Your Favorite Artist's Favorite Art of 2023

Nick Wolf • December 28, 2023

Storm the Seedcore | Illustrated by Jason Rainville

Painting Streaks of Color Across the Sky

Over the course of 2023, new art appeared on a total of 3,012 cards, just shy of 200 more individual pieces of art than last year. 

Have you ever wondered what the artists themselves thought of the year that was? Back by popular demand, welcome to the second annual installment of Your Favorite Artist's Favorite Art, in which we ask just that. If you want to brush up on last year's article, you can find that here.

For this article, we ask three questions that on their surface seem simple, but in reality are anything but. First, the artists reveal what was their favorite piece that debuted this year; most of the time that's art that appears on an official card, but not always. When asked at this month's Eternal Weekend in Pittsburgh, for example, rk post provided his favorite piece of art done this year, and it's not on any card you'll find in a booster pack. Post provided the art for two cards that debuted in 2023, Counterspell and Worldgorger Dragon, but his answer was neither of those. Instead, his pick was a new version of an old favorite:

The second question asked of artists relates to the first: what's a fun fact or piece of trivia about your favorite art of the year that players might not know? For this question, rk post shed some light on who that figure in the Lightning Bolt art really is -- specifically, President of Card Titan and chief organizer of North America's Eternal Weekend, Nick Coss.

That third question we ask of artists, however, is a bit trickier: what's your favorite piece debuting in 2023 that was created by a peer? It's easy to nitpick one's own work, or play favorites, but when it comes to the creation of a fellow artist, choosing a favorite is much more difficult. Thankfully, more than a dozen artists took on the challenge, as you're about to read. 

Table of Contents:

Liiga Smilshkalne

Liiga Smilshkalne is an illustrator based in Latvia and has worked on Android: Netrunner and KeyForge in addition to Magic. This year, Smilshkalne added 16 cards to bring her total illustrations to 36, including providing her distinct sweeping style to a number of reprints. Prints of Smilshkalne's art can be found here.

Favorite art?

Breach the Multiverse.

Fun fact?

The shape of the Realmbreaker here is built off of that of a tree (tangled roots below, a twisted trunk in the middle behind the vertical stream of oil, and a crown of branches above) combined with the shape of Elesh Norn's headpiece (the top part, although rounded, bears a similar arrow shape) and the Phyrexian symbol (a circular outline with the stream of oil running straight across it).

Favorite art by a peer?

The Ancient One by Victor Adame Minguez. The sense of scale here is gorgeous and as always, Victor nails the lighting, giving a great sense of contrast between the aetheric and the very massively physical elements of the painting.

Serena Malyon

Serena Malyon is a Canadian illustrator known for her work with Tor Books, Fantasy Flight Games, and Wizards of the Coast. She can be found online, and prints are available through her website. To date, her work is featured on 14 Magic cards, with ten of those coming this year.

Favorite art?

Rhystic Study was my favorite piece that debuted this year.

Fun fact?

I took great joy in making the grotto chock-full of knickknacks and treasures. Included are a candelabra, a mirror, a treasure chest, a crown, and a spoon (a nod to the Little Mermaid's "dinglehopper.")

Favorite art by a peer?

It's got to be Virtue of Strength by Danny Schwartz. From Danny's unique style of graphic and rendered areas, from the loose brushstrokes to the vibrant colors he uses, his works just seem to come alive. This illustration is such a showstopper, I could get lost in that labyrinth for ages.

Julia Metzger

Julia Metzger is a German artist, freelance illustrator and fantasy enthusiast, with 19 cards to her credit. She can be found online and on Instagram.

Favorite art?

My personal favorite is The Princess Takes Flight from Wilds of Eldraine, which has also been my first Saga card, which made it a nice change of pace in regards to the unusual format and composition. 

Fun fact?

