Christmas Contest Review // Revue
- Tobi Henke
For our final Insight article of the year, we're looking back at three weeks of Christmas contests. Our thanks go to everyone who participated and left such sweet feedback, to the generous gift givers at Dragon Shield, and to the Magic artists whose wonderful work deserves a closer look …
It's the end of 2020 as far as Insight is concerned. It's been a momentous year for Magic, and for the world at large, with many challenges. Indeed, we got most of our decklists from Magic Online Challenges; some of our most-read articles dealt with the companion kerfuffle, whether directly or indirectly; and there were more and faster bannings than ever before. Not least, we took the various contests on Insight to a whole new level. More on that below.
Insight will return on January 4. We'll have more articles and more decks, more contests and more content in 2021—all completely free and without limitations or barriers. We hope you'll join us then, and we hope you enjoyed Insight in 2020. Meanwhile, the whole Cardmarket team wishes you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
And now it's time to take another look at our recent giveaway, sponsored by Dragon Shield. Over three weeks we ran a series of nine contests, inviting all of the Cardmarket community to identify a total of 45 cards, either by part of their art or by virtue of their best-seller status.
Let's review all of the art and all of the data one more time for one big holiday revue. (Move your mouse cursor over the incomplete pictures below to reveal the full art.)
The First Day of Christmas
Forrest Imel painted one handsome good boy for Alpine Watchdog. Of course, we put our focus on the equally beautiful background with the expertly employed soft-focus treatment that gives this piece so much depth.
Cyril Van Der Haegen's Ghostfire Blade depicts windswept peaks of a particularly spiky nature. What great brand recognition the world of Tarkir has.
By stark contrast, it's not quite as easy to extrapolate the full art of Karn's Temporal Sundering from this little window into time.
Rob Alexander is arguably Magic's top landscape painter. And for this artist, covering everything in meters of snow may be his strongest suit in a full wardrobe of strong suits. The actual Thrumming Stone looks majestic too and eerily resembles none of the man-made structures in this picture.
Mark Tedin has a thing for gnarly textures. Also, for polar bears. And he has some fun with them. We'll meet all of these aspects again when we look at another Tedin piece, but Winter Orb was the first. Magic had always featured a lot of snow in scenery and season, beginning right away with Limited Edition Alpha.
The Second Day of Christmas
Jeff A. Menges is another of Magic's early artists who tended to incorporate some winter into his works, even when the subject matter, for example Bog Wraith, didn't specifically ask for it. If you want to know more about this, check out our recent interview with Menges.
Mark Tedin's polar bear proclivity rears its head again. Although Polar Kraken's head dominates the picture, it's the bears that sell the piece. Rarely has someone put so much emotion into a mostly naturalistic depiction of so many animals.
NéNé Thomas produced a lot of great art for Magic back in the day and joined forces with Phillip Mosness for this one. A simple concept and a somewhat simplistic rendering doesn't detract, in fact, doesn't distract, from a killer execution.
Dan Dos Santos reimagined the double-edged Sword of Fire and Ice as weapon between flowing lava and dangling icicles. None of the previous versions had ever managed (or sought) to elicit feelings of warmth and cold at the same time. This one succeeded.
Jason Rainville placed the feathered Thunderbreak Regent at the top of a delicate and impractically remote monastery. Few Tarkir cards were this good at mixing Magic's identity with our world's traditional fantasy sources that served as inspiration.
The Third Day of Christmas
Yeong-Hao Han's Basilica Bell-Haunt is notable for sticking to the Orzhov color scheme and for using light in many different ways: direct and diffuse, natural and mystical, channeled and reflected.
You can't go wrong with a cute little Homunculus performing an important if tedious task with appropriate alertness. Doorkeeper is no exception, and Kev Walker brought all of his trademark grainy texture and clean contrasts to bear on the little fellow.
Jesper Ejsing's Fairgrounds Trumpeter proved the most difficult artwork to identify so far. Granted, we really only showed a very tiny part of it, to go with our bell theme. Though the somewhat exuberant color scheme and playful latticework on that balustrade places it unmistakably on Kaladesh. We did show it off in another article just ten days prior too.
In contrast, I was surprised by how many people knew Eric Peterson's Pacifism. I had expected an artwork that appeared exactly once, in Seventh Edition, to be the bigger stumbling block, but almost three times as many people recognized this one compared to the Fairgrounds Trumpeter above. Granted, it is an undeniably memorable, quietly powerful piece.
Jonas De Ro was tasked with the Tarkir take on Wooded Foothills. There's a lot of foreboding geography in this piece, but his snow-laden firs look so fluffy they might as well come straight out of some Christmas commercial.
The Fourth Day of Christmas
On this day we asked for the five most-traded creature cards of the year (up to and including October sales). Bonecrusher Giant taking the lead should have come as no surprise. It remained the most-played nonland even throughout a bunch of Standard formats dominated by powerhouses that later earned a spot on several banned lists.
Much more curious are the Top 5 positions of Dream Trawler and Archon of Sun's Grace. Neither ever showed up in large numbers anywhere, but it seems that a fondness for White-Blue Control does pervade the community after all—at least when those decks are about attacking with big and/or lots of lifelinking fliers.
Meanwhile, two creatures whose main application lies outside of Standard claimed second and third place in the ranking. Thassa's Oracle single-handedly propelled Inverter of Truth first to the centerstage of Pioneer and then onto its banned list. It also played and continues to play a role in various other combo decks, for example Legacy's Doomsday.
