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February 07, 2024 7 min read

Last week I covered my favorite pieces of art from Magic’s latest premier set, Murders at Karlov Manor.I surveyed an eclectic mix of style, flavor, and color as I showcased the art that resonated most. [Spoiler alert] My favorite of the bunch was Merchant of Truth, illustrated by Carissa Susilo.

Murders at Karlov Manor Original Art

merchant of truth mtg art

As I continue to learn and explore the MTG art market, I frequently check the MtG Art Market Facebook group to keep a close watch on the pieces of art that goes for sale there. Much to my delight, the original painting for Merchant of Truth hit the auction block shortly after it was spoiled. I was immediately interested!

merchant of truth original art mtg

Crumbling Hopes and Dreams

The opening bid on this masterful piece of art was surprisingly within my budget. I commented on the thread and shared my intent to watch the auction unfold in the hopes of placing a late, winning bid.

Then I proceeded to wait. And wait. And wait some more. After a few days passed, the final date of the auction had finally arrived. “This is it,” I thought. “I am going to make some cuts to my collection, raise funds, and splurge on a piece of original Magic artwork that I truly love!” My anticipation was mounting with each refresh of the auction post.

Then I received a private Facebook message that dashed my hopes.

Ouch. $6000!! Don’t get me wrong, the artist deserves every penny for her stunning work. It was just well over my budget, at more than double the opening bid amount. Suddenly, without even participating in the auction, I was priced out of this iconic, memorable piece.

That was the final bid on the auction. The painting sold for $6000, roughly double what I was able to swing in the budget. The search continues.

Accepting Reality

After my initial disappointment wore off, I considered the reality of the situation. I had identified my favorite piece of art from Murders at Karlov Manor and found the original painting at auction on the art Facebook group. I watched it closely, with the intent of placing a bid, but was priced out due to a rigorous bidding war between other interested parties. I’ll tell myself that, if nothing else, this experience it reinforces that I have good taste in Magic art!

More seriously, this is a stern reminder that people (including myself) interested in pursuing original Magic artwork on the open market have to come to grips with reality: this is a fiercely competitive space. Any piece of art with desirability is going to sell for a hefty price, commonly north of $2,500 and sometimes approaching $10,000. To engage in this market in the pursuit of original paintings for cards means one must accept this rule: be prepared to pay up!

Unfortunately, I don’t have the budget to pay up for the pieces I love when they hit the auction block. I suppose I could sell all of my dual lands and some of my Old School cards in order to fund such a purchase, but I’m not prepared to make such a move at this point in time. I still extract too much enjoyment from owning the cards themselves. I have to recognize and accept that other collectors out there—some with much deeper pockets than I—are willing to allocate the funds they deem necessary to acquire Magic’s most desirable new art. As long as such a population exists, I will continue to be priced out of masterpieces like Merchant of Truth.

Is that it, then? Am I perpetually locked out of the original art market? No way!

Accepting Sacrifices

While I would have loved to have purchased that painting of Merchant of Truth, the reality is there are tons of new pieces of art, covering varying media and states of completion, for any new Magic set. Sure, I missed out on my favorite, but that doesn’t mean I can never afford original Magic art.

In fact, I did win an auction for another piece from Murders at Karlov Manor. I won the original sketch for Demand Answers! In fact, here’s a picture of the sketch by Justyna Dura, framed and hanging on my office wall!

demand answers mtg art

demand answers original magic art

I love the way this turned out! It may not be Merchant of Truth, but this fantastic piece of art still features an iconic angel! The best part was that this piece didn’t cost me anywhere near $6,000! In fact, the final price, including shipping, was around one-tenth of that.

Veterans of the Magic art market area likely well-versed in the nuances that determines an original’s price. For newcomers like me, it took me a while to learn all these factors. It turns out that one such factor is the medium on which the artwork is created, as is how close the art is to the card’s final form.

In the case of my Demand Answers sketch, the details are pretty stellar in the drawing but let’s face it: the sketch is graphite/pencil on a piece of sketch paper. There is no color in the sketch, and color is one of the prominent features in the card’s final artwork. I tried bring the red nature of the card to life with the matte I selected for my frame, but the sketch doesn’t have the same “pop” as the art on the card itself.

