The Artistry Behind MTG: Exploring Top Magic the Gathering Artists and Their Playmats
Magic The Gathering goes beyond strategy. For those of us who know the game well it's a visual experience. Each card boasts artwork that tells a story, based in a multiverse that has reached levels inimaginable 30 years ago, and that shapes our connection to the game. And, of course, behind these images are talented Magic the Gathering artists.
So let's dive in to discover the artists that define Magic and, obviously, the playmats in our collection that celebrate their craft.
The Intersection of Art and Game Play
As we said in the intro, Magic art does more than decorate a card. It evokes an emotion, sets the scene, and can make a card unforgettable.
Ever recall a card by its image, not its name? That's the artist's impact. Some cards become iconic purely because of their visuals.
Take, for example, the surreal Chaos Orb by Mark Tedin or the haunting Demonic Tutor by Douglas Shuler. Both aren't just celebrated for their game impact, in fact, the orb has been banned from play almost since its inception, but also for their breathtaking illustrations.
Beyond beauty, the art often delves into a card's lore, narrating tales of grandeur, magic, and intrigue.
As we delve deeper, we'll spotlight these classic cards and honor the original artists who gave them life, shaping Magic's rich legacy. And we will also introduce to you some of the best Magic the Gathering playmats.
Christopher Rush, a name synonymous with Magic's early days, was one of the original 25 artists who shaped the visual language of Magic. His distinct style and dedication helped lay the foundation for the game's iconic aesthetic.
- Black Lotus: Perhaps the most iconic Magic the Gathering card, its art captures the mystique and allure that still drives players to seek it out.
- Lightning Bolt: This card showcases Rush's ability to convey raw power in a single, electrifying image.
- Brainstorm: Some people may like DiTerlizzi's version better because Mercadian Masques had foils, but the original Brainstorm by Rush, released in Ice Age, is a testament to the artist's versatility. This piece perfectly encapsulates the essence of thought and strategy in the game. I can sense my eyes turning blank when I'm in the Magic zone.
When Christopher Rush died in 2016, rk post, another of the great Magic the Gathering artists in this article released spirit tokens with Rush's face in them. They are still available at rk post's site.
A luminary in Magic's early artistic roster, Dan Frazier's contributions have left an indelible mark on the game. Known for his intricate detailing, skillful use of color and, at times, unsettling expressions, Frazier's art helped elevate the initial sets of Magic, making them unforgettable.
- Mox Emerald, Mox Jet, Mox Pearl, Mox Ruby, and Mox Sapphire: Known collectively as the "Moxen", these Power Nine cards are iconic, not just for their game impact but also for Frazier's meticulous craftsmanship.
- Jester's Cap: A fan-favorite, the card art captures the mystique and playful menace of the item it depicts, making it a standout in the Ice Age set.
- Berserk: Tale says, if you stare at the face of the character in Berserk for too long, you may turn maniacal too.
As Dan himself tells us in his own website, he posed for Mirage's Dwarven Nomad, painted by Mike Kimble, but he was not the model for Solduvi Simulacrum.
Among the original illustrators of Magic too, Douglas Shuler's artistic contributions are both vast (over 150 different card arts published) and impactful. With a style that combines realism with fantastical elements, Shuler has captured the imagination of players for decades, making his artworks some of the most recognizable in MTG's history.
- Demonic Tutor: A powerful card in both its mechanics and imagery, the artwork for Demonic Tutor is instantly recognizable and is a testament to Shuler's talent in capturing the essence of darkness and temptation.
- Icy Manipulator: Evoking the cold grip of control, this artwork seamlessly blends the card's mechanical theme with its visual presentation.
- Serra Angel: As one of the iconic creatures of Magic's early days, its ethereal beauty and power are perfectly portrayed in Shuler's rendition.
Douglas' surname was incorrectly spelled Schuler in the first editions of Magic the Gathering. The only card by Shuler with the right spell in Limited Edition Beta was Mountain with collection number #299, only because they forgot to print it for Limited Edition Alpha.
Mark Poole, a cornerstone in the Magic: The Gathering artistic community, has been crafting visions for the game since its inception. Known for his ability to blend the mystical with the natural, Poole's artwork captures the essence of MTG's enchanting multiverse.
- Ancestral Recall: One of the original Power Nine, this card's art is as legendary as its game-changing effect, showcasing Poole's skill in creating compelling, mystical imagery.
- Balance: A card that is as much about its philosophical concept as its gameplay mechanics, the artwork by Poole perfectly captures this duality.
- Birds of Paradise: Featuring vibrant and lifelike imagery, this card is a testament to Poole's ability to bring the beauty of nature into the realm of fantasy.
When the first edition of Magic was in development, Mark Poole was assigned, amongst other, to draw the art for the two Limited Edition Alpha Islands. The arts he delivered where discarded because they had creatures on them: a pegasus in one, some birds on the other. The artwork was so impressive, though, that Richard Garfield decided to use them and created two cards for them: Island Sanctuary and the famous Birds of Paradise. You can watch Mark and his agent telling this story in this Instagram video clip.
Jeff A. Menges
Jeff A. Menges holds a special place in Magic: The Gathering history as one of the original artists who helped shape the game's visual narrative. His artwork is known for its intricate detailing and ability to capture the fantastical elements of the MTG universe, bringing each card to life with a unique flair.
- Swords to Plowshares: Menges' illustration for this iconic card is celebrated for its powerful depiction of peace, resonating with the card's ability to remove creatures from the battlefield.
