Thanks to the desire to have the strongest deck possible, MTG players are always keen to know the best card. Any time a new set is released, this question is often on the tip of players’ tongues, however, answering it isn’t entirely easy. On cards such as Nissa, Resurgent Animist that is format warping-ly powerful. On the other hand, however, you have players who don’t want to play green. At the end of the day, MTG has a huge amount of subjectivity to it, no more so than with its art.
Ever since the first cave painting was scrawled into existence over 30,000 years ago, art has been an inherently subjective medium. Sure, some paintings can be famous or technically impressive, but these qualities don’t make them the best. Instead, thanks to personal tastes and opinions, people can genuinely call any piece of artwork their favorite.
As you might expect, this makes divining the best artwork of all time a rather difficult, effectively impossible feat. Thanks to a recent MTG set, however, we might just have an answer. For the MTG world, at least…
The Best MTG Art Treatment
Thanks to its multiversal themes, March of the Machine contained a lot of art. In fact, the set broke records by containing 18 unique card frames, more than any other set in history. While an interesting trivia fact in its own right, this smorgasbord of art has allowed for a lot of analysis. So much, in fact, that it seems it’s now possible to divine the best, or at least most popular, art style in the entire game.
Taking upon the monumental task of figuring this out was MTG content creator Cardboard by the Numbers. In a recent blog post, Cardboard by the Numbers ranked and compared all of March of the Machine’s showcase treatments – with math! To do this, Cardboard by the Numbers harnessed the infallible powers of capitalism and dissected the secondary MTG market.
Pulling prices from a variety of websites, such as TCGplayer, Cardboard by the Numbers was able to compare the price of cards against their showcase variants. This then allowed them to create a ranking of the showcase treatments, based upon which showcase variants had the biggest price differential. Alongside this, Cardboard by the Numbers also hosted a survey to assess player opinion, which was also mixed into the results.
Utilizing this data, Cardboard by the Numbers was able to unequivocally demonstrate which Showcase treatment was best. The Answer? Throne of Eldraine’s storybook inspired art treatment. As the first-ever Showcase treatment, Throne of Eldraine’s art style is certainly rather nostalgic. At least, it is so much as something from 2019 can be nostalgic. Alongside this, the storybook art style is wonderfully charming to look at. While this is my opinion, it is validated by Cardboard by the Numbers’ research.
The Numbers What Do They Mean
Now that it’s posted above for some easy admiring, it’d be needless to go through every single option simply retelling Cardboard by the Numbers’ findings. So, instead, we’ll be highlighting a few somewhat unexpected results. To us, the most interesting of these was the lack of love for the brand-new card styles that March of the Machine introduced.
While they may have had plenty of potential, the new card styles for Ixalan, Ravnica, and Tarkir haven’t been well received. In fact, that’s putting it relatively lightly, as two of these three card styles were quickly embroiled in controversy. This is due to their art being rather difficult to parse at a glance. As Innistrad: Double Feature proved, this can be a major problem.
Due to the problematic nature of their art, it’s unsurprising to see these Showcase treatments at the bottom of the tier list. However, the new Ravnica Showcase frame being down there is definitely more unexpected. Themed around the plane’s architecture, this card frame admittedly isn’t exceptionally striking, however, it’s also not offensive to the eyes. Despite this, however, the Showcase treatment is nevertheless in the bottom five ever created.
Since we mentioned the top spot, we should probably also mention that Phyrexia: All Will Be One’s Ichor treatment was the least popular. While this art style does suffer from the same readability issues, the main issue is likely its recency. Last seen extensively in Phyrexia: All Will Be One, this card style is hardly a novelty anymore. If anything, judging by its performance, MTG players may already be tired of this art treatment.
Maybe Numbers Can Lie
At the end of the day, while we’ve made a fuss about what this Cardboard by the Numbers’ data shows us, art is still subjective. For me, the Zendikar showcase frame is the perfect example of this. In my opinion, the art of Drana and Linvala by Anato Finnstark looks absolutely stunning. It is evident from the data, however, that not everyone feels this way, which is absolutely fine, as everyone has their own opinions. As one of the few fans of Alchemy, I certainly know that to be true.
Alongside my own opinions, different from the chart, several MTG players on Reddit shared their own feelings. Several players, such as u/warcaptain, for instance, highlighted how “Tarkir would probably be my favorite if it wasn’t black and white.” Similarly, u/djsoren19 lauded the appeal of another surprisingly disliked treatment: Ravnica’s. “It’s honestly wild to me that the Rav treatment is so low; I think it’s really incredible. I think I’d put it over New Capenna.”
Ultimately, thanks to all these opinions, it’ll likely always be impossible to properly determine the best MTG art. Thankfully, it is at least much more feasible to determine the best card. After all, it’s pretty hard to beat Black Lotus or Ancestral Recall in terms of power. So long as you ignore the unmatched power of Storm Crow that is.
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