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  • July 31, 2023 7 min read 0 Comments

    If mountains generate red mana, then I must be surrounded by red mages this week. I’m writing this article from my hotel in lovely Colorado Springs, surrounded by the majestic Rocky Mountains! I’ve seen them before, but never this up close and personal. My only hope is that I’ve captured some photos that do justice to the natural wonder.

    Despite the distraction out my window, I am still dedicating a small bit of vacation time to write the next installment of my Embracing Magic Art series. Now that I’ve talked about some high-level concepts, including where to buy art and the types of masterpieces artists create, I want to spend a little time this week diving into some of the more nuanced components of this market: pricing.

    The Obvious Factors in Original Magic Art Pricing

    Before jumping into the subtle factors—those that didn’t strike me as obvious when I first started researching prices—I want to at least pay fair homage to those factors that should come as no surprise to the beginner.

    First and foremost, the type of piece is going to have a major influence on its resulting price. A completed oil painting for a card is naturally going to cost more than a preliminary sketch. In general, I like to bucket the various types of pieces into three main categories:

    • Finished product: a completed piece, most often a painting of some sort (oil, acrylic, water), the finished painting created before a card is released is going to be the most desirable type of art. As a result, these prices will often be highest, ranging from $1500 at the minimum to well north of $10,000. For example, this incredible Ashiok, Wicked Manipulator by Serena Malyon sold for five figures.


    • Detailed Sketches + Color Studies: Many different types of art can fall into this middle category. For simplicity’s sake, I’m lumping them all together because I find their prices tend to be consistent, although highly variable depending on the details of the piece. A tonal sketch with many details, closely resembling the finished painting, can easily fetch over $1000. For example, this tonal sketch of Cruel Somnophage by Jason Engle, is currently at auction with a high bid of $1150.

    Less detailed sketches can sell for as low as the mid-three figures, but it’s difficult to find a highly detailed sketch for much less than $500.

    • Preliminary sketches: These are drawings that are recognizable, but don’t necessarily match the finished painting. They may be concept sketches of a key character to aid the artist in creating the final piece. These sketches often contain fewer details, and can generally sell for somewhere between $100 and $500, though I’m sure there are exceptions on both ends. The tonal sketch for Jade Mage was one of the cheaper pieces to sell recently on Facebook, going for $100.

    Observe how the art is recognizable as Jade Mage, but it lacks the color and detail of the finished piece. Pieces like these can also be smaller in dimensions, another price factor.

      Subtle Pricing Factors

      Outside of the obvious factors—those that are directly related to the art itself—there are numerous other characteristics that can influence a piece’s price. These were all unknown to me a few months ago, and it was through my research that I learned about them. Note that they will vary in the magnitude of their influence, but I have seen each of these variables play a role.

      • The Recency Tax: My enjoyment of spoiler season has dramatically shifted since developing interest in original Magic art. Now when I see a card, the first thing I look at is its art and who the artist is before even reading the rules text! I love seeing new creations by Magic’s talented artists, and once a new piece is officially spoiled the artist has permission to sell their work.

        Because of the hype associated with spoiler season, art collectors tend to gravitate towards newer pieces that hit the market. As a result, art from a newly spoiled set tends to command a premium relative to one that’s been in print for years already. Of course, there are exceptions, and any artwork from Alpha will command a hefty price tag. In general, however, a random common from Winds of Eldraine is going to be more costly than a comparable common from, say, Dominaria United.

        For example, this Mesa Cavalier by Dave Palumbo is a gorgeous, detailed, and large painting with a surprisingly reasonable asking price of $2600. If this was from the newest set, I suspect it would have already sold for north of $3000. Because it’s a common from DMU, however, it doesn’t merit the “recency tax.”
      • The Artist’s Notoriety: This is a factor that I’m still learning about. Occasionally I’ll see a piece go on sale that commands a price that is significantly higher than I would have expected. It’s only logical there are certain artists that are more popular (making their work more desirable) than others. I haven’t learned all there is to understand about this nuance, so I won’t get into too many specifics, but I can share one example.