- Moat: Menges' depiction of this card exudes a serene yet imposing atmosphere, perfectly embodying the card's ability to halt ground assaults.
- Bazaar of Baghdad: This card features Menges' adeptness at creating vibrant and bustling scenes, bringing the lively trade hub to life in a way that resonates with players.
Even if he is responsible for some of the arts of vintage staple cards like Swords to Plowshares or Bazaar of Baghdad, in an interview with Cardmarket, Jeff mentioned Citanul Druid from Antiquities as the card he is the most connected to.
Mark Tedin, an artist whose name is synonymous with the early days of Magic: The Gathering, has made a significant impact with his distinct and imaginative style. His work, often characterized by intricate details and a unique blend of fantasy and mechanical elements, has captivated MTG players for decades.
- Necropotence: This card's artwork is iconic, capturing the essence of its powerful, dark theme. Tedin's illustration is as memorable as the card's profound impact on the game.
- Sol Ring: A staple in numerous decks, the Sol Ring's artwork by Tedin is celebrated for its depiction of mystical energy and power, becoming a favorite among players.
- Mana Vault: Another testament to Tedin's ability to visualize the arcane, this artwork perfectly embodies the concept of stored, raw magical energy.
Twelve Magic the Gathering books were printed by Harper Collins between 1994 and 1996, with the first five came a coupon redeemable for a special promotional card. Out of the five cards released this way, one turned out to be a Vintage staple, Mana Crypt, with art from Mark Tedin. Each of these cards can be recognised thanks to their expansion symbol shaped like a calligraphy pen.
Pete Venters is a name deeply etched in the annals of Magic: The Gathering history, known for his vibrant and evocative illustrations. His ability to capture the essence of MTG’s varied planes and characters has made his artwork a favorite among the game’s community. Venters’ style, marked by vivid storytelling and a keen eye for detail, brings each card's story to life.
- The Abyss: This card features Venters' iconic representation of a malevolent, crimson sky, perfectly capturing the card's disruptive nature.
- Baron Sengir: As one of the most memorable characters from the Homelands set, the artwork for Baron Sengir showcases Venters’ talent in character design and his ability to create an aura of dark charisma.
- Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker: A favorite among players for its pivotal role in gameplay, the art on this card captures the chaotic and lively essence of the character.
For more than a decade, some of the top Magic the Gathering players faced off in the Magic Invitational Tournament with a clear goal in mind: to be able to design their very own card. The first winner of such an event was Olle Råde and it was Pete Venters who made sure the Sylvan Safekeeper creature Olle designed had the Swedish player's face on it.
Terese Nielsen stands as one of the most renowned and beloved artists in the Magic: The Gathering community. Known for her ethereal and intricate style, Nielsen's art is a blend of mysticism and powerful symbolism. Her work, often imbued with a sense of the surreal and magical, has not only graced numerous MTG cards but has also become a symbol of the game's rich artistic heritage.
- Force of Will: Perhaps one of the most famous MTG cards, its artwork is as iconic as its gameplay impact, showcasing Nielsen's mastery in capturing the essence of raw magical power.
- Eternal Witness: This card is another example of Nielsen's ability to combine exquisite detail with enchanting themes, making it a favorite among players.
- Descendants' Path: The artwork on this card is a testament to Nielsen's skill in portraying intricate, nature-infused scenes that resonate deeply with the lore and spirit of the game.
Terese Nielsen not only drew the art of Hidden Retreat, but she also posed for herself in order to capture the goblin's crooked presence. She posted the actual picture in her X account.
rk post, a distinctive name in the Magic: The Gathering art community, is celebrated for his unique, gritty, and often macabre style. His artwork, rich with dark themes and intricate details, captures the imagination of MTG players, leaving a lasting impression. Post's style is unmistakable, often merging the grotesque with a strange beauty, making his cards some of the most memorable in the game.
- Morphling: This card's art perfectly encapsulates Post's ability to blend the eerie with the ethereal, making it an iconic piece in the game.
- Fulminator Mage: The artwork for this card is a testament to Post's ability to infuse energy and a sense of imminent danger into his creations.
- Magister of Worth: This card illustrates Post's versatility, combining elegance with an ominous undertone, perfectly capturing the duality of the card’s effects.
rk post was in charge of the reimagining of the art of Lightning Bolt for a supersized card given to the winner of the 2023 North America Legacy Championship. In the card, the bolt is striking no other than Card Titan's president and chief organizer of North America's Eternal Weekend, Nick Coss.
Kaja Foglio, a name that resonates with whimsy and charm in the Magic: The Gathering art community, brought a unique and often playful style to the early sets of the game. Her artwork, characterized by a blend of fantastical elements and a touch of humor, has given a distinct flavor to the cards she illustrated. Foglio's style stands out for its lively and imaginative approach, offering a refreshing contrast to the more traditional fantasy art.
- Mishra's Workshop: A testament to Foglio's skill in depicting scenes bustling with activity and intricate details, this card art vividly portrays the chaos and creativity of Mishra's domain.
- Sorceress Queen: The artwork on Sorceress Queen is a perfect example of her ability to infuse character designs with personality and depth.
- Shahrazad: This card features Foglio’s signature style of combining storybook charm with the magical elements of MTG, capturing the essence of its unique and game-altering effect.
Beyond her contributions to MTG, Kaja Foglio is also well-known for her work in the comic book industry. She, along with her husband Phil Foglio, created the popular webcomic "Girl Genius," which reflects her distinctive style and humor. This background in comics infuses her MTG art with a narrative quality that tells a story beyond the card.