MTG Art

13 Breathtaking Card Art From Magic: the Gathering Secret Lair

When Secret Lair Drops were first introduced in 2019, few had any doubts over how commercially successfully it would be. But we have been pleasantly surprised at how many amazing and diverse forms of art have found their way onto these specially printed Magic cards.

There’s already an unfathomable amount of beautiful art in Magic’s history, though many of those do have generally similar styles born from traditional sketching and painting. Since the Secret Lair was designed to beyond those boundaries, we highlight 13 of SL’s most diverse and outstanding artwork.

As everyone knows: art is subjective. Our list highlights the pieces that pop out for being groundbreaking, as if we would never have believed a Magic card would actually showcase such artwork.

The selected cards also represent the overall excellence of the other cards in the same Secret Lair drop.

Sorin, Grim Nemesis (by Uta Natsume)

The Li’l Walkers Secret Lair stands out for its airy look, muted colours, and most importantly the Chibi style of character drawing. There is an obvious element of “cuteness” in Sorin and the other Planeswalkers in this series, with all of them illustrated by Uta Natsume from Japan.

Apart from the “Un” series of Magic sets (that are not tournament legal), “cute” was something never conveyed in a long history of Magic cards. To see mighty Planeswalkers turn into child-like and playful wizards makes you stare at these art pieces for a long, long time.

Swords to Plowshares (by MSCHF)

One of the most contrasting and controversial artwork to appear on a Magic cards comes from the collaboration with MSCHF in late 2021. MSCHF is a well-known art collective group based in New York, US.

This particular Secret Lair included Magic’s first ever peel-able foil layer over a regular card. While that is certainly a topic for another day, Swords to Plowshares is the highlight artwork for this set, with beautiful black and white contrast and brilliant graphic design.

The 3 swords are clearly distinguishable and a keen eye will notice roots sprouting out from the middle sword’s hilt, signifying the transition from warrior to farmer. Of all the Secret Lair drops released, very few stand out as majestically as the ones from MSCHF.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9fdOU2xfJo

Bearscape (by Ricardo Bessa)

This little beast of a card from the Pride Across the Multiverse Secret Lair drop represents so many things apart from its art. Bearscape fits the theme so well, and the artwork by Ricardo Bessa portrays a quiet scene of men just hanging out in a hot spring. 

The pastel colours perfectly convey tranquility and also establishes what the rest of the series is about: just regular people expressing their love for others. There is a lot of depth in this piece, from the calm waters to the person enjoying a dip, and lastly to the beautiful weather in the background. 

Thraximundar (by Robbie Trevino)

Although the regular Thraximundar was just reprinted in Double Masters 2, this Party Hard, Shred Harder Secret Lair version boasts some of the most jaw-dropping artwork ever seen on a Magic card.

It was part of the heavy metal theme that tied in with the release of Kaldheim – a nordic-themed set – in 2020. The artwork by Robbie Trevino features sharp, warped fonts with lots of jagged edges, and there’s always a use for smoke and fire symbols in heavy metal. 

Trevino has done a whole bunch of art for other Magic cards, many in different art styles (including Thraximundar), showing amazing depth in his illustration skills. 

Frantic Search (by Marija Tiurina)

Even if one has never seen a Magic card, they must have seen the chaotically beautiful scenes in the Where’s Wally series of activity books. Combine those 2 concepts and you have Fblthp: Totally Lost – beautiful art with a crazy amount of detail art, on a small piece of cardboard real estate.

The entire Fblthp series was done by Marija Tiurina, and marks her first foray into the Magic franchise. Her work in the video game industry is well known for intricate and well-crafted details, and is a masterpiece in this Secret Lair. If the small card size doesn’t do her work justice, you can actually combine all 5 different cards into a panorama.

Dismember (by Martin Ansin)

This entire Monster Movie Marathon Secret Lair drop is a homage to old movie posters from the mid 20th century, filled with exaggerated perspectives and highly dramatic expressions on character faces. 

Of the 4 cards in the series, Dismember caught our eye simply because of the prominence of the evil doctor and his bone saw on the art. As these are borderless treatments, artist Martin Ansin really made the most use of all the extra space. 

None of that space was wasted either, with Ansin making sure to include a dismembered (oops) arm, and a poor lady in shock. The rest of the series, featuring Beast Within, Blasphemous Act, and Grafdigger’s Cage are all done by Ansin and should be admired as well! 

Snow-Covered Pixel Lands (by Jubilee)

Our only Land in our best Secret Lair art series was a tough choice. There’ve been multiple Secret Lair drops featuring just Basic Lands, including the infamous “text-only” Lands that as you would have guessed contains no art. 

But these Piexelsnowlands.jpg by artist Jubilee exemplifies how much Wizards of the Coast have shifted their perspective on what should be Magic art. The pixelated form proves that technology and digital techniques are fast becoming accepted to both publishers and players.

