Welcome to a brand new column here on ChannelFireball, Riley Ranks! Each week, I’ll be counting down top five lists of all sorts of things to do with Magic. If you’ve got an idea for a list topic, I’d love to hear it – head over to Twitter and let me know at @RLYKNGHT what you’d like to see in future weeks!
This week, I’m counting down the top five most prolific artists in Magic. It’s not often that you can be definitive with Magic art, or indeed art in general. Any evaluation and ranking of art-related subjects is usually inherently subjective. Not today, however – cold, hard, numbers back this list up, and without wanting to sound too clickbaity, I legitimately was amazed by number one. Let’s get to it!
Zoltan Boros comes in at number five, with a total of 286 cards. Boros’s portfolio has a little bit of everything – Commander classics like Avenger of Zendikar and Felidar Sovereign, Modern cards like Copperline Gorge and the updated Remand, and if you’ve ever been cheesed out on Magic Arena by Conspicuous Snoop or Improbable Alliance, you’ve got Boros to thank for the images that haunt your nightmares.
Appropriately enough, Boros’s first Magic art appeared in Ravnica: City of Guilds, back in 2005, and he’s contributed to sets all the way through to Time Spiral Remastered, updating cards like Angel’s Grace. However, Boros’s connection to Ravnica is strong, and the ten charms printed in Return to Ravnica are all his work. For many like me, who joined the game around that time, these cards helped characterize the plane, along with evocative art like Grisly Spectacle and Massive Raid, all which helped the world come to life.
— Riley Knight (@RLYKNGHT) September 3, 2020
With 286 cards in 16 years – almost 18 a year – Boros is an impressively prolific Magic artist. Plus, he illustrated Song-Mad Treachery, which in my book is enough to get him on any top five artist list.
Greg Staples has been around for a long time. His first Magic work was showcased in 1998, all the way back in Urza’s Saga. Since then, he’s illustrated 288 cards spanning over two decades, with some of his most famous cards, like Living End, reappearing in Time Spiral Remastered. Throughout his entire career, however, there is no shortage of instantly-recognizable pieces.
2002 Invitational winner Jens Thoren was immortalized by Staples as Solemn Simulacrum and Merfolk all-star Merrow Reejerey and Modern hate piece Gaddock Teeg are both the work of Staples. Wizards also turned to Staples to update the art on some ancient cards, resulting in the updated Hypnotic Specter and Stone Rain. Perhaps Staples’ most recognizable work, however, is a card only recently reprinted into Standard, Baneslayer Angel, which lives a relatively quiet life these days after defining Standard a decade ago.
Pipping Greg Staples at the post is Pete Venters, who has 289 cards to Staples’ 288. These two are neck-and-neck, although Venters isn’t as active these days. Before last year, his most recent original piece was Goblin Fireslinger from M12. More recently, however, Venters returned to Magic to illustrated Commander Legends’ Sengir, the Dark Baron promo – only appropriate, given he illustrated the original Baron Sengir from 1995’s Homelands.
Plenty of other iconic cards were illustrated by Venters too. Cube staple Survival of the Fittest, the last best hope of Twin players, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and the original Ensnaring Bridge were all done by him. Interestingly too, two of the most famous storm finishers share Venters as their artist – both Legacy’s Tendrils of Agony and Modern’s Grapeshot.
Despite only debuting his Magic art in 2010’s Zendikar, Velinov has quickly become one of Magic’s most productive artists, with a staggering 298 cards in just over a decade. If you’ve played Magic actively within the last 10 years, there’s only the tiniest chance you haven’t cast a card illustrated by Velinov – he’s responsible for the art on powerful spells across a bunch of formats.
Legacy’s Toxic Deluge, Modern’s Abrupt Decay and even Standard staples Gemrazer and Phoenix of Ash are all the work of Velinov. There’s even old powerhouses like Thundermaw Hellkite and Thought-Knot Seer, banned cards like Preordain and the list goes on. Velinov seems to really like painting Goblins, as he’s done everything from Goblin Chainwhirler to Goblin Rabblemaster to the supremely masterful Brash Taunter.
Velinov’s numbers are incredible – almost 300 cards in ten years – but he’s got a lot of work to do to catch up to number one on this list, let me tell you…
There’s a reason I said I was amazed by number one – Kev Walker is the most prolific Magic artist by a country mile, with over 50 percent more pieces than Velinov in second. Walker’s Magic work first appeared in 1996, with the release of Mirage, and since then he just hasn’t stopped. His most recent additions join us are in Time Spiral Remastered, and not all of them involve reprinted art – Logic Knot has a brand new Kev Walker look!
Unsurprisingly, with a portfolio this large, there are plenty of famous cards that Walker has illustrated, both old and new. You can go all the way back to City of Traitors and Deranged Hermit, or right up to the last couple of years with Field of the Dead and Lovestruck Beast.
In addition to these, some truly iconic Magic cards owe their look to Kev Walker. Lightning Helix, for example, or the card that was so powerful and complex that someone wrote a book about it: Gush, are just two staples that Walker can be attributed to. Finally, there’s a pair of connected cards that are instantly recognizable to any diehard Magic fan, one reflecting the other, made all the more compelling by Walker’s approach to their art: Damnation and Wrath of God.
It’s nice to have a bit of unambiguous certainty with a topic like art and today, we’ve achieved exactly that. Even if, like me, you’re too much of a coward to get into a subjective argument about who your favorite Magic artist is (Adam Paquette, don’t @ me), you’re now at least armed with some cold, hard, data!