Rapunzel has long been one of my favorite fairy tales, while I also love unicorns and medieval tapestries, so the whole combination perfectly encapsulates several aspects of my tastes and influences. I almost couldn't have come up with something better for myself, while it was a description that was of course written completely without my input. It's one of the rare cases where it feels like the stars aligned to make it happen.

The Princess Takes Flight, by Julia Metzger

Favorite art by a peer?

That would be Archon of the Wild Rose by Chris Rahn. The majestic stag creature immediately catches my attention, while the wonderfully mystical mood keeps me immersed. The use of colour is right among my general art goals. Though I also can't help it but give a shout out to Jason Rainville and Storm the Seedcore. That's a piece for the ages that will be talked about for a long time where Magic art is concerned.

Bruce Brenneise

Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, Bruce Brenneise is known for his work in Magic as well as Slay the Spire. Brenneise and his trademark hat can also be found on Instagram, and prints, playmats and original works can be found on his website.

Favorite art?

My favorite art debuting in 2023 was probably The Belligerent for The Lost Caverns of Ixalan. I love painting water, and I think the idea of steering a ship right over a waterfall is a great metaphor of the artistic experience. 

The Belligerent (Preliminary Sketch), by Bruce Brenneise

Fun fact?

The sails of the ship are inspired by the pirate Legos I grew up with, a nice callback to so many childhood adventures of the imagination. 

Favorite art by a peer?

I suspect many of my Magic peers might have the same answer I do, and for good reason: Jason Rainville's Storm the Seedcore. He pretty much painted the Magic equivalent of a Neoclassical or Romantic masterpiece. When he showed it to some fellow Magic artists working on that set for feedback, our jaws just dropped. He certainly stormed our hearts with that one! 


Storm the Seedcore, by Jason Rainville
For a closer look at Storm the Seedcore, head over to Artful Breakdown, where Aaron Radney gets into the nitty-gritty of the piece right here on Commander's Herald.

Jarel Threat

Jarel Threat is an artist based in Texas that, to date, has provided the art for 28 Magic cards. He can be found on Instagram, and original works, artist proofs, and prints can be purchased through his website.

Favorite art?

My favorite has to be the Black Lotus I did for Eternal Weekend (Asia Vintage Championship). I was very honored to be asked to paint something that holds such high regard in Magic

Fun fact?

The painting took more layers to finish than my other work. This painting took around four or five layers while most of my work only needed two or three. Because of the close crop of the Lotus, I had to add more detail so that the painting would look complete.

Favorite art by a peer?

This is always a hard question to answer because there's so much great work. One of my favorites was from Ryan Pancoast, Mosswood Dreadknight. I love the color palette and mood of that piece. It also includes my favorite things to paint: forest, ruins, and cool armor. 

Mosswood Dreadknight, by Ryan Pancoast

Billy Christian

Illustrator Billy Christian has more than doubled the number of cards under his belt as an artist in 2023, going from 35 to 71 in that span. Christian hails from Indonesia and can be found online on Instagram, and some of his work is available for purchase as prints.

Favorite art?

It's not a card. But, I really like my MagicCon Minneapolis Key art. The process from sketch to finish was sweet and it went exactly as planned. Always love it when that happens.
Key art for MagicCon Minneapolis 2023, Illustrated by Billy Christian

Fun fact?

Toby Maheras, the art director in charge of that project, invited me to MagicCon Minneapolis because of that artwork. It was such a great event! My wife and I really had a fun time there.

Favorite art by a peer?

Speaking of my wife, I love Livia Prima's version of Sakiko, Mother of Summer That blend of lines and graphical elements gives a surreal mythical vibe. Magic really needs more of that aesthetic in their cards. I hope she'll get more chances show this beautiful style of hers in the near future.

Sakiko, Mother of Summer, by Livia Prima

Jesper Ejsing

Artist Jesper Ejsing has created the illustrations for more than 200 cards, starting in 2007's Lorwyn release, adding 16 cards to that total in 2023. To read up on Jesper's relationship with Magic as both a creator and a Commander player, head over to an interview he did with Commander's Herald earlier this year:

Commander Canvas: Jesper Ejsing

Favorite art?

