Thursday, 29 April 2021

An Ode to Basics



Inspired by the good work of Rhystic Studies I wanted to try and do an article on the aesthetic of the game (although mostly I just made a list). In such an attempt I was always going to pay homage to one of my favourite aspects of the game - the lands. When I build a cube deck I chose all the spells and non-basics as best I can for the task at hand of winning. I then also choose the basic lands based on the feel of the deck. I curate my basics for no reason other than the aesthetic. 




I have tried to collect one version of each basic land art, generally original. You know, because this is cube and we have one of all the good things. Originally I was a snob and only had the old framed lands but there were just too many sumptuous new art only found with the new frame and so now I am the proud owner of a near complete set of basic lands for full artistic customization potential of my decks. I love a nice mono deck because I get to run huge numbers of basic lands and really express the deck at hand! 

I don't exactly know what I like so much about the lands. Perhaps it is that they are in play most and are sometimes all you have to look at. Perhaps it is that they evoke a setting for the narrative of the game. These are the locations of the events taking place. I don't just summon my creatures, I summon them into a local environment I am occupying that is represented by the lands I have. Perhaps it is how they are so calm and often real amidst a game of conflict, action, and straight up fantasy magic. Lands are grounding in several ways and they may be appreciated for what they are both in and out of the context of Magic. 




I love the way new planes are expressed through their basic lands. I also love the range on lands from images you would expect to commonly find across the Earth, to those that are more exotic but still realistic, to completely fantastical landscapes forged of metal, or defying gravity, ones depicted as urban areas analogous to the natural counterparts, ones that are more representations, or indeed the truly fantastical ones. I like the subtle little cameos of critters, the background hints of events and storyline. I just find land art more evocative than most of the magic spell art. Most of the spell art is great but it can be a bit jarring, a lot is going on in cube and things don't always mesh together in an artistic sense. The lands are generally more easily imagined existing together. As such I find that they frame the game and events for me much more directly than the spells which need a little more imagination to appreciate sometimes.

I plan to show off my collection of lands. Part proof of madness. Part to document. Part to show and share. Partly as I couldn't find a list of land collated together like this when I was trying to collect them so perhaps this will be of use to someone else undertaking silly collections! Partly it is to show the state of the cards. Many of these I opened when these sets were on sale nearing on three decades ago. Many I will have played un-sleeved, stored in a shoe box in the loft of multiple houses. I shall try to show them as chronologically as possible. My research into this will not be exhaustive so don't take my word on it but here I shall post all the land arts in the game. A few of those used to decorate this introduction are ones I am yet to pick up.




Apologies for the substantial glare on many of the images. I am good with neither photography or technology... If you look at the glared out cards at an angle or with brightness right down they are actually pretty clear. That is all I have got sorry. The best way to look at the art for all the basics is to do a search for "Plains" on Cardmarket.com and show all versions. You will get some duplicates, the chronology isn't perfect, and you can only view one type at a time but they do have all the versions. I am sure Gatherer and Scryfall can do the same as well somehow but I found them less user friendly in my research. 

So, starting at the start. The original alpha/beta basics are iconic. They were the only lands for a long time and are like thumbnails, symbols, or icons, more than anything else. They have a delightfully dingy old feel to them like a leather-bound tome hundreds of years old. Mostly these are FBB cards which is 4th Edition rather than Alpha/Beta. They are just the only other versions of these with the same black border. The Mountain bottom left is the only Alpha land here, or indeed, Alpha card that I own. There are a handful of Beta cards here too. 

After a couple of years with only the original lands we then the Ice Age lands and our first iteration of snow-lands. This is when I started playing and so these are booster fresh... via snotty little kid and many a year of love and abuse.  






Here we have Mirage lands, the first promo lands (Arena) and the first new art for a core set in 5th Edition. Lots of exploration of panoramics and seasonal changes in these offerings. I love the warmth in these lands in contrast to the dinge and cold of the previous lands. The 5th Edition lands remain some of the few you cannot get with a black border, certainly with this framing (I wouldn't be shocked if at least some had cropped up in a new frame here or there). Border colour was another thing I used to be a snob about and have entirely changed my tune on over the years.




