SCG Daily: From Right Field — Land, Ho!

So, if Tuesday was all about the best pieces of non-Kev Walker art in Extended-legal sets, why weren’t there any land cards? Because I truly feel that lands need to be looked at separately. Magic is an active game (yes, ever against people playing Blue). A card’s art tends to reflect its mechanic in some way which means the art typically depicts some activity or shows a creature of some sort. Land cards, though, are more like still lifes.

This week’s look at art continues with land cards. First, though, I wanted to address with everyone some of the comments made on the forum regarding the first two pieces.

A lot of folks mentioned A-1, surefire hotties like Kris Mage, Mirri, and Elvish Ranger. I was sticking purely to cards from Extended-legal sets. As far as Extended-legal babes go, by now, you’ve seen that I felt Savra deserved to be recognized more as good art and less as simply a hottie. Yes, I’ve seen Perilous Forays, but she looks a bit too much like Isabella Rossellini for me. Finally, regarding Reversal of Fortune, yeah, I dropped the ball.

So, if Tuesday was all about the best pieces of non-Kev Walker art in Extended-legal sets, why weren’t there any land cards? Because I truly feel that lands need to be looked at separately. Magic is an active game (yes, ever against people playing Blue). A card’s art tends to reflect its mechanic in some way which means the art typically depicts some activity or shows a creature of some sort. Land cards, though, are more like still lifes. Yes, there are often people or animals doing things in the background on land cards, but they’re there for flavor, to help flesh out the qualities of the land in question. As such, I didn’t think it was fair to the art to lump them together.

Or maybe I just needed a way to stretch this into five days. You pick.

I’ve divided the land cards into two sections, those being Basic and Non-Basic. I’m pretty clever, huh? Seriously, though, there was a better reason than simply “there are two types of lands in Magic.” Basic lands have only five types and each type, well, it’s pretty well established what they are. A Forest, as we all know, has lotsa trees. Plains tend to be wide open spaces. Swamps are murky, dark and wet. Any new Forest or Plains or Island has to compete with our preconceived notions about what those types of land look like while still fitting into those notions. Think of it this way. Have you ever seen those art shows where everyone is supposed to be doing their version of one subject? The power of the art in those shows is in how an artist can distinguish his or her piece from the others. In the end, if they all do a good job of bringing the subject to life, each of them will reveal some truth about it. Is it really fair, then, to compare known quantities to those where the artists has more freedom? I say, “nay!”

Prettiest Lands, Basic Division

Forest, Invasion by Glen Angus: This is the only Forest on my list. It’s not that none of the others are good. It’s just that none of them grabbed me nearly as much as this one did. The others are nice, but I’d like to live in this one. It also has a sentimental place for me. It was one of the first Invasion cards I saw, and the detail visible in the printing – look at those white birds – struck me. The printing and quality of art took a big leap forward starting with Invasion, and I liked it.

Island, Invasion by John Avon – John Avon is the undisputed king of basic lands. This is his best Island. There’s just something about that pillar of land rising ghost-like in the background that makes we want to visit.

Island, Odyssey by Rob Alexander – This is what I call a National Geographic Special Island. I saw this art and felt myself transported away on some zoological expedition to find rare species of birds and lizards. Serenity now.

Island, Champions (D) by Martina Pilcerova – The idea behind the Islands of Kamigawa is unusual and was already detailed on the official Magic site. This is my favorite because of the way those fingers of stone stick out of the waterfall.

Mountain, Odyssey by Franz Vohwinkel – Please, don’t laugh at me, but one of my favorite Christmas specials growing up was John Denver’s. He did it one year from his huge living room. The thing has eighteen-foot ceilings and glass walls on three sides. While he and “the gang” were inside wearing sweaters and ski outfits, you could still see the mountains outside in all of their glory. It was like being inside and outside at the same time. This Mountain reminds me of that.

Mountain, Onslaught by Sam Wood – Cliff-dwelling cultures fascinate me. How did they build those things? How do they get in and out of their homes? As a portrayal of that kind of lifestyle, this Mountain does a fantastic job.

Mountain, Champions (D) by John Avon – Another Avon home run. I’m not sure if it’s the stone bridge or the blinking spirits, but somehow Avon turns very rugged terrain into an inviting place.

Plains, Odyssey by Eric Peterson – I’m sure that the biggest reason that I like this one is that it’s different. Most Plains just show fields or something. This one has a storm rolling in, the kind of storm that I can tell you as a former citizen of Ft. Wayne, Indiana, you really can see coming for miles.

Plains, Champions (B) by Greg Staples – I always try to have a camera in the car in case I get a great shot of rays of sunlight streaming through the clouds. Mr. Staples gives me one that I can always have.

