horizons 3 is no exception - the set is filled with incredible pieces, overflowing with colorful detail. There is one aspect of this set, however that sets it apart from traditional, premier sets. Being a straight-to-Modern set, Modern Horizons 3 includes numerous callbacks to older cards in Magic. Not only do the abilities reference a previous card's ability, but the artwork as well.

This week I'll share a handful of my favorite throwbacks in Magic's newest set.

1. Powerbalance & Counterbalance


Back when I played Legacy on a regular basis, Countertop (a deck that combined Counterbalance and Sensei's Divining Top) was one of the most powerful, and obnoxious, strategies. When I first saw Powerbalance, I experienced a sense of nostalgia and dread simultaneously. The artwork by Steve Ellis is an impressive throwback to John Zelenik's original from Coldsnap. I love how the blue and red energy are inverted between the two - this is one of the clearest artwork throwbacks in the entire set!

2. Wight of the Reliquary & Knight of the Reliquary

Wight of the Reliquary
Knight of the Reliquary

What happened to the beautiful character depicted by Michael Komarck in Knight of the Reliquary? According to the flavor text, she fell into some demonic company, and she's now a zombie...but a knowledgeable one at least! There are so many subtle callbacks in Scott Murphy's new art on Wight of the Reliquary. Let's see how many I can find!

  1. Wight and Knight are wearing the same outfit (armor and all), though it looks like her white robe is looking a little worse for wear in her undead form.
  2. She's wielding the same weapon in her left hand and the same shield on her back.
  3. The building behind her looks the same, though the structure has devolved into something out of a haunted house.
  4. The streaks of light over her right shoulder are still there.
  5. The tree over her left shoulder is still there, though it no longer bears leaves.

This is thoroughly impressive - as a player who remembers when Knight of the Reliquary first debuted in Conflux, I love recognizing Magic characters and imagery on newer cards.

3. White Orchid Phantom & Knight of the White Orchid

White Orchid Phantom
Knight of the White Orchid

Yet another heroic, human knight met a catastrophic end by the time Modern Horizons 3 rolled around. This time we have a popular creature originally from Shards of Alara, illustrated by Mark Zug, transformed into a flying spirit creature in Zoltan Boros' work. My favorite part about this artwork throwback is the fact that both the knight and his mount appear together in both versions of this card. I don't know if I would have picked up on this reference at first if not for this artistic inclusion. According to the flavor text, it seems the knight and his mount continue to serve even beyond death.

4. Null Elemental Blast & Blue/Red Elemental Blast

Null Elemental Blast
Blue Elemental Blast

Now we're going way back in Magic's history - back to the original launch of Limited Edition Alpha in 1993! Blue Elemental Blast (pictured) and Red Elemental Blast may not be interrupts anymore, but they still see occasional printings in various sets. At last, we have another member of the cycle in Null Elemental Blast, illustrated by Milivoi Ceran. I liken the artwork to Izzy's version of Blue Elemental Blast because of the characteristic hand invoking a straight line of energy. In the case of Blue Elemental Blast, that energy is Blue in nature and comes from a magician's hand. With the newly printed Null Elemental Blast, the energy bolt is colorless (depicted as yellowish) and the hand is from a mysterious, nonhuman creature.

5. Nulldrifter & Mulldrifter


It's not just human knights who have become corrupted in some shape or form in Modern Horizons 3. Even elementals that look peculiarly like fish have also undergone some sort of transformation. In this case, it's Lorwyn's Mulldrifter, illustrated by Eric Fortune. The creature still flies and still draws you two cards, but it received a significant upgrade in power in Johann Bodin's Nulldrifter. Nowadays, the fish-like Elemental doesn't look so much like a fish anymore, as it has transformed into an Eldrazi creature! When I scrutinize the two arts, there really isn't all that much similarity between them outside the fact that they both seem to hang out near water. I guess you can take the fish out of the elemental, but you can't take the elemental out of the water!

6. Spawn-Gang Commander & Siege-Gang Commander

Spawn-Gang Commander
Siege-Gang Commander

Even goblins, who arguably don't have the purest of alignments to begin with, aren't immune to the Eldrazi evolution that swept the multiverse of Modern Horizons 3. Here we have one of the more powerful goblins in Siege-Gang Commander (version pictured above by Christopher Moeller), transformed into Chris Seaman's version: Spawn-Gang Commander. Both are goblins, both are 2/2, both create creatures when they enter the battlefield that can be sacrificed to do two damage to any target. In the original, the goblin creature made more goblins. In the Modern Horizons 3 card, the creature is an Eldrazi Goblin and creates Eldrazi Spawn creatures instead. Though, in both artworks, the creatures being spawned look like goblins to me.

My favorite part is that both pieces of art depict three goblin / goblin-like creatures, one of which is being thrown (presumably at an enemy). The reference to the card generating three tokens, and the symmetry between the two pieces of art, is not lost on me!

7. Gravedig & Gravedigger


When Dermot Power created the artwork for Gravedigger, they depicted a humanoid creature with gigantic muscles examining a corpse after digging up a grave. You can see the creature's shovel standing to the right after completing its dirty deed. Drew Baker's new art for Gravedig depicts what looks to be the same creature in the process of digging up yet another grave. Why do I think it's the same character? The person in both pieces of art is very muscular and appears to be wearing the same brown cloak! In my imagination, the shovel is the same too, though that's a little tougher to prove.

8. Winter Moon & Winter Orb / Blood Moon

Winter Moon
Winter Orb
Blood Moon

This last artwork throwback is unique in that it combines two old cards to form the new Modern Horizons 3 card. The combination almost feels like the beginning of a riddle. "What do you get when you cross Winter Orb and Blood Moon?"

Of course, the answer is Winter Moon. Drew Baker's illustration does a great job combining elements from both Winter Orb and Blood Moon. I chose to compare it to Brian Snoddy's illustration for the former and Franz Vohwinkel's picture for the latter. I chose these because I saw elements from these newer, reprinted versions of the cards in Winter Moon.

For example, the Eternal Masters printing for Winter Orb showcases a frozen landscape with a cold-looking sphere floating in the sky. Winter Moon also has a frozen tundra in the foreground with a large orb floating in the sky. As for Blood Moon, I felt the features shown in the spherical moon matched up well with those in Winter Moon. Obviously, these are merely my interpretations of the illustrations, and others may feel the original printings are more relevant. In any event, I love the fact that two old cards were combined (both in flavor and in ability) to make a new Modern Horizons 3 card.

Wrapping It Up

This wasn't an exhaustive list by any means. I didn't have time to cover the three classic Eldrazi creatures that have reappeared in Modern Horizons 3, Emrakul, Kozilek, and Ulamog. Each of their new artworks includes multiple features that call back to the originals from Rise of the Eldrazi.

In addition, there's Wheel of Potential, a fun callback to Wheel of Fortune and Wheel of Misfortune. There's Serum Visionary, depicting a central figure who very well may be the same as the one who shows up in the original Serum Visions. Then there's Nethergoyf, Tarmogoyf's long-lost cousin. Each of these cards are clever callbacks to previous cards from Magic's history.

This is one of my favorite components of this new set. I don't know if I'll enjoy the supercharged draft environment, and I don't play any Modern at this time, but as an experienced player who has been around for a long time, it's a lot of fun to see new cards that look awfully familiar. As Magic continues to endure, there will be more and more opportunities for sets just like these. I look forward to seeing what else Wizards of the Coast comes up with!

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