Art Appreciation: Art in Plain Sight
Admitting that his taste in art is rather, ahem, plain, and milking that homonym for all its worth, this week Sancho takes us on a dreamy journey through gently rolling hills and lush green meadows.
Except for the original 15 basic lands (10 in Alpha Limited Edition), one thing I have always loved in the realm of Magic art has been the illustrations on the lands. And whenever a set is released, I almost look as much forward to seeing the new basics as the functionally new cards. However, and despite my veins flowing with blue mana, in my eyes one basic land type is usually more beautifully illustrated than the four others: the Plains. This is the story of one of the many beautiful basic sources of white mana.
I had not been to a game store for perhaps four years, when I randomly walked into one an afternoon in 2003 looking for a present. At once, past the threshold, boxes of shiny booster packs sitting behind the counter decorated with the familiar Magic logo caught my eye. I was a little surprised that Magic even still existed, because c'mon, how many cards would they be able to come up with, and why would people still buy Magic cards ten years after the game's initial release.
The sight of the boosters both tickled my nostalgia and my curiosity, and thinking "what the heck?" I asked the guy in the store for three packs from different sets, because there was quite a selection of differently named expansions, and none of them were familiar to me. The boosters he handed me were from sets named Judgement, Onslaught and Legions, and I must admit that I am still to this day unfamiliar with what those sets were about.
A Plain Rip-off
Returning home, I ripped open the packs and went straight for the rares that had already begun being marked with a gold expansion symbol since Exodus, before I went on my long break from the game. Today I don't recall much about the contents of the packs, which would be my only Magic purchase between the release of Urza's Destiny and Aether Revolt, except for two things. First off, there were morph cards in at least one of the packs, and as I read the rules reminder written in cursive on those cards, I thought that it was just plain stupid. Playing with cards face down hiding the artwork seemed unappealing to me, and I also found it a bit unimaginative – like, what would be the next, printing on both sides of the cards, huh?
The other thing that I still remember was, that the Onslaught booster had a basic land in it: a Plains, and what a beautiful specimen of the basic land it was. The layout of the card was somewhat exotic to me with merely one large white mana symbol in the text box rather than the tap symbol and the familiar text about adding mana to your mana pool – it reminded me of the Portal beginners' sets. And then there was the art. The art was not a fantasy landscape, at least not necessarily. It was merely a deep view over grass clad plains disappearing into the horizon with green trees or bushes here and there and a couple of birches cutting into the frame in the foreground.
As it turns out, the artist's name was familiar to me, even though I could not name a card illustrated by him off my head. Today, most people familiar with the art of Magic probably know at least a few of the works from this artist's hands, since Rob Alexander by now has illustrated more than 150 cards (151 to be exact – according to Scryfall). And among them some of the most expensive cards in own my collection. My Underground Seas that were probably priced at a whopping 20 or 30 € back then and the Savannah's and Taiga's also illustrated by Alexander that I had long traded away for other dual lands by that time.
Well, repulsed by the boring mechanics of the new cards and my Magic revival still more than a dozen years into the future, the cards from the packs were randomly distributed into whatever boxes and binders were close at hand, and at some later time they were buried in the basement along with other sediments of life that drifted down there over the years.
Path from Exile
After digging out the cards one afternoon towards the end of 2016 to challenge my girlfriend, who I had just discovered knew how to play Magic, and after getting heavily addicted to cardboard crack once again after just one fix, I also rediscovered my love for the art on the cards and in particular the art on the basic lands. And here the Flood of Recollection was indeed brought on by that very same Plains from Onslaught – a version of the card which I by the way have even noticed the renowned Seth, probably-better-known-as Saffron Olive, use in one of his janky brew videos for MTGGoldfish.
Getting back into Magic around that time meant being confronted by concepts and mechanics such as Energy and Revolt that I found even more weird and annoying than Morph. And entirely new card types such as the definitely annoying and very full of themselves Planeswalkers … and yes, even cards that did not have the familiar Magic back but instead had rules and illustrations on both sides. But it also meant discovering scores of beautiful basic lands printed during my exile. Many of those cards were, if not up there with Rob Alexanders Plains for Onslaught, indeed very pleasing to the eyes. One example from Kaladesh block that stands out to me is Clint Cearley's Plains (KLD 252) with its bulging hedge maze and deep hazy valley under a sky covered in swirling clouds.
Riding into the Sunset
If you count different expansion set symbols 536 Plains have been printed or spoiled at the time of writing, and there are just too many pretty ones to mention here. Recently I even considered expanding the number of basic lands in my cube to 50 of each solely because at the current 33 of each I feel like I must cut too many attractive pieces of artwork in particular when it comes to the Plains. And the cuts become harder to make with every newly released set. But to pull a few not too plain Plains to the foreground, I recommend you take a minute to enjoy the following: The golden fields of Tingting Yeh for the Global Series decks, John Avon's almost religious light on the Plains of Unstable – and of Adam Paquette's ditto for Avacyn Restored.
Also, Omar Rayyan's Lorwyn Plains deserves a mention, but I could just go on and on. And, to be honest one ulterior motive for writing this article was a hope that you, the reader, would write a comment and point my attention to more beautiful landscape art that I may have missed browsing over the basic Plains time and time again. So please leave a comment about your favorite Plains below, and feel free to share any other stories and thoughts on Basic Plains and their artwork.
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