Last week I explored many factors that can influence the price of a piece of original Magic art. Those factors range vastly, from medium and size to couch friendliness and subject matter. While a Magic card’s price is dictated by rarity, playability, and condition, it has become clear to me in my art deep dive that this market is far more complex.
Notice, however, that I neglected to talk specifics. Sure, I included many numbers as I cited examples of one type of piece or another, but I avoided specific numbers and stuck to broad ranges when attempting to quantify what a given piece could be worth. The reality is, there is one more factor that I failed to mention, and it can be considered the most impactful factor of them all.
Simply put, the price of an art piece depends on whether or not you want it.
That last statement was deliberately written in a provocative manner, so allow me to step back and explain.
First off, I’m using the rare second person in this article because I’m not talking about a generic “you” person as in “all of you.” Rather, I literally mean that if an individual person desires to purchase a particular piece of Magic artwork, it is going to be more expensive. This may not apply in all cases, but many times this is the basic truth.
Consider this: when shopping for a Magic card, even a rare one like Black Lotus, there are at least a handful of copies for sale at any given time. There are 22 listings on TCGplayer alone currently for an Unlimited copy of the card.
If someone wants to purchase a copy or two of Black Lotus, they can do so with virtually no impact to the price. Sure, if that buyer were to purchase the two cheapest copies above, then the next cheapest copy would be $500 more expensive—this would be a transient phenomenon, however, and the price would re-equilibrate quickly and without any market disruption. I suppose if someone wanted to purchase 20 copies of the card, then we’d have a different story on our hands…but luckily no one has $200,000+ on hand with motivation to do that so I’ll ignore this corner case. Besides, that market impact would still be temporary; I’d wager that six to twelve months later, prices would once again stabilize with minimal shift from the purchase.
Contrast this with Magic art—a market collectors are equally passionate about, but one where exactly one “copy” of any one card exists! Given its one-of-a-kind nature, this market can’t support people buying up multiple copies of a given piece of art simply because they don’t exist. Quite the opposite is true: one piece of art will exist for a card, but there are multiple parties interested in buying.
Granted, most pieces of art don’t have 100’s or 1000’s of people looking to make the purchase. The number of serious buyers for any given piece often numbers under 10, sometimes as low as one or two. In a few of the Facebook auctions I participated in, there were literally two serious bidders going back and forth. For example, here’s Nana Qi’s Cute to Brute series Bloodline Keeper.
In this instance, I literally changed the value of this piece of artwork by entering a bidding war for the piece. My opening bid was $1500, and through a series of back-and-forth bids, the price finally sold (to the other bidder) for $2400. Had I not entered multiple higher bids, the auction could have ended at $1550, when I was outbid the first time. No other bidders stepped in.
Thus, my argument is that because I wanted this piece, its value increased by $900, or 60%.
The only other piece I attempted to bid on aggressively was a sketch of Kithkin Billyrider by Zara Alfonso, which I’ve talked about before. In this auction, there were nine different bidders in total. It’s still possible to estimate the impact of my wanting the piece, though, because the auction came down to a bidding war between me and one other individual.
I stepped in with a bid of $575, and then the bidding went back and forth until I gave up. Had I not bid at all, it’s possible the piece would have sold for as low as $550. With my bidding, however, it went all the way up to $900. Once again, the piece sold for more over 60% higher simply because I wanted it so badly. Granted, it’s possible one of the other bidders would have chimed in at lower thresholds, and it was never destined to sell for $550. Either way, it’s fair to say that by wanting the piece as much as I did, I directly increased its price.
Outside of auctions, it’s harder to quantify this effect, but it’s no less evident. For example, in the MTG Artist Proofs discord group, one person recently shared that they recently purchased their first piece of Magic art: Myr Custodian by Mark Behm.
I’m so happy for this individual! I just recently acquired my first piece too, and I know the rushing feelings that come from the buy…it’s something I never experience when purchasing cards anymore.
I included their follow-up comment in the image below to emphasize a key point. “Hope it was a good price!” This is a question I ask myself every time I browse new artwork postings for sale. Are these being listed at a fair price? If not, what would an appropriate offer be?
I provided some rough guidance in my article last week to help estimate what art should sell for on average, but the reality is there is that “you” factor that cannot be quantified. If the art for Myr Custodian truly spoke to this individual, then it’s worth however much they were willing to spend on the art. By wanting this piece of art, they directly influenced the value of it. Before, it was posted for sale at $2200 but without a buyer, it’s just an asking price. After the purchase, there is now the data point that says it is “worth” $2200 because that’s what someone was willing to pay.
Once again, by simply desiring a piece, someone can directly influence what it is worth simply because only one exists! Now if they choose, they could post it for sale for $5000. This wouldn’t mean it’s worth $5000. It only indicates what one could purchase it for. It’s up to “you” to say whether or not it can sell for that much.
For those unfamiliar, a Catch 22 (named after a novel by Joseph Heller) is a situation in which one cannot escape because of contrary rules or limitations. My argument is that determining a “good price” for a piece of art that someone wants to purchase is a Catch 22 because, by simply wanting to purchase the art, one directly impacts how much it is worth.
Perhaps the Observer Effect is a better analogy: in physics, this is the disturbance of an observed system by the act of observation. By wanting a piece of Magic art, we influence its price, thereby making it impossible to precisely determine what it is worth.
Regardless of the logic conundrum I use, the bottom line remains the same. This is a characteristic that occurs naturally in a market where items being sold are all unique. I like to compare it to the housing market, but this isn’t a perfect analogy. In the housing market, there are at least dozens if not hundreds of “comps”—houses that recently sold which are similar enough to compare to the one in question. Thus, a fair market value can be more precisely determined.
Magic art is too one-of-a-kind for this. It’d be like a housing market where every home was designed by a completely different architect in a completely different style, so that no two houses are remotely alike. Then on top of that, add in the emotional aspect. Artwork can generate feelings in the beholder that grip their attention and hold their interest, where as most houses (outside the truly customized and unique) are fairly cookie cutter. This emotional effect varies widely from one individual to the next, making a precise value determination nearly impossible.
While there are clear factors that can influence a piece of original Magic art’s value up or down, a precise estimation for a piece’s price is a fool’s errand. The value is too much driven by the eye of the beholder. Add in the fact that only one instance of a given piece of art exists, and you end up with a bizarre and unpredictable market.
When I was initially shopping around for my first piece, I found myself asking over and over again, “Is that a good price?” I was so used to #MTGFinance and the idea that I needed to get a deal to be happy. That kind of concept is much more difficult to quantify with Magic art. What’s a good deal? What’s a good price? If the buyer is happy with the price on the one-of-a-kind item they’re receiving, then that really needs to be sufficient.
That’s why VorthosMike’s response to the discord post about Myr Custodian was spot on.
This. Exactly this.