My favorite art from 2023 is, without any competition, The Goose Mother. I was a part of the design team for Wilds of Eldraine, and already from the early beginning of the set's visual shaping, I saw the goose hydra and yelled "dibs!"

Of course, things don't work out this way. You cannot just decide as an artist what cards you wanna do, but in this case, Andrew (Vallas), the art director, knew about my passion for both bird watching and bird photography, so he called me up one day and said, "I got you the goose hydra." I was super thrilled and went out to a lake I know [that] had a bunch of wild geese and started shooting references. I tried to do a very light and happy painting and a goose looking funny but yet terrifying big.

The Goose Mother, by Jesper Ejsing
Fun fact?

The obstacle in painting The Goose Mother was that the color of the creature is white. A white figure in a well-lit environment can be hard to read, especially on a Magic card size (piece of art), so I had to plan the painting so that the lightest area of the goose was surrounded with darker elements, like cliffs, or blue sky, or shadows. All in order to make it look white and bright. That took a bunch of planning in the color testing to make sure that all the necks were clear.

Favorite art by a peer?

My favorite art from 2023 by someone else is the "Battle of Pelennor Fields", the full art by Tyler Jacobson. The insane job of painting 18 paintings that also fits into one big one is just massive. I remember when Tyler was starting up on it and he sent me the sketch, along with all the thoughts that went into it, and I just thought, "Pyhhh, glad it's not me." Being a traditional artist first and foremost, I wouldn't have dared doing anything like what Tyler did here. The painting is amazing on so many levels.

Battle of Pelennor Fields, by Tyler Jacobson.

Michael Walsh

Michael Walsh is an Eisner Award-winning artist based in Southern Ontario, Canada. He began his journey in illustration via comic books, and from 2013 has worked for IDW, Marvel, and DC, including adapting The Last Jedi into a comic book mini-series

Favorite art?

Probably Crawling Chorus. It was my first main art and my first traditionally painted card. I had so much fun with it and the fan response was explosive and divisive, to say the least.

Fun fact?

The original name of the card was "Indoctrination Flenser." In my non-canon full design of the character, there are small malformed arms that hang from the back and drag on the ground.

Crawling Chorus, by Michael Walsh
Favorite art by a peer?

I'm a huge fanboy of Magic: The Gathering card art, and this was an incredible year for the game. It's tough to choose just one, but I have to go with Justine Jones's Sauron, the Dark Lord. I love the new design for the big bad from LOTR, and Justine was able to employ her acid-infused, psychedelic pop style to great effect. The card absolutely pops when it's on the board, and it really is the thing that stands out most when looking back at the year.

Kekai Kotaki

Born and raised on the Big Island of Hawaii, Kotaki's first gig as an artist was a texture artist for the MMO Guild Wars roughly 20 years ago. Kotaki is credited as the illustrator of 87 cards beginning in Zendikar, and in 2023 added 16 cards to that total.

Favorite art?

During the Phyrexia: All Will Be One and March of the Machine set releases, I was able to participate in making art for card variants using a sumi-e brush and ink work to represent different Phyrexians in an ichor-inspired style. I love working like that, and I had great fun working on the different denizens and Praetors of Phyrexia. My favorite of the sets was Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon. Such a gnarly design, and it's always great to work on a dragon.

Fun fact?

I got to do some traditional art for the cards. I usually do my professional work digitally. Never thought I would be able to do some ink drawings to go on to a Magic card.

Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon, by Kekai Kotaki (with extended art on the matting by art director's request)

Favorite art by a peer?

The Enchanting Tales treatment from Wilds of Eldraine with Doubling Season by Eva Eskelinen is a favorite, love the colors and design.

