The Art of Magic: The Gathering

Without any hesitation, I would classify myself as a gamer. I remember playing Pong on the Atari 2600, grew up alongside the original Nintendo Entertainment System, and progressed through several other video game consoles, board games, tabletop games, and card games.

I also willingly admit to being a visual person. I am magnetically drawn to the beauty of landscapes, people, and especially the many different forms of art that exist throughout the world. My love for artwork stems from a number of artists behind the visuals of the legendary collectible trading card game, Magic: The Gathering created by Richard Garfield and published by Wizards of the Coast, now parented by Hasbro.

I started playing Magic: The Gathering when I was about 13-years-old, that was the era known as the “Tempest Block”. The design of the cards themselves went through some small changes as you can see here:

Even though it is hard to tell, the borders around the artwork are slightly softer in color and detail from Knight of Dawn (left) to Paladin en-Vec (right). The expansion symbols went through a few changes that helped with the collectibility and valuation of cards as well. The thundercloud with lightning represents the Tempest expansion but, nothing else. The bridge represents the Exodus expansion and also the cards rarity, gold denoting this is a rare card.

You can also see that the placement of the illustrator’s name and year of the card’s printing are re-aligned to the center. Giving the artists a far more appropriate credit to their work and their overall importance to the game.

The artwork for Magic: The Gathering started out as rather juvenile, unfortunately. The kind of stuff you could probably see drawn all over the notebook covers of your High School classmates. Nothing spectacular but, you could bear to look at it. As the game grew in popularity and the money started to roll in, the quality of the artwork gained in strides.

The first artist that came to mind when thinking of the one that stamped this change in quality and quickly became one of my favorite artists from Magic: The Gathering is Donato Giancola.


Essence Bottle01
Essence Bottle, Tempest, Artist: Donato Giancola


This is the first illustration I can remember seeing from Donato Giancola. This is where my love for his artwork begins. Even at this quality, you can see the knuckles and even the fingernails without having to strain your eyes or look closer.

The details in the bottle itself make me believe it is, in fact, a bottle full of the essence of life.

The true artistry of Donato Giancola always shows in the hands he illustrates. A difficult thing to capture any artist will attest to.

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Outside of showcasing his mastery of hands, Donato can show very intricate details.

Spore Frog01
Spore Frog, Prophecy,  Artist: Donato Giancola

This next illustration is a perfect example of how intricate Donato can be.

Dismiss, Tempest, Artist: Donato Giancola

If you look closely, you can see that the incoming spell is manifested as an aquatic stream of screaming faces crashing into an invisible shield.

These two cards showcase Donato’s work very well and they have an interesting backstory as well. One year separates the release of these two cards and they both found their way onto the at the time shortlist of banned cards in what was once known as Type 1 play format. Megrim deals 2 damage to any opponent when they discard a card, combine that with Memory Jar’s ability to force your opponent to discard 7 cards, that totals up to 14 damage total. You start out at 20 life total in Magic.

As previous works have begun to show, Donato has a penchant for drawing faces as well.

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Hisoka, Minamo Sensei showing a very stern look. He and his people in Kamigawa under endless attacks.

Kindle, the pain of being set ablaze from the raining firestorm.

Fyndhorn Elder, pondering his and the Elvish council’s next move.

Donato Giancola is an artist for sure, he brought an entirely new level of artistry to a game that only grew in popularity due in part to the stunning visuals brought to life. I can name almost every single one of these cards and tell you what their effects are in-game, just from the illustrations alone. That is a mark of true art is it not? If you’re not convinced at this point, I leave you with the final piece-de-resistance of Mr. Donato Giancola.


Brink of Madness01
Brink of Madness, Urza’s Legacy, Artist: Donato Giancola


All artwork shown is the work of Donato Giancola, with the exception of Knight of Dawn, (Artist: Ron Spencer) and Paladin en-Vec (Artist: Randy Elliot)

All photos are from Gatherer, the official Magic: The Gathering Card Database. Search for the perfect addition to your deck. Browse through cards from Magic’s entire history. See cards from the most recent sets and discover what players are saying about them. Find it at



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