The release of Modern Horizons marks a new paradigm for Magic, bringing brand new designs and spicy reprints straight to Modern without the need for a Standard pitstop. Even better, with all those spicy new reprints comes spicy new art, which means that 19 cards in Modern Horizons are ripe for the Reprint Rumble treatment. And, for a whopping 13 of those cards, it’s their first time ever being reprinted with new art.
As such, the release of Modern Horizons means that Modern players aren’t the only planeswalkers getting a bunch of new toys -- art aficionados now have more choices than ever when it comes to which illustration to pick, whether they’re sleeving up Infect at an MCQ or just curating the perfect 100 for the kitchen table.
This means that, even though Modern Horizons may represent a bold new direction in Magic product design, it’s time for us here at OMA to ask that same old question: do the original illustrations maintain pride of place in our hearts (and decks), or will the new look of these classic cards capture our imagination?
There’s only one way to settle it: this is the Reprint Rumble: Modern Horizons edition!
Classic Genius vs. New Hotness, which vying team will reign supreme in this oh-so-Modern contest? To find out, let’s go in for a closer look!
With the trio of this card, Secluded Steppe, and Tranquil Thicket, Modern Horizons sees Noah Bradley complete his staggered cycle of -- appropriately enough -- cycling lands from Onslaught. (His Lonely Sandbar and Forgotten Cave were printed earlier in Commander and Duel Deck products.) And, of the five, I feel like Barren Moor probably presents the trickiest artist’s brief: how do you depict a landscape whose defining quality is its muddy featurelessness, and somehow indicate that it is even more barren than before?
In her Onslaught original, Heather Hudson uses a limited palette and strong diagonal lines to great effect, making it hard to tell just where the foreground landscape blurs into the foggy distance.
I particularly like Noah Bradley’s Modern Horizons treatment. By centering the horizon line, and creating parallels in both color and shape between the night sky above and marshy landscape below, he creates an eerie and almost disorienting sense of reflected emptiness.
One of the neat things about Modern Horizons is that the art director and artists were completely free to depict classic cards in entirely new settings, and I love the decision to situate the new art for Battle Screech on Ravnica.
The flashback cost of tapping untapped creatures to make yet more creatures is a perfect fit for Selesnya, and I love Anastasia Ovchinnikova’s depiction of three Selesnyan mages in the background, working together to summon two birds -- it’s a very literal depiction of the card mechanic, and this is a case where I think that it really, really works.
In a similar vein, what I like about Randy Gallegos’s Judgment original is the central aven figure, who appears to be mid-screech. Again, it’s a fairly literal nod -- this time to the card title -- and, again, I think it works.
In the end, I find myself with a slight preference for the Gallegos original, simply because, on a card called “Battle Screech,” I expect to see some battle-related screeching, and the Judgment art delivers.
Here I’m struck by the extensive -- and, I assume, deliberate -- similarities in posing and composition between Svetlin Velinov’s fantastic new illustration, and Brian Snoddy’s classic original.
In both cases we have a hunched, grotesque zombie, crouched over a corpse, and turning menacingly to face the viewer. Velinov exchanges Snoddy’s graveyard background for what looks more like a battlefield littered with freshly-fallen corpses, and, where Snoddy’s zombie is greenish and wrinkly, Velinov’s is red, raw, and dripping. Snoddy’s zombie appears to be crouched almost protectively over a skeleton, as though prepared to defend its latest macabre acquisition from some other scavenger, whereas Velinov’s zombie is mid-meal, atop a still-fresh carcass.
I think that’s what makes me prefer the Modern Horizons version ever-so-slightly -- the Scourge illustration would make more sense, I think, if the Carrion Feeder got bigger by removing creatures from graveyards, whereas the Modern Horizons interpretation calls attention to the fact that Carrion Feeder actually grows by devouring a fresh kill.
This is another case of artist and AD taking advantage of the freedom which Modern Horizons affords to match a classic spell to a new setting, and I think the payoff is tremendous.
What does Choking Tethers do? It taps up to four creatures.
So I love, love, love the way that Deruchenko Alexander’s new illustration features a Vedalken wizard, casting elements of the spell from each of its four arms. It’s a wonderfully clever way to take an existing piece of MTG lore and adapt it to fit a spell’s mechanics, and the result is a great reinterpretation. I wish that the field of vision was a little wider, so that we could see more of the spell’s effect on its target, but that’s getting into the realm of nitpicking, and I’m not especially hung up on it.
