Today's a two-parter from me. Commander 2017 is coming out on August 25 (buy some!) and so of course I'll take a look at its fine flavor, but after that, I'll take a look at some unique Magic-related art experiences that are available for $100 or less.
Commander 2017 Flavor Gems
The story "told" by Alms Collector's mechanics and flavor texts intrigues me. Is it part of the area's power structure, collecting effectively a charity-tax like zakat? Is it a Robin Hood or Hong Gildong type, albeit one motivated by charitable faith rather than mercenary interests or resentment at one's lot in life? I can't help but love a card that gets my mind whirring so.
Chase Stone may be a newer Magic artist ("newer" in this case meaning "from the last ten years of the game"), but his art combines a hint of the Mirage-era old school with the best of digital illustration. The background in particular reminds me of John Avon as he was going through his transition to becoming a fully digital Magic artist with the way the light is handled.
The rich grays of the artwork evoke the mood of a dark and forbidding sea. And forget scale birds; this piece has a scale ship. Awesome.
Howard Lyon seldom goes wrong, and he didn't here. Part of me, though, wishes the flavor text were less "patronizing Olivia Voldaren" and more "giggling Olivia Voldaren," maybe some jest about the contents of the young man's glass not being wine.
It wouldn't surprise me if this art originally was commissioned for a Conspiracy set but went unused. The whole flavor has that charming Fiora whimsy to it that I love.
Sure, there are plenty of Cat Clerics and Cat Knights and so on wandering around. But let's be real: this is the real payoff for the Feline Ferocity deck. Its adorable malice is the Vorthosian truth.
When I see this art, I can't help but imagine it as the portrait Edgar Markov, founder of the Markov vampire family on Innistrad, would want painted for himself: unquestioned in his authority, waited on hand and foot.
I sincerely hope Licia, Sanguine Tribune is more than a one-off. Distinctly Roman in her name and title of "tribune," the architecture around her, and her plumed helmet, she's also a Vampire, and if you ask me, "Ancient Rome with Vampires" sounds like either the next HBO hit or a great Magic setting.
If anything, this card undersells the grievous injury done to O-Kagachi. "That Which Was Taken" properly refers to "Kyodai," a Spirit that formed an essential part of O-Kagachi, and Konda, Lord of Eiganjo's theft was more like kidnapping a parent's child than stealing an overcoat.
Excitement over Cat Dragons aside, Wasitora is actually in intriguing figure because Madara is a former ancient stronghold of Nicol Bolas. Wasitora met Bolas-defeater Tetsuo Umezawa when she was ruling the roost and demanding tribute paid in delicious fish; after Wasitora and Umezawa broke up their duel to take down a menacing beastie, Umezawa struck a deal with Dragon Kitty, making her an official...paid in fish, naturally.
A warm welcome to Carmen Sinek, who makes her Magic illustration debut with this card. Earning this commission was a deeply personal milestone for her, and I hope to see many more pieces with her byline in the years to come.
Now here's a blast from the storytelling past! Originally a Dragon Engine used by Mishra, Ramos was captured by Urza and reprogrammed as a protector. While fulfilling those duties, he took Humans and Merfolk from Dominaria to the plane of Mercadia (setting of Mercadian Masques), where he came to be revered as a creator deity. The "Bones of Ramos," a cycle of gem-like artifacts (Heart of Ramos, Eye of Ramos, etc.) containing his essence were a key part of the Legacy that eventually defeated Magical big bad Yawgmoth.
I tried something a little different here, only pointing out cards I considered highlights and leaving out the rest. Let me know whether or not you like this approach for sets like Commander 2017 that don't have an associated storyline!
Unique Art for $100 (or Less!)
My reputation for Magic art knowledge is far out of proportion to the importance of my collection. I was lucky to have started at a time when original Magic paintings were underappreciated and the market slow; I did the bulk of my buying between 2007 and 2012, getting lucky breaks even within that slow market. The path I took to build my collection simply isn't viable for those on the tight budget I had in my first few years out of college; to tell others "I did it and so can you" would be an insult and a lie.
A basic land for $250 these days? Forget it.
But let's say you're like a lot of folks, crunched for cash after you've bought your latest Standard or Modern deck, but you still want to indulge your love of art and support the hard-working artists who make Magic's visuals awesome. And let's say you have a budget of 100 United States dollars. What one-of-a-kind awesomeness can you get for that sort of money?
Well, for starters, if you want something specifically from Magic, like a final painting used in the game, you'll have a tough time. Here are two possible paths, depending on whether that $100 budget is recurring (monthly, quarterly) or one-time.
If it's a recurring budget: a Magic painting or drawing on a payment plan. If a Magic artist has a piece up for sale on their online site, maybe you don't have the cash now but can save up for it over a few months. In that case, ask about a payment plan! For example, if you want the original art for David Palumbo's Constricting Tendrils and can come up with the $500 he wants in a few months but not now, send him an e-mail and see what you can arrange. Many artists will be happy to work with a serious customer who has a serious payment plan, and the worst that can happen is that the artist says no.
If it's not a recurring budget: the same, on the "save up and wait" plan. The least I ever paid for a full Magic illustration was $150, and I'm not proud of my purchase of Spiritual Asylum for that price. Quality paintings will cost you, plain and simple, and these days, most preparatory drawings for cards will make you stretch beyond that $100 budget, whether it's another ten bucks for the Anthony S. Waters underdrawing for Steam Vines or an additional $50 to pick up this Christopher Moeller preparatory piece...
