Magic: The Gathering – The Best Art From The Winter 2023 Secret Lair Superdrop
With every Secret Lair Superdrop in Magic: The Gathering comes a bevy of new ways to enjoy classic cards, with new artwork and formatting that defies expectations and, in some cases, belief. The Winter 2023 Superdrop is no exception, bringing with it a suite of designs that stray so far outside the box that they leave the box a distant memory.
Every piece in the Superdrop is remarkable in one way or another, but some slap you round the face, be it with audacity or quality, harder than others. Here are our top picks: the pieces we’d hang on the wall of our own Secret Lair.
10 Massacre Girl, By Tsubonari
Part of the City Styles drop, which reimagines cards in an urban setting, this rendition of the Rakdos (black/red) icon Massacre Girl is shown slashing up an arcade rather than the streets of Ravnica. Tsubonari leans into the Japanese trope of the gleeful, ruthless femme fatale here, the titular central figure regarding her recent murders with a nonchalant grin.
The contrast of her shadowy, anonymous victims against the brightly-lit arcade, and the way the light glints off her bloody knife, literally slicing through the scene, are both brilliant touches. However, the pièce de résistance is the boba tea Massacre Girl sips as she goes about her wicked work — a detail that brings some twisted humour to the scene.
9 Seshiro The Anointed, By NIARKI
An incredibly vibrant piece, this take on Kamigawa’s legendary Snake Monk brings a new, colourful dimension to the character. The way the bright oranges of the background fade into yellows, which then segue into the yellows on Seshiro himself, give the whole piece a kind of consistent gradient.
Beyond mastery of colour, the piece also leans playfully into the Snake theme of the drop, giving Seshiro a bow and arrows that are also snakes. This is a welcome bit of levity in a piece where, thanks to the bold colours and arrows jutting from Seshiro’s body, a fairly serious tone dominates.
8 Deafening Silence, By Rope Arrow
One of Rope Arrow’s hand-drawn, hand-written pieces, Deafening Silence is a chilling adaptation of an already unsettling card. The only real object depicted here is a lone Phyrexian, bringing its finger to its lips in an uncharacteristically playful gesture. This subversion alone sends a shiver down the spine, but it’s the smaller details elsewhere that really seal the deal.
The blood-like splatters that make up the background, the watchful eyes that sit alongside the Phyrexian as an implicit threat, and the mysterious creeping twine on the right — all of these come together to create a piece that, despite its use of colour, is anything but bright.
7 Ice-Fang Coatl, By Crocodile Jackson
Crocodile Jackson has contributed to Magic’s Secret Lair before, with his dedicated Monstrous Menagerie Drop back in 2021. He brings his signature style back in force for this version of Ice-Fang Coatl, which depicts the skybound Snake in a glorious new light.
The legitimately scary design of the creature itself, with its forked tongue and needle fangs, is counterbalanced perfectly by the humorous design of the unfortunate victim on the left. The fact that the Coatl is using an icicle as a weapon when it has literal Ice-Fangs of its own is also a wonderfully silly touch that elevates the piece even further.
6 Rin And Seri, Inseparable, By Paul Mafayon
Channelling the childhood memories of those old enough to remember Magic’s inception, the 90s Binder Experience Drop is one of the most striking in the Winter 2023 Superdrop. With these cards, Paul Mafayon evokes a simpler, more colourful time, perhaps best of all with his take on Rin and Seri, Inseparable.
Possibly referencing the 1998 animated series CatDog, this card is an explosion of colour and joy. Everyone in the piece, from the title characters reclining in a meadow, to the sunflowers swaying around them, has a huge smile on their face; a smile that will undoubtedly spread to you as you soak in the impeccable vibes of this piece.
5 Braid Of Fire, By Sam Burley
While Secret Lair cards are usually reserved for more experimental artwork, sometimes they can play host to excellent traditional Magic art as well. This is certainly the case with Sam Burley’s Braid of Fire; while it wouldn’t look out of place in a Standard set, it doesn’t look out of place in a Secret Lair, either.
Showing a powerful sorcerer enlisting aid from a pair of Dragons, This piece has a sense of grandeur that the original Braid lacked. The stellar use of lighting, and the considered symmetry of the piece, combine to create art that would look just as good on a metal album as it does on this card.
4 Bruna, Light Of Alabaster, By Rope Arrow
It’s easy to fall back on superlatives when discussing Secret Lair art, but ‘stunning’ is really the only word worthy of being applied to Rope Arrow’s take on Bruna, Light of Alabaster. The piece astonishes not just with its composition and use of colour, but also with the way it playfully rearranges the core components of a Magic card.
Dark, billowing clouds serve as an excellent backdrop, while streaks of light provide a fitting canvas for Bruna’s name and typing. The way her mana cost spreads out from her staff like a spell in itself, and the way in which her abilities seem to be sky-written across the bottom of the card, are genius touches that cement this card as a highlight in a stacked lineup.
3 Goreclaw, Terror Of Qal Sisma, By Paul Mafayon
Likely inspired by the ’90s Care Bear craze, this take on the green legend probably wins the award for ‘Most Jarring Contrast Between Name And Artwork’ on a Magic card. Rather than rampaging through a battle, Goreclaw is shown at rest here, napping on a half-moon while his cubs swim around in the surrounding space.
The rainbow trail, half-eaten doughnut and smiling cupcake all reinforce the saccharine feel of the piece, but brilliant reminders of Goreclaw’s true ferocity remain in the scar on his face, and the severe black claws on his hands and feet; Even in cartoon space, this is one Bear you don’t want to mess with.
2 Phyrexian Unlife, By Dominik Mayer
As, essentially, an extension of a theme found in Standard set Phyrexia: All Will Be One, there was a chance that the Step-and-Compleat Edition wouldn’t impress as much as the rest of the Winter 2023 Superdrop. Any such concerns immediately fade away when you see Dominik Mayer’s take on Phyrexian Unlife, however.
It’s a stark, simple piece, showing a vague white figure being swept away in a tide of darkness, raising their hands in desperate protest of their predicament. Despite a complete lack of facial details, the piece manages to convey the existential terror of being afflicted with Phyrexian Unlife, making us feel for a character we can barely even see.
1 Stonecoil Serpent, By Laynes
A truly wild take on a previously-unremarkable card, it’s hard to know where to start when discussing Laynes’ version of Stonecoil Serpent. It’s probably best to address the naked, impaled man in the room first; as the centre point of the piece, it immediately impresses with its audacity, the man’s ‘rock on’ hand gestures cementing the piece’s overall sense of punk absurdity.
Beyond this, though, there are a huge number of incidental details: spinning buzz-saws, quivering eyes, spike balls, jail cells, Mario-esque piranha plants; an entire game’s worth of hazards crammed into a single Serpent. It’s an unforgettable piece, and one of the clear highlights of the Winter 2023 Secret Lair Superdrop.
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