Carl Critchlow’s Onslaught original is effective and straightforward -- you want Choking Tethers? you’ve got Choking Tethers! -- but it doesn’t quite have the same level of visual impact, or narrative whimsy.
In contrast to Battle Screech or Choking Tethers, I feel like this is a case where the decision to relocate Dismantling Blow to Innistrad doesn’t pay any obvious dividends.
I love the nods to the setting in Tomasz Jedruszek’s new illustration -- like the symbol of Avacyn, and the familiar architecture -- but the printing on this new version appears so dark that it really seems to have washed-out a lot of the detail in the art. Something about the perspective here seems slightly off as well -- the thing that’s about to be smashed (and what is that thing supposed to be, anyway?) appears to be just a little too close to the figure for the length of that hammer they’re swinging.
While I get the slightly tongue-in-cheek nature of the flavor and the card, the blow in question here looks less intended to “dismantle” its target than to squash it like a pancake. That may seem like a silly objection, and I’ll freely admit that it is, but it bugs me nevertheless.
Mark Tedin’s Invasion original for me does a better job of conveying the notion of a “dismantling” blow. Again, it’s hard to tell exactly what Urza -- in disguise here as the Blind Seer -- is dismantling, but I love the way the pieces of whatever it used to be are now flying apart.
I love, love, love Randy Vargas’s new illustration -- the color! those angles! -- and, if the name of this card were Elvish Prowess, or Elvish Justice, or something like that, I would be calling this battle for the New Hotness so fast it would make your head spin. But the card in question is actually called Elvish Fury, and while Vargas’s blade-wielding elf looks like the absolute epitome of deadly efficiency, the one quality they don’t seem to convey is furiousness!
Vargas’s elf strikes me as cold, and brutal -- like a professional warrior, just doing a job -- when what I’m searching for are signs of anger. And that’s what Quinton Hoover’s Tempest original delivers in spades -- there is a palpable ferocity behind its bare-knuckled blow, and that emotional palette just makes more sense for me on this particular card.
I love all the nods which Alayna Danner’s new Genesis pays to Mark Zug’s Judgment classic. The parallels in the subject and posing are obvious, but Danner has made a smart change as well -- unlike the original Genesis, which shows its central figure with one arm down, gripping a weapon, Danner’s Genesis has both arms upraised, channeling an arc of green magic.
I’m also a big fan of Danner’s green-heavy palette, and beautifully-rendered forest background -- everything about this new art just screams green, which is perfect for this card. There’s a bit of abstract strangeness to Zug’s original design which I do miss -- from the centaur’s slightly-elongated body to the surprising delicacy with which it appears to be holding its mantis-like friend, Zug’s Genesis has a unique and otherworldly quality which doesn’t come through quite as strongly in Danner’s version, which might look equally at home on any number of other cards.
But, in the end, I find myself drawn to the sheer force and beauty of Danner’s new illustration.
With all respect to Dan Frazier’s Seventh Edition version, and Daniel Gelon’s Portal original, for me this is a tight, two-way battle between Jesper Ejsing’s stunning new painting for Modern Horizons, and one of DiTerlizzi’s most memorable Magic creations, from Urza’s Saga. And, although I’m ultimately going to cast my lot for the DiTerlizzi version, I want to first sing Jesper Ejsing’s praises, because his new Goblin Matron is absolutely superb.
Painting goblins can be tricky, and it’s easy to skew too far towards either the comic (and I think Dan Frazier’s version ends up on just slightly the wrong side of caricature) or the grotesque. But here Ejsing has created a Goblin Matron that captures that hint of mischievous, fairy-tale humor without ever appearing unserious. It’s in the minute details of posing and composition -- the toothiness of that grin, the downward flop of those ears, the matronly preciousness of that hand-on-hand gesture. And, given the strength of that central figure, I think the choice to render the matron’s brood so lightly, and to sort of blend them into the background, makes sense.
If anyone out there wants to choose this Modern Horizons art over the older, Urza’s Saga version, I’m not going to put up a fight. But DiTerlizzi’s Goblin Matron holds a special place in my heart. It has his quintessential comic whimsy, without coming off as either ridiculous or twee. The matron’s face is a perfect blend of frustration with resigned exasperation, and the utter obliviousness of her infant charge to the travails of its minder will doubtless be familiar to many a new parent. The goblin baby’s striped onesie is silly, to be sure, but it’s believable silly, and the result is that an otherwise un-Magic piece of art looks utterly at home on a Magic card.
