There are largely two groups of Magic players who care about Basic Land art: Those who want to use as many different Basic Land arts in their decks as possible and those who want to use only matching artwork.
For the most part, I find myself falling into the second camp. I enjoy the aesthetics of using the same art for the same land within the same deck. There’s something about lining up or tapping a row of matching Islands or Forests that just feels right.
However, being an art-centric person, I’ve found other ways of maximizing the number of Basic Land arts I use. I use matching Basics within each of my decks, but I go out of my way to find and use vastly different Basics in different decks, based on each deck’s aesthetic and gameplay.
For an example of what I mean, read on, as I show off the Basics I’m using in my Modern and Commander decks and explain why I chose them. The rationale might interest you, it might not. But at the very least, you’ll get to look at a number of stunning pieces of art before this article is through.
Modern: Full-Art Battle for Zendikar Basics
Listen, not all of us have Unhinged or Unglued Basics, and we have to make do with what we’ve got. Thankfully, what we’ve got is still really, really pretty.
I love Sam Burley’s full-art Island piece, and, since I mostly play Blue, I get to include up to four or five of them in my Modern decks. The multiple, branching pathways and the mist hanging between those pathways really does it for me. This Island is shrouded in mystery. You could easily get lost there, but you’d still be marveling at the thing. It’s a brilliant piece.
From there, I’m most often using Veronique Meignaud’s Mountain (the “glowing gateway” is awesome), then Tianhua X’s Swamp, and then Sam Burley’s Plains. No Forest included here, because who can afford to play Green in Modern?
In addition to creating a pretty mana base, using full-art Basics in Modern, specifically, helps you find them when you’re fetching. I’ve never played more than one Swamp or Plains in my Modern decks, but I can search for and find those lands pretty quickly because they stand out.
Commander – Savra, Queen of the Golgari: Commander Anthology Basics
For my Commander decks, I tend to gravitate toward Basics from the set or block in which the Commander was printed. For example, you’ll see below that my Daxos deck has Theros Basics, and my Alesha deck has Dragons of Tarkir Basics. But when it came time to find matching Basics for my Savra, Queen of the Golgari deck, I ran into a problem: None of the Ravnica or Return to Ravnica-block Forests represent the Golgari.
Stymied, I backtracked. If I couldn’t include “appropriate” art, I’d just include one of my favorites. I’ve always loved the pink flower in the lower left corner of Dan Frazier’s Swamp (above), and so I looked for where and when that art had been printed. When I saw that it had been re-printed in Commander Anthology, along with a host of other Basics, I knew I’d be able to find a Savra-appropriate Forest to match.
I settled on Stephen Tappin’s dark, shrouded Forest, which seems very much like a place sitting between a state of near-death and rebirth. Tappin’s Forest does a much better job representing the Golgari than any of the Ravnican Forests I looked at, and I was happy to find and include it.
Commander – Riku of Two Reflections: M15 Basics
Another outlier, Riku was never actually printed in a “set,” per se. So there are no Basics from his world. Thankfully, I had a couple piles of Basics that I wanted to move over from Riku’s predecessor.
While attending 2014’s Grand Prix Chicago, I grabbed handfuls of Nils Hamm’s M15 Mountain and Florian de Gesincourt’s M15 Island. I love the (vastly different) lighting in both those pieces, and I was more than happy to continue using them in Riku. The only question was whether I’d be able to find an M15 Forest that I also liked well enough to include.
Turns out, John Avon painted an M15 Forest, so there was no need to worry. Avon’s Forest also makes great use of lighting, including stray rays of sun that break up the incredible, deep green of his Forest. This set of Basics might be the set I’m most happy to see game-after-game, because I love each individual piece of art so much.
Commander – Daxos of Meletis: Theros Basics
For Daxos, I really wanted to stick to Theros Basics. As a Greek Mythology enthusiast, I loved the world of Theros, and I wanted my favorite Odysseus stand-in’s deck to represent that world as much as possible.
I settled on two possible Islands, the one you see above and this one from Raoul Vitale. When I perused the Theros Plains, however, I found Rob Alexander’s expansive piece to be exactly what I was looking for. In the interest of artistic symmetry, I settled on including Alexander’s Island as well, creating the first and only truly matching (same expansion, same artist) set of Basics that I’ve used.
Commander – Alesha, Who Smiles at Death: Dragons of Tarkir Basics
I’ve written extensively about my Alesha deck’s journey to where it is now, and I’ve known since day one that, if the deck were ever to “earn” matching Basics, those Basics would include Titus Lunter’s Dragons of Tarkir Mountain. There has never been a more Mardu Mountain. The art makes great use of deep reds, whites, and blacks. The mountain itself is harsh and unforgiving. In my mind, there’s nearly no other acceptable option.
When looking for Plains and Swamps to sit alongside Lunter’s Mountain, I immediately settled on Florian de Gesincourt’s Dragons Plains. Again, the landscape is harsh and unforgiving, and there’s a dramatic contrast between light and dark. The dragons flying in the background also immediately communicate that this Plains is from Tarkir.
For Swamps, I settled on Adam Paquette’s darker piece (he actually provided two Swamps in Dragons of Tarkir), as it seemed the closest aesthetic match to my chosen Plains and Mountains. The three pieces lay together nicely, and while they’re not from Alesha’s exact set, I love that they’re from her world.
And that’s it: an examination of the Basic lands I use most, and why. As well as my very specific taste for matching Basics within the same deck, but as many different Basics as possible throughout all my decks.
I know there must be more Magic players like me out there, and I know there must be a ton who have a completely different Basic strategy. Let me know what Basics you prefer, and how many different arts you use, by sounding off in the comments below.