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Basic land cards are often overlooked in Magic: the Gathering. They are the building blocks of the game, the invisible keystone without which the system would collapse. They perform a necessary, unglamorous function. They are rarely loved.
Basic lands in core sets tend to be straightforward representations of plains, islands, swamps, mountains, and forests. In the expert sets they help build the world. The lands of Ravnica show a world dominated by the urban form, though that form changes to form different landscapes. The lands of Mirage evoke the African feel of that set. The metallic plains of Mirrodin show a world very different from others, while in Innistrad and Shadowmoor all lands are suffused with the foreboding feelings of those worlds.
The lands can be drawn in a number of different ways. The easiest if simply five different representations of each land, by the same or different artists, done according to the style guide.
In other sets a panorama is created, which is then divided into the different basic lands. Players may then reconstruct these if they wish. Below is one example, the Kamigawa island panorama created by Martina Pilcerova.
Other sets have expanded the land art out to use the full face of the card. These full-frame land arts are some of the most sought after cards in Magic. That’s right, there are basic lands that change hands for more money than all bu tthe most tournament playable rares.
The most well-known are those from the Un-sets. Seen above, I prefer the second row, all illustrated by John Avon, and indeed these are the most expensive such lands to acquire. Outside of the Un-sets, the world of Zendikar also used full-frame lands. This fit with the land based theme of the set and was again very popular.
Full-frame and panoramic basic lands remain popular with players. Basic lands are well worth a second look, if you’ve never paid much attention to them before.