Even the card text is pixelated and they’ve cheekily added in the Minimise, Maximise, and Close buttons you normally see in a Windows programme. Pixelsnowlands.jpg is groundbreaking and one can stare at the cards for a while. 

Brain Freeze (by Rorubei)

Brain Freeze and the rest of the cards in this manga-inspired Kaito Shizuki Secret Lair is by Japanese artist Rorubei. The inking and colours are gorgeous, not to mention the dynamic poses just make the art pop out that much more.

Japanese culture has had an increasingly influence in Magic art as of late, from the Ukiyo-E Lands to the War of the Spark anime Planeswalkers.

Kaito Shizuki is also a very underrated Planeswalker and to see him here in full slashing mode does take the phrase Brain Freeze to a different level.

Counterspell (by Mateus Manhanini)

If you’ve ever wondered how a splash of paint can turn into a masterpiece, then look no further than Mateus Manhanini’s Far Out, Man Secret Lair series. Each card is a beautiful blend of colour swishes, but it is Counterspell that we feel deserves special mention.

The eye is drawn toward the spellcaster, thanks to the waves and energy field that form a pseudo-border in this otherwise borderless card. Once there, appreciate the contrast between her looking away, and the other hand waving off the feeble attack. Completely befitting of blue players!

Mulldrifter (by Aliya)

Our youngest artist on this list is someone you probably haven’t heard of before. That’s because Aliya is only 5 years old! The Extra Life Secret Lair invited 5 little ones to contribute sketches, which were later on used as inspiration for established Magic artists to create new artwork.

So while there are 2 versions of Mulldrifter out there (the sketch by Aliya, and the other by 41-year-old Magali Villeneuve), it is Aliya’s depiction of a smiling fish that has us quietly grinning inside. From squiggly lines to depict the water, to the off-centre placing of its mouth, Mulldrifter is a clear example of how imperfection can actually make things even more beautiful.

“Be you, be free. Live happily!”

Arcane Signet (by Dan Frazier)

Drawing still objects and imbuing a sense of mysticism in them has always been challenging, but the de facto master of Artifacts Dan Frazier hit the nail again with this Secret Lair series of Signets.

Arcane Signet is the gem here because of its elaborate design incorporating all 5 colours of Magic, and it actually plays tribute to the 5 original Mox Artifacts that he drew way back in the early 1990s. You can easily spot Mox Sapphire, Mox Pearl and Mox Emerald dangling on the bottom, while Mox Ruby and Mox Jet help hold of the pieces together.

If there’s a piece of Magic art that could be worn and turned into fashion, Arcane Signet would be the perfect showpiece.

Goblin Lackey (by Mike Uziel)

While it is getting increasingly common to see computer-generated 3D renditions on Magic cards these days (see the upcoming Fortnite crossover), it all started years ago with the Explosion Sounds Secret Lair, featuring iconic illustrations by Art Director and character designer Mike Uziel.

Goblin Lackey and the others in his gang look like they were lifted right out of a computer game, complete with digital paint, perfect curves and straight lines. Goblin Lackey holds a special place because it combines humour with bombastic action – who wouldn’t love a baby Goblin (complete with pacifier and teddy bear) hurling a bomb at you while dodging another explosion?

This magnificent art captures so many treasured gaming moments in a single piece of art, and many Magic players can relate as they draw a winning spell off the top of their deck.

See Mike Uriel work on his creations:

Protean Hulk (by Timba Smits)

We know Magic defies reason, but even so, there’s a science behind basic Creatures. The Monster Academy 101 Secret Lair drop was a tongue-in-cheek look into the anatomy of some of our most treasured Creatures in Magic.

Protean Hulk is a mainstay in many green Commander decks, and what artist Timba Smits did was to draw cross sections of different body part, showing how their special abilities came out, and what are their strength. It’s very much like taking a page off a DK (Dorling Kindersley) reference book that most kids (and adults) have read before.

Sure, it’s not scientific rigour at the slightest, but Smits has illustrated pretty much what no other Magic artist has ventured into, and that makes this Protean Hulk art virtually unforgettable.

End Step

If you’ve gotten this far, then there’s definitely a card on your mind that you’re disappointed for not seeing here. We want to know what it is! Drop us an email, or you can also leave comments on our YouTube channel.

Ted

After playing from Tempest to Urza's Saga block, Ted took a 20 year break from the game before returning to the classic Plane of Dominaria in 2018. His favourite formats are Commander, Draft, and, grudgingly, Standard.

Ted

After playing from Tempest to Urza's Saga block, Ted took a 20 year break from the game before returning to the classic Plane of Dominaria in 2018. His favourite formats are Commander, Draft, and, grudgingly, Standard.

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