        Douglas Shuler is one of Magic’s greats, painting for the game since its inception back in Alpha. He recently auctioned a few sketches on Facebook, and the listings each noted, “Doug has not sold any of his original art in many years. At this time, he is keeping all the paintings, but I did get him to agree to the sketch sales. Don’t miss this opportunity to pick up an original Shuler piece.”

        Out of curiosity I messaged Mark Aronowitz (the agent who ran the auctions for these sketches) if Douglas would consider selling the art for Arachnogenesis. Mark replied quickly and courteously, sharing that I could always message Douglas myself to make an offer, but it would need to be five figures to have a shot. Otherwise, it probably wouldn’t be worth the time.

        Another artist I’ve noticed receives significant hype is Ryan Pancoast. I’m still learning about his work, but he recently had a couple pieces spoiled by Wizards of the Coast, and promptly sold one of them to a best offer. The second one is still available for sale with a $21,500 asking price.


        • The Primary Subject: The main character / creature / central focus of the art is also going to impact its value. A painting with a dragon or an angel, for example, tends to command a premium whereas an unidentifiable, horrific monster can sometimes sell at a discount. Recognizable characters from Magic’s storyline, such as Planeswalkers, can also fetch a higher price.

          When the primary subject is generic and non-recognizable, the price tends to be a bit lower. For example, I love the colors and details in the painting for Scourgemark, by Franz Vohwinkel. However, the seller had to drop the price multiple times, ultimately trading it away with a value of $1,000. I wonder if it’s related to the fact that the main subject of the piece is rather generic?

        scourgemark art

        • Couch Friendliness: The last factor I’ll talk about is one of the most important to me. If I purchase a piece of Magic art, it’s with the intent of hanging on my wall to display. I have no interest in parking valuable pieces of art in a closet to collect dust. Because I am married and have two kids (an 11-year-old boy and 6-year-old girl), I need the subject of any art I purchase to be “couch friendly.” That is, it needs to be pleasing to the eye and look good in a standard living room setting.

          When I stop and think about it, this is quite the limitation I’m placing on myself. There are a ton of Magic pieces that are too scary or intense for a living room. Unfortunately, it’s often the friendlier pieces that sell for a premium. If I want a hideous demon-looking creature to hang on my wall, these are plentiful and relatively discounted. If I want a human doing something normal, such that the art is more subtle and less obviously from a card game, then I must pay a mark-up. This could be why OriginalMagicArt.com is asking $5,500 for Cerulean Sphinx, but only $2,000 for Desecrator Hag. Would I really want this hanging above my living room couch?

        desecration hag art

        Wrapping It Up

        There are countless, smaller factors that can contribute to a piece’s ultimate price. This week I attempted to touch on some of the factors that I’ve come across during my first foray into this market. I’m sure there are other facets to a piece that can also influence the price. The medium (oil vs. acrylic, vs. colored pencil), for example, probably has an impact. There are probably nuances associated with individual artists that I haven’t learned about yet.

        The bottom line is that pricing out a piece of original Magic art is complex. When shopping for a card, it’s easy to look at recent sales from TCGplayer or eBay. There’s no mystery to what a Magic card is worth. Shopping for one-of-a-kind pieces of art, however, is so much harder. It’s kind of like shopping for a house—no two houses are alike, so the best estimates come from sales of comparable pieces.

        Since these truly are unique, there’s never going to be an absolute answer as to what a piece of art is worth. Ultimately, it’s worth whatever someone is willing to pay. Any interested buyer can dramatically influence a piece’s price simply by bidding on it or making offers. This direct impact—the fact that a single entrant into the market can dramatically change what a piece is “worth”—is perhaps the most perplexing characteristic of the art market, and one that merits a whole article on its own. Perhaps that will come next in this series.