Here we have some Portal lands and the Tempest set lands. Portal lands have long been a personal favourite. They have that nice generic feel allowing you to play them in most settings without looking out of place and they have a nice bright summery feel to them inviting you in. The tempest lands on the other hand are highly stylized and showcase Rath, a first as previous lands either had no specific plane or were Dominaria based. I play the Tempest lands infrequently and often as a set of 4. The forests feel quite Eldrazi green, the Plains are a very shadow black-white look. The mountains are spikey and suggest goblins. These are the kinds of places most likely to get the Tempest land treatment. 






And here we have Urza's Lands and the APAC lands. I think these are a little out of order and should have both Unglued lands and Portal 2nd Age before the Urzas set lands. The APAC lands contain a number of my all time favourite lands and is a concept I love and hope they revisit. Who wouldn't love vagina tree? You will note missing cards, all three APAC islands, late comers to the collection will be featured at the end. In their place on this slide you will note two odd lands most people will have never before seen. These are Simplified Chinese Alternate Art cards for a Portal Release in China. For some reason it was required to do new art (and a weird looking set symbol) for all the basic lands except the swamps so there are 16 (four of each non-swamp) of these. They are pricey and rare and so I have not worked very hard on collecting the set, having just the two to represent thus far. The remaining 14 represent the bulk of the lands I do not have in the collection. Urza's Lands are another somewhat stylized set of lands with potential glimpses of Serra and Phyrexia. 
 



 

Next up Portal 2nd Age, Portal 3 Kingdoms and the Unglued Lands. Unglued gave us the first full art basics and a pretty instant hit with the community overall. As mentioned, I think the Urza's lands should be after the full arts and before the white bordered lands if we are trying to be chronological. I love the Portal 3 Kingdoms art, in particular the mountains. Those are partly responsible for the breaking down of some of my snobbery towards white borders. The 2nd Age and the Unglued do a good job of being really generic on-brand lands making them appear in many builds.  

 



Next up Masques and the Euro lands - a repeat of the APAC idea with a change of continental setting. Masques lands I don't love, they feel like they lack cohesion, they don't take me to a place or give me a good idea of what it is about. I like some of the pictures lots but overall it would rank among my least favourite lands as a set. Euro lands however a big hit and sit just below the APAC lands at the other end of the spectrum. They are quite gentle lands and are easy to play. I have had them a long time and played them in many decks. They were some of my very first promo cards and they have been suitably treasured as such.





These are the Guru Lands, Invasion, and 7th Edition. The Guru are fakes given to me by someone taking pity on my quest to collect the basics knowing full well I couldn't bring myself to invest in them. They are the priciest of all the lands you could use although mint alpha and beta do seem to be catching them at an alarming rate. A set of five will put you back about two thousand dollars (very roughly). They are lovely but they are hard to justify! Invasion lands are odd, again like Masques, they seem a bit disjointed however I do like a lot more of them individually a lot more keeping it off the lowest tiers of land sets. It has the infamous "turd island" as well. And some delightful swamp critters. 6th Edition treated us only to art reprints so 7th went all out and brought new art available in foil or non-foil with block or white borders respectively. I have a set of both because, as we covered, I am clearly not quite right in the head. I should have photographed the white boarder versions as warping, foils, and sleeves, are reflecting too much and making for bad pictures. Apparently I needed to show off... 7th foils were serious bling at the time and so these have always felt special too. In many ways 7th foils are the original Masterpieces. 




Lastly for the lands you can get in the old frame we have these two sets from Odyssey and Onslaught along with the last years worth of Arena promo lands in done in this frame. An Arena promo set had been released every year from the first offerings in Mirage but until this one they all had reprints of old art on them just in foil. I like a lot of the lands in this slide for various reasons but equally I dislike a bunch too and so I rarely play these as sets. I rate them a little above the Invasion lands overall. The old frame lands in these first 8 slides were the only lands I had in my cube for a very long time and as such have all had vastly more play than newer bordered lands. I would love to know how much mana these lands have tapped for under my ownership, it would be a lot of mana! 




