Magic: the Gathering has many different things that draw people to the game. Of the list of attributes that make the game so lovable to so many people, the art featured on the cards is undoubtably something players and fans find special. As of 2022, there are nearly 23,000 cards each with their own art. Today we dive into to the question “what is the best magic the gathering art?”
Before we get to that question though, it is important to remember that all art is of course subjective. What is “best” will differ greatly from person-to-person and beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.
Table of Contents:
- What Criteria Did You Use?
- The Best Magic: The Gathering Art
- Serra Angel by Douglas Shuler
- Angelic Destiny by Jana Schirmer & Johannes Voss
- Gift of Orzhova by Johannes Voss
- Growth Spiral by Seb McKinnon
- Island by John Avon
- Blood Moon by Franz Vohwinkel
- Lightning Bolt by Kekai Kotaki
- Black Lotus by Christopher Rush
- Force Of Will by Terese Nielsen
- Bitterblossom by Rebecca Guay
- Descendants Path by Terese Nielsen
- Staff Picks
- End Step
What Criteria Did You Use?
Card art that a vast majority of players and fans consider to be at least “amongst the best art” was considered first and foremost.
Secondly, I considered if the art was in some way iconic in addition to its being widely loved. For example, I think there is something to be said if a piece of mtg art is recognizable even to people who do not play the game.
Lastly, I looked to some degree at how popular or more specifically, how well known a card that meets the other first two requirements gets. For example, a card with amazing art that most players play or know might be given the nod over a card with equally amazing art that most players have never seen.
Now that you have my definition of “best” in the context of this article, let’s look at the art itself.
Art is the uniting of the subjective with the objective, of nature with reason, of the unconscious with the conscious, and therefore art is the highest means of knowledge.Leo Tolstoy
The Best Magic: The Gathering Art
Let’s get to it. Below is my 11 favorite pieces of art in the game along with the picks of my other staff members.
11: Serra Angel by Douglas Shuler
You can’t have a “best magic the gathering art” list without Douglas Shuler’s “Serra Angel”. This iconic card comes from magic’s very first set and it is one of the game’s most recognizable cards. Much like Serra herself being a very formidable creature in her day, MTG art has come a long way from the days of Alpha.
The art probably would not be what it is today if it wasn’t for cards like this paving the way. The art is beautiful in its simplicity and will continue to make lists about the best magic the gathering art for a very long time.
10: Angelic Destiny by Jana Schirmer & Johannes Voss
Not everybody is going to have known Angelic Destiny prior to seeing it here but those who did will be glad to see it make the list. While it’s not the most hyper-realistic art in the game, I think it’s easy to tell why it’s many fans favorite MTG card art.
Jana Schirmer & Johannes Voss did an amazing job with their use of sunlight, very subtle shadow and vibrant colors. The entire scene is warm as well as ominous. Anyone who has ever experienced a summer day when a tornado is brewing can feel this picture.
9: Gift of Orzhova by Johannes Voss
Johannes Voss’s Gift of Orzhova is a masterclass in contrast. The colors on the wings are what I think most notice first and it’s the darkness of the buildings below that makes them pop. They have the quality of the stained-glass windows that you see in churches or cathedrals.
The weight of the art sets in when you consider the character appears to be moments away from a leap of faith and is possibly unsure if those glowing wings will save her.
8: Growth Spiral by Seb McKinnon
Seb McKinnon has done some of the best magic the gathering art in recent years. Growth Spiral is just so incredibly visually dense. There is so much to unpack here that it feels like there are entire universes, vast oceans and dense forests hiding amidst the swirling patterns of blues and greens. Each teaming with life and waiting to be explored.
The longer this picture is looked at the more amazing it gets. There is a subtle, beautiful symmetry in the picture that isn’t easy to explain but is easy to see.
7: Island by John Avon
There are many lands with stellar art but few are as breathtaking as John Avon’s full-art Island from the “unstable” set.
This art is what an island is supposed to be. The hues of blue are phenomenal. The “blown up“ view of the Island in the background really lends to the scale of this piece and puts just how big that landmass is into perspective.
In contrast, the one in the forefront gives the same feeling of immense distance that one gets when viewing a distant star from Earth.
6: Blood Moon by Franz Vohwinkel
Blood Moon is one of those cards everybody knows and for good reason. Not only is it a powerful card but it features some of the best magic the gathering art in print. The different hues of deep crimson bathe the landscape in a glowing mysticism. The moon itself dominates the print and looks bold and brilliant. It demands the viewer’s attention.
It has a very powerful presence from above as it seems to affect everything else in the art with it’s glow. Not unlike the card effect itself enchanting the entire
5: Lightning Bolt by Kekai Kotaki
What can I say about Lightning Bolt that hasn’t already been said? You definitely know it and you probably love it. This is a card that always makes its way into discussions about the best magic the gathering art.
Kekai Kotaki’s version has a few special things going for it. The bolt flashes from the top right and arcs across the entire card. The brightness of the strike is amplified by the darkness of its surroundings. The mage casting the bolt top-right is fierce and majestic. The beast being struck bottom-left is a nice “pay-off” for following the bolt down the scene.
