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January 25, 2024 10 min read

Given how many times we’ve traveled to the city Plane of Ravnica over the course of Magic’s history, it’s impressive that the writers and designers at Wizards of the Coast are still finding new and interesting ways to present it. Murders at Karlov Manor may just be the most interesting yet, taking full advantage of the urban setting to craft a murder mystery narrative worthy of Agatha Christie herself, expertly expressed via the mechanics of Magic.

Amidst all of this excitement and intrigue, however, there’s some artistic excellence that, unfortunately, is unlikely to make its way into the main case dossier. We refer, of course, to the incredible artwork that appears on the 15 new Basic Lands for the set. Stunning as they are, few are tempted to pick up new Basics with each new set, and therefore few will take the time to appreciate the love and detail poured into each of their individual artworks. A crime on par with the set’s titular Murders, in our eyes.

To set this right, we’ll be cracking out the old magnifying glass and taking a thorough look at the artwork for each Basic Land in the set, uncovering the little details and killer touches that you may have missed. We’ll also be examining the special full-art Basics for the set, the Impossible lands, which are a world unto themselves stylistically and tonally. If that sounds good to you, then come along, Watson; the game is afoot!

The Basic lands of Murders at Karlov Manor

Plains

plains murders at karlov manor

We begin with the wide-ranging wonders of white; that is, the Plains of the set. The first comes to us from Muhammad Firdaus, and depicts a lightly-wooded plaza sleeping in the shade of a Boros garrison. Despite the air of gloom that pervades the piece, it actually appears to be set during the day, based on the shafts of light bearing down on the plaza and the sides of the garrison. The intense shade, then, is a deliberate choice, succinctly establishing the cloak and dagger themes that define the set as a whole while still letting some light shine through as a nod to the usual makeup of Plains artwork. An open plaza is a neat urban stand-in for the open fields and savannahs we usually see on such cards, while the imposing garrison itself fits firmly within white’s wheelhouse as it towers over the scene. Despite its size and prominence, the garrison is still overwhelmed by the plaza in terms of real estate, reminding the viewer that no matter how powerful you might be, danger still lurks in Ravnica’s shady corners.

plains 2 murders at karlov manor

The other Plains in the set is an altogether sunnier affair. From the pen of Carlos Palma Cruchaga, it shows us a tranquil garden by a series of domed buildings, more than likely Azorius government offices. These buildings have a hazy quality to them, blending into the cloudy background skies and appearing almost as mirages as they give way to the well-pruned topiary of the garden. It’s a nice way for Cruchaga to incorporate the urban elements of Ravnica without devoting the entire piece to them, and it gives the crucial garden scene more room to breathe than it would’ve had otherwise. While relaxing at first glance, this garden gradually takes on an air of dread as you look closer, and notice the sheer number of shadows that it contains. They wouldn’t be worth a second thought in most sets, but Murders at Karlov Manor’s shady subject matter gets you checking behind your shoulder before long, and suddenly each of these shadows holds a potential threat. The pair trailing from the bushes in the center of the garden, which bear an uncanny resemblance to a pair of humanoid characters, are particularly effective at evoking this feeling.

Islands

island murders at karlov manor

Next up are the Islands, and we begin with an absolute knockout from Jorge Jacinto. Here we are shown a Simic laboratory on the edge of a waterfall, rich in the kind of gorgeous organic detail we’ve come to expect from the guild. Twisting pink coral grows unchecked up the sides of some of the walls and buildings, even creeping out into the foreground in the bottom-right of the piece. The curves and swirls of the architecture feel wonderfully natural, creating a sense of flow that’s developed, quite literally, by the two waterfalls in the piece. From the top-right corner, a shaft of light illuminates both the high and low sections of the lab, letting us appreciate them in all their glory. It’s a piece you can get lost in for minutes at a time, just imagining the noise of water crashing over the falls and the bizarre soundscape that undoubtedly accompanies a Simic laboratory. That said, it still furthers the shadowy motifs of the set. An overcast sky adds a tinge of unease to proceedings, while a few additional buildings, cloaked in darkness in the top-left, get you thinking about the well-established dark side of Simic's genetic experiments.