Here is where the shift to new frames happens and it started in a really jarring way that put me off new border cards for a long long time. Not only had all lands up till this point shared a border type they had also generally shared a plane too. Mirrodin was so starkly different looking that these lands didn't fit in at all. To me they all still just look like artifact lands. 

A set of arena lands for the year to go with the Mirrodin lands and theme and another to go with Kamigawa the year after, both found at the bottom of the set lands. Kamigawa was lovely looking all round and the basics did not disappoint. Sadly, I didn't really use them much either simply down to the border looking out of place. I really needed new borders to outnumber old borders just so there were more options with them to become tempted into using them, that and revisiting some of the more distinct planes like Mirrodin to give more depth to those styles. Now that I can deck out a 40 card list in all Mirrodin or all Ravnica themed lands I like them a lot more. I don't need to theme my lands like that but not being able to does put me off a bit in the more distinctive styles.  

Lastly in this slide we have the second set of full art lands in the second silver border set in the Unhinged lands. Also very popular. 




Ravnica I also found a little jarring at the time of release like Mirrodin with these basic lands that didn't look like any others and didn't seem to fit in well when mixing and matching. They have aged really nicely and set themselves wonderfully in the Magic mythos. They allowed us to think of the land types in a more abstract and creative way and this is a huge win for the flavour overall. 

The final set of Arena lands added to the 20 basic lands from Ravnica, again found under the Ravnica set basics. Next are the Coldsnap snow covered basics, the first iteration of these in the new frame and only the second overall. At the time a refreshing return to the comfort of Dominaria. 

Time Spiral was the next set and it returned to the classic format of four new lands per colour per main set. Replacing the Arena lands came the MPS series which did follow the theme of the lands in that year's main set. As you can see, the Island and Swamp from the first of these sets are two of my missing few lands, and two of the more reasonably priced of those for that matter. The MPS series already contained some cards but they were all just reprints of Ravnica lands up till this point. Time Spiral basics have their own unique style again with quite desolate and bleak dark depictions akin to Tempest Rath lands. I do like the monolithic mountain columns and often pair them with Amonkhet lands. 




Next up we have the experimental shift in annual set releases from big small small to big small big small with Lorwyn and Shadowmoor. Two big sets means two sets of four land for each colour. Lorwyn has some of the most colourful and welcoming lands in all of magic. The MPS promo set for the year went with the Lorwyn land theme. Shadowmoor gave us more stylized lands with some more of those Rath vibes. 



Alara block next and it comes with a twist. Being five planes with a tri colour theme each the basic lands come in a set of their own each with two lands from the middle colour and one from either side. While this is a lovely flavour win it is a shame as there are some really cool things going on in these planes and we have so few lands from each to play with. The MPS series gave us another basic from the middle colour from each of the five planes featured in Alara block. I would love to see some more of these. It would be a lot of sets to individually visit Bant, Grixis, Jund, Naya, and Esper before the conflux but the lands would be worth it for me! 




Enter Zendikar, set of landfall and the first main set to come with full art lands. Zendikar boasts five art versions for each land type and offers them in both full and normal picture size. I have only the full art versions, I wonder how long it will be before I consider the normal ones missing and collect them too? Zendikar itself is another highly recognizable plane with hedrons and a strong defiance of gravity. 




Worldwake felt like a subset of Zendikar but was deemed a standalone and came with the basic lands to prove it. These lands are some of the most directly influenced by plot. I think all of these sets form panoramic images within their type. They are clearly on Zendikar but also clearly distinct. Even disregarding the fact that almost all my other lands from the plane are in full art form only! The exception to that are the MPS series from this year which are below the Worldwake cards but lacking the hedron alignment that is so distinctive of Worldwake.



