Good morning folks, and welcome to the penultimate day of the Hipsters 10th Anniversary Celebration, here at the Mirror Gallery. You’ve noticed the framework of the Top 10 lists well: some serious, some hysterical, and some just left-field (yes, I did), and I thought it appropriate to continue this in my regular column.
My regular Grand Art Tour readers know that I rarely, if ever, use the term “best” when it comes to talking about a Magical painting in a larger group of artworks. While I firmly believe that taste is subjective and quality is not, I find it disturbing to the larger discussion of magical art to try to determine which work of art is better, whether A is better than B, etc. what I love to do most is draw your attention to paintings I think you should see and why you should see them, and here I’ve picked a piece of art from every year that Hipsters has been on the interwebs.
Are these the “best” paintings of that year? In many cases yes, but again, it all depends on the definition you use. Regardless, these are the paintings of the past decade that have made a significant impact both in Magic: The Gathering and the larger genre of imaginative realism. From winners of competition awards like the Chesley and Spectrum Gold, to the ones that will be remembered by generations of gamers.
Here are the top 10 must-see artworks, hipsters anniversary edition!
2012: Izzet Signet by Raoul Vitale, Duel Decks: Izzet vs. Golgaria
Okay, this first one is for me. The Izzet vs. Golgari Duel Decks released the Friday before Hipsters published its first article, and was also one of the first products I bought when I returned to Magic after a break from college. The artwork you see above was the first representation of the Izzet Signet, and believe it or not, hangs in my office. I look at it every day and it reminds us of the endless possibilities we have in the world of MTG.
2013: Teysa, Envoy of Spirits by Karla Ortiz, Dragon’s Maze
Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts was Karla Ortiz’s very first Magic: The Gathering artwork. If you ever hear her speak at a convention, she’ll tell the story of everything that came with it, from being inspired by Brom’s Desolation Angel to accidentally being weeks late on the deadline. She is now a living legend in the larger fantasy and concept art community, but will always hold a very special place within the art of magic.
2014: Ajani Steadfast by Chris Rahn, Magic 2015
This was one of the works that raised Chris Rahn to the level we see him at today; his nomination for Chesley the following year was certainly no accident. The artist’s penchant for capturing light and dynamic composition is fully realized in Ajani Steadfast, his very first Planeswalker, and started a long tradition of excellence that we still see growing today.
2015: Fruit of the First Tree by Ryan Yee, Fate Reforged
The first of consecutive MTG Chesley awards to Ryan Yee, Fruit of the First Tree is the ultimate example of great artwork on a card you may not have seen before. It amazes me every time I put it back in line, be it for an article or for my own research, and it’s a high note in the symphony that Yee’s contributions to the game are.
2016: Master Trinketeer by Matt Stewart, Kaladesh
The Chesley-nominated Gepetto-esque work of Kaladesh by Matt Stewart is a compilation of everything the artist does: incredible detail, beautiful and poignant lighting, and an abundance of emotion that oozes from this work as you look closer and closer. Master Trinketeer is one of my favorites of all his 200+ Magic pieces.
2017: Stasis by Seb McKinnon, Magic Online
If ever there was a Magic Online artwork that I wish was printed on paper, it’s this one. The all-star on the reserve list received this new artwork in digital form only in 2017 and won the Spectrum Gold Award the following spring. Stasis was an important starting point for McKinnon’s career and remains a fan favorite to this day.
2018: Syncopate by Tommy Arnold, Dominaria
This painting simultaneously captured its card name and epitomized the nostalgia returning “home” to Dominaria for the first time in years. Syncopate is a masterpiece in both the abstract and figurative quality, so much so that in 2018 I had to write an editorial here on Hipsters of the Coast. It’s the only print I have hanging in my office, and one of the very best Magical artworks of the last decade, both in form and function.
2019: Tolsimir, Friend of Wolves by Ryan Pancoast, War of the Spark
I wrote about this piece every chance I got in 2019. Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves was released as part of the storyline crescendo in War of the Spark, and was an equally exclamation point in Ryan Pancoast’s continued upward trajectory as one of the best living artists working today. I had the privilege of displaying it as part of the Whimsy, Wonder & War Magic Art Show, and I will always remember seeing this masterpiece in person.
2020: Sublime Epiphany by Lindsey Look, Core Set 2021
Lindsey Look’s Sublime Epiphany from Core Set 2021 won the latest iteration of the coveted Chesley award in the ‘Gaming Related Illustration’ group, joining a long tradition of Magic artwork dominating the category in both nominations and wins in the past decade. I picked this piece to win in my Chesley Critic’s Choice last year, and what I said then sounds more true now than ever. This piece ranks at the top not only this year, but in the game’s thirty-year history, and is living proof of the wonderful result of letting an artist go all out with what he does best.
2021: Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth by Sarah Finnigan, Modern Horizons
I was pretty sure Sarah Finnigan’s artwork was something extra special when she debuted during the 2021 Kaldheim expansion, but when Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth appeared during Modern Horizon 2 that summer, I was sure. I saw this piece hanging next to another of my favorites of hers (Thran Portal), and she has very quickly become one of the very best landscape artists, not just today, but in the entire history of the game.
There is still a lot of football left in 2022, with Infinity, Brother’s War, and who knows what else is yet to be released in terms of Secret Lair. Despite that, some exceptional works of art have been released in the past nine months, of names on this list (looking at you Pancoast), names that will one day be on this list (you kill it Martina), and names that should be on this list. but I ran out of space (cheers, Victor). Discover the Impossible, Tasha, the Witch Queen and Rith, Awakened Primeval could all claim this top spot, but so can a piece of art we’ve yet to see!
Magic: The Gathering commissions more fantasy artwork than any other entity in the world today, the artists are the best of the best, and we as players, fans and collectors can enjoy the literal Golden Age of Fantasy on our little cardboard squares . How lucky we are to see all this unfold.
I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing these key artworks from Magic: The Gathering that have appeared over the past decade. From Spectrum Gold to Chesley Award winners, nominees, fan favorites and formative firsts, each of these pieces has a special place in the history of the game, the history of the genre and, in many cases, the history of this column as well.
This is Hipster’s 10th anniversary, and believe it or not, my fifth anniversary of writing this art column for the site is fast approaching. It seems like only yesterday that I touched the keys of Welcome to the Mirror Gallery, and I can’t thank Hipsters of the Coast enough for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime. I’ve never had anything but unbridled support and extreme creative freedom, and I can honestly say that without this website I wouldn’t be the writer, person and player that I am today.
Happy 10th Birthday, Hipsters. On to our next decade.
Donny Caltrider has been playing magic since 2002 and collecting original magical art since 2017. He has an MA in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University and enjoys telling stories about art, objects and the intersection of fantasy with real life. You can find him on Twitter talking about #mtgart, museums and other #vorthos related goodness. Follow along and continue the conversation!