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Ultimate Masters Art Review

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Technically as Limited Edition Alpha and Limited Edition Beta were the same set, just a difference in when it was printed (like a print run), the set Unlimited was Magic’s first reprint set in a formal sense. Chronicles was second and comparable to today’s big art review. While the art in Chronicles was all the same as previous printings, the new white borders was akin to changing a mat on a painting.

The newest Masters set, Ultimate Masters, again changes the frame, this time with highly rare “box toppers” that extend the art to the edge of the card on the left and right side. This is the last Masters set we expect to see for some time and, happily, the playability seems to be geared toward enfranchised players. I expected the art to be similar as well. Let’s see if that held up. Will cards used in Legacy and Vintage get more alternate art, giving them more options to customize?

I know I’m missing a couple but let’s consider the new artworks reprinted or printed for the first time in paper. We cannot delay any longer!

My job is to talk about art, point out some fun things and maybe, just maybe, we’ll learn a thing or two. This is the Ultimate Masters Art Review.


Ancient Tomb by Yeong Hao-Han

You can tell this piece is a two room by the lack of windows. The Roman curved arches could either be a crib or a subterranean catacomb, but having the roof removed may confuse some people looking at this leaving them wondering if it is a church or not. Though most medieval or medieval inspired churches have tombs underneath them.

Back to Basics by Terese Nielsen

Traditional

Waterfalls and tornadoes mixing together at card size? That’s a fun effect to show deconstructed weather events.

Bitterblossom by Jesper Ejsing

Acrylic on board

Painting in a private collection

This went Asian inspired anime with the oversized eyes on the circular face, didn’t it. I love the unbalanced color palette of the painting with heavier and figure colors coming from the left where our eyes bring it from left to right in America, back around to see another faerie in the background, then downward for the final one. This is a good composition that is easily able to be seen at sketch size.

Dark Depths by Mathias Kollros

Digital

Fun sketch by Matias. Not sure I love seeing the face of Marit Lage, demystifying the unknown could it be eldrazi, could it not, creature. Similar to Progenitus, the more information you give about an avatar, the less cool they are. Green often has this issue, especially in the super large creature of some variety, and it loses some of its specialness, some of the missing aspect where your mind fills in the blank. As we recall, what makes a Lovecraftian creature is not what it looks like, but rather the emotion you feel in the presence of that. Here it’s just a big fish octopus, I guess that’s fine.

Double Cleave by Zoltan Boros

Digital

Great use of foreshortening on the unlit sword, and a great way to show it is a spell not a creature by pushing the weapon in front of the person. I think this could be a core set creature card with some double strike ability, the question is what set because he is rather nonspecific. This could have been a slush artwork from the core set that needed to find a home.

Lovely use of blue to accentuate the armor edges. I’m always a fan of weathering, like intended paint on armor that has been made into patina, or chipped off by overuse or age.

Eternal Witness by Chris Rahn

Oil on cradled board, 18x24”

In a private collection

No matter how hard you try, people will assume a human in the woods is an elf. This is one of the cards in Magic’s history that always be a head scratcher.

It’s a lovely painting by Chris, including the social media beloved “Leaf Dog” that is able to be shown in emoji form. Great move by him to show some green through the wolf, allowing us to see a more spirit based animal instead of going solid leaves giving it more of a corporeal grounding.

Faith's Fetters by Kev Walker

Acryliguache on illustration board, 12.5 x 9.5”

Original still available

That turquoise background to show the demon’s underbelly is everything. It’s even used as reflected light off his horns if you look close. The white dots of magic give it a very tethered magical effect despite being traditional. It looks like chalk, like a teacher binding him with a chalkboard. I think it’s fantastic to see those and the wrinkles in the demon’s face bringing us high realism.

I can’t help but think this was commissioned for angels versus demons the duel deck, but that had new art for this card anyway. Maybe they just wanted another spicy boy to have as an option. They have been doing that more as of late, recommissioning artwork with the exact same subject matter, binding the demon etc. and changing the artist in doing so. It’s a bit puzzling to make multiple artworks exist for cards like this, yet other cards with only one artwork like Young Pyromancer don’t get new artworks and are incredibly played in decks.

Fecundity by Terese Nielsen

Acrylic, oil, colored pencil on arches oil paper, 12x9"

Yes, this is a cadaver and this a blooming flower. No, this is not an unused artwork for Cadaverous Bloom.

