One of the biggest allures to Magic: The Gathering is the original card artwork. Ever since the first MTG set was released in 1993, cards have featured distinctive illustrations that tell stories, visualize abilities, create worlds, and highlight characters in the storyline. MTG card artwork is also nostalgic for many players, especially those that played in the 1990s. Artwork for popular cards like Black Lotus, Serra Angel, and Llanowar Elves have become especially iconic over time.
Beyond playing Magic the Gathering, some players collect cards precisely because of their artwork. They might even collect every version of their favorite card, or cards featuring artwork by a particular artist. If you've attended a Magic-fest in the past, you may have personally met an artist! At Magic-fests, players can get cards signed, purchase prints, commission a piece, or even buy original artwork from an artist. While COVID-19 has currently put a stop to in-person MTG events, there are plenty of other opportunities for players to purchase a piece of art by their favorite Magic artist.
Suppose you are a fan of John Avon or Rebecca Guay. You may have come across their personal website or Kickstarter campaign. These artists, among others, sell artwork directly to individuals. Artists commonly sell giclée prints featuring card artwork, which utilizes a unique printing process that produces high-quality art prints, great for framing and displaying. Giclée prints are a fairly inexpensive option for showing off MTG artwork in your home. Keep in mind that artists sometimes limit the number of prints produced, which adds to their collectability.
If you are interested in owning the actual MTG card artwork that giclée prints originate from, you may be in luck! Artists commissioned for MTG cards often create sketches, color studies, and original paintings as part of their design process. In general, a sketch is a rough drawing containing the main features of an intended final piece. Sketches can be used for multiple reasons, including drafting ideas and outlining a painting. Color studies are created to test different coloring, lighting, composition, and so on. Sketches and color studies assist in finalizing the original painting for a MTG card. While many artists create their MTG card art digitally, some of them do produce traditional sketches and color studies beforehand.
Once a card's art is spoiled for a new set or product, artists have the opportunity to sell their original artwork. For example, Chris Rahn's original painting for Akroma, Vision of Ixidor from Commander Legends sold for $20,100 on November 11th, 2020. While $20,100 is no small sum of money, other original MTG artwork can be purchased at considerably lower prices. In fact, one-of-a-kind sketches and color studies of MTG cards are often sold for under $1,000, and original paintings of MTG cards periodically sell for about $2,000. But where can we find these more affordable pieces of original MTG art?
Perhaps the most well-known place to find original MTG art for sale is eBay. This year, Chris Rahn listed and sold a few original paintings on eBay, including Omnath, Locus of Creation, Tazri, Beacon of Unity, and the Akroma, Vision of Ixidor mentioned above. The selection and prices for original MTG artwork on eBay can vary greatly. You may browse eBay a few times a month and see the same pieces for sale. Other times, there may be a few new original paintings listed. If you're looking for artwork featuring a specific MTG card, eBay is probably not your best choice.
Another place to find original MTG art is an artist's website. Some artists, such as Jeff Miracola, list their available pieces for sale. Other artists like Aaron Miller sell original artwork through a website store. Even if an artist's website has a store, they do not always list original MTG artwork for sale. You can inquire about the availability of a specific piece by contacting the artist via their website.
There are a few more places to search for MTG artwork; especially, from cards recently spoiled. It may come as a surprise, but one of the best places to find original MTG art for sale is Facebook. Mark Aronowitz, an agent for multiple MTG artists, moderates a Facebook Group called the Original Magic Art or related for $1,000 or less. This Facebook group has over 1,300 members and offers original pieces of MTG artwork—particularly sketches and color studies—for under $1,000. For example, the sketch for Sakashima's Will from Commander Legends recently sold for $450. You may also come across listings of original artwork on the back of artist proofs. Some artists produce sketches and paintings on the blank backs of artist proofs. The Original Magic Art or related for $1,000 or less group is a great place to check out for anyone interested in acquiring their first piece of original MTG art.
Another Facebook group worth visiting is the MTG Art Market. With over 10,000 members, this Facebook Group is another popular place for buying and selling original MTG artwork, including sketches, color studies, and original paintings. The MTG Art Market has an active group of buyers and sellers made up of personal collectors, agents, and artists. Upon Zendikar Rising's release, Piotr Dura sold his sketch and color study of Forsaken Monument through the MTG Art Market.
It's not unusual for the original artwork of a recently spoiled MTG card to appear for sale on MTG Art Market. The original paintings for several Commander Legends cards recently sold, including Kwain, Itinerant Meddler and Sakashima of a Thousand Faces. For those interested in owning an original piece of MTG artwork, particularly from newly released sets like Commander Legends, this Facebook group should be bookmarked.
