Art Appreciation: Homelands
- Sancho Napora
Homelands is probably the worst Magic expansion ever. And to make it more forgettable not even a single new mechanic was introduced and few cards from it ever saw play except when tournament rules forced them to be included in decks. Sancho looked for something nice to say and discovered interesting artwork by some of the game's classic artists.
Homelands to Save the Day
When the seventh expansion for Magic was published in the fall of 1995 players were naturally wary. Of the previous four releases, only Ice Age had truly been a hit. Fallen Empires, while full of potential, had been a disaster with low-powered cards, counter confusion, and packs where you would often get two copies of the same unplayable card — such as Elven Fortress.
Then there had been Fourth Edition, a watered-down version of Revised without dual lands, Sol Ring, and Demonic Tutor. Meanwhile, Chronicles, instead of providing much needed reprints, gave players unlimited supplies of Giant Slugs. It didn't even have the worn-out excuse of later Masters sets, that the inclusion of unwanted cards was to balance the Draft environment.
Hazduhr the Forgettable and Eron the So 90s
With that prehistory, Homelands had to hit it out of the ballpark. Counting only 115 cards, there wasn't much room in the set for misses. Well, if you have played Magic for any length of time, you know this: Homeland was probably the weakest expansion to be printed. Ever! A few people love it for its flavor, perhaps because it expanded on the Sengir story. But you will rarely if ever hear calls for a return to the plane of Ulgrotha to find out more about Eron the Relentless and Hazduhr the Abbot.
While the packaging of Homelands looked kind of nice, what was inside was mostly forgettable. If you weren't around back then, you will most likely not have heard of any cards besides Merchant Scroll and Memory Lapse. Unless someone treated you to tales of how Serrated Arrows and Ihsan's Shade made it into tournament decks because for some time everyone had to run cards from each Standard-legal set. How else could Wizards get anyone to buy Homelands?
The Art of Finding Something Nice to Say
Still, Homelands does have some charm due to the old art style that makes the eyes of hardened Magic veterans moist with nostalgia. Many of the featured artists are well known. The set includes work from the hands of Melissa Benson, Christopher Rush, Mark Poole, and Douglas Shuler. In short, if you are looking for one redeeming factor, for one nice thing to say about Homelands you must focus on the art, which is what I have decided to do here.
Anyone who has read the recent Cardmarket Insight interview with the artist, will already be familiar with Peter Venters's Baron Sengir. But at the risk of gathering an angry mob in the comment section, that particular piece of art did not make it onto my list of favorites. Angry Mob on the other hand would totally have made it, had it not been from The Dark, because Drew Tucker!
10. Grandmother Sengir
Grandmother Sengir writes yet another of her angry letters to the editor. Dearest Mister this and that, I am writing you personally to express my profound displeasure with the fact that my sweet little grandson, the Baron, is nowhere to be seen on this list. Please apologize and rectify, or I will put you on my own little list.
Well, for complaining, we bumped the sweet old lady, who just like her grandson is on the reserved list, down to number ten. Pete Venters of course also painted the famous baron, but he injected so much more character into the elderly legend with her crazed hairdo and nicely ordered workspace.
9. Clockwork Gnomes
Just as with Pete Venters's vampire family, these somewhat constipated looking mechanic pixies may not be the popular choice for best Douglas Shuler art from the set. The crowd is obviously calling for Joven, the most metal dude on any plane ever.
But despite or perhaps because of their obvious digestive trouble, these little guys slowly unwinding on the cobblestone street have a special place in my heart. I even played them in a very casual deck back then, most likely as something into which to sink all that mana from the Urza lands we got in Chronicles. Imagine they shared deck with Colossus of Sardia — because that was the stuff your kitchen table Tron was made of in those days.
8. Autumn Willow
Margaret Organ-Kean's work for Magic particularly shone in Fallen Empires and Homelands, which is the equivalent to lighting a candle only to place it under a bushel. Autumn Willow was, as I remember it, one of the most sought-after and expensive cards in Homelands due to her shroud ability.
The art of the strong and serene Willow obviously did something to help her popularity too. The gentle pastel color artwork is very typical for Organ-Kean; so are the prominent geometrical figures in the background and the use of a frame within the frame. I could have chosen other pieces to represent her work, but let's go with the crowd pleaser for once.