island 2 murders at karlov manor

The second Island in the set comes to us from Titus Lunter, and shifts the setting from a natural water feature to an artificial one: an intricately-carved stone fountain, ringed in concentric circles of stone intersected by a walkway. This central feature is deliberately deep-set within the art, obscured slightly by the bright light behind which lends it a sense of intrigue and mystery. Said light also reduces the background buildings to mere silhouettes, though the aqueducts which frame the piece on either side are still fully visible. The framing, which has the viewer looking up at the fountain, creates feelings of awe and grandeur, like they’re standing in the presence of a religious monument. This idea is developed by the presence of sprouting leaves and lily pads, weaving nature into the man-made structure seamlessly. Though this is largely a bright and hopeful piece, the shadow cast on the walkway by the fountain reminds us of the stakes of this set’s storyline with remarkable economy.

Swamps

swamp 1 murders at karlov manor

The Swamps in Ravnica sets give Magic’s artists an opportunity to explore the Plane’s dark underbelly, and the two from Murders at Karlov Manor are no exception. Carlos Palma Cruchaga turns in another excellent piece for the first Swamp here, dragging us down into the dank caves beneath the city to see how the other half lives. Or the members of the Golgari guild, at least. Natural rock formations in the background give way to ruined buildings on the right side of the piece, the layers of mushrooms attached implying they’ve been in that state for a very long time. More mushrooms populate the foreground, along with an alarming number of skeletons, even for a set where murder is par for the course. The way the skeletons sink into the murky green waters of the cave is chilling, but there’s also something oddly natural about it, reinforced by the organic elements that dominate the piece. While it’s likely these skeletons were victims of murder, they’re now feeding back into the natural ecosystem, even if it is on one of its deeper, darker layers.

swamp murders at karlov manor

Carrying on his hot streak, Carlos Palma Cruchaga delivers a second, equally striking Swamp for this set. Rather than focus on the natural, this one instead spotlights a long-lost ruin beneath the city, crumbling away as the mosses and lichens close in. A staircase that, presumably, once led up to the gates of an opulent palace is cut off mid-flight. The stone arches that once linked different sections of the building can now barely support themselves as they hang above a yawning void. Overall, the piece paints a picture of inevitable decay, with the intricate carvings of the building’s remains only reminding us that nothing, no matter how grand, can escape from the cold hands of time. And what remains once all of that is gone? The swamp, dark and breathing and forever, lurking below the ruins and patiently biding its time until it can swallow the ruins whole. It’s an evocative piece, and one that rouses feelings of melancholy in the viewer even as the shadow of the ruins on the back wall hints at dark deeds afoot.

Mountains

mountain murders at karlov manor

The Cult of Rakdos is one of the most fascinating guilds in all of Ravnica, so glimpses into its chaotic world are always welcome. Jorge Jacinto gives us just that in his Mountain here, presenting the impossibly grand facade of a Rakdos-controlled building for us to revel in. The simple color palette, consisting largely of grays and oranges, lends the piece a striking simplicity that works wholly to its benefit, and lets it feel cohesive despite the range of disparate details it features. These details are where the heart of the piece lies, however. From the spiked cages and spheres outside, to the stained-glass Rakdos icons in the windows, to the spike-lined main entrance, resembling a toothy maw more than a traditional door, the depravity of the Cult is on full display here. And while this could easily have felt like your garden variety evil castle, the drooping chains and bolts of red cloth hammer home the ‘twisted circus’ theme that gives the Rakdos guild, and this Mountain, its unique edge.

murders at karlov manor lands

From one guild headquarters to another, Svetlin Velinov’s Mountain for the set brings us into the realm of the Izzet League. This guild is known mainly for its endless experimentation, and that’s on full display here, with a laboratory that echoes the Simic Island from earlier while still fully developing its own identity. Red globes are the main focus here, punctuating the dark towers of the laboratory in striking fashion. They appear to function as storage units for Magical energy, as shown in the currents of lightning flowing between the spires of the buildings. Cleverly, the resulting lightning is located exclusively in the sky, emulating a real storm while being decidedly artificial in nature. Below, there are lots of tiny details, including a recurring pipe motif that reinforces the more industrial nature of the Izzet League’s experiments when compared to those of the Simic, and a surprisingly crowded plaza, especially given the Magical storm raging up above.