Yes, those mushrooms are part of Big Mushroom, a lobbying group started by Slimefoot appreciation threads everywhere to get thematic inclusions written into art descriptions.

Foil by Donato Giancola

Oil on panel, 18x24”

In a private collection

It’s a little bit of a shame they felt the need to add a shell bra to cater to modesty needs. The original painting, shown below, you can see Donny Cola’s original intent, which is way more high fantasy art and nature. He added the other elements digitally like the added clothing and more glowing orbs.

It has some lovely painted water, per always by him, and his ability to paint mermaids is always at a very high-level. Some of his personal works are mermaids selling for quite a happy sum to art collectors at major conventions.

Frantic Search by Mitchell Malloy

Digital

Freelance flavor text writer Loreley Weisel has already found all the references to this, literally weeks ago. I remember racing to get art reviews completed a few years ago to have knowledge like this but it’s often more fun to see a community member take the time, dig in, and find all the references. Take a look at her thread:

Fulminator Mage by Lucas Graciano

Oil on Masonite, 16x20”

Painting in a private collection

What better way to show ultimately a fiery destruction then in obsidian inspired color palettes mixed with oranges to align with the original elementals of Shadowmoor while still keeping it fresh. Lucas knows how to paint fire and is in the top five for artists that paint dragons these days. I personally love the thick spine he painted to give the character additional weight.

Gamble by Even Amundsen

Digital

Oh he’s on Ixalan. That’s fun.

Golgari Grave-Troll by Jakub Kasper

Digital

Don’t know what is about this painting that makes me just believe that it is a troll. I think my mind wants me it to be more than skeleton. No flesh or living material other than a little bit of green in the ribs and some clothes has suspended my disbelief. The level of “how dead is it,” is a line that every Golgari member will make… and roadkill cuisine enthusiasts, I suppose.

Goryo's Vengeance by Randy Vargas

Digital

That’s about the creepiest looking horror Monster you could imagine. The translucent purple is amazing and moves it away from being confused for a creature card. The Goryo are a type of vengeful spirit, not one specific named character. They died angry, or were buried improperly or not at all and thus, this is one of them coming back from the dead. You should stay flavorfully thematic to the Kamigawa plane or make a nod to the actual game play like Through the Breach chooses to do in showing Emrakul. I think the other example is evil to be done because it isn’t a named thing, whereas Emrakul or Griselbrand are not spirits, so it fights the card name, despite aligning to game play. I imagine the creative team argues about these sort of things and tries to get the fan service in when possible.

Grave Scrabbler by Livia Prima

Digital

Livia is a rising star you should know about already. If there is one person that Wizards is killing to get on a concept push, it’s her. This artwork is a master class. You can see not only character, but also three different levels of composition that are clear- foreground, midground, and background - with atmosphere and light interacting between them. I personally like anybody that uses purples for skin tones. It’s a great way to build an undead look. And since this was likely a wide open commission, the zombie, the long fingernails and hunchback are nice touches along with the weird elbow growth.

Hissing Iguanar by Zoltan Boros

Digital

I totally thought this was Craig Spearing upon first look. Since Zoltan is overwhelmingly digital these days, even without a sketch you can still see some of his techniques of drawing. You can see some ways he uses digital tools that overshadow his traditional background like painting the full body of the lizard, then using digital effects to push them backward. The legs look cut in half to do so, same with the right arm with less light, and rimmed orange light to push it behind instead of in front of us to see.

Iridescent Drake by Donato Giancola

Oil on panel, 18x24”

In a private collection

This is a beautiful dragon. Remember, dragon, drakes, and wurms are officially all the same thing to the greater field of fantasy art. Only because of mechanical differences in Magic do we differentiate them. “Here be dragons” on a map with anything down there would all be largely the same in concept.

The beautiful tilt to show movement and the rainbow color effect on the dragon shows a dynamic movement against the rainbow sky. On that note, the background sky uses the same colors as the dragon except they are desaturated. Clever. It really is a beautiful piece and I am happy the collector who owns this lives near me so I can see it and sneak it into an art show, hopefully soon.

