~ my art review of a recent Magic: The Gathering set: Dominaria United.
Dominaria United continues Magic: The Gathering’s robust storyline of planeswalkers and world-shaping powers. The Phyrexian menace challenges heroes like Karn, Jaya, and Jodah with the threat of “compleation” – or mind control via the total replacement of organic matter with artifice. This form of Phyrexian “perfection” also steals the soul.
This expansion sets the stage for 2023’s All Will Be One set, where the Phyrexians will make their move. Thus, Dominaria United is filled with story-rich art of heroes and monsters battling for the fate of many souls. From artistic renditions of kickers and domain effects, to a King Kong shaman and the queen of Phyrexia herself – prepare yourself for some of the best fantasy fiction art there is.
12. Runic Shot
Runic Shot showcases a crossbowman and a wizard teaming up. “Target acquired” indeed. Cristi Balanescu gives the kicker mechanic a clear vision: white soldier and blue wizard combining their skill to snipe a creature and peek the top two cards of your deck.
Kicker originated in the Dominaria-based set Invasion back in 2000. By paying additional mana, you can “kick” the card into higher gear, with additional abilities unlocked. Kicker also features a way to combine the colors in interesting ways, such as here with Runic Shot.
11. Guardian Of New Benalia
Ernanda Souza’s Guardian of New Benalia gives us a gigantic steel shield adorned with stained-glass. Wielded by a Human Soldier protecting a child, the art is touching – and the card is good.
MTG often doesn’t feature children in cards because the game is full of monsters and violence. However, Guardian of New Benalia introduces a heroic protector with a trio of strong abilities for only two mana. Perhaps this knight is even the mother of this adorable little kid. The hero’s strength and what she uses it for are both displayed here.
10. Leyline Binding
One of the themes of Dominaria Reunited is how all the colors of MTG’s wheel come together for dazzling effects. Domain is the keyword for an ability that becomes more effective the more colors you play. Five-color “rainbow” decks that use each basic land type maximize the benefit.
Leyline Binding’s art shows how domain can help the Dominarians take down the Phyrexians, who are typically colorless or mono black. The art coalesces MTG’s full rainbow into binding tendrils exiling a multi-armed monstrosity.
9. Electrostatic Infantry
Electrostatic Infantry shows off an incredibly badass Dwarf Wizard – or, as some may come to call him at the table: Electric Battle-Axe Santa. For two mana, get something rather rare in MTG – a red creature with trample.
Kekai Kotaki’s art emblazons an uncommon that can easily become the centerpiece of a Red Deck Wins strategy, growing via +1/+1 counters for every instant or sorcery cast. This bearded dwarf battlemage will keep charging until he’s removed, or your red deck wins.
8. Vodalian Hexcatcher
Vodalian Hexcatcher, an undersea medicine woman of the highest caliber. This Merfolk lord’s art by Dmitry Burmak features spiraling coral armor and hair built into the sea queen’s frame.
She not only boosts all your Merfolk creatures, she can use their lives as micro counterspells. Flash her in against a tapped out opponent and remove “one more pollutant” from the sea. In fact, Vodalian Hexcatcher would be right at home on Pandora, amongst the fearsome sea Na’vi known as the Metkayina.
7. Defiler Of Flesh
The Defiler of Flesh threatens to give you nightmares. This is perhaps the ultimate “Phyrexian Horror.” All the Defiler creatures, one for each color, give the Phyrexians powerful lieutenants in each. They introduce alternative casting costs and engines of value for every permanent cast in their color.
Mathias Kollros understood the assignment for black’s Defiler, creating an unholy amalgamation of at least five humanoid freaks and one poor pegasus. The most terrifying aspect of Phyrexia’s monstrous evil is not that they kill – it’s that sometimes they don’t. Phyrexians consume, corrupt, and compleat. They gift you a fate worse than death.
6. Tyrannical Pitlord
The best art in Magic tells a story. Pictures are worth a thousand words and Tyrannical Pitlord gives life to the classic fantasy trope of a Faustian bargain. This demon has all the same trappings as most: six mana, six power, flying and trample.
But unlike a prototypical demon, they share their strength. Of course, for a cost. Donato Giancola’s art piece shows a cackling Demon and the knight entreating him for power. Now bonded, life for life, demonkind snatches another soul.
5. Djinn Of The Fountain
Djinn of the Fountain provides a mystic mother made of strange water. This Djinn, or genie, emerges not from a lamp but from a magic fountain amongst mountainous shadows. Bastien L. Deharme’s art presents an ethereal redhead goddess with arm rings and mischievous look.
This Djinn doubles as finisher and utility engine for blue, with a trio of valuable effects for different situations. Blue casts the most instants and sorceries of all, so you can use the Djinn to grow, plan, or protect herself with every one.
4. Squee, Dubious Monarch
Squee is MTG’s most hard-to-kill Goblin. Past iterations of the card can easily return from the graveyard or exile. Now a “Goblin Noble,” it looks like Squee has moved up in the world. Zoltan Boros has him sitting upon a throne of Goblin bones and discarded weapons with a look of superiority.
Squee, “Dubious” Monarch lives up to that name with one look. Lord of the bones. What has the Goblin gotten up to since he was a wee cabin-hand fond of eating bugs and getting into trouble on the Weatherlight? How on earth is he a king now? Read the lore to find out!
3. Silverback Elder
Alexander Mokhov’s masterful art of this Ape Shaman gives us a King Kong medicine man. Silverback Elder is a very strong card, shooting out boosts for doing what green already wants to do – play creature after creature.
Destroy your opponent’s utility permanents, ramp your lands, and gain life on a seven toughness body. Take a closer look at the Silverback Elder’s detailed flair, crown of flowers, and tree-staff while he’s winning you the game.
2. Najal, The Storm Runner
Ever heard of “runner’s high”? PINDURSKI’s expressive art for this Efreet Wizard showcases a wonderful sense of motion. Najal sprints across a field of wildflowers and you can see his entire path down from the sky. The “Storm Runner” is a perfect Izzet (blue and red) agent – or Commander himself.
Najal marries the attack-happy mechanic of red with the flashing and copying effects of blue. But more than anything else, this card’s unforgettable art should impress everyone at the table of your match.
1. Sheoldred, The Apocalypse
Folks, Sheoldred is a kaiju now. This legendary Phyrexian figure is mother to all sorts of horror, both the ones currently devouring MTG’s heroes and some of the decks playing on Friday nights at your local card shop. Chris Rahn’s art for Sheoldred, the Apocalypse is a perfect rendition of this daemonic lady’s threat in the lore and on the table.
Four mana for four power and perhaps the best “taxing” effect the game has ever seen. Every player is constantly drawing cards, so her effect means: “Eat me or I eat you.” That’s Phyrexia, survival of the fittest (and most diabolical). Figures like Sheoldred explain why Urza was willing to do anything to defeat Yawgmoth — including destroy the world.
~ Thank you for reading! ~