Next up is a hodgepodge mix of over a decades worth of cards thanks to the chaos that is the base sets. Here we have M10 through to M21 stopping off at Origins. 8th through Xth edition had no new art but they started to put some drabs into new core sets from M10 onwards missing just one, perhaps two sets. Given the good sense and order with the basics in the main sets the methodology in the core sets is utterly baffling. Some sets come with no new art, some with a couple. Some with no new art in some colours and some in others. It just seems like they use random leftover art they have spare for them. I have covered up the set symbols here which I appreciate might be annoying. Sadly I gave up caring about having specifically the first core set printing of a land and was happy with any core set land with the same art. They did a lot of reprinting the new core set art lands in subsequent core sets. 

Origins lands are at the top and have a full set of mountains while lacking in other areas entirely. While one of the more extreme in this regard it is perhaps the only sensible reasoning in that it was trying to capture the planes upon which the various walkers originated. We hadn't even been to Kaladesh when Origins came out so a whole load of new mountains needed drawing up. Liliana on the other hand, coming from Dominaria, is spoiled for choice on swamps. M21 is perhaps the maddest with a single new swamp and all other basic lands being reprints of old art. Despite coming in dribs and drabs I do like a lot of these core set land arts. They are interesting and inviting and seem to stand out on their own. M10 came out just after Alara and so if I was doing this pile of cards from earliest point of release then it would be before all the Zendikar stuff. Other than the Origins stuff at the top it is vaguely chronological from top to bottom oldest to newest. There is also a bit of a gap in time as they stopped core sets at M15  for a few years. 




Here we start the era where we start to return to previously visited planes. Mirrodin first off and in a rare example of land art generosity each of the three associated sets came with land rather than just the typical first main set. This injection of 8 new arts really fleshed out the options if you wanted to theme your lands. I am especially fond of the New Phyrexia art. There are four from Scars of Mirrodin, then two each for Mirrodin Besieged and New Phyrexia, then finally to round it out the MPS promo series set in the plane.  




Innistrad next and this is where convention on lands starts to be more experimental with the main set only having 3 lands from each type rather than 4. Dark Ascension, the second set, gets no lands and then the final set, Avacyn Restored, gets a further three. There is a nice flavour in these lands with a before and after for each of three locations per land type. As you can see, I was missing one of the forests (cheap old random things are surprisingly hard to source sensibly). The seventh set of lands are the final MPS promo series. 




Firing through years now with few promos and a mere four lands per sets that took up a whole year. Below are all we got for two whole years with Return to Ravnica and our first visit to Theros. I do love the look of the Theros lands, distinctive yet easily able to blend with others. They all just look like nice places to be. 




The next set cycle take us to the plane of Tarkir. I think there is a throwback to the style of Alara lands with the theming being across types and showcasing the wedge colours of the Khanates. I'm not 100% sure which goes where is the thing or how they are organized. A very diverse looking plane with jungles, deserts, cold bits etc. so as to give each wedge more identity. Another place I hope to return to so we get more lands showing us the plane! 




Back to Zendikar next and as before that comes with full art as well as conventional options. I have only the former to show. Very Zendikar. There are Wastes too (although images at end for them), a new basic type, and not an overly useful one to the singleton players although they have seen some action. This marks the start of a short period of going for big set little set twice in a year like Lorwyn/Shadowmoor somewhat piloted. This means we got more basics!




From Zendikar we move to Shadows Over Innistrad with the typical shadowy landscapes found there and then on to Kaladesh with some whacky swirly lands. Both only packing three unique art per type. I guess given what it was replacing we are still up two lands from set releases on the whole (2x3 > 1x4) but somehow it also feels like we are missing some! Kaladesh is vey hard to represent in a deck with so few lands from there. Luckily energy decks which command that the most are many colours and pack relatively few basic lands! 




Here we have a motley collection of things. A rare offering of new art from a Commander product. I think these first came out in C16 but these are the C17 printings. Then we have two cycles of Standard Showdown Promo cards which include some of my very favourite art. 

Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation each gave us a full art land cycle with the distinctive Bolas horns in them. They gave a before and after the Devastation insight. They should be with the respective sets on the next slide but got put here for space reasons. Chronologically this slide is a bit all over the place. 



Here we have the Amonkhet slide proper. The bottom two rows are Hour of Devastation lands and the middle three rows are Amonkhet ones. The top two rows are another before and after depiction with Bolas horns that come from Archenemy: Nicol Bolas. This I believe is the only mini set like this which contains new land art. So, despite just the one visit to the plane over two sets we actually have a fairly high number of lands representing it. Three times that of Kaladesh roughly (I say this as Origins gave us four Mountains from there but no others, there is also a Magic Fest Promo Plains from Kaladesh but then also an Amonkhet Swamp) for the same time spent on the plane as it were. I think there is so much land art from Amonkhet as they wanted to showcase the changes due to the storyline. Kaladesh events had little impact on the landscapes hence fewer offerings?




Ixalan below with some colourful locations. Four sets from from the main set and a single from Explorers. I am rather undecided on Ixalan lands on the whole, I love the exotic lush feel of them however I do not know what I think about the more CGI look some of them have. The Unstable full art lands at the bottom giving us the third Un-set lands after a long break from the silver bordered sets and their popular full art lands. 




Dominaria marks the start of a move towards single self contained sets and also returns us to our most visited plane. It offers diverse art with little hints towards historic events. Some epic scenes and the feeling of a story to tell. I am a big fan of these lands and rate it very highly as far as sets of lands rather than individual art. There is gravitas here. 





Another mixed bag of lands here. Battlebond, Global Series Jiang Yanggu and Mu Yanling, Standard Showdown Promo (version 2) and the Grand Prix Promos. The Global Series comes without a swamp which is a shame as these lands are exquisite looking. Battlebond lands are contained within a massive arena, a nod to the Roman games. The Grand Prix lands are distinctive but I have no clue where they are supposed to be.




Guilds of Ravnica and Ravnica Allegiance lands below. These came out in an unusual way. Each set had five normal lands, the top and bottom row. Then the Guildkits gave us four more of each basic land type, each specifically depicting a different guild in which they are part of the colour pie. You have a Dimir, Izzet, Simic and Azorius option on an island and they have an etched background on the text box showing the guild symbol along with it in the set symbol space just in case the art was not enough to clue you in as to what is supposed to be where. Each guild ends up with two lands, one of each of the basics from their colours. I love this and can't believe it took them three trips to the plane to cotton on to this being the way to do lands from the set. It is possible it was done before but without drawing any real attention to which lands are supposed to represent which guilds. Great flavour and lands I frequently use as a result. I hope we see more of this kind of thing in the future when it comes to guilds and other multicolour themes. Alara block somewhat started the trend but Guilds of Ravnica took it to the next level.  




War of the Spark was the next set and it was essentially a stand alone despite being on the same plane as the previous set. There are only three versions for each land type. The lands are a bit odd as they are clearly Ravnica lands but they don't quite fit in with them as there is more in the way of storyline and action in these. Modern Horizons brings us the first, and presently only, full art snow-covered land. At that time only the third version of snow-covered lands. The next line contains the Core 2020: Extras basics which have a silver foil stamp in the art box. The final line contains Version 1 MagicFest Promo lands. These give us a Kaladesh Plains, a Ravnica Forest, an Amonkhet Swamp, an Ixalan Island, and a Dominaria Mountain. The first promo cycle to spread across multiple planes. I like the art but I dislike the asymmetry and would rather a more even spread, especially given how few lands we have from some of those planes. Compared to the M core sets however this is very small fry stuff!  




Throne of Eldraine and Theros Beyond Death here. Throne is a nice standard four of each type kind of deal. Some delightful fairy tale dioramas. Lots of intrigue in these pictures. One of my all time favourite sets of lands, fitting for a set as powerful as it was. Theros Beyond Death went for something a bit different with just the singly cycle of full art Nyx lands in the main set. In the extras you could find 2 of each basic land type with a cool nod to the storyline of the set with epic pillars of the underworld and bindings of the titans to be found in some of the pictures. The overall result is quite the departure from the original feel of the Theros lands.