Eelis Kyttänen

Eelis Kyttänen is a Finnish artist who has provided the illustrations for 17 cards in Magic. He's currently hard at work creating a book project called "Five Seasons of Celebration," inspired by his homeland's folk tales.

Favorite art?

Songbirds' Blessing definitely. It came out in the Virtue and Valor Commander Set for Wilds of Eldraine.

Fun fact?

It was my first original oil painting for Magic!

Favorite art by a peer?

There was so much awesome stuff this year so it's hard to pick, but Serena Malyon's Ashiok, Wicked Manipulator is absolutely amazing.

David Astruga

Hailing from Spain, David Astruga has created art for magazines, comic books, board games, roleplaying games, and most recently, Magic. Of the 41 cards credited to Astruga, 14 debuted in 2023.

Favorite art?

If I had to choose one of my cards this year, I would choose Annex Sentry.

Fun fact?

The first idea I had for this card was very different, with a more frontal and static pose. Later I saw in the design the possibility of giving greater importance to the fabrics, trying to make a connection with a more classic, Renaissance style. "Renaissance" means rebirth, and I thought it created a good connection with Phyrexia.

Favorite art by a peer?

My favorite art this year is, without a doubt, Carmen, Cruel Skymarcher by Randy Vargas. The light, the colors, the values, the incredibly cool design and the magnificent brushwork. A beautiful work, a masterpiece.

Carmen, Cruel Skymarcher, by Randy Vargas

Alix Branwyn

Alix Branwyn is a Seattle-based freelance illustrator that has worked for Valve, Hi-Rez Studios, ImagineFX Magazine, and Magic, and for the latter she's contributed the art for 38 cards to date, with 11 cards and one Avacyn token coming in 2023. Branwyn makes tokens, artist proofs, original works, and prints available on her website.

Favorite art?

My favorite piece that was released this year was Waterwind Scout for The Lost Caverns of Ixalan. This one came together in a way that I still felt really good about at its release.

Waterwind Scout, by Alix Branwyn
Fun fact?

Fun fact about Waterwind Scout: the sketch for it was actually shown as one of the earliest images when they announced the set, and they announced the set while I was still actively painting the final on my easel. When you're used to waiting about a year before anyone sees what you're working on, it's a surreal experience to have it shown before it's even done.

Favorite art by a peer?

My favorite piece from a peer this year was a tough one to choose, but I think I have to go with Mosswood Dreadknight by Ryan Pancoast. I just love the creepy and broody vibe of it, the color palette, and the feeling it gives you of stumbling someplace you shouldn't be. He has such a great sense of mood in his pieces as well as some really lovely brushwork with all the little touches of the undertone peeking through that makes the image hum a bit.

Anthony Devine

Hailing from Scotland, Anthony Devine is a fantasy and sci-fi freelance illustrator with a list of clients that includes Hasbro, Fantasy Flight Games, Games Workshop, LucasFilm, Disney, BBC and Bethesda Softworks. In the realm of Magic, Devine's credited with illustrating 18 cards beginning with last year's Biotransference. A selection of Devine's prints are available through Inprnt

Favorite art?

It would have to be Dire Blunderbuss for The Lost Caverns of Ixalan. I don't think it's my best work released this year, but I do like how it turned out in the end and have a lot of fond memories of working on this illustration. It was a double-faced, extended card created alongside Dire Flail, and so I had to think up little easter eggs, lost cities, treasures, to fill in the extended margins.

Fun fact?

Originally, I had a skull design on the main cannonball. It was supposed to have been painted on by the pirate. My art director liked it, but we had to drop it as it didn't fit with the game mechanics of the card.

Favorite art by a peer?

Kasla, the Broken Halo from March of the Machine Commander by Martina Fackova. Great composition, design elements and lighting.

Kasla, the Broken Halo, by Martina Fackova

Kai Carpenter

Washington-based Kai Carpenter has provided the art for 16 Magic cards so far, including his own Eternal Weekend rendition of an old favorite in Mental Misstep. In addition to working in Magic, Carpenter's art has appeared in DC Comics, Vertigo Comics and Boom! Studios and is also the creator of a 128-page art book celebrating a new golden age of illustration.