DiTerlizzi’s goblin could go in a children’s book or on a Legacy-playable creature, and that’s a remarkable achievement. It’s still the goblin for me.
Tyler Walpole’s New Hotness version of Lava Dart looks -- fittingly enough -- mighty hot! I love the use of color to pop the molten dart out from the cool blues and purples of landscape. And I like that the mountain in the background, the shape of the darts, and the presence of a second dart in the distance all subtly nod to the card’s flashback effect.
In Darrell Riche’s Judgment original, I really like how the presence of the human mage lends some context and scale -- a Lava Dart only does one damage, after all, so it makes sense for us to see that it’s small. But there’s something about the mage’s posing which feels weirdly artificial for me, and it’s hard for me to see that robe and not be reminded of a bathrobe I had in college.
Plus, it looks a bit like the mage is standing in the middle of a river of lava, which, while certifiably badass, seems like it can’t be good for those threads.
This is a close one.
I love the range of greens in Darrell Riche’s Torment original, and the use of an almost faux-fisheye perspective to make the Nantuko look large and powerful. It’s a great way to give the composition a sense of depth, and the result has an almost kinetic feel to it -- it’s like seeing a dolly zoom captured in paint.
Jehan Choo’s use of an upward angle is a more conventional way of creating a sense of scale, and it works fine as well. What I particularly like about the new Modern Horizons art is the way it plays up the “cultivator” aspect of the card, surrounding its nantuko subject with brightly-colored plants. And the nantuko itself is wonderfully insectile, trading away the few humanoid elements in Riche’s version for an almost purely mantis-like anatomy. But in the end I just miss the sharp angles and unique perspective of the Torment original.
I would be very interested to see the art description for Deruchenko Alexander’s Modern Horizons version of Nether Spirit, because -- while there are no explicit indications in the art -- everything about the look and flavor of this card says Innistrad to me.
Looking at the painting, I am immediately reminded of pieces like Wharf Infiltrator, and Under the Floorboards. I love some of the creepy little details in Deruchenko’s piece, like the slightly-offset angle of the jaw, and the extra hands which you don’t quite notice until you stop and look closer. But something about this composition just reads more zombie than spirit to me -- it seems like a spirit shouldn’t have to find a hole in the boards to burst through?
In the end, I think that I slightly prefer the grotesquely elongated proportions of Alan Pollack’s Mercadian Masques original. Nether Spirit is a card with a unique effect, and I like that Pollack’s original has a weird and distinct look to it.
Magic has a long and storied history of Artists Who Are Good At Painting Hands, from all-time-great Donato Giancola right up through Lindsey Look, who cements her reputation here as modern Magic’s go-to painter when you need fantastic-looking digits.
(Lindsey is an incredible portraitist as well, and I hope that her unquestionable skill at painting hands doesn’t leave her pigeon-holed when it comes to assignments, but that’s a different topic for a different day.)
Fabulous fingers aside, part of the trick about Rebuild is in the card’s name: it’s strange to see a premium, one-word name like that so misplaced on a card which has the effect of returning all artifacts to players’ hands -- an effect which patently has nothing to do with “rebuilding.” L. A. Williams’s Urza’s Legacy original leans into the card name, showing a diptych which depicts Mishra and a destroyed landscape next to Urza and a reconstructed one. Which, as a narrative beat, is interesting and cleverly done, but which again has patently no resemblance to the actual spell on the card.
By contrast, Lindsey Look’s depiction of a series of artifacts from Magic’s history transforming into ethereal blue mist and wafting away fits the card mechanics perfectly.
(Plus, I always love obvious invitations like this to play spot-the-easter-eggs in a piece of card art -- Ring of Gix was the one I immediately recognized, which is a clever little nod back to Urza’s Legacy, as well. I leave the challenge and fun of looking up the rest to you!)
Look’s Rebuild is one of the traditionally-painted pieces I would covet most from this set.
Looking at Noah Bradley’s new painting and Heather Hudson’s Onslaught original side-by-side, I’m immediately struck by the identical placement of the horizon lines, just along the bottom third.
Both pieces draw upon the vastness of a blue sky crowned with towering masses of clouds to make the landscape look secluded and small by comparison -- I don’t know if this was a conscious nod on Bradley’s part, or simply the product of two very talented painters being drawn to the same idea, but either explanation would be entirely plausible to me.
I actually really, really love the colors in Bradley’s piece, and the way that the setting sun creates a golden nexus between the long grass below and the sky above. But that sun so successfully draws the eye to it that I feel like the steppe below almost becomes secondary.