"Hey, you promised me unique art for $100 or less! Where is it?"
...I was getting there. Patience!
There are preparatory Magic drawings out there for $100 or less, if you search. The days of lower-tier Magic paintings being sold out of artists' flat files for $100 are long gone, but a few drawings are still out there to be found with some sleuthing. Thomas M. Baxa, for example, has his preparatory drawing for Entangling Vines available for $75. Yes, it's an obscure common from Magic 2010. No, you don't get to be too picky these days on a $100 budget.
Art by Magic artists from other fantasy properties. Magic artists can't live off commissions from Wizards of the Coast alone, and their Magic work is just part of a broader portfolio of work. One of the more interesting buying opportunities right now, if you have a taste for the Warcraft universe, is art for the now-defunct World of Warcraft Trading Card Game, the paper ancestor to Hearthstone. The game may not be actively printed anymore, but the illustrations are still original, one-of-a-kind production artwork from a Blizzard-licensed property!
Here's my latest painting purchase, "Misery" by Thomas M. Baxa, which I picked up at the SCG Tour® Season One Invitational for $100:
If your taste is more for comic books, try original inked pages, like those Carl Critchlow has for sale. At current exchange rates, £70 is about $90.
Occasionally you'll find book cover preparatory works as well, like this battle scene by Aaron Miller, already framed and ready to ship for $99.99, or these preliminary covers by Romas. And if Legend of the Five Rings is your thing, rk post's pencil background for a novel cover is a great landscape choice at just $50.
Non-gaming original drawings and small paintings by Magic artists. It's a rare artist who doesn't do personal work, and sometimes that shows up for sale. While an Aaron Miller painting of a bird skull isn't my thing, for $99 framed, maybe it's yours! And while paintings for $100 or less are pretty rare, ink or pencil drawings are far more common, especially in the autumn as artists participate in the drawing challenge Inktober. Howard Lyon still has two Inktober 2016 drawings in his shop for $60 each, to give one example; I picked up his drawing "The Master of Feathers" at the same price.
I liked "The Master of Feathers" so much, I reached out to Mr. Lyon about a private drawing commission of an Old Testament subject. Your favorite Magic artist may not be open to such commissions on your budget, but it never hurts to ask, especially if their online pages ask you to inquire!
Playmat sketches. While I've never done this myself, a blank playmat makes a great backdrop for sketching. At SCG Tour® Invitational Weekends, Grand Prix, and similar events, artist guests will often (but not always!) be willing to do sketches on playmats for a fee. While a full-playmat sketch is almost always going to be outside the $100 budget — maybe you'll get lucky with a young artist who has, say, two cards to their name and is hustling and hungry — smaller sketches, either thumbnail-size or quarter-mat, can often fall within said budget.
Over on the Grand Prix Washington DC Countdown Blog, Guest of Honor Rob Alexander has a $50 price tag on his quarter-mat sketches. A potentially cool way to spend money over time is to have different artists illustrate part of the same playmat at different events.
Alterations of Magic cards by the original artists. While many alterists do fine work, I place Magic cards altered by their original artists in a special category. Steve Argyle is particularly well-known for his Liliana of the Veil alterations, but other artists, including primarily digital artists like Daarken, will occasionally have extension alters and the like available for purchase. For some illustrators, alterations are a staple moneymaker of their Magic tournament and other convention appearances; check the signs to see if that's the case for your favorite! The GP Countdown Blog reveals that Rob Alexander's full-art alterations are $100 and prices go down from there.
Artist proof sketches. And here's my single favorite category of unique Magic-related art to be had on a budget. The white-backed artist proofs are already cool and collectible, limited to 50 non-foil and (for newer releases) 30 foils. Getting a sketch on the back of an artist proof turns it into a one-of-a-kind hand-drawn creation. These sketches can be purely decorative; my personal taste is to have them turned into tokens, like this playset of Spirit tokens for Lingering Souls, which I commissioned from rk post at Grand Prix Salt Lake City in 2012.
Depending on the artist, as little as $20 can buy a (quick) unique sketch on the back of an artist proof. While rk post is the undisputed king of the artist proof sketch, several others also sell proofs-with-sketches through their online stores. In fact, I bought two of them while I was researching this article:
Ryan Yee: I got tipped off to him by Mike Linnemann. Now, for context, Die Young is one of the best Magic illustrations in recent years. It won a Chesley Award. That's kind of a big deal. To have that amazing illustration on one side and a unique sketch (artist's choice) on the back, all for $20 with shipping included? He got my money.
Sara Winters: She's pretty new to Magic, debuting in Aether Revolt. For a total of $20.50, I bought a non-foil artist proof...with a sketch on the back...with a subject I requested. That's a ludicrously good deal, and she should be getting way more orders through her store than she is.
On the United States side, other artists who sell proofs-with-sketches online include Aaron Miller (as low as $23, $28 for a color sketch); Lucas Graciano (as low as $30); and Eric Deschamps (on planeswalker cards only, as low as $60 for Sorin, Grim Nemesis). European collectors may want to look at Chris Rallis (£20 for a non-foil Kaya, Ghost Assassin artist proof with sketch) or Randy Vargas (starting at €40). For Grand Prix Washington DC attendees, Rob Alexander's artist proof sketches start at $30.
That'll do it for me today. What's your favorite card out of Commander 2017? Do you have a favorite strategy for collecting one-of-a-kind Magic-related artwork?