Lands are rarely considered an exciting part of Magic: The Gathering. While they do serve an essential gameplay purpose, the way you build them into your deck tends to be based more on cold mathematics than any strong desire to play with a particular land card, and they often represent the biggest financial barrier to entry in the game as well.
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But what if you combined plain old lands with Secret Lair, Magic’s ongoing experimental art project? You’d get a huge range of incredible pieces, so fresh and audacious that they may finally get you excited about lands for once. We’ve gathered the ten finest examples here; ten lands that will help you embrace your mana base.
Part of the Pride Across the Multiverse Secret Lair Drop, this take on Mana Confluence shows six rainbow-hued mages pouring liquid onto the floor in order to create a better, more colourful world. It’s a powerful visualisation of one of the major goals of the Pride movement, and an ideal fit for this particular Secret Lair Drop.
In the vague, swirling colours of the floor you can see hints of the world these mages are building, with all kinds of stunning architecture nestled amongst wispy white clouds. The weeping statue in the foreground serves as a sobering reminder of the pain that makes such a creation necessary, grounding the piece in reality without taking away from the hopeful central message.
9 Plains/Battlefield Forge, By MSCHF
Covering two lands in the same list entry may be considered ‘cheating’ to some, but if it is, then it’s par for the course when it comes to discussing MSCHF’s one-of-a-kind dual land, which breaks a fair few rules itself. For you see, MSCHF’s was a Secret Lair with Secret Layers: the Plains above was actually just a sticker which, when removed, revealed the Battlefield Forge below, completing the bizarre punchline of this card.
The Plains alone is strange enough, showing a modern golf course framed by some kind of gilt medieval decor to represent Golf as the land-wasting sport of the rich, but when you peel it off things really go off the rails. A huge explosion goes off in the background, bathing the course in flames as a ye olde font reads “Golf sucks now and has always sucked”. Clearly MSCHF had a score to settle with this one; we await golf’s response with bated breath.
8 Dracula’s Tomb (Phyrexian Tower), By Nicholas Gregory
When it comes to Vampires, there are none more iconic than the Lord of Darkness himself, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Magic’s designers chose to tap into this particularly rich literary vein for a range of projects around the release of Innistrad: Crimson Vow, the most Vampire-centric visit to the Plane yet.
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Among all of these, Nicholas Gregory’s reimagined Phyrexian Tower is a clear standout. Not only is the scene steeped in gothic tradition, with flickering candles and a gloriously extravagant central coffin, but it also does exceptional work with shadows, indirectly showing the viewer an unfortunate victim meeting their end at Dracula’s hands. It’s a deeply atmospheric piece that does Stoker’s legacy justice.
7 Exotic Orchard, By Paul Mafayon
Turning back the clocks to 1990, Paul Mafayon’s Exotic Orchard is drenched in the carefree joy of childhood. Everything in the scene has been gleefully repurposed: the trees are striped rock candy, the flowers are neon-glazed lollipops, the sun is a brightly-wrapped lemon drop.
The rainbow path rolling across the green hills calls to mind classic board game Candyland, while the various blue rabbits, frolicking and laying back on the grass, echo summer afternoons long ago. It’s a piece that can make you laugh and cry, in the tradition of the very best nostalgic artwork.
6 Great Furnace, By DXTR
Bringing pixel art from the screen to the streets, German artist DXTR combines games with graffiti to exhilarating effect. He also did a fantastic job of reimagining the original Mirrodin artifact lands for his Secret Lair Drop. All five are intricately-detailed masterpieces, but for our money his take on Great Furnace burns the brightest.
There’s a lot going on here, from an appearance by Krark (and his two severed thumbs), to the impressive constructions further up, evoking an entire civilization in their rich detail. The whole thing bubbles away in a kind of stony lava soup bowl, an ice-lolly background gradient rounding things out with a flourish.
5 Shelldock Isle, By Marija Tiurina
Marrying fan-favourite Homunculus Fblthp with elusive childhood icon Where’s Waldo (or Wally), Marija Tiurina crafts a puzzle that spans five cards, each of which features a well-hidden Fblthp, giving players the chance to grab a magnifying glass and join the search. As with all Where’s Wally art, this piece is absolutely full to bursting, crammed with tiny details and characters that fans of Ravnica will no doubt recognise.
You can see a Nivix Cyclops paddling in Izzet-striped swim shorts, a Centaur selling potions to Merfolk, and a Goblin petting a Dragon, to name a few. Of course, we’d never spoil where Fblthp is on this one, but we hear the right-side river is nice this time of year…
4 Snow-Covered Island, By Jubilee
Jubilee’s pixel art snow-covered lands are all excellent, but the Island may just be the best of the bunch. Showing a mighty glacier standing proud atop a frozen sea, the interlocking layers of ice are convincingly portrayed here in jagged strokes, a purple gradient sky looking down from its single-pixel stars.
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Beyond the stunning core composition, it’s the framing that really makes this one. The piece is set up like you’re viewing it in a pixel art program, with a typical UI layered on top of the art, complete with the minimise/maximise/close button trio, and a retro font. It’s a brilliant final touch, one extra layer of uniqueness that separates this land from its frosty peers.
3 Tokyo Swamp, By Mr. Misang
With their fog, fumes, and dark corners, there’s a very valid argument to be made that modern cities could easily stand in for Swamps in Magic. This is an argument that Mr. Misang puts into practice here, in his contribution to the Tokyo Lands, a series of basic lands set in Japanese cityscapes.
The dark side of urban living, with its constant advertising and looming buildings, is put on full display here, the huge sculptures suddenly imposing in the red light of sunset. It’s a clever piece, and one that makes excellent use of its colour palette to tell a story.
2 Gemini Mountain, By Jeanne D’Angelo
The Zodiac Lands were a kind of Secret Lair mega-cycle, each being released individually in their own drop. Each of these are excellent in their own ways, but the Gemini Mountain, brought to us by Jeanne D’Angelo, is one of the simplest and best.
Naturally, two mountain peaks are shown here, each crowned with a temple shaped like a Greek tragedy mask. In these temples, the dichotomy of the Gemini sign is clearly shown, while the luminous green-and-blue background is a surprising choice that helps with the ‘astral’ feeling this series was reaching for, and finding, among the stars.
1 Desolate Lighthouse, By Nico Delort
Like the opening shot of a Tim Burton movie, this take on Desolate Lighthouse immediately beckons the viewer into a dark and detailed world. The Lighthouse itself is spindly and exaggerated, a ramshackle structure somehow surviving the storm that’s assailing it. The beams it casts are blinding even in cardboard form, cutting clean through the card, leaving nothing but oblivion in their wake.
Then you have the waves: Huge swathes of white, peppered by countless tiny lines that define them as they rise and fall. Despite its dark overtones, the piece is actually full of light, from the tiny Lighthouse windows, to the stars up above. It all comes together to create an enchanting vision of vivacity and violence, worthy of any darkened theatre screen.
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