Kodama's Reach by John Avon

Digital

Without having played in the Kamigawa block at all, I had to look up what was going on here. To me it looks like simply an arm raising up from the ground, taking the literal definition of a reach. It’s a lovely painting and all of the forest ismeticulously painted instead of done quickly. The white to blue in the sky really makes those clouds pop.

Lava Spike by Igor Kieryluk

Digital

Oh instead of it coming at them, the ground itself is attacking then like Seismic Assault. I like that. That concept is usually only used in Green and I am happy to see this art description get written.

Mistveil Plains by Ralph Horsley

Oil on primed illustration board, 42 x 58cm, (approx 16.5 x 23”)

Painting in a private collection

I love that Ralph had different versions of statues in the desert. Everything from angels in schools who even is included Pieta sculpture.

Offalsnout by Lars Grant-West

Oil on panel, 12x16”

Original for sale by artist

This sure is a weird commission isn’t it. Lars definitely made this guy just as inviting and friendly as the original, and added a scale carcass to show how large this thing can be. No way around it, it’s a weird commission and to find someone that will want this painting will probably take some work. Luckily, Magic has room for all types of people, all types of commissions, and the ability for artists who make weird things into fun things.

Pattern of Rebirth by Terese Nielsen

Traditional

I love this commission. Terese loves her Fibonacci circles, those spiraling things. Having a lizard bubble into or to be created from an old man is adorable. What old man wouldn’t want to be reborn as a super sweet lizard? Isn’t that everyone’s dream? Be sure to check out the blue rib cage that’s sort of connecting the two figures, I didn’t see that upon first glance.

Penumbra Wurm by Daarken

This card was made for Magic Online previously, but this is the first time it has been made onto a physical card. I love the echo made by the token to show a connective thread of the mechanic to the card. This is oddly really hard to do in a vacuum for most gaming companies. With cards coming in or out of sets, changing constantly, most companies do not have in-depth reprint sets like this where you can really imagine the interaction of token to final. I’m happy that this is the norm for Magic.

Patchwork Gnomes by Filip Burburan

Oil on board, 10x14.2”

In a private collection

How adorable are these little guys. They look like they’re right out of the Professor Layton game, chasing after you as you have to find the antagonist who you are hot on the trail of. The early end ultimate sketches are a lot more whimsical, feeling like an unstable card commission. They made the right choice because that would not fit in this set up, but I do like the artist is trying to integrate whimsical fun.

Phyrexian Altar by Yigit Koroglu

Digital

This is a perfect card to reprint in Ultimate Masters. It is Yigit’s first and you should follow him because it will likely be a card he will sign over his entire career with the game. New artists beg for commissions like this to get started on. People like Zack Stella, who started on Show and Tell and True-Name Nemesis, had a very splashy first card allowing them to get acquainted with the community and set up for success.

Also, how inspired is this by Giger? Impossible to ignore a titan of industry, and every time you see organic material on the ground with a bone or rib cage inspiration I look to this with the artist who invented the alien concept art.

Giger alien corridor concept art

Phyrexian Tower by Dimitar

Digital

Annelli was arguing with Loreley about whether this is a image of the Predator upright, or a random tower, but it can’t be a different tower because it is a legendary specific location, so what is this?

Moving to the technical aspect, I love the framing element of the trees, and I love the organic feeling of the tower.

Platinum Empirion by Igor Kieryluk

Digital

I think every time he large golem or metallic creature is preview tournament everyone thinks it is a new place local office. Since there is no darksteel, the little yellow lights that’s been around a figure, it would have to be this is the next option. Notable to me is that considering Mirrodin, now New Phyrexia, was completely devastated and Phyrexianized, but this golem was unaffected. Whether Melira lived and was able to protect this creature is unknown. I love the background, makes me think of a color palette that Rob Alexander used for Underground Sea.

Prismatic Lens by Scott Murphy

Oil on masonite, 12 x 16"

Painting in a private collection

I love this painting, because it is based on an actual element found in a lighthouse: a fresnel lens. By focusing the light they can hit a boat at sea exactly like the mechanic of adding one of any color. The figures themselves Scott added to show a little more fantasy, which also hold discs to reinforce the focusing on light for one color. The warping of the lights and colors within the lens are just wonderful. The bent paint swirls are only more wonderful up close and I hope one day we will have a Commander card art show where this can be seen inches from your nose.

