There’s been a proliferation of fancy new art treatments for cards recently, with alternate frames, different foiling processes and tons of booster fun. But there’s one promo that remains attainable only by acquiring enough dedication, knowledge and passion for the game to become part of the very fabric of playing Magic itself… or just getting one of those folks to sell it to you. I’m talking about Magic’s Judge Foils!
Judge Gift cards, or Judge Foil cards as they are officially designated, are given out to judges at various events. You can’t get them in packs and they don’t show up in Secret Lairs, so the only way to get them (directly) is by being a judge. The program has been going since 1998, and it often features brand new art of previously existing cards (although that art has then been used in later printings for some cards).
I’m here today to give my list of the ten best Judge Promo-originating card arts, very scientifically ranked by the process of how much it makes the part of my brain that collects dice and shiny things clap and squeal in joy. So without further ado, let’s get started!
Honorable Mention — Rules Lawyer
If ever a card was made to become a Judge Foil, it was Rules Lawyer. Sure, it’s not legal in most sanctioned Magic, but that’s missing the point.
If you’ve never had a chance to play with this card, I highly suggest Rule Zero-ing it into a game sometime. It really gives you an appreciation for how important removing a single rule from the game can be.
10. Smothering Tithe
Well, we’re certainly starting off shiny. This gets the 10-spot for more accurately portraying the idea behind the card than the original art. Nothing against the original, but that’s more of a vomiting tithe than a smothering one.
9. Rhystic Study
This is another case of me just preferring the vibe of the new Rhystic Study art to the original. The original feels a little more like a chill study session to me, which I suppose fits. But this feels a little more mystical, magical and show-offy in a way that annoying blue players (very much like myself) enjoy. Plus the glowing hands look great if you ever see this foil in person.
8. The Gitrog Monster
Don’t get me wrong, the original art for the Gitrog Monster is appropriately gnarly, what with the arm hanging out of its mouth and all. I just like this dead-stare-straight-to-the-camera angle that this version has since it’s something we rarely see.
Imagine rounding a corner on Innistrad and seeing this exact image directly in front, realizing only then that your day can, in fact, get worse.
7. Demonic Tutor
The best card art tells a complete story by itself, and this image tells enough of a quiet horror story to start a nice film franchise or three.
While Demonic Tutor has had plenty of good art in various treatments in the past, I tend to like my horror stories to have a little more of a build up than a lot of that art suggests. This is like the quietly, terrifying cold open of a slow-burn scary movie, and it’s fantastic.
6. Force of Will
This art is such a good representation of the kind of counterspell that Force of Will is. Force of Will is the card that kept Legacy at all fair for a long time, stymying combo haymakers in their tracks out of nowhere.
The fact the the barrier the fireball hits is completely invisible really helps sell the idea to me that this isn’t some precise bit of meticulously crafted magic being used. This is someone being pushed to an extreme, standing their ground against an onslaught and simply saying no as emphatically as they can. Brilliant.
5. Mana Drain
While this art technically appeared in Magic Online first, this is still astounding to see foiled in paper. Essentially the polar opposite of the previous Force of Will entry, this counterspell is all efficiency, no wasted effort.
This is a blue mage is biding their time, carefully selecting the exact right spell to turn back at their opponent for maximum impact without even breaking a sweat. Mana Drain is one of the greatest counterspells of all time, so it’s fitting it gets one of the greatest counterspell illustrations of all time, too.
4. Arena Rector
Rectors in Magic have a bit of a history of being powerful, and Arena Rector from Battlebond is no different. Usually depicted as older, mentor-style characters, I like this fresh take on the rector — someone so adored by the crowd that powerful folks are compelled to come avenge her when she falls.
Like I said earlier, some of the best card illustrations tell a whole story, or at least give you an idea of how much larger the scope of the world outside what you see on the card is. This is a card with a backstory, and I love it.
3. Burning Wish
If ever there was a judge foil made with the “foil” part in mind, it’s this version of Burning Wish. I don’t have a ton else to say about this — the expression on the face is perfect, the hair blowing back and turning into flames is spot-on and the growing fireball hinting at the power about to be unleashed is so flavorfully correct. It’s all just so pretty, and very shiny with the foiling.
2. Greater Auramancy
This is an example of a card being printed too early to have the best art, and it getting the treatment it deserves much later. The Shadowmoor art certainly isn’t bad — it’s just that Theros was tailor-made to give enchantments their own look and feel, and the night sky in the shadow of the wings is just a perfect, trippy, dreamlike effect deployed stunningly.
Good gravy, that lighting. This looks like a Renaissance painting, and is a masterclass at using negative space to draw your eye to the main subject of an illustration. Absolutely gorgeous art on one of the most elegantly powerful cards of all time.
Pretty Shiny Things
So there you have it — my personal list of the 10 best Judge Foil-original card illustrations. Want to judge for yourself? We have lots of great options, so try looking here and tell me what takes the top spot for you!
Chris is the Associate Media Producer at Card Kingdom. He would like to apologize to his son for not holding onto more cards from when he first started playing, as that likely would have paid for college. He enjoys pretty much all formats of Magic, but usually ends up playing decks that make other people dislike playing those formats with him.