This factor reduces the desirability of the piece a good bit. Don’t get me wrong: it’s still an awesome piece of art and I proudly display it on my office wall! Because it’s only a sketch, however, and not a finished painting, the value of the piece is significantly reduced. That may make it a poorer investment piece in the long run, but it sure makes it more budget friendly in the here and now! I’ll take it.

Other Budget-Conscious Concessions

If you’re looking to dabble in the original Magic art market, but are intimidated by these expensive, aggressive bidding wars, I have good news. If you’re willing to make a few concessions, you can find the perfect piece of art to fit your budget just as I have on a couple occasions.

Buying a card’s pencil sketch is one such option. In reality, many artists follow a rigorous process that involves multiple preliminary pieces before creating the finished product. Some such artists will auction/sell their preliminaries, and these will sell for less than any finished painting might.

For example, the final art for Armed with Proof by Serena Malyon sold for $2,050 at auction. Preliminaries for the same art, however, sold for considerably less! The color study ended at $325 and the BW/Thumbs sold for $200.

armed with proof mtg

armed with proof original magic art

Of course, these preliminary pieces won’t have the same wall presence as the full painting, but these can be affordable options for someone new to the market who may be frightened by four-figure price tags. Also, despite being a good bit smaller, I bet these would look really cool in the right frame, showcasing the process Serena used in creating this beautiful artwork.

If you insist on having a full-blown painting rather than a sketch or preliminary color studies, you should prepare yourself to pay up. But not all hope is lost—there are a couple options you could pursue to save a little money.

First, you could eschew originals created before a card is finalized and instead purchase a piece of art created after the card was made. I’ve seen this called a “repaint,” and it refers to a painting made after-the-fact. For example, check out these Secret Lair Sol Ring repaints that the talented Nana Qi is selling:

secret lair sol ring art

These two pieces of art were initially created digitally. Then, after submission, Nana Qi painted physical recreations of the digital artwork used on the cards. Now she’s selling them. The artist is still listening to offers on these pieces, so I don’t know what they’re going to sell for. I speculate, however, that these would have sold for even more if they were originals created for the card art and not painted after-the-fact. In this situation, if you’re OK with the order of events, then what difference does it make? You’re still getting a gorgeous, physical painting of an iconic Magic card at a [possibly] discounted price!

There’s one more example I want to briefly mention that could yield a discounted price for an original painting: digital cards. Thanks to Arena, new card art is created—sometimes in physical form—for digital release only on the virtual platform. The art may be less recognizable by the average player, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less impressive!

In fact, the one painting I own is Lukamina, Moon Druid by Zara Alfonso.

I still can’t believe how lucky I am to have found and purchased this gorgeous piece of art! I love the detail on the central figure, and the moon and trees in the background generate a pleasant, calming ambience in my office. Because this card is digital only, the painting (which also happened to be a repaint) was more affordable. I have to imagine that, if this painting was made for a physical card before the art was finalized, it would sell for significantly higher than what I paid. I know the painting will not be worth as much because of these factors, but I was willing to make this sacrifice in order to purchase a piece I both loved and could afford.

Wrapping It Up

Newcomers to the original Magic art market can be easily intimidated by the high dollar amounts these art pieces can fetch on the open market. After playing Magic for so many years, I was used to spending a couple hundred bucks for a dual land or similar card. These numbers pale in comparison, however, to some of the prices original art can fetch!

Such sticker shock can definitely be intimidating, especially to new folks like myself who are concerned they may be overpaying for a piece. The good news is, you don’t have to start with a $6,000 painting right off the bat. There are plenty of more affordable pieces that sell, as long as you’re willing to make some concessions.

A pencil sketch or color study is a great way of dabbling in the market without jumping into the deep end. You can build up a modest collection of pieces without ever having to spend four figures on a piece if you go this route. Other alternatives include repaints and artwork for digital-only cards. These physical pieces of art are just as real and beautiful, but at a fraction of the cost. You may not be doubling up your money overnight by purchasing such pieces, but if your goal is to affordably decorate your space with iconic Magic art, this is a pragmatic compromise.

Sigmund Ausfresser

Sigmund first started playing Magic when Visions was the newest set, back in 1997. After playing casual Magic for about ten years, he tried his hand at competitive play. It took about two years before Sigmund started taking down drafts. Since then, he moved his focus towards Legacy and MTG finance. Now that he's married and works full-time, Sigmund enjoys the game by exploring the original Magic art market with the hopes of acquiring a couple pieces to hang in his home one day soon.

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