Reanimate by Johann Bodin

Digital

Following the concept of the Sun Titan, shown below, Grave Titan also begins a narrative spread across other cards. Godspeed Grave Titan, I look forward to you also having a story being told about you.

Reckless Charge by Steve Arygle

Digital

One thing I would like to note about “green” humanoids is that they don’t stop growing facial hair. Orcs and goblins, or greenskins in the Warhammer universe, are stinky and hairy. Some of them should have growth with mustaches or a neckbeard like my boy here, to show realism. I think that comes across easily with dwarven women the easiest, and I’m happy to see Steve align on that fact. In other news, dwarves were there and gone from Magic, despite all our best efforts to get them a commander deck. Know that Wayne Reynolds tries to sneak them into every concept push he does.

This is also the card that will enable Red infect decks to be possible in modern due to the haste effect!

Reviving Vapors by Bastien DeHarme

Digital

Everything that Bastien touches is more important than the card itself. It’s like every commission he does is a mythic rare or planeswalker and when it ends up on a common, you think that he didn’t need to go this hard, yet he did.

Interesting idea to black out the top middle of the frame to make sure this is a spell and not confused for a creature card. Any time you have a figure in the middle of a frame, people will get confused that it is a creature. There are a couple little tactics to combat that confusion and I’m happy to see he utilized one.

Seismic Assault by Adam Paquette

Digital

Notice the past tense of the flavor text:

“In a war for survival, Dominaria itself became a weapon. The malice is gone, but the danger remains.”

—Jhoira

She is talking about a moment in history, this scene is a memory of that. I love how a current event person is talking about the past in a reprinted set. That is such a high-level conceptual creation. What a great way for any cards that have the same art to get an updated flavor text gaining an additional meaning.

I love the lava flows down behind the ship too. The perspective of the ship feels, smells and tastes right tool.

Sigil of the New Dawn by Volkan Baga

Oil on board, 16.6 x 12.2”

In a private collection

As known associate Jay said on the Vorthos Cast:

“You can tell it’s Bant because Seaside Citadel is in the back left corner of this piece and I just really love when they reflavor cards like this, because it fits so perfectly into Bant that if you put this card next to other Bant sigils that have been printed already, you would never know it wasn’t originally made for Alara.”

I can’t say it better than that. The thin tall trees are also a dead giveaway, but the citadel sure makes it easy.

Slippery Bogle by Jesper Ejsing

Painting in a private collection

This is one of the few paintings of that just for the artist is not selling. He’s keeping it. I can see why. It’s a lovely work, reminiscent of Gollum by the characteristic oversized knuckles on the hand to the perfect usage of greens and blues in a green and blue background. I always love how he has a little pink in paintings, here as the eyes. It gives it a little realism, a little sadness.

Songs of the Damned by Robbie Trevino

Digital

This has to be another one of Robbie’s portfolio pieces that he showed to Wizards, where they immediately bought them for future usage. Sometimes that happens where upon first seeing some personal work, a company will buy all the rights to it and put it into slush art. It’s uncommon for most companies, and really rare for Wizards, but it does happen from time to time. Here is a great perspective piece of a mummy with some magical effect. When you get a good painting you need to jump at the ability to use it in your brand!

Spirit Cairn by Noah Bradley

Digital

A cairn is a group of stones that often represent a memorial or entombment of someone. I get the magical effects that Noah is showing us to give us the spirit aspect, though the creation of the spirit token is going to be off screen, it is the next scene just like the Dimir concept of Guilds of Ravnica-the scene before the strike.

Spoils of the Vault by Steve Belledin

Oil on panel, 12x16”

Not for sale

I looked for a good 15 minutes trying to find a helmet that Steve used as a reference in Magic’s history to no avail. I couldn’t find one. I did ask him about this scene and other than an upcoming blogpost to Muddy Colors coming soon, the thing to note is why the light is shining on the helmet. Why would that cursed item be lit instead of the items around it?

The answer might be in the flowery vines on the helmet, denoting that the helmet is more than it appears and it’s not a good thing.

Tasigur, the Golden Fang by Igor Kieryluk

Digital

Even with no bananas, Igor brought this art to a new level. Lovely texturing on the chest to show a lithe build on him while using minimal brush strokes. The obscured figures to show the delve mechanic “fueling” him is a neat addition and even a non-westernized nose really makes this feel both familiar, and yet also representational of another culture. I love this work and hope it gets used more often despite the lesser meme potential.