Dryad of the Ilysian Grove, meanwhile, mostly allowed Modern players to kick their Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle into overdrive. Of course, in retaliation, these same players later suffered from the resurgence in popularity of Boil. (It's debatable to which degree the Dryad was cause or collateral here; Mystic Sanctuary topped the charts for nonbasic lands.)
The Fifth Day of Christmas
Predictably, the noncreature enchantment department was dominated by cards from Theros Beyond Death and again by mainstays of White-Blue Control. Elspeth Conquers Death took the number one spot, closely followed by Omen of the Sea, with The Birth of Meletis in fourth place. Shark Typhoon came in fifth and remained the sole inclusion from a differen setting, if not necessarily a different strategy.
And then there was an enchantment that completely broke Legacy and slightly broke Pioneer and quickly earned a banning in one format and eventually another in the other. Underworld Breach reignited the discussion about power creep aimed at older formats. Was it worth the temporary upheaval and all this upset for a card that never did anything useful in smaller formats? The numbers suggest it worked this time.
The Sixth Day of Christmas
Next came Cling to Dust, a veritable wellspring of versatility that continued to climb in popularity as the year progressed. Much harder to explain is Heliod's Intervention as the fourth instant among the best sellers. When it comes to staging an intervention, at least in a tournament setting, surely you'd expect Thassa to beat out Heliod, no?
Bringing up the rear was Drown in the Loch. The card only manifested its full potential once Zendikar Rising's Rogues completed the tribe's teasered mill theme. But it quickly caught up to those instants that were an instant success upon release.
The Seventh Day of Christmas
With Clockwork Gnomes, Douglas Shuler created a creature that's half toy, half garden gnome, and half nutcracker. I don't know about you, but in my calculation, this adds up to some serious Christmas vibes.
Similar holds true for this piece by Edward Beard, Jr. You may call it a Pyknite, but to my mind, this clearly shows one of Santa's little helpers on an excursion far from his North Pole workshop. Until you notice the wings, at which point it becomes some weird but no less Christmas-oriented mash-up between Elf and Angel.
Such a cute little pair of earmuffs! Warren Mahy's Goblin Furrier tells a story that's evident even without the flavor text, although that's a sweet flavor text too. And it's not easy to tell a story within the confines of one static image.
Speaking of which—Howard Lyon got the rare opportunity to tell a story over multiple cards. The little girl who was clutching her teddy bear on Make a Wish grew up into a fearsome Eldrazi monstrosity for Grapple with the Past. Unfortunately, teddy must have fallen into the well at some point during the intervening five years. Fortunately, tentacles!
Do you know how cold can get so cold that it effectively burns, that it dries everything up to the point where the ground cracks? No? Well, take a look at Rob Alexander's Soul Burn, and you'll get the idea.
The Eighth Day of Christmas
This part of Craig J. Spearing's Bomat Courier looks like it's straight out of Unhinged or, indeed, a holiday special. You wouldn't expect to see something as civilized as carefully packaged parcels with address tags on most Magic worlds. But Kaladesh is special, a reminder of the vast variety within the multiverse.
This, particularly this area on your right, is not an art preview for the upcoming set Kaldheim, if you can believe it, but Clairvoyance by Ken Meyer, Jr.
Unlike most Magic settings, the plane of Ikoria appears to be entirely devoid of ice. Presumably, there's some climatic in-world explanation, but realistically, the anticlimactic reason is that its depiction would have clashed visually with the omnipresent crystal formations. Ilse Gort's Frost Lynx marks a notable exception and carefully avoids any overlap. Imagine how scary this creature must be to the other inhabitants of Ikoria who may have never seen water in its solid state!
D. Alexander Gregory has created a lot of memorable art during his time, from Aura of Silence via Cursed Scroll to Elvish Visionary. His oeuvre is a rabbit hole well worth exploring. If we believe our data robot, his Gifts Ungiven was easily the most recognizable among all the different pieces in this article.
Ron Spencer is more famous for the dark arts, for example Ashen Ghoul, Skirge Familiar, or Yawgmoth's Will. But his style is more accurately described as one that never pulls any punches, whether going for gruesome or unbelievably cute. Both—what he's famous for and what he's actually good at—made him the perfect choice to illustrate Infernal Spawn of Evil.
The Ninth Day of Christmas
Some people put an angel on top of their Christmas tree, some use a star. With Adarkar Valkyrie, Jeremy Jarvis gave us a star-crowned Angel able to reconcile the warring factions, creating peace on earth once and for all.
Apropos, or conversely, let's call this painting "Showdown at the Last-Minute Christmas Tree Sale"—otherwise known as Conquer by Randy Gallegos. It's December 24, the sun is already setting, and there are but five trees left, over which the prospective buyers fight to the death. Here's one such victor triumphing over her vanquished co-shoppers.
The Advent candles have burned down as well. Kev Walker's Pious Evangel also seems to follow another holiday tradition, in that, clearly, he's waiting to take the cookies out of the oven, praying to find just the right moment to do so. You don't think this is what's going on here? Well, then explain that apron!
And finally, we arrive at possibly the most Christmas-y artwork in all of black-bordered Magic: Douglas Shuler's Hallowed Ground. Granted, the original nativity scene at The First Noel probably didn't feature any snow, and the cross didn't figure into the baby's business until later. But who knows what's Away in a Manger here? The divine light marking the spot may as well originate with the Star of the East, and part of the flavor text sounds like something Good King Wenceslas might say.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.