7. Aysen Highway
First off, let's not get into how Aysen Highway is a card for turn six if you hit your land drops, or how it would be horrible against anything but a creatureless white deck, and how despite all that I still recall at least trying to put it into a deck. Rather we should enjoy the colors, composition, and evocative imagery of NéNé Thomas on a card forever doomed to oblivion.
There's an almost Zen-like spiritual quality to the futility of the work artists did for Homelands. One can only wonder how it would have affected the process, if the briefing for the artists had been: "Create beautiful pieces of art which we will print on cardboard to be stored away in dusty boxes that will never be opened again."
6. Ironclaw Curse
A lot of early Magic art had a very "metal" feel to it, and Ironclaw Curse is no exception. Indeed, Homelands may be the most metal of all Magic expansions. Yes, perhaps that alone should have earned Joven a spot on the list at hand.
Thematically, other expansions, for example those set on Mirrodin, may be more literally metal. But when it comes to Homelands a lot of art would fit perfectly on the covers of 80s metal albums. Which self-respecting headliner from the early years of the "Rock am Ring" festival would not have liked to release an album with the art from Ironclaw Curse? The name of the card would have been a great title too.
5. Timmerian Fiends
Banned in all formats for being an ante card, Timmerian Fiends is not part of the good company and neither would the characters depicted in its art ever be. It is one of those old cards with unbelievably odd art, so peculiar that I simply had to put it on this list. Someone please explain in the comment section what is really going on here.
It looks as if a skeleton that got up late and did not have time to put itself together correctly went trick-or-treating with his best were-bear-wolf-boar-stag mate who is having one of those bad perspective days. Perhaps it's just better not to know.
4. Sengir Autocrat
Besides giving you four bodies for 4 mana, which is through the roof by Homelands standards, Sengir Autocrat should also give you the willies. David A. Cherry did an excellent job on this obviously unpleasant character, so much that you don't need to add much of your own imagination to hear how he will grovel for his superiors and sneer at his underlings.
3. Koskun Falls
Having opened more Homelands boosters than what makes sense — opening even one makes little sense — I own copies of all cards on this list except Autumn Willow. Of those cards, I think Koskun Falls is the one at which I have most often stopped while looking through my collection, reading it and hoping that I could find a home for it in one of my decks.
Visually, the card with its old-style frame, its long-forgotten card type Enchant World, and of course the great art by Rob Alexander just makes me want to play it. Then I read it again and of course, as with almost every other card from the set, I must pass on it. The eerily beautiful landscape depicted could be the ideal spot for Marit Lage's mountain summer residence. Here the 20/20 Avatar can enjoy a few weeks of desolation and not take any calls.
2. Aliban's Tower (Version B)
If anyone had presented me with a line-up of the art on this list, before I began playing Magic — a thought experiment, as I began before Homelands — and told me to pick out which card was from a game bearing that name, I would surely have guessed that it was Aliban's Tower. The art for the second version of the card shows an orc or other greenskin performing exactly this: magic.
The sky and the looming pine trees in the background along with glowing tower and the characters traveling through the night remind me of when I first heard about Tolkien — as a kid one late night in in the dark forests of Jutland next to the ruins of an old monastery. To me, art like this was indeed what many years later infused Magic with a sense of magic.
1. Trade Caravan (Versions A and B)
The first place on this list goes to two cards, since the art for Trade Caravan works best when the pieces are put side-by-side. This is Kaja Foglio in all her playful glory: a colorful example of the good old Magic art that has placed both of the Foglios among the most loved artists of the game's early years.
By the looks of it, this caravan trades in enticing dances, gentle bongo rhythms, and endangered species, but who am I to judge the culture of other planes. Certainly, I wouldn't mind hanging this tapestry in my living room or at least a kid's room. Even more so if it is only a crop of a much wider piece, as one could easily imagine.As always, I look forward to reading any anecdotes about your own experiences with Homelands. Tell me why you think Rysorian Badger, Daughter of Autumn, or Giant Oyster deserves a place on this list. Share your comments and insights below!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.