As Rodrigo Pinherio said on Twitter, “feels like a painting Tasigur would have made of himself,” and I agree. His skin is alabaster to show that he doesn't "work" outside. The lack of muscle definition to show that his life is leisure. A visible rib cage line to show his "ideal" beauty standard. It's exactly that.

This is my favorite artwork in the set.

Tarmogoyf by Filip Burburan

Traditionally painted

Painting in a private collection

Were Filip to have a style, it would be his characteristic usage of green and brown together. This fairytale watercolor gouache is reminiscent of an older style of an ancient Eastern European story book to teach life lessons and fables. He added a bit of pop by making the mouth prominent and pinkish purple.

Through the Breach by Randy Vargas

Digital

Now that’s a scene!

For a reprinted set, you can show pivotal moments from the past, like Nahiri here summoning Emrakul to the plane of Innistrad.

This art references the concept art by Tyler Jacobson shown below, as Jay Annelli, a continuity consultant for Wizards referenced on Twitter:

Ulamog's Crusher by Lucas Graciano

Oil on masonite, 18x24”

In a private collection

Following of any creature had any vertical image, we can see a transparent text box. This Eldrazi follows the Ulamog colors, shown below, that means bright blue, white and reds. I like the scale trees it is pulling out of the ground with its hands, it really brings the scale to life.

Unstable Mutation by Slawomir Maniak

Digital

Barnacles and a tentacle arm? That feels like Ixalan with its pirates or Nephalia the Innistrad port. I’m guessing the latter as adding a tentacle was literally what happened to humans there from Emrakul‘s influence. This pops up every so often when people tested for blue infect or Invisible Stalker builds in modern.

Vengeful Rebirth by Seb McKinnon

Digital

I often examine what players are saying about new art that has come out.

Obviously the most common thing is that some older artwork they fell in love with comes out in comparison to a new artwork. Nostalgia is a powerful factor which I have covered numerous times, especially when it comes to eye blindness assuming all digital is the same. Seb here shows that the medium doesn’t determine the art or quality, the artist does. Mediums are just that-tools.

I still have not made up my mind on how more exacting art descriptions has changed the art. While the average artwork is much better, but it has also limited artistic freedom, preventing a Guay from returning easily. This artwork by Seb looks very conceptual and open ended. It sort of was? Every artwork has an art description written by a writer or narrative designer, or more broadly a creative team member. Kelly Digges wrote this one and explained more in depth, a well worth your time thread on how much was Seb, and how much was Kelly and the art director. A great behind the curtain look into Oz:

Verdant Eidolon by Howard Lyon

Oil on aluminum, 16x20”

In a private collection

If you think Howard can be stopped you are sorely mistaken.

Here Howard paints his wife Shari into a spirit which is a bit more open ended as it could be a dryad or nymph or something of the sort. He executes a well-written art description idea by painting a background then blocking in the brown tree to make a contrast of Ghostbusters Slimer green against the brown, making the magical effect not needed, rather it naturally jumps off the card because of the variation in light and dark. This should be the foil version you want to get right away because it may not be reprinted soon and the composition of the green for the foiling process will look incredibly 3-D. You can also see his reference painting that he often does from people in his painting from life demonstrations from the fabric that is absolutely from life. It’s modest yet realistic. This is a great painting, and a shame only one person bid on it.


Flexing when able and still having room to grow, the masters sets go out with an explosion. While small choices like Martyr of Sands or Young Pyromancer didn’t gain new art, other examples in dire need to be found in trade binders have been replenished and pre commander game trading will be invigorated.

Scrolling back upward, you may notice the amount of traditionally painted artworks there were in this set. Considering a reprinted card already has had an audience, the risk to paint it or not is utterly diminished. The answer is to always create a sketch or color study when working with reprinted cards. The art market is always on the lookout for something new and as our player base ages, you can’t visit Friday Night Magic every week. Art keeps you connected when it’s on your wall. We’re finally seeing artists react to the demand.

I love this set and I will miss the number of reprinted cards I get to see on the regular. Hopefully we will have something to replace the joy of seeing favorite scenes or card mechanics reappear soon.

-Mike