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  • January 08, 2024 7 min read 0 Comments

    According to Scryfall, 4,774 cards were released in 2023. I’m not sure if this includes every variation, Secret Lair, and every supplemental product released throughout the year, but it’s safe to say the real number is quite large. Almost 5,000 cards—that’s a ton (and then some)!

    Naturally, an article reviewing all 4,774 instances of cards released throughout the year would be impractical. Instead, I’m going to take this week’s column to review my top 8 favorite pieces from last year. I’ll try to stick to cards whose artwork first debuted in 2023. No reprints allowed here if they’re using the same artwork as before.

    Granted, this will be a highly opinionated piece—as always, art is in the eye of the beholder. That being said, I will do my best to defend why I picked each piece, providing the aspects of the art that call to me most readily.

    Without further ado, let’s begin, going in reverse order to build up some suspense!

    Favorite Art of 2023 #8: Basking Capybara

    basking copybara art

    Lost Caverns of Ixalan didn’t capture my interest like the other 2023 sets did. In fact, I made the deliberate decision not to draft LCI a single time in order to prioritize focus on other hobbies these past couple of months (Khans of Tarkir draft, however, was definitely permissible).

    However, there was still one card that captured my heart from the set: Basking Capybara. I chose to include this card in my top 8 simply because the capybara is my favorite animal! This one, beautifully done by Ilse Gort, depicts a colorful capybara taking a bath amongst some equally colorful birds in the forest. It’s a great piece and does justice to the world’s largest rodent.

    Favorite Art of 2023 #7: Kithkin Billyrider

    kithkin billyrider

    There’s a personal story behind Zara Alfonso’s adorably done Kithkin Billyrider. This happens to be the first card whose artwork on which I placed a bid! In fact, I placed numerous bids on Zara’s sketch for the card. Much to my chagrin, I was outbid each time and the sketch sold for more than I had budgeted. Even now, looking at the card’s artwork, I regret I wasn’t able to win this auction.

    The billy goat is a cute touch, and the kithkin knight riding the goat looks somehow cute and menacing all at the same time. This piece was the one that really hooked me into the pursuit of original Magic art, and I’m proud to share that I have since acquired two Zara Alfonso originals since losing this auction. I own the repaint of Lukamina, Moon Druid (digital card) and the original sketch for Stormkeld Prowler.

    Favorite Art of 2023 #6: Arwen, Mortal Queen

    arwen mortal queen art

    It didn’t take long for me to become a big fan of Miranda Meeks’ art. Her work on Arwen, Mortal Queen really called to me—the legendary elf noble’s beauty and unification with nature really shines through in this artwork. I absolutely love the details in the flowing cape and dress, the neck adornment Arwen is wearing, and even the delicate flow of her hair and gesture of her hand. It’s all exquisite.

    In fact, I loved this card’s artwork so much that I decided to build a Commander deck with this card, just because I wanted to play with it. What better way to appreciate a card’s artwork than to make it your general? Naturally I had to make sure it was a foil copy, to really capture the reflective light of this art.

    The Tales of Middle Earth set had a lot of amazing artwork, evoking memories of one of fantasy’s greatest stories ever. I believe the art for Arwen here was one of the best, and certainly an all-timer for me.

    Favorite Art of 2023 #5: Arachnogenesis

    arachnogenesis art

    From an EV standpoint, you can argue that Commander Masters was one of the worst releases of 2023. The value of cards potentially opened from this highly anticipated set just did not meet the expectations of the vocal Magic Twitter community. The artwork, on the other hand, was a raging success in my humble opinion. I could have easily filled the entire top 8 of this countdown with variants from this set.

    I chose Arachnogenesis specifically because I remember seeing this artwork go up for sale on Facebook and suddenly releasing how incredibly detailed it is. The spiders and spiderwebs are really well done, and the motion captured in the skirt of the central figure tells you she is just now realizing she may be trapped. The figure in the background doesn’t look like they’re going to be able to help anytime soon, either.

    Finally, I feel like the central figure’s beauty kind of reminds me of Serra Angel—perhaps that’s no coincidence, as Douglas Shuler is the artist here and was the original artist for Alpha’s Serra Angel. A masterful piece, I only wish I made a play on the sketch when it was for sale.

