That's an announcement. As I talk about art, let's deconstruct today and understand and explain what we're seeing.
This is a key artwork. It introduces a set and is not reused on any cards. Sometimes there are a few of them and were used on fat packs from sets past. Generally, they're very beautiful and would be critically acclaimed and recognized with art awards.
Ninth Edition fat pack mural: Serra Angel vs. Hypnotic Specter
Art by Greg Staples
Scars of Mirrodin mural
Art by Jason Chan
What the "key art" is used for these days is that it introduces at least one Planeswalker that will be printed and the visual aesthetic of the plane that will be the block.
Who are these people?
On the left is Jhoira. The red hair and shoulder blue/white pauldron are the key characteristics. I am not sure what she is holding but it looks cool.
On the right is Karn. His lit up chest and large right shoulder on his right show the key aspects to his character. He looks different, yes. He is also definitely silver looking in his hand, which wasn't made all together clear in the past.
Silver, after all, was the key material that allowed Karn to go back in time during the Urza block.
Timeline wise, this takes place in the present, not the past. This is after Karn was on Mirrodin/New Phyrexia, nearly became phyrexianized, but was saved by Melira except for his heart, the leaky one. The heart was from Xantcha, and allowed him to become a golem in the first place. The heart leaked phyrexian oil, leaving some contagion all over the multiverse, most notably in New Phyrexia becoming, well, phyrexianized. Venser sacrificed his life and spark to fix the heart, Karn became liberated and then we don't quite know what Karn has been up to since.
In the middle is Teferi. Notice that he looks different, especially the slight white hair on his temples. The time of "today" is about 80 years after the Time Rifts and the Time Spiral block closed.
He no longer has his spark, but something is keeping him alive.
Wait, shouldn't they be dead?
Straight into the deep flavor we go and to find out, you need some background. Blue mages lived, on average, longer than other ones:
Yeah, so, during the Time Spiral block, the "slow water" is shown mechanically by the suspend mechanic and the Mind side of the Mind vs. Might duel deck. Without going deep into the past novels, the slow water was a result of the time bubbles, which were created from Tolarian Academy experiments and well, being blown up for the final time by Barrin. You could speed up or slow down time and by drinking this water, you could age days when centuries would pass. Reading not only Time Spiral block but also the book Time Streams are good ideas if you haven't read them yet and want to learn more.
But Karn looks, different?
Indeed he does.
One of the common gripes I hear from players online is that art "looks the same," which I wrote about in depth on why but there is a very real reason that artists could paint major characters differently. Look at Hanna below:
Additionally, even Karn looks a lot different from time to time, artist to artist:
Minor aspects will change, and yet alternate versions will exist that we forget about. Here's a depiction of Planeswalker Karn and yet no cards exist for him:
Karn looking slightly different is good for card art, allowing for more unique representation and helping to show character progression. You can tell a "young" vs. old Karn immediately, not have to wonder. For some TCGs, they make location more important, allowing a player to associate a location with a legendary character as the time or age never changes. Wizards is doing both here, a smart decision.
Is that a wing?
While referencing the Predator or the Weatherlight ships, it's probably a red herring. A good nod to enfranchised players in the first image is a smart move to build excitement the original plane of Magic.
I paged through the Art of Magic the Gathering, which is Ant Scott Waters, Mark Tedin and Anson Maddocks work as concept artists internal to Magic on the ships, mechanics and schematics on how things worked. There are close references, but no 1:1 comparison. I would be looking closely for any ships as Nicol Bolas has an undead army, a way to move them via the Planar Bridge, and the plane with all the portals, Dominaria, is where we're headed to. Finding ships for the good guys to get their army there too, might be notable.
Who is missing from the image?
We should be wondering a few things. Where is Ajani? Wasn't he heading to Dominaria after Kaladesh block to find help in battling Nicol Bolas?
Who is the villain for this set and the Core set?
Is it Nicol Bolas again? Right on the heels of a block around him? Or will we finally discuss the Arzakon loose end with the Microprose game villain, Shandalar and more that Jay tied up in a neat bow to connect to Lim Dul, thus Dominaria.
I would look to this preview from No Goblins Allowed, a vorthos forum online for a little blurb from Ethan Fleisher, designer for Magic:
The key art is made to create hype and it has definitely been successful in doing so.
And yes, this also means I will probably incorporate some type of Weatherlight items/crew into an art show in 2018.