After reading the first five articles in this series, a newcomer decide they are ready to take the plunge and purchase their first piece of original Magic art. I’ve provided my experiences researching the types of art available for sale, where items are posted, and how to gage the approximate value of a given piece. Of course, this latter part is more art than science (pun intended), but the guide is hopefully better than nothing.
There is one more aspect of art shopping I wanted to discuss this week before unleashing prospective buyers into the market: the different ways artwork is sold.
The thing is, this detail in itself isn’t straightforward. While I’ve seen Magic cards sold in various ways, I’d wager 99% of purchases take place either via eBay auction or straightforward listing (e.g., TCGplayer, Star City Games, Card Kingdom, etc.). These are options when shopping for Magic art, but sometimes there is an additional nuance to them. Sometimes, the sale is done in a completely different way altogether.
This week I’ll try to cover the various methods of art selling, and a few pros and cons to each.
When I first joined the MtG Art Market group on Facebook, the first sales posts I was interested in were auctions. There’s a starting bid, a start and end date, a minimum opening bid, and minimum increment. These are all aspects of an auction anyone may be used to if they bid on eBay auctions.
For example, Justyna Dura is currently auctioning the original sketch she created for Talion, the Kindly Lord from the upcoming Wilds of Eldraine set.
All the auction components I mentioned are in the post, but there are additional rules worth noting. One major addition is the anti-sniping measure: “If any bid is placed within 10 minutes of the auction ending, 10 minutes will be added from the time of that bid until there are no bids within the 10-minute period of time.” This creates a small difference in the auction relative to sites like eBay, where sniping is common.
Another unique component I’ve found in MTG art auctions is the ability to bid privately. I suspect major auction houses like Heritage Auctions may offer this service, but it’s not something a typical Magic player is familiar with. I’ve seen scenarios where someone will post a bid on an auction, and then decide to move incognito and add subsequent bids privately.
On the plus side, auctions are fantastic ways of earning market value for a given piece at any given time. As the buyer, it’s easy to recognize how desirable a piece is, and the ending price should reflect the demand. Even if bidders are private, it’s still reassuring to see that a few individuals are interested in the same piece I am—it tells me there is a market for the art, and if I need to sell it back to the community there will be opportunity to do so.
The downside, of course, is that bidding wars can easily take place with auctions—especially when dealing with something as emotional as one-of-a-kind artwork. The anti-snipe feature adds another layer to this drawback. Instead of the auction ending promptly at a given time, it can be extended should a last-minute bid be placed. This draws out bidding wars, allowing them to run to completion before the auction ends.
As a result, it’s very easy to overpay for a piece when purchasing through auction. It’s a great way to win an exciting new piece, but it’s critical to have a fixed budget in mind and avoid the emotional roller coaster that comes along with an auction.
Some artists prefer to eschew auctions in favor of an “accepting offers” post. Kai Carpenter sold his new Mental Misstep artwork using this approach last week.
When doing an “accepting offers” post, all that extra text detailing auction rules isn’t required. Thus, the rules of the posting simply read, “We will be listening to offers until Sunday, August 13th at 11PM. An offer may be accepted before the deadline if appropriate.”
On the plus side, this approach gives everyone an equal chance at purchasing the artwork. If someone has interest, all they need to do is send a private offer to the seller to determine if they’re one of the top buyers or not. There’s less risk of overpaying because there can’t be a bidding war—at least, not publicly. To be honest, I’ve never tried to purchase a piece of artwork with this method, so I don’t know all the intricacies.
Consider this: if I were to offer a number that is not the highest, does the seller tell me specifically what the highest standing offer is? Or do they simply thank me but decline, leaving me to decide if I want to offer more? Either way, this could lead into a silent bidding war of sorts, if back-and-forth is allowed to occur and multiple offers are permitted. At least it’s not as time-pressured.
The seller has the benefit of reviewing all offers before deciding if they want to sell—they aren’t beholden to the outcome of the auction. They may receive higher offers through this style, or they may receive lower offers. It really depends on the group of individuals who are interested in the piece.
The part I dislike the most about this approach is that the end price isn’t always public. This Mental Misstep is marked sold, but I have no idea how much it went for, which is awkward for someone still trying to learn about this market.
This is the simplest kind of post because an asking price is publicly posted and people can choose to accept that price, decline it and not purchase it, or make an offer. Unlike the previous “accepting offers” posts, however, the “straight price” post at least gives you a starting point for negotiation.
I see this kind of approach taken by people who are selling art pieces that weren’t created in the past couple months. For example, Jason Sirichoke has a posting on the Facebook group to sell his Demolish from Ixalan, released back in 2017.
Selling via direct price is wise in this case because the “new art premium” won’t apply. If Jason were to send this to auction, there’s a decent chance it would see an underwhelming response, leading to a lack of bids (if the opening bid is too high) or a lower-than-desired end price. By setting a price directly, Jason ensures he sells this for a number he is happy with, or else he realizes there are no buyers out there right now, and he can put it back into his inventory.
This is also how sites like OriginalMagicArt.com and MTG.art sell their pieces. Each of their postings has a direct price listed. If you want the artwork for Battle of Wits, it’s yours if you are willing to shell out $15,000.
The advantages of this method lie mostly with the transparency. There’s no bidding war, no competition with other buyers, and no mystery bidders/offers to contend with. The price is the price, and it’s publicly there for all to see and decide upon.
The primary disadvantage I see is that these pieces tend to sit around for a while if they aren’t priced aggressively, and it makes me wonder if many such postings are overpriced relative to demand. Actually, that’s an unfair description. Just because a piece doesn’t sell doesn’t mean it’s overpriced. Instead, it means there isn’t a prospective buyer out there willing to hit that price point.
This is a subtle yet important distinction. When dealing with unique pieces of artwork, who is to say what a reasonable price is? Really, that’s a decision only the seller and a prospective buyer can make—the appreciation and value is in the eye of the beholder. While a price reduction could lead to a faster sale, it doesn’t mean the piece isn’t worth the asking price. It could simply be that an interested party doesn’t know the item is for sale, or doesn’t have the liquidity, or any number of other factors.
Whatever the situation, these postings tend to sit idle until the right person comes along. I’ve seen pieces sit on sale for months without a taker. In other cases, a piece is scooped up within a day or two. It really all depends on the piece, who is shopping at that given time, and the health of the overall market. Needless to say, if someone wants to sell artwork using this method, they need to exercise tremendous patience because it may take a long time for the right buyer to come along.
There are different variations and nuances to each of these selling approaches, but at the end of the day there are three primary methods I have seen: auctions, accepting offers, and direct pricing. Each approach has its own pros and cons, and it’s up to the seller to decide what works best for their art.
Auctions will lead to quicker sales and have a chance at going over market value should a bidding war occur. However, some auctions end without that bidding war and the seller may be disappointed in the ending bid. Accepting offers is a good way of avoiding that outcome, but it may also give up some upside potential since competition for a piece is silent.
Direct pricing is the most straightforward approach, but can lead to stagnant inventory should the right buyer not be in the market at time of posting.
There are so many factors to consider, adding yet another layer of complexity to this market. Add on top of all this the fact that every piece being sold is effectively a one of one original, and you have a market unlike anything else in the world of Magic.