The stark, simple, windswept look of Hudson’s landscape just speaks to me a little bit more in the context of a cycling land. It’s the sun which feels cyclical in Bradley’s version. It’s the land that feels that way in Hudson’s.
I’m going to treat the snow-covered basics as a cycle, for reasons which will become apparent later, but it’s important to get a few caveats out of the way up front.
The first is that, when comparing full-art, modern-style land cards to old-school, OG-border basics, the card frame is going to matter as much to many players as the art itself. If you want full art lands, then Titus Lunter’s Modern Horizons cycle is the only game in town. If you crave that 95/96 vibe, then the original Ice Age lands are going to be your jam, regardless of art.
My second caveat is that, if you only want one of the snow basics, or if you don’t care about collecting a whole cycle, and prefer to pick and choose, then there are some absolutely gorgeous landscapes among the Coldsnap printings. Franz Vohwinkel’s Island, in particular, is an absolute gem -- the effect of the wind-blown snow off that ice peak is downright masterful, and I can literally feel myself shiver just looking at it. Out of all 15 snow basics, it might be my single favorite.
But I want to treat the snow lands as a cycle, because, with his Modern Horizons snow basics, Titus Lunter has done something which I think is unprecedented in the history of Magic. We have had horizontal land panoramas before -- Christopher Rush’s Ice Age Snow-Covered Plains, in fact, forms the leftmost quarter of a 4-card panorama along with his 3 non-snow Plains from the same set. But Lunter’s snow lands may be Magic’s first-ever “vertical zoom panorama,” to use the artist’s own words. Taking the lands in WUBRG order, you can see the Island in the background of the Plains, the Swamp in the background of the Island, the Mountain in the background of the Swamp, and so forth. This is just some unique, next-level thinking by Lunter, and the execution is incredibly cool -- pun fully intended.
It’s our third Bradley-versus-Hudson matchup of the Rumble, and, while my final votes split 2-to-1 in favor of classic genius, I don’t want that to take anything away from the excellence of Noah Bradley’s new cycling lands.
Bradley is a master landscape painter, and it’s no mystery why he’s the one Wizards tapped to re-imagine this fan-favorite cycle. As with Barren Moor and Secluded Steppe, he uses light here to tremendous effect -- the yellow sunlight breaking through the tree trunks in the distance shades his forest glen in a peaceful, golden glow, which is absolutely wonderful for a Tranquil Thicket. I also love the relative sparseness of the forest, which seems to leave space for the viewer to meditate, and think.
What I love most about Heather Hudson’s Onslaught original, by contrast, is that little brook, with its waterfall and fallen-tree bridge. When I look at this painting, I can immediately hear the sound of this scene in my mind -- both the soft, gentle bubbling of the stream and the more distant rush of falling water. And, to me, it's the intense, sonic quality of Hudson’s painting which puts it over the top for me, because -- to my mind, at least -- those sounds of flowing water evoke peace and tranquility more powerfully than silence ever could. I can picture myself in this thicket, with my eyes closed, feeling that oneness with nature, and that’s a remarkable thing.
In the end, the OMA scoreboard shows a virtual split decision: is 8-7 in favor of Classic Genius if we treat the snow basics as a singular entity, or 11-8 on the side of New Hotness if we count the snow lands individually. It’s all a matter of perspective, and you can frame it either way that you like.
In either case, the vote totals are deceiving, because there isn’t a bad Modern Horizons illustration in the lot -- in fact, even in many cases where I ended up scoring the fight for Classic Genius, the Modern Horizons art is objectively great, and I won’t fault anyone who finds they prefer any of the new reprints.
In many cases, I went with “does this art fit the card?” as a mental tie-breaker in an otherwise too-close-to-call comparison, and the result is that some downright gorgeous Modern Horizons art ended up getting the short straw just because I felt like it was even the tiniest fraction off-theme. That’s not a knock on the artists, who have continued to turn in amazing work, and we’re lucky to have them working on the game -- I say often that we’re living in a golden age for MTG art, and I stand wholeheartedly behind that assessment.
As such, whether you’re a Modern grinder or an art aficionado, you can’t go wrong picking up a box of Modern Horizons, and players who want to supplement their existing decks with new-art singles will have more and better choices than ever before. Would you have picked the same versions as the Reprint Rumble did, or does a different collection of art spark your fancy? Cast your vote in the comments and let us know!
Until next time!
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