MTG artwork is sold in multiple fashions between both Facebook groups. Many pieces of artwork are listed as auction items. If you have ever bid in an auction on eBay, you're already pretty familiar with how they work. Bidding can happen at any point during the auction period, even in the last few minutes, and a bidding war can escalate between two or more individuals until there is a winner.
Another popular selling format is called Buy It Now (BIN). For BIN listings, the seller lists an asking price to buy the item outright. Sometimes auctions will include a BIN price, too. A third way of selling artwork is through a sealed-bid auction. In this type of auction, the seller asks potential buyers to submit a bid without seeing bids from other people. The seller may choose to go with the highest submitted bid between potential buyers. This process is similar to reviewing multiple Best Offers submitted for an item on eBay.
Let's say you've spent a few months monitoring eBay and Facebook Groups, and during this time, you saved $400 in anticipation of buying an original piece of MTG art. One day, you come across the sketch for the new Commander Legends card, Breeches, Brazen Plunderer. You enjoy playing Pirate decks in Commander and want to bid on it. The sketch is listed as an auction ending in three days. The seller asks for an opening bid of $250 with a $25 minimum incremental. Since the starting price is under $400, you happily submit the opening bid. A few hours later, you get outbid by another person raising the price to $275. What should you do next?
This example scenario for Breeches, Brazen Plunderer plays out in real life time and time again for MTG art auctions. Your initial reaction might be to keep bidding each time someone else makes a higher offer. However, patience could be your best weapon, with three days remaining on the auction. It can be nerve-racking bidding on items, primarily when a bidding war occurs. Learning how to navigate various selling formats can help you avoid pitfalls and stressful situations.
As a patron of multiple MTG art outlets, I have seen and experienced many MTG art auctions. Last year, I bought my first piece of original MTG art—I won an auction for the sketch of Castle Ardenvale by Volkan Baga. Mark Aronowitz was the seller of the auction, and provided a smooth and communicative transaction. I also want to thank Mark for providing images of MTG sketches and color studies for this article. While I won the auction for the Castle Ardenvale, I was outbid many times before and after. Based on those experiences, I've put together some Dos and Don'ts related to purchasing original MTG artwork.
Before purchasing any original MTG art, it is critical to read through the listing. You should pay attention to the piece's size, materials used, and any other descriptive information. If the item is listed as an auction, you will want to note the end time and date, auction rules, shipping fees, and other fees. Also, not all auctions or listings include an artist's proof. You should have a firm understanding of the expectations for the buyer and seller before submitting an offer. If something is unclear to you, send a message to the seller for clarification!
Another step to take before purchasing artwork is to set a budget. You should consider your financial situation and comfort level. When bidding on an auction, set a maximum price limit in your mind. Bids can skyrocket in the final minutes of an auction. You should be prepared to bid up to a specific price and walk away if the stakes get too high.
When it comes to placing a bid, follow the minimum incremental guidelines ($25 is typical for MTG artwork listed for sale on the Facebook groups), though if inclined, you can always bid higher from the start. Also, it is worth checking on auctions within the last 15 to 20 minutes. You can make a last-minute bid for an item or look to if someone has outbid you. If there is a piece of artwork you really want, be attentive and ready to bid against last-minute participants. Have patience if you have not seen your ideal piece of artwork yet—you never know when something will show up for sale that fits your budget and interests!
Submitting an offer to buy a piece of artwork follows similar rules, no matter what platform you use. Both eBay and Facebook Groups have terms and conditions for bidding on items. You should be prepared to follow through on a transaction if you have the highest bid or outright purchase a piece. Issues arise for both buyers and sellers when one party backs out of a sale. Avoid uncomfortable situations by only bidding on items you intend to win.
In a similar vein, it is wise to not purchase something that is a stretch financially. Fortunately, you have many options and price points to work with when it comes to original MTG art. Some sellers do offer short-term payment plans for buyers who need additional time to pay in full. Before placing a bid, make sure you have the ability to pay in full within the given terms.
Don't underestimate the financial impact of shipping and additional fees. Artists live all over the world, and shipping can become pricey depending on the size of a piece and the distance it must travel. Some artists collect a value-added tax (VAT) when selling artwork within the European Union. These fees can add up depending on the situation, so always investigate these extra expenses when bidding on an item.
Lastly, show respect and courtesy to others. Everyone has an equal opportunity to bid in an auction or take advantage of a BIN price. Be cordial when messaging sellers and artists. Remember that you may not always get an immediate response, as people have other obligations.
Whether you're a first-time buyer of original MTG artwork or already have multiple paintings, getting hold of a new original MTG artwork is a thrill. Original MTG artwork can be a unique standalone piece or a beautiful growing collection. MTG art provides a unique bridge between players and non-players—you don't have to understand the mechanics of MTG to appreciate a card's artwork! If you travel down the path of obtaining a piece of original MTG art, I hope you take the time to enjoy the journey.