When a new Magic set comes out, brewers and spikes alike pore over the cards looking for the next breakout piece of cardboard. What a lot of people don’t do is take the time to appreciate the artwork that graces those pieces of cardboard, creating the new worlds that keeps Magic fresh and alive.
I’m not one of those people. Card art’s a large part of what drew me in to Magic, and it’s a large part of why I keep coming back. Without the art, Magic would just be a series of rules, math, and cardboard. So I want to take the time to talk about my five favorite pieces from Ixalan, which is a VERY GOOD set for art. Adventure worlds lend themselves to great Magic art, and Ixalan‘s no exception, coming in with so many interesting pieces that it was tough to choose just five favorites.
5. Captivating Crew
I want to party with Captivating Crew. Brought to you by the artist who created Enthralling Victor, Captivating Crew quickly conveys a lot of what Ixalan is about. Ixalan‘s about taking a chance; it’s about adventure. It’s about joining up with pirates and rabble-rousing and dancing. The soft pinks and purples set an inviting mood, as this handsome, slightly-banged-up rogue stares you straight in the eyes and asks, “Care to dance?”. This is the side of Red that we need to see more of, the side that appeals to emotions other than rage and anger.
But what really sells the piece is that ogre on the left side of the frame, staring in awe at the swashbuckler who’s the main focus. You can tell the ogre wishes he was getting the invitation, which makes you, the viewer, feel even more special for getting to encounter this man and this card.
4. Perilous Voyage
Jace is falling off a cliff. Do I need to say more about why Perilous Voyage is one of the top five pieces in the set? (Editor’s Note: Jace-hating jokes are still cool, right? No? Darn.)
Ok, I’ll elaborate. What actually draws me to Perilous Voyage is the sense of depth Jace’s fall into the background creates. Vraska, closer to the camera, reaches out and tries to save him, but we can tell by how far away Jace is that it’s too late. Meanwhile, the river surges around them and also falls away, taking trees and pieces of ships with it. The final touch is the blue-gray mist that obscures the bottom of the waterfall. It’s a long way down, so far that we can’t even see it, and anything could be waiting for our favorite Blue Planeswalker at the bottom.
Duress almost doesn’t belong in this set. The art’s very dark for Ixalan, which is largely a vibrant world of bright reds and greens and yellows and blues. Here, the most striking color comes from the castaway pirate’s red hair, the only bit of him to survive this ordeal with any vibrancy or energy left.
But look at that face. Look at those eyes. That is a man beyond repair. That expression, with the pirate’s eyes locked on the endless ocean surrounding him, just contemplating his perilous situation, sell the concept of “Duress” in a way that’s truly unique and truly Ixalan.
2. Colossal Dreadmaw
The art on Colossal Dreadmaw could understandably be a bust for most people. Many a Magic card’s been derided for not focusing on the right person, creature, or motion in the art. Here, the card’s namesake (the Dreadmaw itself) is hiding in the background, with the pirate ship in the foreground as the focus.
But the dino’s camouflage, and its ability to sneak up on the just-now-fleeing pirates, is the point of the piece. The dinosaur is large and monstrous and terrifying, but you don’t even have time to take all of that in, because it’s right on top of you. This piece says a lot about how clever the dinosaurs of Ixalan can be, and it’s that story, as well as the brilliant use of color to not quite blend the Dreadmaw into the background, that makes this my second favorite piece of the set.
1. Conqueror’s Galleon // Conqueror’s Foothold
Conquerer’s Galleon sails into first place by doing something pirates do best: cheating. Being a flip card, Galleon gets not just one, but two pieces of excellent art, the first depicting the vessel itself, and the other depicting the fortress that Ixalan‘s vampire conquistadors constructed from their ship as they began their takeover.
Both pieces are drenched in ominous dark pinks, purples, and blues, with the Ixalan’s all-important sun providing the only significant source of light. Darkness falls as the vampires descend on Ixalan, and on the back of the card, Ixalan’s sun rises on a new day and a new force that’s ready to take the continent by storm.
And there you have it, a totally objective list of the best art from Ixalan. Agree? Disagree? Want to make a case for your favorite piece from Ixalan? Hit the comments, true believer. Then be back here in two weeks for a more functional look at Magic’s newest set.