Forests

forest murders at karlov manor

Though they’re growing more scarce every day, green spaces are an essential part of the structure of modern cities, which makes it surprisingly easy to relocate the Forest land type to Ravnica. Jorge Jacinto does an excellent job of this in the first Forest of Murders at Karlov Manor, which depicts a lush wooded area through which a shallow river babbles along. The only concessions to civilization here are the distant buildings in the background, the dome-roofed tomb nestled among the trees, and the stone bridges that span the river. Other than these, nature dominates the piece: even the frame itself is filled with trees that create a window onto the scene. Some scattered flowers in the foreground provide a bit of contrast, but for the most part this Forest is green all the way up, with even the river blending in thanks to the mossy rocks that lie within it. There’s an overwhelming sense of calm and tranquility here, which is welcome, but the tomb and the buildings beyond serve as a sobering reminder of the grander goings-on in the set, just in case you forgot.

lands forest murders at karlov manor

The second Forest is Carlos Palma Cruchaga’s fourth Basic Land piece in the set, and it’s just as strong as his other contributions. Here he takes us to an abandoned manor house in the middle of a thick jungle, a few scattered objects and outbuildings serving as reminders of the people who once lived there. While it would be easy to make a piece like this feel dark and ominous, Cruchaga instead injects a lot of light, both literal and metaphorical. Through the jungle thickets of the background sunlight beams down, illuminating the vacant eye socket of the building on the right. This light touches the outbuildings and even some of the stone path leading up the manor, putting the viewer at ease despite the innately unsettling environment. Of course, it’s very possible that this is a mere trick by Cruchaga to create a false sense of security, particularly given the darkened doorway on the right and the snake-like form created by the fronds and the path in the center of the piece.

Full-Art Impossible Lands

full art plains murders at karlov manor

full art island murders at karlov manor

With the core lands out of the way, it’s now time to take a look at the new full-art Basics that Murders at Karlov Manor brings to the table: the Impossible lands. All five of these are the work of Mia Boas, and all five share the same symmetrical, minutely-detailed style. Echoing the illusory lithographs of M.C. Escher, these lands feature nonsensical architecture that bends and twists around itself. The Plains, for example, includes walkways that run onto towers lying on their sides, and inverted towers hanging from the top of the frame like civilized stalactites. The Island has aqueducts that flow in every possible direction, and several impossible ones, alongside staircases that curve round into bowls of water inexplicably suspended in space.

full art swamp murders at karlov manor

full art mountain murders at karlov manor

The Swamp plays things a little more straight, with its strangeness largely coming from the sheer volume of detail it manages to cram in, while the Mountain dazzles the eyes with towers that float like candles, or knives, amid a labyrinth of interlocking walkways. Finally, the Forest revisits the inverted towers idea from the Plains and throws in ornate domed rooftops, ringed with bushes like delicious verdant cakes. All five Impossible lands are marvels to behold, and you can easily spend ages unpacking each one, following the tiny paths and discovering new details each time.

full art forest murders at karlov manor

While obviously not accurate representations of the physical nature of Ravnica as a Plane, these lands do an excellent job of representing it on a metaphorical level, showing the viewer the complex, layered nature of the City of Guilds via their complex, layered designs. The fact that this complexity encourages thorough investigation from the viewer is also a massive flavor win, given the murder mystery theme of the set as a whole.

And with that, our investigation into the Basic Lands of Murders at Karlov Manor is complete. Case closed. Or is it? While we’ve spent a long time examining each of the lands in this set, there’s almost always more to discover when it comes to Magic art, particularly in this set, where clues are explicitly hidden in the artwork of many cards. We’d encourage you to take a look for yourself, and share any interesting breakthroughs in the comments below.

If you’ve enjoyed this deep-dive into Magic’s Basic Lands, you may also like our look at the Basic Lands of The Lost Caverns of Ixalan, which applies the same concept to a very different set and Plane. In any case, we hope you’ll join us in the future as we continue to peel back the layers on Magic’s most underappreciated artwork.

Nathan Ball

Nathan Ball has been in Magic's cardboard clutches since a friend gifted him an M13 starter deck back in 2012. From that day on, he's followed the game religiously, greeting each new spoiler season with the excitement of a child on Christmas morning. He's written extensively about many elements of Magic for TheGamer, but his true passion has always been for the art and flavour of the cards, and how they create tiny windows into a world beyond our imagination.


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