Good morning folks, and welcome to the penultimate day of the Hipsters 10th Anniversary Celebration, here in the Mirror Gallery. You’ve well noticed the cadre of Top 10 Lists: some serious, some hysterical, and some just in left field (yeah, I did it), and I thought it appropriate to continue this right into my regular column.
My regular Grand Art Tour readers know I rarely, if ever, use the term “best” when it comes to talking about a Magic painting in a larger group of artwork. While I firmly believe the idea that taste is subjective, and quality is not, I find it disruptive to the larger of Magic art to try and codify which artwork is the better, or if A is better than B, etc. What I much prefer to do is to draw your attention to paintings I think you need to see and why you need to see them, and here I’ve chosen one artwork from each year Hipsters have been around in the interwebs.
Are these the “best” painting from that year? In many cases yes, but again that entirely depends on the definition you’re using. Regardless, these are the paintings over the last decade that have made a significant impact both in Magic: The Gathering and the larger genre of imaginative realism. From competition award winners like the Chesley and Spectrum Gold, to those that will be remembered through generations of game players.
This is the Top 10 Artworks You Need to See, Hipsters Anniversary Edition!
2012: Izzet Signet by Raoul Vitale, Duel Decks: Izzet vs. Golgari
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 as I returned to Magic from a hiatus in college. The artwork you see above was the first imagining of the Izzet Signet, and believe it or not hangs in my office. I look at it every single day, and it’s a reminder of the endless possibilities we have in the world of MTG.
2013: Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts 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 went into this, 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 she 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 elevated Chris Rahn to the level we see him at today; its Chesley nomination him the next year was certainly not by coincidence. The artist’s penchant for capturing light and dynamic composition is fully realized in Ajani Steadfast, his very first Planeswalker, and began a long tradition of excellence we still see growing today.
2015: Fruit of the First Tree by Ryan Yee, Fate Reforged
The first of back-to-back MTG Chesley award wins for Ryan Yee, Fruit of the First Tree is the quintessential example of amazing artwork on a card you might have never seen. It takes me by surprise every time I queue it back up, whether for an article or my own research, and is very much a high note in the symphony that is Yee’s contributions for the game.
2016: Master Trinketeer by Matt Stewart, Kaladesh
The Chesley-nominated, Gepetto-esque work from Kaladesh by Matt Stewart is a compilation of everything the artist does best: incredible detail, beautiful and poignant lighting, and a cornucopia of emotion that spills out of this work as you look closer and closer. Master Trinketeer is one of my favorite of all his 200+ Magic pieces from him.
2017: Stasis by Seb McKinnon, Magic Online
If ever there was a Magic Online artwork that I wish would see paper print, it’s this one. The reserve list all-star received this new artwork in 2017 in digital form only, and won the Spectrum Gold Award the Spring of the following year. Stasis was a major launchpoint of McKinnon’s career, and remains a fan favorite piece to this day.
2018: Syncopate by Tommy Arnold, Dominaria
This painting simultaneously captured its card name and embodied the nostalgia that was returning “home” to Dominaria for the first time in years. Syncopate is a masterwork in both the abstract and figurative quality, so much that I was compelled to write a feature article back in 2018 right here on Hipsters of the Coast. It’s the only print I have hanging in my office, and one of the very best Magic artworks of the last decade in both form and function.
2019: Tolsimir, Friend to 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 a part of the storyline crescendo in War of the Spark, and was an equal exclamation point in Ryan Pancoast’s continued upward trajectory as one of the best living artists working today. I had the privilege to display it as a part of the Whimsy, Wonder & War Magic Art Show, and will always remember getting to see 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, and joins a long tradition of Magic artwork dominating the category in both nominations and wins over the last decade. I picked this piece to win in my Chesley Critic’s Choice last year, and what I said then rings truer now than ever. This piece stands among those at the top, not just in this year, but in the game’s thirty year history, and is living proof of the beautiful result of letting an artist go full flex on what they do best.
2021: Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth by Sarah Finnigan, Modern Horizons
I was fairly certain Sarah Finnigan’s artwork was something extra special when she debuted during 2021’s Kaldheim expansion, but when Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth appeared during that summer’s Modern Horizon 2, I was sure of it. I saw this piece hang alongside another of my favorites of her dela (Thran Portal), and she has very quickly become one of the very best landscape artists not only working today, but in the game’s entire history.
There is still a lot of football left in 2022, with Unfinity, Brother’s War, and who knows what else in terms of Secret Lair has yet to be released. All that withstanding, there have been some exceptional pieces of art released in the last nine months, from names on this list (looking at you Pancoast), names that will one day be on this list (you’re killing 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 could an artwork we’ve yet to see!
Magic: The Gathering commissions more fantasy artwork than any other entity in the world today, it’s artists are the best of the best, and we as players, fans and collectors get to enjoy the literal Golden Age of Fantasy on our tiny cardboard squares. How lucky are we to watch this all unfold.
I hope you enjoyed seeing these most important artworks from Magic: The Gathering that have appeared over the last decade. From Spectrum Gold to Chesley Award winners, nominees, fan-favorites and formative firsts, each of these pieces holds a special place in the game’s history, the genre’s history, and in many cases, in the history of this column as well.
This is Hipster’s 10th anniversary, and believe it or not my five year anniversary of writing this art column for the site is fast approaching. It seems like just yesterday I was hitting 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 unfettered support and utmost creative freedom, and I can honestly say I would not be the writer, person, and player I am today without this website.
Happy 10th anniversary, Hipsters. Here’s to our next decade.
Donny Caltrider has been playing Magic since 2002 and collecting original Magic 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!