Favorite art?

Dargo, the Shipwrecker, although my favorite part isn't actually visible on the card! I was really working myself up for painting the treasure, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed that area. That kind of reversal of expectations is always memorable and fun with a painting.

Dargo, the Shipwrecker, by Kai Carpenter
Fun fact?

Well, I don't think anyone who sees the card will be able to peruse the treasure detail too much, which is totally fine, because it's behind the text box! I'll also say that those little gold-wrapped chocolate pirate coins make for stellar reference. Of course, so do dimes and pennies, but they don't give you a tasty reward when you're done.

Favorite art by a peer?

Matt Stewart's Guff Rewrites History. I love the humor in this painting and I was really impressed with Matt's management of light and value. But also, the details! It's difficult to handle art-within-art, but the scrawling red paint on the scroll is perfect, and that spiraling metalwork on the left is just gorgeous.

Guff Rewrites History, by Matt Stewart

Maxime Minard

Maxime Minard is a French illustrator whose art debuted in Phyrexia: All Will Be One, and since then is credited with the illustrations for 27 cards. Prints of Minard's work can be found at InPRNT.

Favorite art?

I think everybody tells you the same thing, but it's so hard to pick one. But after thinking about it, I'll choose the Contagious Vorrac. It was the first illustration I made for Magic and it holds a special place in my heart. Everything in the [artist's] brief resonated with me, and it felt like something I would have made myself.

Contagious Vorrac, by Maxime Minard
Fun fact?

The "secret" is that the brief called for an "uninfected Vorrac." So while I was painting, I imagined the Vorrac looking over the remains of his home, longing for a place that didn't exist anymore. For mechanical reasons the card name was changed to "contagious Vorrac," but in the end I think it only adds to the tragedy of his story. Despite being corrupted by Phyrexia, a part of what he was still lingers.

Favorite art by a peer?

My favorite Magic art release this year would be Storm the Seedcore. Jason Rainville really crafted a timeless masterpiece. The thing that strikes me the most about it is how well it flows and how easy it is to read the action. There are so many things going on in this illustration, but the value and the motion guide us effortlessly through the piece.

I would also love to mention Dominic Mayer's Knight Token and Ryan Pancoast's Elesh Norn. Those are also amazing, and I don't think they get the love they deserve.

Jason Rainville

Jason Rainville is a freelance fantasy and sci-fi illustrator from Northern Ontario, Canada. He regularly provides insight and detail into his artistic process on social media and offers prints and playmats via his website.

Favorite art?

I actually can't decide which art of mine that debuted in 2023 is my favorite. It's a toss-up between my new high water mark Storm the Seedcore, and revisiting the character who shares my mom's likeness, Admiral Brass, Unsinkable. Both were very well-received, and both I'm satisfied with.

Fun fact?

A fun fact about Brass is that every pirate is modeled after a family member, and with Seedcore, every character (even the baddies) were modeled by me!

Admiral Brass, Unsinkable, by Jason Rainville
Favorite art by a peer?

This is incredibly difficult to answer because there's been such amazing art this year, especially with The Lost Caverns of Ixalan. There are so many I could name, but one for sure that sticks out is Ojer Kaslem, Deepest Growth by Ryan Pancoast. The vibrancy and clarity he can get in an oil painting while still retaining economy and a painterly feel is always astounding.

Ojer Kaslem, Deepest Growth by Ryan Pancoast

The Fate of Countless Worlds

This year was certainly a memorable one when it comes to original art for Magic. And one thing is certain: 2024 will bring us much more in terms of both quantity and quality of art.

What was your favorite piece this year? Do you lean more toward the "traditional" Magic art style, or have you found yourself gravitating toward the unique styles of Secret Lair and Special Guest treatments?