    Favorite Art of 2023 #4: Bloodline Keeper

    bloodline keeper cute to brute art

    Although dated 2022 on the card, this Secret Lair was released in May 2023 so I’m still going to count it as a 2023 release. Can you blame me? Nana Qi hit it out of the park with her work on the Cute to Brute series of cards, with Bloodline Keeper being my absolute favorite.

    Just take a look at how adorable the vampire is—yes, she has sharp teeth, but she looks harmless by calmly cuddling cute looking bats. Her hair flowing behind her depicts her journey flying through the sky, and the full, bright moon is a gorgeous backdrop to really bring the colors to life in this iconic piece. I tried bidding on an auction for a post-painting of this card, but it went out of my price range, sadly.

    Despite that, I still honor the card’s artwork by playing a copy in one of my Commander decks. It doesn’t quite fit the theme of the deck, but it is simply too beautiful a piece of art to not shuffle up and cast on occasion!

    Favorite Art of 2023 #3: Gisela, Balde of Goldnight

    gisela secret lair art

    Another series of cards I thoroughly enjoyed was this series of profile images of iconic creatures in Commander Masters. While many really stood out to me, I must say that Alex Dos Diaz’s artwork for Gisela, Blade of Goldnight quickly became my absolute favorite. Shortly after the set’s release, I made sure to acquire a foil copy for my collection.

    It’s hard to articulate in words why this series of profile images resonate with me so much. I think it’s the overall style, combined with the lighting and shadow on the central figure, and general details on the characters’ faces and clothes that stand out most. In Gisela’s case in particular, those angel wings are simultaneously menacing and graceful. Something about the central figures looking “off camera,” not breaking the fourth wall, makes these pieces particularly evocative. They’re all absolutely stunning, and I would not mind if Wizards of the Coast brought back this style of artwork in a future set.

    Favorite Art of 2023 #2: Rhystic Study

    rhystic study art mtg

    Serena Maylon is another brilliant, unique Magic artist. So far, she has created artwork for 14 cards, and each one stands out more than the previous. The more Wizards of the Coast goes off script, introducing new and different styles of art to the game, the more I hope they engage Serena for her art contributions. Seriously, they are all amazing and truly stand out from a pile of cards.

    To honor her work, I have selected her art for Wilds of Eldraine’s reprint of Rhystic Study. There is so much to unpack with this piece: from the central merfolk figure holding an intriguing book, to the tiny fish swimming in the background, this art flows perfectly with the rest of the card’s frame / border. They all work together perfectly, which is a common observation with Serena’s work. I will give honorable mention to her work on Ashiok, Wicked Manipulator as another brilliant, unique piece of art. But really, anything she has created for Magic has been incredible.

    Favorite Art of 2023 #1: Smothering Tithe

    smothering tithe art mtg

    I’m not the biggest anime fan, if I’m completely honest. I went through a small phase late in my early 20’s, while living with a superfan roommate, when I explored the genre a bit more extensively. In general, though, I just never really pursued the Japanese animation style for entertainment.

    When it comes to the combination of Magic and anime, however, I am a major fan! Something about the Japanese illustration style really combines well with the fantasy world of Magic. It’s hard to put my finger on directly, but every time Wizards of the Coast has executed this combination, it’s been a major success. I remember Jumpstart 2022 introduced special artwork by Japanese illustrators, and liking every single one. It was so easy to pull out this special card from each booster pack because of how distinct and recognizable the artwork was.

    When Wizards ran this idea back with Wilds of Eldraine, it was another homerun. This artwork for Smothering Tithe, by Daisuke Tatsuma, is one of my all-time favorites. I was kind of hoping for copies of this card to come down a little more in price before I picked one up—after all, I would be acquiring one only because of how much I love the card’s artwork. I may have to bite the bullet and make the purchase soon, however, because I don’t really see its price going lower without a major reprint. Even such a reprint wouldn’t likely use this same artwork, meaning this beautiful instance of the card may retain its elevated price point for a long time.

    Wrapping It Up

    The year 2023 was a very special one to me because it became my first foray into the world of original Magic art. Thanks to some friendly folks in the artwork community, I was able to learn a ton about the original artwork market and identify a piece I loved and could afford.

    My hope is to continue learning more about this market in 2024, with the intent of purchasing at least one more complete, original painting to proudly display on my office wall—a piece I can truly cherish and appreciate every day. I don’t expect I’ll be able to afford any of the pieces mentioned in my article this week, but with new pieces being released almost constantly, you never know what Wizards of the Coast will reveal next!