Swamp, Odyssey by Rob Alexander – The rising fog makes this one for me. I can almost hear the early morning sounds of the birds and frogs and bugs.

Swamp, Onslaught by Doug Chaffee – I’d venture to guess that most people have never really been deep into a Swamp. I can tell you that this one is probably the most realistic version I’ve ever seen. Not all Swamps are simply dark, ugly places full of decay. In fact, there’s a lot of life in them. Some of it is very colorful, and it sticks out, too.

Swamp, Champions (D) by Jim Nelson – Yoda lives here. I’m sure of it. Because of that, I love it.

Prettiest Lands, Non-Basic Division

Abandoned Outpost

As you can tell, I’m not an art critic. My training for this consists of a couple of art appreciation classes (I now know what I like when I see it) and glasses that correct my vision so that I can see. What I’m leading to is that I can’t always tell you why I like a piece of art, especially land. I can just say that I do. This is one of those.

Barbarian Ring

My favorite pieces of landscape art make me wish that I was there. John Avon does that with the Barbarian Ring. Of course, I would rather be a spectator than a participant…

Bog Wreckage

I like how Brian Snoddy shows nature taking back from civilization. It reminds me of some of those expeditions into the heart of Africa where the explorers come across ruins in a place where they thought no person had ever been.

Cabal Coffers

Don Hazeltine’s art makes me feel as if I am actually deep in the heart of a cavernous building of marble pillars. It even feels cold and a bit damp, doesn’t it?

Centaur Garden

Until recently, this was the wallpaper I had on my computer. (It’s switched many times over the past few weeks, however.) This seems like a combination of those huge continental gardens of pre-Revolutionary France and a gaming area. Maybe centaurs like lawn bowling.

Cloudcrest Lake

If there was a lake atop Mount Everest, I expect it would look like this.

Coastal Tower

Those spires are so frail and dramatic that the clouds rolling in overhead will surely take them down.

Deserted Temple

I love architecture. It’s another thing that I enjoy yet know nothing about. Give me some ancient ruins and some early morning fog, and I’m quite content.

Dromar’s Cavern

I think this is the only Planeshift Lair to make the list. I’d like to explore this place. You know, if it wasn’t for the Dragon.

Geothermal Crevice

I’ve been reading lately about extreme life, forms of life that not only exist but thrive at extremes of temperature or toxicity (usually sulfurous). John Avon does a great job, again, of capturing the look of some of these places.

Gods’ Eye, Gate to the Reikai

John Avon does Japan.

Lantern-Lit Graveyard

You’d think that, given the creatures that Magic conjures, there’s be tons of references to Halloween around, but there aren’t. To me, this card evokes Halloween better than any other card in Magic.

Lonely Sandbar

I suspect that it is.

Mossfire Valley

Fog and John Avon. I’ll bet you’re tired of that, aren’t you?

Nantuko Monastery

I can imagine myself living a life of quiet contemplation in this place. As long as I could play my games and listen to my music.

Oboro, Palace in the Clouds

Luanne enjoys Eastern philosophy and buys every new book that the Dalai Llama writes. This was the wallpaper that supplanted Centaur Garden. She says it looks like Shangri-La.

Seafloor Debris

More ruins, this time with the added twist of being underwater.

Temple of the False God

From the moment I saw this, I wanted a print of it. When Hasbro announced that they’d be selling prints of Magic art, I hoped and hoped that this would be one of them. Not yet.

Untaidake, the Cloud Keeper

I’m pretty sure that this is the last John Avon one.

Waterveil Cavern

Sorry. I was wrong. This is it. If you’ve ever been around here, you know about The Lost Sea. It’s a stunning, natural underground lake. If it had a waterfall, it would look like this.

Windswept Heath

I once dreamed of being Jon Sable and running a safari business with my beautiful wife. Luanne doesn’t want to leave East Tennessee, though. So, I’ll just look at this.

Three things that I’m sure you noticed. First, there are no Mirrodin lands. Sorry, but I couldn’t get into the whole metal world thing. None of the Mirrodin lands did anything for me. Second, there are no Unhinged lands. That’s because, as basic lands go, those five are by far and away the most captivating basic lands in the game. If I included them, there wouldn’t be any others. Finally, what about Ravnica? As with the Unhinged lands, I find the Ravnica lands from top to bottom so incredibly well-done that, had they been in the running, there wouldn’t have been any others. As I mentioned with Deserted Temple, I love architecture. Every Ravnica land has some gorgeous and intricate building on it as its major component. I wish I had each of them in foil versions.

That’s it for lands. Tomorrow, the week ends with Magic’s best artist, Kev Walker.

Chris Romeo