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  • January 15, 2024 6 min read 0 Comments

    This year will be an exciting one in the world of sports. Last weekend saw the beginning of the NFL playoffs, which will proceed until February. From there, March Madness kicks in with the most exciting college basketball tournament of the year. After that we’ll have playoff hockey and basketball, followed by the beginning of baseball.

    Perhaps the most special sports event of the year will be the summer Olympics in Paris, France.

    To celebrate the thrilling year of sports ahead, this week I thought I’d take a look at a handful of Magic cards with art that remind me of sports. Granted, there aren’t many, but thanks to special promotional cards like Secret Lair Drops, there are at least a few. Let’s take a look and see how many events we can find in the multiverse!

    8. Touchdown! (American Football)

    touchdown art mtg

    The inspiration for this week’s article comes from this card, a Secret Lair printing of Approach of the Second Sun from 2022. Filipe Pagliuso illustrates a humanoid (human…or perhaps demigod?) carrying a spikey football-shaped object as he stomps over goblins on the other team. It’s a pretty entertaining piece of art, from the bird flying in the sky with two medals around its neck to the winged helmet the figure is adorning.

    The card itself has nothing to do with football or sports, and it’s not all that expensive either. Near mint copies are selling consistently in the $5 range, though the graph does show a little upward movement in price over the past few months. If the card didn’t have a billion other special printings, maybe it would be more expensive. In any event, this card seems most fitting for this time of year in particular.

    7. The Gatewatch Cards (Baseball)

    liliana vess gatewatch baseball card art

    Recently Wizards of the Coast released a Secret Lair Drop of Gatewatch Planeswalker cards: Liliana Vess, Chandra Nalaar, Jace Beleren, Ajani Goldmane, and Garruk Wildspeaker. The special twist on these cards was that they all used a frame reminiscent of classic baseball cards—both on the front and back! Fay Dalton and Scott Okumura partnered on this series and did a phenomenal job!

    The humanoid Planeswalkers in particular look pretty close to real baseball players in this art. Fay and Scott didn’t miss a single detail, from the loyalty baseball to the golden emblem showcasing the “position” of the player. The flavor text on the back side is amusing as well. “Stole 23 bases last season, refuses to return them.” That sounds like Liliana alright. Despite being so unique, these are all relatively inexpensive—most are selling below $4, with Liliana being the most valuable in the $9-$10 range.

    6. Archery Training (Archery)

    archery training art mtg

    There aren’t many Magic cards with direct sports references, so for some of these I’ll have to use a little creative license. I chose Archery Training from Urza’s Destiny as the next sports artwork card because the artwork by Mark Brill depicts the sport directly. Being one of the oldest Olympic sports, archery is definitely an event worth highlighting. Unlike baseball and American football, the use of bows and arrows also has more of a fantasy feel to it—it’s no wonder the sport is directly depicted on non-Secret Lair cards.

    As for the card itself, I honestly never heard of it before I sat down to write this article. It doesn’t seem all that relevant to me, but I’m sure someone will message me after this is published to tell me about how this was once a block constructed all-star or something like that. I’ll go out on a limb to say that the artwork is probably the best thing going for this card.

    5. Arena Athlete (Gladiator)

    arena athlete art mtg

    There aren’t sports where humans fight to the death anymore, but the Romans used to host such gladiator events back in the day. That’s exactly what I think of when I see Jason Chan’s artwork for Arena Athlete: a gladiator celebrating victory! In reality, I suspect there’s more to this card than a simple fight to the death.

    I googled “Iroan Games” and found some unconfirmed information describing the events associated. This one Reddit post cites archery, javelin throwing, tug of war, and chariot races amongst a long list of events spanning multiple days. It almost seems like an Olympic event based in a fantasy world. Either way, the spectating audience and descriptions on the internet definitely point to the Iroan Games as one related to sports, so it definitely fit this week’s theme!

    4. Racers’ Ring (Horse Racing)

    racer's ring art mtg

    Streets of New Capenna brought us a cycle of ETB-tapped dual lands with the extra ability to draw a card late in the game. While these nonbasic lands didn’t rock the world in Standard, they did carry their weight in Limited, where three-color decks were the name of the game. Racers’ Ring, in particular, references the sport of horse racing, particularly in the flavor text.

    Sam White’s art for the card is zoomed out pretty far, so you can’t really see any actual horse races taking place. It’s safe to assume, however, that this is precisely what the Racers’ Ring is for judging by the flavor text. It’s an interesting reference to a real-world phenomenon (not uncommon in this gangster-inspired set).

    3. Tenacious Underdog (Boxing)

    tenacious underdog art

    Speaking of Streets of New Capenna, apparently boxing is another popular sport in this plane. The central figure in Zara Alfonso’s incredibly detailed art is depicted with wrapped arms and brass knuckles hanging on his belt, at the ready, as he prepares for his next match. I love the way she also illustrated the spectators in the crowd, showing their excitement for the bout that’s set to begin. The fact that the alternate art for this card shows a similarly posed figure, but with boxing gloves, makes the tie to the real-world sport even more recognizable.

    Regarding the card itself, it definitely packs a punch (pun intended)! A 3/2 creature for two mana is a fair rate, but the fact that the creature can be blitzed from your graveyard again and again makes this one difficult-to-deal-with creature. This card has seen plenty of play in Standard, but sadly not enough to elevate its price north of a buck.

    2. Jump (High Jump)

    jump art mtg

    I’m invoking a bit more creative license with this connection, but it does look like the figure in Mark Poole’s artwork for Jump is attempting to clear a fence or blockade of some sort. Whether or not he’s on the right trajectory to actually clear the parapet is uncertain, but I liken this act to that of the high jump event in the Olympics.

    In terms of the card itself, this one appears in Magic’s very first set, Alpha. When I was young, I didn’t quite understand why someone would play this card, which grants flying only until end of turn, over Flight, which is an aura that grants a creature flying permanently. The concept of combat tricks and casting cards at instant speed for additional impact on a game state was a bit too complex for 13-year-old me at the time. Nowadays the card never sees play but I’ll always admire the straightforward and appreciable artwork.

    1. Icatian Javelineers (Javelin Throw)

    icatian javelineers art mtg

    The last card I’ll touch on today is Melissa Benson’s art for Icatian Javelineers, printed 30 years ago in Fallen Empires. The artwork depicts a guard in mid-throw, presumably in defense of the castle on which they are standing. I don’t think this character is throwing the weapon out of sport in this case—it’s more likely to be an attack on opposing troops. Still, I felt the artwork looked close enough to the modern day javelin throw event that I decided to lean in and showcase the art.

    While the card itself is underwhelming in power, I will say that it’s probably one of the more potent and playable cards from Fallen Empires. The soldiers can kill a two-toughness creature by blocking it and then tapping to ping the creature it is blocking for an additional damage. It can also be used to pick off pesky X/1 creatures…once. A long-time favorite, Icatian Javelineers is a fun and memorable card art from the days of yore.

    Wrapping It Up

    Play ball! Let’s get ready to rumble! On your mark, get set, go! Whatever your phrase of choice is, there is plenty to be excited about in the world of sports in 2024. While Magic cards don’t directly depict sports themes all that often, there are still the occasional references that fit the theme. Hopefully you enjoyed my sampling of sports-related cards this week.

    I’m sure I missed some big ones—please feel free to reach out via Twitter (@sigfig8) to let me know what I overlooked. Are there other sports you can find in Magic cards that merit a shout-out? What sports are you most excited for in 2024? I look forward to the engagement on social media!

    It’s time go to now—the football game is almost on.