Ikoria is the main set up next with it's distinctive crystals lodged in the landscapes. A set with just the three cycles of types. New enough that I have still not finished it off, the final swamp should be in the post! Ikoria lands are interesting and lush looking but do stick out rather with their very alien vibe. The top row is the full art lands from the Unsanctioned box set. The perfect place to trial out some rather cartoon surreal looks. The bottom row are the Godzilla lands from the Secret Lair Series. I have no intention to collect the Secret Lair cards in the same way as the other lands, I just don't want to commit to something so open. It could cost a lot and is not something I wish to encourage the company to do to much of. Much as I like a lot of the product I do not like the way it is sold. Even so, I managed to trade this set for an expansion to a boardgame I had wound up with two copies of. That felt like a win. I have also ordered the Bob Ross lands because they are so lovely but have no intention of getting the others that are out already or just spoiled. The purchasing process put me off the whole thing even more and so they are going to have to do even better than the Bob Ross lands next time if they want me to part with my money for Secret Lair stuff. I certainly won't be buying anything that isn't lands, that is for sure! 




Zendikar Rising are the full art lands on the bottom three rows, obviously only three cycles here. Very Zendikar with tumult and the gravity stuff. They do an impressive job of capturing the activity of the land. The top row are the "squirrel" lands from Unsanctioned. Each has some sort of hidden squirrel in the art. These should obviously also be on the previous slide with the full art lands from that same box set. The second row are the lands from Core 2021: Extras. Different planes on some as these are to go with the homeworlds of the planewalkers featured in the sets. The borders and art is so cool on these that I care not at all for this lack of symmetry. The 3rd row are another set of lands set on the Battlebond plane although these are the Version 2 MagicFest Promo lands.






Jumpstart exclusively on this slide. A juicy eight sets of each type, final two on the last slide. Highly diverse and fairly specific theming on a lot of these lands, some quite  fantastical. A nice way to really add a pinch of flavour and spice to your brews. These really cool land were let down a little by poor quality printing, at least on the versions I managed to pick up. Very grainy with more than a few streaky printing lines. 





Kaldheim is our final slide for the article and is as yet still missing the normal mountain. A nice boost to the number of snow-covered land options. Lovely to have a bit more depth in that department. The Kaldheim lands do a good job of looking like they are from the plane in question.  




Final slide thanks to me being slow. Full of odds and ends as I try and complete things. Really low res too. Top is 80% of the Kaldhiem non-snow basics. Next row is the APAC Islands and full art Wastes. Middle row is a couple of Secret Lair Snow-Covered and the missing bits from Jumpstart and Innistrad. The final two rows are the Bob Ross lands




So, what is missing. Mostly this was covered as we went through but not entirely. It is easy to spot a card missing from a set but when the whole set is absent that is rather less the case. To that end the original Judge Reward land set are missing. These are likely the 2nd most expensive five lands presently out there and are a full art panoramic set. Technically also the Guru lands are missing!

There are all the Secret Lair lands I do not have/could not have yet/do not want, which include; some of The Eldraine Wonderland Snow-Covered set. The Unfathomable Crushing Brutality of Basic Lands. The single Seb McKinnon Swamp in his artist feature set, and the full text lands which barely feel like they count. I certainly have zero interest in them as they lack my favourite part of the card. 

Then we have the 14 missing lands from the total 16 from the Simplified Chinese Alternate Art Portal release. The MPS v5 Swamp and Island as missing promo cards. The a random Ikoria Swamp. The Kaldheim Extra mountain. That accounts for all possible art variations on all the basic lands. About 240 sets total resulting in about 1200 unique land art, all be it not quite even across sets, slightly less plains etc. I am missing 30ish of the 1200ish total. I am still not quite past the 99% complete mark! Hobbies are good right?





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