Aside from the obvious visual appeal, the art has an amazing ability to direct the viewers’ attention where it wants with a strategic placement of the things within the scene. I think it is this subtle composition that sets this lightning bolt away from the rest.
4: Black Lotus by Christopher Rush
Black Lotus is probably the single most recognizable piece of MTG art. The image of this flower is synonymies with the game of magic. It’s also one of the most powerful cards in the game and the most expensive card as well. While the art is not exceedingly complex, it is brilliant in its simplicity.
Rush’s colors are deep and bold. The dark purples and blacks give the flower a look of delicate power. The lotus radiates energy and demands the viewers’ attention. So much so, that people often miss the lush landscape that serves as the backdrop.
This is no other card in the game that is steeped in such legend and is as powerful feeling as black lotus. While some of this is due to its legendary status, much of the mystique of the card comes from those magically imbued flower petals.
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3: Force Of Will by Terese Nielsen
The art for Force of Will, done by Terese Nielsen is some of the most recognizable art in the game, and with good reason. The art on the card is phenomenal.
The juggernaut of a man looks like he could have come straight out of Robert E. Howard’s “Conan” series. The wonderful use of shading and immense detail in his physique makes him appear chiseled right into the card. The same is true of his face; which is the epitome of sheer of determination.
The shadows that are used to such great effect, are being cast by the orange/red hues of the flames to the bottom left of the card, which bathes the entire scene in a fiery glow. Terese leaves nothing for her audience to need to imagine. Every emotion and feeling is painted directly into the card. These flames look hot. The man looks deranged as he attempts to manifest his will. This is not only an amazing piece of MTG card art but an amazing piece of art in general.
2: Bitterblossom by Rebecca Guay
Rebecca Guay’s Bitterblossom is brilliantly done. The hues of green and purple here blend so seamlessly that it almost creates a new color altogether; One that exists only in some faerie world that quietly lies hidden within our own.
The wispy flora seems elegantly alien and serves to enshroud the winged creatures among it. The depth of the art gives the impression that there is an entire enchanted world that lies just beyond what is visible on the card.
To some extent, all art is the merging of imagination and reality. Bitterblossom is so visually enthralling that it seems the artist must have been given the privilege to see this whimsical world with her own eyes and paint the mischievous landscape in person.
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1: Descendants Path by Terese Nielsen
Simply put, Descendant’s Path is a strikingly beautiful card. The colors here are soft and warm. Terese has many things delicately woven together over a serene landscape. The picture has layer after layer of beauty melded with one another flawlessly.
The art (at least to me) seems to depict generation after generation of people, animals, and nature that have all existed in the same spot at one point in time or other. It is not only aesthetically lovely but also touches on one of life’s complexities. The ever-present passing of time.
There is so much to unpack in this picture. The beautiful rendered little girl, the old-timey photo, the trees… The list goes on and on. Please go look at this picture in depth and appreciate it for yourself. It is second to none.
Art is subjective. It is different for every person. No two best mtg card art lists will look exactly the same and that is ok. Great, in fact. Since everyone has their own idea of great let’s take a look at the Blue Monkey Gaming staff pics for the best art in magic the gathering.
Jeff Carpenter: Royal Assassin by Tom Wanerstrand
It’s probably not the most technically proficient piece of art. It might not be the best application of color theory. However, there’s something about this card that I’ve always loved.
Playing Magic growing up, this was always my favorite card and I think it just holds a special place in my heart for that reason. There’s something about the assassin, hiding in the corner while the silhouette of his victim, oblivious to what’s about to happen, parties the night away that gets me every time.
Ashley Briggs: Deathsprout by Seb McKinnon
Deathsprout is one of many breathtaking pieces by Seb McKinnon. He uses lighting and contrast to great effect, and the subject is a haunting image of life and death. Whenever I draw this card, I have to take a moment to admire just how beautiful this game can be.
Duncan: Inverter of Truth by Chase Stone
The picture of clouds changing their form to match the Eldrazi is dark and divine. The name and ability match the feeling like this Eldrazi will make the world distorted.
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Roman Fusco: Path to Exile by Rebecca Guay
I’ve always appreciated how each piece of Rebecca Guay’s artwork looks like a masterfully crafted mosaic. Path to Exile in particular is a beautifully crafted painting that tells a story through key parts of its artwork.
Depicted is the dead body of a ruler, sword clasped in hand, sailing away on a boat. From the shore watches his wife with her newly born child, as countless members of the kingdom watch from the mountainside holding lights.
It’s hard to view all these important details on the printed card, you have to take a closer look at the full-size image to really grasp the emotion of the painting. Nevertheless, it remains one of the best pieces of Magic art in my opinion that tells a harrowing tale.
The art of magic the gathering is one of the things that truly sets the game apart from other similar fantasy games. Wizards of the coast and the amazing artists that work with them outdo themselves set after set and have made the world of MTG something to behold.