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  • September 10, 2023 5 min read 0 Comments

    Appreciating Modern Day Art

    My appreciation for modern-day Magic art is a relatively new phenomenon. It seems like only a year or two ago I was on the other side of the fence, proclaiming my belief that older art is “better” than anything new. This sentiment came from a place of ignorance—I allowed my affinity for nostalgia to cloud my judgement, and looking back I regret making such a narrowminded statement.

    Merely acknowledging this misstep isn’t enough of an apology, however. Instead, I want to take this one step further and make a few comparisons. This week I’m going to share 8 comparisons of art—of similar or identical cards—and share why I have come to the opinion that the newer work is superior despite my flair for the nostalgic.

    Some of these comparisons are likely unfair simply because technology is so far advanced when it comes to digital art in the 2020s. I’m making these comparisons on a level playing field, which may frustrate some folks who respect the classic approaches of the early 1990s. For this, I ask for forgiveness and the license to judge pieces side by side agnostic of their media and time period. After all, there were plenty of stunning, detailed pieces of Magic art that were made in the early 1990s too.

    Not everyone is likely to agree with these sentiments. I am no art connoisseur, after all, but I have grown my appreciation dramatically throughout 2023 and am eager to share my transformation. All I ask is that readers keep an open mind and share constructive criticisms where they are appropriate. I am wide open to dialogue and constructive discussion about Magic art!

    1. An Old Mox and a New Mox


    Dan Frazier is practically synonymous with Magic nostalgia, and some of his earliest works also double as some of the game’s most iconic. When comparing Mox Jet with Ryan Pancoast’s Mox Tantalite, however, there are clearly some differences in detail and sophistication. There’s no doubt I’d rather own a copy of Mox Jet over Mox Tantalite, but the abstract background and simplistic depiction in Mox Jet screams “Old Magic” while the Tantalite evokes more of the imagination in modern-day art fashion.

    2. Weapon of Choice

    Rob Alexander is another iconic Magic artist—I think I’ve seen his signature on cards more than any other artist in my life. He has painted some iconic, gorgeous art for Dual Lands and other iconic cards. I remember singing praise for the art on Lance for its basic depiction of the weapon. Recently, I realized that the details and emotion depicted in a card like Sharpened Pitchfork is more evocative and engaging. The shadow in Sharpened Pitchfork strikes an ominous tone, and you really feel the anger and determination of the central character in the art. Lance, in comparison, falls rather flat.

    3. Judging a Book by Its Cover

    Bronze Tablet and Curse of the Bloody Tome may not be the fairest comparison, but one can’t argue with the difference in details depicted in one versus the other. While Bronze Tablet has a place in history and does a great job at using dark shading to bring the central object into the foreground, I must say I appreciate the details in both the foreground and background of Jaime Jones’ Innistrad art. The former may evoke nostalgia, but the latter evokes emotions.

    4. Abomination Indeed

    I’m trying to picture the art direction Mark Tedin was given for his Legends rendition of Abomination. “Make a creature’s face that’s so hideous that it provokes nightmares in children, but make sure there is no other detail in the background to give any context to what this creature is doing.” While the art does certainly stand out, and is perhaps one of the more memorable pieces from the game’s history, it isn’t exactly pleasant to look at. Darek Zabrocki’s Feral Abomination from Dominaria, on the other hand, still gives you that ominous feeling without being…disgusting (for lack of better word). I like the wooded context too, putting this creature in context and giving us a comparison to judge its relative size.

    5. The Great Outdoors

    The Pain Lands were breakthrough for Magic gameplay, introducing a replacement cycle of two-colored lands that came into play untapped in lieu of Dual Lands. The art for some of these lands, however, left something to be desired. In Bryon Wackwitz’s Brushland, I see a couple pumpkins in the foreground that almost appears as they are chained together, and then some trees in the background. That’s it? About 75% of the card is just a blur! Contrast this with the immense details of Tyler Jacobson’s modern Temple Garden with lush colors and an evocative temple in the background. There is simply no comparison.

    6. Baby It’s Cold Outside

    I appreciate what Phil and Kaja Foglio have done for Magic in terms of artwork, and Kaja Foglio is one of my all-time favorite artists. Snowfall in particular perplexes me, however. The snow is well-done, but what is the blue figure standing in the snow? It looks like a stone soldier—its body is completely flat! Had Alayna Danner’s Arctic Treeline been used for Snowfall’s art, I think it would have fit without the distractingly goofy figure…not to mention I love the colors and the inclusion of the Northern Lights in the sky!

    7. What Was I Saying?

    Mark Poole’s Amnesia is another one of those disturbing images I’d prefer not to think about. The spikes digging into the character’s skin are nothing compared to the giant, bloody hole in the middle of his head! (The Poole tattoo is a nice touch, though). Memory Theft depicts a similar concept in a more abstract, less offensive (preferable) manner. This is one card where going a little abstract can work wonders in creating a gorgeous piece of darker art without being disgusting.

    8. Scarecrows Old and New

    The original Scarecrow from The Dark may be more effective at scaring away birds, but the decision to depict only the face was an interesting one. I would argue the most iconic thing about a scarecrow is how it is mounted on a stand of sorts and placed in an open field. That is precisely what Jung Park’s Signpost Scarecrow is doing, making it much more recognizable as a scarecrow. Granted, it doesn’t seem to be doing an effective job given the birds hanging out on top of it, but that just adds to the art’s flavor in my opinion.

    Wrapping It Up

    The comparisons that can be made between older and newer Magic art doesn’t stop here, of course. This is really just a scratching of the surface. Before I proceed, however, I’d be curious to hear feedback from readers. Was this comparison a fun walk down memory lane?

    Constructive feedback doesn’t offend me, and I am excited to read how other people feel about the art comparisons I made above. If feedback is overall positive, I may continue this series with some more interesting comparisons of old and new. Perhaps I’ll twist things up, and compare artwork where I feel the older piece is superior to the newer. The poster child for this case has got to be Serra Angel—no new art for that card can compete with the original by Douglas Shuler.

    There are many directions I can take this, but I’ll open myself to input and decide where to go with this series from there. Until then, thank you all for reading!