Top 5 Fairy-Tale Forests for Your Throne of Eldraine Decks
While Throne of Eldraine features amazing basic lands itself, players may want to add their own touch to their decks with some of the many gorgeous and thematically fitting basics from Magic's history. We explore options for spicing up your deck visually with some beautiful and enchanting Forests.
From sanctuary for outlaws and hideaway for unwanted children imperiled by jealous stepparents to the dark residence of primeval magic from long forgotten traditions and even to the modern clichés symbolizing the subconscious and all our hidden desires. The forests have carried a host of meanings in the minds of Europeans, and the oldest fairy tales might well date back to the times when our ancestors first had to make good with the genius loci of each new bite they cut down of the ubiquitous woodlands originally covering the continent.
Among the oldest tales is perhaps that of Odin on his shamanic journey seeking enlightenment in the dark solitude of the woods, hanging himself upon the mighty tree of life—far from the consensus of daily life which with its symbolic language, metaphors, and pressure to conform cuts us off from the access to direct experience of the true and naked physical realities.
As the oral traditions of yore gave way to history centuries later, the Roman legionnaires' encounters with the people of central and northern Europe in the dense woodlands not fit for the empire's hitherto unbeatable tactics further cemented the image of the forest as a place where destiny unfolds and things are turned upside down.
At the time when scientists across Europe, most famously the German philologists Jacob Ludwig Karl Grimm and Wilhelm Carl Grimm (the Brothers Grimm), began collecting the folklore of common people and publishing them in their fairy tale anthologies, forests were indeed something very alien to nearly everyone. Wild animals still thrived just outside the boundaries of civilization, and so did gangs of outlaws as well as individual human predators. And since few people dared venture into the woods, who could say that they were not also home to fairies, trolls, and witches in gingerbread houses.
Contemporary with the Brothers Grimm, the romantic German painter Caspar David Friedrich gave us some of the strongest imagery of forests, speaking to the viewer on an almost metaphysical level. Perhaps the ultimate Forests to get for your Throne of Eldraine decks would be to have alters made with one of his poignant paintings. Fortunately, the influence of Friedrich on many contemporary artists tasked with illustrating basic Forests for Magic is obvious. You can easily find some good attempts at evoking the same sentiment among the cards readily available here on Cardmarket.
The choices are so many, that this article might as well have been a Top 10 or a Top 20. A lot of worthy contenders have been left out in the following. I will at least mention Jung Park and Eyton Zana's Forests for Innistrad and Avacyn Restored, Jonas de Ro's two Forests for Magic Origins and Alayna Danner's Core Set 2020 Promo Pack Forest. Even closer runners-up are:
- Don Thompson – Arena League Promos, Version 8
- Steve Prescott – Lorwyn, Version 3
- Chippy – Shadowmoor, Version 3
- Tony Szczudlo – Odyssey, Version 4
- Adam Paquette – Magic Premiere Shop Promos, Version 10 (Paquette fittingly enough did illustrate one of the Forests for Throne of Eldraine as well.)
Now, on to the Top 5 itself:
5. Ryan Pancoast – Magic 2012, Version 4
Twisted trunks ending in crooked branches ready to come alive and grasp any weary traveler drifting off while taking a rest among the mushrooms in the grass between the roots. Ryan Pancoast's Forest for Magic 2012 (reprinted in Duel Decks: Heroes vs. Monsters) is indeed a dreamy sylvan setting right out of a fairy tale.
Alluring lights tempt unwary young girls to stray from the straight path to grandma's house, with all the subliminal connotations that Austrian Sigmund Freud and his Swiss apprentice Carl Gustav Jung could infer from this. Hosts of later Freudians and Jungians have naturally found forests to be a rich source as the symbol of everything that lies beyond and behind our daily conscious motivations and drives.
4. D. J. Cleland-Hura – Seventh Edition, Version 1
With two Forests in the set illustrated by fan favorite John Avon, picking D. J. Cleland's stream among moss-covered rocks may not be what wins me many a fair maiden's heart. Pushing me further into the amphibian range of the frog-to-prince-scale is of course the fact that Seventh Edition is all white-bordered. Curiously, the set's foils had black borders, which is an option and no less than four gold-bordered World Championship Decks from 2001 and 2002 also featured this Forest—another option, at least in some play environments.
