In 2017 Salvator Mundi, a painting by Leonardo da Vinci, sold for $450 million, setting a new record for the highest price paid for a piece of art. In 2018 Young Girl with a Flower Basket by Pablo Picasso sold for $115 million dollars. just this month Jeff Koons’ Rabbit sculpture sold for $91 million, setting a record for the sale of work by a still living artist. All 3 pieces were sold at Christie’s a british auction house. These sales grab the spotlight and it is easy for those numbers to skew people's perceptions of how much artwork sells for and how the art markets work. Does all art go for this much? Is Christie’s the only one selling pieces like this? The truth is that most art will never get up to that price and there are a myriad number of ways to purchase artwork around the world.
Now Magic art isn’t nearly at the level of Salvator Mundi, most work doesn’t go above $5,000, but there are have been some fairly large numbers thrown out there in the last year. Arcbound Ravager was the first to really garner attention when it went for a Magic art record of $45,200 a year ago. Shahrazad broke that record when it sold for $72,000 a few months later, and just this last month 2 paintings from the War of the Spark Mythic Edition both sold for over $30,000 dollars each.
Does all Magic art sell for that much? Not even close. The large amounts on certain sales grab the headlines, but your average sale will be between only the few people bidding and those watching from the sidelines. When you get into the details and you see that most Magic art doesn’t go for near those astronomical amounts, you might have some questions.
What makes one painting worth $72,000 and another worth less than a thousand? They’re both Magic art, but there are several factors that go into why pieces sell for the prices they do; both high and low. For starters, art markets deal in more than just supply and demand; each piece of art is one of a kind. You could have 10 paintings hit the market at the same time and one may do extremely well, while the other nine may only hit a fraction of that amount. Often a price is influenced by a collector’s personal affinity for a particular piece or by how much someone thinks the piece should or may be worth.
I had a conversation with VorthosMike and some others in the Magic art community about some prices that you can read here, but one of the takeaways is that collectors seem to assign value based on a few factors: age of the art, playability of the card itself, the artist, characters/subject matter of the art, and how well the painting was rendered. There’s no way to predict exactly how much a piece will go for, but knowing what some pieces have sold for and why can help you get a better idea.
If you played during the original Mirrodin block you would undoubtedly remember the card Arcbound Ravager. It was a very powerful competitive card during that time, and still is today!. It was a staple card in the affinity decks of the time. In 2018 the original painting by Carl Critchlow was auctioned by a collector on the MTG Art Market Facebook group. The piece went for a record amount for a Magic art piece at $45,200. Before that, the highest recorded public sale of a Magic art piece was $21,319 for the Force of Will by Terese Nielsen on Ebay.
Shahrazad, to my knowledge, currently holds the record for the most expensive piece of Magic art sold in a public forum at $72,000 dollars, breaking the record held by Arcbound Ravager. It was sold by a collector on the Heritage Auctions [link: https://www.ha.com] website, which is one of the largest auction houses in the world for collectibles, like sports and comic memorabilia, and now is also a place to find the odd Magic art piece. Shahrazad’s art work was done by Kaja Foglio for the first Magic: The Gathering expansion, Arabian Nights, in 1993. Artwork from that far back in Magic’s history is obviously very rare and probably contributed significantly to its high price. After this auction several older pieces found their way into the secondary market, but none replicated the price that Shahrazad did. Ebay has several pieces that have been up for several months, like Mana Clash by Mark Tedin and there are even more if you search Magic original art on Ebay. Recently the original paintings for Alpha’s Black Lotus and Mox Emerald were offered up for sale for an extremely impressive $6.5 million and $750 thousand respectively, but a buyer never materialized.
War of the Spark Mythic Edition, which has been out for less than a month now, had two traditional paintings out of the eight pieces of work commissioned for the product; Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon’s art was done by Chris Rahn and sold by him personally on Ebay for $35,600. Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God sold for $35,000 on the Facebook group MTG Art Market by VorthosMike acting on behalf of the artist.
Why do these go for so much? I mentioned it before with Mike’s article, but my personal top three reasons are: characters, playability, and artist. Both pieces of art depict a specific and popular, named character and that counts for a lot. In my earlier article I discussed how named characters can create an attachment. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is a card played in competitive formats and art on cards that players consider powerful tend to go for more. That, and Chris Rahn is also a very popular Magic artist, which lends to his work gathering a lot of attention. Nicol Bolas, Dragon-god, on the other hand, depicts one of the oldest and most popular characters in Magic: The Gathering’s history. Artwork featuring Nicol Bolas has been known to fetch a premium, even work that was finished digitally like The Eldest Reborn which sold for $7200 to the owner here at TokyoMTG, Heiko Schmidt. Matthew Stewart is an accomplished Magic artist and Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God is a mythic, but I don’t think those contributed as much as the fact that it’s is a large traditional art piece depicting Nicol Bolas.
There’s really no telling how much a painting will go for, or even when and how it will go on sale. If the piece goes up for auction it only takes two collectors who really want the piece to get it up to a high dollar amount. People like myself can make an educated guess, but I’ve been surprised seeing a piece go for what I would consider cheap, and blown away when a piece goes for way more than expected. I watch the market a lot and am heavily invested in what goes on in the Magic art communities, and if I can be surprised by a price, I can imagine the Magic art market being confusing to someone who is taking their first steps into it. If you have questions, TokyoMTG is here to help get you answers. The team and I are always excited to talk about Magic art and if we can’t answer your questions we can help get you to the resources in the community to get the information or piece you’re looking for.