The illustration is the perfect setting for the fabled first encounter between Robin Hood and Little John. Other than the home of magical beings, forests in folk tales often served as the perfect hideout for outlaws and others on the fringes of society. This also plays well with the word forest possibly having its roots in the Latin "foris" meaning outside, as in: outside the organized laws and safety of civilized society.
Another theory is that the word originally means game preserve or royal hunting ground. This was indeed what the New Forest, the setting for Captain Marryat's classic coming-of-age tale Children of the New Forest, was created for.
3. John Avon – Magic Premiere Shop Promos, Version 6
Think of the dense foliage of the canopy and the resulting darkness and shadows even during the day. Anything may hide just outside of visual range, which is a major reason for forests to be considered a place of magic. But no less eerie in this world of wolves, witches, and looming woe is the glade where the roof opens: the light may bring a false sense of approaching the safety of the tilled fields of civilization and the idle chatter of fellow human beings.
As always with the art of John Avon, the light is at the center, and as always when choosing a piece to highlight from his vast catalogue, the choice is neither as easy nor as obvious as when Goldilocks had to choose the porridge with just the right temperature. Here I have chosen to go with a piece originally printed as part of the Magic Premiere Shop Promos, with later non-Japanese versions available as reprints from Magic 2011 and Duel Decks: Elves vs. Inventors. Including reprints there are nearly 500 different Forests with John Avon's name in the artist credits, and if anyone were to say that his contributions to the wooded landscapes of Unstable and Unhinged fit the theme even better, I'd totally get it.
2. Scott Bailey – Euro Lands, Schwarzwald, Germany
More than anywhere in the world, Schwarzwald embodies the dark forest of European fairy tales in its most traditional sense. Many scholars even claim that the Black Forest is the setting of Hansel and Gretel. Full of stunningly beautiful scenery, this by modern European standards extensive woodland is in reality a mere shadow of the grand Hercynian Forest of which it once formed the westernmost boundary.
Today a haven for lovers of nature, hikers, and tourists looking for quiet and relaxation, the forest was differently scary and full of unknown dangers to our forefathers a few centuries back. Scott Bailey's illustration captures nature somewhat tamed thanks to the bridge leading over the waterfall. But it also hints at the impenetrable darkness capable of hiding anything from big bad wolves to gingerbread houses just a few steps further in. Euro Lands don't come cheap, although beginning at six to seven Euros, this real-life Forest is a lot cheaper than Eric Peterson's Dutch Plains and Italian Island. If you are indifferent to the brag-value attached to Euro Lands, you can get the exact same illustration from Duel Decks: Knights vs. Dragons, where a near mint English copy will cost you a mere 10 cents.
1. Christopher Rush – Limited Edition (Alpha), Version 2
One path that has lured many a hopeful young wanderer into the adventure of their life has to be the trail on the second of Chris Rush's two Forest artworks from the original Magic set. It innocently winds around the tree in the foreground daring you to take just one step into a magical world full of promise and discovery.
More than any other illustration or any other card it was this alluring Forest, albeit in its paler and white-bordered Revised incarnation, which enticed me to venture one step deeper and then another one into the world of Magic 25 years ago. Considering that it was one of only three Forests available all the way up until the release of Ice Age, my guess is that I am not alone and that many other Magic players have had a similar experience.
Of course, buying black-bordered Alpha or Beta Forests may be something you would want to put off until you have found a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The white-bordered alternatives from Revised and Fourth Edition may not be to your liking. Luckily, other choices are available in the foreign black-bordered printings of the card and in various gold-bordered World Championship Deck versions, if your playgroup is fine with that. If you are attracted by all that glitter, you can also get a foil Arena League Promo version, which begins at around €10 for a near mint copy.
Even after having poured many hours over the options for spicing up your deck with some magical fairy-tale Forests, I know that there will be worthy contenders that I have missed. If you have some Forest that you think should be considered or other comments to the article, feel free to share them in the comment section below.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.